Letters for the week of August 14-20, 2002

Pig metaphors and cat critics take it right on the snout, while brainy pharmaceuticals and explorer safety earn props.

Sticks and stones but please, no bones
In response to your article “Building Green” (7 Days, July 17), the Benvenue neighborhood has only this to say: ACHOO! We are deeply offended that you have portrayed us in words and images in a very unflattering light as the Big Bad Wolf.

We write simply to set the record straight: We are not against hay buildings! We are not against hay (sneeze)! We are not against grass! We are not against herbage of any kind! In fact, contrary to your unfair carnivorous characterization, some of us are vegetarians and would just love to take a hay building out to lunch — out to someplace zoned for six-story institutional buildings, that is.

We also want to express our equal concern at your depiction of the building sponsors as pigs. At first we thought it was okay, because, after all, they are the other guy, and pigs have an equally bad reputation as representatives of avarice, snarfing along in oblivious disregard for how their enormous bulk impacts their environment. But despite the aptness of the metaphor, the abuse of animals in print has to stop somewhere! Therefore, after heated discussion and by a narrow vote, we decided in true Berkeley fashion to do the principled thing and come out against ALL human-fauna metaphors.

But flora is still fair game (oops!). So hey! Go ahead and make hay with the hay, because when it comes to institutional buildings sprouting up in residential neighborhoods, it’s a jungle out there.
Name withheld by request

Keepin’ it positive
Larry Kelp’s article on the young Berkeley saxophone player, Hitomi Oba, and her quartet performing at the Jazzschool (“Blame It on Her Youth,” July 24) was terrific. It’s so great to see stories about young people who are positive and productive. There is a lot to be learned from them. Thanks to Kelp and to the Express for keeping us informed about the good things happening in the East Bay.
Merrilee Trost, Alameda

Like McDonald’s, Grease came from Chicago
A slight correction in your history of Grease (“Real Teens, Real Talent,” July 24): Grease opened in 1971 in Chicago at the Kingston Mines Theatre. Originally scheduled for only four performances, it became a smash hit — one of the first unqualified hits from the flowering Chicago fringe (source of most of the best American theatre of the last thirty years) to hit New York. Your review gives the unfortunate impression that the show began in New York.
Kerry Reid, Chicago

Editor’s note
Grease was originally a five-hour-long amateur production with a $171 budget in a drafty old Chicago trolley barn. It was supposed to run for only four shows, but some New York producers convinced the writers to cut the thing down to a manageable size. The resulting show opened professionally at the Eden.

The brain should not be the realm of the brand
When my pharmacist asks me if I would prefer the generic version of a particular prescribed drug (“Generic Drugs, Expensive Lawsuits,” July 17), I, like millions of other drug consumers, count my blessings in so many dollars saved and silently thank generic drug companies like Impax. But when only an expensive trademarked version of a drug is available, there is little choice but to buy, and buy dearly.

Recently, a $60 billion transaction allowed Pfizer Inc. to acquire Pharmacia Corporation, creating the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. With anticipated annual revenues of $48 billion, Pfizer-Pharmacia will have unsurpassed global dominance on some of the most lucrative pharmaceutical drugs available. Dominance in the legal drug industry is no small territory. And, in particular, Pfizer-Pharmacia will have a noteworthy lead in drugs of psychopharmacology. Drugs designed and marketed to modulate brain chemistry — those intended to make a person less depressed, more sociable, more happy at work — are currently the hottest segment of pharmaceuticals, with over $10.5 billion in sales for the year 2000.

But what are the likely adverse effects for consumers? With drugs such as Zoloft (under Pfizer patent until 2005) and other antidepressants already a multibillion-dollar industry aimed at altering mood or “changing” the way a person thinks, feels, and acts, the consolidation of drug companies may lead to less diversity of consciousness, more brand-name brain function. Prozac, the superstar of antidepressants, became a household prescription as well as a household name. Before Eli Lilly lost its patent on Prozac, forty million people were franchised users. Recently, in an effort to regain its patent-protected profits, Lilly push-marketed the new “Prozac Weekly,” taken in a once-a-week pill, by mailing thousands of free samples direct to unsuspecting consumers.

In such a climate of brand-name pharmaceuticals and direct-to-consumer marketing of brain-changing drugs, we need to consider potential consequences of large-scale conglomeration. Market-driven changes in the ways we think about drugs, or even the ways we think on drugs, may have serious consequences for cognitive liberty.
Wrye Sententia, associate director, Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE), Davis

Safety is not a low priority
In response to Sara Palmer (Letters, July 17) I should like to say the following: When we (urban explorers) go into a site, safety of ourselves and others is a paramount concern. Measures are normally taken to make a site safer, and to highlight hazards to make things safer for those who follow. It is true that a rescue worker could be endangered were he/she needed, but what must be remembered here is that we are not kids exploring a crumbling building or drain.

Most of us have hundreds of hours of experience in confined space environments and other dangerous spaces. More, I might add, than many rescue crews who might be called in, and in some circumstances we are the rescue crew. We also tend to carry personal safety and rescue equipment (even on a last-second trip) and are able to extract from all but the most despairing situation.So whilst I can understand Ms. Palmer’s viewpoint, I have never heard of any explorer needing to call a rescue crew.
Aleks, London, UK

The cat problem could be much worse
I find your article (“The Catfields vs. The McCoys,” July 17) to be contradictory, confusing, and probably glaringly incorrect. I am a cat-lover from across town who is acquainted somewhat with Judy Brock’s work and its resulting benefits to the cat and human citizens of our fair city. I volunteer whenever I can at the Berkeley Animal Services Shelter to socialize the felines who are, hopefully, temporary guests there.

If I understand the neighbors’ arguments correctly, they are hissing about the fact that Judy Brock is, on her own property, housing forty to fifty cats in less than sanitary and secure conditions, getting city funding to do so, and is operating a shelter from her home without a license.

I’m admittedly concerned more for the cats than for the neighbors. When I went to the orientation to volunteer at the Berkeley Animal Services Shelter on April 6, I was not informed that 79 cats were put down last year. I’ve gotten attached to some of the regulars there and have met several volunteers who, unlike me, manage to “foster” some of the older cats as well as kittens, to socialize them and to save their lives. There are only 28 cages, some of which contain litters or older litter-mates.

If it wasn’t for Judy Brock and others, we’d be up to our ears in cats. Home At Last rescues them, and Fix Our Ferals alters them. BASS can adopt them out, get them foster care, or put them down. Perhaps Judy’s neighbors might prefer the last option, but I assure you, if Judy is forced out or has to shut down, there will be perhaps a new cluster of cats to increase the now dwindling population of ferals.

Those neighbors need to get a life, and Berkeley needs a new, larger animal shelter.
Edith Monk Hallberg, Berkeley

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