Letters for the week of September 13-19, 2006 

Love the new wine column, but get out of the big box stores. Love the piece on the Haitian heavy, but wonder whether this opens other doors.

"Ashamed of That Cheap Wine You're Buying?" feature and "The Bud of Grapes," Wineau, 8/23

A welcome addition
I welcome the addition of Blair Campbell's column to the Express. I'm glad someone will be tasting and reviewing wines under $10. I find occasional surprises, but many disappointments.

I think she's wrong about Charles Olken in the Oakland Trib. I've been reading him for years. He gives many tips on inexpensive wines. As much as I enjoy tasting wines, I also enjoy reading reviews of wines I will never taste. I enjoy reading reviews of books I may never read or movies I may never see. Good luck with this venture.
Franz Snyder, Berkeley

Big box blues
I love the idea. It's so very East Bay to devote a section of your paper to affordable, unpretentious pleasantries for us common folk that cannot afford to pay a fully-tattooed arm and a tight-jean-adorned leg for a bottle of grape piss. But really. As much as we'd like to weep and moan, we live in the Bay Area. An hour to the north is one of the most prolific and respected wine-growing areas in the world. And if you look east and south, you'll find wineries up the wazoo!

What you need to do is not tell us how to sell more into the chain-store mentality; we don't need to know which Trader Joe's or which Safeway or Costco to frequent in order to get a particularly delicious and cheap buzz ... you need to tell us about what's around the corner and how we can support our community. Tell us about the wineries in the East Bay. Or stores that focus on local wines. Tell us about how the harvest is going this year. Don't involve us on a detached level from winemaking and great wines by suggesting we purchase them from lifeless stores that serve only to decimate the sense of community that has caused us to settle in the East Bay! This is a great opportunity to connect people to the land and local businesses. Don't ignore what's right around the corner — focus on it!
Keri Keifer, Oakland

"Local Mayor Pursues Exiled Deathmonger," City of Warts, 8/30

Just the first step
I'm writing to thank Chris Thompson for his article on the prosecution of former death squad leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant by the Center for Justice and Accountability. It's been my privilege to accompany Salvadoran torture survivor Carlos Mauricio, another CJA plaintiff, on his November caravan from the Bay Area to the annual protests of the US Army School of the Americas outside Fort Benning, Georgia. In Carlos' case (Romagoza vs. Garcia), the plaintiffs successfully sued two former Salvadoran ministers of defense; the judgment has been upheld through appeals, and I agree with Thompson on the importance to the victims and to history of establishing responsibility for government crimes such as rape and torture.

These prosecutions should be of tremendous interest to anyone concerned about widespread incidents of torture by US troops in Iraq (or, for that matter, by US police at home, as in the case of Chicago police torture covered extensively by the Chicago Reader). CJA's prosecutions show that Third World militarists now living in the US can successfully be sued in US courts and held responsible for war crimes occurring under their command.

The next question (which I would love to see Thompson take on) is what legal possibilities this opens to sue US commanders like Bush and Rumsfeld for human-rights abuses documented at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, et al., and why efforts to do so have yet to bear fruit. Recent lawsuits by Maher Arar and Khaled al-Masri challenging US rendition — detaining and flying suspects to another country where they are tortured — were dismissed by US courts invoking "state secrets privilege" or national security concerns.

However, as Thompson's careful reporting suggests (in noting Constant's claim of CIA contact) and as I have seen in the case of El Salvador, cases like CJA's can open windows into the history of US state support for such abuses. Ultimately, I think this is what's important for US residents to understand; it's why I did four months in prison for protesting the SOA in 2005. If readers would like more information on Carlos' caravan, they should come to the sendoff event November 3 at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley.

Tremendous changes are occurring throughout Latin America — for instance, in Chile, where the notorious US-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet faces prosecution, the newly elected president is a former political prisoner, and the previous government found that torture was a systemic part of the state under Pinochet and ordered reparations for the victims. Such stories offer real hope to a US social justice movement that sorely needs it, so thanks for offering them to your readers.
Aaron Shuman, Oakland

"Oakland Can Do One Hell of a Lot Better," City of Warts, 8/16

Right on the money
You're right on the money. Our city council members are behind the times. First, they feel that they can't do deals because no one wants to come to Oakland — during the same time frame that how many projects have happened? And now De La Fuente thinks that the city can do better with the school property? What happened in the last month when we all said he could do better with O29? And look at the Jack London Square deal. What have they done other than kill business in the square?
Joanna Adler, Oakland

"Del tha Homosapien in a Funk," Press Play, 8/2

Show some respect
The writer was too negative, defeatist at times, which really ruined the quality of the article. Stop hating on Del; the guy's a legend. All of this doubt and sensationalizing some problems he had is uncalled for. Show some respect.
Don Jones, Union City

"The Return of Grammar," Water Cooler, 8/16

Old test, new insight
Bravo! What a brilliant, clever look at the SAT — a memory that still haunts me and is just one of the many reasons I'm so happy not to be seventeen anymore. Pollin's story had such a unique insight on an old test. Plus anything about the SAT that makes me laugh out loud is simply incredible.
Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, Jersey City, NJ

Now add poetry
I was a superstar at grammar in my Catholic middle school and right on through my freshman year of a private boarding school. Grammar and my years of high school Latin always felt like my most satisfying moments as a student of English. But like most young people trying to develop language for complexity and nuance and inexplicable family and community tragedy, I wrote poems and read books and watched films about things for which parsing sentences was a decidedly useless mode. Parsing is about packing linguistic concepts into their type, but learning to live and utilizing your "native intelligence" requires synthetic and analytic thinking.

Given the hip-hop revolution and young people's contribution to an ever-expanding culture of language experimentation, I wonder when poetry will be on the SAT for 70 percent of the new 800 points. And that essay writing is so small a portion completely overlooks high school students' developmental and social needs. Long live grammar, but the black and white nature of the binary thinking that grammar requires is better suited for lower-level elementary students, not people on the cusp of adulthood who already know something about how rules are always being broken in the adult world. By the way, how do you parse AIDS or killings of young black men or police putting you off the MUNI? Thank you for a well-written and fun essay. You made me think a lot.
Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, Oakland

"Arachnophobia," Water Cooler, 8/23

You actually told the truth in a story? And you actually used your real name talking about MediaNews? Richard Anderson is your real name, not Jimmy Olsen, like when you slammed MediaNews and the Contra Costa Times? Will wonders never cease at the Express?
Arthur Jensen, Pleasanton

"A New Incarnation," On Food, 8/23

The writer & the reader
Thanks so much for returning to the Peasant and the Pear. You're pithy, searingly clear, and brimming with colorful descriptions. I loved my dinner there, but found myself uncomfortable in the bar and at our table. It was like a nice restaurant was shoehorned into a strip mall.
Rob Corder, Danville

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