Speaking With Authority
Oops! We all make mistakes, but when I stumbled across the opening lines of Nate Blakeslee's toll road story ("Pete's Principle" Vol.17, No.37), my confidence in the credibility of the whole article was badly shaken. I'm referring to Blakeslee's reference to the TTA as "the newly formed Texas Turnpike Authority."
It just so happens that I literally wrote the book on the Texas Turnpike Authority (History of the Texas Turnpike Authority, published in 1995), so I can vouch for the fact that the TTA was created by the Legislature in 1953, not 1998. Its first project was the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike. In the years since, the projects the TTA has built and maintained include the Dallas North Tollway, Mountain Creek Lake Bridge (in southwest Dallas county), the Addison Airport Tunnel, and Houston Ship Channel Bridge (since renamed the Jesse H. Jones Memorial Bridge). Additionally, TTA has performed numerous feasibility studies for other toll projects around the state and, overall, played a vital role in transportation planning for Texas.
For the last 45 years, please note.
Maybe Nate should have gotten together with Robert Bryce and checked the notes from his interview with Charles Matthews, of the Texas Railroad Commission. Besides serving as mayor of Garland, Matthews' previous posts include vice chairman of TTA, to which he was appointed in 1987.
Having said all that, I must say I've always admired and greatly valued the Chronicle's political coverage. And, aside from this egregious error, the transportation coverage in this issue presents a very thought-provoking picture, and I congratulate all who were involved in it.
A Train Thought
I would love to get Union Pacific off its tracks, especially if it will stop those 3am runs that wake me up (and there are hundreds if not thousands of homes closer to the tracks than I am). I never did understand how Austin could close the airport at a decent hour but not shut down the trains that go straight through our neighborhoods.
I've read with amusement as the Chronicle week after week lambastes its former politics editor, now Councilmember Daryl Slusher. I'm glad the Chronicle thinks Slusher deserves scrutiny, although, ironically, the reporting lacks the accuracy and depth that Slusher provided. What prompted me to write, however, was Scott Henson's letter last week.
Like Henson I was a strong Slusher supporter. Evidently unlike Henson I don't expect Slusher to agree with me on every issue. Over the years I've gotten really weary of people instantly transforming allies into the devil just because of a few disagreements on issues. Henson's letter was such an extreme case that I have to think there's some personal ax to grind. Regardless, this type of zealotry helps kill promising political movements.
Henson writes that Slusher is trying to get reelected by taking "milquetoast positions" such as "kissing up" to the police association and "nixing S.O.S. restrictions for the benefit of Circle C homeowners."
The latter statement is one of the most ludicrous I've heard in a while. If Slusher runs for reelection next year he is going to lose Circle C by a several thousand vote margin. He knows that, but he led the way to annexing them anyway, in order to bring the area under S.O.S. and so the residents will pay their share of city taxes.
As to "kissing up" to the police association, that sure didn't seem to be the case when Slusher went out of his way to defend an African American assistant chief recently whose reputation was being slurred by a few racist officers in the department.
These positions hardly seem milquetoast. I think Slusher is one of Austin's toughest politicians in a long time. He doesn't let anyone push him around, be it corporate executives, angry young activists like Henson, or black people like former Councilmember Eric Mitchell and his allies who scream racism when Slusher sees through their bull.
Another of Henson's big concerns is East Austin. I know that Henson lives in East Austin and cares about the people. As a 40-year East Austin resident and like Henson a UT alumnus (first black freshman class in 1956) I appreciate that. I respect his commitment and intellect. I've seen a lot of people similar to him though come to East Austin over the years, then leave mad. That's usually because they think they know what's best for the people of East Austin. They then get angry when the people don't follow them.
Slusher on the other hand has been active in East Austin for two decades. He listens to folks rather than telling them what's best for them. Henson should consider this approach. The current council has the opportunity to consolidate progressive and humane politics in Austin. Making that happen will take wisdom and maturity. Calling allies names and making up things about them when you don't get your way doesn't help at all.
Chairman, Black Voters Action Project
Violating the Cardinal Sin!
Marjorie, Marjorie, Marjorie. You have violated the cardinal sin of movie reviewing: talking about the book. Ms. Baumgarten, you do an incredible disservice to moviegoers everywhere by unfavorably comparing Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas to Hunter S. Thompson's novel.
Just because the movie didn't live up to the expectations you got from reading the book, doesn't mean the movie is mediocre. Based on its own merits, Fear & Loathing is an excellent film; it's ridiculous to "measure up" a film's ability to impart wisdom to fiction's, and then dog the film for being shallow.
Besides, we all have different interpretation of fiction. I may feel that Thomson's "philosophical mooring" is closer to a loose, dental floss tether.
In the future, Marjorie, leave the book out of it. The book is irrelevant. Take a movie on its own merits, and thus its value to moviegoers' average expectation. I don't know about you but I heard people laughing through the whole thing!
Jonathan S. Gilbert
In a time when even hamburger joints are adding vegetarian options to their menus, it is surprising that The Austin Chronicle's restaurant reviewer(s?) virtually ignore their vegetarian readers. While veal dishes are regularly sampled, there is rarely even a mention of each restaurants' vegetarian offerings.
I'm sure vegetarians and near-vegetarians, not to mention health-conscious meat eaters, make up a significant percentage of the Chronicle's audience. It would be helpful if your reviews noted if each restaurant serves vegetarian entreés, vegan entreés, and how extensive the selection might be. Of course, it would be splendid if your reviewer could actually sample a vegetarian/vegan dish and let us know their reaction. Much as I love Veggie Heaven and Mother's, it's fun to try a new place, knowing they'll have vegetarian entreés, and with the advance salivation a positive Chronicle review might inspire.
Rosie Weaver, Vegan
To the Editor:
In reference to "Bumpy Road" [Vol.17, No.37] by Bryan Mealer, if the city wants to improve Barton Springs Road, maybe they're looking at the wrong stretch. With a traffic count of 30,000 cars a day and only 25 accidents in the past 14 months (one was mine!), I fail to see a pressing safety issue here.
Instead, maybe the improvement could be taking place in the section of 4-lane speedway between Barton Creek and Mopac. That's where the heart of Austin (Zilker) is sliced in half for an east-west throughway. This stretch of Barton Springs Road destroys a huge section of what could be serene parkland. Isn't it bad enough that MoPac gobbled up mega-acreage of adjacent parkland and replaced it with elevated noisy traffic?
In Zilker, Barton Springs Road is dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross. It also pollutes the surrounding parkland with noise and noxious fumes. Speeding through the park on Barton Springs Road is so commonplace, the cops could probably set up a speed trap there and fund "improvements" just on the proceeds from those tickets.
Now, here's a crazy idea I've had rattling in my brain for the last decade or so. Tunnel Barton Springs Road from Barton Creek to MoPac. Oh, I'm sure there are problems with this, but the city could come up with solutions for an "Outfall" project to facilitate development in the Barton Creek watershed, couldn't they? Why doesn't our "green counsel" put some thought into saving (reclaiming) the jewel of Austin's park system, instead of worrying about a pretty "gateway into Zilker Park" for more motorized traffic?
I try to enjoy the park, live in a neighborhood that will be greatly impacted by the planned "improvements," and drive on Barton Springs Road daily.
Barton Hills resident
Mining the Quarries
Another "triangle" squabble is currently heating up in northwest Austin over an area known as the "Quarries." This pastoral plot of 58 acres is surrounded by the single-family homes of Balcones Woods and Mesa Park, and the MoPac railroad tracks; plus it is a cul-de sac, with access by only one residential road.
The owner, Hyde Park Baptist Church, wants to fill it with 45% impervious ground cover, and build about 300,000 sq. ft. of buildings and parking for 700 cars, most of which would border residents' privacy fences. The plan seems to have total disregard for what is now there: a spring-fed lake, large shade trees, ball fields (on land fill), and a flood plain.
Ever since the news of this plan first surfaced in the Statesman (Feb. '97), in which church officials (remembering the past) were quoted as saying that they "had no intention of having a hostile relationship with the neighborhood," residents in the area have tried to stay informed. Meetings were held, committees were formed, and letters to the Planning Commission and City Council were sent. Most residents felt that the plan was too dense for the site. Some were appalled.
Recently (May 11), I got the distinct impression that a hostile relationship has indeed finally been achieved between HPBC and the surrounding neighborhoods. Hundreds packed Davis Elementary to have their most important concerns addressed. Questions in writing were called for, and answers were promised. Then the sole spokesman representing HPBC declined to answer a single question!
You could feel the hostility rise from the disappointed departing crowd. We were invited to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops and then appeal. That's where the good Christian Golden Rule will prevail: "Them with the gold, makes the rules."
I would like to congratulate Michael Ventura on his recent series of articles offering a critique of technology and our addiction to it.
I have been reflecting on this theme for 30 years. I believe I could contribute to Mr. Ventura's insight if he would care to contact me.
I will throw out a tidbit to entice him.
When I was in 7th grade my science textbook told me that "science is knowledge." The textbook didn't tell me, however, that scientific knowledge is incomplete and dangerous knowledge. Two problems with scientific knowledge:
1) "Objective observation" - when a scientist focuses his attention on a phenomenon he changes the phenomenon. There is no such thing as an objective observation, therefore scientific knowledge will always be fluid and changing and reflect more the state of mind of the scientist than outer reality.
2) Divisiveness - in his work the scientist isolates a tiny fragment of reality and ignores or blocks out surrounding information in order to get "pure" data. The data themselves and the scientific knowledge derived from them are then devoid of context. Knowledge devoid of context is both incomplete and divisive. It separates people from each other, it separates people from their natural environment, and it separates people from God.
The big lie of science at this time is: "The products of science and technology are enhancing the quality of life of people." In fact, the opposite is true. Each technological "advancement" reduces our quality of life on this planet. It is this lie of science that I think Mr. Ventura is beginning to grasp.
Letter Writer on the Loose
In regard to his letter, ["Postmarks," Vol.17, No.36], may I just inquire, "Who is Jason Meador and why has he stopped taking his medicine?"
Freedom of Speech
This is in reply to Bill Toney's letter to the editor ["Postmarks," Vol. 17, No.37]. I'm sorry that you feel this way about "Freedom of Speech." It has been my understanding that freedom of speech was to be meant for the very idea that you are complaining about. Freedom of speech is meant for the protection of ideas that you oppose. If you aren't willing to stand up for the right of someone to put forth an idea that you disagree with then you are not for freedom of speech.
A couple more thoughts on this; if the second amendment is to protect our rights to weapons, so that we may overthrow a tyrannical government, then the first is there to protect our right to "speak out" about "our" tyrannical government. If you feel that "our" government isn't tyrannical, look up the human rights abuses by Third World dictators that this country has labeled "democratic".
Ranthalas Christian Thanosan
Don't Rail-Road Our Citizens
Someone stated in the Chronicle that I claimed, "light rail is much too expensive to be practical" ["Postmarks," Vol.17, No.37]. This person is making statements which do not match the facts. I reported here what came out of the Cap Metro workshop on light rail, making statements of fact, embellished little, and "asserted" nothing.
To truly fix Austin's transportation problems will actually require more expensive above-the-street systems like: PRT, GRT, and/or ABT/Monorails. Get informed, surf the Web, don't be fooled by local business propaganda. Follow this URL: http://www.io.com/~bumper/cs_rail.htm and discover lots of links to real alternative modes of transportation.
Light rail uses basic train technology unchanged since 1960. LR planning is again being used here to supply the business community with customers for their downtown playground. Once again the majority of Austinites will find themselves nowhere near a bus stop or a train station when it comes time to go to work.
Future uncontrolled growth(tainted Smart Growth) and the continuing population boom will overwhelm and consume any reduction in traffic or pollution that light rail ridership is claimed to cure. Traffic jams are here to stay, why make traffic worse with trains on main surface streets.
I rode my bike to Harris Elementary, Pearce Jr. High, and Reagan High School. As an adult, until my disability kicked in full blown, I rode my bike to work as well.
I have advocated "Bike Ways" on shared railroad ROWs in Austin since 1989, and continue to do so. Bike lanes in Austin are dangerous, Bike Ways are the way to go for safe bicycling here.
Whiners and traffic calmers get a grip. Regardless of their shortcomings, cars/trucks and busses are here to stay.
It has come to my attention that the city of Austin has started enforcing `Jay Walking' - a law which has been on the books for several years. It sounds to me as though the city council has empowered and given the police department absolute discretion, once again, to harass pedestrians. The first example of such a fiasco came as the result of an ordinance that required all bicyclists to wear helmets, which consequently received such a backlash that the city retreated on its postion. It would be far more constructive if the police department focused its efforts on slowing traffic down, ticketing individuals for running red lights and cutting buses off at intersectons, etc. The city council has obviously underestimated the stupidity of such a reactionary decision. It is apparent that the city council is also unable to make rational, intelligent and insightful decisions. In order for Austin to be considered progressive, it is essential that the majority of its time, resources, and energy be concentrated on developing the inner-city's infrastructure so as to accommodate a livelier, more vibrant and community oriented center. As it is, there are far too many lazy, irate drivers and not enough people engaged in helping Austin become an exception to the rule. Get out of your box on wheels and familiarize yourself with Austin.
Make Pools Accessible
I enjoyed your recent edition featuring the numerous swimming holes our city offers. But when I went to the grand re-openening of my neighborhood pool Stacey, I was a bit dumb-struck to find that during the 3-month "renovations" to the pool, the restrooms remain inaccessible to persons using wheelchairs. Austin pools need to be accessible to everyone (besides, it's a federal law).
Babich Looks Abroad
Before we spend all our money and land on building and widening roads for cars, maybe we should read the British government's forthcoming White Paper on transportation. (You can read about this forthcoming paper in Mick Hamer's article "Roadblocks Ahead" in the New Scientist, and elsewhere.)
Until very recently, the British government and transportation engineers believed exactly what our government and traffic engineers believe: that closing major roadways is disastrous, that it diverts motor traffic onto neighboring roads, that it makes businesses fail, and that building and widening roads do not increase car use or traffic volume.
But they found out otherwise. In 1994, the City of London had to close Tower Bridge to cars. Traffic on neighboring streets did not increase at anything like the horrific levels forecasted. All around traffic decreased in the region. In February 1997, Hammersmith Bridge had to be closed to cars, because it was not strong enough to support the 30,000 cars that drove across it daily. The bridge is still closed to cars, but open to bicycles and pedestrians. At least 20% of the ambient motor traffic just disappeared. The engineers call this phenomenon "traffic evaporation."
If flying to San Antonio is going to become easier than driving there, maybe we should consider building a safe, car-free bicycle path from Austin to San Antonio. (There already is an Amtrack train from Austin to San Antonio, but it only leaves once every two days.) If we're willing to close one car route from here to there, we can have a safe, car-free Austin-San Antonio route for free, and at the same time reduce ambient car traffic. And every five miles along the bicycle path, small rest-stop businesses will flourish.
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Sodom
Have you considered that maybe "the best and brightest" minorities are not going to UT because they are the brightest, and they don't want to go to school with a bunch of flaming liberals at New Sodom, Texas? They just might agree with Hopwood and choose a school that puts education first and sports on a lesser level of importance, if at all.
The anti-Hopwood crowd worries about a worn out welcome mat scaring off minorities. Well what will these minorities think when the actions of UT results in Hopwood being made the law of the land via the Supreme Court? (UT vs. Hopwood 1999?)
You know the saying, "Give 'em enough rope..."
Teachers With Tommyguns
One more school massacre (eight this school year, if you're still counting) and gun control isn't on the media table this time. No, arming the school staff is the Mad Max solution that has been thrown out. Let me get this one straight - is this supposed to be for deterrent value or do we face the spectre of school officials now wielding hot lead on the playground? Clearly what is needed, by constitutional amendment if necessary, is gun control. It is time to take away the toys.
No Applause, Just Throw Money
To the Editor:
In November of 1996, a majority of the American voters voted Bill Clinton to be America's chief executive officer. Tens of millions of our tax dollars have been spent to thwart that vote, by distracting the President from running the country and bankrupting the First Family with legal bills.
Kenneth Starr, apparently picked for a willingness to never cry "enough," has gone through over $35,000,000 in our taxpayer dollars in his partisan investigation of President Clinton, with no end in sight. The Donna Jones appeal also moves forward financed by tax-exempted contributions to nominally "nonpartisan" organizations.
Responding to Starr's $35,000,000 investigation has indebted the First Family to personal liability for almost $4 million in legal bills, an amount over the President's salary and over the First Family's current net worth. If you choose to help defray these bills, you can do so by mailing a contribution to "The Clinton Legal Expense Trust," Department #6007, Washington, DC 20042-6007. Only a U.S. citizen who is not a lobbyist nor employed by the executive branch may contribute, and only from personal funds. Contributions are not tax deductible, and are limited to no more than $10,000 per year. The support indicated by even small contributions is very welcome. The trust may be contacted at the above address to provide further information.
A Donkey in Elephant's Clothing
From mid-April to mid-November of 1997, I lived in Austin before moving to San Francisco. During my stay there I worked in the fundraising call center for the Republican Party of Texas for about seven months before I finally left Austin. I made phoner of the month in June and July and second place in September and October while working there. This created two first place monthly bonuses of $100 each and two second place bonuses of $50 each for me.
I do believe that my native deep Southern accent and voice was a major asset for my GOP fundraising there. This made me sound very believable over the phone as a good ol' boy, southern "redneck" conservative Republican. I am really a liberal Democrat with most issues and candidates.
I had to contend with constant subtle and overt homophobia, favoritism, mismanagement, etc., from supervisors and co-workers while working for the Texas GOP. The much-needed huge amount of pledge money that was coming in from my phone calls is why the two homophobic (of the three) supervisors (and their higher-up protectors in the office) did not engage in a vicious effort to fire or harass me into quitting. I finally left on my own.
I experienced a lot of jealousy from co-workers about my fundraising ability and often overheard homophobic remarks from some of them about me.
Seven months after I began working there, the supervisors enacted an assigned seating arrangement for phoners that changed on a monthly basis. Some of my co-workers did not want to sit next to me because they knew and hated the fact that I am gay. Supervisors and co-workers candy-coated this behavior with other excuses.
I don't believe that changing jobs would have made an improved difference for me or any other known or suspected gay person in Austin.