Twittering to Freedom

Happiness roundup: medical advances, setbacks to polluters, and more.

As resigned as East Bay residents may be to a future of rising gas prices, the collapse of the housing market, the imminent recession, food riots in Haiti, and the presence of John Yoo in our midst, we have some delightfully unexpected good news to report. Every once in a while, noble and interesting people overcome the forces of banality and greed, and last week yielded a bumper crop of hope. Let’s keep it coming, East Bay types! (Not you, Canseco. You can crawl back under your rock.)

J-student beats the rap with Twitter

Exhibit A in the case for hope is UC Berkeley journalism student James Karl Buck, who has been periodically reporting on the sorry state of lefty and human rights dissidents in Egypt. Two weeks ago, after covering an anti-government protest in the city of Mahalla, Buck lingered near a police station, where many demonstration leaders were rumored to be held. While Buck was snapping pictures and recording ambient sound, a group of police officers surrounded him, warned the nearby crowd that Buck was from the CIA, and hauled him and his friend Mohammed Salah Ahmed Maree off to what we can only presume was a not terribly pleasant jail cell. But Buck managed to do one thing before he fall into that hole: he Twittered the word “arrested,” and his network of Egyptian dissidents and friends immediately learned his fate.

Within hours, the dissidents had contacted the American embassy, the international press, and the University of California. UC administrators found him a local lawyer, the reporters started making embarrassing inquiries, and the embassy pressured the Egyptian police to release him. The next day, an abashed Egyptian government, undoubtedly shocked by the speed Twitter let his friends muster such sharp condemnation, let Buck walk out a free man. Unfortunately, they have still imprisoned his Egyptian colleague, a veterinary medicine student. Over at his web site,, Buck has launched an online petition drive to pressure the authorities to demand his friend’s release. It won’t kill you to throw him some support.

Chevron infuriated by award

Life hasn’t been pretty for the San Ramon-based oil concern, but even the executives of a firm as vilified as Chevron were shocked and dismayed to learn how little some people like them. Case in point: The annual Goldman Environmental Prize, the big brass ring of environmental awards, went last week to Chevron critics Pablo Fajardo Mendoze and Luis Yanza. For years, the two Ecuadoran men have been suing the company and organizing mass demos to demand that Chevron compensate indigenous Ecuadoran peasants for polluting their land with billions of gallons of toxic waste. Chevron representatives immediately denounced the award, and even rented a room in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, where the winners were holding a press conference, in order to get their side of the story out. But there’s no denying that this award represented a serious public relations blow to the company that invented the “People Do” campaign to polish its image.

A’s too broke to leave, for now.

Hey, have we mentioned we’ve got good news to report? Because it just keeps coming. Last week, Keith Wolff, the co-owner of the Oakland A’s, was forced to admit that due to unexpected logistical complexities in building his new Fremont stadium, the A’s will play in Oakland another year. Those of us who weep for the team’s imminently suburban status (which is to say, most everyone) at least have one more season before the unthinkable happens. But of course, it can’t be all good news if it’s Oakland; Forbes magazine recently released its list of which baseball franchises are worth what, and the A’s are in the cellar once again. Meanwhile, those wine bar types across the bay were rated the eighth-most valuable team in Major League Baseball. Feh.

Malaria? What malaria?

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of California were hard at work giving us more good news. UC scientists announced last week that they have finally traced the path of Sudden Oak Death, which has infected millions of oak trees around California. As we long suspected, we can blame Santa Cruz and Marin counties, as visitors unwittingly carried the fungus-like pathogen to oak groves and started the whole problem. Finding a treatment remains difficult, as the organism has a habit of mutating with each grove it infects. But hey, it’s a start. In addition, Cal researcher Jay Keasling, who has spent years perfecting a process of producing malaria drugs on the cheap, recently signed a deal with a French pharmaceutical company that could deliver malaria treatment to millions of Third World patients who still suffer and die from the disease. Such developments make us so mushy for research science that we’re not even terribly alarmed that UC officials are pushing new legislation to criminalize animal rights protests outside the homes of cat-butchering scientists. Or, as UC officials amusingly prefer to call them, “animal enterprise workers.”

Three-Dot Roundup

In fact, we’re in such a good mood that we don’t even mind that Mayor Ron Dellums is taking a week off from ignoring Oakland’s problems to accept an award in South Africa. He doesn’t even have to come back if he doesn’t want to. … Of course, our giddiness could just stem from the news that Oakland Tribune owner Dean Singleton recently humiliated himself at the annual Associated Press luncheon. As more than one thousand senior news executives looked on and giggled, Singleton stood at the podium and accidentally referred to Public Enemy Number One as “Obama bin Laden.” It couldn’t have helped that he was actually addressing Barack Obama at the time. Singleton groveled appropriately, but really, no apologies are necessary. You made our day, Dean.

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