Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Monday December 01, 2008 - 01:19:00 PM



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Golden Gate Fields race track may go into bankruptcy; UC Berkeley needs a football stadium. The City of Berkeley needs to reduce autos on its streets. Let's bail out all three by putting the new and bigger football stadium at the Golden Gate Fields track. For a greener environment and for a better quality of life for residents move the stadium to Golden Gate Fields. 

Ray Quan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I didn't go over the river and through the woods to Grandfather's House this Thanksgiving. Instead, I took BART over to San Francisco for my annual visit to St. Anthony's Dining Room, where I helped serve dinner to over 3,000 of the city's homeless, displaced persons. Walking along Golden Gate Avenue, I passed long, long lines of people who had waited for hours in anticipation of a warm holiday meal. What a meal it was—turkey with dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, yams, green beans, rolls and butter and pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. 

The dining room was packed to the gills—all ages, all races, some neatly attired, others unshaven and poorly dressed. They came in wheelchairs, on walkers and crutches, mostly men, but a few women with children who were seated at their own tables in the back of the huge dining room. My job was to carry trays to the row after row of tables, picking up yellow meal tickets, welcoming our guests and, most importantly, treating them with respect. While ill at ease, not conversing with each other at first, as the afternoon wore on the room was alive with laughter and animation, very much a festive holiday occasion. 

This happy scene of friendship and giving was repeated all over the Bay Area. Indeed, I could have helped with dinners here in Berkeley or Oakland, but I have a special place in my heart for the St. Anthony Foundation. I also have respect for the great work of Glide Memorial Church. It's reassuring to know that in these troubled times, with the economy affecting so many, we Americans are a nation of generous and compassionate people, reaching out to those less fortunate. 

Dorothy Snodgrass  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The "Art of Democracy" show was not seen in the Addison Street Windows Gallery but the resulting discussion, as admirably represented in the pages of the Daily Planet, has been a healthy thing. Despite protests by some members of the Arts Commission, the commission seems to have accepted that the First Amendment does indeed apply to art. 

This particular case involved the representation of guns, and those in favor of censorship argued that guns were a special case that could be censored. The argument was not about depictions of violence, or incitement to violence but simply the presence of guns. In this case the images that were censored were portraying opposition to state-sponsored violence. It seems to me that when rules ostensibly made to “protect” us are used to prohibit speech that is critical of the state, then censorship has indeed become a serious issue that rises to the level worthy of opposition. 

I am pleased that the Arts Commission has acknowledged this in principle and I hope that the discussion continues as to the value of protected speech. Restrictions placed on speech by those who claim to protect us from immorality or from indecency do a disservice to art when they claim that it is a special case that cannot be protected by the First Amendment. 

Art Hazelwood 

Organizer for "Art of Democracy" 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Considering the reams of bad publicity I've read regarding the Addison Street Window Gallery, I'd like to check in with my two cents regarding this wonderful enterprise. Back in 1993, the great Brenda Prager invited me, and fellow artist B.N. Duncan, to host our own gallery showing in the window, "Berkeley Artists on the Fringe"—a collection of oddball art by Berkeley street people. We couldn't have asked for a more gracious host. In fact, it was the first public acknowledgment that my artwork had ever received from the town of Berkeley (whether this is a good or bad thing I'll leave to you to decide). And it led to several other fruitful collaborations with the magnificent Berkeley Civic Arts program, including the recording of the "Telegraph Avenue Street Music" CD in 1994, with a big assist from Bonnie Hughes. 

  Issues like "free speech" and "censorship" strike deep chords involving high ideals and moral principles, and etc. For that reason, I'm dismayed when I see these terms thrown around in such a sloppy and irresponsible fashion. I haven't seen the artwork that inspired all the "controversy," so I'm in no position to chime in on its merits. But I do find the knee-jerk reaction to all this somewhat repulsive. Certainly, a curator of any public exhibit has to apply standards for what is or isn't presented in a public space. Certainly, pornographic images, or anti-social images, or images that promote criminal behavior would wisely be "censored" from a forum that is accessible to children. Also too, like it or not, the curator has to make aethetic judgments on the artistic merit of the work. For example, I could slop big piles of cow dung onto pedestals and put it in the window. Would that be "art"? Possibly. Would that be "good" or "bad" art? Possibly. Art is in the eye (and the nose) of the beholder. But so what? The point is, whenever you have dozens of artists or performers competing for a limited stage, a gate-keeper (i.e. a curator) has to decide what gets shown and what gets rejected. That's just the reality of this big, cruel world of ours. The point being; there's a big and crucial difference between having standards (and there will always be "arbitrary" standards when evaluating something as ethereal as art) and "censorship." And for this reason, I'm deeply offended by the sloppy way these terms like "free speech" and "censorship" have been bandied around in this case. 

Even a paper such as the Daily Planet, which has a magnificent  record for publishing a wide spectrum of viewpoints, many of which are no doubt repugnant to the editor, nonetheless has editorial standards for what it will or won't publish. Is this "censorship"? I think not. (Unless, of course, Becky refuses to publish this letter, then I'm gong to start crying about how my "free speech" has been denied by these "fascists.") 

In a related aside, we, the merchants and residences of Telegraph Avenue, have recently been dealing with a bunch of obnoxious evangelical Christians from out of town, who subject us to their ear-crunching amplified noise for five hours every Saturday, on a block that is already a cacophony of noise and sensory overload. Predictably, when we try to limit this public nuisance, we get the same old cries of "free speech" and "censorship." Ironic, considering this isn't "free speech"—it's paid speech (you need to buy a permit for amplified sound)—and there are already plenty of legal limitations in place. But, as with the Windows Gallery controversy, all too often you get the knee-jerk blather about high ideals, which obscure the practical reality of a simple issue involving public space that is shared by everyone. 

All too often (maybe not necessarily in this case, but) mediocre artists throw these terms around, simply to get reams of publicity for mediocre artwork that mostly would have been ignored otherwise. "Why, my work is so powerful, it's been banned!" And then, of course, the public has to see what all the fuss was about. 

At any rate, I'd like to express my appreciation for the great work done by the Addison Street Window Gallery over all these years. And to anyone who might disparage it, might I say: Hooey. 

Ace Backwords 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for your recent article outlining the pros and cons of developing the waterfront at Point Molate. I live in Richmond, and I'm still scratching my head at all the purported attributes a casino brings to our community. Crime around the San Pablo casino is dense in relation to other parts of our community. We're grateful to live somewhat far from all the action. 

Mr. Levine's thinking out of the box and contributing a whole list of do-gooding is applauded in my opinion. He's covered every possible argument with a solution that would supposedly counter ill effects in the community. He's offering a lot of green eggs in that basket. But, I stop short of his promise that "undesirable" casino types will not set foot on his resort. I hate to rain on his parade but, Richmond is not a "destination location" and never will be. That particular property is outlying heavy industry, and it smells like industry when you're downwind from it. If it were located across the bay in San Francisco, yacht parking would be a feasible plan for a destination casino. But it's not San Francisco. It's the shipyards of Richmond, and as much as I love our city, let's not get carried away. Just visit all the little towns surrounding each refinery in the East Bay. They're big "non-destinations" (but serve an important purpose, no doubt.) The ole' adage is tried and true when it comes to real estate development - location, location, location. Not that Point Molate can't come of age with a development plan and shed its former shell bit by bit, but, it takes more than casino promises of saving the city (please note: Chevron's already promised that and everyone's still waiting for it to happen) to accomplish a renaissance of a former naval refueling station. Many converging elements are needed to drag an area out of the dull drums and promising huge bags of money will not make Richmond a more desirable place to live. 

So what happens when the rich and famous don't pull up in fancy limos and spend fun money as hoped for? After all, it is Mr. Levine's first casino venture and he lacks experience (he just fired Harrah's for the folks up in Yolo County). How does he pay for the hundreds of millions in loans? Invite undesirables? If Plan A doesn't exactly work (and my gut says that Plan A is not realistic), then here come our country cousins and all their low-wage gambling, drunken shenanigans, theft, and other ill effects on our community. After all the glossy, green lipstick, it's still a pig, and a huge business risk like any other. 

So, a question for Mr. Levine: With all due respect for thinking out of the box, what's Plan B? We need to hear your thoughts and scenarios about how the operation will sustain itself and its promises to the good people of Richmond if Plan A doesn't go as planned.  

Natalie McNamara 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Saturday, Nov. 22, an event took place in Colorado that says something about present-day America. A farm couple decided to do something for their neighbors. They opened their farm fields after the harvest to allow people to glean the fields. Gleaning is the ancient practice of picking up farm crops after the regular harvest. Typically some of the crops are left in the fields by machines or harvesters and this gleaning eliminates waste, while feeding people at the same time. I grew up in Iowa and some of my relatives that lived on farms would do this each year. Usually a hundred people or less would show up at the gleaning on my relatives’ farms. 

But at this gleaning, 40,000 people appeared at the 600 acre farm 37 miles outside of Denver. Think of it! Forty thousand people had the need to pick up leftover crops. The United States is the richest nation in the world and yet 40,000 people in one area showed up to get the free food. What does this say about the economy? Granted not everyone probably needed the food because they were too poor to afford it. But I am sure thousands of them did. 

It was estimated that the 40,000 people arrived in about 11,000 vehicles. Because of this, many people who came were not able to park legally. The Colorado State Patrol then issued citations to the illegally parked cars. Neighbors helped neighbors and then the state gave out tickets. This also says a lot about the government’s role in the present financial crisis. Hundreds of billions are provided to the wealthy and corporations and the poor are given tickets when they try to pick their own food. What irony! 

Kenneth J. Theisen 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

John Gertz’s letter in the Nov. 26-Dec. 3 issue exemplifies Ashkenazi supremacism. Not every person at a demonstration needs to be a member of the sponsoring organization(s). Surely stereotypical, “classically [white/Eastern European ] Jewish,” Zionists accept the presence of non-Jewish supporters at their pro-Israel events. For racist Ashkenazim like Gertz, white people don’t have to establish their Jewish credentials; the massive influx into Israel of white people from the former Soviet bloc was welcomed wholeheartedly, despite the highly questionable Jewish pedigree of many of the new immigrants.  

Compare that to the bigoted treatment of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East (my forebears) who were welcomed to the newly formed state of Israel with DDT delousing, then shunted off to underdeveloped border towns. Gertz’s own racist prejudices are clearly in line with this dominant shtetl-derived and pernicious strain of Zionism, with its insular sub-tribal xenophobia. 

The unthinking parochial racism of Zionists like Gertz is part of what helped lead me away from the Zionism into which I was indoctrinated in my youth. Smug Ashkenazi supremacism in general, however, has been the hallmark of just about every policy of the pre-state Jewish establishment and of the state of Israel since 1948: domestically this is reflected in the various ways non-Ashkenazi Jews (Mizrahim, Ethiopians, and Indians for example) and Arab citizens suffer from discrimination; externally it is reflected in the oppressive policies directed at Palestinians and other Arabs.  

Zionists have pretended to speak for all Jews everywhere since the founding of their movement, incorporating the worst aspects of 19th-century European nationalism: territorial expansionism, ethnic fealty, and racism. Unfortunately Gertz isn’t the only Zionist to epitomize this tendency. It’s high time an organization like IJAM was formed to call into question the facile and false equation, Jews = Zionists. 

Dunash Labrat  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

What is the motivating force behind the killing spree in the financial district of Mumbai? There is never good reason to hurt innocent people. What can the thrill of being a world famous terrorist be? Even if these young killers experienced injustice at the hands of their parents or in their schools or from their governments, they are not justified in raining bullets on ordinary civilians going about their lives. What does it take to make a human being blank and mechanical as he slaughters fellow human beings? 

Romila Khanna