Letters for the week of July 11-17, 2007 

Readers laud revived features, and wax lyrical about corn, Oakland schools, invasive species, and UC investments.

Table of Contents, 6/20

Credit is due
I'm very glad to see the ToC and masthead in this issue, just like a real paper (heh). Now you've got cred in both ways: credit to the wonderful staff and credibility for all the news and culture filling the pages. This Summer Guide issue is a keeper, too.
Chris Orr, Berkeley

Event Listings, 6/13

Computers bad
Thank you for bringing back the Event Listings! I am much happier perusing the events over breakfast than logging yet more hours in front of my computer.
Diane Dew, Berkeley

"Summer Strip Club," Water Cooler, 6/13

Worms good
In the management of the Berkeley Farmers' Market we take a view similar to Judith Redmond's regarding worms. We always think they are a positive sign that corn isn't being sprayed and have been suspicious of corn at our markets that seemed too clean.

One of the interesting things about corn that wasn't mentioned is that the sugar in corn converts very quickly to starch. So the fresher you eat it, the sweeter it will be. At our markets you can often get corn at its peak, picked the morning of that market or the night before. I would guess that shucking the corn accelerates the conversion of the sugar to starch. I never realized until I was involved in farmers' markets that if you get corn fresh enough, it is delicious to eat raw.
Kirk Lumpkin, Ecology Center, Berkeley

"Lamentations of the Fall," Cityside, 6/13

How 'bout tech?
My ten-year-old daughter is a student at Peralta Elementary and I've worked with young adults for over ten years. The idea of these two age groups being allowed by Dr. Statham to coexist at the same site is appalling. The potential for harm to come to our children as a direct result of the young adults GOING TO SCHOOL WITH OUR CHILDREN is great. The position of the International Network School's Principal Reyes is appalling. Her apathy toward our Peralta students and the challenges they have faced this year is apparent, and the idea of her students learning English from the younger children and the younger children learning about other countries from them would be fathomable only if the children were equal in age.

Suggestion: Oakland Technical High School is two blocks up the street. I'm sure it would be more beneficial for these young adults to learn in a more age-appropriate environment.
Zsanna Secrease, Oakland

Speedy rebuilding
Thank you for your report on our efforts to rebuild Peralta Elementary School in time for the upcoming academic year.

When this extraordinary campus was damaged in a fire March 26, reconstruction immediately became a top priority for me and for the OUSD facilities department. Peralta families, friends, and staff deserve special recognition for the amazing work they have done to raise funds and improve their temporary campus. I share their urgency to return the school to its 63rd Street home, and my staff has been pushing on every level to expedite the approval process at the state level and begin reconstruction.

I am very pleased that our plans were approved in record time and that we were able to start our reconstruction project a few days ahead of schedule. With work now under way, I am optimistic that we will be able to bring Peralta home before the first day of school on August 27.

Throughout this project, I have promised that OUSD would do everything in its power to make the 63rd Street campus ready for students by the end of August — even if that means moving before offices and other repairs outside of classrooms are completely finalized. We will continue to direct all available resources to rebuilding Peralta. However, school construction is a complex business, and we must make sure that work meets the highest standards for teaching, learning, and safety.

With the continued support of the Peralta community, I am certain that this exceptional school will continue to be a model for Oakland and for the entire state.
Kimberly A. Statham, state administrator, Oakland Unified School District

"Disingenuous Letter," Letters, 6/20

Bulls and bears
Chris Thompson's original article "Parsky's Party" (5/09) and the ensuing exchange of letters between UC associate vice president Michael Reese (5/30) and former UC treasurer Patricia Small (6/20) do not explain in any detail why the UC retirement plan has performed poorly in recent years. We can infer that UC moved from bonds into stocks in 2000 just before stock prices plummeted, reversing Small's earlier move from stocks into bonds. In retrospect, this was untimely. We can also infer that UC moved from long-term bonds into short-term bonds at a time when bond yields were falling. This too was untimely. But it's far from clear that Small's alternative approach, which appears to involve stock picking and market timing, is necessarily preferable.

Modern portfolio theory suggests that market timing (buying or selling stocks depending on whether the stock market is expected to rise or fall) is a fool's game, while successful stock picking depends on inside information. Furthermore, equities historically have had a higher average yield than bonds. Clearly, a continuation of UC's previous allocation of stocks and bonds would have produced poor results because of rising stock prices and low bond yields since 2003. Small can only suggest that she and her team would have made some other unspecified "subtle change" in the asset mix in the meantime that would have produced better results.

On the other hand, the theory also suggests that UC is now wasting money by paying outside managers to buy and sell public equities. Managed funds have higher expenses and usually produce lower returns than index funds. In contrast, Yale University's high-performing endowment fund reportedly has low allocations of both bonds (4 percent) and public equities (27 percent). We badly need a scientific analysis of UC's recent investment results. Perhaps professor emeritus Charles Schwartz can help us out.
Robert Denham, Berkeley


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