Letters for July 2 

Readers sound off on electronic noise, gun violence, race and crime, Ethiopian food, John Yoo, and more.

"Enjoy the Silence," Your Words Here, 6/4

Only the Wealthy Will Be Able to Afford Quiet

I had to read Steve Koppman's brilliant summation on "electronic age noise" twice because I couldn't believe someone was finally addressing this most insidious issue. I've had many discussions with people concerning the "maddening din" around us (car alarms, gas-powered leaf blowers, brain-numbing car sub-woofers, cell phones, and all other disruptive electronic blips, bleeps, and rings). Mr. Koppman has really hit on the precise meaning of it all — technology marches on, corporations reap the benefits, and quiet goes "out the window" along with civility. We need quiet now more than ever. The most disturbing fact is that this past generation and the current generation of children and young adults have grown up in this cocoon of noise and are simply used to it. I actually believe that they're uncomfortable in situations where their surroundings are "too quiet." As I've often suspected, we are rapidly approaching a time in which only the wealthy will be able to afford that which all of us have always taken for granted — the right to privacy and simple peace and quiet. 

Perry Trautner, Oakland

"The High Cost of Gun Violence," Feature, 6/4


If you're between the ages of 21 and 64, aren't pregnant or disabled, and don't have TB, HIV, or any minor children in your home, you are not eligible for Medi-Cal. Matthew Green's description of Medi-Cal as "the state's health insurance program for low-income residents" is sloppy, irresponsible, misleading, and wrong.

David Altschul, Berkeley

The Problem Is Guns

The plague of gun deaths and the out-of-control costs are, alas, very old everyday news. If criminals and underage kids did not have such easy access to illegal guns, these blown-apart, maimed, paralyzed, and dead kids would, in large part, have cursed and punched each other. The violence prevention programs are very well done. But with the present proliferation of illegal guns, they are like triage on a bloody battlefield.

Sherman Kassof, Oakland

The Roots of Crime and Violence

Matthew Green raised some important points, and it was encouraging to read that there is a group (Caught in the Crossfire) reaching out to young potential criminals who have been victims of violence, but Mr. Green made no attempt to point at the glaringly obvious roots of crime and violence in our society. Crime and violence are caused by sociological conditions: poverty, racism, poor educational and job opportunities, illegal drugs and the illegality of those same drugs, etc. The knives and guns these mostly black young men use to stab and shoot each other are merely objects picked up by victims of a long cycle of violence, young men deprived of the means to exit this cycle of violence by the elected officials of our country who have been unwilling to make the tough and expensive choices to break out of this path of destruction.

It has been well known to our legislators as far back as Bush I that poor and minority children who experienced the benefits of Four-Year-Old Head Start under Lyndon Johnson had far lower levels of felony conviction, drug addiction, and alcoholism, far higher levels of high school and college graduation and stable marriage, as well as fewer children than comparable groups of children who did not have the Four-Year-Old Head Start training. This does not even touch upon the potentially far greater benefits of Three-Year-Old Head Start which never got far past the planning stages because the vast wealth of America in the 1960s which easily could have paid for these programs was squandered paying for things like bombs in holes in the ground (missile silos) in far greater numbers than any reasonable person could imagine we needed.

Throughout the Clinton years the head of the NEA repeatedly went to members of Congress from both parties to show them the incontrovertible evidence of how effective these programs had been, but they all said it would require increased taxes which no one wanted to risk his/her political career by supporting so another generation of inner-city youth was sacrificed to the deprivation and murder so amply described by Mr. Green.

It is to Mr. Green's credit that he did not raise the canard of gun control as a solution to this problem. Gun control is nothing more than a trick by rich people to convince the middle-class electorate that there is a cheap, painless solution to inner-city mayhem that does not involve a generation-long commitment to increased taxes on the wealthy to finance expensive but necessary educational programs, both preschool and free public daycare as well as job training, which will bring about the only long-term solutions to this problem. ... Oh, yes, protection of well-paying American jobs would help, too.

Eric King, Berkeley

"Playing the Race Card," Letters, 6/4

Show Your Cards

I am sorry to find Parker Lanet's letter a mystery of sorts. In my 39 years of life, I have been robbed twice (once involving a knife-wielding subject), had my car stolen, and have been assaulted twice. In all of these instances, which involved successful prosecution and conviction, the suspects were African-American or black. The detectives and the police who responded (except for once) were African-American or black. While being victimized, I did not ask the perpetrators (when available to do so) if I had been selected because I held the wrong "race card," or was I randomly targeted or profiled. Was I targeted because the same incidents had been perpetrated more easily in regards to my race, or was it something that came out of the blue? If I behave in criminal ways, I expect that the representation of myself is diminished, regardless of race. It may also indicate something or two of my upbringing or my parents or lack thereof. The persons mentioned in Apprehension are given descriptors. If any member of any race chooses to represent themselves in a criminal act, so be it. They do so at the risk of fueling a negative stereotype toward themselves, as well as their race, possibly for future generations as well. It is time that persons accept responsibility for their actions, instead of playing a well-worn, predictable card in a deck that lost its value. It is the card that is dog-eared from so many people trying to exploit it. It is the race card.

Jim Smart, Oakland

"A Panoply of Spice," Food, 6/4

Call the Zoning Board

An East Bay Ethiopian place that's not on Telegraph? Is that allowed? This place will have to be awfully good to take my business from Cafe Colucci (Telegraph and Alcatraz). Colucci's injera is slightly sour and a wonderful counterpoint to the rich wats (stews). I think the doro wat (stewed chicken with an egg) might be my favorite dish, but the array of bean stews is delicious and the mushroom tibs are unlike any I've ever had, very spicy with large, substantial chunks of brown mushrooms. Beware of the hidden chunks of fresh jalapeño amongst the lettuce on your platter.

Dawn Pillsbury, El Cerrito

"The Torture Professor," Feature, 5/14

A Quaint Notion

John Woo and James A. Smith, Esq. are perfectly correct. The Geneva Convention does not apply to un-uniformed combatants. That quaint notion, "Human Decency," would be laughed out of any court; certainly wasn't taught in any law school they attended. The Nazi higher-ups might well have pleaded that in the exactly parallel case with the French Resistance, i.e., a foreign invading and occupying army dealing with "urban terrorists." But we hanged them anyhow.

Dick Bagwell, Berkeley

Kudos for Edley's Courage

The many recent split and plurality decisions in the US Supreme Court — as well as the wide range of opinions in the lower federal courts — demonstrate that many very accomplished jurists disagree as to the protections afforded enemy combatants under constitutional and international law — including applicability of the Geneva Convention (Hamdan, 2006) or habeas corpus protection (Boumediene, yesterday). But five years ago, Professor Yoo provided legal advice to his client (the executive branch) in privileged communications on these same matters in largely uncharted waters. Based on the opinion of one former colleague — who happens to be promoting a book — Gammon concludes that Yoo's legal analysis was shoddy and all the misdeeds of the Bush administration should be laid at his feet. I disagree — Yoo neither wrote, implemented, nor foresaw the policies and incidents that flowed so disastrously from his privileged legal memoranda. As a Boalt Hall alumnus, I applaud Dean Edley for having the courage to defend the academic freedom of a professor who holds political beliefs that are profoundly unpopular in the Bay Area. This is especially important because the Bay Area as a whole and the UC Berkeley campus in particular appear nearly devoid of political diversity. Indeed, both communities are famously intolerant of any political sentiment deviating from liberal orthodoxy — as evidenced by the tone of Mr. Gammon's article and the many letters to the editor. This is regrettable, in my opinion, because it casts a pall of hypocrisy on the same communities' demands for diversity in other (more politically palatable) areas.

Eric Steinert, Orinda

Miscellaneous Letters

Tender Power

After presiding at same-sex weddings for 21 years, what a joy to celebrate today two of our members' legal marriage and to witness our great state live up to the constitutional right of equality and justice. The couple has been saying "I do" to each other for 28 years, but what a thrill to hear them say to each other "I do take you as my lawfully wedded partner." We did not know how tender and how powerful it would feel for us to say, "Now by the power vested in us by the State of California, we pronounce you legally married." We bless them and all who have persevered in their right to marry.

Revs. Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway, Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley

Shangri-la in a Bottle

A former student of mine at Millsmont Secondary in East Oakland proudly confessed one spring day that she would understand what I wrote on the board every day, if only I would write it as a text message. During that time, I was teaching language arts to seventh- through ninth-graders in the Extended-Day Academic Support Program.

Ironically, it is the text message itself that fractures attention and diminishes productivity in a number of America's workplaces. According to Bassex, a research firm that analyzes the efficiency of information workers at tech companies, thinking and reflecting comprise only 12 percent of a worker's day, whereas interruptions caused by e-mails and text messages consume the most time, 28 percent. If the digital deluge stymies worker productivity at some of the largest technology firms, then what effect do cell phones, e-mails, and instant messaging have on the general attention span of schoolchildren? Our world's version of the Newspeak dictionary in George Orwell's 1984 — that increasingly attenuated lexicon — is the jargon of text messaging. Words are no longer even spelled out; language itself has become anorexic.

Though many educational pundits either promote or denounce No Child Left Behind as a panacea for low scholastic achievement, the more telling issue, the real crux concerning academic proficiency, is the erosion of reading, writing, speaking, and thinking skills due to the intrusion of millennial gadgetry. Instead of teaching students how to think, how to evaluate knowledge, how to synthesize various parts of knowledge, even how to create new solutions to problems surrounding knowledge, the Daedalian fetish for hand-held electronic baubles, nano-widgets, video games, and social network web sites has whittled away the ability to carry out any mental activity that does not consist of shuffling around predigested content or creating personal profiles worthy of a student ID or a driver's license. Downloading the latest pop tune is not commensurate with recognizing a false inference or creating a fresh metaphor.

Nowadays, content is often understood as a by-product of form. Marshall McLuhan's oft-quoted thesis, the medium is the message, is true not only in media, but also in education. As a matter of fact, most uses of technology in the classroom devolve into a Liebesmahl (love-feast) of mere form. A PowerPoint presentation on a given subject, for example, does not necessarily clarify or bring greater understanding to the subject as much as it showcases the wizardry of reduction. (Microsoft aptly describes what has happened to basic human mental matter channeled through such programs — it becomes small and soft.) The national plaint about the presence of ineffective teachers in classrooms, sung by educators and politicos like New York's chancellor of schools Joel I. Klein, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, Atlanta school superintendent Beverly L. Hall, Miami-Dade County superintendent Rudy Crew, the president of the Colorado senate, and others, is well-intentioned (who wants feckless pedagogues?), but severely misguided.

The intention of coupling America's best teachers with students in the neediest schools will remain a populist pipe dream. Barring the young, the naive, the desperate, and a few truly magnanimous souls, who in one's right mind would take up a career in public education? Compared to other fields, the monetary return on the time invested in becoming credentialed or degreed as a teacher is laughable.

And if money does not constitute a concern, then one cannot expect to enjoy recompense through honor or simple appreciation, for there is little of either for teachers. Thus, the idea of attracting talented individuals into the educational field qualifies as Shangri-la in a bottle. Yet, without promising teachers, classroom instruction and charter schools themselves become ciphers, regardless of their progressive coating.

Given the medical industry's recent success with hymenoplasty (a surgical procedure by which women are "made" virgins again), perhaps the US Congress will pass a bill stipulating required surgery to regenerate cognition among all of those adults and children who are failing in public and public charter schools across the country.

Corey Edward Olds, San Rafael

Oakland Needs Help

Jerry Brown made his bones in Oakland. Brown's cronies made their fortunes in Oakland. The taxpayers are stuck with the obligations to pay for the excesses, which made this possible. Many of the 10,000 people that Jerry brought downtown can't pay their mortgages. The developers who were given the concessions can't finish their projects, and those who can finish them can't sell them. This is only the bad news.

I have some bad news and some very bad news. The bad news is that many people who bought condos downtown can no longer afford them. The values upon which their debt is based is likely less than the mortgage. The unsold and unfinished condos will remain unsold and unfinished because they were built, based on an income and expense model that no longer exists.

In the downtown disaster, there are several layers of problems. The least visible problem is that many who bought downtown condos can no longer afford them. Those who can afford them are watching the value leak our of their investment. They find that the property they bought has lost half its market value. They owe twice as much as the condo is worth. This situation is likely to result in people walking away from these properties.

Another layer of problem is that condos that are just being built out and those that were built out within the past eighteen months and are unsold will remain unsold well into the distant future. The developers, most of whom got paid at the first closing, will turn these properties over to the lenders and walk away.

What plans does the city of Oakland have for dealing with the unoccupied condos that will soon litter the downtown Oakland landscape? Are we planning for the disaster that is looming? The most pressing and visible problem is the increasing number of unfinished properties that are coming to the surface on our streets. How does the city deal with them? Should a proactive city raise bond money as a vulture fund and buy up these properties for pennies on the dollar and resell them to our citizens at prices they can afford?

The very bad news is a ticking time bomb. The Uptown project was built with city bond money, borrowed, based on projections that no longer make sense. The income projections were based on an income model that now appears inflated by at least 100 percent. If this project had been financed by private money, it would be in bankruptcy. Its salvation is the taxpayers of Oakland, whom our political leadership has obligated to pay no matter the cost.

The very bad news is Jerry Brown guaranteed these developers a 12 percent profit regardless of the outcome of the project. Forest City and the construction contractor who did not bid are the winners in this disaster. The profit guarantee is backed by the city general fund. The current city budget does not include the amount of money the city will be required to pay out under the Jerry Brown guarantee to Forest City.

The city subsidy of the Fox Theater is almost as egregious. This is a project that started out with a cost basis of $28 million and it is now approaching $100 million without a competitive bid from the general contractor and with a $200,000 subsidy from the general fund to the anchor Fox tenant.

Oakland needs help.

Joe Debro, Oakland

Time to Reform Oakland's Charter

The following are just a FEW examples of how our wonderful city is falling apart due to piss-poor leadership. Many of you are fed up and others are complaining about what to do ... unfortunately, very few voted in this last election and the same individuals were reelected. Sooooo, as seen on KTOP Tuesday, 6/17, and based on what is being reported in the news we, the citizens of Oakland, have a REAL problem with who is leading this city and how it is being managed.

We have a couple of options:

1) Total recall of the full council and the mayor! Someone from each district needs to step up to the plate and take out the papers. If you want to effect change, then this is a real wake-up call to your representatives.

2) The formation of a charter review committee that leads to changes in the charter that represents the views, needs, and strengths of the city and her citizens here in Oakland.

3) The need for term limits of the city council, city attorney, and auditor (mayor is already two terms). Perata's consultant, who also does the work for most of the city council, Larry Tramutola, has alluded to twelve years as the limit, in an article recently published in the Chronicle by Chip Johnson. If Tramutola is being quoted, then something is up!!!!!!

4) If after two terms of Jerry Brown and now Dellums we have nothing to show for either other than a lot of development and favoritism, then we need to either strengthen the role of the mayor with real checks and balances or we need to go back to a strong city manager form of government.

These are crucial if we are really going to get Oakland back on her feet. Right now we have power-hungry councilmembers who daily break the law by ignoring the mandate of our city charter by micromanaging when they should be legislating ... and a mayor who really has no clear accountability to the citizens because of the vagueness of what is the strong mayor mandate as written in the charter and is not leading.

We need people of vision and passion for this wonderful city, to bring change — committing to work on reviewing the charter and getting it on the ballot is going to take time and it needs to be representative of everyone who lives in Oakland. Not just the usual handpicked individuals that take us nowhere and we still end up with nil.

I would hope that in this year of historical changes for the state and country that we can come together and fight at the local level to "FIX and MEND" the city we live in and call home!

Nancy Sidebotham, Oakland


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