* the DEA Fish-in-a-Barrel Shoot
* the Short-Term Memory Toss
* the rec.music.gdead Flame Eater
* the Drums-and-Space Rest Room
and, last but not least,
* the Parked Car Hunt.
Steve Silberman, Co-Author
Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads
That, Uh, Depends
Your Terrapin Station cartoon ("The Dead Zone") made me pee in my pants. Where do I send the cleaning bill?
Come On, Mano a Mono
The last eight words contained in "The Grid" article are paradoxical in nature ("Union Disorganizing," Jan. 7). The words "when they have gone off the good path" could describe the article written by George Cothran and John Mecklin. I have spent a lifetime defending individuals' right to speak out. However, I believe there needs to be some boundary lines of decency if a true picture is to develop in the minds of readers.
One of the points made by the writers seems to be: Take a job, accept the pay, whatever it is, and if it's not enough, struggle along and live in the economic penalty box and be glad you are working. I believe nonprofits have the same responsibility as all other employers. Pay decent wages, provide decent benefits, and recognize employees as real people deserving of respect and consideration.
Why, pray tell me, would a newspaper devote an entire page to pummeling and attacking an organization that has only one goal -- the goal of improving the lives of working people by providing opportunities to pursue the American Dream?
Since strong disparaging statements have been tossed out around San Francisco because of the article, I would suggest a public debate take place with a representative of your newspaper and a representative from Local 790. Also that a neutral panel conduct the debate and that the public be invited.
Let's get it all out in the open and not hide behind the pen.
Walter L. Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer
San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Shopping Around the Presidio
Larry Buck's response in the Jan. 7 edition ("Big Bucks on the Line," Letters), to an earlier article concerning the Presidio Commissary ("Bag It, Larry," Bay View, Dec. 24), contains major errors concerning that facility. It also ignores important aspects of all other assets at the Presidio, aspects which have never been brought to public attention.
It is popularly, but mistakenly, believed by those outside the military community that the Commissary and other recreational and social facilities at the Presidio and other military reservations are provided by the government out of tax revenues. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Commissary did not cost the taxpayers $15 million as Mr. Buck alleges; every penny of the $13,092,240 that went into its construction came from a 5 percent surcharge levied on every purchase made by every patron in every military commissary around the world. All commissaries are funded through such surcharges. In fact a plaque at the entrance proclaims that fact, just as a plaque at the entrance to the adjacent Post Exchange announces that it too was built without tax funds but from profits generated from sales to military personnel. It is surprising that in his detailed examination of the property prior to making a $28 million bid for its lease, Mr. Buck failed to note the existence of the plaque.
Nunzio J. Camarda
Sergeant Major U.S.A. (Retired)
Friends of the Presidio Association
How 'Bout a Warm Fuzzy Hug?
I can't speak to the alleged "slash-and-burn tactics" of Local 790 organizers at the AIDS Foundation (are you sure you've got your story straight?), but as a nonprofit worker active in organizing with SEIU Local 790's United Community Workers, I must respond to the blatant smear job by George Cothran and John Mecklin in the Grid ("Union Disorganizing," Jan. 7).
First, the picture you draw of rapacious and destructive union organizers falling upon "small," "cash-strapped," charity-dependent organizations that are just trying to give the world a warm fuzzy hug out of the goodness of their hearts is a distortion of reality. There are smaller and larger nonprofits, but the largest nonprofits, which are the most resistant to organizing efforts, are powerful players that sit down with the city and county for the annual budget divvy-up. Bayview Foundation, for example, has a $6 million annual budget, most of which comes from public monies. They are also exempt from sunshine laws and are a lot less accountable than public agencies.
My second point is that your writers do not address the active efforts of the employees of nonprofits. And after describing the nonprofits as vulnerable charities, you state, "These funders -- especially government agencies -- are not fond of providing cost-of-living adjustments." Which might provide a clue as to why workers in the nonprofits, who have not had a COLA in over five years, might be interested in organizing.
Flippant? Dog Bites?
Thanks for your brief item ("From the Please Shut Up Department," Dog Bites, Jan. 14) on the controversy surrounding the Institute for Alternative Journalism. Despite the flippant, condescending tone of your piece, there's actually a real issue here, and a lot of us in the alternative press take it very seriously.
On the surface, it's mostly a trade-association issue, insider stuff involving the relationship between the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and IAJ, a nonprofit that AAN created about 10 years ago to run our wire service. A lot of AAN editors, including your professional colleagues at other New Times papers, think IAJ is doing a rotten job running the service: Important stories don't get out on the wire, the IAJ staff is uncooperative and sometimes hostile to clients, and IAJ Executive Director Don Hazen seems a lot more interested in running big navel-gazing conferences on "media democracy" than in helping editors like me put out better alternative newspapers.
AAN will probably sever its ties with IAJ this year and cut off the $33,000 annual subsidy we pay to support the wire service. Hazen and his allies are trying to stop that from happening, and they've turned it into an ugly personal battle. Which is annoying, if not surprising.
But there's a larger issue here.
A lot of what alternative papers publish is highly political, often controversial. IAJ decides which stories from papers like SF Weekly and the Bay Guardian are worth sending out to a nationwide audience -- and which are not. Those are political decisions.
I'm never going to agree with every decision the IAJ censors make (per-sonally, I think the wire service ought to send out everything it gets, and let the editors decide what to use; that ap-proach works for AP), but at the very least, I need to know that the decisions are made on the basis of some credible journalistic standard -- not some hidden political agenda.
IAJ gets most of its million-dollar annual budget from foundation grants. Private foundations these days not only give money to nonprofit groups -- they try, often successfully, to influence the political agendas of the groups they fund. This is a growing problem for progressive grass-roots organizations all over the country: If you want the money to pay your rent and keep your staff from starving, you have to tailor your activism to the causes foundation funders like.
Is IAJ letting the desires of its foundation funders influence how it runs the alternative press wire service? I don't know -- IAJ board meetings are secret. Hazen won't tell me which foundations he's approaching or what he's promising them. I still don't know how much money comes from which grants from which foundations, or for which IAJ projects that money was earmarked.
The fact that I don't know these things makes me -- and a lot of other alternative newspaper editors -- very nervous about the organization that is controlling the syndication of our editorial content.
P.S.: I haven't heard Bruce Brugmann ask "Where's the bottleneck?" in at least 10 years. And I've never heard him use that phrase in anger or indignation; it was always a joke, delivered with a smile. It reflected his (admitted) cluelessness about the details of the production side of the newspaper business. I don't know where you found the "disgruntled former staff member" you quoted, but I can tell you this: Shortly before she died of cancer last winter, Cecily Murphy, who had worked for Bruce for many years, sent him a long, touching letter about all the good times she'd had at the paper. She signed it, "yours truly, the Bottleneck."
Tim Redmond, Executive Editor
San Francisco Bay Guardian