Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:43:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Dec. 10 commentary entitled “BOCA Supports REALM Public Charter School” states, “In a school of 3,300, there is only one African-American male taking an AP class.” I teach AP environmental science at Berkeley High School. There are 12 African-American males in my AP classes alone. 

My four AP environmental science classes are 17.5 percent African-American and 13.9 percent Latino. 

Ironically, while the Berkeley community seeks ways to eliminate the achievement gap in our schools, Berkeley High School intends to eliminate science labs. These labs provide personalization and continuity to all our students and help struggling students the most. The science labs make a stronger and more equitable science program possible. As teachers, we are greatly saddened at the thought of losing the opportunity to help all our students master the skills they need to find satisfaction and success in their education. We are also determined to retain the five new dedicated science teachers who would lose their jobs with the elimination of science labs. 

Please let the Berkeley School Board know that science labs, which are paid for by BSEP funds, are an integral part of achieving better results for all of our students. 

Mardi Sicular-Mertens 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It was disheartening to read the recent BOCA commentary supporting a charter school in Berkeley. The article stated that there is only one African-American male in AP classes at Berkeley High. This is not true. There are two African-American males, among other minorities, in my son’s AP calculus class alone. There are numerous African-American males in both AP environmental science and AP english in CPA’s small school, among many other classes. 

It is very disappointing to see religious leaders sign an untrue statement that has obvious political implications. It’s time for people to quit politicizing education in this town and make decisions based on what will actually teach all our children. It’s also time for people to quit throwing out any numbers they think will support their cause. 

I suggest interested parties look at the description of the “curriculum” of the REALM charter school and the track record of the proposed principal. Enough with rabid anti-intellectualism. All Berkeley kids deserve better academic opportunities, and this REALM charter school doesn’t offer any. 

Maureen Burke 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have seen the claims, but not the assumptions, and I am not feeling reassured that Bus Rapid Transit is a good deal. As best I can tell from a web search, urban buses get anywhere from one to three miles per gallon. Modern cars average 30, and the best ones get over 50. The number of people diverted from cars therefore has to be somewhere between 10 to 50 to equal a car with just a driver. If car efficiency increases, due to more preferential parking for car pools, kiss and ride zones, and the like, the break-even point for buses could easily rise to more than the carrying capacity of the bus. 

Bus frequency has been quoted at every two and a half to five minutes. If there are 40 formerly car-driving passengers per bus this is 480 to 960 passengers an hour. The calculated carrying capacity for cars is the same as the upper limit for the bus calculation if we assume one passenger per vehicle, 40 percent go time (green light), 15 feet average vehicle length, one second (15 feet per 10 mph) between vehicles, and an average speed (when moving) of 20 mph. Again, no obvious advantage. 

The above is not good, but frankly, what worries me most is that AC transit is subsidized. If the increased service requires a larger subsidy, then we can expect their other lines to be eliminated or reduced in frequency. 

Robert Clear 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Planning Commission did the right thing, adopting a full-build Bus Rapid Transit study recommendation, with several good changes from what staff did. 

Hooray for Planning Commission chair David Stoloff, who firmly but politely cut off long-winded speakers. He asked everyone to be respectful and specifically not to make noise while others were speaking. 

Shame on the “yellow sheet” BRT opponents, who rattled their sheets and catcalled while people were trying to speak, and then loudly applauded each anti-BRT speaker. I hope they are indeed a “noisy minority”; they behaved like spoiled children. 

Hooray for two people who stood up and announced that if BRT is implemented, they will “drive less.” Hooray for the 200 Sierra Club members who signed cards supporting BRT. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley City Council’s proposal to ban helium balloon releases is a step in the right direction for the protection of many endangered and threatened animals. Most people don’t think about the consequences of letting go of helium balloons, whether deliberately in mass releases or accidentally, and the sad result has been untold numbers of dead animals in the oceans and on land. Both mylar balloons, which also cause power outages, and latex balloons have been documented to kill or gravely injure many species of wildlife, from birds and seals that become entangled in balloon ribbons to sea turtles and whales that swallow the balloons and choke to death or die slowly from starvation as the balloons block their intestines. These deaths have been well documented.  

Whether it’s the federally endangered California Clapper Rail that was found dead, tangled in a balloon ribbon, or a sea turtle or fish that mistakes a balloon for an edible jellyfish and chokes or starves to death as a result, helium balloons and their ribbons can go on killing wildlife for years once they enter the environment, and most of the wild victims of balloons will never be found by humans. Every time I’ve gone on a whale-watching trip, the crew has fished helium balloons out of the ocean, and educated the boat passengers on the hazards of balloon pollution, which is somewhat similar to that of plastic bags in the environment, but with a strangling/entangling ribbon threat added. 

  Any measures to prevent the release of helium balloons into the environment is a big, and welcome, benefit to wildlife. I urge anyone concerned with wildlife conservation to support Berkeley’s proposed helium balloon release ban. Balloons can be used safely as long as they are not released, but they should never be allowed to fly up and away. 

Lois Yuen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In your recent article, “Longfellow Middle School Art and Music Classes at Risk,” after-school steel drums teacher Jeff Narell is quoted as saying, “Kids who don’t have the money or training to take part in the other musical offerings at the school take my class.” He goes on to say that if this class is canceled, “a lot of these kids will be deprived of their only musical experience.” The steel drums class sounds great, and I hope funds can be raised to allow it to continue, but it should be pointed out that because of our Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP) parcel tax, which was passed by Berkeley voters with an overwhelming 80 percent “yes” vote on Measure A three years ago, all of our elementary school students enjoy music instruction during the regular school day in the third, fourth and fifth grades, and several schools provide weekly music classes for their kindergarten, first and second-grade students as well. Instruments are provided to students free of charge by the BUSD—except for recorders, which cost $3 and are kept by the students. Excellent band and orchestra classes are offered to students at all three of our middle schools and at Berkeley High School, also with instruments provided free of charge. Free one-on-one music tutoring is also available through district programs. It’s true that music instruction is disappearing from schools statewide and nationwide, but it remains a powerful presence in our Berkeley public schools, thanks to BSEP and to community organizations such as the Berkeley Public Education Foundation. Because of the way Measure A was written, our music program will continue no matter how steep the cuts in state funding of schools. We can be proud to be part of a community that values its children, the arts, and education, and is willing to vote resources to support them. 

Julie Holcomb, Co-chair,  

BSEP Planningand Oversight Committee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The deplorable and terrifying attack on the chancellor’s house arose out of a long lack of adequate negotiation on the campus, and poor communication between the students and the administration. 

How we miss Chancellor Tien, who was a good communicator, and talked every day on his walks with members of the campus community. 

But was there more going on? In the 1960s, there were found to be agents provocateurs among the demonstrators. Their goal was to instigate direct violent actions that would discredit the protest movements. The presence of these agents was a constant problem during non-violent protests, and led to constant training to prevent being drawn in. 

If any of the students who were present during the protests can among themselves identify who provoked the storming of the chancellor’s residence, one might have a clue as to whether this was a deliberate escalation to bring a public retaliation. 

Susan Ervin-Tripp 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read your recent article about instant runoff voting but found the description of it confusing. It said “You only get to vote for three people. If the first choice gets dropped your vote will transfer to Yogi Berra. If the second choice gets dropped, your vote will transfer to the third person.” It’s unclear how or why a choice would get dropped. 

The answer is if no choice is the first preference of a majority of voters, the choice with the fewest number of first preference rankings is eliminated and that choice’s ballots are redistributed at full value to the remaining choices according to the next ranking on each ballot. This process is repeated until one choice obtains a majority of votes among choices not eliminated. 

For a more comprehensive explanation of IRV I recommend Lift Every Voice by Lani Guinier. 

Bob Muzzy 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Having read the articles and letters regarding the boycott of the Daily Planet, I’d just like to say to “Barry Gustin, MD, MPH”: Abraham Lincoln never said what you attributed to him. It was made up by a guy who was born years after Lincoln’s death. On what other subjects don’t you know what you’re talking about? 

Andrew Rodriguez 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In a letter to the Daily Planet (Dec. 3), I wrote: “Sinkinson and Gertz are ultra-right-wing Zionists whose sole mission is to squelch any criticism of Israel and will fling baseless accusations of anti-Semitism to accomplish their objective. Sinkinson and Gertz do not speak for the vast majority of Berkeley Jews who welcome an open and honest debate about Israel and U.S. foreign policy.” 

John Gertz wrote to me and objected to my depiction of him as an “ultra-right-wing Zionist,” and said, “I am a life-long liberal Democrat, who, though a Zionist, associate [sic] with the center left Labor and Kadima parties.” He asked me to retract this characterization of his politics in these pages. It’s interesting of course that he did not ask me to retract my other remarks about his actions. 

Mr. Gertz, on one hand, perhaps this remark was inaccurate within the sphere of warped Israeli politics. By Israeli definitions, perhaps you might indeed qualify as a centrist or even leftist Zionist. 

On the other hand, you support Kadima, whose founder Ariel Sharon was a life-long champion of the colonization and land theft of the Palestinian West Bank. Sharon’s final significant act as Prime Minister, the so-called Gaza Disengagement, was part of a stated plan to increase colonial settlements in the West Bank. Is colonization and land theft more “centrist” or “leftist” because it is not advocated as loudly and consistently as it is by Israel’s “right-wing” political parties? 

Your campaign against the Berkeley Daily Planet and acts of intimidation, false accusations, and disinformation is not only ultra-right-wing, it is also morally wrong. 

Matthew Taylor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Neither columnist expounding at length on the Afghan War in the Dec. 10 issue of teh Daily Planet mentioned the main fact: the war was started to save the heroin trade. By 2001 the Taliban had consolidated power, and with U.N. financial help had eliminated poppy farming in the area under its control. Growing was still conducted by the Northern Alliance, the grouping of non-Pashtun peoples still holding out in the North. With the U.S. economy in the toilet after the dot-com bust, the United States made the logical move. It drove out the Taliban and restored the Northern Alliance so the heroin trade could be spread over the whole country. Eight years later, both candidates for Afghan president are Northern Alliance, with majority Pashtun left out of the leadership. Seems like things are working according to plan. 

Today the United States has cornered the market. More than 90 percent of the world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan, grown by the Bush and Obama administration’s Northern Alliance allies and shipped out of the country and distributed by U.S. military personnel and “contractors.” The U.S. media blames the Taliban for growing the stuff, neglecting to mention that the United States has absolute control of the skies with Air Force jets and Army helicopters and drones.  

Early in 2009, when Steve Inskeep of NPR asked the U.S. ambassador on the air, “Why can’t we just spray the poppies with 

herbicides like we used to do with marijuana?”, he was told, “We have allies there whose people we can’t offend.” 

Now you know why you have to spend another $30 billion in Afghanistan.  

Steve Tabor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Those who have put together the petition calling for support for the Daily Planet and owner/editor Becky O’Malley have been less than honest in writing that those who oppose the paper’s anti-Semitic stance and non-stop Israel bashing have engaged in “bellicose personal confrontations that frighten small business owners and their clientele.” How do I know this to be untrue? While not a participant, I have accompanied Dan Spitzer on several visits to advertisers. Since Ms. O’Malley acknowledged to the New York Times that the Planet doesn’t fact check—what reputable paper does not?—I’m writing to set the record straight. 

In his interaction with advertisers, Mr. Spitzer is unfailingly polite. He asks if they have read the content of the Planet and, finding most advertisers have not, cites the offensive Joseph Anderson op-ed calling the killing of the four Oakland cops “karmic justice.” Mr. Spitzer proceeds to inform the advertisers about the Planet’s regular demonization of Israel and anti-Semitic commentary such as that penned by the Iranian student who maintains that Jews deserve everything they have historically suffered, including the Holocaust. Mr. Spitzer finally suggests that the advertisers access for other examples of journalistic malfeasance in the Planet.  

While Becky O’Malley writes of her opponent’s alleged “belligerent tactics,” the strongest commentary Mr. Spitzer has ever made is to remind advertisers on a second visit of an obvious reality: If they keep advertising in an anti-Semitic paper, they are likely to lose the patronage of Berkeley’s sizable Jewish community. 

Finally, the petition praises the Planet for championing free speech, ironic as Ms. O’Malley has banned critics such as Spitzer, Sinkinson and Gertz from its letters page. Yes, Ms. O’Malley, your paper is quite the bastion of free speech! 

Ann Emerson 

La Honda 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”  

-George Orwell 

As an advertiser, I am writing to reaffirm our support of your paper. My company has been threatened by the so-called “East Bay Citizens for Journalistic Responsibility” and I am writing to clearly state: we will not be bullied. 

In these challenging times of corporate media control, your paper stands as a shining example of free press and democratic discourse that is absolutely essential to the very survival of our democracy. 

I may not always agree with every word written on the pages of this paper, but I vow to consistently use every means at my disposal to help support the vital democratic discourse that is presented by your paper. 

If we want to see a vibrant full-spectrum world emerge, we need to enable a vibrant, full-spectrum dialogue;  so I am writing to simply say thank you for your courage.  You do not stand alone. 

Vladislav Davidzon 

CEO and Founder,  

Common Circle Education  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Because the Berkeley Daily Planet publishes letters of wide-ranging opinion, some critical of Israel, businesses who advertise in the Planet are being harassed and intimidated by a handful of Jewish extremists. This tactic seems unlikely to diminish antiSemitism. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am very happy you are raising a voice for sanity in the conflict Israel-Palestine. Our goal should be to be good neighbours, not murderous muggers. Past persecution does not give one the right to become a persecutor in turn. Beyond the victim-persecutor game, let us work things out, find solutions by negotiating patiently. Sitting on a huge pile of money in the shape of oil reserves and being handed enormous destructive weapons by “friends” with weapons manufacturing capabilities is not helpful. War as well as oil as an energy source are outmoded. They both contribute heavily to greenhouse pollution. Let us turn to renewable energy sources and a peaceful life in our Garden of Eden instead. 

Eva-Maria Schlottmann 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just donated to the Berkeley Daily Planet thanks to the Jews who should know better. Born a Jew myself, I have seen the outright lies and fraud of certain Jewish entities who have taken the myth of the “chosen ones” to new ingratiating heights. 

Evidently these protectors of Holy Israel are being funded by the criminals that have hijacked the Jewish faith and the land of the Semitic peoples known as Palestine. It is an embarrassment to listen to these fools spout their Communist rhetoric and engage in their Sabbatean psychosis. 

A real Jew would stand up for truth, justice and the American way, unfortunately the sayanims who work for criminal Israel are making it harder and harder for Americans to be American. 

Jeff Tanzer 

Salem, Mass. 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing this note to tell you to take appropriate measures to protect your property and yourselves. Yesterday our automobile was stolen in front of our house. This event imposes a hardship on us. I don’t want the same to happen to you. If it already has, I don’t want it to happen to you again.  

Virtually unknown to the public, the consulting giant, A.D. Little developed a very low -cost mechanism that if installed by the automobile manufacturers would reduce auto theft tremendously. But It was rejected by the auto industry. As a result, automobiles is most cases continue to be easy to steal. A slim jim will open most doors, and a dent puller will yank out the starter key. Then all a thief needs is a screw driver to turn on the ignition and drive away. It takes a thief under one minute from start to finish.  

You may want to consider meeting with your neighbors to build a Neighborhood Watch Program to protect yourself from auto theft and other neighborhood crimes as well. As you know, these are difficult times and to ignore the implications could be very costly. On the other hand, through a neighborhood watch program you are building community, which may in addition to increasing your safety could enhance your quality of life. 

Harry Brill 

El Cerrito 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The other day I was walking from my home to the bus stop. There was a traffic jam in Albany. I could not cross the street in time. I missed my bus. I walked up to the bench at my stop stop to wait for the next bus. Imagine my surprise when I see a sick and homeless person using the bench as a public bathroom. There were many cars going by, including, I am sure, cars belonging to the city administration. But no city official thought to stop and help this poor person out, protecting—at the same time—the bench for bus riders like myself who needed a clean place to sit and wait. 

Romila Khanna 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While in line at the checkout counter at Safeway this morning, I spotted two tabloids with pictures of Tiger Woods and headlines about his extramarital affairs. Later, on evening television news, a penitent Tiger himself acknowledged his infidelity, apologizing to his family and fans. Then came the startling announcement that he plans to take an indefinite break from professional golf “to focus his attention on being a better husband and father.” For some reason, this human drama brought to my mind William Blake’s famous verse: 

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright 

in the forests of the night. 

As a longtime admirer of Tiger, it’s my wish that after a lengthy period of reflection in much needed privacy, he emerges from his own personal forest of the night and once again returns to the sport he dearly loves and to which he’s dedicated most of his life.  

Dorothy Snodgrass