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uc greedEditorial: The People Are Given More Bread, Bigger Circuses By Becky O’Malley August 31, 2007 Berkeley Daily Planet

For openers, whining (or whinging, if you’re British). I very seldom try to take a whole week off, and even then I try to fill this space via e-mail if I can. In fact, the last time I tried this, I was in Oxford when the University of California at Berkeley suckered one of its devoted alumni into letting them off the hook on the City of Berkeley’s righteous lawsuit challenging just one of the university’s several mammoth expansion schemes which are proposed over the next 20 years. Planet reporters did a good job of covering the fireworks, but it would have been fun to see them close up.

This week I’m visiting the grandkids, trying to relax in the country near Santa Cruz, and I get a phone call at 7 a.m. on Wednesday: “They’re going after the oaks!” Two of our four reporters also elected to take a vacation this week. It was supposed to be a quiet week, what with Berkeley councilmembers busily adding to their carbon footprint over the summer and the new semester on campus barely underway. Then, whammo, the sadly predictable university administration makes another dumb move.

I happened to talk to a former mayor yesterday, and commenting on the university’s latest erection, she said “That’s no way to build trust”—the understatement of the week. I’ll leave it to your imagination which former mayor it was.

What the university built instead, in case you’ve missed the news flash on the Planet’s website, is a big fence around the oak grove which is slated for destruction to build a gym/office complex for a sub-set of UC’s competive athletes and the bureaucrats who support them, chock-a-block with the football stadium. Why they built the fence depends on who you ask.

On the one hand, the exemplary UC press release (I sometimes think the only cool heads on campus are in the press office) said: “As the football season begins with a home game on Saturday, Sept. 1, police and campus leadership want to ensure the safety of everyone—fans and protesters—coming and going around the area.” But the message doesn’t seem to have gotten to all of the troops, since UC police cut off and arrested, with on-camera bashing, some supporters who were trying to get basic necessities to the tree-sitters. “As long as the people in the trees are getting food, water and whatever contraband, they’re not going to get down,” assistant UC police chief Mitch Celaya told a Chronicle reporter. The whole ugly scene, complete with nasty skinhead cops with gas masks clubbing unarmed victims, has been captured on Youtube by L A Wood.

Isn’t withholding food and water a violation of one of the Geneva Conventions? Not, of course, that it would matter to an institution which still employs John Yoo, the unapologetic author of the Bush adminstration’s torture policy, on its law school faculty. But as of press-time on Thursday the police seemed to have relented on this point, perhaps because a sizeable crowd which included a number of prominent persons had gathered at the grove on Wednesday to complain.

As mentioned earlier, this paper has been on the receiving end of an organized letter-writing campaign from football fans of ever-diminishing literacy whose missives can be found on these pages. One would have thought that if they really are UC Berkeley’s alums the difference between fact and sentiment would have been part of their education, but evidently not. The location of the Hayward earthquake fault, for example, whether it’s under or simply next to the construction site, will be determined from scientific evidence if and when a proper environmental impact report (EIR) is completed. However the legal dispute in the four outstanding lawsuits is over whether a decent EIR has actually been done, and in particular whether the danger to those who will be on site when the Big One happens has been accurately analysed. The location of the fault itself is only a part of the calculus.

Up until this point I’ve tried to be polite, but now it’s time to come out of the closet. I am one of the quite sizeable majority of graduates of elite universities who actively dislike all forms of professional football, including the so-called amateur teams fielded mostly by second-rate “athletic powerhouses.” People like me tend to regard the whole megilla as breeding ground for the Michael Vicks of the future. We are not thrilled that our alma mater has jumped on this bandwagon with big bucks.

One pro-football letter-writer argued that “Frankly, the idea of the nation’s premier liberal university featuring a dominant football team would make Cal utterly unique in the college landscape.” My point, exactly.

The writer does not seem to wonder why all the other top-ranked universities aren’t trying to compete with Cal on the football field, but there could be reasons, good reasons. Harvard, Caltech, Oxford—none of them are trying to become football champs. Why?

(By the way, “unique” doesn’t take qualifiers. Cal Berkeley is unique, period, in this regard.)

The United States is in danger of becoming a spectator society inhabited by people who can no longer play their own games or even make their own music. The millions and millions of dollars which are proposed for the Strawberry Canyon entertainment extravaganza should instead be spent making sure that all of us, especially our kids, have access to healthy exercise of all kinds, including team sports for those who enjoy them, but also hiking, dancing, swimming, ice skating and other individual pursuits which can be enjoyed into old age.

We’ve run many letters pointing out that it’s harder and harder for kids to find places to play. Baseball fields are scarce and getting scarcer. The mayor and City Council allies are colluding with developers to demolish Iceland. Hourly rates for the new soccer fields (supported by public funds) are prohibitive. Even the drill team which provided hours of wholesome fun for the kids in San Pablo Park seems to be having fee problems. And this is in Berkeley—what’s happening in Oakland, Richmond, Vallejo?

Thanks to the excellent education provided for me by the state of California in better days, the letters from some of the fans remind me of the Roman poet Juvenal’s often-quoted line about panem et circenses—bread and circuses. He lived in the late first and early second century A.D., at a time when the once mighty Roman empire was in decline.

Roughly paraphased in modern language, his poem laments that in the old days no one could buy the people’s votes, but now they’ve given up their duties. They used to control everything, he says, the military, political office, everything, but now they only worry about two things, bread and circuses, commodities provided by the Roman government to keep down the grumbling.

Sounds a lot like the Unites States today, another once-proud empire in decline, doesn’t it? For bread, read cheap energy, as promised by British Petroleum to justify its recent purchase at garage-sale rates of a major portion of what used to be the people’s university. But not to worry, the people, most of them, won’t be complaining. The university, funded by the major industrialists who now provide its entertainment budget, is going to build them an even fancier arena for the on-going circus that is top-tier college football these days. And meanwhile, Richard Cheney and his lackeys, including the putative president, are running the country, and the people are letting them do it as long as the bread and circuses keep on coming.

Editorial: The Culture of Entitlement, Part Two
By Becky O’Malley September 18, 2007
Two letters which came in over the weekend are worthy of comment:

The pivotal political turmoil in Washington D.C. has been seriously ignored of late by the Planet in favor of local news. The Impeachment debate has also been silenced, we suspect by the Editor, Becky O’Malley, who disapproves of Impeachment. Within the last three weeks, two Commentary submissions, one from a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and at least two letters-to-the-Editor advocating the impeachment of Cheney and Bush, have not been published. It is very disappointing to realize that the Planet, heretofore an exemplary community debate forum, is now strangling news and opinions according to its own political bias.

Libby Lhasan
Oakland

And (from early Saturday morning):

I had heard there was a demonstration at the tree-sitters’ site near the stadium yesterday, and checked your website today to see if you had a report.

On the right side of the page there is a box:

Special Report: Confrontation at the Oak Grove (Video).

I assumed that this was a video report on yesterday’s event. However, the web link is to a YouTube video uploaded August 29th. The video begins with a sign announcing the demonstration yesterday, then shows undated video of the police and protesters confronting one another — clearly made prior to Aug 29.
So what appears to be a BDP news report on yesterday’s events is an *advertisement* promoting yesterday’s event. Shame on you.
Nancy Van House

Professor, School of Information
University of California

The interesting link in the two letters is the unspoken assumption—what some philosophers would call the presupposition—that whatever shows up in newspapers or on websites reflects considered intent, and that absent any other data it can be assumed to be malevolent intent on the part of the management. We should be so lucky.

My initial response to the Frau Professor’s comment was “fair and balanced”:

“I’m glad you were able to figure out that the bcitizen video on YouTube was from before Aug. 29, which as you note is clear to some viewers, including you yourself. Your suggestion that the date of material to which we link should be even clearer for the benefit of other viewers is a good one, and I have forwarded it to Mike O’Malley, who designs and maintains our web site, for his comments. By the way, I think bcitizen, whom we could never afford to pay for the videography they do for the community, has a new video from yesterday posted on their YouTube site. We’ll link to it when we get around to it, but in the meantime you can access it directly.”

However, my second paragraph perhaps reflected just a bit of annoyance:

Your charge that a small understaffed community newspaper’s having a slightly stale link to old news on someone else’s site is intended to be an advertisement for anything is ridiculous on its face. Shame on YOU, Professor!

Not to be deterred from her quest for truth, beauty and the American way of life as she sees it, the professor snapped back:

This looks like a news report from you — instead it’s intended to encourage people to turn out for a demonstration. That’s NOT news. That’s advocacy. If it’s editorial content, label it. If it’s not your paper’s opinion, label it. If it’s labeled, as it is, a “special report,” we think that’s NEWS. ....

And to my personal email, when she figured out that she had a live human on the hook:

No, I can’t excuse a small NEWSPAPER for having outdated and misleadingly-labeled advocacy content on its dated front page — we expect the web to be more up-to-date than the paper, not less.

Then, I regret to say, it got worse.

Editor to Professor: I’m not familiar with your byline. What papers have you worked on?

Prof. to Ed.: Snide, aren’t we?

Well, it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of making snide remarks. In my defense I must say that at least I avoided vamping on the old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto surrounded by hostile tribes: “What’s this WE, white woman?”

Instead, I sent the Professor (obviously a web junky, not a print reader) a link to Janet Malcolm’s excellent review of Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail for Office and Home, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, which appears under the title “Pandora’s Click” in the latest New York Review of Books. Malcolm quotes the authors: “On email, people aren’t quite themselves,” Shipley and Schwalbe write. “They are angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded, even more gossipy and duplicitous. Email has a tendency to encourage the lesser angels of our nature.” Yes indeed.

But what’s fascinating about this exchange is that Dr. Van House seems to assume (“we expect”) that those she claims to speak for deserve instant service: that news on the web is something like fast food, and has to be served up hot or not at all.

The Planet didn’t even have a reporter at the demonstration, that’s how much we knew about it before the fact. Mike and I are the only poor suckers working on a Saturday morning, but he and I, with the generous aid of a participant’s donated commentary and another of LA Wood’s bcitizen videos on YouTube, did actually get around to bringing our weekend web readers up to date on the action at the oak grove by 2 in the afternoon. But we didn’t have to do it. We could have taken time off, gone to the football game for example.

Our print paper is published twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, as dated issues which go to press Monday and Thursday nights. The web version uses the same content which was sent to the printer, uploaded on the morning the print papers are put in boxes.

We do put news flashes on the web between issues as often as we can. We’d like to be able to do it more often. But the idea that a faculty member whose job is funded by taxpayers like us has the right to demand anything (using her university-supplied email) from our small free paper is—sorry—ludicrous.

And what about the peace lady’s complaint? The latest weekend edition of the paper, as well as the web edition, was graced by a lovely front page photo of Code Pink protestors in Oakland, accompanied by a long article. On the one hand the peace lady accuses us of “strangling news and opinion” because we haven’t yet managed to fit a letter from a member of WILPF (an estimable old-time institution which I myself first joined in 1964) into our lavish opinion section, though her cause is amply reported on the front page. On the other hand, the Professor accuses us of promoting opinion just because we left up a link to an old video produced by admittedly partisan activists. You can’t win in this city.

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