Letters For April 23

Readers sound off on Mathnasium, our coverage of the Berkeley protests, the armed standoff on an AC Transit bus, hot lesbian sex scenes, rape as "karmic revenge," Patrick McCullough, shoe shopping, and Nancy Pelosi.

“Career Opportunities,” Feature, 2/13

The truth About Mathnasium

In the February 13, 2008 article; “Career Opportunities: No Child Left Behind set off a gold rush for tutoring companies, but California isn’t keeping up.” Mathnasium, the Math Learning Center, was characterized as failing to win California Department of Education approval in 2007 because of its academic program.

This is not true. Mathnasium has an excellent track record with the state and school districts and was approved by the CDE in 2003, and again in 2005. The reason we were not approved in 2007 had nothing to do with our service, but, according to Linda Wyatt of the CDE, was because we included too much information in the appendix (there was a 50-page limit) and failed to double-space the answers to a series of questions.

By listing us alongside Education Station, whose delayed approval stemmed from a poor academic program, shoddy delivery, and predatory business practices, readers were led to believe that we had committed the same crimes.

According to the article, Education Station earned more than $900,000 tutoring Oakland students. Mathnasium tutored only fifteen students that year!

Talk to the children and parents involved. Each one will vouch for the high quality of service Mathnasium provided. Furthermore, the instructor, Joyce Ching, far from being inadequate, is a UC Berkeley graduate and bioinformatics scientist who left a lucrative biotechnology job so that she could work with children.

David Ullendorff, Mathnasium Co-Founder, Los Angeles

“Who Baited Whom at Berkeley Rallies?” News, 3/26

What’s counterculture?

Excellent article. I’m stunned by the way traditional antiwar groups are more and more under the influence of various communist organizations and I think it needs to be publicized even though (or because) so many here simply refuse to believe they are here. Google Zombietime’s photo coverage of the SF Protests of March 19. He has a whole section on counting how many different communist and communist front groups were at the protests.

My son has a class with “Micah” and was astounded by the “Rebels with a Cause” segment on “Nick News” (it was rerun a few months back). What amazed him was Ellerbee’s obvious bias, in an item that was referred to as news. Berkeley is bringing out the latent conservative in many of the high school students these days — maybe because that’s the only option for current youth to be “counterculture” in this town?

Heather Jacobsen, Berkeley

“The Curious Case of the Bus in the Daytime,” Apprehension, 3/26

The change at BPD

After reading Anneli Rufus’ account of how the Berkeley Police Department officers approached Cragmont school teacher DeAndre Swygert with guns drawn, I did take a minute to really ask myself, “What would I have done differently?” I appreciate that the officers were nervous because they were possibly searching for someone with a gun. However, good officer training is often about checking to see if the subject is responsive to verbal commands. If a person does respond to an officer’s requests, that extends an officer’s range of options. It allows for the possibility of negotiation. I do not believe that these officers were justified in entering a school bus with guns drawn before asking the subject to exit the bus. The officers were not CERTAIN that Mr. Swygert had done anything and had not personally witnessed the man commit a crime or carry a weapon. They should have asked him to exit the bus before boarding it with guns drawn. A display of a firearm should be discouraged if 1) an officer does not see a weapon and 2) the individual is willing to respond to verbal commands. However, even if police had found that the armed suspect was on the school bus, was it wise for them to storm the bus? Isn’t there a danger that this action might have sent him into a panic and started a shoot-out that could have had disastrous consequences for the kids trapped on that bus?

I was pretty shocked when I read the story and am still shocked that officers would not first give the suspect a chance to exit the bus and move away from the kids. Boarding a bus full of children with guns drawn should have been a last resort. Isn’t it obvious that a gunman around children should not be stormed or escalated in any way? An effort should have been made to establish verbal control of the suspect. To get the children out safely should have been the main concern of the police. If their top priority was not to protect the children, then what was their mission that day? Did their actions increase the children’s safety or further endanger them?

As it turns out, a youngAfrican-American teacher and a bus full of children were needlessly traumatized. When asked if he supported the officers’ actions in this case, Chief Hambleton replied, “Yes.” This casual disregard for how police tactics affect our community is evident in many recent actions by BPD officers. In recent times, it has become common to see BPD officers arriving at locations in South Berkeley with automatic weapons drawn and at the ready. Something has changed in the culture and/or training of BPD officers. Formerly, they were known for their laid-back, friendly, and intelligent approach to policing. Now, it seems that BPD officers are much quicker to pull their weapons and much less aware that their actions affect people, like a bus full of kids and a young teacher, for the rest of their lives.

Andrea Prichett, Berkeley

Complex incident; simplistic reporting

Ms. Rufus’ piece, “The Curious Incident of the Bus in the Daytime” is highly unfair. As a parent of one of the children on the bus, I’m familiar with both the incident and the response of Cragmont parents to it. On several points your representation of facts is shallow and weak. Upon shaky facts you build logic that is shaky in itself like the conclusions that men with children of their own are incapable of callousness toward any child; or that the police must have handled the situation well because the children went on to win the game by thirty points. And your conclusion that because parents were still discussing the incident two weeks later they’re “fanning the flames” is not only shaky but insulting to parents who are deeply concerned about softening the effect on their children of such a frightening incident. Your overriding message seems to be that, in regards to an incident that raises questions about police conduct, accounts of the incident other than those of a police spokesperson are not only highly dubious in fact not even worth mentioning but must be motivated by people who are eager to vent their grievances even to the point of harming their own children.

Fundamental to your flawed depiction is the failure to see the complexity of the incident and suggest anyone who objects to any part of it must oppose essential law enforcement. I do not deny the difficulty of the situation for police and would leave to a fair review process the question of whether they were too heavy-handed. As a resident of the neighborhood in which the crime took place, I am as alarmed as anyone by the crime and as eager as anyone to see it solved. Nor do I defend any reporting on the incident; I have my own questions about it. That said, there is critical information omitted in your selective depiction. First, Ms. Kusmiss herself is quoted in the Planet as saying that eight officers pulled over the bus. This does not necessarily mean that eight officers boarded the bus she says only two did but ten children and one adult involved agree that at least six officers boarded the bus. Second, my child, who thus far in life has understood that police are here to protect her, was very clear that guns were pointed at her (furthermore, that the kids were all told to put up their hands); Mr. Swygert reported the cops “put a gun by my face.” To expect parents to dismiss the accounts of their children and their coach regarding their treatment by police because it’s at odds with a police spokesperson’s account is unreasonable. Possibly an impartial observer would have a different account, but a fair assessment would not dismiss the reports of those actually present. Third, the police who came to the school were not any of those at the scene. In counseling, the children made clear that it is important to their understanding of what happened to meet the police who were on the bus so that they can see them as the friendly public servants the kids want to believe they are.

Again, I fully acknowledge the complex and difficult position the police were in. I even applaud their taking an aggressive and prompt approach to capturing an armed robber. Nevertheless, parents and the community are fully justified in being troubled by police apprehending a suspect based on what was by the police department’s own account an extremely sketchy and almost entirely racial suspect description; and in the course of doing so aggressively and in close quarters wielding handguns, leaving children convinced (to put it in terms no one can dismiss) that guns were pointed at them. Given these two issues which are undeniably raised by the incident the hot-button issue of racial profiling and the handling of a terrifyingly aggressive police action in which innocent children are trapped it is not only absolutely fair to expect police to respond to community concerns but in their very best interest to do so if they want to work in a city where folks are eagerly cooperative and forthcoming with law enforcement. Where such questions are raised it’s irresponsible of parents to not advocate for their children, and poor citizenship to not ask for a satisfactory explanation.

Other facts may be disputed or ignored, but that there were eight cops on the scene we can be pretty sure. If just one of those eight had stayed behind with these children and their coach to have a few friendly and reassuring words and an apology for frightening them it would have done much for their estimation of police. Having failed to do that, the officers on the scene need to visit with the kids and do what they can to rectify themselves in the eyes of innocent children. As to the much more dicey issue of racial profiling, a city should be able to expect its police department not to ignore concerns about police actions and to recognize that a young man might find it unfair that because of the color of his skin and his hair style, both of which he shares with thousands of others in his community, he might instantly and at any moment find police guns in his face. But even if the way the police acted in this incident is somehow defensible, its subsequent handling of it and yours as a journalist is not.

Tim Holton, Berkeley

“The Minstrel of Melancholy,” “Unnecessarily Large Steaks,” and “Revealing the Secret,” 3/26

I want to like my East Bay weekly

There are (at least) three things in the Mar 26-Apr 1 issue that I take, well, issue with, and feel compelled to write about. (I actually got out of a hot relaxing bath to write this, I was so annoyed.)

1) In his profile of singer/songwriter José González, Matthew Green discusses both González’ previous penchant for recording ‘stripped-down, reinterpreted’ covers, as well as his ‘cryptic’ songwriting. To exemplify the latter, he quotes a verse from “Teardrop,” a track from González’ most recent release, thus presenting the lyric as a González original. I find it hard to believe that a music critic would not recognize that “Teardrop” is a Massive Attack song from 1998; it was a huge hit, and still receives considerable radio play. Plus it’s just a great song. I love González’ version, but it just seems sloppy that Green would not only fail to recognize the cover, but also select those lyrics as a showcase of González’ dark writing style.

2) I can’t figure out why Anneli Rufus felt compelled to snarkily suggest that the release of Ariel Schrag’s new book of comics is due to its hot lesbian sexiness. (“Might the fact that Schrag … comes out as a lesbian … have anything to do with it? … And has threesomes? Ya think?”) Like Green’s music oversight, I would hope that a Bay Area book reviewer would be clued in to the fact that Schrag’s comics have had a significant and devoted following for years, and that she has already published several books on smaller presses. Regardless of Rufus’ personal opinion of Schrag’s work (CATHY? Are you kidding? Come On). It’s well worth noting that, for many readers, Schrag’s honest, sexually confused, and self-deprecating comics are dead-on. Maybe high school is too far in Rufus’ past, but for a certain generation (certainly not the “Cathy” one!), Schrag’s work rings very, very true.

3) Finally, the cover promises a potentially interesting article about the phenomenon that is “The Secret.” Not only does Rachel Swan’s article fail to reveal anything aside from the ideas and business practices of a few East Bay life coaches, but it includes — and then completely fails to account for — one of the most outrageous quotes that I’ve read in print for some time. After a brief mention of the Secret’s “unfortunate corollar[ies],” Swan gives us Walnut Creek-based massage therapist Tamara Shulim, who discusses one of her clients who is “in her sixties” and “still agonizes about being raped decades ago.” Shulim is quoted as saying “Maybe she was one in her past life who did the same thing. She got the lesson. Punished. You know what I mean? Karma.” So victims of rape and sexual assault are getting KARMIC REVENGE? Rape is a LESSON for past life errors and indiscretions? That is such an unbelievably off-base, insulting, and inflammatory idea that it would be laughable if it wasn’t a pointed reminder that victim-blame is still rampant and, as the article not-so-subtly suggests, accepted. I hope, at the very least for Shulim’s sake, that this was somehow taken out of context. As an otherwise solid journalist, Swan should not just let it sit there. If it was not taken out of context, and is indeed an accurate reflection of Shulim’s belief system — and that of the Secret and other Law of Attraction ideologies — it deserves serious analysis. There is already abundant critique of the Law of Attraction’s “philosophy” (how does it account for poverty? For disease and other forms of human suffering? Are the homeless and mentally ill just sending too many negative vibes into the Universe? Does it help to live in a first-world, privileged country?) and to add THIS into the mix without adequate discussion … well, that’s just not cool. And, if it was somehow taken out of context, then Shulim deserves a massive apology. Because believe me, if she was my massage therapist, or my “teacher,” she would not be hearing from me again (that is, after some sort of angry excoriation on my part) and she certainly would cease to rake in my money for any of her “sessions.”

Thanks, Express. I do try my best to like you, and sometimes I do. I want to be proud of my East Bay weekly. I want to read it before I read the Guardian, and even the SF Weekly. But GOOD LORD sometimes your “journalistic practices” drive me crazy.

Kate Schatz, Oakland

“Correction,” Letters, 3/26

What are we to do?

I’m glad you printed the correction about Patrick McCullough. Mr. McCullough did not shoot anyone in the back and it is reprehensible that people keep saying he did. Personally, I identify closely with the frustration of all the law-abiding folks in Oakland who have to constantly deal with extremely high levels of crime. It is very scary to live next door to the Oaktown Crips, they have lots of guns, which they don’t mind using, and lots of drugs, which they also don’t mind using. A lethal combination, I can assure you.

For the average Oakland homeowner there is no relief in sight. Mayor Dellums has a 24-hour chauffeur to drive him around so he is never on the streets after dark, but most of us do not have this luxury. While the officers of the OPD try to help, they are overworked and understaffed. The last time I called the OPD it was about 5 p.m., the officer finally showed up at 2:30 a.m. He had a good excuse, there was a stabbing in the park near my house and he had to deal with that before he could discuss my vehicle being broken into for the FIFTH time in twelve months. I think we all understand there is no immediate help coming from the OPD. Flee or fight, those are the only two alternatives for most Oakland homeowners, and with the local real estate market the way it is, I don’t think most of us are able to flee.

So what are we to do when we come home from work to a SWAT team on the front lawn, when the OPD is telling you to “stay inside and keep down,” what are we to do when the gang next door shoots up the neighborhood at night, what are we to do when the chop shop folks down the street scare us half to death when we try to oust them, what are we to do when the pimps run their young prostitutes right at our curb all night long, what are we to do when we come home from work one afternoon and the guys selling drugs in front of our house frighten us so badly we are afraid to get out of the car and walk into our own home? Gangs have even shot up the local church; there is absolutely no respite from the violence here. What are we to do?

You do what Mr. McCullough has done: You protect yourself and your family. If you think this is wrong, if you don’t want this to happen again, then get some law and order in this town so average folks can live in the same relative comfort and safety that the mayor appreciates. Meanwhile, I’m going to support Patrick McCullough for Oakland City Council and I urge you to do the same.

Mary Becker, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters

Speak out about the inhumanity of animal experimentation

In February 2008, three key US government agencies arrived at a revolutionary agreement to begin phasing out animal testing and instead pursue innovative and animal-free methods to evaluate the safety of new drugs and chemicals. The agreement is based on a groundbreaking report, which concluded that ending reliance on animal tests will allow scientists to more accurately predict health risks.

Yet the National Institutes of Health (NIH) still devotes about two-thirds of its $29.2 billion budget to animal research, including many millions spent on cruel and ridiculous animal experiments to study the effects of addictive drugs on humans. It’s time for the NIH to fully apply the latest scientific rationale and scale back funding of such wasteful and grotesque animal experiments.

April 20-26 marks World Week for Animals in Laboratories, during which all concerned citizens are encouraged to speak out to oppose the inhumanity and inefficiency of animal experiments.

Sheryl Lopez, San Francisco

It’s not about changing lightbulbs anymore!

When Al Gore’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s dramatic documentaries alerted us to the devastating impacts of global warming, many people went through the ritual of switching from incandescent lightbulbs to the compact fluorescent variety. Unfortunately, in the case of global warming, good intentions and switching lightbulbs are not good enough.

The most powerful individual lifestyle solution was suggested in a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The report found that meat production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. That’s more than automobiles!

Carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, is emitted by burning forests to create animal pastures and by combustion of fossil fuels to operate farm machinery, trucks, refrigeration equipment, factory farms, and slaughterhouses. The much more damaging methane and nitrous oxide are released from digestive tracts of cattle and from animal waste cesspools.

Moreover, animal agriculture contributes more pollutants to our waterways than all other human activities combined. Principal sources are animal wastes, soil particles, minerals, crop debris, fertilizers, and pesticides from feed croplands. It is also the driving force in worldwide deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction.

The annual observance of Earth Day next Tuesday provides an excellent opportunity for every one of us to help save our planet by dropping animal products from our diet. More details are available at CoolYourDiet.org.

Earl Eppler, Emeryville

Sole searching

Too old for an existential crisis, too young for AARP (but not by much), I wander aimlessly around searching for meaning … in shoe stores. I had never spent much money on shoes before, so it felt strangely exciting to browse amongst the well-heeled. I’d always taken a utilitarian approach. One pair of athletic shoes, one pair of casual shoes, and a pair of black pumps of some sort to look professional when the need arose. But a few months ago all that changed for me. It dawned on me that a nice pair of shoes generally costs the same as an hour of therapy, maybe even less. Not to mention that they would last longer than the temporary catharsis that I would experience on the couch. So instead of seeking out a therapist, I decided to buy shoes.

I actually did feel better when I put on a new pair of funky shoes. I went for subtle drama and color, leaving my black pumps buried deep in the bowels of my cluttered closet. Strangers would go out of their way to tell me that they liked my shoes. I met interesting people and felt somehow more alive. When I realized after a while, however, that I was no longer even taking the shoes out of the box, but just cramming the boxes in my increasingly crowded closet, I realized that there might be something more pathological going on than simply shoe shopping.

Since I don’t have a therapist, though, I didn’t overanalyze it.

Instead, I decided that maybe all my sole searching had a purpose after all. Maybe I am supposed to be the messenger for eco-friendly footwear. In this age of shrinking ozone layers and global warming, there is more of a need than ever to buy eco-friendly products. Shoes are no exception. There are a growing number of companies that specialize in planet-friendly footwear, companies that use non-animal materials to make their shoes and sustainable materials to package them. Footprints, carbon footprints, that is, from these shoes are smaller because their manufacture creates fewer greenhouse gases than conventional shoes, not to mention fewer toxins overall. There is a world of environmentally friendly footwear out there, you just need to know where to look. So next time the spirit moves you to buy yet another pair of shoes, remember green shoes go with anything. You can heel yourself and heal the planet, changing the world one step at a time.

Bobbie Stein, Piedmont

Retire Nancy Pelosi

Well, her Highness Ms. Pelosi is proving her critics right once again. She definitely needs to be retired from American politics as soon as possible!

Please oppose Speaker Pelosi’s attempts to derail the SAVE Act. The SAVE Act would make it far more difficult for illegal aliens to cross into our country and make it near impossible for them to find work. This would make America a safer place and would cause unemployment to drop. Speaker Pelosi’s attempts to derail the SAVE Act are dangerous and ill-informed.

Speaker Pelosi continues to use secret tactics to kill a bill that a majority of her comrades and constituents support. To not even allow this great bill to come for a vote goes against every democratic principle our country stands for. Please oppose Speaker Pelosi’s attempts to derail the SAVE Act.

Well … I think we can see the chickens coming home to roost. In the fall of 2006 … we the people … shattered the basic assumptions of the rich and corrupt who seek to oppress us. We reshaped Congress for the clear purpose of …

1) Ending the war

2) Getting rid of Bush

3) And getting rid of the Illegal Criminal Alien Invaders in our midst.

They didn’t do it. Not only did the elected Congress persons NOT perform the people’s assigned tasks but Ms. Pelosi promptly decreed that George Bush “would not” be impeached, making plain for anyone who cared to see, that she is indeed and without question an agent of this corrupt administration, and emphatically displaying that she is NOT concerned or committed to performing as the people want.

We’ve had as much as we want of Ms. Pelosi … and now it’s our turn to speak again …

In 2006 we coined the phrase “Clean Congress … Impeach Bush.” Well Bush is leaving now, and this is a worthy reason to give praises to our founding fathers and the God they and we serve. Now we have to readdress the marching orders for Congress in a way they cannot mistake, or ignore.

Rather than promoting any political party … we call to the people of this great nation to once again “clean Congress.” In 2006 Congress was reshaped beyond anyone’s expectations or belief. Now we need to do a much deeper cleaning. We don’t particularly care who or which party you vote for … we just say choose somebody else. We need to clean Congress and make absolutely certain to remove her highness … Ms. Pelosi.

So we say …

Clean Congress

Especially Ms. Pelosi

We want a Wall, and we won’t accept anything less.

We are not about to allow some spoiled, snot-nosed brats living behind a shield that WE provide for them, who would have never known about the illegal criminal alien invasion threat if WE hadn’t TOLD THEM, dictate to us what our level of safety and security should be.

As we said before, we support the candidate who commits to building a WALL along our border. We want a Wall and we are ready to FIGHT FOR IT. Comprendwe?

Those illegal criminal alien invaders whom some feel so morally inclined to be unrelentingly in love with DO NOT LOVE YOU. They only love what they can get from you, namely your country and the future assigned for your grandkids.

Any questions …

M.E. Goodwin, Los Angeles


In our April 9 story about the Crucible’s latest fire ballet (“The Crucible’s Firebird Shines”), we misspelled the name of the fire tutu’s designer; it is Ian Baker.

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