Letters for January 12

Readers sound off on goats, our movie reviews, and Berkeley libraries.

“Keeping Goats in Oakland,” News, 12/29

Spare the Kids

There have also been an increasing number of stray goats turning up at the Oakland Animal Shelter in the past two years. Please consider whether a goat is really right for you before bringing one home.

This article also does not mention that the ONLY way a goat will produce milk is if she is pregnant, or has recently given birth (also true for cows, or humans). This raises the question of what you plan to do with a new calf each year. Those interviewed in this article clearly chose to eat their new calf. Goats can live eight to sixteen years — killing a six-month-old baby is not a “good life,” any way you slice it.

You might consider almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk instead — cholesterol- and lactose-free, and no animals died to produce the milk. You can make these inexpensively at home.

Anne Martin, Oakland

“The Ten Best Movies of 2010,” Feature, 12/29

Worst Movie of the Year

I read “10 Best Movies of 2010” by Kelly Vance, in which he raves about True Grit (and doesn’t mention The King’s Speech, a far superior movie).

I think your readers might appreciate an alternate view, as it might save them an admissions fee and wasting two hours.

True Grit is one of the 10 Worst Movies of 2010. One has to listen to two hours of a fake, unnatural, stilted dialogue that is spoken by every single character. Why the Coen brothers thought this might be amusing or interesting is beyond me, but I found the speech annoying and irritating.

Secondly, the talents of Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are totally wasted. Neither character is in the least bit interesting.

There is no purpose to the entire story. No point. There’s no reason to tell this story. It’s not about justice, at most about revenge, so none of the characters is sympathetic or appealing. One is a self-described fat, drunken, one-eyed, demi-criminal that enjoys killing people, and kicking Indian children, and the young girl is a self-righteous blood-thirsty prig.

I found nothing in the movie that was funny, scary, exciting, sad, interesting, or joyful, just boring.

David Weitzman, Berkeley

“The Dude, Not the Duke,” Movies, 12/29

Truth About Grit

I can overlook a couple of the factual errors in this piece, though a couple bear mention. The pious townspeople Vance cites are not residents of Yell County; that’s where Hattie hails from, and it’s where the bodies of her father (and later, Cogburn) go, but we never see the place onscreen. Likewise, Chaney is the “head bad guy” only in that he’s the primary antagonist of the film; the man nominally in charge of his gang is Lucky Ned.

But anyone in possession of even a thirty-year-old film reference (and I would hope Katz’ The Film Encyclopedia sits on every professional reviewer’s shelf) should be able to confirm that True Grit was not John Wayne’s next-to last movie. He made ten more films (eleven if one includes his cameo in Cancel My Reservation), with Rooster Cogburn, the sequel to True Grit, being the penultimate appearance.As you were.

Thor Klippert, Berkeley

Kelly Vance Responds

The Yell County reference is to Mattie’s people in general; not strictly a factual error. The Chaney reference is open to interpretation; again, not a factual error, just an opinion.And we made the correction about John Wayne in last week’s letters section.

“Berkeley Settles Library Fight,” News, 12/22

Bonds Aren’t Free Money

The fundamental issue in the dispute over Berkeley’s Measure FF branch library bonds is that the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) is attempting to use bond money for an unauthorized purpose — completely demolishing two of Berkeley’s four branch libraries, and constructing new buildings instead.

Measure FF, approved in 2008 by Berkeley voters, did not propose demolition and/or new construction. Instead, it was specifically and solely intended to “renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements at four neighborhood branch libraries.”

The library leadership now appears to be arguing that either it has had a change of heart, or that it really intended all along to demolish and rebuild half the branches.

If that is the case, the measure could have easily been written to include “demolish,” “rebuild,” “replace,” or similar terminology.

It wasn’t, and probably for good reason. If Berkeley voters had been told the library would have leeway to demolish cherished branch buildings, it’s quite possible Measure FF wouldn’t have passed.

The Board of Library Trustees chose to make the chances of passage better by excluding demolition and new buildings from both the bond measure wording and the campaign for the bonds.

A bond measure isn’t a no-strings-attached gift to the city. It is a contract with the voters. We authorize increasing taxes, in exchange for the promise that those taxes will be used for a specific purpose.

If the recipient of the money can later change the purpose without consequences, as BOLT is attempting to do, then no bond measure wording really means anything. That is the key issue at stake in the lawsuit against the Berkeley Public Library.

Steven Finacom, Berkeley

“A Safer Place to Break the Law?” News, 12/22

Slippery Slope

Does anyone think youth tempted by the rewards of burglary are any less savvy than graffiti vandals? City Hall has made Oakland an experiment in how few police you can have before daily life becomes totally unlivable.

Charles Pine, Oakland

“Chronic Christ Mass?” Legalization Nation, 12/22

We Need Balls

This article doesn’t go into detail about Reverend Roger Christie, but here’s what I do know, he is the founder of the THC-Ministry, inspired by Chris Bennett’s writings that cannabis was the main ingredient in the Holy Anointing Oil recipe from Exodus 30:23. Roger continues to be held without bail, now for six months. Could it be that Roger was dispensing suppressed information along with the holy sacraments? Why is he held without bail for two pounds of herb? What was he doing with the cannabis? Was he in fact duplicating the recipe from Exodus? The truth will have a very bright light shining on it when/IF he goes to trial in April 2011. Cannabis in the Holy anointing oil? Yes, of course. It makes perfect sense and resonates as the truth. Many folks who have been to the THC-Ministry and have discovered the truth have burst into tears of joy upon this revelation. I can tell you, that this knowledge transformed and lit me on fire for Cannabis Liberation. The more I know, the more inflamed I become. Yes, Roger Christie is dangerous — to the DEA and the US government, certainly not the thousands he helped and enlightened. There is no justice in this nation unless we the people grow some big ass balls and get our lazy, stoned butts off the sofa and out in the streets fighting for our God and constitutional rights.Once you know the truth about cannabis, then you, too, can be a danger to the government. We need millions of dangerous citizens to take back our great plant. There is a reason the Chinese once called it Tai Ma — it means literally — great plant!

Hokulani Cheneviere, Hilo, Hawaii

“Reassessing Obama,” Seven Days, 12/22

Will You Attack Lincoln, Too?

In your Christmas issue, new Co-Editor Robert Gammon flails the tired cudgel of “Bush tax cuts for the rich.”

Let’s admit, briefly, that 40 percent of our country’s tax revenues are already being confiscated from only 1 percent of taxpayers.Let’s also recognize the 2009 Harvard study, reviewing 37 years of results from developed nations worldwide, showing that tax cuts increase economic growth.

Now, we can recognize that Mr. Gammon has a First Amendment right to get a wedgie whenever a war-mongering Republican president does something for the nation’s good.

I look forward to reading articles about the Lincoln disenslavement laws.

David Altschul, J.D., Berkeley

“Castles in the Sand,” Letters, 12/22

Daytime Benefits

I read with great interest Steve Tabor’s well thought-out letter. However, may I point out that the strength of sunlight-generated electricity is that it only works in the daytime.

The electricity generated from the San Luis dam also works fine in the daytime. But when the sun goes down, the unneeded electricity generated at night is used to pump the water from the fore bay back up into the main reservoir so that the water can be used again tomorrow to generate electricity in the daytime — when it is needed.

Daytime electricity has great value. Nighttime electricity has only some value.

Thanks for your good works.

King O’Neal, Oakland

“The Year the Buses Almost Died,” News, 12/22

How About Horses?

AC Transit diesel buses on blocks as shown on the cover of the December 22 issue are because of California EPA enforcement of the California AB 32 edict to replace or filter diesel engines.

Bus-size engine filters to capture and clean CO2 are at a cost likely to run from $5,000 to $50,000, not to mention the cost of expensive EPA-compliance engine replacement.  Obviously, bus service will suffer.

Not to worry. Environmentally clean mass transit will return. An alternative is the tried-and-true, clean non-petroleum, teamster-operated horse and buggy.

The Bureau of Land Management has an overpopulation of cheap, low-maintenance, and easy-to-fuel horses.

A byproduct will be chemical-free fertilizer. It is all a win-win.

Predicted PG&E brownouts will force electric cars to mount solar panels and windmills and that’s okay, because the environment is more important than us carbon-based life forms.

Phil Tribuzio, Alameda

“Trading Up,” Food, 12/22

Happy to Have Vics Back

So glad to hear it is back!! My first experience with Trader Vic’s was back in Honolulu.  Loved the place but it closed in the late-Sixties and the property became a multi-story condo building. Recently have been going to the Tonga Room for my annual “Tiki Fix” but now I shall try Vic’s once again. I wish them good fortune!!

Michael Kirch, Lucerne, CA

“A Comic Death and Resurrection,” Culture Spy, 12/15

We’re Not Obsessives

As a comic book afficianado, I read Rachel Swan’s article about Comic Relief with great interest. She obviously did her homework in recounting the store’s history, as well as providing hints about its dicey future.

But just once, I’d like to read an article about comic books that doesn’t fall back on tired old stereotypes. In her piece, Swan tells us, “Comics depend on fanaticism,” and “They’re for the obsessives.” As if there’s something strange about wanting to read every issue. Look, comics are a form of entertainment, like any other. They come in serialized installments, just like TV shows, or for that matter, weekly newspapers like the Express.  Stories tend to unfold over multi-issue arcs, with each issue comprising a single chapter.  Let’s say you picked up a copy of Great Expectations. Wouldn’t you be upset if you found that chapter three was missing? Would that make you an obsessive fanatic? (It’s probably worth mentioning that most of Dickens’ novels were originally serialized in monthly magazines.)

And just because there are fewer comic book fans than, say, football fans, is no reason to diss them as “hard-core geeks” or their interest as “something frivolous.” How about using those skills you learned in journalism school to come up with some creative new angle, instead of trying to marginalize those who happen to like a different form of entertainment than you do?

Oh, and by the way, it’s not actually true that, “You can’t really read a comic strip on a Kindle or online.” Marvel, DC, and Archie offer digital comics on their web sites, and Marvel and DC have iPhone/iPad apps.

Jim Davidson, Berkeley

You Missed It

I have to say that a number of things that Chris Juricich said during his interview (which I overheard in large part, having been in the store at the time) were quite clearly misunderstood and used to illustrate points to which they do not apply.

As an example, his description of the decline in sales of the standard-format comic in favor of trade paperback and hardcover collections is used by the writer as a reason for the store’s trouble, when in fact Comic Relief’s very identity is tied up in marketing comics in book format. The store’s full name is “Comic Relief, the Comic Bookstore,” not “the Comic Book Store.” Get the difference? You quoted that, but missed its import. Comics as books. Comics in book format — it’s what Comic Relief does.

James Friel, Oakland

“Against Immigrants, Not Latinos,” Letters, 12/15

Why IDs Matter

The purpose of increasing cooperation of individuals with Oakland Police seems quite clear to me. Whether or not some crooks leave their ID at the scene of the crime, the individuals who need to be encouraged to cooperate are: (1) Victims. Fear of being treated like a suspect makes anyone afraid to report a crime.

(2) Witnesses: Many witnesses will not speak out, again because of fear. (3) Bystanders: Maybe not actual witnesses, but they saw something that might be helpful, such the license plate of a car fleeing the scene. Without ID, they have to protect themselves rather than help the police and the victims. Many people, especially immigrants, are quite afraid of the police. Other people, such as homeless, may be less fearful, but in the homeless life, ID is one of the earliest things lost or stolen, and one of the hardest to replace. Without ID, many services are closed to someone in need. Since the rumor is that Homeland Security is going to start requiring two forms of government issued ID in 2011, even Mr. Nnaoji’s Town of Moraga may find it needs to issue municipal ID so its residents can cash a check or use a credit card.

I would prefer that we live in the trusting times of the 1930s and 1940s, when there was almost no requirement for ID except as proof of age to collect Social Security, but this is seventy or eighty years later.

Theolinda Knight, Berkeley

“Hello … Wanna Give to a Good Cause?” Feature, 11/3

Psychological Problems?

I liked Mintz’s article on the student loan issue.  One thing I thought was lacking is that it seems like many of the debtors seem to need some help in learning how to manage their lives, courageously facing their current situation and fears and working through personal issues. It would have been good to have mentioned sources for help to do damage control and solution seeking, instead of showing and perpetuating a kind of victimization.

The issue may be bigger than predatory lending, and deal with psychological factors.  McCarthy and Warner’s fears are bigger than their debt, as he can’t even bear to look at the amount he owes and she talks about how “they’re going to come get me.” It may be more productive for them to try and find solutions instead of continuing to live it such utter fear and continuing to play the victim. There are groups that support that, and it would have been cool to have seen some mentions of these as places for people to go.  I think people like Warner and McCarthy may benefit from support groups like debtors anonymous or others.

Luke Macaulay, Berkeley


In the 12/22 news story “The Electromagnetic Menace,” we stated that the El Cerrito City Council had withdrawn its approval of a proposed cell phone tower at Camp Herms. In fact, the city has neither approved nor denied T-Mobile’s application.

Miscellaneous Letters

University Fat-Cats

Dear Dean Edley:

When I went to law school I was taught that rule of law was designed to serve societal sustainability.

Your public rapaciousness in threatening to litigate if you ONLY get a 6-figure pension asks taxpayers to believe as a matter of equity that your annual new Lexus benefits us more than a paid faculty position at the law school or any other UC institution.

Today’s paper quoted you as rationalizing your quest by saying it “financially important to {your) family.”

Three thoughts come to mind:

1) If that extra money is not used for a faculty salary or student scholarship, what makes your family more important than others?

2) Given that the university trustees owe a duty to see to it that the university can stay in business, wouldn’t prioritizing YOUR family’s finances be a breach of fiduciary duty?

And finally,

3) If your family feels it can’t get by on a six-figure income after you are no longer productive, shoudn’t your grade as your household’s moral leader and fiscal manager be an “F”?

David Altschul, J. D., Berkeley

Perceptions of Justice

It is easy to assign our own version of “justice” to some all-encompassing, overall vision of what justice should be. In the months that have passed since December of last year, I have found that more often than not, my description did not match anyone elses. Rightly so. After all, who could define absolute justice? Your experiences, encounters, privileges, desires, and realities all shape your account. And yet, we are all held to a certain amount of responsibility and accountability, because we all have (at least for the most part) a general idea of what is and is not acceptable. Beyond those basic assumptions, we all make our individual choices and decisions about what we believe is just, fair, and right. And then we leap, and hope that we haven’t overstepped or miscalculated, or, that if we have, we’ll be grazing a limb instead of losing one.

Just after Thanksgiving, I read a book by Dave Eggers called What Is The What about the “Lost Boys” of Sudan and their plight in the hopes of finding safety from the chaos of their villages. Before reading it, I had heard a lot about the Sudanese refugees but had read very little about the actual situations and circumstances that led to their journey. To read their lives, and their endurance, and their modesty in the face of all these events, was incredibly humbling. I remember that I kept telling everyone that the book had “rearranged my perception of justice.” What I didn’t know is that throughout my lifetime, with this book and the events that would follow shortly thereafter included, my perception of justice would change and shift consistently. In fact, sooner than I could possibly imagine, my commitment and theory of justice would be most tested.

When I heard of Oscar Grant, my heart ached the way it had a million times before with a million calls like the one I received that January morning. If it wasn’t someone we knew personally, it was still a young minority from our community, and, rarely inclined to watch the news, my friends and I called each other to analyze the details before we got someone else’s version of things. That morning, my friend shared the usual statistics: Black victim; White killer with a gold badge and a blue uniform, the latter colors determining his fate just as much as the color of Grant’s skin had determined his own. But at the end, the prototype blurred, the story changed, and the results were inexplicably different. My friend hesitated a few seconds to let me consider the agonizing news before I asked if the BART camera’s had caught the execution on tape, thinking quickly how stupid that sounded. Of course the camera’s had filmed the scene, they were always on. Even more, my friend informed me, was that there was a young woman who filmed it all with her camera phone. And while the police had attempted to confiscate the phone without return, she had already posted the video on YouTube. Herein lies the crucial difference, the substance that had never before been visible in police slayings in my community. Because of this, Oscar Grant would not be another Mack “Jody” Woodfox, another Anita Gay, another Andrew Moppin, another Young Gary. Because a few people had raised their phones and pressed a button; because the light had shone enough on that platform for us all to see; because Mehserle and his fellow officers could not help but feel they were above the very laws they supposedly safeguarded; for all these reasons, January 7th was scheduled. Because, as we chanted marching down International Blvd., we are all Oscar Grant.

That night, hundreds of protesters marched in absolute unison. As the tension grew higher, however, it was clear the focus of the group had somewhat dissipated. Where there was anger, there was no action both productive and non-destructive to engage in. As onlookers joined the group, we continued like some type of “Fuck You” parade and procession, some sobbing, others screaming, even more of us unsure of where to place this burning feeling we had; a feeling many of us possessed since children, since watching our own brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers harassed by the police. A feeling of inadequacy and absolute rage at the idea that someone thought your entire community was inadequate, was less than and somehow not worth saving. As one mother once asked me through tears, “When everyone else is calling 911, who do we call?” By the time we reached Lake Merritt BART, the night had come and the rage was quick to follow. After getting excited because they had stomped an officer’s squad car, someone smashed a windshield as the group progressed through Chinatown. This was the beginning of the end, the start of the so-called “mob mentality” that is notorious for grabbing hold of a group. After seeing my reaction, a man handed me a megaphone so I could try to speak to the group, but my words, however true, were falling on a deaf group of kids who had seen executions like this one all their lives, until today, when someone had told pretty much told them, “Have at it at this city!” Throughout the rest of the night, we would be tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and injured by the police. The city was in disarray, shop windows broken throughout downtown. Newspaper dispensers and trash cans lit the landscape, fires blazing as people threw bottles and screamed at the riot cops, who stood there, annoyed that they were missing their evening meal to deal with the likes of us. And beyond the temporary damage, the feelings of mistrust and tension throughout the community in the weeks and months that would follow, was a more permanent problem. It was not as “black and white,” as cookie-cutter as I had imagined. Mehserle stole Grant’s life and, as a result, two children had no father, a wonderful woman lost her lover and friend, a family lost a son, and a community with little hope to begin with lost all hope in whatever decency we assumed our officials and authorities had. Though we all know well enough to know that the needs of a people rarely come first, I hesitate to say there was anyone who could watch with anything less than disgust as BART officials, law officials, and state officials all refused to give any comment that would imply they or their system was at fault. This was when the word “justice” became commonplace in every conversation, a necessity to re-hash and define and understand. What were we without justice? What would I be without defending it? At protests, on riot lines, and everywhere in between, I struggled to grasp this concept in it’s entirety. The same sick feeling I had felt when I heard the news was the magnified feeling of the small lump that gathered in my stomach when the first innocent person’s car got destroyed, which was the same feeling I had known since I was child, though in a newly heightened sense. It was the feeling that spoke to my heart, however it could and told me that something simply wasn’t right. But, just because it isn’t right to me doesn’t make it unjust, and just because someone didn’t agree or understand why I thought it was wrong didn’t mean the person was wrong either. In fact, while we could have a hundred different definitions for justice and injustice, the only time that we really bother to think about it is when we violate one another’s perception of justice. And just as I thought I had begun to form my own theory that made sense, just when I thought that my weapon was big enough to enter battle, the war changed, the scenery shifted, and chaos ensued once more. This time, our soldier’s weren’t the ones falling, but, it certainly didn’t feel like victory.

I rode up to 73rd, my best friend and her friend in my car. The music was loud but not so loud we couldn’t hear the sirens. And we were distracted, but not so distracted we didn’t see the rows of squad cars blocking 73rd to traffic coming from our direction. We began to survey the scene at almost the exact same moment I got a text from my sister. “Don’t go to the east! Guy killed cops, still on loose.” The day would be filled with small details about Lovelle Mixon, a young parolee who would kill four police officers before being fatally wounded by a SWAT officer. The ironic twist couldn’t be a sharper blade: Pat Gonzales, the SWAT officer who killed Mixon, was supposed to have been demoted to a desk job after he killed Gary “Young Gary” King Jr. Not to mention Joshua Russell, 19, who he killed in March 2002; and Amir Rollins, 17, who was shot and critically wounded. In fact, all you have to type in Google is “Pat,” and the very first suggestion, even before the celebrity “Patrick Swayze,” is “Pat Gonzales Oakland police.” Obviously, his reputation precedes him. And so, on March 21, 2009, a new example was born and a new way to analyze was adopted, at least in my life. I could no longer look at situations as simply as they had been given to me before; it wasn’t simply “right” or “wrong.” What was right for Oscar Grant’s family was not necessarily right for Mehserle’s, just as what was right for me was not always right for others. While I have never been able to respect the police as the institution of brutality that they defend and encourage, I also value all life, regardless of what badge or uniform that life was wearing in its final moments. And while valuing all life is not what has been shown to me, my picture of justice isn’t based upon what has been given to or taken from me, but rather what should have been there all along. Everyone deserves the quality of life to live freely, speak freely, dream freely, and provide for theirs. On January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant was denied for the last time what he and every other being rightfully deserves, and as such, I can encourage all of us to live every day with kindness in our hearts and justice on our minds, because if not, we may forget how many have died and will die so that we could have the privilege of arguing about what justice is and is not. Of all the things my tongue will undoubtedly skim and scan that justice is, I know one common denominator through all the events witnessed recently, and that is the principle that justice, as long as it is for all, cannot be for just us.

Rest in Paradise to those who have lost their lives surviving through the times, trials, and tribulations of living in the ghettos of the world. I pray that whatever peace can be attained in a situation like this will be granted to the families affected and impacted by said violence. While Oscar Grant, Andrew Moppin, Young Gary, Jody Woodfox, Michael Chau, Julio Paredes, Sean Bell, Adolph Grimes, Acorn Peters, Idriss Stelly, and countless others are gone, we are here, to make sure future generations aren’t treated as we were and are. Show compassion in everyday acts, and kindness at every turn.

Gabrielle Travis, San Leandro

Movie Disappointment

I live in the East Bay. Before moving here I lived in Hattiesburg, MS. Although this might seem to be an extreme lifestyle change, I have to say that, at least in terms of the movie offerings around me there is not much difference.

What is showing today (December 18, 2010) in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties in the big movie multiplexes is pretty much the same thing that is showing in Hattiesburg, MS.

Yes, I know, I could get on the BART and go into San Francisco for more variety. I also could go to the smaller movie venues in my area and hope that the movie with good reviews I want to see is not in the small attic theater and that it is possible to find parking within a mile of the building where the movie is being shown.

I just wish that the people running the big movie houses in my general area had just a tiny bit more creativity and would provide something different for people who are bored with Hollywood sausage factory movies and also prefer a modern movie theater experience.

Pam Miller, Oakland

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