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Letters to the Editor 

Battle Royal; Something to Crow About; Big Bad Bell

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Battle Royal

Guilt and innocents: Thank you for exposing this story to your California readers ("Law and Borders," Nov. 14, on an epic child custody war between courts in California and Texas). Debra [Schmidt] is guilty of nothing but loving her children. I live in Texas and have followed this story here long before your California readers may have been aware. Free Debra Schmidt!

Jack Shaheen
Lago Vista, Texas

Something to Crow About

An odd bird: Thanks for the great article talking about our friend Luis Baptista and the important work he did, along with the many charming and endearing things that made him Luis ("Songs of Science," Night Crawler, Nov. 7). Having worked next door to him (in the California Academy of Sciences library, next to the birds and mammals department) for nearly 20 years, we had almost daily doses of this fascinating, egalitarian, sharing and caring, eccentric human being.

Luis was such a character, and our lives, although enriched, are just a little bereft without him. I'm not a bird owner, but I have a couple of aquariums at work, and Luis often brought me contributions, both plant and animal. We once ventured to a small, somewhat obscure fish store out on Clement -- where, of course, Luis knew the owners, and while he introduced me as a friend, in English, they all spoke together in Chinese for the better part of an hour, with great fun and animation.

Anyway, there have been numerous articles written about him, but I think I like yours the best! Luis would have enjoyed your tales and antics, as we enjoyed his.

Lesley Segedy
Library Assistant
California Academy of Sciences

Golden Gate Park<

We believe birds talk. We just doubt they have anything interesting to say: Beautiful article! An absolute thrilling pleasure to read. Thank you. Has there been any progress in understanding and documenting the bird language? I think most people are unfortunately too egocentric to believe that birds actually "talk" to each other until we can gain an understanding of their native languages.

Sebastian Chedal
Japantown

Big Bad Bell

Playing a game of monopoly: Matt Smith's call for economic patriotism in the form of dismantling the Bells is brilliant and timely ("Call to Patriotism," Nov. 7). I was disappointed, however, by the comments from the consumer advocacy group TURN (The Utility Reform Network), a group I greatly admire and respect. TURN is excellent at standing up for California consumers on regulatory issues that often go unopposed in other states because of their complexity. However, characterizing the movement to further divest SBC/Pac Bell as a monumental waste of time because it moves the discussion away from things like lowering connection rates for competing phone companies (theoretically achievable and helpful for consumers) misses the whole point.

As anyone in our industry can attest, the price of "interconnection" is not the sole obstacle, though it is a serious one. Across the country we have seen every Bell company leverage its control over the local network into a secondary monopoly on high-speed Internet access through a combination of discriminatory provisioning and pricing.

The problems faced by Covad for instance, for something as simple as renting floor space for its DSL equipment at Pac Bell's network office, are legendary in their foolishness. California's small local Internet service providers have suffered even worse treatment, and unlike Covad, this abuse is largely unaddressed by regulators or even consumer groups, who view ISPs as alien entities completely unworthy of protection from phone company violations. Yet ISPs are essentially consumers, albeit very large ones.

The inherent conflict in the existing system (depending on companies like Pac Bell to do something contrary to their own self-interest, i.e., providing connections to their competitors) has been apparent to America's ISPs for quite some time. On the most elementary level, if affordable, ubiquitous basic phone service were our sole concern, we might have been better off with a tightly regulated monopoly. But the world is more complex than that, and we are too far down the road now to look back. With the competitive industry in ruins, concentrating on only one piece of the puzzle, like pricing, does far too little, too late. The necessary further divestiture of this country's local phone monopolies is in fact possible when we are willing to engineer public policy to address the problem, but it will never happen if consumer groups and competitive businesses fail to even ask for it.

Sue Ashdown
Executive Director
American ISP Association

Washington, D.C.

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