Letters for the week of September 24-30, 2003 

Metaphors can be troublesome; Brecht was unfairly smeared; and the work of defense attorneys leads to sarcasm and schizophrenia.

"This Water Fountain Could Kill You!" Feature, 8/27

This water fountain could not kill you
Your article by Justin Berton contained numerous glaring errors, some of which are addressed here.

At no time did I ever say that the radioactive drinking fountains at Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus could or would kill anyone. I merely pointed out that it was mildly radioactive, glazed with uranium like many other ceramics from that era. A person simply would not and could not spend enough time around such a drinking fountain to acquire any appreciable risk of cancer, and especially not small children who can't even reach to the fountain.

At no time did I ever work with or for Helen Caldecott, and at no time was I ever in the "No Nukes movement." I was aware of her concerns regarding nuclear power, which I did not share. Contrarily, I have always been a supporter of the proper usage of nuclear materials, including uranium for nuclear reactors when properly developed (not as was done at Chernobyl), and under full IAEA nuclear materials safeguards (not as is currently the case in North Korea). Nuclear reactors of the American type are currently the safest form of energy production (just look at how many men and women die in coal mines, oil-drilling accidents, refinery accidents, etc.), and the radiation exposure to the general public is minuscule compared with the radiation exposure from those uranium tiles still present in many people's houses.

However, I was, and still am, very concerned about nuclear proliferation (as in North Korea). I worked actively at reducing the former Soviet nuclear weapons triggers, so that they could instead be used as nuclear fuel in their reactors, instead of being aimed at American targets atop ICBMs, as they were when I began working in the nuclear arena. I also worked at instituting exchanges of personnel, so that we would learn to work more closely, and as friends, with other persons around the globe, instead of as foes as was formerly the case.

With respect to the extensive usage of green uranium glaze at the Francis Scott Key School in San Francisco, including the uranium-glazed benches that front the school, my measurements are essentially in complete agreement with the measurements from the Department of Health. We differed only by a factor of two, and that was entirely accountable because we were measuring two slightly different things. I was measuring the radiation exposure at the surface of a person (skin entrance), and they were measuring the average exposure over a depth of about one centimeter. My Geiger counter is fully calibrated, and extremely accurate for the type of measurement I was making.

More importantly, the State Department of Health has advised that school not to let children sit on the uranium, for very good health physics reasons -- namely, it is entirely avoidable radiation exposure, and not of an insignificant amount. They do not say that you have to be bare-bottomed to receive a radiation exposure. The beta rays and the gamma rays will readily penetrate clothing, though with some attenuation for the beta rays. Such usages of uranium undoubtedly exist in many other parts of the country, waiting for the proper authorities to discover and rectify it.

The general thrust of my presentation in San Diego, which Justin seems to have overlooked, focusing instead on his perceptions of my breathing and other extraneous matters, is that uranium glazed tiles are still in many hundreds of thousands of houses across the US, especially including older parts of the East Bay. This is a considerable health risk for people with small children crawling around on those tiles for hours on end, or being near them in their bathrooms and kitchens for lengthy periods of time, day after day, year after year.

Finally, on a more personal note, I advised Justin to be careful when I parked my car near to that date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), because as most people know, they have sharp spines at the base of their palm fronds. Somehow, he managed to poke himself anyway, so I insisted that before he got back in the car, that I pull forward. Sorry, Justin.

Further information will become available at [the not-yet-active Web site] www.uraniumtiles.org
Walter L. Wagner, director, Monterey Bay Perpetual Endowment Foundation for Wellness, Monterey

Editor's Note
Our assertion that Walter Wagner once worked for Helen Caldecott was indeed incorrect; we regret the error. As for the drinking fountain, it's true Wagner didn't specifically say it could kill someone. He did, however, tell our reporter that its glaze contains roughly twice the percentage of uranium that he found in ceramic tiles at Francis Scott Key Elementary.

The cover headline was conceived as a metaphor to illustrate Wagner's assertion that cumulative exposure from such sources can increase an individual's risk of cancer (and consequently, death) -- and also the perspective of Wagner's critics cited in our report. We stand by the remainder of the story.

"Father Brecht and His Children," Theater, 8/20

Correcting John Fuegi's many slanders of Brecht
Amazement floored me on reading Lisa Drostova's article. Her article consisted mostly of praise for John Fuegi's old-fashioned American smear of poor B.B.

Her take severely distracted me from the background to the article, the Shotgun's sparkling production of Mother Courage in John Hinkle Park, with a refreshing -- need I say Brechtian? -- historical background (the Thirty Years' War in time and space) replete with Brechtian anachronisms.

What drew people to Brecht had to do with his being one of the great poets of the twentieth century, an influential director, and its greatest theater worker (in that most social of arts). As such he got the best out of artists, for example: L. Feuchtwanger (Edward II, etc.), E. Hauptmann (Happy End, etc.), R. Berlau (eventually the Berliner Ensemble model books); M. Steffins (the Threepenny novel, etc); H. Weigel (Mother Courage), H. Eisler (numerous songs), C. Laughton (Galileo). The list goes on. Some works credit his assistance but not on the title page, for example Feuchtwanger's play Warren Hastings. There were some movie failures (Hangmen Also Die and Gunga Din, both chopped up by Hollywood).


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