Letters for July 2 

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

Page 2 of 4

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

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