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Letters for the Week of February 1, 2012

Readers sound off on the Jean Quan recall, Plum and Make Westing's prices, and 924 Gilman.


"The Incompetent Recall," Full Disclosure, 1/18

The Duplicitous Recall

It would be refreshing (and I suppose also shocking) if the champions of the recall would acknowledge their real agendas. This isn't about any particular mishandling of any particular issue by Quan. This is about a desire to see a more conservative, pro-development city government.

Felix Thomson, Oakland


"Eating and Drinking Well," Food Review, 1/18

But What About the Prices?

I just don't understand why all these places are so expensive. You know that nobody who makes less than $80,000 a year could possibly afford to frequent these places on any kind of a regular basis. In other countries, local places like this accommodate a large swath of the population, while here we create places where one snack and a couple of drinks costs fifty bucks every time you go in.

It's sad.

Jason Carey, Oakland


"Engineers Help Protect Refugees from Rape," News. 1/18

Inspiring and Important

Your article was fascinating.  I felt that this story illustrates one of the greatest challenges in development work: how to utilize what development workers create and effectively implement a system within the environment of those in need.  I'm reading Half the Sky right now, and this story was so reminiscent of the haunting stories in that book.

Really, it was so inspiring. Thank you.

Mollie Hudson, Berkeley


"Gay Cop Accused of Discrimination," News, 1/11

Public Servants Aren't Perfect

I find at least two false dilemmas in this article that, because they are often overlooked amidst the politically-correct horror regarding accusations of sexual/racial discrimination at the hand of a public servant, never enlighten us to the greater truths of such accusations.

The first is the defensive implication that because Chief Magnus is gay, he is less likely to be even capable of racial insensitivity or workplace discrimination. If sexual orientation has nothing to do with anything except our own sexuality — if it does not present any warranties one way or the other regarding a person's character — then it has no exculpatory value whatsoever. But if it does, then sexual orientation is just another political status that has something to do with everything (as does our sexuality). The fact that politics permeate all human activity should render any political stance moot in the defense of character. But because we hardly ever heed this morsel of critical thought, scoundrels do prowl both sides of the political aisle.

The second false dilemma is the perception that professional competence ipso facto places one well beyond reproach regarding matters of moral character — because, after all,  lawyers and policemen are more law-abiding, spiritual leaders are less venal, and physicians are healthier than the most civil, holy, or healthiest of laymen. If this perception were to prevail, professional prestige would void a professional's accountability to uphold his or her own self-governing values. Professionals indeed are, and should be, subject to and held accountable to public opinion, and certain professions have maintained their prestige throughout the years because professionals do hold themselves accountable in matters of moral character. When they do not is when the public steps in.

There is an idea that often appears to be completely alien to otherwise able men whose values seem to be defined by having grown up in racially homogenous settings: Even if "being a good sport" is one of the most cherished of American values, it is no license to insult someone, even if in a benign attempt to determine whether or not they are a good sport (and thus a good American.) If it were, then anyone whose physical appearance or behavior were deemed different than that of the majority would wear a target on his or her back that the majority never has to wear — and anyone who bears such an exclusive burden of proof is relegated to second-class citizenship. That one would determine whether or not they have offended another by taking it upon themselves to define the boundaries of the other's dignity is itself perhaps the most common source of all offensiveness. As for the mere folly of telling a joke "to the wrong crowd": the crowd is embarrassed the least for they are already in on the joke. We are all well-equipped to save ourselves from the indelicacies of litigation when we consider our two eyes, two ears, and one mouth.

Even if Chief Magnus wins this case, the plaintiffs bring into focus the valuable concession that the greatest men who do the greatest good may indeed be flawed in ways that, despite being anathema to their very act of serving the greater good, completely escapes their self-awareness. My opinion that Chief Magnus bears no legal liability for being an insensitive jerk does not mean I condone his flaws in light of his public service, nor do I devalue his service in light of such flaws. Nor do I demand that all public servants be held to a higher standard than I, for such expectations often result in the flimsiest of political veneers. His plight as a defendant is merely a reminder to us all that even in our own heroic pursuit of righteousness we get nowhere when we allow our feet to turn into clay.

G Lawrence Han, Berkeley


Absurd and Politically Biased

Am I the only one that noticed the absurd and politically biased premise for Chief Magnus' innocence? Just because someone is a member of a "protected group," or a "lefty" or a "progressive," they can't be racist? Of course, anyone can be biased — not just middle-aged conservative men.