Our readers talk back.
At the ripe old age of 76, and having lived in Texas since 1930, longer than a lot of the native folk around, I like to take exception to Bill Crawford's story on the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum ["Welcome to Texasland,"June 23].
I enjoyed a long and continuous friendship and relationship with Bob, and I personally think that what he did for the state is a helluva lot more important than Bill's writing has been.
I regurgitated first off when Crawford did the hatchet job on Stevie Ray Vaughan. I handed [Vaughan] a 90 chip for his sobriety at an AA meeting in Dallas, and before he died in the plane crash he was ready to get his four-year medallion for sobriety.
Maybe Bill Crawford did not know also that Bob Bullock was a member of one of our 12-Step programs as a sustaining member. The remark about his heavy drinking was just a little uncalled for!
Bob and I first met in Tyler in 1952, he and Byron Tunnell were lawyers in my hometown and like a lot of Tylerites, I am very proud of the work that both of those guys did for us all in the state of Texas. I can assure you folks at the Chronicle that his final passage and his funeral orations (of which Gov. Bush was a very complimentary participant as well as Byron, who has followed Bob to that place where good Texans finally end up).
And that museum is no worse or better than the LBJ, the GHBush, or any other edifice raised to political bigwigs in this or any other state.
Bob had lost contact with me while I was trying to be a natural gas tycoon in Nacogdoches from 1996 to 1998. He called a Texas Ranger stationed there and the ranger called me and asked me, "Do you know the lieutenant governor is pissed at you?" I was rather surprised, but he elucidated, "The governor just lost your address and telephone number, would you please call him and tell him that I delivered his message!" And I certainly did that. You people do not know me from Adam's off-ox, but I am proud that Governor Bob was one not wanting to lose contact with an old friend and fellow traveler.
Quincy Benn Greywolf Welch
Halfbreed American Indian and one of the True Blue Bob Bullock Crowd!
To the Editor:
More than once on my daily drive down MLK by the Bullock Museum, I wondered whether I was going to see any critical analysis or discussion of this latest example of Texas vanity. I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Crawford's article ["Welcome to Texasland," June 23]. However, I wish he had taken the time to also question certain historically "embarrassing" (i.e. talking about it is too "controversial" and probably won't make money) portions of the "story of Texas" that the museum has so far decided to leave out.
I am talking about Texas slavery, the economic engine of most of 19th-century Texas, and about slave trading, which also played a big part of Texas' socioeconomics at the time. Until the museum, and the Texas "historic establishment" generally, come clean about the true nature and history of this peculiar institution, they won't be telling the true story of Texas, only a rather pale, male, and stale version of it.
The point is probably best summed up with a quote:
"If history is going to be scientific, if the record of human action is going to be set down with that accuracy and faithfulness of detail which will allow its use as a measuring rod and guidepost for the future of nations, there must be set some standards of ethics in research and interpretation.
If on the other hand, we are going to use history for our pleasure and amusement, for inflating our national ego, and giving us a false but pleasurable sense of accomplishment, then we must give up the idea of history either as an art using the results of science, and admit frankly that we are using a version of historic fact in order to influence and educate the new generation along the way we wish." -- W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1935
Houston, We Have a
To the Editor:
In regard to ["Welcome to Texasland," June 23] Crawford's article on the Bob Bullock museum and the actor narrating the onscreen presentation of the IMAX movie -- the first words from the moon were not "Houston, we have landed," but "Houston, Tranquility base here. The eagle has landed!!"
Tommey W. Gandy
P.S. It is a "history" museum, isn't it?
Legacy & Leisure
Thanks for Bill Crawford's enjoyable article on the new Bob Bullock Texas History Museum ["Welcome to Texasland," June 23]. The story of how Bob Bullock conceived and funded the museum is yet another original and amusing piece of Texas history.
Governor Bullock's "ready, fire, aim" approach to this project raised plenty of eyebrows among Texas museums, but to date I have been very impressed by the professionalism and competence of the State Preservation Board and their staff in carrying out their charge. It is not easy to start a history museum from scratch with no artifacts and a legislative mandate to operate in the black, but the museum team has conceived an experience that promises to be unique and compelling -- not your average museum visit. Although the museum will not own a collection of objects, it will borrow artifacts from other Texas history museums, so most of the museum's exhibits will tell the story of Texas using authentic historical objects.
No doubt the new museum will be a legacy shrine to Bob Bullock, but it will also be a major new tourist attraction for Austin. When it opens next spring, the museum will join places like Barton Springs, Mount Bonnell, and the State Capitol as a "must see" site for our out-of-town relatives, friends, and guests. For this I say: "God Bless Bob Bullock."
Texas Association of Museums
Save Our Separation
Despite having written to you only a few weeks ago to again remind you that the Save Our Springs Alliance is a nonprofit charity that never engages in candidate politics and is completely separate from the SOS Political Action Committee, your "Off the Desk" column managed to confuse the two once again [June 16].
While the Alliance and the PAC share the same goal (can you guess?), and many Austinites support both organizations, we do very different things and are completely separate organizations.
Save Our Springs Alliance
Deadlines? At the Chronicle?
Man, do I ever feel stupid. After striving to meet the short story contest deadline of June 12, I find the deadline has been extended more than a week to June 21. Reminds me of the times in high school I'd skip the weekend movies, ballgame, and get-togethers to have my homework assignment completed and submitted by the Monday-morning due date. Then, in class on Monday, the teacher would invariably announce that the homework wouldn't be due until Friday, rewarding those who partied over the weekend.
Writing is not simply a craft, a skill, and an artform. It's also a discipline. Writers who lack the discipline to make deadlines can find themselves out of work. Clearly, the Chron doesn't view deadlines in the same manner. I should have known. Hey, I have a great story for your Christmas issue. I'll get it to you after the first.
Welcome to the Table
Dear Mr. Faires,
As director of Texas Folklife Resources (TFR), I would like to thank you for your insightful article about our current exhibition, "The Welcoming Table" ["Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," June 23]. At the same time, however, I need to correct an unfortunate oversight on our part. While the stunning photographs in the exhibit are the work of artist Ella Gant, the actual project was curated from the outset by TFR staff member Dawn Orsak. As curator, Dawn conducted fieldwork and selected the participants to be photographed, interviewed members of the families, and wrote the exhibition didactics, program booklet, and gallery guide. In the article, you truly recognized and articulated her intentions and hopes for the exhibition. Coincidentally, Dawn is also a member of the Czech-Texan Kallus family, whose family reunion forms one of the photo essays in the exhibit.
Texas Folklife Resources is a nonprofit organization whose sole mission is to document and present the living cultural traditions of the Lone Star State. Exploring the food traditions practiced by the great majority of Texans is an important part of that mission. We are grateful for your enthusiastic interest in the work of Texas Folklife Resources and we want to invite all of your readers to visit our new gallery at 1317 South Congress and view "The Welcoming Table."
Texas Folklife Resources
To the Editor:
A simple-minded syllogism seems to have taken root in Austin. It goes something like this: 1) The government built the South Texas Nuke. 2) The South Texas Nuke was a disaster. 3) Therefore, if the government builds a light rail system, it will be a disaster.
It's a great little syllogism, since it saves folks the bother of thinking. However, if you replace "the South Texas Nuke" in line one with the "Internet" or "Town Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail," you come to a different conclusion.
Werner Severin's letter ["Postmarks," June 23] is a case in point. His entire letter attempts to make a case against light rail by attacking nuclear power.
In the 1970s, if Austin voters had looked at available data they would have noted that the nuclear power industry was operating well below its designed capacity. Not surprisingly, costs per kilowatt-hour skyrocketed.
Unlike the nuclear power industry, which has a uniformly dismal record, light rail has a long chain of successes. To cite the nearest example, Dallas' light-rail ridership is exceeding projected levels. (How many nukes have exceeded projected generating capacity?) Dallas is even promising to extend light rail in making its bid for the 2012 Olympics. (How many cities include increased nuclear generating capacity in their prospectuses?)
Psycho Ditch Ditched
By the time everyone reads this, another Austin landmark and tradition will be history. I'm referring to the ditch at the entrance to the MHMR facility on 45th Street affectionately known to skaters as "Psycho Ditch."
For over a decade, skaters and stunt bikers have gone there to session and hone their skills, and well, just have fun for crying out loud. They hurt no one and damage nothing.
I got my first deck a week ago. Two days ago I went to Psycho Ditch, watched other skaters, sessioned for 20 minutes, rested, and went home feeling great. Imagine my disappointment yesterday when I found water flowing in the ditch and a sign saying "No skateboarding, rollerblades, or stunt bikes." (Where did the water come from? Tax dollars? It hadn't rained.) The sign also said that something would be installed by June 27 to make the ditch unusable to skaters. Dude! I just discover the joys of skating and then get slapped with my first taste of The Man the very next day! Security on Wednesday even told us they were cool with us, just don't park on the property.
Not that long ago skaters were such a visible, colorful part of Austin's scene. It was fun to watch them ollieing up and down the Drag and all over central Austin. It sucks that skateboarders are increasingly marginalized by local authorities. Why can't we just be left to skate and enjoy ourselves in peace? We paid the tax dollars that put that ditch there in the first place for Goddess' sake!
If anyone at MHMR is reading this letter, please give us our ditch back. I understand it is state property, and we the people are the state.
Skaters, friends, light a candle, envision freedom!
Well I have to give you credit. Your publication is a lot less professional than I thought. I'm sure you already know what I am talking about, and that is Sandy Bartlett. I will address my concerns that I have after reading another bogus edition of the "About AIDS" column. First off, it seems that Mr. Bartlett can only say bad things about his opposition and can never debate the research that his so-called denialists have done, and of course the reason is he knows he will be proven wrong. And as far as saying we have a picture of the HIV virus, that is true, but you could say the same thing about cancer. In his random, incoherent rambling, he spends more time boosting his already useless reputation and tears down his credibility more. Dr. Duesberg has been saying what he has for over 15 years, why all of a sudden do mouthpieces for the establishment (Sandy Bartlett) come out of the woodwork and attack him? I mean, talk about being late. The easiest way to stop him from looking stupid is to come out and say it. Duesberg really must be tapping a vein for the establishment to come out almost two decades later to do damage control. I mean, has it come to the point that Mr. Bartlett is lying so much he is starting to believe himself? I hope that maybe this e-mail will implore you to set the record straight. If not, talk to you next week!
Light Rail's Dark Side
The hand-wringing, chicken-little attitude in Ross Garber's letter ["Postmarks," June 16] is typical of much of the pro-rail crowd. I can almost hear the whine when he says, "Our only choice is to do something."
Mr. Garber quotes a number of figures to show us how bad things are becoming and tells us that light rail is a part of the solution. Oddly, Mr. Garber doesn't provide any statistics to show how light rail has improved life in any city that has built a system or how light rail is going to deliver on the promises being made for it in Austin. This is how the CEO of a billion-dollar company thinks? (Memo to self: Start shorting Vignette stock.)
Look at Dallas. The much ballyhooed DART light rail had 38,000 boardings per weekday in fiscal year 1999. That may sound impressive, but that 38,000 quickly evaporates when you look at usage at any point. For example, 6,641 people per day exited at the West End station (the most popular destination). Of those, 2,171 exited during the period 4am to 9am. That averages to around 440 people per hour! And remember, many of these people, perhaps half or more, are former bus riders. Do you have any idea how much traffic the Central Expressway (parallel to DART light rail) carries? For this stellar performer Dallas paid around a billion bucks, and DART loses an additional dollar or so every time someone boards light rail.
Now Austinites are being asked to spend a billion bucks for a light rail "starter" system in Austin. Can we expect better results? I don't think so. And once that starter system is in place and it performs miserably, we'll be told that it's only a beginning and that we'll have to build the entire system to see the benefits.
No thank you.
Real Disease, Real People
So Andy Gray has written to you ["Postmarks," June 23] attacking my recent "About AIDS" columns (and you for publishing them) regarding HIV/AIDS denialism. However, "sleazebags"? C'mon! Personal attacks won't substitute for scientific evidence.
The denialists' arguments are a curious stew of misunderstood data (sometimes anomalies), mal-appropriated statistics, half-truths, and sometimes blatant misstatements. Aligning with various personal agendas, they may appear reasonable and convincing to those uninformed about AIDS or medicine or the biological sciences. However, repeating them endlessly does not make them true. Indeed, most of their points are completely tangential to the debate.
Andy assails the Chronicle for not printing his previous letters "outlining the scientific evidence about why HIV and AIDS are not related," so next week "About AIDS" will explore some of the denialist fallacies, as supplied by Andy Gray. His claims of a vast conspiracy for "suppression of opinion" are amusing, since this topic has been aired over and over, even though the actual scientific questions were settled long ago.
Andy demands "The scientific paper" proving HIV causes AIDS. Any genuine "intelligent scientist" would know that very little of meaningful scope in science is ever demonstrated in a single paper. In this case, over 500 published papers comprise a mountain of evidence! But, OK, for a single source, try: www.niaid.nih.gov/spotlight/hiv00/default.htm.
Unfortunately, no amount of evidence will sway some AIDS denialists, for their agenda is not usually the integrity of science. Their agenda is political or economic or moralistic. If this were a dorm room b.s. session, that wouldn't matter. But this is a real disease that kills real people, and the denialists undermine public regard for HIV prevention programs and for the care options which at least should be explored by every HIV-infected person.
Community Information/Education Coordinator
AIDS Services of Austin
In Defense of Babich
It's disappointing that Amy Babich's critics have to resort to insults, slamming Amy's supposed motives, and pleas for censorship. Amy may be passionate and even extreme in her beliefs, but she expresses them calmly and by sticking to the issues -- unlike her detractors who are trying to make it personal. And the talk of silencing Amy is just too much. I'm reminded of a Tom Tomorrow cartoon in which a horrified character is looking at a magazine and gasping, "These opinions ... they differ from my own!"
Then there's the charge that Amy is just trying to get free advertising for her bicycle shop with her letters. Please! The only time we hear of Amy's shop is when her critics bring it up! Amy never mentions it herself. The Chronicle's online archives are free, go look it up. And then explain to me how you can promote something without ever talking about it.
By the way, Amy's "shop" is a room in her home that she runs as a side project with her husband. They both have day jobs.
Also, the letters in the Chronicle about alternative transportation don't even come close to balancing the excessive attention the media places on motor vehicles and road building (like being only too eager to report nickel-a-gallon gas price increases over the years as though it's major news). There's also the fact that many of us like reading Amy's letters.
So I disagree with Amy's critics. But that doesn't mean I'm going to call for them to be thrown out of the pages of the Chronicle.