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Letters to the Editor 

Week of Wednesday, December 14, 2005

One City, Under Fernet

Sweet bitters: I never expected to live long enough to see the day that Fernet-Branca would grace the cover of SF Weekly ["The Myth of Fernet," Dec. 7]. That magical nostrum hovered like a threat and a promise over my Bay Area Italian-dominated youth. We called it simply "Ferneta," and many was the time that my beloved Nonna would reach for that bottle. It was the legendary tonic and cure-all that could do all that the article mentioned, and more. Under the doctrine of "if it doesn't kill you, it will cure you," many a common cold was chased away by its liberal use. Yes, I learned to tolerate it at an early age, and we always joked that the germs would run the opposite direction when Ferneta chased them.

In my imaginings it tastes like licorice mixed with roof tar, and it wouldn't surprise me if both of those are key ingredients. Ferneta gives something to everyone. It's the elixir of wishful thinking, and subject to any interpretation that the cultist wishes to give it. I think it's those long-ago doses that keep me reaching for the alligator, which by the way generally appears after the fourth shot.

Brian O'Neil

Smoke and Mirrors

Like licking an ashtray: Thank you to Matt Smith for his impressive article about UCSF's digital tobacco-document archive and its watershed importance to understanding the scale of corporate manipulation going on in American society ["The Smoking Gun," Nov. 30].

UCSF's digital archive, for the first time, gives average people a tool to deconstruct corporate marketing techniques and understand how the tobacco companies pioneered the perversion of marketing practices in the U.S. Matt's article exposes just the tip of the iceberg of how cigarette makers exploit the most basic human psychological needs and emotions to market harmful products to the weakest people in our society. It was telling how the Philip Morris public relations representative failed to respond with any clarity about the Rapaille documents Smith asked her about. The representative answered with the same kind of meaningless "everything's fine" doublespeak so often spewed by the Bush administration. Little wonder, since Karl Rove was Philip Morris' lobbyist in Texas before he started working for Bush.

Terrific, comprehensive, powerful article. Keep up the good work.

Anne Landman
UC San Francisco

Scrambled Craig

Blitstein the bully: Pity poor Ryan Blitstein, whose article places the decline of journalism squarely on Craig Newmark's shoulders, all while Blitstein repeatedly falls short of the standards of journalism he preaches by attaching a personal vendetta to the story ["Craig$," Nov. 30]. To say the least, it loses him and his editors some credibility. Bullying Newmark for trying to right some wrongs in the current journalism workplace is like saying Bill Gates is slapping charity in the face by not giving till it hurts. I would think if SF Weekly truly cared about the state of journalism, it would take Newmark to task by providing him with possible solutions rather than berate him for being a bit wishy-washy.

Every entrepreneur wants to make a good profit and every consumer wants a bargain -- and nobody ever buys a newspaper subscription or an advertisement out of pity. Blaming Newmark for the moral dilemmas of supply and demand is like the music industry pointing fingers at Napster when profits plummet. As record companies have become more conservative and closed-minded with their talent, so have newspapers begun to take less chances of facing lawsuits or advertisers' ire. The drive for community journalism usually means nothing more than not pissing off well-off subscribers by watering everything down. Blitstein spits his anger across the page, choosing a scapegoat while refusing to realize that newspapers are now -- and have been for some time -- bought out and merged, corporations like any other, looking at the bottom line.

In reference to Craigslist's financial secrecy, Blitstein doesn't seem to get that what upsets people about Halliburton is the unfair advantage it has in the marketplace; the company has the government in their back pocket. There's nothing of the sort going on with Craigslist. The site operates like a true democracy and all parties know they're getting a good deal regardless of how much money the site reels in.

Kevin Kelly and Nicola Mattos
San Francisco

Blitstein the begrudging: The unmasked vitriol on display in this article and the repeated attempts to paint Craig Newmark as an incompetent hypocrite responsible for the downfall of print journalism leads me to wonder if Ryan Blitstein received a pink slip in his most recent paycheck.

From my perspective, Craigslist provides a far superior product to traditional classifieds, irrespective of price. True, I'm more likely to post on Craigslist partially due to the fact that it is free, but I am also more inclined to search ads on Craigslist, due to the frequency with which it is updated and the much richer content of its postings.

As a regular reader of newspapers, I am loath to witness the demise of print journalism, but artificially protecting a traditional newspaper revenue stream (the source of which is, importantly, entirely orthogonal to the business of reporting) is not the way to keep it alive. Neither Craig nor I, nor, apparently, SF Weekly, has the answer, but at least Craig is attempting to find it. Begrudging him his success and lashing out at him is surely not the way to solve the problem.

Aron Nopanen
Santa Rosa


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