News & Notes 

Will the real Bill Wyman please stand up?; politeness pays off in Richmond; cops sting meter vandals; and Muslim blacks ain't Black Muslims.

There can be only one: The letter showed up at the offices of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution around Halloween, but it took a while to filter down to Bill Wyman. No, not that Bill Wyman. We're talking about the former Express political reporter and music columnist, who penned the "Hitsville" column in the late '80s, just prior to Gina Arnold's arrival. Wyman went on to become arts editor at Salon, and was hired this spring as a film and music editor for the Journal-Constitution.

The letter, however, was indeed from that Bill Wyman -- or, more precisely, from the ex-Rolling Stone's lawyer, Howard Siegel. This genius had somehow just discovered, upon reading a short Wyman clip about the current Stones tour, that some vile skunk of a music writer was using his exalted client's name without permission.

If Siegel had billed a few hours to do his homework, he'd have discovered that Wyman has been writing about rock 'n' roll for well over two decades. The journalist recalls covering the 1981 Stones' concert at Candlestick as a cub reporter for the Daily Cal. Since then, he's covered three more Stones tours, not counting the latest, with no problems whatsoever.

And then along came Mr. Siegel. "I must ask," he wrote the newspaper's lawyers, "that you immediately cease and desist from authorizing or permitting any such use of our client's name. If, in fact, your employee's given legal name is Bill Wyman (a fact which we would insist be reasonably demonstrated to us), we then request that a prominent disclaimer accompany every reference to your writer's name ..."


Reporter Wyman (who jokes that his pseudonym could be: "Not That Bill Wyman") got a big kick out of the letter. "I thought it was really funny," he says. "It was so preposterous. It just kind of made my week."

So preposterous, in fact, that Wyman was worried it might be a hoax. He called Siegel's New York office twice, he says, to ensure the letter was genuine. When assured it was, he was excited. The lawyer had just served him up a column on a silver platter. "It's like in baseball when you get a slow one right across the plate," says our man in Atlanta.

In an AJC column published last Thursday, Wyman noted that it was that Bill Wyman who'd adopted his name: William George Perks, according to his own autobiography, began calling himself Bill Wyman onstage in 1963, and made it legal in 1964. But reporter Wyman was born in 1961 and thus had the name first. His column, in effect, makes Mister Cool Guy ex-Rolling Stone and his advocate look like a couple of schmucks.

And how did the paper's lawyers respond to the cease-and-desist? They shot the former Stone's attorney a copy of Wyman's column. "We haven't heard back from Siegel at all," says the journalist.

But Wyman has heard from plenty of other folks, including a TV anchorman in Poughkeepsie, New York, named Brian Jones, who joked that perhaps he, too, needed a lawyer. Yet the worst part about sharing a name with a famous rock act is having to listen to incessant, tired comments from people who fancy themselves original.

This reporter should know. -- Michael Mechanic

Visiting $i$ter: Mutual Junket Exchange Programs. That's what so-called sister cities really are. These feel-good, cross-global municipal friendship displays so adored by East Bay city leaders typically involve faraway municipalities in exotic lands that would simply cost too much to visit on a government salary. But trips to the Far East become conveniently affordable when the taxpayers are footing the bill.

Last week, four members of the Richmond city council -- Mayor Irma Anderson, Vice Mayor Tom Butt, Nat Bates, and Mindell Penn -- and a handful of senior bureaucrats including City Manager Isiah Turner took off on a two-week trip to visit the Chinese city of Zhoushan with a pit stop in Hong Kong. Richmond established a sister city relationship with the Chinese port town in 1993, and since then several official delegations from Zhoushan have also visited the East Bay city of "pride and purpose." Ostensibly, our city representatives are braving sleep-defying jet lag to engage in what they're describing as a "trade mission."

City spokeswoman Angela Jones says the plane tickets ran about $2,500 apiece, but she doesn't know how much the hotel tab will be. So, why do so many city officials need to rack up frequent flyer miles? "The Chinese want to do business face to face," says Jones. And since Zhoushan reps have come here a few times, it's only polite for Richmond to send a posse there. "It's expected," she adds, "that to cultivate a business relationship you'll also come to visit."

A little politeness, apparently, gets Richmond leaders a long way. -- Will Harper

No quarter: On a recent Tuesday night, a few plainclothes Berkeley police officers quietly observed the comings and goings along the 2500 block of Hearst Avenue, waiting for any suspicious movement. It was the department's fifth Parking Meter Vandal Sting this year, and the cops flew into action almost immediately after witnessing a university student jamming a meter with a paper clip. Before the night was through -- and before anyone could say "Free parking!" -- they made two arrests, bringing the annual haul of meter-beaters to nine.

"We're not trying to be draconian in our enforcement," says Patrick Keilch, the city's deputy director of public works, and the guy responsible for protecting the city's quarter-takers, "but vandalism and theft of meters is costing the citizens of Berkeley in the millions."

By Keilch's accounting, four employees work full-time maintaining the city's 3,500 meters, but spend half their salaried time ($150,000) wrestling with jammed meter heads that get filled up with bent pennies and bogus tokens. Time wasted, plus money uncollected ($1 million), and Keilch arrives at $1.15 million. "Not to mention," he adds, "when a driver jams a meter and parks in front of a shop all day long, that business is losing out on the turnover rate. What's that costing the store owner?"

After the city lost nearly two-thirds of its meters to theft and damage in 1998 and 1999, Keilch replaced them with the ever-sturdy and nearly-impossible-to-steal Duncan Rhinos that grace the city today. But where there's a will, there's a way. And when there's a way, there's a police sting operation. "It's not just a major problem in Berkeley," Keilch says. "It's a problem happening in every city, all over the country." -- Justin Berton

Muslim misconceptions: The news hit Oakland like a ton of bricks: Yusuf Bey, the prominent local Black Muslim leader and businessman, already accused of raping a ten-year-old girl and fathering her children decades ago, was jailed last Thursday on 26 new counts involving three other women who hadn't yet turned fourteen when Bey allegedly began having sex with them. With Bey now facing a possible life sentence, the judge set bail at $1 million.

The Trib's lead story, however, contained a common but troubling error. It referred repeatedly to Bey as a "Muslim leader."

Bey isn't a Muslim. He's a Black Muslim, a term used to describe those who follow the teachings of the late Nation of Islam founder Wallace D. Fard, aka Fard Muhammad, and Elijah Poole, aka Elijah Muhammad, who brought the organization to national prominence.

The theology of the Nation of Islam combines selected Islamic teachings with homespun creationist myths and fiery black nationalism. Among other things, its leaders advocate separation of the races and teach converts that white people are inherently evil. The church is now led by Louis Farrakhan, a controversial figure due, in part, to his unapologetic anti-Semitism.

Most Muslim African Americans, however, do not follow Farrakhan. They follow W.D. Muhammad, Elijah's son, who long ago split with the Nation of Islam to practice mainstream Islam. Malcolm X followed the same path, rising to prominence as one of Elijah Muhammad's disciples before embracing mainstream Islam. He left the Nation and underwent a religious transformation before being gunned down by Elijah Muhammad's minions.

Bey preaches Nation of Islam theology, but has his own separatist thing going. Farrakhan is represented locally by minister Keith Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 26 on Foothill Boulevard. According to Muhammad, that mosque is separate and distinct from Bey's organization. All the better for him, since it now appears that Bey's East Bay fiefdom is approaching its day of reckoning. -- Michael Mechanic


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