Letters for the week of June 8-14, 2005 

Sympathy for the juror. Sympathy for the abortionist. Sympathy for the actress. No sympathy for Chris Thompson.

"Left Hanging," Feature, 5/11

Your boss is a jerk
Thank you, Brian Kluepfel, juror, for "Left Hanging." Character really is choice. And you all revealed yours to be of the right stuff. I still think those goons are guilty, and I may not have been as willing to split hairs on the moment of "careful thought and weighing of considerations," but I hope if I'm ever on a jury I'll take the responsibility as seriously and as carefully as you did yours. It couldn't have been easy.

Sorry about your job. Your boss is a jerk.
Susan Nunes Fadley, Berkeley

Justice is a process
A friend gave me a copy of your article on the murder trial for which you recently served as juror. I am a pre-op transgendered woman and I have heard too many stories like Gwen's or like Brandon Teena's similar murder in Texas.

Thank you for serving on Gwen's jury and for putting the intense care and effort into the matter that is evident in your well-thought-out opinions. It is clear that you served on that jury not only because you were chosen by the court, but also because you chose to rise to the occasion rather than to avoid serving on the jury as others did.

I think it is terrible that you have been attacked by both the religious antigay/trans groups and equally ignorantly by the pro-transgender/gay-rights groups for following your conscience in this trial. I wish the Human Rights Commission, of which I am a member, had limited their comments; as you illustrate in your article, justice is a long process in a case this complicated.

I also want to thank you for serving on the jury despite the consequence of losing your job. You did what you knew was right despite many negative consequences you have faced for serving. Please feel free to pass my gratitude to the other members of the jury.

After reading your excellent article, I agree that the prosecutor was very unwise to seek first-degree murder charges. Second-degree murder sounds much more appropriate. I understand that he was probably under great pressure politically to produce a dramatic first-degree conviction; but the consequence is that the informant, who had every reason to lie and probably directly participated in the murder, has escaped on lesser manslaughter charges when he too deserved a second-degree murder conviction. Unlike you and your fellow jurors, the prosecutor put his personal and political needs before justice.

I appreciated your excellent interpretation of the law and jury instructions, and all the details you brought to the case. Thank you again for serving on that jury and for the well-written article. I hope justice will eventually be served in the case; I think that will happen when the process is allowed to fully run its course without so much interference from people with their own agendas.
Nicole, Columbus, Ohio

Trials don't happen in a vacuum
When I read "Hanging in the Balance" by juror Brian Kluepfel, I couldn't get over his inability to understand why the public and the LGBT community would be outraged by the hung jury. He seems to forget that trials do not happen in a vacuum and they carry serious societal implications, especially when it comes to traditionally marginalized groups.

This trial was the most recent in a history of cases where gays, lesbians, and transgenders were murdered once their "true selves" were revealed, and the perpetrators have consistently gotten away with it or received a lesser sentence. That's why LGBT activists looked to this case as a barometer for how far they have come in achieving equality, and rightly so.

The fact that the jury could not convict these men of first-degree murder points to the LGBT community's continued struggle for equality. Furthermore, hearing Kluepfel's own rationalizations that being drunk might have impaired the men enough to discount first-degree murder is disconcerting, especially living in a post-Twinkie-defense world.
Rebecca Guyon, Berkeley

Brian Kluepfel responds
Drunkenness was one example, of several, that could have reduced the charges from first- to second-degree murder. It was legally defined in our jury instructions as something that could preclude reasonable thought (thus clouding premeditation). Twinkies were not, and it's silly to equate the two.

I don't believe that anyone should be vilified or physically harmed because of who they are. Yet the LGBT's adoption of Gwen Araujo as a symbol may be problematic if you examine her actions leading up to the night of her death. How and when transgender persons should reveal themselves is something I can't answer to. But if you're still biologically male, and choose to have sex with men and not tell them, obviously there are issues.

"ESL Students Sitting in a Tree," City of Warts, 5/11

Why so flip?
Chris Thompson's "ESL Students Sitting in a Tree" is smarmy and condescending -- but even worse, it's bad journalism. People will find exactly (and only) what they are looking for; but journalists are, or ought to be, obliged to walk into a setting without preconceived notions. Chris Thompson had already decided he was going to write about romance in adult-education classes before he entered Ms. Ortiz' classroom. The resulting article renders a program for which I have taught for fifteen years virtually unrecognizable.

Adult education in Oakland is not primarily English-language instruction -- it is that, and more: computer classes, and book-keeping classes, job readiness and GED and Basic Subjects classes. We don't prepare "immigrants for the service and restaurant industries" -- we prepare every adult for all sorts of jobs -- not for the sort of work that Mr. Thompson seems content to consign to "others."

Ms. Ortiz does not "ostensibly" teach English: it is what she teaches, along with survival skills which Thompson conflates with socialization skills -- which are also not the same as social skills. Maybe Thompson thinks adult students of color are cute or mentally retarded; it is the only way I can account for the flippancy of his article.

Perhaps Mr. Thompson should have visited more than one adult-education class, with a less-titillating agenda on his mind. I have students who take English classes because they don't want to be cheated at work. I have students who take basic math classes so they can help their children with homework. I have students who take computer classes because they dream of starting their own business. I have students who take GED classes because they want to lift themselves out of poverty. Education ought to be a basic right, regardless of one free newsweekly's tacitly Republican agenda, as evidenced by intentionally silly articles that trivialize teachers and the lives of our students.
Gwendolyn Bikis, Neighborhood Centers Adult School, Oakland

"God, Guns, & GYNs," Bottom Feeder, 5/18

Speak up while you can
Your story on the North Oakland physician who works for Planned Parenthood in Concord and who is being harassed by Operation Rescue West brought up an important point: the pro-life movement is alive and very well in California and is certainly gaining prominence in the Bay Area. This was made painfully clear to me at a march in San Francisco late last January. Although some might disagree with me -- and I hope they're right -- it appeared that the mass of antichoice marchers sorely outnumbered those of us on the pro-choice side. But despite that very strong showing by the antichoice, I believe that most Americans are pro-choice. Unfortunately, many of us still don't believe that our laws will soon change to severely weaken or remove the right to choose in the United States. I hope your story helps the unaware to realize that they must speak up in favor of choice before it's too late.
Corinne Lamata, Berkeley

"Why Berkeley Can't Do the Right Thing," City of Warts, 4/13

Albany's target "success" is not a role model
In the column "Why Berkeley Can't Do the Right Thing," Chris Thompson left out the two most important reasons the Target project proceeded so quickly. Target didn't get the required permits from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Fish and Game. The City of Albany "forgot" to ask Target if they had the necessary approvals. So much for the Cordonices Creek projects in Albany's Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan adopted in October 2004. I guess that's another group Target forgot to contact. Target has agreed to pay $136,000 for mitigation and restoration. (See UrbanCreeks.org/CCWRAP.html)

Thompson snidely summarizes the land-use issue as a problem of land "nostalgically zoned for manufacturing" designed to protect a "funky blend of factories and arts and crafts studios" so that "union manufacturing will return to the Bay Area" which "looks naive at best." This is the first time I have ever heard the Bayer campus described as either nostalgic or funky. By the way, those nostalgic manufacturers are a significant part of Berkeley's property tax base. And the Berkeley Bowl is now unionized. That naïveté is now reality.

As for the transportation and traffic issues, Thompson proposes that the city alleviate them by buying land to connect to Ashby so that cars can exit the project's parking lot. He complains about the city: "Unfortunately, they're buying it to build a bike path to nowhere." Nowhere, in this case, means Emeryville.

The Berkeley Bicycle Plan sees this quite differently: "The city would like to build a bicycle path on the current railroad right-of-way that extends Ninth Street south to the Emeryville border. This would allow bicyclists to avoid the dangerous intersection of Seventh Street and Ashby Avenue. Emeryville's adopted Bicycle Plan shows the path extending southwest and connecting to a bike route proposed for Doyle Street. This project is categorized as short-term in Emeryville's Plan. Berkeley and Emeryville staff agree on the importance of this project and hope to work together on grant applications to implement the project."

Thompson has it backward: Target and Albany did the wrong thing, the Berkeley Bowl and the city are doing the right thing by observing the law and making sure that the project stays within it. Thompson's main gripe appears to be a strong aversion to planning and sticking to the rules. It would help if he actually checked his facts before making easy but erroneous comparisons.
Emma Gilbride, cochair, Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition, Berkeley

"Payback for Hanoi Jane," Film, 5/11

Payback for Bill Gallo
Bill Gallo's personal disdain of Jane Fonda (for her politics?) was massive overkill. While I usually don't like much of the crap coming out of Hollywood, I found this film not to be that bad, even a cut above the regular crap. The Berkeley audience seemed to find it very amusing too. But Gallo's preoccupation with the wrinkles on 67-year-old Fonda's face was almost pathological. To suggest she stick her head in an oven or give up acting forever because of wrinkles is ageist beyond words. To denigrate her acting ability, a two-time Academy Award winner (Klute and On Golden Pond), is overstretch. Then at the end of his diatribe to distance himself from the far right, when actually that's where he must be coming from, is disingenuous.
Kathy Mathis, San Ramon

"The Game," Feature, 5/18

Interesting, but not new
Great article; I had missed hearing about Forty Two until now. I must object regarding another precursor of Forty Two's games. There's certainly new stuff in what they're doing, but it's too much of a stretch to say that "there never was anything like it before." There's been an evolution, with Killer (eventually formalized in Steve Jackson Games' book of that name), dice and paper role-playing games, and probably other games evolving into the live-action role-playing games (LARPs) that started appearing in the mid-1980s. I'd bet many of the most active players in Forty Two's games have played or at least knew of LARPs.

The scale is different. And using it for marketing is different. Puzzle-oriented LARPs have been done, and games that take place over time among people's regular world. Both in one game? I imagine so, but I haven't been involved in LARPs enough to be able to point you to a concrete example. Thanks again for the article.
John Abbe, Berkeley

"Moral Values Come to the Bay Area," City of Warts, 5/25

Call the hearse
I continue to admire Chris Thompson for his excellent journalism over the years.

Unfortunately, his puppydoggish recycling of the left-liberal party line in the Schiavo case is an embarrassment. Some of us are atheists and pro-abortion rights, but we do believe you acquire certain basic human rights upon leaving the womb, including the right not to be slowly starved to death because of disability. Terri Schiavo was not on life supports, was not in pain, was not in critical condition, and could respond to certain stimuli. Her ex-husband had decided to leave her, which is fine, but then he needs to get out of the case. Her parents were willing to continue to care for her. What's the downside to that? We only have one life here on this particular planet, and if we err, why not on the side of life? We do not need a court-legislated "right to die." Nature takes care of that, thank you.

If the sorry-ass remnants of the American Left and the intellectually bankrupt Democratic Party feel they are going to ride to future political victory on court-ordered killing, I suggest that their bandwagon will turn out to be a hearse.
Michael Hardesty, Oakland


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