Letters for the week of December 24-30, 2003 

Not doing business with North Korea is the truly immoral position here. Why there are better reasons to oppose the Byron shooting range.

"Learning to Love the Axis of Evil," City of Warts, 12/3

The real morality issue
Thank you for highlighting the attempts of Alex Hahn, the local Korean businessman who seeks to contribute to the peace and welfare of North Koreans through business exchange. In fact, Koreans all over the world are extremely concerned about the welfare of North Koreans as they continue to face famine, economic sanctions, an allegedly brutal dictatorship, and the constant threat of war. It is refreshing to see coverage on this issue that does not entirely represent the perspectives of the Bush administration, as is most often the case in mainstream media.

However, I would like to challenge Chris Thompson's assertion that there is a "morality issue" in doing business with North Korea because of reports of the regime's human rights abuses. From the perspective of many Koreans, the most urgent and widespread human rights violation in North Korea is the violation of the people's right to eat. North Koreans continue to struggle through a severe food shortage that began in the mid-1990s, largely due to the decline of the North Korean economy after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the socialist trading bloc. In addition, successive years of droughts and floods decimated the North Korean harvest, resulting in a major humanitarian crisis. A functional economy would allow for North Koreans to feed themselves, the way they were able to in the past. Supporting this is morally upright regardless of what the nature of the government may be. Sadly, but predictably, the US continues to enforce economic sanctions on North Korea, blocking many of the country's recent efforts to rebuild its economy through legitimate trade. In my view, the true "morality issue" lies with those who support policies that prolong a humanitarian crisis.

Thompson also describes Mr. Hahn's business ventures as naive and in danger of being "suckered" by the North Korean government. In fact, there has been a tremendous increase in cultural and business exchange between South and North Koreans in recent years, particularly since the historical summit in 2000 for which the South Korean president won the Nobel Peace Prize. While these exchanges have sometimes been difficult, they have been successful enough to convince many observers that the North Korean leadership is far from the crazy, unreasonable despot as portrayed by the Bush administration. Even Madeleine Albright, after meeting with the North Korean President Kim Jong-Il in 2000, described him as "very decisive and practical and serious," and someone with whom the US could engage in negotiations.

Finally, Thompson's "expert in Korean affairs" belittles Mr. Hahn's effort for peace in Korea by labeling it a "fool's errand." As one of many disenfranchised communities in this country, attempts by Koreans to influence sociopolitical change may appear feeble and futile. However, for many Koreans, it is impossible to sit back and simply send winter clothing to North Korea, as advised by Mr. Expert. Peace in Korea, inextricably linked to reunification of the country, is deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Korean people and has become somewhat of a national spiritual quest. It is naive for anyone, even an "expert in Korean affairs," to think that Koreans will stop struggling until we achieve peace, justice, and sovereignty for our people.
Sam Shin, Oakland

"Home on the Range," Feature, 12/3

And the number one reason to oppose the shooting range ...
Your piece on the East Contra Costa gun club dispute was an interesting look at the suburban/rural tensions that accompany sprawl. But it overlooked the biggest reason why both the neighbors and patrons of the proposed shooting range should be worried: lead poisoning.

Outdoor shooting ranges put more lead into the environment than almost any other industry. According to a study by Environmental Working Group (EWG.org/pub/home/reports/poisonouspastime), in just two years a typical outdoor range can contaminate a five-acre site to the level of a Superfund toxic waste site. Dozens of cities across the country have been stuck with massive bills to clean up closed shooting ranges.

There is no known safe level of exposure to lead, whose effects include damage to the brain and central nervous system, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and anemia. The state Department of Health Services has found high levels of lead poisoning in firearm instructors, range employees and frequent shooters. Parents often put their own children at risk because they don't know that they're bringing lead residue from the shooting range home to their kids.

Yes, police carry guns in the line of duty, and some people enjoy hunting for their own meat. Neither justifies "recreationally" exposing your neighbors or family to a deadly poison.
Bill Walker, vice president/West Coast, Environmental Working Group, Oakland

"You Know, Like Orff," Music, 10/29

There are no second acts in American journalism
Regarding Darren Keast's review of Broadcast's HaHA Sound: I don't expect much from pop music writers (and I won't repeat the famous Zappa quote about them). But for Mr. Keast to treat Carl Orff, a composer whom just about anyone who's taken an Introduction to Music History class should have heard of, as if he's some kind of obscure, undiscovered European secret, is pretty silly. And the "early '60s (un)known Angry Man Era" may be news to him, but anybody who knows much of anything about theater or film is certainly familiar with it.

On the next page, Michael Alan Goldberg explains that, "In defiance of the old F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, Joe Strummer was well into his life's second act when a heart attack felled him." I believe the quote is "There are no second acts in American lives," and I'm pretty sure that Joe Strummer wasn't an American. You know, if I were going to use a quote in a published review, I'd probably at least Google it to see if I got it right. And if I were a competent editor, I'd definitely check it out.

What kind of illiterate rag is the Express turning into? I used to boast to my buddies that it had the best arts writing in the Bay Area, but you folks seem to be dumbing it down at a pretty good clip.

By the way, I'm also part of the large contingent who still thinks that your (now not very) new events coverage sucks. Yeah, yeah -- I know -- everything is available on your Web site.
Jay Cloidt, Oakland

"Must We Stand for This?" Cityside, 12/3

Students deserve more
Thank you for sharing our Oakland reality with the Express readers. I want to share the enclosed letter with you:

Dear Associate Superintendent Woerhl,

As a fourth year counselor in the Oakland Public Schools, I read with much excitement "Must We Stand for This?" in the December 3-9 edition of the East Bay Express. At the middle school where I am employed, there are several teachers and hundreds of students who sit in classes over the contractual limit of 32 students. I appreciated the author's explanation and bringing to light the problem of overcrowding in our schools.

However, I was outraged and disappointed to read your comments, which "attributed the reports of class-size problems to the way counselors at individual schools have divided their students among classes." The reason this statement is so puzzling to me is that anyone as familiar with the schools as you knows that a multiplicity of factors determine class size and that the problem of overcrowding certainly cannot be attributed solely to the way counselors divide students among classes. The reality is much more complex! It is, of course, related to having a diverse student body: like Gifted and Talented students, Special Education students, limited English proficient students, remedial reading classes, specialized elective classes, honors classes, and more importantly a master schedule that is the driver at each school. If you are implying that all of our students can be lumped together and then divided by 32 to determine a teacher-student ratio, you have overlooked all of the individual and diverse learning needs and programs that our students require. Furthermore, let us not overlook some other reasons like poor planning at the school sites, poor budgeting, lack of staffing, teacher turnover, and top-heavy spending.

While working in Oakland, I have seen many talented and committed students like Bao Truong ask similar questions about how to improve the situation. Many of my students are eager to learn and improve their lives. I believe it is the District's responsibility to provide our students the best education possible. They deserve more than empty promises, politics, and blaming.
Jenny I. Rienzo, counselor, OUSD, Oakland

"V-Day," Billboard, 12/3

Please pick proper pronouns
In your recent preview of the UC Berkeley event "Vaginas in Transition: Transgender Perspectives on Vaginas, Violence, and Gender," you referred to me as "a pre-op, male-to-female transsexual lesbian cross-dresser." I was upset and offended at your use of language in that piece, particularly the fact that you referred to me as a cross-dresser. A cross-dresser is a man who wears women's clothes. I am a woman. I may have been born male, but I identify as female, my legal sex is currently female, and I live my life as a woman. Me being female has nothing whatsoever to do with the clothes I wear (in fact, more often than not, I wear T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers). Like most of your female readers, I do not like to be reduced to either the clothing I wear or my body parts (as you did when you referred to me as a "pre-op").

I realize that most people use words like "transsexual," "transvestite," "transgender," and "cross-dresser" interchangeably, but they have very different meanings and connotations. If you covered an Asian-American event and described a Vietnamese or Korean performer as being "Chinese," I am sure that they would be offended. This situation is not much different. The fact that you are confused about different identities within the trans community does not excuse you from being sensitive towards them. In fact, as journalists, you should be taking extra precautions to ensure that you have your facts straight and are respectful of the individuals and communities you are covering.

Some might dismiss this incident as a minor mistake or an isolated incident, but that is simply not the case. Transgendered folks like myself constantly have to deal with people who recklessly make assumptions about our identities or lifestyles, who play fast and loose with pronoun use, and who make crass references to our anatomy. People are dismissive of transgendered folks because we scare the hell out of them. Our mere existence challenges most people's basic (and incorrect) assumptions about gender and sexuality. Some people express this fear and anxiety by being ignorant or disrespectful with regards to the language they use to describe us, others express it by making jokes about us, and some go so far as to commit acts violence against us. Part of what we are trying to do in the event "Vaginas in Transition: Transgender Perspectives on Vaginas, Violence, and Gender" is connect the dots between the language people use, the assumptions they make about our bodies, and the violence that is often inflicted upon us.

There are many thousands of transgendered people living in the Bay Area. We don't like writing you letters any more than you like receiving them. I hope that in the future, you will make the extra effort to ensure that you are using the correct language. There are plenty of trans resources and organizations in the Bay Area that would be happy to help you in that regard. I also strongly suggest that when writing about trans-people in the future, that you contact them personally to ask them how they identify and what pronouns they prefer.
Julia Serano, Oakland

Stefanie Kalem responds
The phrase I used was straight from the expanded press release for the event that was sent to me, and I figured that, since the promoter was okay with it, Serano would be, too. I'm really sorry if Ms. Serano felt reduced or demeaned in any way. This was never my intention.

"Singh vs. Singh," Feature, 11/19

The conspiracy of silence
Your newspaper has done a great service to the Sikh community of Fremont in particular and Sikhs across North America in general by exposing the operation of these self-declared leaders of the Sikh community. It is horrifying to see the invisible links running between the funds at the temple to gunrunning to drug smuggling. No Punjabi/Indian newspaper has either the resources or the will for such a thorough report. Given the history of violence, these activities have been going on for the last two decades and have become part of the community folk tales.

At the same time, it a very, very sad commentary on the role and attitude of local and federal law enforcement agencies. As your report documents, many among them knew about such activities but never bothered to pursue all sting operations and leads to the fullest. One wonders if their attitude had as much to do with the fact that most of the victims of this violence and crime were nonwhites or in faraway lands. How, otherwise, could one reconcile that in spite of open threats, intimidation, smuggling, misuse of charitable institutions and their funds, no charges were ever filed or prosecuted?

Something within me still says law enforcement agencies might drop the ball this time again and these individuals will be back to their old tactics.

I was equally dismayed by other letters blaming your publication for the story, and it is sad how those people easily dismiss charges of smuggling pot. Even I don't care about pot smoking or people crossing the border illegally. But it acquires a very different and sinister meaning when such activities are run by the same people who head religious institutions. If human smuggling or pot trafficking is fine for religious organizations, what is next? The Sikh community needs to reflect upon these events and share the blame for being silent witnesses.

Your story is as much an indictment of the politics of violence preached by certain groups as it is of law enforcement officials who knew all but remained silent spectators.
H. Singh, Sacramento

There are bad elements in every culture
Tremendous reporting ... keep up with true reporting and your good work will be rewarded! There are bad elements in every culture -- this one is right in our backyard and very typical of Gurdwara politics in other cities I've been to. However, there are excellent examples, as well, all over the world in the Sikh community. I'm very proud to be part of the Sikh community here in Arizona, where American Sikhs and Sikhs from India coexist beautifully.
Brijinder Singh, Phoenix, Arizona

The Express would like to know what you resolve to do differently in 2004. Whether you plan to get in shape (or go to seed), teach yourself a new skill (or forget everything you learned in school), or be a better (worse?) person, we'd like to hear from you. Please send a brief description of your 2004 resolutions to ResolutionGuide@eastbayexpress.com or to Resolution Guide, East Bay Express, 1335 Stanford Ave., suite 100, Emeryville, CA 94608. All submissions must be received by January 7. We'll publish a selection of the best ones. n


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