Open Records Good
Fri., Sept. 12, 1997
Bob Elder's commentary on the Open Records Act dispute between the Texas Supreme Court and Attorney General Dan Morales ("Open and Shut Case"[Vol.17, No.1]) provides an interesting analysis of the politics of the issue, but leaves readers uninformed on the substance. Mr. Elder's opinion might best have been accompanied by a news article about the significance of opening up court records to public scrutiny and accountability.
As part of a research project to shed light on the operation of the Supreme Court (i.e. why are corporate law firms donating millions of dollars to elect Supreme Court Justices), Texans for Public Justice sought the phone and fax records of every member of the court -- not just Morales' challengers. Wouldn't there be a public interest in records that could reveal improper fund raising or ex parte communications between Justices and parties that have cases before the Court? If the records do not reveal such links, why won't the Justices come clean?
Readers of Mr. Elder's opinion were not informed about the clear distinction between the Court's administrative records (such as phone logs) and records regarding judicial deliberations. Morales' opinion calls for the Court to open its administrative records only. We agree. Just as with the legislative and executive branches, citizens have a right to know how the courts spend our money.
The Court's decision to seal its phone records may not be as open and shut as some presume. The issue raises intriguing legal questions of judicial process and self-dealing. The Court's hasty per curiam opinion in response to our request circumvents established judicial procedures for seemingly self-interested purposes. We have not heard the end of this dispute.
While the legislature and lower courts grapple with the issue, the Supreme Court Justices can put a quick end to the current debate by voluntarily releasing their records. Previous Justices set a precedent for just such a move.
By only telling part of the story, the Chronicle appears to suggest secrecy serves the public interest. While such an attitude is commonly mouthed by government officials, it is more troubling coming from the press.
Director, Texans for Public Justice
Shuttle Drivers Need Break
Contrary to Mr. Augustine's opinion, UT shuttle bus drivers are responsible for a reduction in accident rates. Recently, the UT shuttle bus driver's union and DAVE Transportation negotiated a new contract that included a substantial monetary safety bonus program. DAVE Transportation paid out over $20,000 in safety bonuses for the first six months of this year. Eighty-five percent of UT drivers qualified by not having any preventable accidents. The union's goal of 95% has now become less likely due to the removal of our 10 minute break. UT drivers feel that a short break is essential to reduce the fatigue of driving on I-35 and through congested areas around the university. As we now drive our eight, sometimes 12 hours a day without a break, our ability to prevent accidents has been impaired. Mr. Augustine should not assume credit for our safety record while creating new schedules that reward fast and reckless driving. UT shuttle bus drivers do care about safety and our actions and record prove it, so hey, give us a break!
Shuttle bus driver
The city manager wants to shut down the Riverside Drive branch of the Austin Public Library on October 1. This would be a blow not only for the East Riverside neighborhood, but also against our entire library system.
The East Riverside neighborhood is one of the most densely populated in the city -- and it's still growing. 40% of the area remains undeveloped, and factors such as the new airport will drive continued growth. Current population is about 36,000. The Library's own strategic plan calls for a branch to serve an area at 25,000 population. The Riverside neighborhood deserves a library.
The East Riverside neighborhood is a diverse community. The area has a large minority concentration (59%). Literacy and language skills are significant concerns here. The wonderful staff at Riverside works hard to meet the special needs of this community. The Riverside neighborhood needs its library.
The Riverside branch library is effective, efficient, and well used. When its circulation is compared to its five closest neighbor libraries, it ranks two of the six. The Riverside neighborhood uses its library.
In spite of all this, the city manager wants to shut it down. The closure is justified by furious handwaving. His budget Letter of Transmittal (page 12) says the branch is underutilized (he's wrong), is in close proximity to other branches (yep, it's just a short swim across Town Lake), and is a rental facility (d'oh -- so give
it a permanent home).
The reasons stated by the City Manager don't add up. I think if you read on to page 18 of his letter, the real story begins to emerge. The city manager wants to tear down our system of neighborhood libraries and replace them with a small number of big regional libraries. The decision to raze Riverside is just the first step towards building a system of shining, efficient McLibraries. If he gets Riverside this year, he may be back next year for the library in your neighborhood.
Austin deserves better. Austin values its neighborhood libraries. I hope the city council recognizes the folly in closing Riverside, and restores full funding to keep it open -- without forcing cutbacks onto other neighborhoods.
Save Riverside Coalition
Not My Psychic Friend
In regard to your article entitled "Psychic Friends" [Vol.17, No.1]; I find it fascinating that Lee Cantu uses Catholicism to advance his pagan practices. Especially when it clearly states in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, "All practices of magic or sorcery by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have supernatural power over others -- even if this were for the sake of restoring their health -- are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion." It seems like Mr. Cantu has no problem trying to manipulate people with statements such as, "The keys are in the Bible," and countless references to the Virgin Mary while, at the same time, clearly defying the Church. Please, Mr. Cantu, stop using the Church to advance your own evil pride.
Hancock Deserves Coverage
Well, Tommy X. Hancock's got good reason to feel underappreciated recently. In the last two years or so he's recorded and released three albums, "True Stories & Strange Romances," "BIG Band Country & Mystic Music of the Great American Outback," and "Dancers Do It on the Floor" (all on Akashic Records), and none of them have been reviewed by the Chronicle.
To point out that you did a review on the CD re-release of "Lost in North Austin," and put "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" ["Postmarks," Vol.16, No.51] as a title to his letter came across as really tacky and mean-spirited. Tommy is, to me, one of the people who gives Austin its eccentric and interesting character. At the age of sixty-someodd, most of his lyrics are still too radical for mainstream country radio. He probably gets less respect than he deserves because of his fondness for humor and musical parody, but Tommy continues to try to create magic, to stay vital, refuses to fall into repeating himself.
The Chronicle should at least do a full interview with Tommy, he's a fascinating person and always has interesting insights and observations. There's a picture inside "BIG Band Country & Mystic Music of the Great
American Outback" of Tommy wearing cowboy clothes and standing in front of Machu Pichu that I think is so characteristic of Tommy.
Dear Mr. Black:
To Michael Ventura, writer of "Rainbows at Your Feet" [Vol.16, No. 52], I send a hearty bravo!
In eloquent form, Ventura truly captured, as well as the English language is capable, the nearly indescribable beauty of the Painted Desert. Even more authentic and rare was his reaching to the core significance of places like these, to our own human condition. Ventura writes, "...it's not as though we're looking at the land it's as though the land is looking at us." Having witnessed similar sights, including the otherworldly Death Valley, on a recent southwestern trip, I can't agree more.
Our inner being is somehow connected to these outrageous landscapes. It's as if these lands are distant cousins sent to quietly dwell among us and whose responsibility it is to shock us, however momentarily, into considering something beyond ourselves yet still germane. They suggest a long ago, common creator who breathed human life out of the stuff of these rocks. And maybe that creator intended us to live a life in reverence to him and his creations. Maybe we're the model to the colorful emotion, depth of character, quietness, strength, and simplicity of these lands rather than our own oft-disastrous pursuit of personal self-fulfillment and pleasure at any cost.
Yes, I believe we are "created old" as the Christian woman in "Rainbow" so aptly disclosed. And the more times we visit these places of awesome wonder, shuffle our feet respectfully in the pieces of the rainbow, the more we begin to understand from whence we came, why we're here, and maybe even where we're going.
Walter E. Avis
You Just Don't Get It, Man
In response to S.W. Mansfield's letter regarding the WNBA ["Postmarks," Vol.16, No.52], I quote Frank Deford from his article in Newsweek (Sept.1, 1997): "...we do know that the captious men who dismiss women's sports as second rate simply because females are not as big and strong as males are looking at it in a very narrow way. Afficianados don't see women in competition as cut-rate men." I propose that you, Mr. Mansfield, do not "get it," therefor further dialogue is pointless. But thanks for sharing, anyway.
Austin, One Hell of a City
To all readers of The Austin Chronicle:
"Why can't Americans come to realize; tis better to see with their hearts than with their eyes?"
As a place to live, Austin is one hell of a city! Its people like an image through a kaleidoscope on the 4th of July. We should be proud of our population's richness, and thankful for its blend.
The recent fracas concerning appointments to the Austin Planning Commision, and all of the dust that has been raised since the last city council election is turning into a textbook example of how ludicrous the modern, democratic concept of "representation" has become (Hispanic Pass Over -- Garcia, Spelman Open Cans of Racial Controversy 8/22/97). The mere fact that an individual looks like a certain segment of the population should never be taken as evidence enough that this individual thinks and feels the same as that population. Assuming as much would be ignorant, and from ignorance racism flows.
Just as dangerous is the belief, held by many, that individuals can easily be defined and categorized according to their color, or some other broad barometer. Political consultants and politicians have made an art form out of population segmentation. Techniques employed to sway constituencies throughout campaigns are specifically designed to appeal to people not as individuals, but as members of targeted demographic groups: Asian, Black, White, Hispanic, female, gay, Catholic, Muslim, senior, student.... Working from such a narrow understanding of people, is it any wonder so many are upset with the situation at City Hall?
Rather than focusing as much attention and energy on the look of a particular commission or council, should we not instead be more concerned with the integrity and committment of those we are truly interested in having represented, the way that we look, or what we believe in?
Ron J. Ray
Well If You Don't Know...
Y'all remember The Crying of Lot 49 by Pynchon? I feel like Oedipa with her muted horn: What does it mean if a vehicle has stuck to its back glass a 2"x2" sticker with a picture of a taco on it?
The reason I ask is somebody was driving behind me on MoPac waving a sticker at me. I couldn't tell what it was at first, but as I exited and he continued north, he held it up so I could see it: a catty-corner picture of a taco. As he drove on he was nodding his head and giving me an enthusiastic thumbs up. At that time I noticed he had the same sticker on the lower driver's side of the back glass of his truck. Since then I've noticed more of these taco stickers on other vehicles, all but one being driven by men.
Now this guy was fairly good-looking and driving a pretty nice truck. I am kind of dorky-looking and drive an old Mazda hatchback: I suspect the whole thing was an insult, but I don't know. Do you? Do any of your readers? None of my friends have any ideas, although some have had some bizarre theories (mostly based around that joke we used to tell in the 6th grade: If God didn't want you to eat pussy then why'd He make it look like a taco?). I hate being dissed without knowing it...
With furrowed brow,
Mason Makes Some Sense
Despite the critical responses regarding his letter of August 8, 1997 regarding immigration ["Postmarks," Vol.16, No.49], Steve Mason made some realistic observations regarding our national immigration crisis and its connection with the damaging effects of over-population.
The Chinese accurately diagnosed this problem. A continuation of their burgeoning birth rate insured eventual mass starvation. (Read Who Will Feed China, Lester R. Brown, ISBNO-393-03897-1.) Although the Draconian edict of "one child" families would probably forestall the threat of starvation, the strict enforcement measures of this policy brought global criticism from human rights supporters, et al. The issue may never be solved without some pain and sacrifice, but at the former rate of unrestricted population growth, the specter of mass starvation and warfare over access to water and arable land was more likely.
It does not require the combined intellect of a committee of rocket scientists to relate the global over-population crisis to the motivation of humans to seek better living opportunities for themselves and their families by emmigrating elsewhere because there is not enough food or employment in the more heavily populated countries. The more industrialized, welfare state type of societies seem to offer the best opportunities for emigrants. The USA accepts more than half of all emigrants worldwide. This is not the solution. The answer lies in large measure by assisting those leaders in countries that are trying to solve the problems at home by creating more livable conditions for their fellow citizens -- at home (Ex: Walenska and Mandela).
Our ability to balance our national budget, maintain a strong defensive military, and effectively influence world politics toward the development of democratic societies wherever located, and simultaneously bear the economic and social costs of our own society is a major challenge for our leaders and our taxpayers.
Reliable studies assess the total costs (benefits less costs) of legal and illegal immigration at 65 billion dollars annually -- and that's just the financial cost. These conditions are not in our national interest -- as pointed out by Mr. Mason.
Robert P. Higley
The Princess and the Angel
Be glad, for God has sent an angel to guide a haunted princess home.
As I watched the departing ceremony of Princess Diana, my belief was once again affirmed that our needs are met in death as they are in life, for only such a gentle spirit as Mother Teresa's could guide the haunted, yet gracious princess home to our father. In my opinion, God sent one of his very special angels to the Princess' side to help her share in the news of love that she received when the world went silent during her final good-bye.
As I celebrated my 40th birthday among this time of great sorrow throughout the world, I thanked God for another year of blessings, hardships, disappointments, and successes because I have learned that flowers do not grow without thunder, lightning, and storms that bring the rains. I have also learned that character cannot be developed without struggles. I believe that a person's eyes will tell the full story of their struggles and happiness while their mouths run on to say otherwise. Princess Diana's eyes held the look that the world was consistently looking for even until her death.
I have also spent a tremendous amount of my time working with the youth in Austin and I have seen some of the most desperate eyes looking out for any confirmation of love and caring. My hope is that, while our eyes are focused on the passing of a princess and an angel, who both epitomized caring and courage, that we take a moment to look into the eyes of our youth who need affirmation of our caring, and express that we care to them. Starting at home may provide the greatest opportunity because I believe that above all, Princess Diana's children have no doubt that she loves them. The princess could not have taken such a public stance on caring and giving of herself, so uninhabited, to the rest of the world, if her children were unsure that when they looked into her eyes, they saw the same compassion, at a glance, that she shared with the world. In the past week many of us have transcended all the visual prejudices of mankind to show how truly caring we can be as a nation and a world. Let us not close our eyes to the memories of these days for they hold a key to reaching our children.
To close this chapter in history, my best farewell to an angel and a princess is stated in the book of life: "I have much to say but I don't want to write it, for I hope to see you soon and then we will have much to talk about together. So good-bye for now. Friends here send their love, and please give each of the folks there a special greeting from me." (3 John 13-15 (KJV), the closing of a letter from John to Gaius, whom he truly loved)
Ode to Diana
Everyone here is thinking what you're thinking.
It's nothing -- nu-uh!
I sing for you
I've seen your lonely days
You did what's right
You did what's true
You've seen them dying
I've seen you try
She did for us -- she saves for me.
Say the word -- Lady Di
Dream what you are
You can't run from what you are
You let your light shine
Let it shine on this green world.
You stayed so strong
Say the word -- Lady Di
She won't bleed for you anymore
The sky is crashing down
She got herself gone
Now what do you think
Do you see what I see
Say the word -- Lady Di
You breathed for me
I'll breathe it for you
don't burn your bridges
We'll burn them down
I'm changing for you
Say the word -- Lady Di
Your kingdom is all of you
You did all that you could do
You loved different
Say the word -- Lady Di
Dina L. Walton