Letters for the week of March 19-25, 2003

The essence of agitprop; the significance of history; the alternative of television; the tragedy of sellout.

Fund Housing, Not Hate
I learned with surprise that the Express is a sponsor (through the “Berzerkeley Slams” series) of the latest embarrassing production by the Berkeley Rent Board. That would be the “Housing Matters” Poetry Slam, organized and funded (yes, cash prizes are advertised) by the Rent Board’s Outreach Committee. The event is an extreme example of government waste, of the sort your newspaper usually does such an excellent job exposing.

Instead of putting actual roofs over people’s heads, the rent board squanders its energy and $2.6 million annual budget on projects like the poetry slam, and its even wackier poster contest for grade-schoolers. This is the essence of agitprop: political propaganda disseminated through cultural outlets, aimed at inciting hatred of housing providers. We in Berkeley are supposed to unmask agitprop, not fund it — especially when the city is millions of dollars in debt. And my favorite local newspaper, known for its quality reporting, shouldn’t sponsor it.
Michael Wilson, Berkeley

“Band of Outsiders,” Aisle Seat, 2/26

The Case for Preserving the Fine Arts Cinema
Allow me to register my shock and dismay at what I can only characterize as an assassination piece by Kelly Vance. The prejudicial tone of the article was evident from the very first line: Vance writes that it was a “gray” day, and that my mood was “grim.” In fact, the sun was shining, and I was feeling quite cheerful!

During the interview with myself and supporters, Vance took no notes, but asked a host of questions that indicated he was fundamentally ignorant of even the basic tenets of historical preservation. Vance struck everyone in my circle as not only ignorant, but extremely closed-minded. He grinned superciliously and rocked back and forth on his heels, sometimes rolling his eyes, at our passionate and informed responses to his basic questions. Because of his unprofessionalism, his piece contains many inaccuracies.

The most glaring inaccuracy suggests that we have no community support. During the past three months, we have presented passionate spoken and written endorsements for many prominent local people, including the internationally-renowned Beat poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure; Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Alan Temko; cultural preservationist Harold Adler, founder and curator of the UC Berkeley Free Speech Cafe; noted poet and commentator Jack Foley of KPFA’s long-running “Cover to Cover”; and Allen Stross, founding member of Berkeley’s Historical Preservation Society.

Mr. Vance insults his readers’ intelligence by suggesting that we are merely being “nostalgic.” We’d like to set the record straight by quoting our press points, which we gave to Vance: “We deal in facts: What is there and is it worth preserving? Once that is determined, historians fight to preserve what is there for future generations. … Since Berkeley is the national birthplace of Repertory Cinema and the cradle of the American Film Movement, and since the Cinema (its historic name) is the only intact architectural remnant of this extremely significant period in the history of Berkeley … we believe that our case is quite clear for preservation.”

The landmark application is available at the Berkeley Zoning Board and at UC Berkeley’s Urban Design Library, if anyone wants to look it over.
Leslie Landberg, Committee for the Preservation of 20th Century Architecture, Oakland

“Flea Killers,” 7 Days, 2/12

Unpackaged Stuff Good; Packaged Stuff Bad
Your 7 Days piece on the probable closing of the Laney College parking lot flea market was pretty upsetting to me. I’ve been going to this flea market for ten years and have watched how it’s run. I’ve been waiting a long while to see a good article on it, on how good it is, how it’s the successor to the old Alameda Drive-In flea market — one of the few places you can walk around elbow-to-elbow with every race and class in the East Bay in an atmosphere of minimum negativity and tension; a no-drinking atmosphere which is well policed by the staff; a relatively safe and entertaining place to be on a Sunday among a truly multicultural group.

Your writer picked out every insult/cliché that exists for flea markets and every class and type that goes there. “Oh well, there goes another fine and useful cultural institution (because the sheriff’s department doesn’t want the trouble of dealing with poor people, no matter how orderly, in public spaces). After all, they have a great alternative; they can stay home and watch TV or go shopping at some legitimate place where everything is neatly packaged.” Is that your message?

Where’s your assessment of the value of such a social gathering to this culture?
Pat Wright, San Pablo

“Has CMJ Become the Monster That Ate College Radio?” Feature, 2/26

How Naive to Assume that CMJ Still Cared
I just wanted to thank Katy St. Clair for sharing with us the intimate goings-on of college radio. How naive of me to assume that college radio station playlists were solely based upon music the DJs found on their own. CMJ’s grassroots sellout is maddening, but at the same time typical of an entity that started off with pure intentions and ended up relying on unethical tactics to stay afloat. Hell, the once-radical and groundbreaking Rolling Stone magazine now relies on pop teen stars to sell their publication. I guess CMJ is just chasing the Great American Dream, but it’s too bad they’re trying to live it at the expense of those who launched it.
Les Toil, Berkeley

In our March 12 issue, we quoted a Berkeley police official as saying that drug dealers from nearby People’s Park have been using the bathroom of Cody’s Books to conduct their business. Owner Andy Ross acknowledges that his store’s bathrooms were the site of some late-1990s drug use, but insists this has not been true for several years. Berkeley police now say they were wrong in suggesting the problem persists to this day.

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