Letters for the week of November 22-28, 2006

“Welcome to Alameda,” Feature, 11/1

The estuary is still wet
I think I might have been able to save you guys some space by condensing your article on Alameda as follows: “Alameda still overrun with old white assholes who refuse to shut the hell up and die.”

Or, more succinctly: “Water is still wet.”

Thanks, though. I’ve been barking up this same tree for thirty-odd years and I need the gratification from time to time.
Erik Kolacek, Alameda

Such a tired tactic
Since Chris Thompson’s article about Alameda politics was the cover story, I expected his usual in-depth lengthy analysis, instead of the two-page throw-off piece I read. Right, let’s blast “Mayberry” once again for its provincial and racist attitudes. Indeed, pro-development forces have gotten used to using this technique on a daily basis. Turning over rocks to find evidence of racism is such a tired tactic.

Fact: Alameda is probably one of the most racially diverse cities in the Bay Area, since it is a favored destination for many ethnicities who have the money to be able to afford to rent or buy a home and take advantage of the quality of life here. The school district is often cited as being a primary reason for relocating. There are very few Oakland parents of any race who wouldn’t love for their children to attend Alameda public schools. And being against a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy for a coterie of developers seeking to turn Alameda into yet another giant megaplex/mall town does not a racist make. Yes, there are racial problems here, like there are in every community. I was recently eyewitness to an event of blatant discrimination. A young African-American colleague was denied a rental unit solely due to her race. No, the landlord was not some old provincial Alamedan, but a nonwhite recent immigrant from another country. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Brian O’Neil, Alameda

Racism is really an issue
I really wanted to compliment your article, for I found it incredibly accurate about the atmosphere of Alameda. I’m an audiologist on Central Avenue and have talked to Alameda seniors at great length about all the issues you addressed. There really is a racism issue that needed to be exposed. Great work, and I’ll look forward to your future articles.

Ray Crookston, Alameda

“Rebranding a Candidate,” Feature, 11/1

Political chameleon
Pat Kernighan’s phony presentation of herself as a “feminist” is not only disingenuous, it is patently stupid. Even for people foolish enough to believe her bogus about-face, why would they care?

Feminism was a hot topic for bourgeois white women of the ’70s. In the 21st century, it’s “dinosaur politics.” Looked at demographically, this is the likely fallout now: 1) Baby boomer white women — an ever-decreasing voting block, with their political power also waning; 2) Young white women — consider their present emancipation a done deal, and therefore a nonissue; 3) Latino women — raised in a Catholic culture, unsympathetic to feminism, their attitude runs indifferent to somewhat hostile to feminist issues (note: Virtually all oppose the right to choose); 4) Chinese women — their Confucianist culture is even more restrictive of women’s freedom than Catholicism. Ditto of above: 5) Afro-American women — more free-thinking than other minority women, and sympathetic to some feminist issues, but that doesn’t mean they will be friendly to a yuppie white woman they have cause to hate. When she has to stand in the welfare line to beg for money to feed her children, or when she has to hide out at a battered women’s shelter, that’s when they will vote for her, not before.

Whether [Kernighan] wins or loses, the voters will now have ample cause to distrust her; a situation she can never take back. Too bad she didn’t find out who she was before she became involved in politics.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,/Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit/Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,/Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it. — Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat
James Fenton, Oakland

“RIP, Berkeley Rap Radio,” Close 2 tha Edge, 11/1

More than just music
Very sad to read your article about KALX dropping the Sunday morning show. It was great to hear the show back in the early ’80s. The artists that made their way to KALX on a Sunday morning were quite incredible. The show was more than music, but an education for the listeners. Whether it was doing your own recording, trying a new record on the air, freestyling, black history, or community action, it was always a pleasure to hear the show.

I remember on one show Davey D warned artists, current and future, not to lose their product as had happened so many times in the past to something that Black America had launched. Sadly, hip-hop/rap sold out and songs were selling cars and trucks before you knew it (Hammer was a sellout but Ice-T and Ice-Cube were stars?).

I haven’t listened to KALX for a few years, since KPIG AM-1510 started broadcasting, but whenever I’m out of KPIG range, college and community radio (KPOO, KFJC, KZSU, KUSF, KALX, KPFA) are preset on my radios and thank God they are here.
James Richardson, San Leandro

Diversity or bust
It’s unfair to tar KALX as being unfavorable to rap or R&B music or black people. There are plenty of KALX DJs who feature those genres. If a DJ wants to play exclusively rap, or punk, or Gregorian chant, they should take their show to a different station. Regarding the DJ interviewed in the article who last had a show ten years ago who thinks reggae is six different genres of music, I wouldn’t want you on the air either!

Massimo Introvigne, Berkeley

How KALX chooses
As a fifteen-year KALX volunteer, DJ, and producer, I really miss the Sunday Morning Show. I am very optimistic that Amandla, Yo! KALX Raps, and other cultural, music, and public-affairs programs can fill the gap left by its cancellation. At the same time, its demise seemed sudden to those of us not involved in the week-to-week production of the show. I was lucky enough to host two shows last year while longtime host Billy Jam relocated to the East Coast and DJ Pone was on the Warped Tour with the Transplants. It was an honor to do the show with Sara and Rohit!

It’s too bad your stumble down KALX’ memory lane was marred by some incorrect facts. The KALX music format is not three “genres” of music an hour, it’s three “styles” of music over an entire show (shows run from two and a half to three hours). This has been the case since at least 1991, when I joined the station. “Genre” is the wider classification, while “style” is a subgenre. For example, rap/hip-hop is (at the very least) one genre, and old-school rap, gangsta rap, and backpack hip-hop are styles of rap/hip-hop. Theoretically, a programmer could play nothing but those styles over a three-hour show and stay in format. However, that programmer would rightfully get critiqued by the Programmers’ Review Committee (PRC) because it goes against the spirit of the station’s freeform music format. Speaking as a former PRC chair and current PRC member, I’ve always favored more adventurous programmers who delivered multiple genres in a show rather than DJs who relied on tightly grouped styles over their weekly airtime.

And what is this shadowy committee seemingly named after Red China? The PRC is a group of volunteer programmers who constantly provide constructive criticism on programming and award shows to music programmers. Half of us are elected by the programmers; the other half are appointed by the station manager. The PRC is as egalitarian an entity as possible within the confines of the ultrabureaucratic UC system. Earnest, wide-ranging conversations about diversity, listenability, format, and air sound have been constant since KALX switched over to the PRC from the traditional (and autocratic) program manager structure decades ago.

Throughout the 1990s, there was tension between some new DJs — who basically came in with a set idea of what they were willing to play (usually in the hip-hop and house genres) — and the rest of the station’s programmers. Many of these new DJs eventually dug into the vast music library and were able to incorporate all kinds of genres effortlessly. They continue DJing in clubs around the country and at KALX today. Fresh faces like O-Dub, P-Fish, Pal 58, and Sergio joined experienced KALX vets like Beni B, Billy Jam, and Davey D. Others were never able to make the leap from being a club/party DJ to being a KALX DJ — the former usually demands block programming, while the latter requires audio diversity.

Apart from all of this, readers may have gotten the impression that The Sunday Morning Show had to stick to this music format of three styles per show. Since it was a cultural affairs program, it did not have to conform to the KALX music format. It was open to critique and review by other programmers — like every program on KALX — but it could never be taken off the air for violating music format because it followed the public affairs format instead.

Thanks for noting the passing of one of the Bay Area’s radio landmarks. The Sunday Morning Show will not be forgotten! I’m proud of KALX’ part in the Bay’s incredible hip-hop/turntablist/rap history and I’ve no doubt we’ll continue to break new talent and highlight veteran crews from around the Bay.
Jesse Townley, aka Jesse Luscious, Berkeley

It’s a shame
Thanks, “E,” for an excellent and well-written article. And also thanks so much for bringing back KALX OGs Jon Wafer and Ricky V on what was really going on with the station. It’s a shame that something so community-oriented and loved had its plug pulled.

Teddy Bell II, Berkeley

Race charge absurd
In response to Eric Arnold’s obituary for KALX’ Sunday Morning Show, I would like to correct a few of his assertions. I was cohost and coproducer of the show during its final year and believe I can provide better picture of the reasons for its cancellation than the former staffers he interviewed.

Sandra Wasson’s comment that the show was “off mission” is accurate; I would debate the description that it was “unwilling to change,” and suggest instead that it was unable to do so.

Our goal during the show’s last year (Sarah Harris and I joined the show about the same time; DJ Pone had been on the show for some time before that) had been to create a magazine show that focused on urban issues, while continuing with the legacy of a hip-hop soundtrack. Many of our in-studio interviews were with local and up-and-coming hip-hop artists, as well as community activists from a variety of political persuasions.

However, the unreliability of guests was a recurring problem. We frequently had interviewees scheduled early in the show, for 10:00 or 10:30 time slots, who did not arrive until 11:30 or after. Telephone interviews were also unreliable when those guests did not answer or could not receive or make calls. We used some prerecorded pieces, but the production values could be uneven and they did not always remain relevant a week or a month later.

All this forced us sometimes to play all-music shows, which we would dedicate to new and local hip-hop, and older music that influenced the genre. However, this led to some discord at KALX by creating the image that our team had sidestepped the station’s experience and training requirements for a dedicated music program. While this was not the intention of anyone of The Sunday Morning Show‘s staff, I understood this perception and we all worked to avoid it.

Still, the ultimate reason for the show’s cancellation was its redundancy. It had been created, some twenty years before, to spotlight a new, novel, and marginal style of music. Without a doubt, Music for the People and The Sunday Morning Show helped to break rap and hip-hop into public consciousness. But, in those twenty years, hip-hop grew from being a marginal novelty to being pop music. Hip-hop is now ubiquitous, the soundtrack of a thousand teen sex comedies and shoe commercials, as well as being the pillar that supports the car stereo industry. Hip-hop is one of only two genres of music not seeing a substantial loss in CD sales over the last few years.

Besides, hip-hop remains in play at KALX. In addition to the specialty show Yo! KALX Raps, which is dedicated to the music alone and not to urban issues and cultural affairs, I know and hear many DJs continuing to play both older and new releases on their shows. The station receives as many, if not more, new hip-hop releases from the record labels as any other single genre.

Finally, I would like to say that the charges of institutional racism at KALX are ridiculous. In my experience, the majority of the staff members in the public affairs and cultural affairs departments are eager to explore and endorse any philosophy or art that is not the one they were raised in. Continuing shows like Amandla, Sight Unseen, and Women Hold Up Half the Sky remain a viable outlet for all the political and social issues we addressed on The Sunday Morning Show.

If I have witnessed any kind of discrimination in my time at KALX, it has only been to discourage gently the presentation of any views not at least ten degrees to the left of center. But this has been the prerogative of individuals who volunteer at the station, never a station policy, and no surprise in a college-supported, community-oriented station. When that is the worst of the “infighting, bickering, and underhandedness,” it’s not a bad environment to work in.

The former DJs of The Sunday Morning Show and its predecessors may feel vindicated that they have now been able to air their grievances publicly. It’s sad that those who have been away from KALX for years have carried their anger this long, when in my experience, charges of that kind of discrimination are baseless. Maybe things were different so many years ago, but that is not the KALX where I have volunteered for two and a half years.
Guy Fox, San Ramon

Bitter and one-sided
I just read your article via a link on the KALX list-serv. I’m an active volunteer and have been there about three years. I can’t say I have any more information than you regarding the station’s “policies” etc., but I do know The Sunday Morning Show was on “hiatus” for a long time because, as I understood it, no one was volunteering for it (it’s an entirely volunteer deal, much like other specialty programs like Info Overload and Shortwave).

I do think there is a heady bias toward rock-based music at KALX, but as a DJ that has been the one major critique of most tapes I have turned in — that I was playing too much rock-based music and not diversifying enough. If my tape had punk, rock, hardcore, metal, and even electronica, I was cited as not meeting the genre requirement; so it goes both ways. Only when I started delving into, appreciating, and incorporating genres like funk and hip-hop was I commended for having any diversity in my playlist.

And if the climate at KALX is so purportedly antiblack (which seems to be the point of the article you wrote), then what about other genres like jazz, blues, funk, soul, etc., that are, like hip-hop, traditionally black musical forms? They do get quite a bit of play on KALX as well. What about ‘Round Midnight?

Your article seemed pretty bitter and one-sided, and not very well informed. It read more like a he-say she-say piece. Actually, more like a he-said, she-said piece since it was primarily referring to things that happened in the past, and people who volunteered there in the past. I hear you tried to reach Pone and Sandra for comment and understand they did not reply. I wish you would have talked to perhaps the music directors, or Shawn (acting station manager, along with Sandra, at the time of your article). What about current volunteers of any race? Or current programmers who do play hip-hop (like myself, Disco Shawn, Matthew Africa, Sergio — who won a local award this year)? As a DJ, I play a fair share of hip-hop, and as a music reviewer (interested in running for music director this spring) I am constantly seeking out new hip-hop for review, preferably local underground stuff.

Another issue your article failed to mention was that hip-hop, like punk rock, often has a plethora of profanity in it. As a primarily punk-rock DJ my first year at KALX, I had to totally switch my programming for my daytime slot because punk was too “dangerous” to tamper with as far as on-air obscenity slips were concerned.

I made concessions for hip-hop, though, because I don’t think it is appreciated enough, especially the underground stuff that I prefer. When I review decent hip-hop, I note where all the obscenities are and/or e-mail or call the artists for edited versions. The problem, though, is that not all reviewers are as thorough or as good about marking up the copies, and playing hip-hop (especially stuff you aren’t familiar with) becomes an on-air liability. I have had issues with unmarked edit CDs/12″s/LPs where I have trusted the artist has produced an actual edit, and trusted the reviewer, only to find out too late that neither has been credible.

Obscenity laws have escalated considerably in the past five years, but I didn’t hear any mention of that in your article either. Do you know how dangerous it is for indie radio and media? One reported on-air obscenity could end KALX completely.

Your article read more like an editorial (or a letter, much as this one!) or opinion piece without much actual fact to back it up. I think there is a truth to your point, but your dramatic, conspiracy-theory stance made it seem much less credible.

Plus, what about the things that KALX is good for? What about the things you gained as a result from volunteering at KALX? It is a free service, and folks are welcome to volunteer … so why not ENCOURAGE more people of color, more fans of hip-hop to participate on a larger scale, or to call in and support those who do play hip-hop and show there is an audience for it out there listening? Sandra is only one person, after all, and I don’t think she cares enough to have a personal vendetta against hip-hop. Even if she did, it wouldn’t stop anything if there were enough of a fervor or push for that type of programming.

Why bring down one of the few independent voices left in radio rather than slam the corporate BS they call radio (Clear Channel) today? Why not focus on ways to make it better? What happened to you as a volunteer that you aren’t still there trying to make a difference rather than slamming everyone else who is there volunteering?
Alyce Kalmar, San Francisco

“A Church for the Nonbelievers,” Cityside, 10/18

Desire to belong
While perusing through a recent issue of the Express, my eyes scanned a headline that immediately piqued my interest: “A Church for the Nonbelievers,” by Jonathan Kaminsky. The full-page article features a unique group of elderly men and women who, despite their lack of faith in a higher power, meet twice a month to engage in a program that strongly resembles a church service. Having encountered a few atheists in my lifetime, I was almost certain that the concept of church is contradictory to what many atheists claim to believe … or not believe. After conducting a little Internet research and reading the article in its entirety , I realized that not only are these nonbelievers defying the standards they claim to follow, but they are also wasting time attending what I consider to be a nonchurch church.

Residing in the Rossmoor retirement community of Walnut Creek, California, the Rossmoor Atheists and Agnostics Group was founded by 81-year-old Richard Golden, who wanted to create an environment in which nonbelievers, who at times find themselves standing on the outskirts of their families’, friends’, and or society’s system of beliefs, can share their experiences with one another and voice their opinions. I searched the Internet to see what atheists think about church in general, and found the definition of atheism, written in italics below, on the American Atheists Web site (Atheists.org/atheism):

The following definition of was given to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Murray v. Curlett, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d (MD, 1963), to remove reverential Bible reading and oral unison recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools.

“Your petitioners are Atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now — here on earth for all men together to enjoy.

An Atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it.

An Atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.

He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.

He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.

He believes that we are our brother’s keepers; and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”

I guess Mr. Golden, who as the article states has been an atheist for seventy years, was never consulted when the definition of atheism was written, because the fourth paragraph clearly states that “An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church.” A hospital is a place where the sick go to be healed, and there definitely is no healing taking place within the Rossmoor Atheists and Agnostics Group, where tension has been known to mount amongst members. In fact, the article describes a particular meeting in which one woman storms out after the day’s speaker, who is reading a controversial essay about why agnostics should become atheists, refuses to tell her from which paragraph he is reading. Her exit is followed by outbursts made by other members who wish to express their firm stance in claiming agnosticism over atheism. The discord between the members contradicts the harmony implied in the statement, “An atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.”

To say that an atheist “wants man to understand and love man,” yet a member becomes enraged when an agnostic refuses to accept atheism, is hypocrisy at its finest. For an atheist to try to convert an agnostic and basically create the same uncomfortable environment they were once in when surrounded by a family of believers, makes one worse than some overzealous, aggressive Christians. Even Jesus, the advocate of free will, never forced anyone to follow him. Besides, I thought the whole point of being a nonbeliever was to free oneself of organized beliefs, rituals, and tenets. Many atheists refer to themselves as “free thinkers,” suggesting that those who believe in a higher power have been brainwashed by a sometimes government- or family-imposed system of beliefs. Yet now they wish to impose their beliefs, or lack thereof, on others?

I guess Kaminsky’s article proves that there exists, in each of us, an innate desire to belong to something or someone. Thus, even atheists and agnostics get lonely and seek to be around those to whom they can relate. Yet, if it is truly an atheist’s desire to see “disease conquered, poverty vanquished, [and] war eliminated,” perhaps one should spend time finding ways to accomplish those goals, rather than waste time at a ninety-minute meeting arguing with agnostics and other atheists about the existence, or lack thereof, of God. Robert Frankel, one of the church’s members, concurs as he states, “I think we are all together in that we are for the separation of church and state…We should spend more time talking about that.” Amen.
Halima Lee, Hayward

Last week’s article on the Meters (“Swamp Funk, Bubbling Up”) featured a photo of Funky Meters drummer Russell Batiste which was incorrectly labeled as being of Meters drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste.

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