Letters for the week of October 11-17, 2006

Readers comment on conscious rap, the Orkin Man, and secondhand smoke.

“Eating on the Brink,” On Food, 9/13

Stop it — now!
John Birdsall seems like a great food reviewer — 900 Grayson is in my neighborhood, yet I didn’t know about it before his review. But in the eight reviews since then, he has used — I kid you not — 100 em dashes, or about 13 per review. In the kitchen, a good chef is always multitasking — or so I’ve read — working the burners, watching the stations, yelling at servers. In writing, though, one wants a coherent narrative, flow, reason amid chaos — not 1.2 em dashes for every paragraph (average since July 19). Birdsall has a great background — the Contra Costa Times has produced some brilliant writers — but, as a graduate student instructor wrote on an essay of mine six years ago, sometimes it’s best to start a new sentence — especially if a comma won’t do.

Ryan Tate, Berkeley


“Conscious Rap Is for Nerds,” Haters Stand Up, 9/13

You’re an idiot, homie
Not this again. What’s the point of this mess? You’re an idiot, homie. This conscious rap backlash is so 2004. You need to catch up with the times. This was a horrible article with no point. I can’t believe they let you post this shit.

Joe Gabel, Santa Rosa

Who’s Che?
I feel you for real, but don’t let the nerds get you down! They’ll either come around or, like most, end up falling off! You are right though, the underground is weak! Conscious rap is weak! I say, “This goes out to the underground or otherwise/who running around with butter knives and playing with scissors/you making a lot of noise but it doesn’t deliver/it don’t create dialogue and does nothing to figure/into the grand scheme, ain’t saying a damn thing/might as well remix it and bring in a dance team.”

My friend was on a plane once, and sat next to a girl with a Che T-shirt. He says, “Hey, nice shirt, I’m reading Motorcycle Diaries right now,” and showed her the book. She said, “Huh?” He said, “It’s about Che’s life.” She said, “Who’s Che?” Anyway, no matter what, Che and Ani DiFranco are the real deal. Even if most of their “fans” are geeks!
Nate Mezmer, San Francisco


“Ant Wussy,” Game On, 8/9

Musta been Terminix
This firm represents Orkin Expansion, Inc. in trademark matters. Orkin owns, has registered, and uses the mark THE ORKIN MAN in connection with pest control services (“Orkin Man Mark”). The Orkin Man Mark is an important park of Orkin’s intellectual property portfolio. The law imposes an obligation upon the owner of a mark to police the marketplace to ensure that the owner’s mark is used properly and does not lapse into the public domain as a generic term. Improper use of the mark as a generic term by others may cause the trademark owner to lose rights in the mark.

Orkin views as improper your use of the term “Orkin man” in a recent article about The Ant Bully video game. In that article, you discussed different parts of the game, including the “final battle,” about which you wrote: “Ride on the back of a wasp, and swoop in to sting the Orkin man in the butt.” However, we understand that the video game does not include an Orkin representative, but rather a fictional pest control company representative. Accordingly, use of the term “Orkin man” to generically refer to an exterminator is inappropriate. In the future, please take care to refer to the intellectual property of Orkin accurately.
Kevin T. Kramer

Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, and Pittman, LLP

Representing Orkin Expansion, Inc.


“Where There’s Smoke, There’s Anger,” Cityside, 9/20

Bring on the nanny state
The fascinating article about secondhand smoke would have been improved by a bit of background about the physiology of those of us who have a bad reaction to our neighbors spewing toxins into our air: an overexposure to a problematic substance commonly causes hypersensitivity. This explains why so many ex-smokers really hate smoke — and it’s not just our fragile addictive psyches overreacting! I also got two packs a day while in utero, and since the embryo stops breathing every time mom inhales it’s not that surprising that I took up the two-plus packaday habit for a while. And that 25 years later I really, really hate it when my hipster “social smoker” neighbors light up on their porch — which means I can’t be on mine. Shit, if this were a “nanny state,” I’d love to go cane their skinny butts!

Jeremy Szold Ginzberg, Portland, Oregon

Smoke, but don’t inhale
Your article on the City of Dublin adding secondhand smoke to the list of public nuisances caught my attention. It is true that this is a small step, and that unlike graffiti on a building, weeds in the front yard, or a barking dog, the city will not do any active enforcement. The action the city council took is the right one. And while this may be a small step, it is a step in the right direction to help curb the proliferation of a toxic substance that will kill over 40,000 otherwise nonsmoking Americans during the next year. It seems that if a year’s casualty count in Iraq was even half as large as this, that we would have seen a change in direction on the national front long ago. Let me say that I do not actually oppose smoking. I do oppose exhaling.

Bruce Fiedler, Dublin


Get a life
Shirley Wassom, who claimed to “faint at intersections” while driving in her car because she needed a lame and unbelievable excuse to blame her smoking neighbor for all the problems in her life, needs to seek immediate psychological help for her obsessive-compulsive disorder. She has absolutely no right to complain about what her neighbor does. It was HER duty and responsibility to move to the middle of the desert where the only creatures she can complain about are scorpions and snakes. Even then, she’d try to control all the creatures’ lives and make them do her bidding.

Does she also attack people who cook with garlic? What about barbecue grill smoke? That must drive her insane! And the exhaust from motor vehicles! Don’t forget people who like to hum and sing while they do yard work. In Wassom’s world, no one would be allowed to do anything on their own property without an edict from Her Highness the Nanny. Really, she does need to get a life.
Barbara Aucoin, Lafayette, Louisiana


“Hipster Invasion,” Feature, 8/30

Maybe a welcome is due
David Downs’ article on the Oakland Art Murmur gets some things right and some things wrong. As interesting to me as the article itself has been the backlash, with many readers coming down firmly on one or another side of the argument that the influx of small artist-run galleries in poor Oakland neighborhoods opens a door to high-stakes redevelopment and gentrification, as if anyone could possibly prove this one way or the other. I for one want to commend the Oakland Art Murmur organizers for doing the seemingly impossible — convincing the utterly self-involved San Francisco art crowd to get on the BART and come over to the East Bay for any reason.

Downs’ article rightly points out the concerns that many lower-income people of color have about the significant numbers of middle-class art school grads moving into what they perceive to be their turf, but his acceptance of their assertions is based on a false premise — that the Bay Area’s mainstream, upscale population has any interest in community-driven arts or start-up galleries in the East Bay, and that those who do take an interest have any real power or influence. The only connection here is that the pro-business policies implemented by Jerry Brown have made it easier for galleries to exist in Oakland, whereas the last wave of Oakland galleries moved out because rents in downtown San Francisco or even Culver City/Los Angeles were considerably cheaper.

The Oakland Art Murmur is happening outside this region’s art and culture mainstream, which is the near-exclusive purview of wealthy white people. Its hipster community is not exclusively white, as Downs attests, but includes people of color such as myself who do not always feel included within one or another faction of the Bay Area’s heavily segregated society. Most importantly, it is a scene being created by an economic and social minority, as grassroots and fragile as any other.

Finally, Downs’ article (perhaps unintentionally) underscores the ways in which those who feel threatened by change retreat into their fears rather than investigate and overcome them. None of the longtime residents of African-American descent he chose to quote had made the effort to investigate their new neighbors, even as they criticized the newcomers for not informing themselves of local history. Perhaps the new neighbors could have used a little welcoming, which would have gone a long way toward alleviating the anxiety that the longtime residents clearly feel. It is a shame that Downs did not choose to introduce his interview subjects to one another, thereby strengthening the neighborhood and its nascent popularity against takeover by those who would actually seek to change its innate character. The “hipsters” that Downs readily targets genuinely appreciate the unpretentious, sometimes seedy nature of their new neighborhoods, and I can’t see what’s wrong with their efforts to convince others that Oakland is not such a scary place.
Anu Vikram, San Pablo


“Lost City,” This Week, 9/13

The return of folk music
This is not the first time I’ve read a condescending and absurd “pick” on folk music in your paper. Every time, the author makes a disclaimer about a folk music Critic’s Choice, presumably claiming that they wouldn’t be caught dead at such an event, neither should you, and someone made them include it in the calendar — that this is really your grandparents’ music.

Well, for a country with such a short history, our grandparents are what we’ve got. The music people created in this country — from the unique mixture of Northern European, African, and Native American populations in the Eastern mountains — has the depth, integrity, and soul, not to mention grit, haunt, and drive we crave. The stories and melodies, the history, resonate with our contemporary lives. Movements often go in thirty-year cycles, and old-time country roots music is surging along again, sweeping up all kind of people in its swell — old hippies, urban cowgirls, punks, hipsters, kids, and, yes, grandparents

The Berkeley Old-Time Music Convention was an enormous success, and it galvanized an already widespread and fanatical community. Created by a committee of well-respected musicians and volunteers, all events of the four-day festival were full to overflowing. I grew up in a vibrant old-time community on the East Coast, where the music was born. Here in the Bay Area I have found a thriving and tight-knit stringband music scene that is far from dated. Like any decent tradition, it is constantly reinventing itself while honoring the roots. Old-time music and dance is held dear by thousands in the Bay Area and many more thousands of aficionados nationwide, who are well aware of the great success of our festival. So much for your “smattering” that might attend.
Evie Ladin, Oakland

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