Don't Shelve Smart Growth
Rob Dickson's letter to the editor ["Postmarks," Vol. 18, No. 42] introduces a fresh dimension to the endless debate of bicycles vs. cars in these pages of late. His analysis points out that this debate is merely a symptom of the real problem, which is that the city's current land development codes promote urban sprawl and discourage development of sustainable, human-scale alternatives.
The city's Smart Growth initiative is a step in the right direction. However, while a majority of citizens seem to support the goals of Smart Growth, they do not trust the process. Many feel left out and believe that the city will do as it pleases without regard for their input. Given the recent furor over the relocation of the day labor site and the end-run around SOS over the Forum PUD and the CSC negotiations, this perception is perhaps not unfounded.
In January 1995, the Citizen's Planning Committee released a report which recommended that the city change the land development codes to promote sustainable development, and that it do so with a high level of citizen involvement. Although the city has adopted some of this committee's recommendations, those concerning public participation seem to have been largely ignored.
The current City Council has presented a possible vision for Austin's future. However, I am concerned that the lack of a process for meaningful public participation will force Smart Growth onto the same dusty shelf as so many other far-sighted attempts to establish a more livable city. Without significant public participation in the process of Smart Growth, we will soon find ourselves in a city we do not recognize or care about.
Can't We All Get Along?
There ain't no such thing as "cars versus bikes." They're complementary technology.
I live about 10 miles from my job and bike to work about four days a week on average. I enjoy the exercise and wouldn't give it up. I also wouldn't give up my car. It's a matter of efficiency.
My car can haul a half ton of carcass or cartage for about 30 miles on each gallon of gas, at a cool 60 miles an hour or more. A gallon of regular unleaded, pre-tax, costs about 75 cents and produces 125,000 BTUs, equivalent to 31,250 calories. In other words (according to P.J. O'Rourke), a gallon of gas is the caloric equivalent of "a box of sugar donuts, a half dozen twelve ounce steaks, three six-packs of beer, a pizza, an apple pie, a twenty piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, one hundred chocolate chip cookies, a birthday cake, a quart of bourbon and a Big Mac and fries." Not bad for six bits, eh?
Biking has required a great deal of added personal fuel -- at least a weekly Threadgill's chicken-fried steak plate with plenty of cream gravy and Southern-style veggies. As economical as Threadgill's is, I'm still paying a lot more money for a lot fewer calories.
Despite the "absolute" inefficiency (gas is far cheaper by any standard), I enjoy "relative" efficiency because I feel a lot better for the exercise and, more importantly, can enjoy Southern-fried treats without becoming a water buffalo.
Try finding a parking place on Sixth Street on Friday night. Try bicycling to Dallas. Cars and bikes aren't "zero sum" choices. What helps bicycles doesn't hurt cars and vice versa. There's room for both.
Set the Children Free
As Max Farr points out in his letter of June 25, the "freedom" afforded by cars isn't freedom for everyone. A city without good public transit and safe bikeways is particularly hard on children between the ages of 12 and 16. At this age, a child desperately needs to be out and about, exploring the city without Mom and Dad. In our car culture, many kids have to stay home until driven somewhere by a parent. This makes a child feel completely powerless.
Parents used to chase kids outside when they sat too long in front of the TV. Now the parent is relieved when the child sits at the TV or computer because the child is safe at home, not out bicycling on dangerous streets. But the child is missing out on freedom of motion in the physical world. Everyone needs such freedom, especially children.
Children in the car culture are seriously unfree. It can be easier for a child to obtain a gun than to bicycle across town alone or visit friends via public transit.
When people get old, the car culture reduces them again to the powerlessness of childhood. In cities with good transit systems, sidewalks, and safe bike/trikeways, old folks go places and socialize without having to wait for their children to drive them.
What sort of life do you want for your children? How do you want to spend your old age?
P.S. Clay Smith's "Postscripts" column about Robert Rosen (film producer who expressed interest in my novel The Age of the Bicycle) contains a technical error. Mr. Rosen isn't a bicyclist; he's a tricyclist.
Just a note to let you know I've found gainful employment. I'm working to help put together a statewide radio network. The official announcement should be out this week. It's TXN, and I assure you, I wouldn't be doing this if there were any ideological agenda or litmus test -- other than fairness.
I've got the house on the market, and the family will be relocating to San Antonio soon, hopefully before school starts. (Anybody looking for a south central fizzbo?) I just want to be sure to thank you and The Austin Chronicle for all of the courtesies and kindnesses shown me during my most recent (and longest, at 12 years) tour of Austin. It's been great to be a part of the issues and debate of the community. And through it all, most everyone treated me like gold -- even the people I disagreed with! You'll still see me tooling down Congress in "Mobile None" for a little while longer, and I'll be up to visit from time to time I'm sure. But I'll never forget, and never regret, my time in Austin.
News Director, TXN Radio
Right Turn Needed?
In his June 11 essay about music and social changes since 1955, Michael Ventura states, "and nobody knows anymore whether this is freedom or one hell of a wrong turn." ["Letters at 3AM," Vol. 18, No. 41]
Since 1955 the divorce rate, crime rate, drug abuse rate, teen pregnancy rate, teen suicide rate, etc., have all skyrocketed, while church attendance and literacy rates have declined. In 1955 it was bad when a kid threw a paper airplane in school. In 1999 over 500,000 crimes per month, from minor vandalism to mass murder, are occurring in schools. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to discern that something is wrong.
When an alcoholic beats his wife and children, loses his driver's license, and loses his job, and then won't admit his drinking problem, he is commonly referred to as being in denial about his behavior.
When the liberals, atheists, homosexuals, feminists, and drug addicts that Michael Ventura represents are so intoxicated with their freedom to break all the old rules that they can no longer even discern the condition of our society, much less the connection between their behaviors and the condition of our society, then the word denial again becomes applicable.
As Dennis Rodman would affirm, people are free to be "as bad as they wanna be."
But people are not free to choose the consequences of their bad actions. What goes around, comes around.
I just wanted to send a note thanking you for publishing Michael Ventura's columns -- and to him for writing them, for writing them the way he does, for still writing them.
For a long time, he's kept me coming back to Austin, via the Chronicle, to read his columns. I think I owe him a debt of gratitude for helping me "keep the faith" ... in whatever nameless, thing-lessness I hang onto these difficult days. Sometimes, not because of what's all going on, but just sometimes it helps a great deal to read someone who takes his time to think things through, takes time to be care-full.
Faith Found in Chimayo
Thanks to Michael Ventura's article, "Forever in Chimayo" [Vol. 18, No. 43] for reminding me of the true beauty of faith found in some of the most obscure places on earth.
My grandmother and I used to make yearly pilgrimages to the tiny village of Chimayo to visit the Santuario de Chimayo. I will never forget my first impression of that beautiful, serene, holy place as a seven-year-old boy, when I first walked into the chapel and saw the years of human labor that went into building this simple but beautiful chapel. The room next to the chapel held crutches, devotional prayers, wheelchairs, and letters of thanksgiving to God for prayers answered.
Chimayo's Sanctuary (el Santuario) is just one of the great examples of the following of the great people of New Mexico. How appropriate that this shrine sits in one of the beautiful mountains right outside the city of Holy Faith (Santa Fe).
We are constantly reminded that where charity, faith, and love are found, there is God! Thank you, Michael for taking me back on a pilgrimage of faith that I have not been in for a few years. I must return!
To Whom It May Concern,
I have just finished reading Chris Baker's article about the old Atari games ["Playing on the Past," Vol. 18, No. 41]. I'm sorry, but this town is ridiculous with the whole "retro" thing. Austin wouldn't be what it is now if it wasn't for the huge advances in computer technology. To say that Space Invaders is superior to the incredible games that are being produced today is ludicrous, it's like saying that you'd rather have a horse and buggy than an automobile. I can understand wanting to recapture your glory days when you were 12 years old, but come on, Chris, lose the straw hat, take off your big fur coat, and drop the Atari pennant, it's 1999 for cryin' out loud! Before you plunk another nickel into the nickelodeon, remember that it's no longer 1983 and your crown for having the high score in Asteroids has rusted, so hop into your Studebaker and drive your frightened self into the 20th century, where everything new isn't necessarily a threat to your golden Atari childhood memories.
Brendon M. Walsh
Dear Mr. Black:
"Then they took him to the jailhouse where they try to turn a man into a mouse."
-- Bob Dylan, "Hurricane"
To you this may seem trivial, but take my word for it -- when you have been confined for more than a year there is no such thing as a trivial pursuit, especially when constitutional rights are implicated.
I currently have a paid subscription to the Chronicle and receive it by post. What occurred this week disturbs me and I hope that you will be equally concerned. Travis County has arbitrarily chosen certain portions of the June 18 edition [Vol. 18, No. 42] unfit for me to read. This was done, I believe, in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution of the State of Texas.
As you can see, Mr. Black, in the accompanying complaint form, I am addressing this violation through this facility's grievance system. It would likely help to preclude future violations of this sort if you would call Major David Balagia. I understand that he is the head honcho here at TCCC. I am certain that the administration would take my complaint more seriously if they knew someone outside these walls is aware of the situation.
In closing, I must ask if there is any way that y'all could send me another copy of the June 18 edition. I don't want to miss
"Life in Hell."
Very truly yours,
Robert S. Moore
Travis County Correctional Center
We were very dismayed to read Kirk Addison's letter ["Postmarks," Vol. 18, No. 43] about his stressful experiences with a remodeler. While it is true that a very few (we hope) in our profession are simply unscrupulous or incompetent, more often the problem during a boom is that businesses take on more than they can successfully handle and their owners end up feeling pressured and overwhelmed. This can happen inadvertently because of unrealistic time estimates (or fear, remembering the bust), rather than being a consequence of greed. Sadly, this in turn leads to using subcontractors that they do not have a track record with, not adequately supervising their jobs, or just doing rushed, substandard work.
Kirk gave a description of problems and concluded "Buyer beware." We'd like to offer some practical tips to help careful consumers avoid or certainly minimize their chances of being in this situation.
1. Make sure a general contractor has liability insurance. While, as mentioned, a lawsuit can't take away the contractor's homestead, etc., it can reimburse a homeowner for losses. In this instance, the additional repairs needed, theft, and telephone calls are all items a contractor could be held liable for. Then, indirectly the contractor does end up paying through future higher payments on insurance or even an inability to get insurance.
2. Always check references. Instead of just looking at a reference list where presumably the consumers are pleased, ask for numbers to the most recent jobs the contractor has done.
3. The Austin Association of Remodeling Contractors has requirements for membership that include years in business as well as an ethical code its members pledge to uphold. Call them for referrals.
4. Be aware that a good contractor has spent years learning his/her trade and polishing his craftsmanship, then in addition is running a very complex, multifaceted business. Expect to pay an adequate sum for this expertise, and perhaps to wait to get your project started.
D. Toshu and Joe Zakes
Almost Perfect Construction
Re: Mini Me: Now that he has officially declared his candidacy for president of the United States, it is time to point out a few of his slip-ups. Most importantly, his claim to being internationally seasoned. As the son of a former United States diplomat, I can hardly refrain from laughing at our former governor. Several months ago, on a visit to Israel with his daddy, he stated that Jewish people were rather religious and that despite that, they would all go to heaven. A huge blunder and a typical example of Christian arrogance. Not quite as bad as our former vice-president, Dan Quayle, though. On the same trip, however, he was asked about his knowledge of Italy, only to reply that Italians ride a lot of scooters. Brilliant! Another generality. Perhaps Mr. Bush should go back to school or live abroad a few years before opening his mouth again. Or maybe he should continue to let his spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, write all his press releases. After all, we can't have him trying to articulate on matters he has no knowledge of. Finally, when confronted by a foreign journalist about Slovakia, Mr. Bush stated that the only thing he knew about Slovakia was what he learned firsthand from the journalist's foreign minister who visited Texas in April. Well, it must have been quite embarrassing for him, when he learned that the visitor wasn't a Slovakian foreign minister after all, instead the Prime Minister of Slovenia, a break-away republic from Yugoslavia, not Czechoslovakia. Whoops! Without further insult, let's be a little bit more careful and selective about our next president. Isn't it about time we elect someone with more international experience and the ability to speak a second language fluently?
Standiford Misinterprets AMA
Kurt Standiford must be certifiably insane. I read a review of the study conducted by psychiatric researchers on the effects of sex between "adults" and "children" in The New York Times. It said zip about pederasts. The study was extremely broad-based (The experiences of the adults interviewed ranged from a woman who'd been repeatedly raped by her father at age five to a guy who had consensual sex at 16 with adults -- "adults" being anyone 18 and over) and simply concluded based on profiles of these folks that some had no apparent damage at all while others had painful, chronic difficulties. Given the breadth of the study, it's obvious why the results would vary so dramatically. The study simply reported the findings. No such conclusion was offered that remotely resembled "The AMA says it's OK to be a pederast." Is Standiford perhaps off his medication?
I see no reason why people want George W. Bush to be the next president, nor do I see any significant merit to his "accomplishments" as the governor. I hope that I am wrong, but what I see indicates that he is just another lost soul seeking more money and power. Those interested in him should realize that the $1.85 billion tax cut that Bush brags about cut taxes by approx. $60 per $100,000 home, for property owners only. There was no tax relief for the 40% of the population who are still renting. That money would have been much better spent on libraries, parks, and other things that could benefit all of the people, both the "haves" and the "have nots." Bush brags about signing the bill that will give poor Texas children health insurance, but fails to mention that under his so-called "compassionate leadership," Texas became the 50th (very last) state to take advantage of the Clinton Medicaid policy from 1997. It is also a drag to see Bush so soft on the major polluters, in this "great" state which happens to contribute more air pollution than any other state to the atmosphere. Giving older mega-million-dollar corporations the option of voluntary compliance with pollution laws is not good for the people. Will he brag about the flourishing Texas prison industry? Or our highly "compassionate" practice of murdering extremely unfortunate people who have become criminals on death row? Or the numbers of people doing time for victimless crimes in Texas? Of course not. He seems to be a very nice man but nothing indicates that he is a leader. He obviously is not what this country needs. George W. Bush is the subject of another Texas tall tale, part of the wool that is being pulled over the eyes of the nation. I for one hope that the charade doesn't last.
Day labor is immoral, just as child labor, sweat shops, sex for money, and any form of economic slavery violate norms of humane economic activity.
The Austin City Council continues, by sponsoring a day labor site, to collaborate in this practice. Members close their eyes to the deplorable realities of day labor and profess they are helping laborers who seek work on Austin streets. What they are actually doing is helping unethical contractors who are evading labor laws.
America has, through its developing labor legislation, risen above wanton exploitation of the poor by opportunistic bosses trying to duck their proper share of the burdens of economic activity.
These unjust bosses today in Austin are sucking profit from workers who have only the power they can barely muster from their muscles day by day.
Because the mayor and council will not acknowledge this sinful system, may the Lord of Labor do justice to them and the muscle between their ears.
I realize that your staff might regard Alex Jones' KJFK talk show as hate-radio, but it would serve your Fourth Estate duties to report some of the activities he has documented, both in his videos -- America: Wake Up or Waco, America Destroyed by Design, and Police State 2000 -- and on his radio and television broadcasts. Please check out the fact that the Temple Municipal Airport is presently occupied by the National Guard for one week, with FEMA agents, black helicopters, and troops running the place -- and find out why, and report it.
Unless I have missed it, I haven't seen a word mentioned in your paper about the listening devices and TV cameras being installed all over town, the massive traffic checkpoints, and random searches being carried on. The San Saba airport has been upgraded to a municipal airport, for the purpose of establishing a refueling station for military aircraft already being assembled there. Why?
Someone on your staff should get a copy of the FEMA rules for the year 2000, a 58-page set of rules which provide for the establishment of, well, a police state, to be set up to deal with the various crises we face in the next year, including an unprecedented (in recorded history) solar flare period. There is a dearth of information on these topics, and they, to me, sort of supersede your timely and astute coverage of the arts, local politics, and sex ads. Please include New World Order in your features. Believe me, your readers will be in your debt.
Actually, I believe it is much too late for your paper or anything else to avert what is coming, and what has already begun. One hundred thirty-seven American cities will have military-occupation training in the next six months, already begun. None of this gets on the wire services. Why? And where are you, O beacon of Truth, my Chronicle?
Illegal searches should concern most of your readers. Some states have approved hiring hotel staff to report evidence of drug possession by patrons. Anyone wishing to research the above might want to check out http://infowars.com on the Internet.
I beseech you: Please report on some of these topics.
Force the Issue
UT students, and their parents: Well, we have a better reason to be happy than the people of San Antonio over the Spurs victory. The person who skyrocketed the fees, who refused to build affordable one-bedroom apartments for UT students, Dr. Bill Cunningham, is resigning.
Does someone just up and leave a job paying $500,000 a year? Of course not. How then did it happen, and how can we decrease the fees, increase the number of affordable one-bedroom apartments, and restore UT to being an excellent university? Three elements worked together to pressure Cunningham to leave: 1. The press did what was right. Both excellent articles in The Austin Chronicle and the present editorial staff of The Daily Texan worked to pressure him to leave. 2. Student protests and communications to the governor and on campus. 3. I personally contacted and wrote letters to the board of regents on what was going on here, and received interested replies from the chairman. My strong suggestion to students and parents is contact and write the board of regents. Maybe UT will even get rid of violent frat houses that degrade females, and beat up each other under a new UT head person.
The most recent Star Wars had strong point by George Lucas. The wounded, innocent, princess demands the immediate resignation of the lazy, rich, chief of the government of all planets ... and she gains this wish. That is way most democratic nations like England, France, and Germany daily function, and is deeply in reference to the governor of Texas.
You can correct the mess,
So Mr.'s Barr and Bush, what you're telling me is that I may not be moral enough to join the Army, kill women and children, burn houses, villages, hospitals, and foreign embassies because my religion respects nature, life, and freedom? I can only wonder when Bill Clinton will begin bombing Atlanta and Austin to force Bob Barr and George Bush to end their program of ethnic cleansing.
Work Will Make You Clean
Hallelujah! The truth finally comes out! On the Channel 2 news, 8/21/99 there was a report on panhandling in Austin. Did you know those bums on the corner with their cardboard signs are making $40-50 dollars a day tax free? It seems this is a crime that is punishable by up to a $500 fine. Why aren't they being prosecuted? The police don't think it is a priority. How do you determine when a crime is a priority? At the same time, the city of Austin is spending millions of tax dollars to build a new day labor site in a place where it is clear the residents don't want it so undocumented workers will have a place to get work without paying taxes.
Aside from the fact that these people aren't paying taxes and are a danger to law-abiding citizens, it would be understandable if there were a job shortage in Austin. There is not! The paper is full of jobs every day. MCI has had to resort to advertising on television to try and fill its openings. When HEB opened a new store they had to put people out on corners to solicit applicants. What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong with this city?
We should arrest these bums and put them to work cleaning up this city they are trying to exploit!