Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday November 05, 2009 - 08:46:00 AM



Editors, Daily Planet: 


Scholars, authors, and people who took part in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) are gathering Friday, Saturday and Sunday at UC Berkeley for “Rediscovering China’s Cultural Revolution—Art and Politics, Lived Experience, Legacies of Liberation,” an unique symposium which will bring to life what actually happened on the ground in the Cultural Revolution, and present vivid counter-narratives to one of modern history’s most distorted and demonized periods. Full details about the Symposium are available 


If you’re concerned about the state of the world, and yearn for something better, or followed the Cultural Revolution “back in the day,” I think you’ll find this symposium surprising, exciting, and very timely. 


“The Cultural Revolution was not, as depicted by the current Chinese government and standard Western accounts, a nightmare of persecution, violence, and senseless chaos,” says Raymond Lotta, a writer for Revolution newspaper and editor “Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism,” who will speak Saturday. “It was a society-wide political movement and struggle that brought about immense and egalitarian changes in Chinese society-in political institutions, education, health care, culture and women's participation in society.”  


The Symposium will begin at 5:00 pm on Friday, November 6 at Wurster Hall (south side of campus, near College & Bancroft) with the opening of an exhibit of poster art from the Cultural Revolution. Then at 6:30 pm, Prof. Dongping Han, who participated in the Cultural Revolution in a rural village in China and will speak Friday night on his new book The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (an event being filmed for CSPAN’s Book TV). 


On Saturday, Nov 7, at Berdahl Auditorium in Stanley Hall (east side of UC Berkeley campus, between Hearst Mining Circle & Gayley Road), there will be two panels: at 1:00 pm on Art and Politics in the Cultural Revolution with Lincoln Cushing, co-author of “Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” Bai Di, the Director of Chinese and Asian Studies at Drew University and Co-editor of Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up During the Mao Era, and Ban Wang, Professor ofChinese Literature and Culture at Stanford and author of “Illuminations from the Past: Trauma, Memory, and History in Modern China (Cultural Memory in the Present),” 


The 4:00 pm panel is titled “The International Impact and Historical Significance of the Cultural Revolution,” with Dongping Han, Raymond Lotta, Ann Tompkins, co-author of “Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” who lived in China for five years during the Cultural Revolution, and Robert Weil, a Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute who is the author of “Red Cat, White Cat: China and the Contradictions of “Market Socialism.”  


On Sunday at 1 and 3 pm, at Wurster Auditorium, films from the Cultural Revolution will be shown and discussed: at 1pm, Red Detachment of Women (1970), at 3 pm, Barefoot Doctors of Rural China (1975) 


All this matters a great deal. Understanding the Cultural Revolution is crucial to understanding China today. And if what people at this symposium are saying is true, then everything changes in terms of what actually is possible for humanity. 


Full details about the Symposium are available at  


Reiko Redmonde 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your account of the most recent efforts to preserve the magnificent Hillside School brought back bittersweet memories. About a decade ago, I was part of a group of parents at the Berkeley Montessori School—then a tenant at the Hillside School—who explored whether the building could become a permanent home for the Montessori school. We discovered that although the building’s proximity to the Hayward Fault made it illegal to use the structure for a public school, state law did not prohibit a private school from operating in this dangerous location. Nevertheless, we quickly found that the cost of repairing and retrofitting the building would be prohibitive and that accomplishing this restoration in a manner that would preserve the historic integrity of the structure would be infeasible. 

Ultimately, the Berkeley Montessori School—now called The Berkeley School—decided to purchase, landmark, restore and adaptively reuse another historic campus for the school. This effort was accomplished in partnership with Congregation Netivot Shalom which converted an adjacent liquor store into a spectacular synagogue. 

Preserving and restoring the Hillside School is a noble goal. However, the location of the building and its historic status place significant constraints on the types of uses that can occupy the structure, impose formidable structural requirements, and limit the alternations that can be made to the building?s appearance. Dealing with these obligations cannot be accomplished without a huge investment of capital, for which there are two obvious sources: (1) a rich and benevolent patron could pour tens of millions of dollars into repairing and maintaining the building; or (2) the playground could be used for new buildings that could generate the revenue needed for the restoration effort. Undoubtedly, nearby residents will not be welcoming of any proposal that would eliminate the open space they cherish, change the character of their neighborhood and have other impacts they find as objectionable. Therefore, in all likelihood the Hillside School will continue its long and slow deterioration until it either has to be condemned, it falls down or it is destroyed in some calamity. We will all mourn its passage, but that will likely be the fate of the Hillside School unless we are willing to acknowledge that the status quo has downsides that may outweigh those we fear change will bring. 

Will Travis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

From campaign trail to Capitol 

The path is passing strange: 

From “Change We Can Believe In” 

To “beliefs that we can change.” 

Gar Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

How discounted can Telegraph Avenue get?  

Recently, the former Cody’s building sold for under 2 million dollars, after sitting idle for nearly five years. You’d be lucky to find a nice four-bedroom house in this town for that price.  

The new owner promptly evicted one of the longest standing businesses on Telegraph, Telegraph Flowers, opened in the mid-60s, despite the fact that there are no immediate plans for the building, or permits to do any work on the property. No notice, just a simple “Get Out!” 

This sort of ruthlessness seems to be going unnoticed by the community and city government. In fact, the city is literally afraid of this new owner, a local real estate mogul who has sued the city on numerous occasions, and also happens to own dozens of properties in the East Bay. This particular real estate mogul also happens to own the empty lot across the street from Cody’s for the last 15 years and numerous other derelict and semi-derelict properties locally. This particular property owner once tore down an architecturally significant building at Telegraph and Durant over a weekend, without permits, and barely got a slap on the wrist from Berkeley, simply because the city government is so afraid of this man.  

Time and again, in this thoroughly corrupt society of ours, we learn the sad lesson that greed and ruthlessness pay the biggest rewards, even here in Berkeley. 

W. Bartell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Clearly the gang rape that recently occurred in Richmond was a heinous crime, despite the fact heinous is a word now attached to all degrees of social transgressions from purse snatchings and dog fighting to rape and murder. 

Still I found Mr Johnson’s column this morning (SF Chronicle, Fri., Oct. 30) more than a little disturbing. Rather than calling for calm and urging the people to allow the judicial system to run its course, Mr. Johnson poured fuel on the fire essentially saying revenge would be understandable. This at a time when the defendants already are being made to wear bullet proof vests to appear in court. 

The history books of this nation are replete with the writings of racist newspaper editors and “journalists” inflaming the populace to take justice into their own hands. Deaths attributed to “At the hands of persons unknown” is a euphemism for lynchings. Many US newspapers are as responsible for the heinous history of lynchings that darkens the legacy of this country as any other institution. It saddens me to now consider San Francisco’s leading news outlet as the latest member of that backward thinking chapter of news organizations that inflamed the populace to mob action. 

I’ve been critical of Mr. Johnson’s writings in the past but today’s column, in my opinion, is far worse than anything I’ve seen to date. The Chronicle should now cut their ties to him. 

Jean Damu 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

When “group therapy” took the country by storm, years ago, with EST and AA, and thousands of other “therapies,” we were told to “accept responsibility.” This was an ambiguous, moralistic, enigmatical concept that has gripped our nation now for at least fifty plus years. What exactly does it mean? The idea came out of a questionable philosophy called “existentialism,” which advises us that we can ‘choose’ whether or not to do this or that. In other words we are free to chose our actions and “be what we want to be!” And thus, if we can choose what to do,then,we are ‘responsible’ for what happens to us. But supppose I’m poor, or neurotic, or homeless,or working two jobs,or a single parent, or an illegal alien, or can’t speak English much, or addicted to a myriad of things like alchohol, or cigarettes, or illegal drugs, or I’m emotionally handicapped, or in terrible health, or obese, and so on and so forth? It’s then that we’re told to “take responsibility!!” The irony that no one mentions is that the one-half of one percent of those who own ninety percent of everything are never asked to “take responsibility” for their greed, their rapaciousness, ie., their fierce drive to maximise their profits however, wherever and whenever they can, which has brought us to our present economic nightmare.  

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his Oct. 22 response to a letter I wrote that was published Oct.15, Rfael Moshe wrongly assumes that I support the use of children as soldiers. This is ludicrous. And I seriously doubt his claim that children being used as soldiers has any basis in reality in the impoverished conditions in Gaza. When Israel invaded the citizens of Gaza last winter, it resulted in the deaths of over 900 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children. Are we to believe that they were killed in battle with soldiers of the fourth most powerful military force in the world? One of the best equipped, highly trained, hi-tech forces that roams the planet? No. They were killed in their homes, their schools, their shelters, huddled anywhere they could seeking refuge from the bombs, the drones, the helicopter gunships, missiles fired from air, sea and land, white phosphorous incendiary explosives, and even experimental DIME weapons which sever limbs of those who manage to survive. 

Israel can no longer claim its actions are in self defense toward its Arab neighbors. Nor can it act as it has for so long with impunity. An end to this conflict will eventually be achieved. And I will most gladly support that. 

Robert Kanter 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Polls show public confidence in our electoral system is falling. 

Secretary Bowen did the right thing last week when she made California’s vote more secure than ever before. Even though corporate spokespeople for Diebold and some of the other voting machine makers claim that the University of California’s tests were “unfair,” the fact is that Bowen found glaring holes in the system, and she’s plugged them. Now, some uninformed commentators are second-guessing Secretary Bowen. Most computer scientists think that computerized touch screens are worse than paper ballots. Secretary Bowen was right to make sweeping reforms to a system that had lost public confidence, had lost 18,000 votes in Florida, and had failed even the most basic security check. 

Just because someone’s convertible has never been stolen, that doesn’t mean he or she should leave it sitting outside with the top down and the keys inside. The same is true with California’s electronic voting machines. Vulnerabilities exist, and the machines need to be made secure or scrapped. 

The next step isn’t to second-guess Secretary Bowen. If you care about secure elections, then volunteer in your neighborhood to help get out the vote. How the votes are counted doesn’t matter if there are no votes to count. And after helping get the vote out, sign up to become an election observer. Democracy is a privilege—not a right! Let’s stop accusing Secretary Bowen and start getting to work to take our elections back! 

Paul Matzner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The heath insurance industry generally opposes a public option in any health care reform legislation. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) recently said he would join a Republican filibuster of any health bill that includes a public option even though the public option is overwhelmingly favored by Lieberman’s own constituents. Senator Lieberman has accepted more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry and more than $600,000 from pharmaceuticals and related healthcare-products companies. And his wife Hadassah previously worked for two lobbying firms, Hill & Knowlton and APCO, handling matters for their healthcare and pharmaceuticals clients. Coincidence? I think not.  

And recently he said that he will be campaigning for some Republican candidates in the next election. 

He should be stripped of his Chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. 

Ralph E. Stone 

San Francisco  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The United States has been in Afghanistan since 2001 at great cost and with unfortunately little progress so far. The causes are many but one aspect of the situation might be worth further attention. The Taliban and the drug lords we oppose depend on economic factors that we may be able to affect. Two areas where we can make a difference economically are: the mercenary fighters recruited by the Taliban and the opium crop whose resale profits the Taliban and the drug lords.  

  Afghanistan’s Interior Minister estimated there are at most 15,000 Taliban combatants. Vice President Biden has estimated that seventy percent of Taliban fighters are mercenary soldiers not committed to any cause. This works out to about 10,500 Taliban who are only mercenaries. They are paid about $10 per day by the Taliban. 

  It has been suggested that we could outbid the Taliban and offer them $20 per day to stay out of the fighting; they would not have to change sides. It would cost us about $6,300,000 to reduce the Taliban force by 70% for a month. One AH-64 Apache helicopter costs much more than that.  

  The benefits to our side would be great. Further, if we treated the Afghan mercenaries on our payroll in a good way, we might find we had some allies among them or at least fewer enemies. We did something similar in Iraq, successfully paying up to 100,000 Sunni insurgents $300 a month to not fight.  

  Poor Afghan farmers grow opium to survive. In 2006 they received a total of $600 million for the year’s opium crop. The drug lords resold it for $3 billion. 

Martin Varsavsky suggests we compete economically for the opium crop. Our military could to travel to farms where the opium is grown, pay the farmers for the crop at the going rate, and then destroy it. The annual $600 million needed is a small part of our aid budget. The drug lords and Taliban would have $2.4 billion less to fund their operations, a huge economic loss to them. There would also be less opium-derived hard drugs on our own streets for a time. 

It appears these things could be done at less risk to human life on all sides compared to conventional military activity. If we reduce the power of the Taliban by economic means, our military situation could improve there without the need for as many additional troops. 

Afghanistan’s total annual GDP amounts to less than our GDP for one day.  

Brad Belden