The Austin Chronicle


The Executioner

February 13, 1998, Columns

Dear Governor Bush;

Yesterday my six-year-old grandson gave me a new picture. He loves to draw, and I love to discuss his latest masterpieces with him, as he tells me what each thing is. His drawings are becoming more sophisticated as he grows in skill and knowledge. This latest drawing broke my heart. It's called "the Executioner". We did not discuss it, as I find it hard to talk with a big lump in my throat, and besides, I am not old enough or wise enough to know what to say.

Since I have been looking at Whit's drawings for a long time, I feel that I can interpret this one, or most of it for you. The person behind the wall is the executioner. Note that his face has been scribbled out. There is a line from the executioner's hand to the condemned person, who is holding an ax. This person has restraints drawn on wrists, ankles, torso, and neck. A large X in a triangle represents the heart.

You want to be known for educating the children of Texas. Do you know, do you care about what you have taught my grandchild?


Sue MacNichol

Organic Integrity

Dear Editor:

The Department of Agriculture is holding a hearing in Austin on Thursday, February 12 at the Meeting Place Conference Center (2100 Northland Drive) to receive public input on the proposed regulations for the production and labeling of organic food. While my Congressional duties in Washington will keep me from attending the hearing personally, I will continue to express to [the?] USDA my opposition to the proposed standards.

By including production techniques that are unacceptable to consumers, the proposed organic standard does not maintain the integrity of the term "organic." Consumers rely on the standards inherent in organic labels to provide a true choice between organic food and food that is grown with conventional agricultural methods. As many Central Texans have already made clear, these proposed standards fail to inspire the consumer confidence necessary for their success. The final regulations must omit from the organic standards those foods produced with the use of such blatantly inorganic techniques as those incorporating municipal sewer sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering.

Municipal sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering were each specifically excluded from the organic category by the National Organic Standards Board and should not have been included in the USDA standards. USDA should heed the advice of both the advisory board and organic food consumers by eliminating practices such as these from the final definition.

The institution of strong, effective standards regulating the organic food industry is important both for the sake of the industry and for the consumers who rely on organic products for a safe, natural source of food. Anyone who wishes to contact the Department but is unable to attend the public hearing should write to: Eilcen Stommes, Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA, Room 4007-S, Ag Stop 0275, P.O. Box 96456, Washington, DC, 20090. I have already informed the Department of Agriculture of my opposition to the standards in their current form. I will continue to monitor their actions to ensure that they only implement standards that truly meet the definition "organic."


Lloyd Doggett

Discussing Downtown


While recognizing that different neighborhoods don't always have the same interests, we have always been and still are committed to win/win solutions for Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.

The Downtown Austin Alliance (DDA) and the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association (OWANA) agreed last year that there are serious and growing problems in the West End of Downtown:

* Traffic is bad and getting worse.

* Pedestrian traffic is increasingly important.

* Any solutions must preserve and protect the neighborhood and must also accommodate downtown access.

* Doing nothing is not helpful and conflict guarantees inaction.

When staff from the DAA and Ms. Karen Akins of OWANA went together in July 1997 to the Downtown Commission, the Urban Transportation Commission, and a City Council Work Session, both stated that the urban transportation and design problems where Lamar intersects Fifth and Sixth Streets need immediate attention.

Without economic impact, traffic, and engineering analysis, it is not possible to know what would actually work. That's why the DAA has not endorsed any specific solution. We have identified a problem, suggested possible solutions, recognized other possible solutions, and urged city action before the problems get worse.

Given all this, the Downtown Austin Alliance and OWANA then asked the city to move forward with the necessary analysis. We still believe that this is the necessary next step to finding a win/win solution.

Yours truly,

Bobbie Barker, Chair

Downtown Austin Alliance

P.S. Just for the record, the DAA does not advocate moving people in and out of downtown as fast as possible, nor do we believe that downtown begins at Congress. We are on record as welcoming developments in West Austin and also that downtown needs healthy adjacent neighborhoods. Any "us vs. them" sentiment is not DAA policy. We welcome any opportunity to discuss these and any other matters with our neighbors. Our phone number is 469-1766, e-mail

[email protected].

Ask the Engineers

Dear Editor:

Thank you for covering the various proposals for handling traffic at Sixth and Lamar ["Competing Tunnel Visions," Vol. 17, No. 21]. Residents and business owners in the area would like to encourage more intense development but worry what it will do to existing problems such as cut-through traffic in the neighborhood, congestion at the intersections, and poor access to local businesses due to a street system designed to speed traffic through the area. Last April, the major stakeholders in the area came together and drew up a plan which served a variety of groups - residents, business, bikers, transit, pedestrians, and yes, downtown commuters. We really did come up with a win/win solution that everyone could live with.

The reason neighborhood-based planning works is that residents and business owners understand the problems and sensitivities of their particular area. The Downtown Alliance's attempt to "fix" our neighborhood's problems resulted in a proposal which many people found downright offensive because it focused almost solely on the needs of one group, which happens to be the DAA's constituency. I believe that nothing will ever happen in this town unless there is consensus, which is why it is so amazing to me that the DAA continues to cling onto a proposal that so clearly ignores the needs of the local merchants by removing their on-street parking and the bicycle community by eliminating downtown access to the west. The creation of an ugly asphalt gulch filled with speeding traffic on West Sixth Street is particularly insensitive to developers who are investing millions to create a premiere retail area at the intersection of Lamar.

And finally, engineers should not be portrayed as the bad guys in this story. An engineer helped make ours a workable plan by showing us how to move traffic and how to design roadways to increase pedestrian and bike safety. Engineers also helped us design a solution in the existing right of way so that no businesses would suffer. If asked to design a city which moves traffic smoothly while promoting walking, biking, and retail, engineers can do it. Up until this point, no one had ever asked them to do this.

Karen Akins

Sometimes We Have to Shout


The articles involving the Hopwood fallout [Vol.17 No.22] completely ignored the perspective of those students and faculty at UT that support affirmative action and are fighting for its return. An entire piece written by Marc Levin made my organization, Students for Access and Opportunity, look like a bunch of mindless children who like to yell "racism" at everyone. This is far from the truth, and the fact that Levin printed a piece in your paper brings the Chronicle's politics into question.

Levin is considered extremely conservative by UT's standards. Yet he is published as if he spoke for most students at UT. All of his facts were carefully chosen and written to make us look like angry, reactionary suppressors of free speech. Our group never asked for Graglia or Colby Black (Texan editor) to be fired. We were simply using our free speech to counter what we believed was racism. If some individuals in SAO raised their voices at a few forums it was because of disgust. Horowitz, one of the speakers we supposedly taunted, stated that inequality wasn't due to racism but the "failures" of certain communities. Free speech aside, my organization will not sit quietly in the face of this racism. Levin being published in the Chronicle is revealing. Would the Chronicle ask Jim Bob Moffett to submit an article without adding its own commentary?

Students for Access and Opportunity is made up of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff from UT. Our voice should not be less important than Lino Graglia's. Unfortunately, free speech in this country isn't handed out equally to everyone, and in order to get our perspective out, sometimes we have to shout. If the folks at the Chronicle would crawl out of their self-serving, neo-liberal, organically grown hole they might discover a real progressive community exists in Austin.

Carl Villarreal

Recasting Ramos


Thanks for Raoul's long-overdue cover story on an Austin original - Ruben Ramos ["Parallel Universe," Vol. 17, No. 22]. If I may add to it, one thing that Raoul should have pointed out is that Ramos is perhaps the only remaining practitioner of the "Chicano Sound" of the 1970s. There was a time when every weekend in the 1970s you could catch such Chicano bands with a full horn section. Perhaps the most famous practitioner of this sound was Little Joe Hernandez (recent recipient of the National Academy Recording Arts & Science Board of Governors award) and his band La Familia. But even Little Joe gave up his full orchestra horn section in favor of synthesizers by the mid-1980s. No one else out there has those amazing horns. If you love a great horn section coupled with a good Latin beat and a healthy R&B flavor, you'd be amazed at Ruben Ramos & the Texas Revolution. I lose 15 pounds every time I go to one of his shows because my wife and I can't stop dancing.

Alex Avila

Ramos Ravings

Thanks for the article on Ruben Ramos!

Mr. Ramos' unique and versatile approach to music makes him one of the best song stylists and entertainers in Tejano music. He is someone who truly hasn't forgotten his fans who originally made him so popular - besides, why should he "cross over" (and try to be someone he's not) and leave these fans behind - including me? By being himself, he keeps his fans and adds new ones.

Mr. Ramos also is a man of many surprises. I never expected him to record mariachi music, but he has several excellent songs on his most recent recordings. I am looking forward to when and if he records some of the terrific Mexican orquestra (approximately "Big Band" style - but more) superexitos of the 1930s-1950s.

Incidentally, his brother, Alfonso Ramos, is one of the best orquestra instrumentalists now working. I had the fortune to hear him perform in San Marcos a few years ago.

It has been my personal experience that both of the Ramos brothers are gracious, delightful gentlemen who appreciate all of their fans, whomever we may be as much as we appreciate their music. Their cassettes are included in my collection of several thousands of cassettes of Tejano and all styles of Mexican music.



S'more Screechings

Dear Editor:

I was happy to see Raoul Hernandez's positive review of Freakwater's new album Springtime, but I was shocked and blasphemized that he compared them to the god-awful screechings of the Indigo "Girls." Freakwater has not, nor will they ever, attempt to "out" Galileo around a campfire with granola bars 'n' s'mores in hand. The Indigo Girls' horrific caterwauling should never have been likened to Freakwater's sweet and twangy angelic divinity. Furthermore, the Indigo Girls cannot even spell whiskey, much less sing about it. Thank you.


Matthew Edward Stenerson

A Pedestrian Prediction

Dear Editor:

In his letter of February 6 ["Postmarks," Vol.17, No.22], Eric Harwell says that pedestrian bridges or underpasses are not needed across highways such as I-35 and 183. He believes that the existing crossings are quite safe and plentiful enough. I encourage Mr. Harwell to make the experiment of crossing, say, 183 at Fairfield several times, under varying conditions. The first time, make the crossing while riding a bicycle. The second time, cross at rush hour in the rain on a bicycle. The third time, cross on foot accompanied by two small children on foot and one in a stroller. The fourth time, cross on crutches. The fifth time, cross in a hand-cranked wheelchair. The sixth time, cross blindfolded with a stick to feel your way. After he accumulates data by making these experiments, Mr. Harwell will be in a better position to evaluate the need for pedestrian bridges or underpasses across 183.

Mr. Harwell says that cars are "part of reality." That's true in a way and untrue in a way. Cars are not part of reality in the way lightning is a part of reality. Cars are made by people and used by people. And people can choose to stop using them. The United States has the most wasteful habits of any country in the world. It's embarrassing to be part of such a wasteful and polluting society. A great deal of the waste produced by this country comes from excessive car use.

Some time in the next 10 years, some city is going to wise up and ban cars within its territory. This city will make a fortune on car-free tourism. It ought to be NYC or Mexico City that bans cars first, but it is more likely to be Amsterdam. I sure wish it could be Austin.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich

Kill `em While They're Hot


The question is why??? Why does the justice system keep people on death row for so many years?!?! Why not get it over with while the heinous crime is still very clear in everyone's minds? But when many years pass by and the malicious crime is forgotten, an innocent-looking person is portrayed as a born-again Christian. Too many years pass by (using taxpayers' money), but for what? I'm not a religious person, but I believe in the term, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I think that if the death penalty is going to be in effect, it should be carried out within one or two years of the sentencing, because otherwise, it's worthless.


Kathy Abrams

Won't Standifor It


In response to Kurt Standiford's letter ["Postmarks," Vol.17 No.22]: It's apparent that he is obsessed with homosexuality. All of his letters deal incessantly with the subject. He appears to be a classic example of latent homosexuality. Not to say that that's a problem. We all eventually come to terms with our sexuality at one point or another. Perhaps he's repressing a lot of unresolved feelings. It seems he's unable to deal with the issue in an objective manner. He may actually learn something about himself and perhaps come to terms with who he is if he wasn't so myopic or one-dimensional. His attempts to stereotype gays and lesbians only makes him look uneducated. Kurt, remember, "Don't cast stones if you live in a glass house." It's ironic that a man that hates free thinking and free speech is able to vent his conservative Christian ideology in a quote, "liberal" paper.

Angus Tilney

Accidental Heterosexual

Dear Chroniclers:

Well, well, I see "Mr. Hate Meister," aka Kurt Standiford, is swilling his finely-honed pseudo-IQ-isms again! ("There he goes, bashing those homos again, Gladys!") With his dictionary quotes and thinly-veiled hate, or fear, he is infinitely more frightening than any homosexual I have ever known!

Although myself being heterosexual, quite by accident I'm sure, I still take great umbrage with Mr. Standiford's portrayal of gays as "paranoid separatists" who "cower in dens of iniquity" "crying in their beer for political correctness." Gag! None of my gay friends are cowering anywhere - but if anybody cowers from Mr. Standiford, his letter could indicate why. Gays, on a daily basis - somewhere - are abused, ridiculed, beaten, and even murdered! Mr. Standiford: You do not have to "patronize," forgive, allow, namecall any person on earth. It is not your job. One of your quotes begs me to use it: against yourself. I believe you, Mr. Standiford, appear to be "just a small part of a much deeper psychosomatic disorder."

Peace for all,

Molly McCauley-Falgout

Review Right On


I have been living in Seattle for about a year now, after studying in Austin. Tonight I went to see Amistad, because reviews and rumors here in Seattle indicated it was a great film. After being a bit disappointed with the movie I went back and reread the reviews in The Stranger (the biggest local weekly) again. I have been noticing that I disagree with the reviews here often. In the case of Amistad, the local reviews hailed it as an improvement from Schindler's List. Excuse me?! To regain sanity I quickly logged onto the website of my Austin Chronicle and as is the case more often than not, the review here was right on the money again as far as I'm concerned. Next time I'll log on before considering the local press.

Christos Talanoez

Taking Toll

Dear Sir,

The main objective for Hwy 130 is to take as much traffic off of I-35 as possible. According to a recent news item in the American-Statesman, the Texas Turnpike Division predicted that a toll road would absorb only 6-20% of I-35 traffic. Surely, for one billion dollars a toll road is a most unsatisfactory solution to our objective. Toll roads are unpopular if they do not save miles or eliminate a number of traffic-light controlled intersections - which is the Tx-130 situation. As a toll road, 130 cannot be designated as a truck route due to toll fees - trucks must have another option, which is I-35. Car drivers are reluctant to pay fees for the same reasons. We should be shooting for 35-40%, which a freeway can provide.

As a freeway thru trucks can be required to use 130 as a designated truck route. And local car drivers will be encouraged to use the freeway for home-to-work driving.

If independent contractors can construct in five years, so can the state. The state will use the same contractors and has the best know-how and work force.

Texas is big enough to do the financing.

Toll or Freeway is the real issue! Toll fees are expensive, e.g. Hwy 8 in Houston - minimum $1 (8 miles or less) for cars; $1 plus 50cents for each axle over two for trucks and other vehicles. Let's keep Texas as free as possible, especially when there is nothing to gain.

Also, because it will be a limited access highway, the use of cloverleaf instead of diamond interchanges on 130 can enhance savings in (1) time (no stopping any direction), (2) safety - no front end accidents, (3) no traffic light costs or maintenance, (4) no traffic stops saves fuel, auto wear, and pollution, (5) accidents are rare, (6) no businesses on the corners to cause enter and exit delays and accidents. Cloverleafs are efficient plus.

If you want these benefits contact as many authorities as possible - including Texas Turnpike, Pete Winstead (370-2801). Call 258-2358 for a list of names and phone numbers. Keep Texas free. Make yourself heard - responses are needed!

Ed Lauffer

Some Words on Waste

Dear Editor:

I read with interest "Waste Wars" by Robert Bryce in the 26 December 1997 issue. I am writing this letter to provide additional insight into environmental compliance at the Waste Management Inc. (WMI), and the Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) landfills in Travis County. My opinions are based on 13 years' experience with landfills in Travis County. In 1984 I was a principal investigator and author of Landfills in the Vicinity of Austin, Texas by Underground Resource Management. I worked with the League of Women Voters Solid Waste Committee to review the original TDS landfill permit. I have managed, written, and/or designed components of more than 10 waste disposal permits in Texas. Mr. Gregory, TDS landfill owner, hired me for three days in December 1997 to review WMI and TDS Travis County landfill records on liner certification and environmental compliance through public files at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).

Public records and history show several areas of environmental impact associated with the WMI landfill. Methane gas, a by-product of waste degradation, has been detected at the landfill boundary. The carcinogenic chemicals tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene have been detected in a monitor well associated with the landfill. The records also show that TNRCC assessed and WMI paid a fine in 1996 for failing to comply with permit conditions.

The TDS landfill received its operating permit in 1990 and opened in 1991. The record at the TDS landfill shows a history of exemplary environmental and regulatory compliance. In at least four environmental audits, TNRCC found the TDS landfill in compliance with all permit conditions. The audit reports also show that TDS routinely exceeds minimum environmental compliance. Tests of liner permeability are longer and more thorough than required. Even in details as small as picking litter and truck tire mud, the TDS landfill regularly and consistently exceeds minimum environmental compliance to operate a landfill that is safe and clean.

The most complicated area of landfill design is the liner and leachate collection systems that prevent waste liquid from moving into the groundwater or seeping into adjacent streams and rivers. Texas Disposal Systems landfill has 12.7 acres with liners that are "grandfathered." They were approved prior to federal Subtitle D regulations, which became effective in October 1993.

These liners, however, meet the construction and testing standards of current regulations. The leachate collection system for the "grandfathered" area, however, relies upon migration through the waste before it is collected at the waste cell toe. The available capacity above the pre-Subtitle D liner is about two months' disposal at current rates. All of the remaining TDS landfill liner and leachate collection systems comply with current standards.

Waste Management Inc.'s Travis County landfill, which began receiving wastes in the early 1970 and was first permitted as a Municipal Solid Waste Landfill in 1977, has about 95 partially filled acres that are "grandfathered" and do not have liners that meet current regulations. Records show that permeability tests of the underlying geology were conducted for only 10.76 acres. Only 4.9 acres of the WMI approved waste disposal area meets current liner standards.

As the city negotiates a 30-year contract with WMI and TDS to dispose of Austin's household waste, I hope we will carefully evaluate environmental compliance and liability, as well as cost.


D. Lauren Ross, Ph.D., P.E.

Lesbians Do Buy Drinks!


I'm astonished that after glaring omissions from your article about female country artists, once again, The Austin Chronicle has run a poorly researched story.

"Village People: Gay Austinites Carve Out Festive Niche Downtown" (1/30/98) reflects solely the scapegoat excuse of the male owner of Sister's Edge, Austin's only lesbian nightclub, as to why it no longer exists. The article states that he, as the owner of its parent bar, The Edge, "opened the sister venue last May, but discovered that the lesbians showing up at the bar were not buying drinks, which translates to the need for a `change of venue'" (to a country bar). Well, unless he sent a bartender out to the sidewalk to serve the picketers, I don't see how they could! Sister's Edge was the target of boycotts and protests after its owner allegedly, in response to complaints about the dance music, publicly made comments to a specific type group of customers informing them that he didn't want their business. As the club's former talent coordinator, I observed first-hand the dramatic decline in patronage within two weeks of this and subsequent protests in front of the club. And since then, a female employee who resigned has filed a sexual harassment complaint with the HRC. Most of this information was published in the Texas Triangle and even garnered a paragraph in the American-Statesman's XLent. I can't understand how the Chronicle could miss it.

Despite the "change of venue" to a country bar, when I stopped by to pick up the remainder of money owed to me (I ended my contract early), I counted only 18 people there on a Friday night at midnight. It is hideously detrimental to the lesbian community that The Austin Chronicle would allow this heterosexual businessman to smear our demographic as unprofitable and, instead of taking responsibility for his own controversy, discourage our chances (pun intended) of some other investor opening a lesbian nightclub here in Austin.

Miss Xanna Don't


Dear Editor:

I missed the article "Village People," Vol.17, No.21, and am sorry to say I did not miss Mr. Kurt Standiford's brilliant letter in response, Vol.17, No.22.

I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Standiford, on your heap of sadly unoriginal and misguided opinions. But if you want to get technical on your English, "Einstein," maybe reviewing your Latin and Greek would be helpful.

To begin, the prefix homo-, as in homosexual, is from the Greek for "same" and not Latin for "man." Your statement "homophobe being the fear of man..." was therefore wrong on two counts, as the term "homophobe" has come to be used in English, one: it is not a fear but a phobic person, and two: that phobia would be a fear of sameness, not of "people in general." Your may also be interested to know, therefore, that lesbians ("...lesbians and homosexuals don't mix well in a bar or nightclub atmosphere") are indeed homosexuals, too.

Homophobia, technically the fear of sameness, is an applicable term for both definitions of that fear. Contrary to your belief that gays and lesbians are "paranoid separatists" who "sequester themselves from mainstream norms," this is a population that in fact, the majority of the time, blends right in! (Your very own neighbors, coworkers, etc.) There is, however, nothing to be afraid of.

With respect,

Jenny Jaeckel

P.S. "McCarthyism"??

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