Run, Max, Run

Dear Mr. Black:

I would like to respond to your editorial calling for Max Nofziger to withdraw from the mayor race, for fear of him "splitting the progressive/environmental/liberal vote with Kirk Watson."

You call Max's difference with Ronney (aka "Ratso") Reynolds and Kirk Watson on the charter amendment for campaign finance reform a "small sliver" on which to mount a political campaign. First of all, this "sliver," campaign finance reform, is probably the most important single issue in our country right now. Secondly, if Max succeeds in his effort to not only win the race, but to win it by having the smarts to abide with the campaign finance reform charter amendment's $100 limits before the voters even pass it, a new political environment will immediately be created. That political environment will open up the possibility that we can go beyond "liberalism" versus "conservatism," by uniting the "progressive" voters you referenced , with all voters who want an honest political process. This new electoral plurality (we think that a three-way race is about to emerge in Austin politics) can then participate in creating some new and, hopefully, workable solutions.

The Chronicle should be thrilled that Max's move has now created a real contest for mayor -- competition is good for progressives if we just use it. Ratso Reynolds is clearly out of the question for democracy-minded voters in Austin. But how 'bout Mr. Watson, who said he would have voted with Ronney to stop campaign finance reform from getting on the ballot? Do you really think Mr. Watson is going to listen to the progressive vote if they have nowhere else to go? If so, why?

You yourself make reference to Max's greatest strength in this race which is all that we voters can ask for at this point -- honesty and respect for the voting rights of Austinites.

On behalf of the 29,231 Austinites who signed petitions for "A Little Less Corruption," we say run, Max, run, we're just ahead of you.


Linda Curtis

Co-chair, Priorities First!

Maxed Out

Dear Austin Chronicle,

I wanted to express my appreciation for Louis Black's piece on Max running for Mayor. I agree that Max has been a wonderful rallying point for many of us in the Austin community, and I appreciate his years of service. But I question his motivation for running, and honestly, Max is not the leader that I want representing me as the Mayor of Austin. I suppose I question his motivation after only taking a six-month break, when he stated that he was burned out. Max could still go down as a legend in Austin politics -- another one of those things that makes us proud to live in this city. I hope that he has the strength of character to recognize his mistake.


Peter Tucker

Underfunded Schools

Dear Editor:

One of the "few rough spots" in the current education law not discussed by Roseana Auten in her January 3, 1997 article [Vol. 16, No. 18] "Schools in Session" is the financing of public school facilities in Texas. This is one aspect of the school finance law that has not been adequately addressed and could lead to further litigation. The state legislature balked at providing equalized state funding for school facilities during the last legislative session and instead instituted a $170 million grant program. However, more than half of the eligible school districts did not receive grants because of underfunding by the state.

Back in 1992, the Texas Education Agency estimated school districts would need almost $3 billion to meet their facilities needs. With the support of the Equity Center, we conducted a survey this summer of Texas school districts which revealed $4.76 billion in facilities needs for districts represent[ing] 38% of the students in Texas. The need for all districts in the state is undoubtedly higher. School facilities needs are driven by several factors including student growth, aging buildings and deferred maintenance. We visited schools where children were eating in the hallways because there was simply not enough room in the cafeteria, and saw two school campuses made entirely of portable buildings.

The state legislature must revisit the issue of equalized state funding of school facilities during this legislative session. If concern for the equal education of Texas school children is not enough of an incentive, perhaps the threat of further school finance legal battles is. The Texas State Supreme Court left the door open for litigation in its last decision if school districts can prove they cannot meet their operations and facilities needs within the current system; based on our research, this is clearly the case.

Michele McLaughlin and Lisa Dawn

Graduate Students, LBJ School of Public Affairs

Get Rid of Sex Ads

To the Editor:

I wonder how many other readers feel as I do about your "gentlemen's entertainment" pictorial ads but don't voice their opinions out of a sense of futility. Well, I can no longer remain silent. I'm tired of being held captive to the weekly parade of silicone augmentation. If I wanted to see this stuff, I'd tune in to Baywatch. In the past you've justified your decision to accept these ads by arguing they generate part of the Chronicle's estimated $4 million in gross annual revenue, out of which staffers (whose work addresses the city's real issues) are paid. Uh-huh. Guess what? I'm not buying it.

Don't misunderstand me. The women pictured in the ads have the right to make their living in any legal manner they choose. I just don't want to see, week in and week out, ads for the establishments where they do so. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if the ads were grouped together, as are the print sex ads at the back of the book. Then readers who wanted to see the ads could seek them out; others (like me) could skip 'em. Instead, every reader is treated to a weekly barrage of minimally clad, big-haired beauties, their breasts projecting into our fields of vision like so many torpedoes.

To be sure, Austin is confronted with other issues: poverty, racial division, and environmental degradation, to name three. However, it's disingenuous to say these problems preclude debate about the Chronicle's acceptance of pictorial ads for "gentlemen's entertainment." I urge you to reexamine your policy and welcome renewed debate on the topic.


Cheryl Dragel

Top Ten Toxins: Postmarks

Dear Austin Chronicle:

I thoroughly enjoyed your top ten lists in the last issue. One thing that was missing, though, was "Top Ten Toxic Troubles for Texas." According to reports released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the National Environmental Law Center, the Lone Star State ranks #1 for toxic chemical accidents (one-fifth of all such accidents in the U.S. occur in Texas). These reports also show that Senators Gramm and Hutchinson ranked second and third for most money accepted from chemical companies fighting against the community's right to know about toxics. I could go on, but the fact of the matter is that we've got some serious problems in Texas. There are hundreds of industries that use toxic chemicals and don't take the responsibility to inform the public of potential dangers. Nor do they inform us when these chemicals are being transported on our roads, or are present in products we buy. The public has a right to know so that we can get Texas off the "Top Ten Most Toxic States" and off of the "Top Ten Easiest Politicians to Influence with Special Interest Dough."


Dan Stafford

Media Skips

Dear Chron,

While I enjoyed Chris Walters' review of the sorry state of corporate reporting ("Mediocre Media '96," Vol. 16, No. 18), I took exception when Mr. Walters wrote:

"The Simpson trial... revealed a society broken into opposing tribes, each wedded to separate realities... A sequel of sorts occurred this year when the San Jose Mercury-News' expose of drug-running CIA goons was misread as evidence of a sinister white cabal dedicated to the destruction of black people...."

I was astonished to see Mr. Walters nearly parroting mass media race-baiting used in attacks on the S.J. Mercury "Dark Alliance" series. The series showed that the crack plague in L.A. (and the U.S.) found its origins in the CIA's Contra army. The big media, however, relegated black outrage over these revelations to the realm of "Negro Conspiracy Theories." The big media neglected to mention that: Legal evidence showed that the Contra agents specifically targeted predominantly black South Central L.A. White Americans (ex-DEA agents and others) have been long saying that the War on Drugs (WoD) is racist -- that the WoD, as part of a psy-war ploy to divide America, is directly linked to unhindered drug running by CIA assets. The majority of drug users are white, but minorities are stereotyped as the locus of the drug scourge. Prison sentences for crack possession (less pure, but drug-of-choice for poorer inner-city addicts) are vastly more punitive than penalties for powdered cocaine (more pure, used by whites). The WoD has jailed more blacks than whites. America has ranked first worldwide in incarcerating its citizens. Prisons are our fastest-growing industry, attributable to the WoD.

Anyone interested in understanding the duplicity of the War on Drugs will find these web sites useful:

Best regards,

Lee Berte

That Underwater Lizard

Dear Mr. Black,

I address this letter to all those short-sighted environmentalists who spit and froth over the demise of those underwater lizards at Eliza Springs. Every time y'all rend your hair and cry out about some poor aquatic creature at Barton Springs swimming pool the swimmers are penalized.

Case in point: First, some fishies die resulting in environmental hue and cry. Pool maintenance is stopped and volunteers are called upon to use scrub brushes to clean the pool. We end up swimming in a scum pond. Next, y'all whine about fecal coliform in the swimming pool. Daily monitoring ensues with frequent pool closings. This silliness continues until it's pointed out that the fecal coliform is probably of animal origin upstream and that swimming pool water does not have to meet drinking water standards. Now, whenever the pool is cleaned y'all moan and groan over dead underwater lizards, stirring the Feds and state E-men to wag their fingers at the city -- which stops cleaning the pool!

So what? Well, aside from the visceral displeasure of swimming through algae with the consistency of cold, green mucus, there is the danger of slippery, algae-coated pool steps and bottom. In addition, silt continues to build up, allegedly choking y'alls beloved lizard, and clouding the pool.

Point is folks, every time y'all carry on over some perceived environmental threat to the swimming pool it results in either a degradation of the pool or pool closure. Either way the swimmers suffer. Back off, people -- your interest in our swimming pool is hurting, not helping.

Take your choices: Put the canaries on the endangered species list and coal miners die. Put that underwater lizard on the endangered species list and no more swimming in Barton Springs Pool!

Still floundering,

Rand Brace

The Chicken or the Salamander?

Dear Editor,

On one side, the salamander scientists. They found dead salamanders in Eliza Springs and immediately blamed pool maintenance as the cause. For years these scientists have been looking for an excuse to close Barton Springs Pool to the public. Now they have found it. They have lost the forest for the trees. In their zeal to list the salamander as an endangered species they are willing to sacrifice the pool. When it's closed, they will blame the developers.

On the other side, the developers, who have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to force the closure of the pool and stick it to the salamander scientists. This time, the salamander scientists have given it to them: pool maintenance. It will matter not to the developers if Barton Springs Pool is closed. They figure Barton Springs Pool and the salamander are dead any way. With Barton Springs Pool closed, they'll have their ultimate revenge against everyone who voted for S.O.S., and blame it on the salamander scientists.

In the middle of this "chicken race" are the rest of us, the senior citizen regulars who have depended on those waters for years as their health source, the three-year-olds who learn to swim in the shallow end, people from all over who come and look with amazement that something like this could exist in the middle of a city. Barton Springs Pool, an endangered species. Kiss it goodbye.

One day soon there will be a new sign on the pool gate that will read something like this: "The City of Austin regrets that it is unable to guarantee a proper standard of care to persons using Barton Springs Pool and also protect the Barton Springs salamander. This pool will remain closed until further notice."

Pete Connelly

Misty, Algae-Colored Memories


So, due to the two recent salamander kills in Eliza Springs, the state has stepped in and now Barton Springs Pool will no longer be lowered for cleaning. New cleaning procedures will have to be devised. In the meantime, algae will continue to grow on the bottom in the shallow end, making the shallow end dangerously slippery. Floating, unsightly clumps of green algae will proliferate. All this has happened in the past. The number of complaints about the algae will also proliferate, just like in the past. I imagine City of Austin Aquatics and The Department of Parks & Recreation, not to mention the staff of Barton Springs, are secretly pleased they can refer any complaints to The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and any other state agency which may be pressuring the city not to lower the water. However, before they start complaining, people should realize that clean does not necessarily mean algae-free. Scraping algae off the bottom of the shallow end creates a massive amount of silt, which accumulates in the deep end of the pool. When this silt is stirred up during periods of high bather loads, it decreases visibility from a normally pristine 15-plus feet to a disgustingly cloudy four feet or less. Some limited cleaning can continue. Current procedures can clean the slickest and most dangerous areas, such as the stairs and the very shallowest areas where a fall would be the most likely to cause injury. The resulting silt can be easily pumped out of the pool. In addition, some of the floating algae can be skimmed off the water if it should accumulate to annoying levels. In any event, any cleaning procedures that are even potentially harmful to the Barton Springs salamander should be avoided. As long as this fragile creature swims in our swimming hole, we can rest (or swim) assured the pool is clean and safe for swimming, no matter how much algae is floating on the water or growing on the rocks.

James Saunders

Bible Quiz!

Dear Editor:

Is Ken Kennedy aware that some blithering idiot has written a letter over his signature? ("Postmarks," Vol. 16, No. 19). Since the writer slanders atheists, let me set him straight: 1) "Mr. Houser" is a lovely female. 2) If governmentally sanctioned prayer doesn't bother him, he's unfamiliar with the First Amendment. 3) Atheism to an atheist is living life without reference to the supernatural. It is the Christian, who cannot prove the existence of deity, who accuses the atheist of denying deity. Passing the buck is a cheap out. 4) Comparing atheist versus religious atrocities is ridiculous, but for his information, religion is far in the lead: "The final count of most historians is that there were about
68 million persons killed by Christianity" alone. The Christian Hitler, head of the national church under the Reich, declared 26 April 1933, "All religion must be derived from faith... We need believing people." (Helmreich, The German Churches Under Hitler, 1979). Will Kennedy accept the Holocaust atrocities in the religious hysteria column? 5) Carl Sagan, a real hero of our time, explicitly denied the existence of "soul" (The Demon-Haunted World, 1996, p.269).


David L. Kent


Editorial Department,

(Re: "Study the Fine Points," Vol. 16, No. 19). Mr. Winters' place in heaven is a sure thing if he can split hairs at the Pearly Gates as finely as he did about City Council prayer meetin's.


Stanley Gilbert

Tiptoe Through the Theists


In attacking atheist complaints about city council prayers, Lance Winters and Ken Kennedy ("Postmarks," Vol. 16, No. 19) demonstrate the harm of City Council prayers.

Lance tiptoes on a technicality pinhead, arguing that city council worship is not official since the Mayor hasn't started the meeting. So what if "Invocation" is on the Council schedule? So what if the ministers are scheduled and invited? So what if the Mayor and minister ask everyone assembled for council business to stand for worship? The Council's technicality of prayer before meetings emphasizes the deliberateness of the worship.

When the Council plans, schedules, and implements worship, they openly disrespect the Constitutional principle of state-church separation. At the least, council worship encourages theist city employees to promote theism in the workplace and in dealings with Austin citizens and contractors to the detriment of nontheists.

Ken Kennedy's anger toward atheists confirms the implied threat to us from Council worship. When government privileges theism in civic affairs, it validates and encourages theistic hostility toward atheists. Ken clearly thinks atheists are bad people. His anger at atheists no doubt comes from the very theism celebrated by Council worship.

That's why Ms. Kellen Von Houser is so upset. While trying to participate in civic affairs, Kellen was reminded that she is an unwelcome outsider subject to the hostility and discrimination theists direct at atheists.

The prayer was particularly jarring for Kellen, myself, and other nontheists. We had just enjoyed Mayor Todd's graciousness in signing a Give Thanks for Free Thought proclamation which praised the Constitutional principle of state-church separation. It took us some time to comprehend that many who respect our secular Constitution don't understand how government worship disrespects our Constitution.

Government worship is particularly threatening to atheists at a time when aggressive theists almost control federal government and do control Texas government. We are aware that religious right leaders target atheists as "renegades" who should be "harshly punished," as Pat Robertson puts it.

If the members of the 1787 Constitutional Congress thought it proper to keep prayers separate from their deliberations, how can any governmental entity in our nation do less?

Howard Thompson

Member Central Texans for
Respect of State-Church Separation

Quoth Top Secret Nevermore

To the Editor:

While I dislike being in the position of defending the government (we all surely know enough stories of government abuse to make such defense embarrassing if not downright unpalatable), I must respond to a bogus assertion made by John O'Neill ("Postmarks," January 3, 1997 [Vol. 16, No. 18]).

O'Neill states that the classification "Top Secret" carries the "most basic definition" (whatever that phrase means) of "information that would cause extreme embarrassment if released...." He apparently is quoting something, and I wish to know what that is. My best recollection of the three classifications ("Confidential," "Secret," and "Top Secret") as defined by the Department of Defense Regulation 5200.1-R dealt only with the probability of damage -- not embarrassment -- to the national security. "Top Secret" material is that which would without question do such harm.

The reason I am reluctant to defend the government is because I have, as have many of us, read and heard of numerous instances where classification has been used to shield individuals or organizations from embarrassment. But I can't stand by and let such a patent falsity go unchallenged. Mr. O'Neill, what are you quoting?

David Travis

Coach Is a Maverick

Dear Coach:

Your opening metaphor to last week's column about the Dallas Mavericks -- the notion of "missed targets" -- was especially appropriate, since it seemed to me you missed an enormous target last week with your otherwise always-on-the-mark analysis. Not that said analysis of the Mavs' woes wasn't thorough and astute; far from it. On the other hand, as you pointed out, the Mavs' slide from promising upstart to league laughingstock has been long and storied, and more prone to solicit pity than scorn in the casual observer. No, scorn is a sentiment more appropriately reserved for the franchise that should have been the target of your tirade last week. Coach, how could you commit such an obvious boner? Imagine my shock -- I sit down as usual last Thursday with the Chron, fairly rubbing my hands together with anticipation, knowing that as a fellow outspoken hater of the Cowpukes, you're going to lay into them with all the smug malaprop verbiage in your arsenal. Alas, instead, there's a tame, albeit insightful critique of the Mavericks, a subject that could easily be taken up any time of year, Jason Kidd fiasco or no. How could you let the 'Pukes off so easily, their drug-addled, probation-violating corpses still fresh on the turf of Ericson Stadium? Was it a heroic show of restraint, or did the new girlfriend threaten to cut off the nookie? Say it ain't so, Coach....

Respectfully yours,

Dave Cook

Religious Control


Your recent survey regarding big religion's role in government indicates that regardless of religious affiliation, most people believe these organizations exert too much control over our nation and our lives.

The main problem is that government has become so powerful that it can be wielded by such organizations for their own agendas. If the federal government were limited to those roles defined in the Constitution, it would not be the power-brokering, rule-making, and wealth redistribution machine it is today. The Christian Coalition, JDL, and tobacco lobbies would have nothing to gain by manipulating it. Government is a bully with a big gun who demands anything without justification or consent. Is it any wonder there are powers fighting over that gun?

The Libertarian Party is working to reduce government and therefore the effectiveness of those who seek to control it. They believe you should be free to do what you choose so long as you don't hurt anyone, and that what you earn belongs to you. Find out more at

It's encouraging to see that 4% of those polled listed themselves as Pagan or Wiccan, and that this percentage was accurately reported instead of being lumped into "other". There is a Pagan Coalition forming via the Internet at The PC does not endorse candidates or try to set policy as does its Christian counterpart. It is mainly a clearinghouse to report or research a candidate's stands. Informed individuals decide for themselves which is the best choice.

Small vocal groups have been stealing our rights bit by bit. It is time to slip the shackles of someone else's religion and politics. Time to return to the America of Liberty and Justice For All.

Patrick Hester

Thanks, Christopher


Because of all the church services, weddings, funerals, concerts, and okay, parties, I am really behind in sending this thanks. The Austin Chronicle was kind enough to include the announcement of the First Church Chorale choir concert from First Presbyterian Church, Austin in its list of Music "Recommended" events the week before December 15, 1997 (Vol. 16, No. 15). Not only that, but the editor of the column said some really nice things (and true)! Thanks!!!

I couldn't have written a more complimentary paragraph, and yes, the event did go well. A 60-voice ensemble performed Charpentier's "Midnight Mass" with a string orchestra, and two very difficult Poulenc motets, not your standard church choir fair and definitely a challenge for us. On the 100-year-old tracker pipe organ, I played the Soler "Emporer's Fanfare" and improvised a five-movement work based on "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella."

Though I don't speak for director Kinley Lange or the church, I did want to say a big thanks again for your generous help in promoting this event. Additionally, there was some humor in the column when I noticed that the First Church Chorale was listed below the music group Reverend Horton Heat and just above Squirrel Nut Zippers. Keep up the great work!

Scott McNulty

Organist, First Presbyterian Church

Creative Solutions

Dear Editor,

The inadequacies of our alternative transportation systems (bus, bike, ped) become more apparent every day. Many entities share the blame for this inadequacy including city/state government, the private sector, and Capital Metro. Even though other barriers exist to the successful development/implementation of alternative transportation systems, such as poor land use planning, the local daily continues to focus the blame on the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

I am troubled by their incessant and demeaning attack on Capital Metro. This vociferous effort to expose shortcomings within the transportation agency has been a major factor in the resignation of the General Manager, Director of Planning, Director of Communications, the Advertising/Promotions Coordinator, and others. This attack has taken a personal toll on individuals that, in my opinion, were making a positive contribution to our community.

A move to greater efficiency at the agency, which is needed, will now progress at a slower pace due to their departure.

The Statesman should offer creative solutions to alternative transportation challenges and less criticisms. If not, it will continue to lack respect in our community.


Scott Johnson

Hetero Hypocrisy


What you don't know doesn't hurt.

I am astounded by the controversy surrounding the bathhouse on Airport Boulevard. I am not a proponent or an opponent of the establishment. I merely want to suggest a more constructive and mature approach to the matter. I could care less whether the establishment exists or not. Doesn't anyone apply common sense or logic anymore in articulating their stance on a particular issue? There must be hundreds of sleazy strip-tease establishments littered throughout Austin and advertised in every newspaper across the country, yet no one seems to care. Why not? I certainly seem to believe it a legitimate argument. Aren't strip-tease establishments just as sexual in nature as bathhouses (if even the case)? Or is it simply over-looked because bathhouses have become synonymous with homosexuality? For God's sake, try a more rational and constructive approach in dealing with the issue. What is it about this establishment that puts so much fear into those who oppose it? Is it their curiosity? Is it their insecurity? Is it that they fear what they don't understand? Is it simply a matter of responsibility or is [it] that homosexuality has become a scapegoat for frustrated, uneducated personalities? If a particular group of individuals intends to focus their energy and efforts in opposing or challenging something or someone, do so by all means but be prepared to make an intelligent argument that supports the rationale. This neurotic and intrusive behavior only reflects on the immature individuals who expose themselves for what they are -- losers. This shouldn't even be an issue. The real problem lies in our inability [to] communicate and our obsession with seeking blame for our own faults and insecurities. Here's a good suggestion: Clean up your own house before pointing fingers at others.

Angus Tilney

The Right to Know

Dear Mr. Black:

I am thrilled that you at the Chronicle continue to cover environmental and political issues with truth and without apologies. It's a nice contrast to the mainstream press that pervades our city's paper(s). Your attention to campaign finance reform, utility deregulation, the Barton Creek Salamander, S.O.S., and the other issues that affect us all is fabulous. I would hasten to remind you, though, that we in Austin also have a problem with toxic chemicals. Admittedly, most people associate this problem with Houston and the Gulf area, but Austin his hardly immune.

We are all familiar with Austin's rapid growth rate. That growth includes not only people but industries. Many of these industries are probably using some of the over 72,000 synthetic chemicals on the market today. It would be nice to know whether they are. Many of these chemicals have been linked to birth defects, cancer, and reproductive disorders.

As it happens, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) is working on a campaign to expand the Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986. We feel toxic chemical use and transportation reporting is required of any industry involved with toxics. Similarly, industries need to be reporting on more than the paltry list of chemicals in the current law. Labeling of products is also a necessity in protecting the public from substances such as toluene, which has been linked to spontaneous abortion and is found in some permanent markers.

We need to increase the community's right to know. Only then will folks have the tools and the power to stop the usage of these chemicals altogether. Our own Lloyd Doggett, who historically has stood for strong right-to-know laws, needs to be a champion of this issue in the 105th Congress, and we need to let him know that we want some guts in D.C.


Garrett Delavan

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