Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 24, 2014

Ya got trouble?

Filed under: Alameda, School — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t read the Alameda Sun that much anymore.   Mainly because I forget to visit the website and I don’t think I get a hard copy any more.  Generally I only read it when someone indicates that there is something too funny not to be missed.   In the case of last week’s Alameda Sun, it was this commentary/op-ed by a one “Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov.”  I thought it was going to be a simple Letter to the Editor buried with all the other Letters to the Editor, but it turned out to be a whole section, which is strange because usually that section is reserved for people that have sort of a “known” quality in Alameda.   I mean this letter read as full on tin foil hat territory which is always entertaining,  but again usually relegated to be part of many letters to the editor.  I wondered what it was that made this self proclaimed “Russian immigrant living in Alameda” so special other than the piece being so full of hyperbole as to be a light read on a Friday afternoon.

But then it struck me as, how did this random person have so much information and passion about the subject that he managed to write up an entire screed and submit it by the Tuesday or Wednesday printing deadline in the Sun.  Then I thought, that name seems a little…um, how to put it delicately, fake-y.  So I googled it.  Not being a huge fan of Russian literature I had to rely on Wikipedia to tell me that the name is exactly the same as that of the protagonist in a novel by Nikolai Gogol.   Coincidence?  Maybe.

So I looked a little closer at the piece and this was the line that really struck me as out of place if the writer was indeed a Russian immigrant living in Alameda:

 Actually the edict was issued right here in River City following the Tuesday, Feb. 11, gas leak at Encinal High School.

Now “River City” is a pretty niche sort of reference, you have to be a huge fan of musicals or be so familiar with political commentary speak to get that reference and to incorporate it into your own political commentary.  Now it’s possible that “Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov” who just happened to share the same name of a character from a novel just happens to be a huge fan of American musical theater too, but the turn of the phrase also caught me too because I had seen it referenced before by a few people, but by one person in particular that has a lot of contact with the Alameda Sun:

From a 2008 comment on this site:

Presently the local mavens and apparatchiks of Public Education have forged the impending financial crisis into a similar extortion racket, right here in River City.

From a 2011 comment on this site:

Wind River, a tech company based right here in River City, has the motto, “Throw away the box.”

From a 2013 blog post on Alameda Patch:

Marijuana use, a pot head, right here in River City? Shocking!

From a 2013 theater review in the Alameda Sun:

What? Bohemians living in Alameda? And thespians? Right here in River City?

From a 2013 op -ed piece in the Alameda Sun:

Just after No Child Left Behind ushered in a new era of public complacency, we are now planning to re-energize critical thinking by adopting Common Core Standards and its ancillary higher order thinking skills, right here in River City.

And not to be left out is a reference to another musical in that piece:

As evidenced by the doubting of the sagacity of our school board, this willingness to question authority apparently continues to menace our society right here in Brigadoon.

Brigadoon also gets mentioned here in the Alameda Sun:

First, some Alamedans fancy themselves as free-thinkers: given the hollow rhetoric that resounds in an election year, they might assign literal significance to such political platitudes as free will, free enterprise, free market and individual liberty; thus they may capitulate to a self-serving eagerness to pinch pennies in order to financially survive in Brigadoon.

And here:

This pair of plays might not be very daring for the haute noir and gritty leather crowd of the Exit Theater on Eddy Street in San Francisco, but for gilded gentry of the newly opened Rhythmix Cultural Works of Blanding Avenue in a staid Brigadoon like Alameda, these plays occupy the outer fringe of acceptability and taunt our prim sense of moral hypocrisy.

Of course this could all just be one huge happy coincidence, but I would imagine that the

…teachers who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that AUSD’s missive instructed them in all capital letters capped off with an exclamation point that “no one is to speak with any reporters.”

Referenced in this article about the gas leak an Encinal share an awful lot in common with the Russian immigrant who was so upset by the orders given “in all capital letters with accompanying exclamation point” including a passionate love for musicals.  As an aside I just caught the Harvey Girls on TMC the other day (okay okay I recorded it to watch) and I think I remember it being a lot better than it was.  But Judy Garland and Cyd Charisse (also in Brigadoon), that’s good enough for me.

Anyway, it’s a little weird that the Alameda Sun is allowing people to assume fake identities without telling their readers that they are fake identities.   I’m not so concerned about the use of a pseudonym, but I’m a little concerned by the lack of disclosure by the Sun.  I mean they could have just replaced “Russian immigrant living in Alameda” with “Alamedan who doesn’t want to use his/her real name” and most of us would be understanding.  It then makes one wonder what else they are omitting or being a bit more “flexible” with the facts on.  I mean, it’s not like they’re a blog or something, they’re supposed to be a legit “news” site right?

It’s also odd that the narrative of the Sun news report continue to fixate — much like the “Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov” op-ed — on the memo being issued by the District or that somehow the District was responsible for its creation even though as the District spokesperson said:

According to AUSD spokesperson Susan Davis, the gas-leak caveat did not come from the district; it came from the principal.

Davis said that EHS administrators sent the memo, asking that teachers and staff not speak to the press. “As a general rule, we do ask that teachers let district administrators talk to the media about an urgent matter such as this one,” Davis said.

“(This concerned) public safety and we want(ed) to make sure that reporters, and by extension community members, get the most up-to-date and accurate information.”

And honestly it’s probably a good policy particularly when you get mixed messages and conspiracy theories like the ones laid out by “Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov.”   Just to be perfectly clear on the position of the school district, I sent a request to the asking for the exact statement that was sent to the Alameda Sun regarding the gas leak, this is what I received:

Yes, a memo was sent by EHS administrators to EHS staff, asking that they not speak to the press. As a general rule, we do ask that teachers let district administrators talk to the media about an urgent matter such as this one, because it concerns public safety and we want to make sure that reporters (and by extension community members) get the most up-to-date and accurate information. In addition, the District has to ensure that its staff comply with federal laws protecting the privacy of student, employee, and health-related information. So if teachers would like to talk to the media, we ask that they check in with the district first so that everyone’s privacy is protected.  [emphasis added]

So it appears that for some reason the Sun decided to omit the portion where the District said that teachers COULD talk to media but check in with the District first so they don’t violate the privacy of students or employees — such as releasing the names of the students that were hospitalized etc — which makes total sense.  Given that the piece and the accompanying op-ed was around the District forbidding teachers to speak it doesn’t make a lot of sense why the key piece of information as to the District’s policy on allowing teachers to speak to media was conveniently left out.



  1. I never thought I’d say this, but Dennis Green’s narcissism was better reading than Smith’s.

    Comment by dave — February 24, 2014 @ 6:44 am

  2. The Journal used to phone the home of letter writers EVERY time to verify. The Sun has no clue about anything. They have allowed semi-anonymous letters claiming it’s O.K. because they knew the persons’ name. Huh? Also other letters attributed to people who are obviously fictitious whom they either know or never vetted. They frequently confuse editorial with news. They always qualify their editorial mistakes with “gee , we don’t have a lot of experience doing this because we’re not professionally trained. Please give us a chance.” Not professionally trained. No shit. They’ve had their chance(s) and flouted them. It’s not always the impact, more the principle. They are irresponsible and not qualified to run a paper. Last time I complained directly I got the Chris Christy treatment from Dennis, “I’ll remember that the next time you want a letter printed.” Maybe that was sarcasm, but I haven’t submitted anything since.

    Comment by MI — February 24, 2014 @ 8:21 am

  3. Jeff Chichikov is good in his own name but he’s no Green giant, who was one of the few but short bright spots on Bayport right here in river city.

    Comment by Jack R — February 24, 2014 @ 10:05 am

  4. “Niche”? Except that every [American? Californian? SJND Alum?] over a certain age knows that “Brigadoon” & “The Music Man” are/were two of the most commonly produced high school musicals. They certainly are Right Here in Alameda. Face it, kid, you’re just not as hip as us Baby Boomers. While taking your refresher course in Ancient American Musicals, you might wanna check out “Carousel” & “Oklahoma”, too.

    Comment by julie jordan — February 24, 2014 @ 10:18 am

  5. I may not be as old as “julie jordan”, but I don’t think you would want to go toe to toe with me on my knowledge of ancient American musicals. I spent the bulk of my high school years watching as many musicals as I could get my hands on and can probably do a fair job muddling through most of the lyrics from most of the musicals.

    Comment by Lauren Do — February 24, 2014 @ 10:24 am

  6. Yeah, but how many were you IN? Or helped produce? You didn’t get my point: These musicals were such a common right of passage for us, that even if you don’t “study” musicals, or like them, they probably crossed your path as you were growing up, so references YOU think are obscure, aren’t obscure at all.

    Why is credit no good to an anvil salesman, anyway?

    Comment by julie jordan — February 24, 2014 @ 10:33 am

  7. Sigh, yes Americans over a certain age would be familiar with all the musicals you listed. But what about a purported “Russian immigrant” who still identifies as a “Russian immigrant”? How many would be familiar with those American musicals unless a huge fan and incorporate it so deftly into an op-ed about being muzzled by a non existent District policy?

    The point of the blog post was not about the niche status of the Music Man but about non disclosure by the Alameda Sun that the author of that op-ed was using a pseudonym and a faked background as well as omitting a key piece from the statement made about AUSD’s policy on teachers speaking to the press.

    But please, continue making this about how Oklahoma and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers aren’t obscure and are a “rite of passage” I’m sure that was the most important point.

    Comment by Lauren Do — February 24, 2014 @ 10:42 am

  8. You are the one who kept mentioning River City, and called it a “pretty niche sort of reference”; even though River City has exactly the same number of syllables & cadence as the word Alameda. Not to mention the same sort of characters…

    Pseudonyms really seem to upset you. Why? Many authors use them. On CSPAN, a female history professor introduced herself as “you may also know me as so-&-so, which is the name I used when I was writing for {major newspaper}”

    Is it because if you don’t know the real name, you cannot dig up dirt to print about them?

    Comment by julie jordan — February 24, 2014 @ 11:14 am

  9. I’m OUTRAGED!!!! I intend to call up today and cancel my Sun subscription.
    I think AUSD should call an Emergency Meeting to establish ‘guidelines on Satire’.
    I think the Alameda Library should consider removing all books by Nikolai Gogol and perhaps Jhumpa Lahiri while they are at it

    Comment by frank — February 24, 2014 @ 11:17 am

  10. . . and any books that mention Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang, too.

    Comment by Not. A. RiverCitizen — February 24, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

  11. Mark, post#2,, he hung up on me too, when I pointed out several mistakes in a front page story about the council. He said he didn’t have to put up with abuse over the phone. Yet he abuses us every week with his paper, not news paper being thrown on my newly mowed lawn.

    Comment by John P. — February 24, 2014 @ 8:01 pm

  12. Frank, you actually subscribe?

    John P., I’ve talked to Michele Ellson about journalism in general and she inevitably returns to keeping one’s head down and not getting distracted by detractors in order to maintain some semblance of objectivity, yet as a qualified practitioner I think for one reason or another she is a little more generous with the editors over there than others of us, and it’s not
    simply because they print her stuff. Sharing the same trench may tend to increase empathy. Maybe they haven’t accumulated their 10,000 hours experience yet, but regardless I subscribe to the Truman quote about heat in the kitchen. He got a lot of criticism but he didn’t seem to make excuses, which just compounds the error.

    “Green giant” ? yeah, if nothing else, a giant ego. to say more about a dead guy who can’t defend himself would be entirely declasse and you know I can’t afford that.

    Really good satire like the Onion, Daily Show, or Colbert puts a finer point on an issue, rather than muddling it. Even when he gets a rise out of me I always find myself annoyed that Jeff’s style is so self reverential, stretching to use as many BIG WORDS as possible and maximizing obscure references, seemingly to remind himself that he is so much more than a mere high school math teacher. And it undercuts what might be more effective satire. Gee what a waste. If he’d just tighten up his act a bit he could surly do “Shouts and Murmurs” for The New Yorker. (

    Comment by MI — February 25, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

  13. Well, you know Chichikov’s a former Navy Pilot and only stoops to his HS math gig to pen multiloquious satire since nobody would understand his verbal Cyrillic humor. Green Giant, on the other hand and egocentric that he was, was for more entertaining.

    Comment by Jack R — February 25, 2014 @ 5:56 pm

  14. He was more entertaining… a way.

    One never laughed WITH Green, but often AT him, and his over-the-top pomposity. Smith gets no laughs at all, with or at.

    Comment by dave — February 26, 2014 @ 5:32 am

  15. Green’s the only guy that had the chutzpah to pick up some chick right here on Bayport Boulevard. Often wondered how that déjeuner turned out. Probably not so good since he never wrote a peep about it after the tête-à-tête (if it occurred)…at least not on this blog.

    Comment by Jack R — February 26, 2014 @ 10:05 am

  16. if parents and students at EHS haven’t gone ape shit over safety concerns of gas leak I guess it’s all good, but there continues to be little clarity ( a vacuum) in public realm over this incident. And the Sun continues to be no help. Reading the letters in the Sun today along with editor’s response to one letter which claimed employees ( public or private) have no right to supersede official spokesperson for their employer in going to the press on such matters, exception being whistle blowing for illegal activity, I still have no idea what happened. Editor response to said letter includes references to “Chichikov’s” op-ed and 1400 Bar and Grill incident which leads one to conclude that part was not tongue in cheek. But Smith, er Chichikov, is so cheeky in his writing that one can never tell what is satire, which is precisely the problem when the general public has no clue what’s up. It would be quite different to parody a situation where the facts were clearly established. The Sun saw fit to arbitrarily print online comments to their reporting on this incident from their Facebook page which according the the Ed were “slightly edited” whatever the fuck that means. Two of five were explicitly critical of the Sun’s reporting on schools. I guess that indicates they are not biased, right?

    Oh and funny thing, I almost included mention of semi regular LTE writer “Coho Jerkins” in comment 12. That Coho jerk appears today. Running Smith’s semi anonymous garble was one thing, but regularly featuring fictitious characters in LTE doesn’t do much to bolster confidence in the Sun’s journalistic impartiality or skill set. It’s one thing to live with inevitable trolling in electronic formats such as comments at SF Gate, by why encourage it in print? Anybody else suspicious that Coho is on Sun’s payroll? Figure it out you guys. If you want to be the Onion or Andersen Valley Advertiser, or even the Realist, then be clear, but if you want to be a “real” newspaper then use the “real” standards.

    Comment by MI — February 27, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

    • MI, here’s a scenario to contemplate: what if the Sun read/printed Chichikov/Smith’s remark (let’s pretend it WAS tongue in cheek) about the 1400 Bar & Grill episode, and concluded it was truth, and then reported it as such? Wouldn’t that be funny?

      Comment by Not. A. RiverCitizen — February 27, 2014 @ 3:49 pm

  17. MI: Peter Hegarty over at the Journal had a fairly straightforward report on the gas leak. At Tuesday’s School Board meeting the Superintendent reported that MOF had checked all the schools to make sure that there wouldn’t be a similar problem.

    Just as a comparison, here’s another report from the Oakland Tribune about a gas leak at Skyline which happened about a week after the Encinal gas leak.

    Comment by Lauren Do — February 27, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

  18. Journal? what Journal? I have not book marked web sites of local print media, so thanks for that Lauren. I’m frankly more concerned about basic mechanics than what directives were given to teachers by principal’s office.

    Initial question which came to mind was whether cause was mischief/tampering (al Qaeda ?) or inadvertent damage. Same for Oakland actually. Brief article from Journal which mentions a “loose fitting” doesn’t shed light on Chichikov’s version which revels in the confusion, leading to mangled flex line supposedly showing up at a bar. Residential gas lines and water lines in cabinets should start with basic shut off valve before flex supply to each utility, and valves must remain accessible for safety. Gas lines are assembled sequentially from the meter to each utility so it’s hard to imagine a “loose fitting” in the middle of a hard line, even after decades. Most leaks are at the utility which in this case would be an individual burner. Not rocket science or even jet pilot stuff.

    Don’t know if Bunsen burners in science rooms run off regular natural gas or other gas coming from a storage tank on site, but all such gases have an odor added for safety. If kids actually inhaled enough gas to be hospitalized it seems there must have been a substantial amount of gas released, which is just puzzling. By modern industrial standards it’s a pretty basic life skill to recognize that odor, or is it? The odor is similar to some other smells ( sort of like rotting organic material) but very distinctive. If your stove burner at home is left on just slightly the odor should be apparent long before the room is filled with gas or one is made ill, like immediately. Don’t mean to blow things out of proportion, but something still doesn’t smell right. But all’s well that ends well I guess.

    Comment by MI — February 27, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

  19. 18. unfortunately that’s entirely possible and did occur to me, but that would mean the content they printed was over their own heads wouldn’t it?

    Comment by MI — February 27, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

  20. #19 Just looking through the Web it doesn’t look as if Busen Burners have changed much since I was in Chem Class. These usually use Methane Gas (Natural Gas). What you have in a Chem Lab is a Lab Table with maybe 5-10 Burners running off a manifold. So there is a single shutoff that controls them all not individually. These are very low pressure devices. For most schools I would guess that Max BTU output is 1000. I imagine that the quality of flex lines have improved over the years (they just used rubber tubing before) but the fitting are ‘barbed fittings’. So essentially what you end up with is a manifold with multiple barbs coming off it You push one end of the hose on to this fitting and the hose passes through a hole in the lab bench onto another barb fitting on the burner. Usually there is some kind of keeper as it passes through the hole in the bench otherwise it would be quite simple to pull the tube off the manifold which is below the bench. You have to have a foot or more of hose on the bench surface to move the burner around for different applications.

    Comment by frank — February 28, 2014 @ 6:43 am

  21. #21 thanks. I guess I’m alone in my preoccupation with these details, but that is actually a very informative post. I’d forgotten entirely about the tapered cone with barbed ridges because it is a science lab sort of fitting and I skipped chem lab to hang out in the art room. Also forgot rubber flex which is tough but could be slashed and does decompose. My recollection is that Chichikov’s account refers to a mangled flex which invokes an image of the style used in homes on stoves or dryers which are commonly pinched or sharply folded when the utility is awkwardly shoved in place.

    #18. would seem to make your scenario likely. Funny or pathetic?

    Comment by MI — February 28, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

  22. Friday afternoon potpourri:

    “the power of negative mockery”

    Regretfully, I wasn’t aware of this guy, but I’m charmed by this obit.

    “It’s hard to evaluate how much the casually delivered opinions and insights of an individual can affect the judgments and consensus of a wider population, but Bhob was one of those unique people who come along every generation or so who examines everything, comments on much of what he sees and hears, and challenges a good deal of it. He was never smug or condescending to anyone, always asking questions, expecting answers, relishing every interaction that came along.”

    Comment by MI — February 28, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

  23. Test

    Comment by Jack R — February 28, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

  24. Ya got trouble? (Ya think?)

    Re. Ukraine: Swift-boat Kerry, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion…”

    Jesus help us! Watching what’s happening to the Kievan Rus as the Muscovy Empire under the rule of Grand Prince Vladimir Putin as he re-lives and re-claims the fourteenth through eighteenth centurys must make Jeff Chichikov proud but Kerry confused.

    Comment by Jack R — March 2, 2014 @ 10:41 am

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