Re: “Derailed
Dreams” by Charles Rappleye [March 29–April 4]
. The Bus Riders Union is
not only bad for L.A.’s transit future but an insult to the civil rights movement.
And it’s not just about rail. Salaried BRU organizers have opposed busways,
the Rapid Bus program, the upcoming Universal Fare Smart Card technology and
a study to allow college students to receive subsidized transit passes. Sound
hysterical? At a recent MTA meeting, they passed out fliers stating that the
East L.A. light-rail project would disturb the dead at nearby Evergreen Cemetery
and cause cancer in the living.

The BRU knows that federal dollars earmarked for capital improvements have
not one penny to do with bus operating funds but constantly repeat the lie that
it is “bus money stolen for rail.” When cornered with the truth, they simply
shout the lie louder and scream racism. Do we really have to have our future
held hostage to race-baiting liars?

—Roger Christensen
Sherman Oaks


In Charles Rappleye’s condemnation of the predilection of the Bus Riders Union
for buses over rail, he declares that rail is a “faster, more comfortable alternative
to the bus.” Is he not ignoring the obvious fact that buses go everywhere while
rail can serve only certain corridors? It would be helpful to see a more substantial

—Kirby Baker
Los Angeles

Charles Rappleye described the Consent Decree non-decision
by the Supreme Court with precision. The only thing more troublesome than the
lousy bus service of the MTA is the decision to improve it with a Consent Decree
that puts too much power in the hands of a single judge.

Rail is indeed part of the answer, as is improved bus service,
with or without more buses. They’re not mutually exclusive. A three-part approach
to mass transit is quite simple:

1) More buses to areas that need access to the larger-capacity
(i.e., higher-ridership) transit corridors; 2) rapid bus service along those
corridors that have a higher ridership, to ensure smoother and quicker service;
3) rail and/or subway lines in those corridors that have much too high ridership
for buses to be a real solution.

The Bus Riders Union’s fixation pushes the first part of the
solution at the expense of the other two. I am a physician who for years has
treated minority patients, many transit-dependent, and I am appalled by the
“racialist” — i.e., racist — contentions of Eric Mann and the BRU.
Pushing the race card at inappropriate junctures is what has given liberalism
such a black eye for the last 10 to 15 years, and limiting a rail system that
is used predominantly by minority riders is an excellent example of this counterproductive

The BRU claims that rail serves predominantly white, suburban
neighborhoods. Are they referring to the Blue Line, which serves a predominantly
black and brown area between Long Beach and L.A.? Are they referring to the
Gold Line, which will serve predominantly Latino East L.A.? Are they referring
to the first phase of the Exposition Light Rail, which will be in the mid-city
and serve predominantly black South Los Angeles?

I only hope Judge Bliss will now recognize that the Consent
Decree does not entitle the BRU to “own” the MTA, which has for several
years striven greatly to meet the spirit of the Consent Decree’s push to improve
bus service. The BRU members who have been sold a bill of goods by the egotistical
and dangerous Eric Mann need to remember that the same rail system that goes
right up to their headquarters (as the Red Line does, you know) will predominantly
be used by bus riders. The clueless sponsors of the BRU who pay Mr. Mann’s overpaid
salary need to see how he has trashed the image of the BRU and replace him immediately
with a less confrontational and more results-oriented leader.

Kenneth Alpern, M.D.
Los Angeles

Your column accurately states that more buses stuck in the
same traffic will not get us to a better place. If we accept that our freeways
are already used by many more vehicles than their design capacity, and anticipate
the continued growth in our human and vehicle populations, we should focus on
two things: 1) securing the maximum amount of federal, state and other funding
for our transportation systems, and (2) making sure that we spend those funds

In his brief tenure in Los Angeles, I believe that MTA chief
Roger Snoble has demonstrated the vision and the skills to move us all forward.
Eric Mann has shown nothing of the sort, yet he has somehow arrived at a position
where he can hurt us all. I cringe.

Andrew Shaddock
Manhattan Beach

If the Bus Riders Union were truly dedicated to helping out
transit riders, they could attempt to achieve their goals through bond measures
or initiatives, as rail advocates did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Instead, the BRU
has become a bully with its brainwashed members chanting six-year-old slogans
about “transit racism” that hardly seem appropriate for a light-rail
system that runs through the heart of Compton and South Los Angeles. Is it racist
to provide commuters with better options? With oil supplies dwindling, traffic
increasing and environmental pollution remaining a constant concern, rail transit
in Los Angeles is a necessity, not a luxury.


James Fujita
Rancho Palos Verdes

When I first moved to Los Angeles from New York, I was baffled
by the Bus Riders Union. Back in New York, we have the Straphangers Campaign,
which seeks to improve transit by encouraging the purchase of more buses and
the development of better rail service. The idea of a group opposing rail service
under the guise of improving transit makes absolutely no sense. Anybody who
knows anything about transit knows there’s a necessity for both bus and rail,
depending on the density and length of the corridor. Sure. building rail lines
costs more. But construction costs are temporary. The reason rail systems are
used in large cities around the world is because the real issue is operational
costs, which are permanent. Since one bus operator can only move 40 or 50 people,
while a train operator — earning the same salary — can move as many as 1,000
people, how hard is it to understand that building rail is cheaper, more efficient,
faster, and the better long-term solution in dense areas? Besides, what good
does it do, exactly, to keep pouring buses into areas that are already grid-locked?

It’s a shame the BRU is so focused on its ideology. They are,
in many ways, their own worse enemy.

Roger Rudick
Los Angeles

I agree with Charles Rappleye in that the Bus Riders Union’s
transportation priorities would be really bad for L.A.’s future mobility. Better
local bus service is only one component of transportation. We also need better
roads, HOV lanes, and a greatly expanded rail system to meet current and future
mobility needs in Southern California. A 69 poercent yes vote for Proposition
42 on March 5 shows that commuters are fed up with traffic, and that they are
willing to put their gas-tax money where their mouth is.

Daniel Walker
Los Angeles

At the risk of positioning myself on the un–politically correct
side of this issue, I have to agree with many of Mr. Rappleye’s points. I am
a huge supporter and fan of public transportation — indeed, I ride a MTA bus
most of the week to work. However, the myopic view that rail is evil and buses
are the only solution is frustrating and absurd. When I worked downtown, I often
used the Red Line, and I yearn for a regional rail system that will allow me
to get to all of the major city nodes — a sentiment which I know is shared by
many others. To see a long-awaited rail connection between downtown and Pasadana
in danger of being scrapped is maddening.

And by the way, if we do have to drag the issue of race into
this argument, Mr. Rappleye is correct — ride any of MTA’s rail lines and you
will see virtually the exact same demographics as MTA’s buses. Yes, bus service
could — and should — be better. But to improve bus lines in the short-term at
the expense of a long-term regional public-transit solution is shortsighted
and foolish.

David du Mars
Los Angeles

Kudos to the Weekly! It’s about time someone told the
truth about the Bus Riders Union. They have been telling tales and dropping
jaws all over town for years. Anyone who has taken a Red, Blue, or Green Line
train knows who takes this convenient, dependable mode of transit: every imaginable
ethnic and socio-economic group. I took the Blue Line for two years through
Compton, Long Beach, Willowbrook, South Central L.A., etc. I shared space with
executives, housewives, construction workers, gangbangers. There were no problems
or hassles: I loved it! Don’t let the BRU take away what makes L.A. great: diversity
and increased mobility for all.

Nick Santangelo
Los Angeles

I’d like to clear up two important points of misinformation:

1) The Consent Decree was not an agreement to purchase 50 to
100 buses and then stop (as if that’s enough buses to solve any problem). The
Consent Decree, in short, is an agreement to remedy the problem of overcrowding,
specifying buses being the priority.

2) As far as the issue of racial discrimination, our case was
based on residential racial patterns and the lack of equal access to the public-transit
system based on these patterns. It was not based on an individual rider taking
a sample glance of his/her surroundings and assuming that this is a clear representation
of transit riders across the board. If you can stop for a moment and see where
this rail system is going both geographically and politically (or rather, where
it isn’t going), it becomes clear who stands to benefit from its construction,
and who stands to loose.


Clinton Cameron
Member, Bus Riders Union
Los Angeles

I guess these limousine liberals would rather have bus riders
spending hours stuck in traffic than speeding across town on rails. The “rapid
bus” still takes more than an hour to travel from the downtown to the Westside,
a trip the Red Line could make in less than half the time if it were extended
past Western Avenue to the places people want to go, like LACMA/Miracle Mile,
Fairfax/Farmer’s Market, Beverly Hills, Century City, UCLA/Westwood, West L.A./Federal
Building, and Santa Monica. It’s time to ignore the Bus Riders Union and finish
the job of building the Metro Rail system, approved by L.A. voters in the 1980s,
including lines to the Eastside, Westside, South Bay and the Valley. Unfortunately,
the BRU, NIMBY groups and the courts have thwarted the will of the people. This
political gridlock will only help to ensure that LA continues its downward spiral
while other cities modernize and prosper.

Kirk D Schneider

My question is, what do your readers want, better mass transit
for many people now or better mass transit for a few people later? Bus or rail?
The folks who argue in favor of rail have never offered a coherent long-term
plan for where L.A. should build tracks. Instead, they let fat-cat contractors
corrupt spineless politicos into shortsighted, piece-by-piece proposals. The
contractors want to build the rail system wrong now so they can be paid again
tomorrow to rebuild it right.

The best solution is clear. First, solve the short-term problem.
Put more busses on the streets now and let people ride for free. Efficient,
free bus transport will significantly empty the streets of cars.

Second, for the middle term, develop a plan for where rails
should be laid — probably a hub system like Tokyo’s efficient “spider web.”
Then build the pieces of that system according to intelligent adherence to the
master plan, not according to whose pockets get fattest fastest.

Third, remember this: We live in the last days of a rapidly
ending Ice Age. Ice is melting, the sea level is rising. In 500 years or so,
most of Los Angeles will lie under water; the City of Industry will be beachfront
property. The long-range solution is boats.

William Slattery
Los Angeles

Thanks for shining a light on the Bus Riders Union. Just because
an organization starts out great, doesn’t mean it should never be looked at
again. I’ve worked for social-justice causes my whole adult life, so it has
pissed me off no end being labeled a racist because I support light rail as
a part of L.A.’s transit future. Between its weirdness about finances and mind-boggling
salaries for its key people (“grassroots” my ass), grossly inflated
membership numbers,and stunning instances of doublespeak (director Eric Mann’s
public statement in November that the MTA had “met the criteria” of
the federal agreement followed the next day by his admission that he really
didn’t mean it), this is a group with very little credibility left. I hope the
ACLU, the NAACP and Liberty Hill — organizations I deeply admire — will look
at the BRU with fresh eyes. Until the BRU is able to make major changes in its
goals, its rhetoric and its tactics, it does not deserve their support.

Karen Mathews
Los Angeles



Marc Cooper’s story about Bush’s military escalation
in Colombia [“Mission
Creep,” Dissonance, March 29–April 4]
posits an irrationality of purpose
to the U.S. mission there. Looking at Colombia only, that would be true. However,
the real goal is control of Venezuelan oil. Increased U.S. proximity to this
huge energy source, in the minds of Oily Bubba and the Corporate Thieves, translates
to guaranteed U.S. access. Never mind that the overall practice of oil dependence
— no matter what the source — is itself irrational and doomed to war and other
conflagration. Is the U.S. public ready to make the switch to renewable and
sustainable? I think yes, and we deserve the courage of leadership not only
to say so but to do so. Does anyone doubt we need a change of regimes here in
order for that to happen?

—Larry A. Piltz
Austin, Texas

I am writing in regards to Marc Cooper’s article “Mission
Creep.” Instead of advising people to throw out their V.I. Lenin and crack
open some Freud, may I suggest that the cynical might pass along the relevant
works of Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism and State and
to the youth who may have to fight in these wars that you seem
to think are just bad policy and not the need to dominate the markets of the


Joseph Wagner
South Pasadena

Marc Cooper’s story on Colombia and the involvement of the
U.S. in the Colombian conflict lacks in research and draws irresponsible and
dangerous conclusions. The largest consumer of Colombian drugs in the world
can not possibly deny its already terrible contribution to the ills of its close
neighbor. Mr. O’Grady says it is beyond him to see how any U.S. involvement
would help alleviate things in Colombia. How about starting with some action
on drug consumption in the U.S., and dropping the double standard where growing
and producing drugs is evil but consuming the, is cool?

Paola Lozano
New York



Re: “It Ain’t
Cool” [On, March 29–April 4]
. Fine piece by John Powers. I’m very sorry
to hear about Henry Sheehan getting let go by the Orange County Register.
But I was more amazed that he was even there for that long. Mostly because he’s
so good, and the few times I’ve seen that paper (when visiting family in Seal
Beach), it’s been, well, if not lame, certainly limping.

—Sally Cragin
Fitchburg, Massachusetts


I was put off, to say the least, by John Powers’ article. Undeniably, Harry
Knowles is a film geek, and no, he has no life outside of enjoying films, but
the man has etched out a symbiotic way of life with the very thing he loves
so dearly. If only every human on Earth found such luck.

—Joe Scott
Wake Forest, North Carolina

That great inrush of air you hear is the collective online
film community sighing in despair as, yet again, Harry Knowles is assumed to
represent us and what we do. I sympathize with John Powers — I really do. Film
criticism is suffering a crisis of major proportions, and the news of Henry
Sheehan’s ouster is distressing. Powers’ point that few serious critics can
make a living at the job is especially well taken, because there are many of
us on the Internet who take the job seriously and make little or no money at
it. We are not all “self-promoting fanboys,” which is perhaps why
no one seems to take much notice of us. But there are a goodly handful of us
who don’t get flown to movie sets to hobnob with stars and directors, who use
exclamation points judiciously, who don’t break review embargoes, don’t post
rumors or gossip, and don’t review test screenings. We have a decent understanding
of film history, and we don’t have editors and advertisers pressuring us to
be nice to the industry. We are independent and fearlessly opinionated.

There may not be many of us online, but we’re not that hard
to find: A quick look through critics quoted at Rotten Tomatoes would
reveal some wonderful, professional critics on the Internet: Jeremiah Kipp,
Jill Cozzi, Bryant Frazer, to name a few. I hope that my own work may be Considered
AS professional as it is possible to be without me actually being paid for the

We’re here. We’re not as sexy a story as that of Harry Knowles’
latest ravings, but please don’t assume that Knowles is the future of film “criticism.”
He isn’t. Some of us will carry the torch until the art is appreciated once

MaryAnn Johanson


Once again, a column bemoaning the death of conventional film
criticism trots out the odious Harry Knowles as the one and only symbol of where
film criticism is headed. Powers is correct in lamenting the rise of syndicated
critics in print media, as if fewer opinions about anything were a good thing.
In an era in which CNN’s Walter Jacobson meets with Republican leaders to find
out how the crown jewel of televised news can better cannibalize the audience
of the yapping Fox News, though, I suppose it’s inevitable. Still, I’d like
to reassure John Powers, and your readers, that serious film criticism for its
own sake is alive and well, though you may not find it in the usual places.

As conventional print opportunities fall by the wayside, critics
who write about film have taken to the Web, and they aren’t all fanboys like
Harry Knowles. Indeed, the most fiercely independent voices have found a home
on the Web, because we aren’t invited to press junkets, we often don’t go to
special screenings, we are often completely ignored by the studios. Many of
us sit in movie theatres with the rest of the hoi polloi, to achieve the full
filmgoing experience.


Yes, there are terrible writers on the Web; witness some of
the work that appears in Ain’t It Cool News. But I would put some of
the best Web film critics up against their print and broadcast counterparts,
many of whom are merely converted writers from other departments, any day of
the week. MaryAnn Johanson of The Flick Filosopher (https://www.flickfilosopher.com)
has been cited by Variety and Time as one of the best critics
on the Web. Stephen Himes of Film Snobs (https://www.filmsnobs.com)
is not just a knowledgeable, insightful film critic, but one of the best overall
essayists I’ve read anywhere. Australia’s Mark Freeman of Critical Eye (https://home.vicnet.net.au/~freeman/welcome.htm)
has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history that I would put up against that
of any print critic.

These are not lone voices. Web-based communities to bring online
critics together with the public have been successful at a time when conventional
media sites, such as Mr. Showbiz, are closing their doors. Cinemarati: The Web
Alliance for Film Commentary, was founded in January 2001 for just this purpose
— to bring together Web critics with film lovers in a true community. In our
first year we received over a million visitors. It’s clear that there is a demand
for insightful film writing, even if mainstream media don’t see it. Don’t let
the ubiquity of Harry Knowles fool you that superficial, “gee-whiz-wow”
fanboy geeking is the future of film criticism. We are out there, you just need
to look further.

Jill Cozzi
Westwood, New Jersey




I applaud Judith Lewis’ article “Dealing
With Druggies” [March 29–April 4]
. Random drug tests are unconstitutional
and demeaning. In my experience, treating a child like a criminal is a sure-fire
way to ensure that he or she grows up to become one. Instead, let’s try treating
children with frankness, honesty and respect.

—Adam Wiggins

“‘It’s astonishing to see how what should be sound legal reasoning has been
distorted by drug-war rhetoric,’ says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of
the Drug Policy Alliance.” Mr. Nadelmann is being myopic. Surely the distortion
in the legal reasoning of the Supreme Court goes much deeper than the drug war.

—Terrence T. Downes
South Pasadena


Re: “The Binge”
[Ant Farm, March 29–April 4]
. Robert Lloyd is correct in his testament to
reading’s ability to transport and illuminate. The least hopeful of us are those
who cannot or, sadder still, will not read. Their worlds will remain forever
narrow and skimpy and drained of color.

—George Radai


Last week’s story “The
Mission Is on a Mission
,” about a religious monthly’s coverage of
Cardinal Roger Mahony, repeated information in an Los Angeles Archdiocese e-mail
that was incorrect. Father Peter Liuzzi does not, in fact, teach at Crespi Carmelite
High School in Encino.

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