The Editor's Back Fence
Now that the election's behind us, I finally had time to sort through my mail this morning. I pulled out all of the glossy color postcards from the big pile of junk, leaving behind twelve Land's End catalogs and several offers of free trips to Las Vegas to shop for condos.
Then I washed my hands. Don't want any of that slime to stick.
Not, of course, that the casual voter could easily distinguish much of this pile of propaganda from the Land's End catalogs. The most eye-poppingly successful campaign, the one for Nancy Skinner for Assembly, took many of its greenest leaves from the Land's End playbook: bright eyes, rosy cheeks and nature, again and again and again and again, and then one more time, just in case.
My favorite was the large multi-page piece with the title, in large letters on the front page, "Our East Bay Regional Parks", followed by six gorgeous full pages, each picturing a particular park in the system. The commercial didn't show up until the inside back cover, a page picturing "East Bay Regional Parks Director" Nancy Skinner.
Who knows that Skinner's a fairly recent appointee to the EBRP board, and that she's just one among several directors? Or, for that matter, that her opponent Phil Polakoff was endorsed by the doyenne of East Bay environmentalists, Sylvia McLaughlin? Never mind, Skinner's happy to take the credit for the whole blooming park system.
As a political person, I have to object to the use of this kind of fuzzy, non-specific image advertising, first pioneered for menthol cigarettes in the fifties to disguise the harm they were doing. (A cynical college friend used to call trips to the countryside "posing for Salem ads.") But as someone retired from a mid-life career as a marketeer, I have to say that Nancy Skinner's campaign, orchestrated by an expensive SF agency, was brilliant.
Another favorite was this notice on a Loni Hancock mailer sent by the California Democratic Party, right up top next to the union bug:
"LEADING BY EXAMPLE: This brochure was printed with soy-based inks on acid-free 100% recycled fiber, processed chlorine-free. By using environmentally friendly paper, we saved: 22 fully grown trees; 4,759 gallons of waste water; 10 million BTUs of energy NOT consumed; 1,759 pounds net of greenhouse gases."
Whoop-de-do. No such notice on anything in the rest of the pile, so multiply that one out. What's the estimate of the greenhouse gas consumption of all of this expensive campaign mail? It's not bupkes.
But to be fair, the California Democratic Party seems to be doing its damnedest to get rid of these silly campaigns altogether. I still haven't gotten a satisfactory explanation for Who the Hell the CDP is, or why they can't wait for the people to decide on candidates in the primaries ostensibly set up for that purpose.
Just think of the greenhouse gases we'd have saved by letting their official endorsement of Hancock stand and cancelling the election altogether. We might as well cancel the November election while we're at it, since the result is already obvious.
(I can even forgive a Planet reporter for saying or implying in our last issue that Hancock and Skinner were elected and not just, technically, nominated as the Democratic candidates for Senate and Assembly. The politicians have done their best to confuse us.)
It's almost enough to make me take back all the snide remarks that I've made over the years about the Greens. Not, of course, that the candidate they managed to get elected to the assembly a while back did much better than the Dems. But maybe it's time to try again.
For more carping about the current structure of the California Democratic Party machine, watch for Thomas Gangale's piece in Thursday's online commentary section.
May 30, 2008
LAST MINUTE ELECTION UPDATES
What? You still don't know who to vote for? Even with the editor's endorsements?
Here are a few tidbits of new information which might help you finally decide.
Hancock v. Chan (state senate)
Ignore all the icky mudslinging , theoretically from third parties commonly known as IEs (Independent Expenditures). Both candidates have benefited from these nasty mailers (or suffered from them.) The next reform to the election process should be to regulate this kind of activity, within constitutional limits of course.
For one last chance to compare the contenders, check out their joint interview on KQED's Forum with Michael Krasny.
I caught a couple of questionable Hancock statements in my distracted listening to it while doing other things.
Asked about the possible fourth tube proposed for the Caldecott Tunnel (Orinda is pro, Berkeley mostly con), she waffled. She said she's been meeting with "neighbors", and that there's no money for it anyhow. But, she said, she thought a good "mitigation" would be to build more housing on this side of the hills.
That's screwy, especially when coupled with the longstanding Hancock/Bates effort to gentrify West Berkeley for the benefit of land speculators. In the discussions she pointed with pride to her effort to spruce up San Pablo from Richmond to Oakland, but said nothing about where service and light manufacturing jobs all along the route would have to go once San Pablo's lined with big-box condos. Auto repair, salvage, upholstery, bakeries—we need them all. Some of them are messy, noisy or smelly, but building more condos with small, ugly and empty retail pods on the first floor isn't the answer. The condo-dwellers will have to work somewhere, and it’s probably going to be an office park in Dublin, through the tunnel.
Worthington v. Skinner v. Thurmond v. Polakoff (assembly)
A fragment of a poll was leaked to this space by a not-terribly-reliable source. It's a week or so old. At that time Skinner was ahead by about 7%, with Worthington next and gaining. Thurmond and Polakoff were far behind.
Since then, however, Thurmond has been endorsed by the corporate press: Dean Singleton's Media News Group megaconglomerate, also known here as the Bay Area News Group ( including the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Trib, San Jose Mercury and the Hills papers, including the Voice, the Montclarion and the Journal) and the Hearst Corporation's San Francisco Chronicle.
Worthington has been endorsed by the lonely outposts of the independent press, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Berkeley Daily Planet. Skinner and Polakoff haven't been endorsed by the press, but she's the designated successor in the Bates/Aroner/Hancock line.
Will any of this matter? Who knows? Vote Early and Often, as they used to say in Chicago.
May 27, 2008
In today's experiment, the executive editor will answer a couple of letters. We've been longing to try this ever since the paper was started. For years letters to the editor and the editor's often sarcastic replies were the centerpiece of the much-enjoyed Anderson Valley Advertiser. The Greater Berkeley Area takes itself more seriously than the Anderson Valley, so what he did there might not work here. But occasionally we get letters that deserve an answer, serious and not-so-serious.
Here's a serious one:
I am sick and tired reading about how bad Willard is. Riya has never had anything good to say about us. Instead of investigating the reality here at Willard, she just rehashes old news about our ex-vice principal and reports on faulty data. Had she spoken with our Principal like any reporter worth their weight would do, she would have a more balanced report. But as with the other articles she has written about us, Riya again just publishes inaccuracies.
I have been teaching here for 9 years and have seen Willard go from a rough school to a diamond in the rough. Report on our increased API scores last year (biggest gain of all middle schools), report on the fact that in a school survey completed by students and parents, 92% felt that Willard is a safe place, report about the fact that we were the only middle school to reach our participation percentages on the standardized testing last year, report on the fact that we don't hide any data about our school - we are an open book and we have nothing to hide. We know we are good, I just wish those who report about us do their job better and stop bashing Willard.
6th grade teacher.
I emailed back to Ms. Arthur: The principal refuses to return phone calls. Perhaps you could discuss this with him. The data we published was also in the Chronicle. If the data was faulty, he or anyone is welcome to provide correct data, to us and to the Chronicle.
But there's much more to say. This case is a good illustration of why Berkeley needs a sunshine ordinance, preferably one which applies to the public schools as well as to the city. Actually, we'd settle for compliance with the California Public Records Act, which is already the law. Riya Bhattacharjee, our education reporter, has gone to great lengths trying unsuccessfully to get accurate data about suspensions at Willard, including a string of CPRA requests which were largely ignored plus many letters and phone calls to all sorts of BUSD officials, also ignored.
The Chronicle's respected and very experienced education reporter Nanette Asimov had similar problems getting accurate information about what's happening at Willard.. In case you no longer read the Chronicle, here's what she said:
With 254 incidents, Willard reported one of the highest violent-suspension rates in the Bay Area last year: 1 for every two students, or 54 percent.
Principal Robert Ithurburn said Willard actually had 177 violence suspensions, a rate of 38 percent. The discrepancy could not be readily explained.
Either way, Willard's rate far exceeds 5 percent, and Ithurburn said he is working to change a culture of lax supervision.
It's important to keep good track of what you're doing to know what effect it has. It looks like Willard is suspending lots of kids, but how many and to what effect can't be assessed with no data.
As regards the departed ex-vice principal, whatever she did or didn't do about suspensions, it's safe to bet that without Bhattacharjee's investigative pieces she'd still be working at Willard. We still don't know exactly why she left so suddenly.
What's wrong with lots of suspensions? you might ask. As an experienced parent whose three daughters went through Willard, and a grandparent of a current junior high school student in another city, I view suspensions as failures. Whether you're kicking half your kids out of school or only two-fifths of them, when they're not in school they're not learning. And if the parents are working as most are (or are absent, as is the case for all too many students these days) the student is out in the street looking for trouble.
"Changing a culture of lax supervision" at school, if that's a problem, might be fine, but suspension doesn't solve that one—supervision is not done by students, but by teachers and administrators. And the school my granddaughter attends has almost identical test scores to Willard's when broken down by ethnicity, with a much lower suspension rate. Why is that?
I answered the question of educators' eternal desire to have only the good news reported in the press long ago, in 2003. Through the magic of the Internet, you can find what I wrote then here.
Not much seems to have changed.
And now the less serious answer:
You comment on the front page of your website, in an article "The Editor's Soapbox," dated May 13, defending your frequency of publication of news, "Friends, there’s new stuff posted on this web site almost every single day: news, opinions both letters and commentary, columnists, you name it, something new every time you turn around..." Today is May 24, and there is not a single article less than ten days old on the front page. There is a "Flash News Update: Man Shot to Death on Durant Avenue" dated May 14. It is embarrassing to call ten day old events "flash news," and even more so to then harass your readers for calling for more frequent updates.
My answer to Mr. Fay:
You don't seem to be looking at the current issue--perhaps you haven't refreshed your browser?
I make the same mistake myself sometimes—it's easy to do. You can also hit the "current issue" button near the top left of the online Planet's home page to get the latest articles.
May 20, 2008
Every week a new experiment...this week, we're trying out a Web-only column of short items. People send us things that are not serious enough or big enough or current enough for a full-fledged news story or a full-dress editorial essay, but are too good to pass up. And increasingly they send us links to good stuff in other Internet locations which Planet readers would like to see.
This spot (at least this week) will be where to find short takes on interesting or amusing topics between the Thursday print papers. Of course, we expect our readers to contribute most of the items, just as neighbors in the fabled small towns of yore shared gossip over the back fences. Hence the name.
At first, we thought we should post these on Mondays, but Monday came and went this week. And why not just post them as they arrive? So that's the plan for this week.
Our goal is to get our on-line readers to check out the Planet Website each and every day, maybe more than once a day, so that they don't miss anything. And it's not just this column....we have something new online—news and columns too—almost every day now.
Here's just one juicy little item to get the ball rolling. A reader forwarded this invitation:
Wednesday, May 7th from 5:30 to 7pm
Don Yost & John Norheim
along with co-hosts: ... Mark & Erin Rhoades, Ali
Kashani & Ed Church
Invite you to meet and support Nancy Skinner
At the offices of Norheim & Yost
2332 5th St, Berkeley
Just in case your program doesn't list the names and numbers of all the players:
Yost and Norheim are the commercial real estate brokers who control most of the listings in beleaguered West Berkeley.
Mark Rhoades is the former City of Berkeley Director of Current Planning (planning czar), who went through the Planning Department's revolving door to become the business partner of
Ali Kashani, who was formerly with the non-profit Affordable Housing Associates, but has crossed over to the Dark Side to become an emphatically for-profit developer.
Mark is also the marital partner of Erin Rhoades, who is also the president of the thinly-camouflaged developers' lobbying group Livable Berkeley. Until Mark left the planning department Erin used her maiden name of Erin Banks in her job with the DCE consulting firm, founded by David Early, which has had a number of lucrative contracts with the City of Berkeley and UC Berkeley. Early was also her predecessor at Livable Berkeley. Presumably Erin used her birth name in an attempt to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest with her husband's job. Caesar's wife, after all, must at least appear to be above suspicion.
Ed Church is the man behind the attempt to turn the Ashby BART station into a condo-complex, an endeavor which is now on hold because of the huge public outcry which greeted it. No stake has been driven through its heart, or his, however.
And Nancy Skinner ? She's the anointed candidate of the Bates/Aroner/Hancock organization (never call it a machine, unless you want to get angry letters from old friends) for their successor to the family seat in the California Assembly, and judging from this invitation she also seems to have inherited their developer campaign contributors. Not bad for a beginner. And she's already raised a bundle of money, with more TBD right before the June primary, too late to be reported by the media.
(Full disclosure: I endorsed Kriss Worthington for the job, long before the B/A/H mantle dropped on Skinner's shoulders.)
Here's a half hour of comedy viewing for the city council junkies among you. The Acting City Attorney and several of the councilmembers skate right up to the precipice of contempt of court as they fool around with ignoring Judge Frank Roesch's order to rescind an earlier bit of foolishness (he called it "abuse of discretion"), granting extra perks to developer Patrick Kennedy for the notorious Gaia building, now owned by equally notorious rent control foe Sam Zell. The CA wanted to tack on a whole bunch of extra stuff that the Judge had not asked for, but plaintiff Patricia Dacey and her attorney Anna DeLeon finally managed to convince the unwilling members that they might go to jail if they carried on as they were. But you do have to watch the whole episode to get the full nuanced comic flavor. Jump the video to item 11 on the agenda.
Randy Shaw of Beyond Chron has an excellent analysis of who those "angry working class white voters" who say they won't vote for Obama AREN'T. He says he media are afraid to call a racist a racist.
May 13, 2008
As our Internet experiment ("daily online, weekly in print") moves forward, we’ve encountered a certain amount of guilt-tripping from our friends and neighbors for “deserting” them on Tuesdays. Everyone seems to like getting their weekend paper earlier, on Thursdays, but they whine that they’ve been accustomed to having another little news fix earlier in the week, and they hate to give it up. Friends, there’s new stuff posted on this web site almost every single day: news, opinions both letters and commentary, columnists, you name it, something new every time you turn around. . . Today, check out the surprise announcement of the Mayor's State of the City Address, something we didn't know about when we put the print paper to bed last week.
Look for the red datelines to alert you to what's new
The great thing about the Internet, something you just can't do with print, is that we can also direct you to interesting material that there would never be room for in print, or that we would never have time to organize into print even if we had the room. Case in point: the opinion submission from the people who aren't too happy with AC Transit's Bus Rapid Transit proposal. Technically sophisticated, they turned in their thoughts as a nicely formatted .pdf (image) file, complete with all those clever indentations and bullets that are a newspaper formatting nightmare. After a little online negotiation, we persuaded them to add an executive summary suitable for print, but we were also able to put their full arguments online in all their organized glory. Online readers can experience this product in our Reader Commentary section today.
And other media today are full of horror stories of the multiple disasters around the world, leaving our readers wondering what, if anything, they can do to help. With our online presence, we can pass along to you a message we received from a soprano friend now living in Japan, who sent us an appeal she received from a fellow musician who is working at a music school in Yangon (Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma).
The teachers and students there are organizing a relief effort to help the hundreds of thousands of people in lowland rural areas affected by the recent cyclone. Their web page www.gitameit.com/wp has been turned into an information site to let people in the outside world know what's going on, and to make it possible for them to donate to worthwhile organizations already operating inside Myanmar.
The soprano writes from Japan: "As you can see from her website, she is practically ground zero for the recent typhoon and tsunami that hit Burma...I am trying to raise funds through concerts here in Japan; would it be possible for you all to consider a fund-raising concert project to help assist the disaster survivors? You can get information on the foundation (no money-grabbing; I vouch for Kit 110%) from her web-site; all money would go directly to the people of Burma, no ear-marking or deletions."
The site is well worth a look. It has lots of current news and photos, with a number of buttons that can be used for one-click donations to a variety of responsible groups already doing what they can for the relief effort. You don't even have to organize a concert; just send money.
Incidentally, the music school itself sounds pretty terrific too. Here's a description from its "about" page: "In Pali and Burmese, 'gita' means music, and 'meit' means friendship. Gitameit Music Center was started in 2003 by pianist Kit Young and colleagues from Myanmar in order to build a supportive community of musicians and audiences locally, and to encourage sustained, meaningful contact with international institutions, teachers and performers. Gitameit Music Center is a non-profit community center and music school in downtown Yangon devoted to music teaching & nurturing, performing, offering exchange possibilities for Burmese students to study abroad, and inviting international artists & teachers for performances and workshops in Yangon."
Music is one of the best ways of crossing formidable borders. While you have your credit card or checkbook out to donate for cyclone victims, you might give some thought to what the future will be like in Myanmar, and give a bit to encourage Kit's musicians while you're at it.
And now we come to the audience participation part of this program. On the right side of the page you'll find a simple survey, designed to let us know if anyone's actually reading the new and improved Berkeley Daily Planet on the Web. It won't take a minute, and it will help us understand how we can best serve our readers.