Letters to the Editor

Week of October 30, 2002

Gray Days

Must. Fight. Darkness. Can't. Hold. On. Much. Longer.:Certainly San Francisco and the California government give plenty of grounds for despair ("Notes From the Edge," Matt Smith, Oct. 23), but a vote for the Gray Man? Feh, Mr. Smith. Double feh! My soul may be challenged, but it is not so dead as to become a Grayling.

To vote for Gray Davis is to vote for the current figurehead of a money-driven, venal, and cynical political system. Money is Gray's avatar and his seal (the Poe references are obviously rubbing off). So great is my disgust with Davis that I will vote for Bill Simon (who did, after all, win our primary -- I voted for Riordan). I will vote for Simon despite the fact that his campaign is a doomed ship, and has been a doomed ship since at least August.

Fight the darkness, Mr. Smith.

For to yield to the numbness that is the Gray Man -- sort of like letting yourself die by freezing -- is to let the special interests (really dumb, greedy special interests) cover all.

Robert Rudolph
Mission

Shock the Monkey

Get a real conspiracy theory, please:What a waste of a cover and two full pages on Monkey Knife Fight ["You Grab the Monkey; We'll Bring the Knife," by Dan Siegler, Oct. 23].

Was it so long ago that you forgot about the "peace love and penguin" stencil all over the city (and many other cities nationwide) for an OS? Your "investigative reporting" was pretty lame. Google is great but sometimes it doesn't find everything. Sure you posted on [Craigslist] and KUSF's Jet was asking for clues as well. The same Friday morning she was asking what it meant/was, all I did was type in www.monkeyknifefight.co.uk (remember, there are domain suffixes other than .com) and there it was, just more marketing of trinkets à la Sanrio.

The site has since changed and now features the same photos that were in your article. Which now leaves me to wonder: Was all this hype and defacing the city part of the Weekly's marketing ploy? I just want to know what happened to all of the MKF trinkets and crap that were on the ".co.uk" site two weeks ago.

John Pavlat
Laurel Heights

Dan Siegler responds:I saw the www.monkeyknifefight.co.uk site early in my investigation, and had three or four correspondences with the site's owner, a guy named Pete who lives in Gloucestershire in the U.K. Like many other sites I visited, his has nothing to do with San Francisco. It's a personal Web site. To Pete, it's just a cool-sounding name. Recently he posted some pictures from the SF Weeklyarticle. He also sells some MKF T-shirts and stickers -- which, again, mean absolutely nothing and are not linked to S.F.

Stick to the day job: You're a dingbat for writing that silly, silly article. MKF is just some street artist's no-meaning gimmick? Oh really? Why don't you spend another thousand words exploring the Andre the Giant stickers, reaching (gasp!) the same boring conclusion.

I like your comic, [Puni], nevertheless.

Tom V. Jamgochian
Richmond District

We're thinking about investigating those Andre the Giant stickers:The article was hilarious. Too bad the mystery wasn't solved. But it sounds like you had fun investigating it. Not many people have a job where they can roam around bars, video stores, record stores, etc., asking about graffiti. What's next?

Melissa Nasseri
Ingleside

And now, a word from our sponsor: MONKEY KNIFE FIGHT IS NONE OF YOUR FUCKIN' BUSINESS! THOSE WHO RECOGNIZE IT, KNOW WHAT IT MEANS. CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU FOR BRINGING SO MUCH ATTENTION TO IT THAT WE NOW HAVE TO CHANGE THE CODE. EXTREMELY INCONVENIENT FOR ALL OF US. TO PREVENT SUCH A PAIN IN THE ASS IN THE FUTURE, HOWEVER, WE WILL TELL YOU WHAT IT MEANS AS SOON AS YOU PROMISE NOT TO GIVE IT ANYMORE UNWANTED PRESS. WE ARE WAITING TO HEAR FROM YOU NOW. - THE BARREL OF MONKEYS

Joe Parrilli
North Beach

Back to School

SOUL's no sellout:As a staff person at SOUL, the School of Unity and Liberation, and a member of a community fighting for social justice, I am disgusted by Peter Byrne's lack of research, insight, context, or responsibility in his article "SOUL Trainers" [Oct. 16]. Byrne opens the article commenting on SOUL's location -- "a falling-down neighborhood surrounding the West Oakland BART station" -- and yet somehow his last paragraph is a comment by Michael Napp, who does not know SOUL at all, saying programs like SOUL "got a vested interest in The System and moved to the suburbs. We called them poverty pimps." How did he get from describing our yeast-reeking warehouse to asserting how we have sold out like other anti-capitalist poverty programs? With a lot of misleading information, misquotes, and irresponsible journalism.

Byrne's article is about the so-called contradiction of SOUL's salaried employees -- who teach working-class youth of color why their parents are poor, why they don't have books in their classrooms, and why we shouldn't go to war -- with [money from] a "score of gold-plated, capitalist foundations." First off, foundations do not call themselves "capitalist." Second off, using foundation money is a viable way for organizations and the people in them to create sustainable organizations.

If Peter Byrne really wanted to ask an important question about the movement's use of foundation money, he would have acknowledged that almost every social justice nonprofit uses foundation money and would not have preyed upon a youth organization to do it. At SOUL, we believe using foundation money to pay our staff, who are almost all people of color, and students, who are mostly poor, women, queer, and people of color, to learn about their communities is where "redistribution of wealth" starts. We cannot advocate for a world where everyone has health care, food, and education without giving that to the people we work with (including ourselves).

This irresponsible, factually incorrect article is a dangerous one. I would like to take the time to point out all of the factual inaccuracies in the article but it would take three pages of text to do it. Some of the most important inaccuracies are:

- The money that the Youth Empowerment Center gets (for all four youth organizations) equals approximately $800,000 and does not come from "score[s] of gold-plated, capitalist foundations."

- There is not tension in SOUL around funding; it is a tension in the work of all nonprofits working for social change. We have never compromised our work because of our funding.

- We do not have a hefty savings account. Rather, we have money earmarked for next year, which came in early (which we explained).

- We do not model our manual (or anything we do) after corporate presentations.

- SOUL does not hire ourselves out as consultants, and we don't only work with "left-leaning groups." SOUL does not teach groups how to incorporate as nonprofits and we don't teach people how to be capitalists.

It is telling that the New York Times' [sic] owned SF Weeklywould choose to print an article about a training center for young people and the community in West Oakland in such a backhanded and deceptive way. Peter Byrne, who calls himself a leftist, must have gotten confused when writing his article, thinking about his own corporate-sponsored salary. This irresponsible journalism is dangerous because it undermines the work of all nonprofits, leftists, and those engaged in social justice work. We demand the SF Weeklyprint an apology and retraction of all factually incorrect statements.

Neelam Pathikonda
Oakland

Peter Byrne responds: The $1.4 million figure for SOUL's funding was for two years, 2000 and 2001; it came from SOUL's tax returns. SOUL tax records also show it has a $250,000 savings account; there is nothing wrong with saving money for a rainy day, and nothing incorrect about saying SOUL has a hefty savings account. Public records show that SOUL is not a separate legal entity, but a program of Youth Empowerment Center Inc., an umbrella group that distributes funds to SOUL and others.

We've all got to eat:I appreciate the discussion of the contradictions of taking "The System's" money in order to fund the fight against problems caused by such. I was looking forward to the article, written by Peter Byrne, a reporter I have much respect for.

What I don't appreciate is that "selling out" is implied as a foregone conclusion of such a process. The truth, as usual, is much more complicated than that, and the article doesn't even come close to addressing those issues.

The article also implies that SOUL will sell out, but doesn't provide any concrete examples that it already has. You mention the useful community work currently performed by SOUL activists but dwell on some point in the future where they may theoretically deliver "The Movement" to ruin.

The unfortunate truth is that operating an office, paying even modest salaries ($27,000 does not a poverty pimp make -- it is less than a first-year teacher in many counties), child care, and copies, costs money. I look forward to the day when we can build alternatives to the nonprofit model of activism, but unless you want a movement totally dominated by ultra-privileged, self-sufficient trust-fund babies, you have to fund-raise somewhere.

I haven't heard anyone telling the SF Weeklythat in order to provide balanced coverage, it must only accept advertising from "pure sources." Why? Reporters have to eat. So do your friendly neighborhood radical educators.

James Tracy
Mission

The sad truth: Wow. I was all ready to be impressed with SOUL as a cause for positive change, for all people working together. How disappointing to find it a shill for racism -- this time against whites. Guess it will never end.

Rachel Callaghan
Noe ValleyA place to learn:SOUL is "a study in contradiction"? Peter Byrne can't seem to twist his mind around a revolutionary organization, run mostly by women of color, which is actually (gasp) effective, powerful, and organized. The shock is such that he spends many pages desperately and pathetically looking for ways to bring SOUL down -- essentially going so far as to suggest that what seems like an amazingly effective organization (a rare thing on the left) needs to a) find ways to operate without money (because even money from progressive foundations is evil and tainted), b) stop being organized (because only corporations are organized), and c) lead the movement without staff or members ever earning any money (because revolutionaries should have trust funds).

There aren't many women of color, particularly immigrants, visibly engaged in the U.S. "movement," and I was happy to learn about this group, even if through Byrne's confused and idiotic spotlight. And it's a shame that I and your other readers had to do the work of sifting through Byrne's obviously fabricated controversy to learn about them.

Sitara Nieves Kapoor
Panhandle

House Poor

Youcan go home again:There are at least two problems with Matt Smith's piece on homeowning opponents of Prop. R ["You Don't Own Me," Oct. 16].

First, it is false that Prop. R is a proposal to facilitate ordinary San Franciscans owning homes. There is nothing in it that will force landlords to sell apartments at prices affordable to the typical renter. Most renter households in the city do not have an income that would enable them to qualify for a mortgage at the $300,000 purchase price that Smith cites. Prop. R sacrifices renter security for the benefit of an elite few.

If R passes, the likely scenario is that landlords will seek out the high-income minority of tenants as buyers. Prop. R only requires a minority of tenants to go along with a conversion. The resulting speculative frenzy will increase the market value of rental buildings -- that's why landlords back Prop. R. This will make it less possible for renters to buy apartments.

Second, Smith's piece ignores the fact that there is an alternative to Prop. R for renters wanting to own their apartments. The city's Community Land Trust Task Force backs a proposal that, unlike Prop. R, would actually facilitate ownership of apartments by low- to moderate-income renters. Since Chris Daly is a backer of the Community Land Trust proposal, it is false that he is an opponent of renters being able to own their apartments.

Tom Wetzel
Mission

Uncovering the Cover-Up

A challenge from Project Censored:Matt Palmquist poked fun at and trivialized Project Censored's 2003 list of censored news stories in his Sept. 18 column ["Project Censored," Dog Bites]. The jabs seemed to be much about giving the San Francisco Bay Guardian-- your S.F. Bay rival -- a slap over their longtime coverage of the research we do here at Sonoma State University. However, making fun of a most serious topic is both an insult to the thousands of research hours put in by over 100 students, 90 evaluators, and 25 national judges who worked on the Censored 2003 book, as well as a rebuke to the individual investigative reporters who wrote the stories.

I challenged Palmquist to prove his claim that nine of the top 10 censored news stories were covered in the New York Times, and he sent me back a general topics list on story No. 1 that did not reflect the actual content of the story on our list. Even my beginning freshmen researchers know that when you are using database searches you have to read the story in depth, understand the main ideas, select key words for the search, and fully read the text of results to verify that the stories match. This process can take several hours of online research.

Clearly Palmquist did not read the Censored 2003 book because he clearly missed the main point -- that corporate media has abdicated its responsibility to the First Amendment to keep the American public informed on key issues within our democracy. The corporate media is in the entertainment business, and tends to ignore important news stories of which the American public has a right to be aware. SF Weekly writer Matt Palmquist mindlessly seemed to follow in this tradition.

Peter Phillips, Ph.D.
Director, Project Censored
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park

Matt Palmquist responds: My sympathies to the students who invested so much time researching Project Censored. In one afternoon, using Nexis and the New York Times' Web site, I did indeed find that nine of the top 10 "censored" topics -- as presented in the group's press release and book (which I did read) -- had been covered in significant stories in our nation's generally accepted newspaper of record.

Each year, Project Censored hands out awards to journalists who have written specific articles; Dr. Phillips apparently believes only these stories tell the "real" story, and unless the mainstream media reaches conclusions that dovetail precisely with those of a Project Censored winner -- almost always a member of the left-press -- the topic remains uncovered or "censored." I disagree, especially when the list of so-called censored topics includes such widely covered (i.e., absolutely not censored) stories as "FCC moves to privatize airwaves" (No. 1), "U.S. Government pushes nuclear revival" (No. 6), and "U.S. Faces National Housing Crisis" (No. 9). Indeed, this year's edition of Dr. Phillips' book itself lists "corporate media coverage" (meaning the New York Times and other leading news outlets) of five of the top 10 "censored" topics.

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