Letters for the Week of January 18

Readers sound off on the Air Jordan frenzy, Grand Tavern, and Yelp.

“Coach Collins,” Feature, 1/4

Kids-Free Coaching

Thank you for a fascinating and well-written article. I’m not even a sports fan and I couldn’t put it down. Coach Collins sounds like a wonderful dad, a real natural. I wonder if he would be able to give his players so much care and attention if he had kids at home. Maybe it’s good that he doesn’t. He can do a lot more good in the world this way.

Jan Van Dusen, Oakland

More Coach Collinses, Please

Wow! What an amazing story! The young men that Coach Collins has had the fortunate opportunity to mentor must be very proud. Learning the most important lesson of their young lives, no, I’m not talking about basketball; I am referring to the lesson that there is more to life than the violence of what you see in your neighborhood! There is another road open to them, the road to success, safety, and security. We need more teachers, coaches, mentors, and volunteers like Coach Collins to prepare our children for their futures and ours!

Robin Norwood, Fair Oaks, California

“The Air Jordan Frenzy,” Raising the Bar, 1/4

Bad Timing, Nike

The article on Nike’s evil legacy, Air Jordan, shows promotion doesn’t even begin to reveal how many parents who formerly may have liked the brand — which, to me at least, used to represent the checkmark of inclusion — now feel disgust at the way our children were excluded from buying shoes just before Christmas, shoes that we painfully and diligently saved for.

My son and I arose at 5 that morning — a work day for me and a school day for him. We drove to downtown Oakland’s Footlocker and he determined that the line was already too long for him to get his popular shoe size, as we knew supply was limited (although to this day we do not understand why, as it only creates bad faith, false scarcity, and opportunities for scavenger-scum resellers who had inside connections to obtain the shoes).

We then drove to Telegraph Avenue, to Sheik Shoes, which has subsequently closed, and he found out that the store would not start selling the shoes till 9 a.m. My son’s school starts at 7:40 a.m., and although it could have caused conflict beside the extreme disappointment, my son has already learned the right values from me so understood why he needed to be in school and not waiting on line. Bad timing, Nike. Why not have held the promotion on a weekend day?

Needless to say, my son is such a good kid that he did not accept my offer of me waiting on line and missing work (not to mention putting myself at risk of getting accidentally involved in any squabbles that may have arisen on line). I am proud of him, because he embodies the true student-athlete spirit Nike is so quick to appropriate as an outcome of buying and wearing their gear, instead of facilitating and rewarding that spirit by fair play.

Nike: Let everyone who wants to buy the shoes have them. Do you really know how many single moms and sons were out there? You have excluded us and I can only hope we will now go on to exclude you; at least I will until I get a personal apology and a college scholarship for my son from your inept and misguided marketing team. By the way, the only family we know who got those shoes had a connection. Is that the image Nike wants to be remembered by?

Wendy Schlesinger, Berkeley

The Enemy Is Us

I can appreciate Mr. Youngdahl’s article in that it is not another of those oh-so-tiresome bitter rants against capitalism and corporate greed and how we’d all be better if we lived communally with nature. Kudos to him for staying in the realm of intelligent conversation. However …

It might not be fair to criticize, when the article was clearly not long enough to fully articulate the larger points of his beliefs, but Mr. Youngdahl suggests that “The occupiers have challenged all of us to put blame where it is due when we see problems,” and he pins that blame on society and corporations (in this case, Nike). Nowhere does he ask that the blame be put where it not only ultimately belongs, but where it will do the most good: with the people.

Mr. Youngdahl states that we are the sufferers of an unfair society and culture, and I agree with him. My entire life has been lived out of touch with the mainstream. Sometimes it was not by choice, but even when it was I still found it occasionally hard to resist what our society and culture demand. Mr. Youngdahl characterizes us as addicts. Like many courageous fighters of things that cause addiction, Mr. Youngdahl lays all the blame on the thing itself.

We might be led (coerced, pressured, whatever) into doing something, whether it’s drugs or buying sneakers, but ultimately it’s because we let ourselves be led. We might seek help in overcoming these addictions, but all the help in the world will do no good if we choose not to stop the addiction. I speak as someone coming from a history of addiction who also works with teenagers and addicts.

Mr. Youngdahl raises the larger issue of the Occupy movement, and he echoes the problems I have with it. I’m not against what the occupiers are for; I’m not even really against how they do it (though I’m not fond of it). I’m against that they’re asking the problem to change itself. Until we (the people) are willing to accept the responsibility (and, yes, the blame) and force change to happen, it’s not going to. You can ask your dealer to stop selling you dope because you have a problem, but if you keep giving him money he’s going to keep giving you the same dope.

It’s not easy, it takes constant commitment and action, but it’s the only real solution.

Michael Slembrouck, Oakland.

The Medium Is the Message

Herbert Marshall McLuhan: It may be a name from the past, but he was prescient — he anticipated exactly the point of the story. The phrase “The medium is the message” was one of McLuhan’s lasting contributions to society. As an explanation for the Nike debacle it is spot on and it’s applicable to McLuhan’s native England and the riots there.

We have become a society — we being the G20 countries — where things are more important than ideas and ideals. Corporations, on behalf of their stockholders, try to sell whatever it is they make: shoes, handbags, fighter jets, etc. The way they sell is to create “buzz,” to make people into buyers — “have-to-have-its” might be more appropriate here.

In and of itself, this is no evil in anyplace but a true communal environment, and we, the G20, and specifically the US and the EU, are not communal. The fact that “We live in a sea of seductive corporate messages” and that “We have no choice but to swim in this sea of advertising images” does not create an imperative. It does not make us do anything. We choose to give in to the desire for the products — Nikes, Guccis, Chrysler 300s (thank you Eminem). If the author’s position is that we have lost free will then his plea is wasted, as we cannot break loose of the medium. If he still believes in free will, then the medium is just a messenger, not the message. In a sense, the article reinforces another McLuhanism: “When a thing is current, it creates currency.”

That is really the message of the riots.

The looting in the UK, or the clamor for the newest Air Jordans, is more a reflection of the 99 Percent concept. It is human to aspire to some station in life better than that in which we are located. It is the societal acceptance of the lack of morality that leads to such events over a pair of sneakers. The author wants us to blame the business sector: “The corporate pushers have made us addicts.” How many people become alcoholics because of advertising or product placement? How many people become drug addicts due to the ads on TV (except maybe the Cialis crowd)? We should refuse to deny our own personal responsibility for incivility.

Last, the author is right to point out hypocrisy, but he aims his weapon at the wrong target. The article touches on the keystone of the matter — “Yet this same judiciary has ignored the significant financial crimes committed in that country. Sound familiar?” The government in every branch has allowed white-collar crimes to be taken for granted; they only prosecute the most public figures or those involved in the most public matters. The reform of hypocrisy in the judicial systems and in enforcement of laws should be our goal. That is where the 1 Percent (maybe 5 percent to 10 percent, in reality) wields its power, so that is where the battle must be waged.

As McLuhan also said: “Whereas convictions depend on speed-ups, justice requires delay.” We must begin the fight for justice, not pick a fight with merchandisers.

Richard Isacoff, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Advertising Works

No one has forced the looting of shops or the fighting over designer running shoes or the maniacal behavior of shoppers on Black Friday, but they are symptoms of a common illness. No, I don’t mean that the people who committed these crimes are free of the responsibility for them, but, like the author, I suggest there is a connection between our culture’s need to constantly inflate consumer desire for “stuff” and society’s need to control the underclass, typified by the English judiciary who decreed the harshest possible sentences for the looters.

There would not be a huge media/entertainment segment of the economy engaged in selling the hugely expensive enterprise of selling “stuff” on movies, TV, radio, the Internet, and permutations of these if it did not work, and it works extremely well. People almost always underestimate the influence that advertising has on them in experimental situations, so we can assume that we, and others, are more driven by the induced desire to buy and own things than we realize. If we are unhappy with our lives, it’s logical that we would be more likely to believe that buying things would make us happier.

I disagree with Richard Isacoff that he and the rest of us are not addicted to having and acquiring more and more consumer products and consumables. When one has lots of stuff, as anyone but the homeless does in our society, the only reason to buy more is if something is used up or wears out. There is no rational purpose for closets full of clothes or a car in the city — how many of us are addicted to having “stuff” to feel secure, valid, affirmed, adult, competent, beautiful, manly, etc.? How many of us still need more?

As long as we define the American Dream as “living the good life” — doing it better and in a bigger house than our parents did, and making sure our children do the same, we are playing into the hands of the One Percent who want to keep us in our place. Consumerist culture is not realistic for the earth, or for any economy, but if everyone is trying to “get it” for themselves (as long as we have enough cops and prisons), we can sell lots of “stuff” made in China, and stock prices will soar (and tank).

We have to look clearly at the propaganda that corporate and other advertising is streaming at us, and we have to teach our children to analyze it. Adbusters magazine is a good place to start. Read it with your kids; use it at your church and community groups.

Sandra Streifel, Vancouver BC

Claim Your Freedom and Power

This is a call to the young people of the Bay Area to claim their power: Tell your friends that you won’t let corporate America run your life, that you have the power of choice, that you may “live in a sea of seductive corporate messages,” but you know a hook when you see one, and that you refuse to add to the bank accounts of the One Percent by biting their hooks. What power is in your hands to tell corporate America that you will not let it continue to control our politicians, our economic system, and our freedom to think for ourselves.

Thank you for claiming your freedom and power.

Saunterre Irish, San Francisco

“Jerry Brown’s Hypocrisy,” Seven Days, 1/4

Good Riddance, Redevelopment

It’s probably not what Jerry had in mind, but given how Oakland redevelopment turned into a predatory assault on the city’s productive citizens in the case of Fung and Revelli, and then added insult to injury by spending the taxpayers’ money in court for years to legitimize the reality distortion field that productive, taxpaying businesses could be declared blighted and seized to suit the convenience of a developer to serve some fanciful “greater good” that was all about the benjamins, it is extremely satisfying and just to see the redevelopment agency not merely sent to the penalty box but sent into oblivion. Finally, some accountability. Thank you.

Mary Eisenhart, Oakland

“Handicapping Legalization in 2012,” Legalization Nation, 1/4

Unite Around “Like Wine”

Regulate Marijuana Like Wine sent an email around announcing over $120,000 in receipts for 2011. We need to get behind one initiative and it looks like Like Wine is going to be it. The longer we are bifurcated, the worse our chances get. If we don’t move the ball down the field this year, we will lose everything, including medical marinuana in California.

Mathew Barnes, state field coordinator for Like Wine Now

“Ten Great Things About Grand Tavern,” Last Call, 1/4

Grand Tavern Rocks

Love this place. Thanks for the reminder that I don’t frequent it enough even though it is a short walking distance from my house.

Tracy Arrowsmith, Oakland

“Long Live Bette’s,” Restaurant Review, 1/4

Sustainability Is Possible

The recent review of Bette’s Oceanview Diner displays a common but invalid perspective many people share about sustainable food. The article declares: “Though she’d prefer organic meat, diner price points make it cost-prohibitive to shop from the fancy ranch.”

As the chef of The Sunny Side Cafe, I can say that this statement is not true. Bette could easily afford it; she is simply choosing not to make sustainability a priority. I run two Sunny Side Cafe locations in Berkeley and Albany with equivalent prices to what Bette’s is charging. At this price point I do have to make some compromises, of course. However, I am able to buy my beef and turkey from “fancy” BN Ranch right here in Bolinas when it is seasonally available. These animals are cared for personally by Bill and Nicolette Niman and are as local as one can get. For another example, I purchase sustainable Wild Planet tuna and I am able to keep my costs the same as for conventional tuna by altering my portion size. Now I can offer a better-tasting Pacific tuna that I know is in harmony with the ocean, my prices are the same, and my customers are happier.

I am not the only local restaurant who is able to offer quality, sustainably minded ingredients for this price point. Saul’s Deli also has the same prices as Bette’s Oceanview and The Sunny Side Café, and the December 28 issue of the Express describes how they made the switch in 2011 to more sustainable meat sources.

It takes a lot of work and diligence to source sustainable products for a restaurant. But it is false to pretend that we can’t all do our part, no matter what the price point is.

Aaron French, chef, The Sunny Side Cafe

“Punk Rock Cabaret,” 1/4

Thanks … But

Hey, Rachel,

Thanks for writing about me. Most of what you say in this article is right, more or less, but some corrections/clarifications are in order: As I pointed out in my first email to you, I do sing. In fact, I sing songs by most of the bands that you mention here, whose music I cover. I also sing most of the songs on my album. You can hear a few of them at myspace.com/rockpiano. At this point in time, though, my vocal performances are few and far between. Thus I am indeed an instrumentalist, as you say, at Disco Volante and the other venues mentioned. (Kevin of Disco Volante has expressed interest in hosting a DJ Lebowitz vocal performance in the future. When I’m ready, there’ll be an announcement, and I’ll do it either there or somewhere.)

Did I do such extensive research on these musicians? No. I mainly concentrated on learning their music, not so much about their careers.

I forgot to mention that I also opened for the Flaming Lips, and as a headliner, some of my opening acts have included The Mr. T. Experience, Flipper, Penelope Houston, and the 3-D Invisibles.

While it’s true that I use a lot of song lists, there were no index cards that I used to remember songs.

While you interviewed me at Disco Volante, I asked you if there were any tunes you’d like to hear me play. In response, you asked me to play anything by Johnny Cash. So I started out with “I Don’t Like It, But I Guess Things Happen that Way.” When I swiveled around and asked if you recognized that, I was not talking to, nor seeking approval from, the customers; I was talking directly to you, Rachel. I was just wondering if you knew that I had just filled your request, but evidently you had no idea.

No, I did not shrug, and I certainly did not “acknowledge that you can’t hold a bar audience captive, even for the duration of one song.” On the contrary, at Disco Volante, I’ve often found at least a couple people, if not a group, captivated by my music for an entire set, or even the whole couple hours, although granted, such was not the case in the few minutes that you were there.

Nevertheless, it was interesting to read your perspective on what I do. I think people will enjoy reading the article, and hopefully come and check me out for themselves. At Disco Volante, all ages are welcome. At the Madrone and 83 Proof, only ages 21 and over are admitted.

Thanks again!

DJ Lebowitz, San Leandro

“Hooves of Glory,” Movies, 1/4

Regarding Your Review of Warhorse

I found it harsh, sarcastic, and snotty (I read the review after I saw the film). I realize everything is subjective. All I know is I liked the movie. I’m just glad I no longer read reviews in the Express because of the spoiler/ruin factor — with what you divulged there wouldn’t have been any surprise or reason to see it. The only reason I did read the review was because I was curious. Sentimental sure, but that was sort of to be expected, like ET.

Mike Chihutski, Richmond 

“Monterey Market’s CHARM,” What the Fork, 12/21

The Councilman Needs Correcting

Laurie Capitelli makes the following inaccurate statements mentioned in the story which I am writing to correct:

He claims that Jill Mizono “made a public apology for stealing the petition.” This is false. Mizono has not apologized either publicly or privately to Shirley Ng. Exactly to whom Capitelli is referring as the “public” in his claim of a “public apology” by Mizono and when this apology was supposedly made are both mysterious. If he is referring to a meeting with the small merchants on November 17, called by the Marvin Gardens (1575 Hopkins) realtor Ronald Egherman to discuss CHARM’s petition, Capitelli is wrong to say that Mizono made an apology to anyone at this meeting for stealing the petition from Country Cheese on November 11.

Capitelli was present at this meeting as were two members of CHARM. Instead, Shirley Ng was targeted by Egherman for participating in the petition campaign and asked by him (in what capacity is unclear; he is a realtor, not a fellow small merchant) to explain her involvement in the campaign. In addition, Egherman advised the small merchants present to apologize to the Monterey Market’s owners for their participation in the petition campaign!

Capitelli says that Mizono “sent flowers to Ng.” He doesn’t say by whom or why she herself did not take the flowers to Ng. He doesn’t say why Gloria Fujimoto was sent— or chose to go — with flowers or what reasons Ng gave her for not accepting Fujimoto’s flowers.

Capitelli does not mention that on November 14, he called Shirley Ng and asked her not to press charges against Mizono for stealing the petition and that he interrogated her about the petition. “Why the petition?” he asked Ng. She suggested to him that he contact me as a member of CHARM. He never did.

Capitelli claims he has “helped organize numerous community meetings, trying to bridge gaps between merchants, neighbors, and the market.” Really? As a longstanding resident of the neighborhood, I am aware of just one meeting he was asked by my neighborhood group to have in relation to the additional Sunday business hours of the market. Beyond that, he visited Country Cheese for a one-to-one meeting with Ng during which he tried to get her to stop participating in the petition campaign.

Capitelli claims that “some neighbors who have been long unhappy with the market’s bustle are jumping on the CHARM bandwagon.” How unfortunate that he chooses to trivialize the strong ethical principle of community economic sustainability and diversity against the growing specter of a one-stop big-box store embraced by neighbors, the small merchants, and the six hundred-plus people who have signed the petition. Notably, the Monterey Market received from the Small Business Administration a loan of $2,298,400 in 2011.

Capitelli states that “some shops, like Magnani’s Poultry, appear to be letting go of past grudges.” He dismisses the small merchants’ very rational desire and efforts to survive economically as “grudges.” As a businessman, Capitelli undoubtedly knows better and ought not to trivialize the merchants’ serious concerns for their livelihoods.

Cynthia Mahabir, Berkeley

“Three Important Lessons of the Occupy Movement,” Raising the Bar, 11/30

Participatory Democracy Works

Some of the structure the Occupy movement chose for their decision-making seemed a little kooky from the outside, but the fact that they chose to make participatory democracy a key value and construct a new system with that in mind really stood out and impressed me. And if people can’t see anything that demands action from the dramatic income disparity in our society, they’re just not listening. Love the little kid from “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” by the way.

Sandra Streifel, Vancouver BC

“Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0,” Feature, 2/18/2009

Yelp Just Won’t Quit

I was just contacted (again!) by a Yelp ad sales rep. The first time I hung up as soon as they said “Yelp.” They called again, I answered, and they went into their sales pitch. After I went into a rant about Yelp extorting small businesses, I got her full name. I also have screen captures of my company’s Yelp page before talking to this recent sales person … and I will screen capture my company’s page after.

Plus I’m on the National Do Not Call list. …

So, I have a sales person’s full name (which led me to her Facebook profile and personal info), and I have substantial proof that Yelp employees call, and when you say “no,” they damage businesses as penalty.

Do I share this sales rep’s Facebook page link?

Brad Reason, New York City

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