Letters for July 8, 2004

A cruel third strike

Re “Second thoughts on three strikes” by Vince Beiser (SN&R News, June 24):

Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney L. Douglas Pipes has it wrong when he says the proposed changes to the three-strikes initiative constitute “the most dangerous piece of criminal-justice legislation to confront the people of California in the past 30 years.” The most dangerous piece of criminal-justice legislation was the original three-strikes initiative. Its vindictiveness is contrary to the teaching of Jesus, it mandates cruel and unusual punishment for minor crimes, and the cost of incarceration is not acceptable.

James G. Updegraff III

Bash the Republicans

Re “Power failure” by Jill Stewart (SN&R Capitol punishment, June 24):

Jill Stewart continues her predictable, boring and bogus routine.

While fools on talk radio bash Bill Clinton, Stewart bashes Gray Davis as her first priority in almost every column.

Then she bashes Democratic leaders, and usually one extra Democrat from Southern California. This time it was Phil Angelides, John Burton and Orange County’s Joseph Dunn. She seldom criticizes any Republican for anything.

She often distorts her columns to the hidden advantage of some business or conservative interest from Southern California, where she has roots and connections. The electric-power article might as well have been written by the public-relations flack, Lew Phelps, and funded by New Energy Ventures, based in Los Angeles.

Her recent hidden angle is Michael R. Peevey, who became president of the California Public Utilities Commission in 2002 over protests from consumer groups but to the delight of big utilities and the chamber of commerce. He was a Southern California Edison executive in the 1990s, then at NewEnergy Inc. and finally at TruePricing Inc., helping large companies track energy costs. His specialty is helping big businesses get electricity at cheaper rates than regular consumers do. But Peevey’s involvement in public-energy policy is not all she ignores.

She ignores Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Southern California Edison, who want to allow energy producers to sell directly to big businesses without state controls over price or supply, to the detriment of average consumers.

She ignores San Diego Gas & Electric’s sweetheart deal with Calpine for new power generation at Otay Mesa and ignores Peevey’s tie-breaker vote on the deal, as well as ratepayer-group complaints that he personally facilitated the deal.

Please stop wasting ink on Stewart’s column, Capitol punishment. Chrisanne Beckner’s story “Don’t tread on us” (SN&R Cover, June 24) was so much better.

Name withheld by request

State should seize power

Re “Power failure” by Jill Stewart (SN&R Capitol punishment, June 24):

At first I thought that Ms. Stewart had moved out of her ideological box when her article pointed to the private energy companies like Enron when talking about California’s 2000-2001 energy crisis. But as I read on and found Stewart blaming the state Legislature and then the victims, I knew that nothing had changed: She represents rigid capitalist ideology, which declares that the market is king and that the knight, Governor Schwarzenegger, will save the kingdom of California.

The first problem with this scenario is that Enron did not make off with $100 million, but with $9 billion. The second problem is that Sir Arnold has been in bed with Enron since long before his election and is a frontman for monopoly capitalism (the corporate banks and their interlocking company directorates). The third problem is that corporate oil and energy companies control the major part of the California economy, and the logic of that fact means that they, not the public or their representatives, brought us the crisis that produced (and continues to produce) outrageous profits for these power elites.

Sir Arnold will never bring us a real solution—namely, a state-run energy company and a state-run oil company. The fact that these alternatives will never be discussed by Sir Arnold, the Legislature and ideologues like Stewart means that we do not have a free or open democratic society, but one that is controlled by corporate capitalism and that is leading us down the road to mass poverty and underdevelopment.

David Benavides

God bless SN&R

Re “Holy box office!” by Harmon Leon (SN&R Cover, June 17):

I really didn’t want to read this, as I assumed that this would be a typical SN&R “right-on!” (or “left-on”) put-down article. Much to my amazement, Mr. Leon’s three-in-one article was quite delightful and interesting. Mr. Leon seemed to “tell it like it is” with no apparent ax to grind.

I’m pleased that SN&R finds contemporary Christianity so newsworthy as to utilize this topic as a main feature. Please give us (your faithful readers) more articles on the loving foibles of our Christ-concepts-loving community.

I was entertained at the number of Christians who were offended. It is this humble writer’s belief that if one has to “circle the wagons” around one’s religious ministry, that ministry needs to rethink its purpose.

God bless you all over there at SN&R! Keep up the good work.

Richard D. Martin

‘Us,’ ‘them’ and Chaucer

Re “Holy box office!” by Harmon Leon (SN&R Cover, June 17):

I was excited to read the cover article in SN&R. Strangely enough, Jesus is a hot topic right now in mainstream media, and I wasn’t surprised to see your paper covering the wake left by Mel Gibson’s film. The reference to “the growing commercialization of Christ” sounded so promising!

Within the opening paragraphs of the article, however, something else is brought to light. A classification system is in place—one that must be made clear for the purposes of Leon’s article. Apparently, there are two camps of people that Leon wants to familiarize the reader with: the “us” camp, those intellectually enlightened, non-Christian, and fun-loving literary types; and the “them” camp, those disdained, faintly repressed “people that put born-again George W. Bush in office,” who probably don’t believe in reading Chaucer, if in fact they know of him.

Leon makes it clear that he belongs in the first camp. Likewise, it seems to be assumed that the dear reader belongs to the first camp, as well. It’s like a party in there! Yet, somehow, as the article progresses, proving the existence of and distinction between these two groups becomes more important than the actual subject of the article.

I expected and hoped for a stimulating, thought-provoking article on media, consumerism and faith. What you delivered was a poorly masked, mean-spirited (and uninteresting) parody of those fools who call themselves Christian.

Be careful, Harmon Leon, or the “heart of darkness” you reveal may be your own. And wasn’t Chaucer a Christian?

J. Russo Kumler

Proving the existence of atheists

Re “If you had to participate in a debate, what topic would you want to argue about?” (SN&R Streetalk, June 10):

Carla Shulz, in answering this question, offered the view that a lot of people who think they are atheists are actually agnostics. That was an outrageous claim.

She obviously doesn’t know that atheists aren’t a monolithic group. Among the plethora are negative (or “weak”) atheists, who doubt the existence of deities—and, as Ms. Shulz notes, this mind-set is compatible with agnosticism. But agnosticism may not be the label these people choose, perhaps because agnosticism isn’t religion-exclusive.

There are also positive (or “strong”) atheists, who deny the existence of any deities—a hard sell, that’s sure. The latter are obviously the group Ms. Shulz is addressing; a tiny group, but they do exist!

I’m a bit of both. You see, I deny the existence of Thor—and so do most religionists! I doubt the existence of the Judeo-Christian God and all other “modern” gods, because of the zero evidence of the existence of any gods, goddesses or god-things.

It’s true that positive/strong atheists can’t prove the negative—that God doesn’t exist—but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist! They simply can’t prove their absolutist negative claim. Of course, Christians can’t prove their absolutist positive claim, either. So, are we to logically say that Christians don’t exist?

Atheists and religionists have much in common. Both doubt most gods. Most religionists are atheistic—positive atheists, even—when it comes to any other gods than theirs.

Go figure.

Steven Ray Kemp
via e-mail