Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday November 09, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Phallic inspiration or not, I often admire the esthetics of well-designed tall buildings and even understand some of the benefits of denser land use. However, I seem to have missed one obvious question in these several years of passionate debate about downtown Berkeley height limits: How are persons rescued from “16-story point towers” in case of earthquake or fire? 

Gerta Farber 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his thoughtful “Sonata on Important Things” (Nov. 2) Marvin Chachere offers a formulation, for himself and for the rest of us, on the nature of death. It invites contemplation and, perhaps, some further assessment. He first relates an assertion by Professor George Wald that “death does not exist in the non-human world and must therefore have meaning only among humans.” While this seems generally true, there is convincing evidence that elephants and the gorilla Koko have shown clear awareness of death as well as empathy for the dead, if not actual mourning. 

Mr. Chachere suggests that the beginning and end of human life have become indeterminate due to such advances as in vitro fertilization and artificial life support. There can be little argument that the biological beginning of life is the fertilization of an ovum, whether in vitro or in utero. But I would suggest that in sentient creatures we must look at the life of the brain. This amazing organ is a powerful processor, buzzing with electrical energy, constantly acquiring, revising, refreshing and retaining literally a world of data. When it plans, calculates, strategizes, creates art and meaning, we call it the mind. When it forms tastes, pleasures, compelling habits of association and gratification, we call it the self. (Some, who fantasize that it might somehow exist outside the body, call it the soul.) I propose that when the brain of the fetus first hears and assimilates sounds from the outside world, its life as a human has begun. Then, sometime later, when blood stops flowing to the brain and the last synapse has fired, life ends. 

Jerry Landis 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I enjoyed Ken Bullock’s review of Little Mary Sunshine, and would like to see the play. However, the observation that the Masquers romp where Jean-ette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy would fear to tread was only half right. Nelson Eddy , admittedly came to fame and fortune because of the films, that he might never have found as an opera singer or concert artist, but he never ceased to laugh at them, and refused to ever take them seriously. In the 1960s, when he formed a greatly successful nightclub act with Gale Sherwood, he wrote their material, which included numerous comical, satirical skits revolving around Indian Love Call and the others. He would have been right at home on stage with the Masquers, because he had a delicious sense of humor that was only allowed to flourish on his radio shows—never in films; with one exception—The Chocolate Soldier with Rise Stevens. There he played a double role with great humor and got his best reviews. 

So I assure you and the Masquers that Nelson would be applauding and whistling his approval of this fun romp. 

Christine Souter 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’ve just finished reading Garry Wills’ brilliant book, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America, in which the author provides fascinating insights into this great president (who was not entirely without flaws). No one can deny that the Gettysburg Address, intended to “clear the infected atmosphere of American history” (Wills’ own words) is one of the greatest documents in all of American historical literature. I find it almost unbelievable that this powerful, moving speech, delivered on a battlefield to a nation weary of war, contains only 272 words! Thinking ahead to the next 12 months when Americans will be subjected to boring, long-winded, acrimonious campaign speeches, I suffered an acute anxiety attack. 

Uttering an urgent prayer to St. Jude, the patron saint of Hopeless Cases and Desperate Situations (honest!), I implored him to help me through this painful year of agonizing campaign speeches, debates, talk shows, etc., suggesting that he might somehow, perhaps in a minor miracle, instill into all candidates Lincoln’s gift of brevity. Don’t let me down, Jude! 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Unfortunately, last Friday’s Daily Planet, in its editorial wisdom, neglected to run Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s explanations about the accusations against him alongside of Richard Phelps’ commentary accusing Concerned Listeners of not answering them. Instead, the Planet relegated Edwards-Tiekert’s letter, which answered those allegations, to their website! Not a logical, nor a fair, editorial decision. Brian Edwards-Tiekert is, after all, the primary source cited by Phelps et al. in the serial screed that found its way into the KPFA ballot envelopes.  

As to Phelps’ commentary, his 10-point program is disingenuous, in that he is calling for many things that already exist. KPFA already has no corporate underwriting. It already has an elaborate system of financial transparency and accountability. It already plays Democracy Now twice a day. 

In contrast, the Concerned Listeners slate, which is endorsed by Larry Bensky, Angela Davis, Kevin Danaher, Conn Hallinan and many other Bay Area leaders, stands for real substantive strengthening of the station. We are running candidates for KPFA’s Local Station Board committed to creating a workable framework for cooperation between the listener board, the management and the staff. We Concerned Listeners are trying to emphasize the proper powers of the LSB, according to the Pacifica bylaws, which enable the board to set the general goals for the station (its mission), without dictating to the management and the staff (paid and unpaid), the hands-on radio folks, how to run a radio station.  

We are trying to democratize the station—to involve a broader listener base to help us shape KPFA so it can appeal to a wider audience, and to insure that no narrow political trend will take possession of KPFA. 

I urge you to vote for Concerned Listeners ( and send in your ballots by Saturday to make sure that they will arrive on time. 

John Katz  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I enjoyed Michael Katz’s commentary on Stockholm and Copenhagen, a city I visit often for family reasons. These cities are built low for historic reasons, the technology available at the time dictating heights. Since Sweden was neutral and Denmark occupied during World War II, neither suffered the destructive bombing that radically changed and raised the skyline of major British and German cities. These days, height limits in Copenhagen are dictated by air safety as well as tradition and aesthetics. 

The Danes protect and preserve their historic architecture but they also value modern design by project. The black glossy structure in the middle of the Town Hall Square is reviled by many because it’s considered ugly and out of place, but the same people are proud of their new opera house and other recent brilliant constructions. 

What I admire most about Copenhagen is the public transport, especially safe biking. I always get a bike on loan and peddle all over the city on designated lanes that are built on cobble stone above the car lanes and below the sidewalk. The biker feels protected and special, often traveling in a pack, carefully observing the rules. There are even bike lights on the major thoroughfares. 

Two summers ago, when I was visiting during a heat wave, we pedaled across town to a beach, packed with thousands of bathers who must have all arrived the same way. I’ve never seen so many bikes in one place! 

But back home in Berkeley, I either walk or drive on the main streets. I’m afraid to ride my bike. It’s even scary to walk on pedestrian crosswalks. Returning home from Denmark, I often conjure an image of America without cars, scrapping them all and using the metal to build trains and bikes. Imagine. 

Toni Mester 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m pleased to see that Becky O’Malley took my recent letter to the “Daily Planet” seriously enough to engage with it in the editorial that appeared in the Nov. 11 issue. But her conclusions, and her attitude toward the whole debate about density, puzzle me. She suggests that many who favor higher densities are hill-dwelling outsiders, trying to “tell the people who live on Addison Street or Berkeley Way or MLK what would be good for their neighborhoods.” The implication is that those who don’t live downtown are not entitled to express opinions about the development of the area, since we won’t be forced to live with the consequences. And yet, when I report that I would be willing to move into the downtown area if it were to become more dense and lively, O’Malley sees that as evidence of condescension. Apparently one’s opinions about the state of downtown Berkeley can be taken seriously only if one already lives there. 

This is a ridiculous conception of the terms of debate. The fact is that all of us who live and work in Berkeley should take an interest in the state of our downtown area, and in the parameters that will shape its future development and growth. If O’Malley rejects higher densities in this area, she should spend her time explaining her vision for the future of our city, rather than Googling her opponents’ names to find out how high up in the hill neighborhoods they live.  

I don’t know what set of restrictions on building heights would be ideal for Berkeley. I was intrigued by Gerald Autler’s comparison of Berkeley with Cambridge in the same issue of the Planet, which suggests that clusters of higher density can be achieved without a lot of very tall structures. But one way or another, it seems to me that we should be encouraging greater density in the downtown area rather than resisting it, for two reasons. First, we have a responsibility to take better advantage of the transportation and building infrastructure that is already in place in downtown Berkeley. If we really favor a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and want to protect our beautiful California landscapes from suburban sprawl and blight, then we need to do our fair share as a community to encourage and to accommodate more sustainable patterns of growth. Second, our downtown would anyway be a more attractive place if there were more people living there, patronizing shops and restaurants and cafes, and populating the streets and sidewalks of the central area.  

R. Jay Wallace 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Readers must be as tired as I am of arguments about whether Berkeley’s population is declining or increasing, and I don’t want to add to that. We’ll know the answer in about three years’ time. However, I do want to clear up a point that Gale Garcia has made more than once. 

She dislikes all the buildings constructed by Patrick Kennedy’s Panoramic Interests firm, and she’s entitled to do that. What I think she’s somewhat less entitled to do is to say (in your Nov. 2 edition) that “ABAG loaned $72 million to Patrick Kennedy ....” and that “.... capital funding contributions from ABAG have had a devastating impact on the character of the town.”  

First of all, ABAG (the Association of Bay Area Governments, of which I was executive director before retiring in 1995) doesn’t have enough money, by a long shot, to lend to anyone. Its financial programs make available, throughout California, capital funds for locally approved projects, through debt instruments (either bonds or certificates of participation), whose purchasers do so within a system that’s among the most efficient and economical in the United States. 

Secondly, the items that concern Ms. Garcia are taken completely out of context. For example, in Berkeley ABAG has also provided funding for two very worthy institutions—the Wright Institute and the Lifelong Medical Center (the latter of which, near the Oakland border, required an extraordinary collaboration among Alameda County, Berkeley, Oakland, HUD and the state of California). Similarly, funding has been found for Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Oakland, and countless educational, health care, affordable housing and retirement facilities up and down the state. 

Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly), Ms. Garcia would obviously have preferred ABAG to say no to Mr. Kennedy. But what I don’t think we want is for ABAG’s financial experts to turn down a mental health facility in Santa Cruz, an affordable housing complex in Cupertino, a school building in Petaluma, etc., because they don’t like the way it looks. Surely these thumbs-up or thumbs-down decisions should be made by the local jurisdiction within the normal democratic system. And in Berkeley, where that system probably takes longer than just about anywhere else in the country, all the buildings Ms. Garcia dislikes secured the thumbs-up sign from our representatives. Her beef should be with them, rather than with a modestly funded regional agency trying its best to keep costs down for taxpayers, governments, non-profits, charities, first-time homeowners and the elderly.  

Revan Tranter 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout takes place on Thursday, Nov. 15. Although any day is a good day to quit smoking, this is a day for smokers to make their plan to quit, and for advocates to join the fight to help their communities enact smoke-free laws. Smokers can obtain free information on quitting at By calling the American Cancer Society Quitline® at 800-ACS-2345, smokers can double their chances of quitting for good. 

As a former pipe smoker for nine (9) years, I understand how difficult it is to give up the habit of lighting up when faced with a day filled with stress. But, I learned how hard it was to walk long distances in the city with pipe smoke clogging my lungs and airways. I gave up because I wanted to be able to walk and breathe when I got older. Give It Up, You owe yourself the chance to walk and breathe without coughing you when you get older. 

I want your readers to know: 

• Tobacco use is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, or approximately 438,000 lives, in the United States. 

• Smoking accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 87 percent of lung cancer deaths. 

• The U.S. Surgeon General reported last year that an estimated 126 million Americans are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces, and that no level of exposure to secondhand smoke is safe. 

• Secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately 3,000 deaths from lung cancer among nonsmokers every year. 

The lifesaving results of tobacco control initiatives are just beginning. By helping Americans to quit smoking, and reducing exposure to deadly secondhand smoke, we will continue to make progress against cancer. 

Jeff Schwartz 

Community Services Director 

American Cancer Society 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

One simple and easy thing to do for safety is to put white reflective strips on the rear bumpers of cars. This makes a vehicle visible for several hundred feet away at night. It is especially useful in fogs, which happen frequently in the Central Valley. 

Rolls of 150 feet are available from Hawkins Safety Products, 1255 Eastshore Hwy., a few feet north of Gilman. Their phone number is 525-8500. The cost is about $50. A seven-foot length of the strip costs just a few cents. Garages could install these strips in a few minutes. 

I am not being paid anything for telling people about the strips.  

Charles Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In 1999 I joined thousands in the street when the workers at KPFA were under attack by a board that wanted control of the station and the content. This is exactly what is happening again. This time it is “People’s Radio” that is attacking the workers and wants control. Their tactics and actions make a mockery of democracy in the name of democracy. If you respect and honor the incredible work done at the radio station... If KPFA is a lifeline to you as an activist or an artist... If you want the station to grow, to reach more people and to deepen its roots in movements for social justice and peace, I urge you to support the extraordinary group of life-long activists and organizers who are running as candidates with the Concerned Listeners slate. 

Jon Fromer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I witnessed once again the City Council sold out Berkeley Citizens to corporations. The event was the approval of the Verizon and Nextell antennas by the City Council. Three years ago they did the same to the neighbors of 1600 Shattuck. 

The event was yet another charade, a kind of kangaroo court. First the city attorney, having an outsourced attorney on her side, put such a convincing defense for the approval of the wireless facilities. The outsourced attorney talked for 10-15 minutes to let the council and the public know that nothing could be done because of the Telecommunication Act of 1996. 

A question occurred to me: Considering the TCA 1996, is there any way to say no to wireless providers? According to the city attorney, no. So, if there is no way to stop wireless facilities, why waste time? The city should throw away the wireless facility ordinance and cancel the ZAB or the City Council hearings. They can tell us the magic mantra TCA 1996 and rubber stamp all permits. 

What the city does is a sham democracy. They get people involved for close to two years, make them spend hundreds of hours and dollars, distress them, and at the end they say: Sorry because of the TCA 1996, nothing can be done. I believe that from now on, the city should not even bother to inform people of wireless facility applications. This can save people lots of time and money. 

No thanks to council members who approved antennas in 2004 and now. They should be recalled. 

Mina Davenport 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was disappointed, yet not surprised, that Sen. Dianne Feinstein voted to confirm former judge Michael Mukasey for attorney general, thus assuring his confirmation by the full Senate. I went back and read Feinstein’s Oct. 26 press release explaining her vote. According to Sen. Feinstein, Mukasey gets much credit for not being Alberto Gonzales, which sets the bar awfully low for this nation’s chief law enforcement officer. She also notes that the Justice Department’s morale is very low and now needs a strong, independent person like Mr. Mukasey to lead it. Yet she brushes aside Mr. Mukasey’s refusal to show his independence from the president by categorically declaring “waterboarding” illegal. Waterboarding, by the way, is a simulated drowning techniques used on detainees. Waterboarding is clearly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Convention. 

While Mr. Mukasey finds waterboarding personally repugnant, he would not necessarily regard waterboarding illegal in the absence of a specific statute or  

law prohibiting it, a disingenuous response at best. He calls on Congress to pass such a law. Is this a demonstration of independence from the executive branch? Didn’t President Bush vigorously oppose the congressional ban on torture? I also note that Rudolph Guiliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, three of the leading Republican presidential candidates, refuse to condemn the use of waterboarding. 

I keep looking for our leaders or leaders-to-be to demonstrate moral fiber. Too often, I am disappointed as I am now with Sen. Feinstein. 

Ralph E. Stone 

San Francisco  



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thousands of registered nurses at 10 Northern California Hospitals in the Sutter chain walked off their jobs for two days last month. Their main complaint has been over working conditions, which are horrendous. But not only nurses suffer. Conditions of work for hospital health workers is also a life and death issue for many patients. 

The major source of labor conflict is over the nurse-patient ratio. Too many patients assigned to each nurse reduce the opportunity for a swift response. Also, overworked nurses are more likely to make medical errors and even fail to wash their hands, which can precipitate deadly infections.  

It has been well documented that the greater the patient load, the higher the patient mortality rate. To take one example, a study of 168 hospitals, which was funded by the National Institute of Health, found that the chances of a surgical patient dying within one month of admission increased by 7 percent for each patient over four in a nurses workload. 

As a non-profit hospital chain, Sutter is required to favor public service over profits. But in reality, the Sutter chain is a most uncharitable charity. Maximizing profits is its main obsession. Toward that end, it has even overcharged uninsured patients, which prompted a judge to rule that they be reimbursed. Sutter’s top executives enjoy annual salaries, bonuses, and other perks exceeding a million dollars each. As patients are bilked, millions of dollars have been shifted to its other profit making enterprises. No wonder that Sutter is among the nation’s most profitable hospitals, earning last year $587 million—64 percent over the prior year. 

The Sutter hospitals are breaking the law, and patients are unnecessarily dying as a result. At the behest of the California Nurses Association, Senator Kuehl had successfully authored a bill mandating minimum staffing requirements at California hospitals. The bill was signed by Gray Davis in 1999. But Gov. Schwarzenegger’s appointees to the Department of Health Services, which is responsible for enforcing the legislation, ignores the chronic violations at Sutter as well as elsewhere. 

The irresponsibility of the state agency should be widely publicized and it should be pressured to do its job. Also, please call or write Sutter’s President and CEO Pat Fry to demand that the hospital chain obey the law. His office is at 2200 River Plaza Drive, Sacramento, CA., 95833, or phone (916) 286-6752. 

Harry Brill 

Wellstone Democratic Club