Letters for June 18 

Readers sound off on the Alameda Theater, Mario Juarez, John Yoo, global hunger, Oakland police, Pete Stark, and the mass dissemination of dumbness.

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Oakland wants more money for officers; Why? The officers that are on duty are taking their jobs as jokes. Not protecting or serving the community that pays them. No longer do officers even try to locate suspects, but wait until most citizens are dead or too afraid to make a difference in their communities. In West and East Oakland crimes are being committed in broad daylight without regard for "law enforcement" because there is none, even with police cars within a block of the offense.

I have been traumatized, not only by the crime I endured, but as well by the agency that was supposed to make me feel somewhat safe living here. How can Oakland feel safe if the color of your skin affects how you are protected or served? I question the new mayor to review whom he is hiring and the level of service that they provide to all citizens.

Ramon Jackson, Oakland

Some Advice From an Opponent

Open letter to Pete Stark. Impeachment means holding hearings — not removal from office; that requires conviction in the Senate. There are nearly forty members of Congress who say they want Cheney impeached. Only one, Dennis Kucinich, has filed articles of impeachment. If another of those forty, and then another and another, file their own articles, hearings would start, and Cheney would, I believe, resign within a month. This worked with Nixon. Ninety members of Congress, including you, Pete Stark, filed resolution after resolution to start hearings for Nixon. And when they flooded the House with these resolutions the Judiciary Committee had to start hearings. Within months Nixon resigned.

Pete — stand up again for your country. Remember back thirty years and how you felt about the criminal in the White House? How do you feel about the criminal Cheney? We have evidence in the public record of his crimes. We are torturing! Cheney is committing treason when he stands on the deck of a battleship and threatens war on Iran. Hearings for Cheney could take as little as one day! The investigations would be easier than the baseball steroid situation.

Pete, you're renowned for your principled actions. Nothing is more important than saving our Constitution now. More than 60 percent of your constituents voted to impeach in your recent survey of your district. Do your duty to them and the oath you took to defend the Constitution. File articles of impeachment for Cheney immediately.

Cynthia Papermaster, Candidate for Congress, Berkeley

The Mass Dissemination of Dumbness

A relative told me about a charcoal lighter fluid that had been made "idiot proof." He said they went to great lengths to make the lighter fluid safe for foolish people might who squirt it on hot coals, an action which he had taken, and which common sense would tell most people not to do. He said if it had been gasoline instead, the flame would have gone up the stream of fluid that was being squirted and would have ignited the bottle in his hand. He said they designed the charcoal lighter fluid such that dummies who use it improperly wouldn't light themselves on fire or create an explosion. It doesn't say much for the estimated intelligence of people who barbecue.

Warning labels on hazardous products are another example of idiot-proofing things in our culture. Many people might believe if a product comes without a warning label, it means there is no hazard to the product. This assumption could not be accurate. Rather, there are plenty of hazards that haven't been discovered as yet, and plenty of labeling or lack of labeling that's not up to date. There is no substitute for basic caution or a person using their senses. The prevalence of warning labels may lull us into a false sense of security.

How about TV ads for prescription drugs? The long, wordy disclosures of possible side effects, like "headache, nausea, fatigue, or bleeding that could possibly lead to death," are there because the government thought we ought to be warned before taking these drugs. Again, the assumption is if something were wrong with it, the FDA would take it off the shelf. The myth is if there is a risk, it will be spelled out in the literature. This is not always the case. Many problems with drugs don't get discovered until the medication has been tested on humans by being on the market for a decade or longer. If the drug has recently been approved, there is a likelihood of an undiscovered risk. Disclosures of side effects on TV commercials do more to downplay the real risks of the drugs.

The drug companies also attempt to generate excitement over how good you're going to feel when you take this "miracle drug." Images are shown of people having a great time in nature or painting, or climbing rocks, or at a country club. You're supposed to believe this new drug will give you the good life. (It doesn't matter that before you took the medication, even before you got sick, you didn't go to country clubs, paint, or climb rocks; you went to Starbucks.) The dumbing down consists of the drug companies promoting the impression they are looking out for your health. In fact, drug companies sell drugs.

For another example of the mass dissemination of dumbness, look to television news. With an air of objectivity, the newscasters present a highly distorted view of society; and on a tenth-grade level of comprehension. When the news obsessively covers crime, including gang violence, bizarre murders, robberies, and people being attacked, it is biased newscasting. I say this because the amount of time given to crime on our newscasts is out of proportion. It can make people think the world is a lot more dangerous than it truly is. Meanwhile, other stories are being neglected, ones we would be interested in hearing about if we knew of them. The dumbing down is we become afraid to step outside our front door, plus we never know about many of the "good" things being done.

The political races are commented upon over and over again as though the newscasters were objective and fair. If you want to know more, just look to see whose commercials appear during the political coverage. Those will be the sponsors who might just have an influence on what is shown and not shown. The principle that holds true for the highly spun political coverage we're seeing: if they can't dazzle you with brilliance, they'll baffle you with bull. The dumbing down consists of the news trying to do the thinking on your behalf about who to vote for.

Automobiles were one of the first products to become "idiot friendly" with the introduction of the automatic transmission. Soon, power steering, power brakes, and air-conditioning were added and soon power locks, then power locks that lock automatically. The car has various "idiot lights" to tell you if there's a problem. A lot of engines break down because people fail to check their oil often enough. This is according to one expert auto mechanic who remembers the time before the self-service gas stations; the attendant would check your oil while filling your tank.

Most people automatically trust anything on the shelf at their supermarket. It seems paranoid to go looking for that rare occasion when you bought something hazardous. Everyone needs to trust something, even if that trust is a little bit naive.

In America today, it is amazing the extent to which the consumer is protected from mishaps either from their own lapse in judgment, or through something to do with a product. We should be grateful for this, yet we should keep our eyes open a little more.

When I was about eight years old, my grandmother gave me chicken soup full of chicken bones that I almost choked on. I have a vague memory of her telling me I was supposed to learn something from this experience. I guess the lesson was, sometimes you should watch out for the unpleasant and hazardous surprises because there's not always someone to "idiot proof" every situation for you. Life can be dangerous.

Jack Bragen, Martinez

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