Letters for the week of November 25-31, 2006 

Readers comment on Health at Any Size, Damn Choreography, US troops in Kuwait, and more.

"Fat and Fab," Feature, 9/13

Dignity, yes. Health, no
As a now-majority-fat nation (60 percent of US adults are overweight, according to the federal government), it is not surprising that some would want to rationalize obesity as health. In the same way, we like to think of our nation as peace-loving and beneficent, even though we have dropped nuclear bombs on unarmed civilians and now have stationed armed forces in more than 125 nations. But military violence does not correlate with lasting peace, and obesity does not correlate with long-term health.

What about studies demonstrating that some obese people have, say, normal blood pressure? These "healthy" obese people make me think of the healthy-seeming smokers (famous or not) that we have all known or heard about. Anecdotes aside, smoking research over the past four decades has shown conclusively that, in the aggregate, smoking kills and reduces life expectancy. The current research on obesity likewise is strongly suggesting that, in the aggregate, obesity and obesity-related illness reduce life expectancy. Can people who are obese live healthy lives? Maybe a few, and maybe for a time. In the aggregate, though, people who are obese will live less healthful lives than persons who are not obese.

The activists profiled in your feature article are right to demand that persons who are obese be treated with dignity and respect for their inherently valuable lives and goals. While obesity doesn't correlate with long-term health, neither should it ever correlate with disdain or disrespect. I salute the work of these activists who endeavor to ensure dignity for all.
Christopher Cherney, Berkeley

"Tits and Assets," Music, 10/11

Damn headline
My name is Amanda Doss. I am one of the founders and choreographers of Damn Choreography, along with my partner Selau. There are no additional partners that created Damn. WE ARE IN NO WAY associated with a TITS and ASSETS image nor a BOOTY SHAKER entertainment. We have worked for ten years avoiding this very image that has been so easily portrayed of us in one day. Although I myself was not present for the interview, I am certain my partner did not have any part in portraying this filthy image. We take great pride in giving young adults, teens, and artists the opportunity to perform with us, for us, or for them. Although most of the artists we dance for are local, we have ventured out to different states to perform. The name DAMN derived from the many times my partner and I would hit the dance scene in LA, Oakland, Miami, Vegas, etc. People would see us dance and say "Damn!!!" This in no way has anything to do with the physical anatomy of a woman. It is purely the love for Dance and the Skill!

We began in 1997 as a drill team in high school and later ventured out to becoming a hip-hop dance team. I am from 73rd in East Oakland; Selau and I met in 1996 when my parents moved to Antioch. We have a group full of multitalented people, from singing, dancing, and modeling. We encourage young ladies to follow their dreams and always have confidence and strength. When we started out, no one was there to guide us in that direction for the entertainment world. We had to find our own way through trial and error. We hope to give guidance as well throughout our dancers' careers. We hope to give back to the communities and people who have that same passion to dance.

The quote "whatever you need girls to do, we have it," certainly could have been given more detail. To have that said, with a picture stating "Tits and Assets," is very misleading and distasteful. Certainly you can see my point. I ask that you please print this rebuttal and remove the title "Tits and Assets" from that picture. As a mother, I could never be proud or allow my child to view that as one of the accomplishments for Damn Choreography.
Amanda Doss, Damn Choreography, Oakland


Editor's note
The headline in question was in poor taste, and has been removed from our Web site.


"Soldiers of Misfortune," Feature, 10/4

Welcome to Kuwait
You think that was awful: Come to Camp Arifjan. The former installation commander is under investigation for kickbacks, two people have committed suicide, CSA is just another name for KBR, and it's just as bad today as yesterday. Employees sign in on the time sheet daily only to go to Kuwait to buy souvenirs for family members; security recruits the best, brightest, and most qualified from Wal-Mart and JC Penney; and no one gives a damn. Security is searching cars for [improvised explosive devices] and they are the only ones not getting hazardous pay. There's some wicked stuff going on here.
Name withheld, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait


"Love Thy Neighbor?," Feature, 10/11

The standard is changing
I read your interesting article. However, RLUIPA [the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act] is simply one part of a wide-ranging revolt against the "scrutiny regime" laid down by West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937), under which government regulation can affect facts as long as the regulation is rationally related to a government interest — minimum scrutiny. Most facts fall under that rule, although some, like freedom of religion, can only be affected if the regulation specifically fulfills an overriding government purpose — strict scrutiny. In short, the goal has to be very important, and affecting freedom of religion must be the only way the goal can be achieved.

I'm publishing a book this fall in which I discuss RLUIPA in the context of the anti-eminent-domain movement. It is linked below, and you might want to take a look at it.

I think you are being too generous when you say that the idea behind RLUIPA "is to prevent a very subtle kind of discrimination in which local authorities hamstring religious development by imposing conditions that are difficult or impossible to meet." RLUIPA folks don't care about discrimination. The question for them is, should generally applicable health and regulations be able to put a burden on religious exercise, even when there is no intent to discriminate? The answer is yes, under minimum scrutiny. Their answer is no. That's why there's the "compelling" test in RLUIPA. That is strict scrutiny for religious exercise, and it defeats health and welfare regulation. Period.

This is the "fault," if fault it is, of the minimum scrutiny regime. This regime has basically brought all facts under the control of the political system, and, in short, suburbia just doesn't like the results anymore. That extends to eminent domain and a host of other powers government exercises over facts.

What is happening is that we are moving from one fundamental constitutional idea to a new fundamental constitutional idea: The new idea is that law maintains important facts. Of course, there will be disputes over "maintains" and "important." But notice what is left out of the new formulation: government discretion.

By the way, you might want to take a look at the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Guru Nanak v. Sutter. It's online. It upheld RLUIPA. RLUIPA is based, not on a desire to avoid discrimination, but rather, on an intentional misreading of Oregon v. Smith (that's where the "individualized assessment" language in RLUIPA comes from). Oregon upheld the scrutiny regime. So RLUIPA is only a misreading of Smith if the scrutiny regime is still in power. But it isn't.
John Ryskamp, Berkeley

"Hipster Invasion," Feature, 8/30

Talk about hubris
I have to thank you for your wonderful piece about the "art scene" in Oakland. As a native New Yorker, I have witnessed the process of gentrification more times than I can count, but what continues to boggle me is how the white hipsters of the Bay Area think of themselves as liberal, even progressive. In New York, the artists who were progressive cofounded community arts projects that actually engaged the residents of whatever neighborhood they had invaded. The newer hipster artists never pretended to be anything more than self-absorbed kids wanting cheap rent. It seems like the colonizers of downtown want to have their cake and eat it too. Benefit from cheaper rents, without talking to their neighbors or examining their complicity in gentrification while asking that their neighbors welcome their presence? Talk about hubris.
Saneta deVuono-Powell, Oakland


Top feature awards for two Express reporters
Express staff writers won two separate first-place awards in the 2006 Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards, the nation's premier feature-writing competition. In the Fashion and Design category, Kara Platoni won for her story "What a Steal!" (3/11/04), a look at the subterranean world of purse parties, at which women buy and sell illegal designer handbag knockoffs. Second place went to a writer from the Los Angeles Times. In the Food and Nutrition category, Will Harper won for his story "The O Word" (1/5/05), a profile of pioneering East Bay organic farmers who abandoned the movement after the federal government adopted regulations that they believe have corrupted the "organic" standard. The other finalists were Amanda Berne of the San Francisco Chronicle and writers for The Washington Post and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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