Letters for the Week of June 22

Readers sound off on J.R. Rider, Albany Beach, and pinball.

“Fallen Rider,” Feature, 6/8

Don’t Pathologize Rider

That article was absurdly long and the author seemed to retrace cultural landscapes in a way that almost reinforce instead of debunk stereotypes. “Talking ghetto?” Are you really serious? Oppositon complex, or whatever he called it — being smart is white. I felt like I was reading a brochure for a cultural sensitivity workshop from the Eighties. It’s kind of like when the slavemaster psychiatrists came up with some sort of diagnosis that described slaves continuously trying to escape from the plantation as a mental disorder.

Now, J.R. might really have some sort of emotional or mental problems, but they seemed to have been glazed over by a lot of cultural generalizations in this article (in quite a juvenile and somewhat foreign way, I might add).

I’ll be glad when they start coming up with clinical terms and catchphrases that put a box around the reasons why crazy white people do the things that they do.

Pallo Peacock, Oakland

Zero Sympathy

No matter what idiot commenters say, dude had it all and screwed it up. I feel zero sympathy for someone that made more in one year than most people see in their whole lives. Ye reap what ye sow, and crack kills!

Vito Andolini, Charlotte, North Carolina

Good Job, Gackle

Paul Gackle’s article on Isaiah Rider was just phenomenal. Well written, gripping, poignant, and just a great read. The end really got me as I can’t help but hope that Isaiah III offers a true chance for redemption. Let’s hope the support is there for him.

Mark Numainville, Oakland


This article is bullshit; get your facts straight. Isaiah is a God-fearing man who is misunderstood because the media like to tell lies and glorify his mishaps. God will continue to bless Isaiah and his family regardless of these articles.

A video will be coming soon and Isaiah will tell it himself. You have not talked to Isaiah so your article is hearsay.

Vanessa Cassidy, Phoenix 

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Giving someone a pile of money doesn’t give them structure, discipline, interests or goals. It’s so easy to think that money rules … if you’re ruled by money.

If you don’t have the solid foundation first, laid down by family, community and society, all money is going to do is exacerbate your worst habits.

David De La Fuente, San Francisco

Kidd’s Not Innocent Either

The article isn’t about Jason Kidd, rather juxtaposing Kidd and Rider — but aren’t you expunging Kidd’s record here by making him the “light” as opposed to Rider’s “dark”? Literally as well as figuratively?

Kidd had some serious problems of his own before he went on to the NBA, and has had plenty afterward.

Alison Cecile Johns, Oakland

“A Thousand Songs, and Then Some,” Music, 6/8

A Mann Fan

This is an amazingly talented artist, and a super creative concept. I’ll be listening all month, can’t wait!

Sarah E. Brown, Berkeley

“Beautifying Albany Beach,” Eco Watch, 6/8

Don’t Pave the Trail

Nice concept, but does the “trail easement” absolutely need to be paved with asphalt? Are there not other suitable bicycle path constructing materials available which do not use petroleum products in the manufacturing process? What happens when a trail becomes a paved surface?

William M. Popper, Berkeley

Let It Be

Leave the freakin’ place alone. It is perfect just as it is. The lumber is part of the shifting history of the area. As is every other piece of “debris.” And the coastal cleanups which happen both on an organized and impromptu level by those of us who love and utilize this wonderful place get rid of the discarded waste, like plastics, cigarette butts, drink containers, etc., which floats ashore or gets thrown carelessly about.

Albany Beach, Waterfront, Bulb and Park: Let it be.

Jill Posener, Berkeley

“Murals Are No Longer Illegal,” News, 6/8

Good for Them

The fact that the students had the property owner’s permission should have been the end of the story, but nooo…. Glad sanity finally prevailed, and good for the Gompers students!

Mary Eisenhart, Oakland

“Heroes and Cowards,” Seven Days, 6/8

What About the Bystanders?

It is logical to suspect there was at least one senior member of the Alameda fire and/or police departments who gave the command not to help prevent or even try to intercede in that slow-evolving suicide. Nonetheless, many others were present for the incident — and it appears not one soul other than the reported kite-surfer tried communicating with the now-dead person. This is an abrogation of human-to-human obligation — to try to help a person in obvious trouble. This has less to do with law enforcement preparedness, union issues, cut-backs or any other excuses. It is a clear issue of cultural disintegration — where people with badges, and those without them, watch for an extended time as a person takes his life. Nonetheless, the city government personnel who stood by, taking no action to even dissuade the suicide, failed as employees of the public and as humans who would normally be elevated to the position of protecting the public they serve. This article is on target by naming them for what they are: cowards all.

William H. Thompson, Walnut Creek

For Shame

It’s really appalling and disturbing to read about Robert Zack drowning — do you need certification to be a human being? He was up to his neck in water but the police thought he might [be] armed and dangerous? A young woman retrieved his motionless body from the water? An independent review? How about hiring a new fire and police department that aren’t out in the field bureaucrats? I can see where one person would be reluctant to physically engage in a water rescue, but there was more than one person. But even one person could have swam out and tried to talk to him from a distance — even if they had to shout. Just the fact that someone cared enough to do that might have changed his mind. Once again this tragedy gets to the real bottom line of our current society and culture: money [and] profits. It wasn’t in the job description of the Alameda fire and police departments to attempt to save a drowning person — suicidal or not. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department has a “state of the art” gunboat for “terrorists,” but not even a surfboard to paddle out and deal with someone drowning. This tragedy reveals what happens when you run a city like a corporation instead of a government — and in the wake of the firefighters who lost their lives in San Francisco, and Mehserle being released after less than a year for “manslaughter.” The national level shame and disgrace in Alameda County is quite deserved.

Carl Martineau, Berkeley

A History of Incompetence

Thank you for your article that so clearly names the elephant in the room here in Alameda. The other side of the coin is the astonishing complacency of the Alameda citizenry. I’d appreciate a future article with an expert who could help us understand this lack of interest.

This is the third time Alameda firefighters have demonstrated their incompetence and callous indifference to the health and well-being of Alameda citizens: the FISC fire in 2009 that blanketed the island with asbestos, and the 2010 crude oil spill that the Alameda Fire Department couldn’t stop.

Liz Williams, Alameda

“The Eating Scene,” Food, 6/8

Birdsall’s Booster

Congrats to the Express for scoring John Birdsall. His reviews are world-class. Funny, expansive — and incredibly knowlegeable. Birdsall understands the big picture as far as eating is concerned, and his reviews are plain old fun to read. I look forward to more.

Leslie Larson, Berkeley

“Wake Up,” Letters, 6/8

Defending Pinball

We appreciate Pamela Kruse-Buckingham’s interest in the Pacific Pinball Museum (PPM) and its position in the world of museums and collecting. It is sad that she didn’t find anything good to say about the PPM and its future. 

Her basic contention seems to be that we are “hobbyists” barging into the museum arena with little understanding of the resources or knowledge required to accomplish this lofty pursuit. To be fair, we did start this as a grassroots effort and it has been difficult to shed the arcade stigma of pinball, but we have proceeded with the collective knowledge of our group, and over nine years we have been able to do more for our cause than many others doing the same.

Our founder, Michael Schiess, is also a museum professional, although he sits on the other side of the table, designing and fabricating exhibits, installing and packing up travelling shows for the Exploratorium and Chabot Space and Science Center. Having traveled worldwide working with many museums gives us some direction that is lacking in the corporate museum world.

Like comic art, pinball has a questionable value associated with it and it is our quest to change that perception and share its redeeming qualities with the public.

In this economic climate, many other non-profits may be more deserving of public support than a pinball museum, but we think that it is important to preserve the legacy of pinball and use it to enhance our lives. To this end, we have been providing a place for the public to explore everything pinball.

It is hard to hear that our directors were “foolhardy” for collecting so many machines, because, currently, it would be close to impossible to find and collect what the PPM now has. Sometimes preservation is more important than prudence. Over the last fifty years, most old pinball machines were taken to the dump because their owners could not fix them. At least half of the machines and artifacts collected by the museum have been donations from people who would like to see an institution that would provide a place for them.

When it was discovered that no museum or government entity was preserving this national treasure, the PPM was formed. Necessity is the mother of creation, and the reason we are successful is because of our belief in what we are doing. No doubt we could use the help of professionals like Kruse-Buckingham. But what really makes or breaks an organization like ours is not the amount of money in the coffers, but the amount of commitment of its members.

It is true that PPM lacks the “vast resources” that Kruse-Buckingham thinks necessary. Many institutions with “vast resources” seem to be struggling as well. We have always expanded our museum within our means, only doing what we could afford. We are solvent and that says a lot. Many of the other museums mentioned are not surviving on admissions and require financial assistance from the city.

What makes the PPM work is a group of dedicated collectors with the expertise to restore and keep the machines running. The PPM is a “working” museum. The machines were made to be played. Donated machines are repaired, restored, made playable and put out for people to enjoy again, recycling at its best.

People will always be interested in playing, and so the machines themselves keep the museum alive.

The educational dimension of the PPM should not be brushed aside. In the current location on Webster Street in Alameda, machines from the 1800s to the present are displayed, showing the visitor a reflection of working class viewpoints throughout the 20th century, and is a gold mine for further academic study. For instance, the machine Metro (Genco, 1940) portrays an orderly city of the future with streamlined automobiles speeding on cloverleaf freeways, the dream of the Forties-era guy with a couple of extra nickels in his pocket to play Metro.

PPM is producing a curriculum that traces the development of pinball technology from a simple board with pins, to electric machines, to the transition from electromechanical controls to digital interfaces. Students will be able to play the machines and experience the effects of the changes firsthand. PPM created a transparent pinball machine, an artwork in itself, which is used in this project.

PPM has ongoing art exhibits such as Pinball Style, commentary on clothing styles shown in backglass illustration, original works by pinball artists who have exhibited at the Warhol Museum, and shows which are conceived by local artists.

A recent exhibition Pinball Influences in Contemporary Art traced the influence of pinball in the work of recognized artists such as Robert Indiana, Wayne Thiebaud, Joseph Cornell, Charles Bell, Ed Kienholz, William Wiley and others. Dan Fontes, a lover of fine art and an intelligent artist envisioned this exhibit several years ago, and it was finally produced in rudimentary form at the PPM. This exhibit deserves to be done in greater detail and with more academic help.

Kruse-Buckingham says: “In the end, PPM has an issue with image and message — people see it as an amusement center/arcade run by hobbyists….”

But it is far from “the end” for PPM.  

This is the beginning. Perhaps the PPM seems like a hobbyist’s arcade to some, but we are dedicated carrying out our mission statement: “To inspire an interest in science, art and history through pinball and to preserve and promote this important part of American culture.”

Melissa Harmon

Curatorial Staff, Pacific Pinball Museum

“Chain Saws vs. Nail Clippers,” Letters, 6/8

Oakland Out of Control

Rene Boisvert’s letter was truly excellent. It was refreshing to hear from someone in this town (Oakland) who really gets it. 

Considering the true and full gravity of the city’s financial woes, Mayor Quan’s A, B, and C budget proposal and her ludicrous $80 parcel tax (expected to net a pittance of $10 million annually) is, at best, a very bad joke.

Oakland is currently facing a $58 million budget shortfall. By this time next year that shortfall is expected to exceed $78 million and climb to over $110 million the year after that. In five short years the budget shortage is predicted to easily exceed $155 million Why? Why are things so out of control?

Cal PERS pension payments, which were $23 million in year 2000, are now just under $100 million and are fully expected (by Call PERS estimates) to exceed $125 million by 2013 and continue to spiral upward at about $5 million annually. The old police and fire pension plan, Oakland PFRS (closed in 1976) has an unfunded payment due this July of close to $50 million and with an ever-increasing annual payment (topping $80 million) through year 2025.

The city council has dug itself a deep black hole of “bond debt” (borrowed money — second and third mortgages on city hall and the city’s taxpayers) presently, exceeding two billion dollars — that’s right, billion with a “B.” Their debt service on general obligation bonds alone is $40 million annually front the general fund. This is just a small part of the bond story and Oakland’s reckless borrowing practices. Just this past Tuesday the council moved to borrow $125 million in TRAN (Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes) money. Simply put, these notes (TRAN) are “payday loans” because the city is unable to handle its finances. Unfortunately, this single transaction will cost over $10 million in interest alone for the thirteen-month loan period. 

Additionally, the city is harboring over $138 million in “negative” fund balances, a $3 million shortfall for Measure Y, a shortage for LLAD and $8.4 million needed for outdated equipment. Lastly, the Granddaddy of them all, $1.6 billion (billion with a B) direly needed for capital improvement and long overdue, deferred maintenance. Regrettably, there is more — a lot more.

David E. Mix , Oakland


Our June 8 feature, “Fallen Rider,” misstated the date of Donna Rossum-Rider’s funeral. It was October 18, 2008 — not November 24, 2008. Also, the story should have said that Michelle Rider’s child was sitting in the front row at the funeral — not her “children.”

In our June 16 event preview, “The Long and Short of It,” we failed to credit the photographer. It’s Gary Nakamoto. 

“Adult Education Dismantled,” News, 6/1

Adult Ed is Economical, Too

As an administrator in a neighboring large adult education program, I want to thank the Express for shining a light on this critical issue for communities throughout California. Our mandate has always been to serve the communities where we are located, tailoring our educational outreach to the needs of our communities. Our work is preeminently focused on building strong, productive communities. We provide cost-effective programs that do all of the following:

1. Help develop a well-trained local workforce through affordable practical career-building Career Technical Education programs.

2. Ensure families understand the importance of literacy and learn how to be role models as their children’s first teachers.

3. Provide parent education through family literacy preschools that have accompanying adult classes as well as through co-op preschool programs that engage parents in their children’s first formal educational experience.

4. Offer court-mandated drug and alcohol as well as anger-management programs for teens and adults.

5. Help adults with disabilities (not otherwise served by other organizations and including those with brain-acquired injuries from accidents or illness) to become productive community members,

6. Support our district K-12 schools by providing high school programs that ensure students with failing grades get back on track for graduation.

7. Provide adult high school diploma programs as well as GED preparation and testing for those returning to school to improve employment prospects and to better support their school-age children’s education.

8. Offer adult basic education classes that focus on basic literacy and math skills-building to help pre-high school adults to improve job prospects and better support their school-age children’s education.

9. Offer English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) and citizenship-preparation classes to the families of the children in our school districts.

10. Provide lifelong educational opportunities including a whole host of classes for the 55-plus and post-retirement members of our community to help ensure these more senior members of our communities continue to live healthy, productive lives. (Note: Many of these “seniors” are or become volunteers in our communities because of their adult education experience too.)

Needless to say, adult education is one of the best returns-on-investment a community can make. We’ve been doing this good work since the 1800s and do it well. We generate our own state revenue enhanced by federal grants awarded us based on proven outcomes. California is a leader of adult education in the United States. We must let our legislators know that these important community programs are not only needed but are viable and extremely cost-effective as well.

G. Vittoria Abbate-Maghsoudi, Concord


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