Letters for the week of April 20 - 26, 2005 

BART congratulates us on a job well done for our earthquake coverage. BART cannot believe how irresponsible we were in our April Fools' Day joke.

"Face up to the risks," Letters, 3/23

Great Work, Guys
BART would like to thank the East Bay Express for its excellent earthquake coverage, which included the work BART's begun on strengthening the system before the next big one. As BART's chief spokesperson, I would like to inform your readers that BART did consider ways to add a fail-safe emergency water-blocking gate to the Transbay Tube. On March 23, 2005 the Express published a letter from reader Jim Doherty from Oakland who said, "such a gate could save thousands of lives and millions, perhaps billions, of dollars by protecting the San Francisco underground stations from sudden flooding. Yet the BART bureaucracy is unlikely to be designing in such a thing."

While a fail-safe, water-blocking gate sounds good, it misses the whole point to the BART's Earthquake Safety Program. The point is to strengthen the BART system so that trains can return to normal operations within a very short time after a major earthquake. But the water-blocking gate doesn't advance that goal. Why? Because a gate blocks the water once it's already come in. Since there's no way to tell where the floodwaters will enter the tube after an earthquake, you have to assume that some portion of the tube will be unusable no matter where any gate is located. Simply put, a water-blocking gate can only treat a symptom of the tube's current flooding problem.
Linton Johnson, Chief Spokesperson, Department Manager, BART Media & Public Affairs, Oakland

"This Week's Day-by-Day Picks," Billboard, 3/30

Wait, On Second Thought
I appreciate your quick return phone call to clarify the April 1 calendar item in your paper, which says, "The producers of Discovery Channel's hit series Monster Car are holding an open-call audition for the mechanics to host a new show: Pimp My Low-Ride." It goes on to say, "Bike mechanics, welders, airbrush masters, stylists, and down cholos of all stripes should bring their low-riders to the south parking lot of the Hayward BART Station, 699 B Street." It was signed by "Nikolai Dime."

You explained to me on the phone this item was a joke. You said this is "done as a gag item on April Fools Day for the past 3 to 4 years." You also believe that regular readers would understand this and that no one will probably show up, and that we could "just put up a sign" explaining that it was a gag.

We at BART do not believe that it is at all clear that this is a joke, and we certainly do not find it funny. In fact, your "joke" comes at the taxpayers' expense. This agency is facing a $54 million budget deficit and today we've had to spend precious staff time trying to determine the source of this bogus information. Furthermore, we will also have to likely put out additional staff at the Hayward BART Station to make sure we clarify to your readers who don't get the "joke" that the calendar item was bogus and the East Bay Express was just trying to be funny.

In the future, please think about the consequences of your "jokes" and realize they can be costly -- as this one will be. Newspapers are supposed to make sure public agencies like BART spend taxpayer dollars wisely. I doubt the taxpayers and riders of BART would be too thrilled to know just how much your gag has cost them.
Linton Johnson, Chief Spokesperson, Department Manager, BART Media & Public Affairs, Oakland

"Dude, Where's My Black Studies Department?" Cityside, 12/1/04

At Best Reactionary, At Worst Xenophobic
As a new member of the African American Studies Department at UC-Berkeley -- one of twelve black female professors in the University -- and as a post-Civil Rights generation African-American woman, one who feels wholly indebted to those who struggled in the 1960s and '70s, I feel I must voice my outrage and deep disappointment with Cecil Brown's comments on the state of this department. Mr. Brown's screed against the African American Studies Department at Cal can only be categorized as misinformed, divisive, retrogressive, and xenophobic.

Mr. Brown contends that the emergence of Diaspora Studies is "code for hiring blacks from the Caribbean and Africa." To suggest that Diaspora Studies is some sort of black immigrant conspiracy against African Americans is at best reactionary and at worst xenophobic. Either way, it replicates the same kind of discriminatory rhetoric employed by Ward Connerly and Condoleezza Rice, who want to dismantle the very system that enabled their success as that system seeks to extend opportunities to others. It replicates the anxieties of Allan Bakke and a host of other white men who cry reverse discrimination when they feel they've been denied something owed them and find a convenient Other -- more Other than themselves -- to scapegoat for their own shortcomings. This sense of victimization comes through when Mr. Brown compares his being denied a job in this department to the endurance of racial epithets by young black women. Despite the unevenness and power imbalance of these two situations -- an established African-American man being refused a job due to budget constraints and a young black woman being called a "black bitch" by frat boys -- this connection, I suppose, is meant to suggest that the University's Caribbean conspiracy, like fraternities, constitutes an "Old Boys' Club."

This disjointedness further reflects how out of touch Mr. Brown is with this generation. Furthermore, Mr. Brown fails to recognize that although the same concerns about access and denial, exclusion and marginalization persist, times themselves have changed: the Movement looks different. Who constitutes that movement has changed as well. Yes, African Americans and African Diaspora immigrants share different cultures and politics. But black immigrants become NOA -- niggers on arrival -- and are thus subject to the same kind of political, cultural, and police racial profiling. Are Abner Louima or Amadou Diallo part of an institutional reactionary strategy?

Yes, African American Studies has work to do in order to best serve the intellectual, political, and communal needs of the embarrassingly few African-American students on campus. The department recognizes this and in a good faith effort, two of the last three new hires in the department have been African-American women who both work on African-American culture. But let's place the brunt of the blame where it belongs: on Proposition 209, Ward Connerly, and state budget cuts which eliminate African Americans from the picture before they can even take a class in the department. If you want to speak truth to power, first learn where the true power lies.
Leigh Raiford, Assistant Professor, Department of African American Studies, University of California, Berkeley

"It's Not Our Fault," Feature, 2/16 and "It's Everybody's Fault," Feature, 2/23

The Psychology of Disaster Denial
The two earthquake issues are great, thorough, and convincing for any "doubters," of which there still are those in denial. There are still some doubters here at our Parker St. co-op 24-unit apartment building. They think there will be plenty of emergency resources generally available, including financing programs to fix damage, and they do not give support to the earthquake committee. Another follow-up story that I would like to see in the Express is on the psychology of disaster denial. I had done research on that issue back during Reagan's administration regarding "Nuclear Disaster Relocation Planning" by FEMA and found a text on the subject of disaster psychology or along that line. It dealt with individual and group denial and riots, looting, etc.

An aspect of East Bay earthquake impact that was touched on some but did not go as far as I felt is should is the "firestorms" that can be caused by the one- and two-story and frame houses that sit on unreinforced cripple walls that will slide off their footings in a major earthquake and break gas lines. Rental houses in Berkeley, Oakland, and southward do not get plywood retrofitted and make every block vulnerable to a fire. This needs further coverage.
Ken Norwood, Berkeley

Knowledge is Power (At Least If Acted On)
I commend you on your superb series on our own Hayward Fault, "It's Not Our Fault," by Kara Platoni, and "It's Everybody's Fault," by Robert Gammon. It should be required reading for everyone in government and public safety who is in a position to plan for a quake on the Hayward. It should also be read by all home and building owners and those, such as school administrators, responsible for the safety of others, such as our students and families. Knowledge is power, and we will need all the power we can get to deal with both the short- and long-term aftermath of the quake that will surely come. Thanks for a very important public service.
Lyrinda Snyderman, Berkeley

"The Information We Are Given," East Side Story, 3/23

NY Times reporter was Motivated By Ideology
Justin Berton's portrait of Judith Miller as a passionate, egotistical embedded reporter who is militant about her beliefs but refuses to accept responsibility for her mistakes seems correct. Miller's troubles arise from the reluctance of her editors at The New York Times to recognize that she was motivated by an ideology shared with her sources, militant Iraqi defectors, including Ahmed Chalabi. A truly independent reporter would not have placed so much reliance on these sources and dismissed more reliable ones, such as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, as well as Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
George Banks, Oakland

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