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Letters to the Editor 

Week of Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Down With Downloaders

Just because people do it doesn't make it right: First: I don't like the traditional record industry; I think they act like pimps [OK Then, March 3]. I will not be sad to see the current model die.

But free downloaders are full of crap. Not that I would expect a dishonest person to be honest about their dishonesty, rationalization being the key to sanity and all.

A few mix CDs among friends is NOT equivalent to mass anonymous access. The difference between iTunes-style pay systems and Napster is like the difference between having an open relationship with your lover, and pimping your lover. Scale matters. Consent matters.

Garrett Kamps' market argument is amoral. There's a market for sex slaves and kiddie porn, but that doesn't make it right. The market did not set the price of music at zero, assholes did.

Adam Burtch

Musicians deserve money for their work: CAUSE: Music, sharing, communing, "fruitiness." EFFECT: Music on the Internet = $0. So you can no longer make money selling music (as we all know). The digital-gizmo surcharge plan could help, but how large will that pie be, how would it get split up and by whom?

As an independent music producer and engineer, I have firsthand experience toiling with even the smallest indie bands to get their CD released. The costs (materials and labor) rapidly stack up: Studio recording costs, mixing, audio mastering, graphics layout, duplication costs, advertising ... the list goes on.

To recover these costs before a profit could even theoretically be realized already puts a band in the economic realm of the .ORG.

Here's what I suggest:

Downloaders with the "right" to "their" free music content should go to their 40-hour-a-week jobs for no pay. If they think producing music is merely a labor of love, then making coffee for Starbucks or managing Merrill Lynch's portfolios (no matter how high profile) should also be considered its own reward.

Advice to bands:

Stop making CDs. Release vinyl instead and play weddings and bar mitzvahs. You'll be guaranteed a better income.

Randall Rhodes
San Francisco

Jew Miss a Good Thing?

Yeah, you did: It really pains me that Meredith Brody took the time to scour the area for good Jewish delis, but failed to include the only place that actually serves respectable Jewish deli food: East Coast West Deli on Polk Street ["Jew Eat Yet?," Eat, March 3]. Their corned beef is lean yet tasty, their latkes remind me of the Hanukkahs of my youth, and their rugelach is almost as good as my bubbe's.

Any fresser in the Bay Area could have told you that David's is a sham and Moishe's Pippic is just plain gross. And Saul's is (at best) a passable substitute for a true New York deli. Only ECW, however, delivers the goods on the consistent basis that would make my mother proud.

David Sobel

Out of Africa

Meet a reporter who knows the future!: I read Bernice Yeung's "Enslavement in Palo Alto" with a mix of bemusement and shock [Feb. 18]. Not only was it a desperate attempt to find a local angle on a story that national newspapers are doing successfully, the reporter used only one source for her allegations of trafficking: the unchallenged story of a former employee contained in a civil lawsuit.

At my newspaper, such allegations rarely pass the threshold of a story for the simple reason that anyone can charge anyone with anything in a civil lawsuit. When exceptions are made, it requires a very high standard of balance in the story.

That's what I assumed would happen when Ms. Yeung called me for an interview and asked me to help "guide her reporting." I mentioned several reasons why Alice B., the Kenyan housekeeper in question, may have chosen to leave besides the allegations against Ms. Njuguna-Githinji; there's no indication in the story Yeung checked them out. To my knowledge there was no indication Alice B. was unhappy, let alone suffering the uglier allegations made later in the lawsuit -- a lawsuit which, if she wins, increases her chances of staying in the United States and bringing her own child from Kenya. That motivation was quickly dismissed in Ms. Yeung's lengthy storytelling.

I also mentioned that Alice B. was alone for an entire month and chose not to leave. Ms. Yeung takes Alice B.'s answers at face value: that she thought things would be better when Ms. Njuguna-Githinji returned. Even this goes unchallenged. What made her think things would improve when, if she was truly enslaved, she had an opportunity to leave?

I raised question after question in my interview with Ms. Yeung, yet none of my comments or concerns were included. I know it wasn't past her deadline; we had agreed on the interview time.

But I guess I got my answer when Ms. Yeung e-mailed me after the interview saying her point of view "differs from [mine]." Clearly, she started with a bias and, in a nearly 6,000-word article, could find no room for another voice offering balance to a story clearly intent on excoriating Ms. Njuguna-Githinji.

The greatest damage, however, may be done to future victims of slavery in the United States who seek help and find neither resources nor sympathy, because the public has grown weary of such stories, assuming all such allegations will collapse into dust upon examination. Ms. Yeung's weak efforts at journalism may, in the end, cause more harm than good in an issue that clearly needs national attention.

As I told Ms. Yeung, when the lawsuit is eventually resolved and most of the allegations against Ms. Njuguna-Githinji are proved either false or grossly exaggerated, I hope there are organizations and newspapers that act just as aggressively to help Ms. Njuguna-Githinji recover her life and reputation.

It seems clear SF Weekly cannot be depended on for such basic fairness.

Jodi Upton
Investigative reporter
The Detroit News
Detroit, Mich.

Bernice Yeung replies: Upton and Njuguna-Githinji both participated in the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford in 2003. I called Upton and several other 2003 fellows during the course of reporting this story. During my conversation with Upton, she did, indeed, raise a number of arguments in support of Njuguna-Githinji, which I noted and then investigated. I attempted to address some of her points in the story. For example, she asked why Alice B. did not leave when she was left alone for a month. I dedicated a portion of the article to the practical concerns a new immigrant might face in seeking help, and I also discussed the psychological coercion that can play a powerful role in human trafficking cases. Upton's other arguments, however, did not sufficiently challenge the information that I had gathered (and that supported an opposing view). Specifically, Upton argued that it is likely that Alice B. filed a civil lawsuit against Njuguna-Githinji purely as a means to remain in this country. I found that argument lacking. None of the trafficking experts I spoke to had ever come across such a situation. Furthermore, if Alice B. is lying, she could have simply applied for a visa for trafficking victims and attempted to dupe the U.S. government discreetly. Why would a liar file a lawsuit in public court and expose herself and her visa application to greater scrutiny?

Upton claims SF Weekly lacks basic fairness, even though I included a response from Njuguna-Githinji's attorneys to every allegation Alice B. makes. Ultimately, I think it is important to note that I wrote a magazine-style story, which is different in substance and philosophy from a newspaper story. Newspaper reporters hold "objectivity" as an absolute standard, and frequently their stories have a he said/she said quality that can leave the reader baffled and unable to form an opinion about where the truth may lie. Magazine-style articles, however, are supposed to have a point of view backed by thorough reporting and balance. After spending several weeks interviewing a string of people associated with both Alice B. and Njuguna-Githinji, and speaking with numerous human trafficking experts, I concluded that it is possible that Alice B. is a victim of human trafficking, a perspective I believe is supported by information presented in the article.

Editor John Mecklin replies: Jodi Upton makes four false statements that bear correction. Bernice Yeung was not desperate to localize a national story; she began discussing the story with me more than six weeks before publication, and that discussion had almost nothing to do with national stories on trafficking. Ms. Yeung did not use one lawsuit as the basis of her story; in fact, she spent more than a month reviewing many documents and interviewing a wide variety of people who had interacted with Alice B. Ms. Yeung did not start reporting the story with "bias"; I know this because I spoke with her repeatedly about the story during its early stages, and know she was aware, from the beginning, of the need to report the story thoroughly and skeptically. Finally, although I'm sure Jodi Upton is a fine investigative reporter, she scrambled the headline on Ms. Yeung's story. The correct headline is "Enslaved in Palo Alto."

Comfort from a countrywoman: I read your story about Alice B. on the Internet and was moved by the situation she is in. I live in Boston not far from Harvard University. My original home is in Kenya, same district as Alice. I just want to talk to her to comfort her and be able to help her in any way possible. I would like to let her know that she is not alone from Bungoma, there are a number of us here and wish to give her some support. I also want to make sure that she is eating well and sleeping fine, and that she is warm. I would like to buy her some calling cards so she can keep in touch with her family and child.

The Bungoma Community in USA is very appreciative of Bernice Yeung's story, exposing this inhuman treatment to especially fellow countrymen. Alice's employer was so selfish. I hope she learns a big lesson on this.

Jane Namusia Wafula
Via the Internet


In "Masque of the Pink Book Slasher" [Art, March 10], Seth Eisen's name was misspelled. SF Weekly regrets the error.


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