Letters to the Editor

Week of Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Let Me Tell You (from editor John Mecklin)

Because I'm a recovered crossword puzzle fan -- I used to see pink elephants dancing the tango if I missed a day of the New York Times' version -- I was secretly hoping we'd receive an avalanche of cheeky literary complaints when I canceled the supposedly hip Jonesin' puzzle we'd been publishing. After all, one of my reasons for discontinuing the crossword was irritation at not having had a single reader -- nay, a single living being -- say anything about it, good, bad, or indifferent. Now, you must understand. I can't go to a party (or even to the corner store, it sometimes seems) without some San Franciscan giving me, in great detail, his or her opinion about the insufficient quality of this or that aspect of SF Weekly. I have become accustomed to the widespread belief that even our best articles could be improved, if only I'd listen to and act upon the ideas of someone I don't know who is blocking the door of my local bodega. I have, in fact, come to be charmed by this generalized investment in the Weekly oeuvre. It warms my soul, this knowledge that people care enough about the paper I edit to drown me in unsolicited advice.

Over the months, then, the apparent indifference to Jonesin' became worrisome, then bothersome, and, finally, infuriating. So I spiked it. Weeks later, when we finally got a letter or two about Jonesin's disappearance, I ran an editor's note saying the puzzle was gone because no one cared about it -- and the sum total of response to the cancellation, which added up to one "very ... tiny ... peep," proved that no one cared. I figured this deliberate provocation would draw reams of witty vituperation from the huge crossword puzzle community I was sure existed in San Francisco.

Nah. We just got this kind of stuff:

No:OK, was that a loud enough peep? I've been going through withdrawal and meaning to write. The fact that nobody had written about it previously doesn't mean people didn't like it. A crossword just isn't controversial like an article is.

You do it, you enjoy it, you look forward to the next one. It never occurred to me to write and say, "I like this, keep it up." But anyway, I miss it, bring it back!

Carol David
Berkeley
Bring back the dumb puzzle that nauseates:Hey, what happened to Jonesin'? After the first couple of days in the week, the NY Times crossword in the daily paper gets too difficult. That made Jonesin'especially sweet when your paper came out on Wednesday. I haven't seen the crossword in any of the other weeklies in the Bay Area, so I always found it a nice highlight of SF Weekly. Would it be too much trouble to ask for it back? I never felt like it took up too much room, and it always cheered me up on Wednesday afternoons during my long bus commute home. I eventually get carsick, but hey, it's worth it to me.

Nancy Chan
San Leandro

Since I arrived in town some seven years ago, one person has come -- in a very strange way -- to personify the intense, possessive connection to SF Weeklythat I mentioned above. Oddly enough, this person heads up our nominal competition, the San Francisco Bay Guardian. You probably know of Bruce Brugmann; he's the large, white-bearded guy who plasters pictures of his head all over town whenever ego overwhelms sense. Mr. Brugmann never seems to tire of sending e-mail messages, notes, packages, and all sorts of other detritus to me; to many of my colleagues at the Weekly; to a wide assortment of bemused folks employed across our parent company, New Times; and, I'm sure, to many, many other people in San Francisco, throughout California, and across America. Along with a vast catalog of complaints about the satanic nature of the Weeklyand New Times, these messages evince a passionate focus on the Weekly's content, and a very San Franciscan certitude that the Weeklywould be a much, much better paper if only I ran it according to the dictates of Mr. Brugmann.

For the last 10 months or so, Mr. Brugmann's missives have focused (to the extent they can be said to focus) on what he views as the Weekly's insufficiently anti-Iraq War stance. Here's a semicoherent part of the latest installment in this odd campaign:

Journalistic greatness, defined: Everyone runs the same story, simultaneously:Did any New Times paper run the specially commissioned [Association of Alternative Newsweeklies] story on Iraq? Our check this morning of 11 New Times papers, including SF Weekly and East Bay Express, showed that none of them ran the story or any story on Iraq in their papers or on their Web sites. Did any paper run anything? If not, why not? ... Did corporate headquarters in Phoenix make the decision that none of its papers could run the AAN story? What is the New Times policy on Iraq? I would appreciate answers to these questions ....

B3 in S.F.
Potrero Hill

I doubt that the New Times board of directors has had time to finalize its Iraq policy yet, but I will certainly let Mr. Brugmann know the minute the company releases it. Come to think of it, I have yet to receive the official corporate stance on Afghanistan and Bosnia. How will I put out the "Muslim World" special issue ...?

But (as the comics say) seriously, folks: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is a complex matter that deserves real thought, rather than knee-jerk lefty rhetoric and cynical marketing campaigns disguised as "progressive" journalism. I have written of my opposition to the invasion of Iraq, but the invasion is a fait accompli and no longer the point. The point, now, is what to do, given that (using Colin Powell's Pottery Barn analogy) we've broken Iraq and therefore own it, along with all the longings and hatreds of its inhabitants.

I suppose there is an argument for just getting out, and letting the Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis, and other armed factions roaming Iraq kill one another in an extended civil war, the end result of which is very likely to be the kind of failed state (or states) that harbors the kinds of terrorists who greatly desire to inflict massive American causalities -- in American cities such as San Francisco. But I don't think it's a reasonable argument. It seems to me that a reasonable resolution of the current situation requires, yes, an increasing internationalization of the effort to bring something approaching democratic self-rule to Iraq, and also a commitment of significant numbers of American troops for significant amounts of time. I know that reaching a reasonable resolution to this debacle requires the election of John Kerry as president, because George Bush has so angered key allies that a true internationalization of the Iraq situation simply cannot happen with him at the helm.

As many different polls suggest, outside the liberal bubbles enclosing Cambridge, Berkeley, and San Francisco, John Kerry is not going to be elected on a "just get out" platform, and he therefore absolutely will not run a "just get out" campaign. And if "just get out" voters insist on ideological purity and stay home or go for Ralph Nader, we're going to have four more years of President Bush. So I will be watching attentively to see whether the San Francisco "peace" movement backs Kerry or finds him insufficiently cut-and-run to garner its members' pure-as-snow votes. I won't have to watch attentively to know what Mr. Brugmann will do. He will continue to fill cyberspace and burn up fax machines nationwide, decrying the great New Times conspiracy that is denying him his God-given right as a San Franciscan to run SF Weeklyas he sees fit.

Sometimes, we get letters that try to tell us what to do, but are wonderful, nonetheless. Here's one:

Postmodern musings:On the one hand, I entirely agree with [Garrett Kamps'] juxtaposition of Avril Lavigne and Tracy + the Plastics ["666, Dude," OK Then, April 21]. Avril equals brainwashing, hegemonic capitalism; Tracy equals self-creating, self-reflective transgression.

On the other hand, I see both Avril and Tracy on the same plane. Avril's distortion and (what some might term) usurpation of notions of rebellion, revolution, individuality (blah blah blah) amounts to nothing but moneymaking gimmicks. But, hey, these mall rats and these expired 40-year-olds are digging it, or so it seems, and so: So what? Then there's Tracy, who I see as using the music medium to express sentiments about something entirely separate from music -- not that music can be separated from culture or ... dum dum dum ... "the human condition." Whether or not this is possible, musicians should at least attempt to make music for the sake of music. OK, whatever the hell that means. But, it's just annoying as hell to watch these art school kids comment on the postmodern fragmented blah blah blah onstage. We paid to get into the show, goddamn it.

To answer your rhetorical question of "I don't know of any other musicians expressing that [ruling class] point as effectively and originally as Greenwood": Check out Chicks on Speed. Not from the U.S., but Olympia is the home of their U.S. record label (they do have one). Not to one-up Tracy, but Chicks on Speed didn't even have the patience to finish art school and dropped out instead. Last weekend, I attended one of the two shows they performed in SoHo/NYC consisting of full multimedia commentary on um well how much capitalism sucks (sewing machines, discombobulated visuals, and agitprop galore). And both shows were free.

Tram Nguyen
Berkeley

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