Letters for May 6, 2010

Letter of the week

Going native

Re “How does your garden blow?” by Ted Cox (SN&R Homegrown, April 29):

While “How does your garden blow?” means well, it confuses several issues and perpetuates misinformation. What species are “native,” what species are well-adapted to our area and what species are problematic because they pose invasion risk are three separate issues. Many plants promoted and sold as “native” may be native to California, but they occur naturally in foothill, coastal, montane or desert habitats—not in the Central Valley—and are poorly adapted to grow and survive with our climate, water quality and soils.

Your article mentions bearberry. It’s an excellent example of what I mean; it’s native to acid, sandy soils on the North Coast and northward, and although it occasionally survives a few years around here—usually on poor soils—it is poorly adapted to this area and “native” only in a nearly meaningless sense. Very few plants truly native to the Valley are in cultivation, let alone commercially available. Many of the plants best adapted to our conditions are in fact native to the Mediterranean Basin or the Mediterranean-climate regions of Australia, South Africa and Chile. Many of these are “tried and true” garden staples (rosemary, for example) and have shown little or no tendency to invasiveness.

Common periwinkle is an exotic which is perfectly adapted here (essentially no-maintenance) and is considered invasive, though it rarely sets seed and typically spreads vegetatively around old plantings—it is an indicator of abandoned homesteads in the foothills! Meanwhile, I continue to see nurseries occasionally offering really obnoxious species whose weed potential is well-known—various brooms, water hyacinth, Japanese knotweed, purple loosestrife, pampas grass. There is plenty of good information on invasives out there, and the best way publications like SN&R can help is by directing readers to reliable online sources. One more thing: The plant in your photo is not English ivy. In fact, it isn’t any kind of ivy!

Arthur M. Shapiro

UC Davis Center for Population BiologyDepartment of Evolution and Ecology

220 tea bags

Re “Hometown atrocities” by Cosmo Garvin (SN&R Bites, April 29):

If Cosmo (my favorite SN&R writer) were to check his old files a bit more closely, he would see that I led an effort to deliver 220 tea bags to the city council during the street light assessment tax election in Land and Curtis parks in ’08, not to protest the tax, but as a symbolic protest of the city’s disenfranchisement of 220 homeowners in Land Park and Curtis Park, folks who the city had deprived of their constitutional right to vote on a tax on their own homes. It was a clear case of “taxation without representation” and the authentic basis for the Boston Tea Party and, ultimately, the American Revolution.

Our symbolic protest worked, and the city changed its policy, allowing the 220 homeowners to vote. And the street light tax election was not about just “a little more” in taxes, as Cosmo would have it, but would have imposed a tax of almost $5,000 on every homeowner in the proposed assessment district, all to pay for outrageously overpriced street lights ($15,000 a pop). Our “Campaign to Stop the Streetlight Madness” was successful, and the street light tax was defeated overwhelmingly by homeowners. Eighty-six percent of those voting opposed the street light tax in a 75 percent turnout election, saving hard-pressed homeowners from an unnecessary tax hike just as the economy was tanking and home foreclosures were skyrocketing.

As far as the zoo’s plan to quadruple its size in William Land Park, the Land Park Community Association is leading the effort to preserve the public’s right to free access to the heart of Sacramento’s premier regional park, which is visited by almost 2 million people yearly, mostly folks of modest means. We happen to think that it is wrong to place large swathes of public parkland (Funderland, the pony rides, prime picnic grounds, etc.) behind wrought iron fences and charge Sacramento residents $11 a head to enter. Let’s not sacrifice one valuable public asset, William Land Park, for the sake of another valuable public asset, the zoo. If the zoo feels compelled to expand, it needs to find an alternative site with sufficient space to allow it grow organically over time, as the city council advised it to do 22 years ago. We love the zoo, but we love Land Park, too.

Craig Powell
via e-mail

Believe it or not

Re “Faith of an atheist” by Ron Vanderwell (SN&R Essay, April 29):

I took a pen to Ron Vanderwell’s backhanded “salute” in the article “Faith of an atheist” and highlighted all of his misinformation. There wasn’t much left. Instead of taking steps to correct his admitted ignorance (a feat which would have taken all of 10 minutes on Wikipedia), he chose to evoke the tiresome image of the “arrogant atheist.” For the sake of brevity, I will take it upon myself to correct only his major blunders.

1. Because you cannot disprove something, it doesn’t make it true. Positive evidence is required to assert any claim. I can’t disprove the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, but have no reason (yet) to believe it exists.

2. Where science fails, religion does not win by default. Even if all of our scientific understandings are incomplete (or even wrong), the religious must still provide evidence for God claims.

3. The very fact of what makes science work is its self-correcting nature. We may not have all the answers, but we get closer every day. If not for the self-revision of science, we would still quake in fear of God’s wrath during every lightning storm.

4. Fundamentalism cannot exist within a nonbelief. You will meet very few “fundamentalist atheists” because, I suspect, unlike Ron, we know what it would take to change our minds.

I strongly recommend that Ron read Douglas E. Kruegers’ What Is Atheism? before discussing the subject again.

Hannah Jenks

Yes, I’m being insulting …

Re “Faith of an atheist” by Ron Vanderwell (SN&R Essay, April 29):

Ron Vanderwell is your classic religious idiot. His patronizing paean reads like every other bit of nonsense that’s been trotted out by the religious nutters around the country ever since they learned that atheists weren’t going to “just wake up and start believing.” We don’t have faith in nothingness. We don’t stand firmly rooted in beliefs that have no evidence. Baiting us with the old arguments (from design, the cosmological argument, the ontological argument and, everyone’s favorite, Pascal’s Wager) just makes the ol’ Pastor Vanderwell look like a carbon copy of his more experienced but no less idiotic peers.

Yeah, I’m being insulting, and with good reason. See, atheists are the currently reviled minority in this country, and like our gay and lesbian predecessors, and the African-American predecessors before them, we’re a little bit sick and tired of being told we’re living wrong, or believing wrong, or are simply wrong by dint of who we happen to be.

You want to believe the stars were hung in the sky by an invisible being with ultimate goodness in its heart, fine. Believe it. But you start demanding I think the way you do and you’d better believe you’ll have a fight on your hands. What you’re missing, dear Pastor Vanderwell, is reality. If you’d stop believing in fairy tales and mumbo jumbo about gods and devils, you might actually be able to enjoy this wonderful beautiful world, which includes all of us atheists, by the way. What ever happened to loving thy neighbor, eh?

Aaron Sikes
via e-mail

Leave us alone

Re “Faith of an atheist” by Ron Vanderwell (SN&R Essay, April 29):

If you’d really like an open dialogue about atheist, then maybe you shouldn’t mock us. The reason why so many of us get “fundamentalist” on you is because our basic set of principles are the scientific method. We’re not children, so being outnumbered by people who choose to believe in a supernatural being is no problem since a belief isn’t valid because it’s popular. Now please stop harassing us, Mr. Vanderwell, because we don’t buy into the assumption that the supernatural exists unless we see testable evidence. I’m sure that you don’t go around to the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and every other religious group on the planet demanding them to prove themselves correct, so show some common courtesy, please. We’d really just like to be left alone.

Ted Fufu
Elk Grove

Negative and boorish

Re “Unorthodox diss” by Alia Cruz (SN&R Music, April 29):

In her article “Unorthodox diss,” Alia Cruz clearly has no understanding or respect for Orthodox Judaism or Matisyahu as an artist, because if she had, the conversation would have yielded a different result. Throughout the article she demeans him, his religion (Orthodox Judaism), ethnicity, speech, music and personality. She covered a lot of disparaging ground in so few words. At the end of the article, though sarcastic in nature, Alia laments over the questions she didn’t get to ask; questions which are disrespectful, immature and ignorant. Even if Matisyahu was “boring” and “snarky,” it makes Alia look that much worse for crying about it and writing such a negative and boorish column. However, reading her line of questions, it is evident who the cantankerous person is in this exchange.

It’s ironic that this paper is suppose to be “open-minded” and “tolerant,” albeit self-proclaimed, but yet runs an article that is disrespectful, classless and belittling (and borderline anti-Semitic). I propose a novel idea, instead of publishing an article based on an interview that didn’t go as planned, write about his story as a musician, the positive contributions he has had, and the music he writes and performs. If I were the editor, G-d forbid, I would be embarrassed and ashamed to run such an article.

Justin Akiba
via e-mail

Not out of the woods

Re “Gitmo still going” by Kel Munger (SN&R Frontlines, April 22):

I used to have a sign on my car a few years ago in Utah advocating that Sami al-Hajj be either released or given a trial. My wife threw it in the trash because it embarrassed her to the neighbors. It’s good to see Sami released, but it’s outrageous that so much of the damage Bush did to our democracy goes uncorrected yet. I’m pleased with President Obama’s work, but this was the main reason I worked to elect him and voted for him.

There is an oft-quoted religiously inspired saying in Utah that someday the Constitution will hang by a thread. Well, it already did, and everybody just followed the president’s advice and went blithely about their shopping. Bush is no longer in a position to mount a coup, but we are not out of the woods until we undo the groundwork he laid in hope of reaching that goal.

Dale Frankis