Michael Ventura's column in last week's Chronicle ["An Off-Key Carol," Vol. 16, No. 16] reminded me that many people around here seem to be unaware that Christmas has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ. Yule is an ancient Pagan holiday having to do with the Winter solstice (the shortest day of the year). The idea is that it is kind of scary when the Sun goes away and everything dies, so the best thing to do is have a huge party, give everyone extravagant presents, and get drunk. When Christianity spread into Western Europe around 400 A.D., the Christians adopted at least two Pagan holidays (Yule and Easter) in order to make Christianity more palatable to the natives. Nowadays, of course, the true origins of these events are long forgotten.
This brings up an interesting point, however: The so-called "holiday depression" experienced by so many is attributed to the holidays, when in fact the opposite is most likely true -- the holidays are a result of the depression!
Winter is a time of dying, and -- let's face it -- death is a depressing thing. Those people who are more psychically connected to the annual death/renewal cycles of the earth will have a tendency to get depressed.
Yule is quite possibly the invention of a tribal support group intent upon doing something to help cheer up those who got really depressed. If so, this would be an example of true holiday spirit.
Pity the Fools
Bombastic adjectives fail me in search of praise for Michael Ventura's "An Off-Key Carol" [Vol. 16, No.16].
Ventura should read up on Edgar Cayce. It might tie up some of the "loose ends" of faith. And it's great reading (even for the pagans). And speaking of pagans...
Atheist writer Kellen Von Houser ["Postmarks," same issue] asks what she, as an atheist, was supposed to "do" while the city council was engaged in Christian prayer. What, did somebody put a gun to her head and demand that she stand and pray? If she had the courage of her convictions she would pity the infidels who "know not what they do" while wasting precious time in prayer, no? (Wouldn't be the worst waste of tax dollars...)
Von Houser's real problem is employing a false premise as a given.
To the Editors:
John Dolley scratched the surface of tire incinerators' potential for poisoning the aquifer via toxic cement used in construction. Mixed into this concrete will be the heavy metals zinc, chromium, copper, nickel, cadmium, lead, boron, strontium, molybdenum, iron, antimony, arsenic, titanium, and more.
Most of the steel belt will ascend the cement kiln stacks (at San Antonio, San Marcos, New Braunfels, Buda, Odessa, and Midlothian up by Dallas-Fort Worth). Residues of dioxin will even be in this crap! John and I have been entreating the Austin City Council to resolve not to purchase concrete from tire-incinerating cement companies, so far to no avail.
The State of Texas' air and water pollution permitting agency (the TNRCC, or "Ton of Rock") has 116 million tires to incenerate. We'll be paying these creeps 80 cents per tire to poison us! These are the same @#!s who are permitting New York sewage to Big Bend, chopped-up Maine and Vermont nukes to be buried at Sierra Blanca. The list goes on -- they can't do any good, it seems.
In January last, when the "Ton of Rock" announced that a million shredded tires were fixing to be burned at the Buda Lehigh just south of Austin, they said there were to be some metals and some organics (i.e. volatile organic compounds -- we're talking plumes of naphthalem styrene, propylene, toluene, etc.). Airborne streams of poison wafting over millions of innocent, unsuspecting Texans (who are paying $2 per to recycle tires).
Please come join us at the state capitol at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 6, in a statewide protest of this callous disregard for health and welfare by a state agency. Organics indeed!
No tire burning!
Atheist Rights, Part 3
Kellen Von Houser (Letters, Dec. 20) and Harry George (Letters, Dec. 27) are right about the Austin City Council's disrespect for the Constitutional principle of church-state separation. Our Deist and Judeo-Christian founders deliberately created a government without reference to the supernatural. "We the People" are the only source of civic authority.
The facts speak for themselves. A motion to begin sessions of the 1787 Constitutional convention was tabled with only five votes. No session began with a prayer. The Constitution contains no reference to a deity. George Washington did not want a God reference in the Presidential oath of office.
Regrettably, the Austin City Council disrespects our Constitution. "Invocation" appears on the council agenda. An invited minister delivers a prayer. Citizens waiting for official business are asked to stand.
The harms of religion in government are vast, but ignored by zealots for God's Kingdom. Religious government encourages discrimination against nonreligious Americans. It encourages religious social engineering by those lusting for governmental power so they can enforce their beliefs upon everyone. Religion in government leads to the violent conflicts we see in our world which our founders hoped to avoid with a secular government.
Our City Council's disrespect for the Constitution arises, I think, from their theism, a misunderstanding of the value of secular government, and an ignorance of the harms of religion in government. Until they, and the
voters, accept the wisdom of the secular government we received from our founding fathers, disrespect for the Constitution will continue.
Needs vs. Desires
I find it very odd that our government and our newspapers these days consider it absolutely impossible ever to suggest that anyone conserve anything or use less of it. However much you happen to use, that is how much they say you need.
Consider this sentence, from the Austin American-Statesman: "For one hour beginning at 6am Thursday, distribution systems needed 2,227 megawatts of power to meet customers' needs." It would be more accurate to replace the word "needs" with "desires." And, in many cases, very faint desires at that. I may have been one of the customers using electricity between 6 and 7am that day. But I didn't need to use it. If I had had some reason not to use it, I'm sure I could have refrained.
Similarly, if 20,000 single-occupancy cars cross a bridge between 12 and 1 one afternoon, the government and the newspapers say that we need to move 20,000 cars across that bridge each day at noon. Nobody points out to the public that (a) the bridge would be less crowded if everyone in town didn't drive across it at noon, or (b) that pollution and congestion in Austin would be greatly reduced if people would carpool. Mentioning such things to the public is treated as strictly impossible.
But most people don't really need to drive all alone in a car across a particular bridge at lunch hour. They're just in the habit of doing this, and, in many cases, are not even particularly attached to it. Many people would be willing to change their habits, if they knew there was any point in doing so.
But our government continues to promise to solve traffic congestion and pollution problems without any change in driving habits. And this simply can't be done. And since the problem can't be solved in this way, it behooves us to stop throwing away our money and polluting our air and water (two things we really do need) in a quest for phoney "solutions."
Goodbye, Carl Sagan
I don't have too many heroes in this world but I've lost one today -- Carl Sagan, who died from complications related to his rare bone marrow disease. He was 64. Carl Sagan thought he had whipped his illness, but
it came back for him. Mr. Sagan was able to free our minds to see through the mythologies and urban legends in this world and let us face the logic of reality. He reminded me of the late Edward R. Murrow the night he stood up to Jerry Fallwell and his practices of
creationism on Night Line. His Cosmos series was both beautiful and enlightening, and his many books, especially The Dragons of Eden, still stays in my mind to this day. Carl had the courage to stand up against the creationists, mystics, psychics, and other "traveling medicine show" men and women of this modern world and show them for the fakes that they really are. I, for one, will sadly miss him...
I'm sure you are keeping up with the continuing saga of the smoking rules at the Capitol.
The Austin American-Statesman (Saturday, Nov. 2) quotes Rick Crawford, a former Republican legislator from Amarillo, regarding attempts to get the Federal government involved in controlling second hand smoke in the Capitol: "What concerns me the most is that someone would, by use of some federal statute, try to control some function of the Texas state Capitol and state government. Our legislators should make this decision, and not some lady in the Metroplex or some bureaucrat in Washington."
Let's say it a different way -- from the perspective of a citizen of Austin.
"What concerns me the most is that someone would, by the use of some [state legislation], try to control some function of the City of Austin and City government. Our [Council] should make [decisions regarding Austin], and not some [developer at Circle C] or some bureaucrat in [the State Legislature]."
Reminds me of two expressions. "What goes around comes around" and "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."
Hello, is anyone at the top of Congress Avenue listening?
To the Editor,
Can You Keep a Secret?
I don't know what happened to TWA Flight 800, but your readers who wonder about it should be aware of the most basic definition for "Top Secret." It is "information that would cause extreme embarrassment, if released...." All classified information is provided on a strict "need to know" basis. Having worked for 3 years as a security person for a defense contractor, I know that this information is true. Many of our highly paid "civil servants" as well as most of the businessmen who profit from the $780 million (est.) a day that we spend on the military, would be extremely embarrassed if "the people" knew more of the truth.
P.S. This information about classified information is not considered to be classified.
Earn Your Tips
In response to the letter written from the guy complaining about the low wages for waitpeople ["$2.13/Hour Sucks," Nov. 11, 1996], please shut up!!
I know plenty of waitpeople who make good money from their tips. Granted, $2.13/hour is low, however, you can bank on tips, it's just what you're willing to put into your job. If the article you wrote has any reflection on the service you provide your patrons, I can see why you're complaining.
It's a good thing you didn't mention what restaurant you work for, because after reading your letter, I don't think there is a "Backwoods Neanderthal Redneck" around who would offer you their pocket lint, much less their pocket change.
So please, go back to California, make twice as much an hour, and pay twice as much for your rent. I'm sure the surfer-dudes will tip you much better.
Blueprint for America
What Austin and America needs greatly is a blueprint of what we can become. It is outrageous that we have recently decided that almost the worst offenders in America are small children that have been abandoned by their fathers -- these innocents do not even deserve $187 a month so they can survive... their welfare is no longer our concern. And expecting their untrained mom to feed them on a waitress salary of $2.13 an hour... maybe $400 a month is likewise nuts... Are you listening, Robert Dole or Governor Bush? Face the future... we have trashed these kids... and either they will be in the streets eventually or in children's homes... costing about $30,000 a year. Not the present cost of about $2,000. This is financial disaster, social insanity, government deformity.
Frank T. Bartlett
No Tax Deals for Developers
Voters recently soundly defeated Lake Travis Independent School District's try to push a $44.5 million dollar bond issue on its residents. This was to pay for the new schools, etc., that will be needed to accommodate the abundance of new development coming to that area. Why should the current LTISD citizens or citizens of any other city be expected to underwrite this added burden? The developers, new businesses, and those wishing to buy new homes in the area should provide for their particular additional needs since the current residents have already provided theirs.
Currently, big business, developers, and new residents buying new homes are required to assume no responsibility whatsoever for the enormous additional financial burden that all this requires. That burden is shoved immediately on all of us pre-existing residents; and, so long as we are dumb enough to keep shouldering this undeserved burden, it will never change. To me, it seems only logical that new businesses requiring a large influx of people, developers, and the new citizens moving in buying new homes should be required to pay for whatever will be needed for them to settle here. New residents buying pre-existing homes should be exempt from additional charges because that home has already been providing its part of the current needs.
It is so easy for the developers to do their damage, take their huge profits, and, then, move on to do the same thing to some other beautiful, pristine area. Why??? Because they are not required to assume the additional financial responsibility for what they are creating. My taxes should not increase one cent just because some big business chooses to locate in the area where I reside, or some big developer decides to create a new subdivision. By placing the responsibility on those responsible for the need of additional schools, etc., random out of control growth would soon control itself.
Politicians so often cut ridiculous tax deals with big companies wishing to locate in their area which means the current residents have to make up the difference. It sometimes makes me wonder what kind of sweet financial deal the companies make with the politicians. What-ever... that practice should be outlawed immediately.
Governor Bush has been acknowledging the drastic need for a change in our current property tax system. What more fair way is there to accomplish this than to place the additional funding needed directly on those creating the additional needs?
Dear Chronicle editors and staff,
Thanks for the BOA
We'd like to thank you all for the kind words written about us this year. Winning "Best Piece of Glass" in the "Best of Austin" Critics Poll, and the wonderful write-up in the Gift Guide has us speculating on the existence of a Secret Admirer among the staff at the Chronicle. Thank you for noticing, thank you for writing, and thank you for contributing to our best year ever! Best wishes to everyone there for your continued success.
Teresa Ueltschey and Matthew LaBarbera
Fire Island Hot Glass Studio
Dear Editor @ the Chron:
That Giant Sucking Sound
I just want you to know that the giant sucking sound you hear is the vacuum of adequate daily journalism in this town. I have a great idea: why don't we all advertise in the Chronicle, send our announcements there, and subscribe... The Chronicle, in return can subscribe to the used-to-be-called-underground wire service, provide daily comic strips, and throw in some coupons. Then, we can be free of the daily annoyance of and reliance on a hopelessly banal and pedestrian "paper." Thanks for being an adequate source of real news most of the time.
I was surprised and amused by Chris Walters' dim vision of the future of online city sites ["Media Clips," Oct. 11, 1996]. Taking Walters' advice, I took a tour of the sites in the article. I started with Austin 360 and the Houston Chronicle site and have to agree that the experience felt very much like reading bite-sized versions of the print publications that feed them. Reading an online newspaper gave me the same headache I get when I drink a slurpee too fast (I tried really hard to make some connection between slurpees and online city sites -- but this is all I came up with).
Next I looked at CitySearch, which as Walters stated has not yet launched in Austin but offers a general introduction and an invitation to visit their other city sites. Because it was not spawned by the print media, it came the closest to meeting my expectations of a new, usable resource. I don't know what the Austin site will include, but if it is similar to the Raleigh/Chapel Hill site I would access it often and encourage those planning a trip here to check it out.
My search for a sample of Microsoft's CityScape was unsuccessful (although there were some articles in Internet mags predicting the big bad wolf would produce completion for everyone in the online market) as was my search for AOL's Digital Cities.
And finally I stopped at The Austin Chronicle's site which is when the irony of the article started to sink in. What's so funny? First, to suggest that print media-produced sites are a yawner seems like a bad cause of fouling one's own nest. The Chronicle site, which is admittedly cute and graphically spunky, represents the same online rehash Walters' article criticizes. It seems to me that the introduction of a new generation of media sources has the Chronicle singing its familiar David and Goliath song. If anyone should know that the big guys don't always win, it's you guys! (Didn't I just read a really long article in the Statesman about the Chronicle's financial success and profitability??)
The real winner will be the group that offers current, usable information in a way that is more convenient and more fun to access than its traditional counterpart of yesteryear. I doubt this will be the media giants as their imagination is limited to adapting the newspaper to a new format that eliminates most of the things we sentimentally enjoy about handling messy newsprint.
You can't curl up in bed with a terminal and you can't line your bird cage with a web page, but there are good things on the horizon. And I'm glad Austin is in line to benefit from some of them -- even if it does threaten the Chronicle's underdog status.
P.S. Truly the best part of the article was the reference to writers' salaries. I challenge Walters to take a historical look into the Chronicle's payroll books from the early years when Texas Pride beer, 7-11 burritos, and an occasional concert ticket were the most common forms of currency.
[Ed. Note: Since the first issue, Chronicle writers have always been paid at an agreed-upon rate. Chris Walters should know as well as anyone, as he has written for the Chronicle since that first issue.
Surely there are few things in life more tiresome than the whirrings of disgruntled musicians. Having more than once been one myself, I can only say in my defense that it is probably less potentially harmful socially than being, perhaps, a postal worker of similar attitude. From this perspective, gained from much painful experience, I am forced to conclude that Austin's manifest failure as a musical Utopia is rooted in this fact:
Those in charge of musical venues are by the nature of their business required to some extent to be donkey butts. Musicians are forever frustrated in their aspirations to become successful donkey butts. Being a "wannabe" donkey butt can only breed disgruntlement at best, never mind embarrassment.