Letters for the week of December 10-16, 2003

Soulbeat will not be missed. Nick Van Exel is not a superstar. The prisons should not discriminate. Democracy is essential, but not pretty.

“Soul on Thin Ice,” Bottom Feeder, 11/12

A long, slow slide
Good riddance to Soulbeat. Soulbeat has been an embarrassment since at least the late ’80s when all of us kids used to watch our old-folk parents, neighbors, and teachers do the Electric Slide at Jimmie’s on one of their live broadcasts of the nightclub. In the almost twenty years that I’ve watched Soulbeat, the channel has gotten progressively worse, not better. I still see commercials that were “produced” back when I was in high school in the late ’80s. The premise of Soulbeat is great; however, the station’s usefulness ended back when they stopped showing OAL football games. I wish Comcast would consider MBC as a replacement for black entertainment and not the blowhard Chauncey Bailey who, as I’ve seen from his show, doesn’t have much more to offer in the way of quality news.

DeReece Arvjuane, Oakland

“Banking on the Baby-Faced Killer,” Cityside, 10/29

One of these is not like the other
Please do not call Nick Van Exel a superstar. If I must prove that statement untrue, then how does this sound? Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Nick Van Exel. Which one does not belong?

Russ Lobar, Richmond

“Spare Change for a Trauma Center?” City of Warts, 11/26

Save the safety net
Thank you for the wonderful coverage of the health-care crisis at Highland. It is shocking that the county supervisors could dismantle so much of our health-care safety net without any explanation to the public. More responsible politicians would disclose to the public that they may close the labor and delivery floor, and the cancer, TB, orthopedics, AIDS, and trauma clinics. People in Alameda County have a right to know.

Ann Nomura, Oakland

“Jackson Inaction,” Culture, 11/19

Why the double standard?
Your article on the prison authorities’ reluctance to allow filming of the George Jackson story and escape should recall to readers that Bound by Honor was filmed in San Quentin in 1993, and that it, too, featured less-than-desirable characters, horrific racial tensions, plenty of violence, riots, and less-than-honorable guards in its prison sequences. And yet filming was allowed inside the maximum-security prison. Why the reluctance to allowing filming ten years later? Simply because a film has an inflammatory nature is no reason to in essence ban it from being filmed in its proper location. The filming of Bound by Honor must have posed some large security problems, and the story certainly couldn’t have done much to increase racial harmony either in prison or in the community, yet the on-location shooting gave it a realistic punch all its own. I hope the prison authorities can be persuaded to change their minds — realism isn’t always pleasant, but it certainly is powerful, especially in a film.

Martin Bickerstaff, Alameda

“All Tomorrow’s Zombies,” Music, 11/19

It takes one to know one
You’re essentially correct re the indie stare, but if you yourself were up in the action for the likes of the Mars Volta, then you would have had no time to notice whether other folks were getting their groove on or not. Difficult to accept criticism from one who took an active role in what they’re now criticizing, ya know?

Paul Atwood, Berkeley

“Singh vs. Singh,” Feature, 11/19

Violent means attract violent types
Malcolm Gay deserves applause for a meticulously researched and balanced piece on a sensitive subject. However, a pair of errors managed to get past his eagle eye.

First, Guru Arjan, whose martyrdom day coincided with June 1984’s Operation Blue Star, concluded (rather than launched) the construction of the Golden Temple (or Darbar Sahib), Sikhism’s holiest shrine located in Amritsar, Punjab. Guru Arjan’s predecessor, Guru Amar Das, was responsible for commencing its construction.

Second, according to veteran BBC correspondent Mark Tully’s book Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle, the Babbar Khalsa was formed not “in the wake of Operation Blue Star” but during the years leading up to it. They “took their name from the Babbar Akalis, the group of terrorists who rejected the Akali Dal’s nonviolent policy during the Gurdwara Reform Movement (GRM) in the 1920s.”

I was particularly rankled by Bhajan Singh Bhinder’s statement about not wanting to hold elections at the Fremont Gurdwara (since 1996) “because elections have been known to be abused.” Sidestepping democratic institutions is an ineffective way to go about refining them. In Winston Churchill’s famous words, “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

A strong precedence for the democratic governance of gurdwaras exists in the form of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), an elected body, established per the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925, responsible for the management of all major gurdwaras in and around the Punjab region.

Organizations that sanction the use of illegal violence as a means to achieve an end tend to attract criminal elements with little loyalty to the organization’s political goals. According to Tully (p. 147), “Most of the young men who escaped [from the Darbar Sahib during Operation Blue Star] were either criminals or those left-wing extremists known as Naxalites.” Those who escaped were seen to have betrayed their stated pledge to die fighting against what they viewed as Indian occupying forces. If the Sikh Youth of America (SYA) fails to disavow violence and crime, it too will do so at the expense of compromising its vision for Sikh self-determination.

To its credit, Sikhism’s supreme authority, the Amritsar-based Akal Takht, has unequivocally condemned all gurdwara violence irrespective of its objective. The apex body’s 1993 letter to the Fairfax Gurdwara in Virginia stated that anyone causing “any bodily harm to any individual directly or indirectly through someone else” would be considered a “sinner” (Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change, edited by Pashaura Singh and N. Gerald Barrier, 2001, New Delhi: Manohar, p. 372).
Puneet Singh Lamba, founder, The Sikh Times, Boston

Moneychangers in the temple
This is a really good article. Nothing but truth. I am a Sikh, too, and used to go to Fremont Gurdwara often and volunteer to teach computers to seniors, but I have stopped going there because of all these crooks. They have turned this sacred place into a business. I would like to publish this story in all the local Punjabi newspapers as well because that is what most Punjabi people read.

M.B., Fremont

“White Punks on Warner Bros., Feature, 11/5/03”

So much negativity
I manage the Hellcat Records label and work with Rancid every day, and I’m not affiliated with Warner Bros. I know the facts. Why didn’t anyone contact me? Instead, the article by George Sanchez “took the low-road” and created a story from various outside sources (other publications), which made for poor journalism. This band has the right to be treated well. Maybe that approach isn’t that “cool enough” for your writers?

Anybody can write negative — that’s easy. Are times so hard for your paper that you need to resort to taking potshots at musicians who have careers, inspire people, and have dedicated their lives to playing and creating music, just to move magazines?

The facts the paper presented were damning and negative. I disagree that the band’s excellence is overshadowed by anything. I would suggest you get out to a Rancid show and see for yourself how exciting this band and their music are to the audience.

Rancid remains consistent in churning out the highest caliber of music, in the studio, on the records they make for themselves, in collaboration with other musicians, and onstage. Rancid and Tim Armstrong (owner of Hellcat) in particular have helped countless musicians and groups to have a life in music, notably, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros (who just released their most successful record to date), Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards, the Transplants, US Bombs, F-Minus, Tiger Army, the Slackers, Nekromantix, Dropkick Murphys, HorrorPops, Hepcat, Roughnecks, and the Nerve Agents, to name a few.

With all the negativity and overbearing fear prevalent in the press these days, I would suggest you use your conscience and provide your readers with a better piece of journalism. If you disrespect someone, how can you expect anyone to respect you or your paper?

Brett Gurewitz is still involved with Rancid, and here is a statement from him:

“Rancid recently concluded a deal with Warner Bros. to enter into a joint venture with the band’s Hellcat label for the release of Indestructible. Under the terms of the deal, Indestructible will be released on Hellcat with marketing, promotion, and distribution support coming from WB. The deal was entered into jointly by Rancid, Hellcat, Epitaph, and WB and does not affect any other Hellcat artist. ‘I am very, very proud of the new record and our group decision to put it out on Hellcat jointly with Warner Bros.’ commented Brett Gurewitz of Epitaph. ‘I really think it’s a great thing for everyone involved: Rancid, Hellcat, and Epitaph.'”
Chris LaSalle, Hellcat Records, Los Angeles

George Sanchez sought comment for his story from Warner Bros., Epitaph, Brett Gurewitz, and the members of Rancid. He relied on people’s comments from other publications only when those people declined to speak to him — which was usually the case.

“Wot’s Cookin’, Teff Guy?,” On Food, 10/29

Spread the word
I am so glad to see that Finfiné is finally getting the publicity it deserves. No one knows about this place, and I have been trying to get people to go ever since it opened. Other than Red Sea off of 51st and Telegraph, there is no better Ethiopian restaurant than Finfiné in the Berkeley/North Oakland area. One will immediately see that this place is frequented by other Ethiopians, a dead giveaway that this place is GOOD and authentic. Don’t miss out on some yummy Ethiopian food served by the friendliest people around! Then tell everyone else about it, because unfortunately not enough people know about it.

Wilda Wong, Berkeley

The Express would like to know what you resolve to do differently in 2004. Whether you plan to get in shape (or go to seed), teach yourself a new skill (or forget everything you learned in school), or be a better (worse?) person, we’d like to hear from you. Please send a brief description of your 2004 resolutions to [email protected] or to Resolution Guide, East Bay Express, 1335 Stanford Ave., suite 100, Emeryville, CA 94608. All submissions must be received by January 7. We’ll publish a selection of the best ones.

In our November 26 holiday calendar, we misidentified Bruno Kark, the creator of a ceramic vase.

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