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Ring Master; Salt in the Wound; S.F.: 237, N.Y.: 1

Ring Master

One man's schlock is another man's crock: I have no idea who Gregory Weinkauf is, but obviously he's a man who has some difficulty making critical distinctions, an impairment he touts at the outset of "Rings of Fire" (Dec. 12) when he groups Terry Gilliam's imaginative Baron Munchausen with the likes of Willow and Dark Crystal. His dismissal of director Peter Jackson as a schlockmeister shows a similar obtuseness to talent. Jackson's Meet the Feebles may be disgusting, but it is also brilliantly written, directed, and produced; it is at times sweet and charming, often hilarious, and a terrific bit of social satire.

And given Mr. Weinkauf's apparent delight in identifying schlock and its meisters, how could he have missed so choice a target as Ralph Bakshi's mercifully aborted cartoon version of LOR? Bakshi took a story whose pages brim with the beauty of landscapes, the joy of friendship, the pleasures of eating, drinking, singing, and just being alive, and turned it into a series of bad acid flashbacks. However badly Jackson may stumble, he could not possibly equal Bakshi's travesty.

Jonathan Harris

Salt in the Wound

Dream weaver: Imagine if a foreign corporation attempted to develop the entire coastline from Santa Cruz to San Francisco and SF Weekly claimed there would be no environmental impacts. Sounds hard to imagine. Why then would the Weekly even bother publishing Jill Stewart's lucid dream about a 167-square-mile industrial development that causes no environmental impact ("Hold on a Minute!," Dec. 12, on responses to previous stories debunking environmentalists' claims that a proposed Mexican saltworks plant would adversely affect gray whales)?

Stewart demonstrates her ignorance by denying that the loss of 500,000 acres of pristine desert and wetland within the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve would have resulted in a blow to the ecological integrity of one of North America's most biologically significant ecosystems.

The significant impacts of an industrial salt project within a federally protected area was the principal reason the Mexican government originally rejected the proposed San Ignacio saltworks in 1995. The project was rejected due to the potential harm to 12 plant species and 72 animal species, including gray whales, peninsular pronghorn, black brant, and red mangrove, and the fact that it was not "compatible with the conservation objectives of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve."

A review of technical documents analyzing the impact of [the plant] operations in and around Scammon's Lagoon and Guerrero Negro Lagoon also demonstrates a long history of environmental degradation and habitat loss there.

Serge Dedina
Author of Saving the Gray Whale
Imperial Beach

A reformed zealot: Jill Stewart hit the saltworks controversy right on the head. Salt reclamation is one of the most eco-friendly industries in Mexico (or the U.S. for that matter). Yet because a certain segment of so-called environmentalists wishes to keep San Ignacio Lagoon a personal whale petting zoo, a landmark opportunity to create a unique meld of biosphere preserve and environment-conscious industry has gone by the wayside.

A new salt evaporative works could be erected at Laguna San Ignacio out of sight of the lagoon, which would preserve the aesthetics of the lagoon. There would be no more threat there to the whales than there has been at Guerrero Negro.

A chance was lost to construct a thriving business that would have employed hundreds of unemployed Mexicans. I wonder how many of these folks have already jumped the border fence?

It is this kind of irresponsible shepherding that has soured many former environmental zealots, driven them away from all issues, including the ones based on sound, rational preservation and stewardship. Sorry to have to say it, but I am one of those people.

David Eidell

We didn't do too well in science, so that must make us environmentalists: As a professor of biology, trained in ecology, I've followed your articles ("Crying Whale" [Nov. 21], subsequent letters from readers, and your follow-up, "Hold on a Minute!," by Jill Stewart) with interest. I must, however, clarify a popular misconception, which Stewart's subtitle ("Ecologists are still trying to spin their phony save the whale campaign") unfortunately perpetuates.

"Ecologist" is not equivalent to "environmentalist," nor is ecology the same as environmentalism. Ecology is a scientific field of study and inquiry of the relationship of organisms, populations, and species to their surroundings. Ecology is a science, and ecologists are professional scientists.

Alternatively, environmentalists are advocates and activists. Whereas many professional ecologists are also environmentalists (as I am), simply because we witness firsthand loss of species diversity, degradation of habitats, introduction of invasive species, and human alterations of ecosystems, the reverse is not often true. Most "environmentalists" are not ecologists and are not scientists.

Herein lies much of the problem. Professional ecologists such as Paul Dayton, whose scientific reputation is beyond reproach, have rendered an opinion based on careful study [that the gray whale would not be adversely affected by the saltworks]. The findings were based upon scientific and ecological methods and were therefore unbiased. Yet environmental activists (note, not ecologists) are unwilling to accept the results. The bottom line is that environmental decisions must be based on good science; anything less erodes the credibility of environmentalists.

Let's hope that good science wins out over personal beliefs. Without it, we stand little chance in solving our increasingly severe and complex environmental problems.

Stan Faeth
Professor, Department of Biology
Arizona State University
Tempe, Ariz.

S.F.:237, N.Y.:1

See! We told Matt Smith he didn't need to go to Paris. But would he listen?: Thank you for your editorial on the proposed "X Plan" draft by Muni ("Visionary Thinking," Matt Smith, Dec. 5). But you need not travel to such far-off cities as Blackpool [England] or Paris to find great public transit! Being a native New Yorker, I feel every city planning official should spend a mandatory stint in the Big Apple to study its incredible subway system.

The transportation problems San Francisco faces are a walk in the park compared to New York City and its surrounding areas. I feel the major problems with San Francisco's transportation are the inept persons (such as [Muni Director] Michael Burns) planning and making idiotic decisions on how to improve transportation and design streets. Hello! Mr. Burns, wake up! We already have a designated bus lane street. It's called Market Street, and it's a nightmare! This guy hasn't got a clue!

The San Francisco street system is insane. Why do we have so many one-way streets? Why so many "no left turn" intersections? Muni and BART are a joke. You can't even buy a ticket from a real person if you're underground. The machines malfunction, and there is no one to help. The subway stations in New York have attendants 24/7 -- why can't we? And if you need change, forget about it!

If planners and public officials are unable to do the job properly, they should be held responsible for their wrongdoing, just as in any workplace. Instead they just sit and year after year do nothing to improve the situation. Meanwhile, we have to pay the consequences. Very frustrating!

Paul Francis
Potrero Hill


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