Letters for the Week of May 2

Readers sound off on Alameda's Measure C, the foie gras ban, and Melinda Haag.

“Sales Tax Battle Brews in Alameda,” Feature, 4/18

Alameda Can’t Afford It

As a left-wing liberal, I usually vote yes on tax increases. But this is a regressive tax that is most burdensome to those who have the least income. And for the rest of the city, it will drive shoppers out of Alameda so they don’t have to pay the highest sales tax in the county! An Olympic-size pool is not something our town can afford right now.

Jennifer Mertens, Alameda

Don’t Reward the Firefighters

In no way should Alameda reward the firefighters with yet more cash and prizes. They just received an extremely lucrative contract last fall, just months after standing around doing nothing while Raymond Zack died. Now Alameda citizens are supposed to buy into a vaguely worded thirty-year tax to give the firefighters — who don’t live in our community and who show huge contempt for the local citizenry — more money and toys?

Adam Gillitt, Alameda

Faulty Logic

Alameda City Manager John Russo says that his plan makes sense because construction costs are 30 to 40 percent lower than they were five years ago. But issuing the bonds roughly doubles — or more — the cost of the projects.

For his plan to make sense, construction costs would have to be at least 50 percent lower for that to be a rational argument. To put it in other words, a swimming facility that would have cost $8.3 million five years ago can be built for $5 million today — except that by issuing bonds, it will cost $10 million due to administration and interest expense. That’s faulty logic.

David Howard, Alameda

Russo Responds

One point: Not a single penny generated from this measure will benefit the pocketbook of a single firefighter. That is the law, given that this is a special tax. The funds must be used for equipment and facilities, and expenditures are subject to an annual audit which will be presented by Alameda’s city auditor, Kevin Kearney. Kearney and the city treasurer, Kevin Kennedy — who have both been staunch critics of City Hall and some of the city’s labor contracts — vigorously support this measure. That alone should put the lie to David Howard and his anti-tax activists’ conspiracy theories.

John Russo, Alameda City Manager

“The Perfect Gym?,” Culture Spy, 4/18

The Perfect Thing

Such a smart move — it’s crazy nobody had thought of it before. But Nathalie has a personality that I think no one could have brought to an LGBT gym if he or she tried. Congrats on having the guts to be an innovative thinker and going for it!

To The Perfect Sidekick trainers and clients — keep up the hustle and good work!

Marciela Huerta, Washington, D.C.

“How the Prison Population Exploded,” Feature, 4/11

Criminal Injustice

The criminal justice (!) system screws you for life. Employers usually won’t hire someone with a felony conviction. This means it’s easier to go back to prison than live on the streets. But in prison, you get minimal education, other than, possibly, welding. If you want to pass your GED, you’re on your own — it’s computerized and most inmates don’t use computers. Unless the state passes a law prohibiting discrimination against ex-cons, the prison population will continue to grow. That’s unlikely.

Many people end up in prison because of stiff sentencing laws. The Three Strikes law is plain stupid, and unfair. If we had choices, yes, avoid crime. Do people (other than organized crime) choose crime as an avocation? Or is it because they don’t have the breaks? Do kids from wealthy families go to prison? Do men of privilege go to prison? Very rarely. Prison is a receptacle for society’s rejects.

And at the same time, politicians — many of whom are corrupt — run for office by being “tough on crime.” Ex-cons deserve a break!

Frank DeFelice, San Jose

“Happiest Hour,” Last Call, 4/11

She’s Fine, We Promise!

I am quite enjoying Ellen Cushing’s writing about not only public houses but also cultural events. Only, I have this fear that one of these weeks there’ll be no sign of her, except for a notation at the bottom of a page to the effect that “Ellen Cushing’s column is temporarily suspended while she is drying out in accordance with her doctor’s orders. She will return.”

Anyone else share that concern?

Eric Leimseider, Berkeley

“Berkeley Softens Plastics Position,” Eco Watch, 4/11

A Plan for Plastics

Berkeley’s future decisions on the management of its post-consumer plastics stream should be shaped by four considerations:

1. For assiduous recyclers, mixed rigid plastic (MRP) discards, if not separated for recycling, can easily double or triple the weekly volume of their trash. In my two-person household, we carefully manage all our discards and put MRPs into a separate thirty-gallon can, which fills up every three weeks and is hand-carried as needed in trash bags to Superlink (92nd Avenue, Oakland), which bales and ships the material to Asian ports for hand-sorting, granulation, washing, and reprocessing. But for my plastics recycling program, my twenty-gallon trash cart would fill every two or three weeks instead of the six to ten weeks it lasts now.

2. MRP curbside collection programs are now operating in 39 states with over 300 communities involved. Each program is probably a little different, but the ubiquitous yogurt cups and pill bottles, etc. have been added to the screw-top number ones and twos without fanfare or difficulty. What is not well-documented is the percentage of what’s collected that goes to market and, correlatively, the percentage of what goes in the recycling cart that ends up at the dump because sorters and their machinery are inefficient. Because the MRP is so lightweight and of limited value, there is little incentive to do a thorough sorting job; the compulsive/ambitious persons filling their recycling carts with MRPs are relieved and rarely inquire how much of all that material goes to market.

3. Most of the public does not understand what a large number of different materials go into the MRP stream. We see lots of polypropylene, polystyrene, polyethylene, and some PVC, but the unlabeled tool handles, drinking straws, car parts, and three-ring binder covers would be a mystery to all but the analyzing chemist. Unsorted MRP materials are a very low value material because all the different melting points, viscosities, etc. create a real mixed bag of “stuff.” For at least twenty years, scientists and engineers have been working to develop high-volume but accurate systems to sort the different plastics by their formulations but nothing has been commercially viable. Hopefully there’s a young entrepreneur out there who can invent the industrial process to do this work; he or she will collect long-term royalties for a well-remunerated life.

4. The entire MRP collections issue is made more murky in Berkeley due to the widespread (but weakly grounded) theories that plastics are bad for human health and the environment. We need better science to demonstrate that the fears of plastic proliferation are grounded in fact, not suspicion, and that the polystyrene in our fatty tissues does not come from Styrofoam coffee cups, or that the lower sperm count in our young males today is not caused by the chemicals leaching out of the plastic food packaging into our food and then into our bodies. Or maybe the brass section in the plastics industry’s orchestra is playing so loudly we can’t hear right. For myself, all materials in the stream of commerce not banned by law should be provided a recycling mechanism, but I certainly appreciate the Ecology Center’s position. Hopefully the Zero Waste Commission will make useful recommendations.

Arthur R. Boone

Center for Recycling Research, Berkeley

“What Tom Tomorrow Got Wrong About Guns,” Letters, 4/18

What the Gun Argument Gets Wrong

I have never met or talked to a true opponent of gun control. When pressed, even the most fervent National Rifle Association member is willing to cede some limits on the private ownership of armaments. I have met people who were willing to grant me private ownership of a 20mm Vulcan or tank-mounted flame-thrower, but not nuclear weapons. (A 155mm Long Tom Rifle with nuclear shells is a gun, albeit a freaking big one.)

The argument is not whether the federal government has the right to limit private weapons ownership — the debate is over what sort of weapons, if any, the public should be allowed to own. (If you don’t believe that, you also believe your neighbors should own nukes.)

Most arguments over gun control boil down to debates over value versus costs at a personal level. The arguments on both sides tend to be based upon individual fears. Proponents of private weapons ownership argue mainly that they seek protection against personal violation by the government or criminals. Opponents of private weapons argue that a general availability of guns increases the likelihood that they or someone near to them will be shot, assaulted, or robbed.

None of these arguments about gun control has any more validity than examples of the effects on individuals of alcohol control. To have an honest discussion, you have to look at societal value versus societal costs.

In the end, stripped of spurious “moral” arguments, it boils down to use value: What good is a gun in most circumstances? Is it, on average, any better for home defense than a baseball bat? If you’re worried about “jack-booted thugs” coming in the night, would owning small arms help prevent that? What sort of qualifications for ownership (if any) should be required? Those are the real questions. The morality of gun ownership is just noise.

Nathan Meyer, Berkeley

“The Bad US Attorney,” Seven Days, 4/11

The President and Pot

How would President Obama acting in support of medical marijuana be “a gift to Republicans in an important election year,” as Robert Gammon writes? Polls show that 80 percent of the public supports medical marijuana. Recall that this president handily won his last election after pledging not to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.

Tom Angell

Media Relations Director,

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

“A Double Dose of Spice,” What the Fork, 4/11


Really? As an ex-Southerner who could cook the pants off this jerk, I’m so glad I can cook my own Southern food at a reasonable price point without having to be barked at by some idiot.

It’s a disgraceful way to run a business. He should be ashamed.

Jason McKinnon, San Francisco

“Edgy Versus Interesting,” “How Humane Is ‘Humane’?,” etc., Letters, 4/11

The Omnivore’s Manifesto

While the photo of the butcher and the pig’s head on your March 28 cover was designed to create a response, I was a bit surprised at the flood of letters that followed. Apparently Rush’s ditto-heads are not the only folks displaying groupthink and distributing talking points.

First, let’s be clear: All plants, animals, fish, and fowl are alive, we all survive by consuming some other form of life. That some cannot hear the cry of the turnip yanked from its mother’s humus-softened embrace is not proof it does not suffer. Compared to a mussel, a turnip is arguably a more elegant form of life, with more complex DNA and life cycle. And yes, it does respond to stimuli. Why insist on drawing this artificial distinction? I’ve never heard a mussel cry in pain, either. Don’t even get me started on sprout-eaters: consuming living babies, egads!

Food choice is one of the most direct ways a modern human can have an impact on nature and culture, and it is a very personal thing. I respect personal food choice, and wish the same courtesy be afforded me. Yes, I eat meat, some of which I am learning to slaughter and butcher myself. I also raise and kill plants. This is my path, and I do not expect everyone to make the same choices.

There is a lot of territory between factory farms and militant veganism, and I appreciate the hard work that Marin Sun Farms and The Local Butcher Shop (among others) have done to give me meaningful choices along this wide spectrum. I’m sure they would change the way their animals were slaughtered, if it were legal to do so. The denial to small meat producers of the ability to control the methods by which their meat is processed is something that large corporate farms and some vegans seem to agree on.

And just for the record: Neanderthals were most likely gentle people who ate a wide variety of foods, including plants. Please stop besmirching their memory by equating them with modern-day, knuckle-dragging troglodytes.

Greg Brunson, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters

Foie Your Consideration

On July 1, the production and sale of foie gras will be illegal in the state of California. Foie gras is produced by force-feeding ducks massive quantities of food through a ten-inch metal feeding pipe. At each “feeding,” workers pump one to two pounds of food directly into the ducks’ stomachs, three times a day. This is a third of their body weight. Imagine a 150-pound human being forced to eat fifty pounds of pasta three times a day.

The force-feeding causes the ducks’ livers to swell to ten times their normal size. It’s so traumatic that many ducks don’t survive. The feeding pipe sometimes punctures the ducks’ esophagi, causing them to die from choking on the blood that fills their lungs. They suffer a slow, painful death from organ failure and rupture. Some ducks suffocate to death after inhaling regurgitated food. According to the European Union’s Scientific Report on foie gras, the pre-slaughter mortality rate is up to twenty times higher on foie gras farms than other duck factory farms.

There is only one foie gras farm in California, Sonoma Foie Gras. It’s a factory farm. In 2011, I was one of the Animal Protection and Rescue League’s undercover investigators inside Sonoma Foie Gras. We documented horrific conditions: ducks that could not get up, ducks that had difficulty walking and breathing. They were all panting, which is a sign of extreme stress. They were covered in their own waste, blood, and regurgitated food. There were dead ducks inside the pens and ducks that were on the verge of death. We saw trash cans filled with dead ducks. Our footage can be found at StopForceFeeding.com.

In California, fewer than three hundred restaurants serve foie gras (less than 1 percent). Foie gras is supported by only a handful of chefs who lack the creative vision to create delicacies that aren’t produced by extreme animal cruelty.

A coalition of chefs is raising funds to overturn the foie gras ban. A few chefs have publicly stated they will defy the ban. Trying to garner support, they’ve been providing false information to the media, such as stating ducks on foie gras farms run up to be fed. We’ve been inside Sonoma Foie Gras. These ducks were terrified at the very sight of humans. The same conditions were documented inside Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York state.

Foie gras supporters have stated that ducks naturally gorge themselves in preparation for migration. However, the particular breed of duck used for foie gras production — a hybrid of Muscovy and Pekin — is not a migrating species. Moreover, even migratory ducks certainly would never overeat to the point of organ failure, as they often do during force-feeding. If the ducks did gorge themselves naturally, there wouldn’t be a need to force-feed them, and there wouldn’t be a problem with a law against force-feeding.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well as seven other city councils, including LA and San Diego, have passed resolutions calling on restaurants to stop serving foie gras. In February, Wolfgang Puck wrote a letter to the chefs in California that are serving foie gras, asking them to support the ban. He wrote: “And here in California, our own customers understand the need for all animals, including those raised for food, to be treated humanely. We chefs have the ability to create delicious and original dishes our customers will love without causing torment to animals.”

Along with my fellow investigators, I’ve been organizing peaceful protests at Bay Area restaurants that are serving foie gras. We advocate compassion and non-violence, which extends to the chefs and restaurants we’re protesting. We’ve contacted several Bay Area chefs and asked for an opportunity to meet with them to discuss foie gras, our protests, and how we can work together. Sadly, no one has taken us up on our offer.

So what can you do to help? First, patronize restaurants that don’t serve foie gras. Second, find out if your favorite restaurant serves foie gras; if they do, ask them to take it off the menu. These actions are simple but effective, and anyone can do them.

Dana Portnoy, Oakland


In the April 25 installment of Last Call, “Delight Is in the Details,” we mistakenly referred to Doug Kinsey as Doug McKinsey in several instances.

In our April 18 Eco Watch, “Where Eagles Dare, Bats Overlooked,” we misspelled Cris Hein’s surname.

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