I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me ...
Don't Cage the Cats
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Kudos to reporter Cheryl Smith for the outstanding piece on pet big cats ("Meow Mix," Aug. 4). Texans have a hard enough time committing to ordinary tabbies, let alone tigers. Regarding the breeders who were quoted, I question their claims that they are ensuring the survival of rare animals. According to the American Association of Zoological Parks, most privately bred big cats are mongrelized (eg., Tiger mixes of Bengal and Siberian subspecies) and therefore are worthless for the purposes of endangered species propagation. Most zoos actually have more "exotics" than they can handle. Sure, cubs are an attendance draw, but as they mature, the cost of daily care becomes prohibitive ($2,000 minimum per month to do it right). Surplus zoo cats get dumped into the private sector and often wind up in roadside fun-parks, on "canned hunt" ranches, or in the hands of profiteers eager to produce cubs for people like Ramirez. By the way, due to malnutrition and neglect, most of these "pets" never see their third birthday.
And with so much dialogue on the rights of people to own big cats, what about the rights of the animals? As thinking, feeling beings, don't they have the right to be treated with respect, even if it causes a speedbump in our stampede for pets that make us feel more special than we really are? Aside from the thrill of dominating a beautiful, untamable work of nature, what was the point of putting Simba the lion -- an animal who in the wild would have commanded a territory of 300 square miles -- into a crappy box cage for the rest of its life? Well, there's the bonus of keeping the pet's head after it's been murdered. That way you can impress your friends with just how glamorous big-cat ownership really is.
Bush Dressed Up Hyena?
Dear Mr. Black:
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Any informed voter should know by now that George W. Bush is probably dumber than a dog turd sitting next to a stop sign. The coming months will bear this out as he's forced to verbalize specifics regarding his policies. His social security plan is already being dismissed as the ravings of a handsome lunatic, and his rich-boy Wasp demeanor is bound to alienate almost everyone except the twisted gun-toting yahoos he surrounds himself with.
As a front for wealthy corporate interests and the vindictiveness of the Christian right, he will become King Midas in reverse, turning into shit everything he touches. The Supreme Court will look more like the Third Reich in robes, as being anything except white and right becomes a capital offense punishable by death.
His staffers and assorted cronies point to the fact that what he lacks in smarts he more than compensates for as a "people person," a talent he discovered he had standing around beer kegs at frat parties in college. Being a recovering alcoholic and a good listener might be necessary prerequisites for a Texas governor, but that won't cut it on a national level where people actually use their brains sometimes.
These revelations came to me as I watched the Republican party on television. The dark underbelly of racism and intolerance were covered up with a song and a smile. As token minorities were dutifully paraded out onstage, the mainly all-white delegates roared their approval at speeches filled with lies and deceit. If hyenas could be dressed up in suits and trained to talk, I don't think anyone would have noticed the difference.
I'm convinced that there are enough sensible people in this country who will never allow Mr. Bush the privilege of eating his meals in the White House mess hall for four years, or frolicking on the volleyball court at Camp David, while his father exacts revenge on Clinton and anyone else who cut short his benign rein. And I believe as Bush opens his mouth more and more, his real agenda will be revealed: compassion for the rich, conservatism for everyone else.
Austin Theatre Unprofessional
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Ada Calhoun's article, "Everyone's a Critic" [July 28] raises intriguing questions about the problems of criticism in the Austin theatre community. Unfortunately, Ms. Calhoun works so hard to defend the Chronicle's critics, Robert Faires and Robi Polgar, that she fails to address the most important issue.
More disturbing than any conflict of interest is the lack of professional standards in Austin theatre and its press. One of America's greatest directors, Harold Clurman, wrote criticism at the same time he directed. The difference between his situation and that of the Chronicle reviewers is that Clurman was an accomplished professional, whose frame of reference was the highest levels of the art form. What diminishes the work of Mssrs. Faires and Polgar is not their simultaneous activity as critics and practitioners, but the fact that their perspectives are severely limited by their own standards of theatre work. (Faires's most recent project was with a theatre -- which he has praised extravagantly -- that only rarely hires professional artists.) As long as amateur theatre is the reference and benchmark for Austin's critics, it is unlikely that theatre here will ever rise to the levels in most cities of its size. As many of Austin's newest residents arrive with higher standards and expectations, the Chronicle's promotion of garage-band theatre seems increasingly outdated and irrelevant.
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: I am writing to correct a statement in Ada Calhoun's otherwise excellent piece on conflicts of interest ["Everyone's a Critic," July 28], in which she identifies me as "active in the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association [HPNA]." In fact, I resigned from the association last year in order to fight Hyde Park Baptist Church's proposed parking garage, which HPNA is prohibited from protesting under a 10-year-old agreement with the church. Though I believe the current garage design does not meet the requirements of the city ordinance that allows it, I wanted to take no chances in protecting HPNA -- particularly as the church has a regrettable history of settling its land disputes in court.
While this error may seem minor, I believe it points up a larger truth. The Chronicle has grown from the days when we all fit (significant others included) around a table at the Hole in the Wall. What may seem on paper to be a single entity is really a sprawling mass of 150-plus individuals, including many freelancers and contributors whom even my publisher/spouse wouldn't recognize if he tripped over on the way to the volleyball court.
During the darkest days of the Triangle fight, I occasionally received phone calls from strangers cheerfully identifying themselves as "____ with the Chronicle," wanting to schedule an interview and completely unaware of my connection to the paper (which, for the record, included 10 years as a contributing editor before my current gig as a full-time mom).
While it's fun to think the Chronicle is well-organized enough to pull off a grand conspiracy, the truth is somewhat messier. In fact, with the notable exception of the office volleyball league, it's safe to say that the right hand rarely knows what the left is up to around here.
Horror in the Halls of Power
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Everybody knows that if George Bush is elected president, Dick Cheney will fight to pollute every last pond and lake with petroleum products, Tom Delay will leverage himself upon Bush's cabinet, Jesse Helms will stay within shouting distance of "the button," Newt Gingrich will come back out of his dungeon and Ken Starr will probably be appointed attorney general of the United States.
And at the center of this perfect storm, George W. Bush will still be wondering "... is the children learning."
Stephen King couldn't think up a more ghastly plot.
Don't Exclude Independents
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan should be allowed to participate in this year's presidential debates.
The Commission on Presidential Debates -- made up of Democrats and Republicans -- has decided that only candidates showing 15% support in five national polls may participate. Nader and Buchanan each have around 4%. How are they supposed to raise these numbers if they aren't allowed to present their views to the American people? Ross Perot went into the debates in 1992 with only 5-6% support in the polls, and ended up winning 19% of the vote.
Whether or not these candidates have any chance of winning, voters deserve a true and open debate before they cast their ballots. It's unfair to all of us for the two major parties to exclude Nader and Buchanan from this national forum of ideas.
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: It's time for back to school. Remember those golden days of boredom and oppression? I have volunteered as an English as a second language tutor at Sanchez Elementary for the past two years, tutoring Spanish-speaking children from Mexico and Central America. At first I couldn't get over the fact that the kids spoke no English at all and they couldn't believe I knew no Spanish. Now I know a little Spanish and they know a little English because we teach each other. We have a lot of fun but this kind of work is also a really good way to get your heart broken. My students are condemned to sit in a classroom where mostly English is spoken. Try to put yourselves in their places. Imagine trying to learn in a classroom where only Dutch or Czech was spoken. Imagine that at the end of the year you would have to take a test in Czech that would determine whether you were a success or a failure. I have worked as a copyeditor for the TAAS test and I can tell you that it is no test of intelligence in any case. If you think about the question at all you are likely to get the wrong answer. The TAAS test is for people who know how to work a system. We do our children a disservice when we toss this kind of junk at them. I can tell you that all learning stops while everybody tries to get ready for this test. I can tell you that you are paying a lot of money for this test. In fact, National Computer Systems paid me $25/hr to proofread this test. I think it should be abolished and I believe that every child deserves an education. This is not a popular idea. People tell me the children should learn in English because English is the language spoken here. I point out that English is the language spoken here because we took Texas from the Mexicans. It's time to look at the big picture. It's time for the grownups to think. People will readily say it was wrong to deny the slaves a chance to read and write yet they support a system that denies Spanish-speaking children in our very own day and time a proper education. Let's buck this institutionalized oppression! Let's support bilingual classrooms. Let's throw away the TAAS test. And if you would like to join me as a tutor by all means give Literacy Austin a call. They do marvelous work and have an excellent training program. Oh, and happy back to school!
Photo Rings True
Dear Editor and Austin Resident:
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Your tent on the front page, with a sign saying $500, for rent, unfortunately has a great deal of truth to it [July 28].
The only elements that The Austin Chronicle could have added to the story were:
(1) the 99% apartment occupancy rate
(2) the fact that the rent is $100 to $300 higher here than in larger cities in Texas
(3)the fact that the candidates always promise "affordable housing" two weeks before they are elected, and nothing is ever done about this for the next three years
(4) the fact that some of us -- even people making $2,000 a month like myself -- stand dumbfounded that I cannot use the other $200 a month for savings or investment. That must be paid to someone in over-priced rent.
I actually like the front-page photograph.
It will only get worse,
Road Bonds Counterproductive
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: I'm glad that Michael Ventura occasionally thinks about global warming ["Letters at 3AM," Aug.4]. Here in the United States, we contribute more than any other country to global warming, and we refuse to acknowledge it or do anything about it. Texas is one of the most polluting states. Here in Austin, people say solemnly: "Growth is inevitable. And people have to drive cars and run air conditioners. All big cities have bad air. Just live with it."
You would think that Austinites in August would worry about global warming, but no; they just turn up the AC.
In other places, people actually look for solutions. In European cities that already have public transit, people are aware that just building rail doesn't keep people from driving cars. So they're working on increasing public support for stricter control of cars. To this end, a European Car-Free Day is planned for this September 22. (September 22 has been Car-Free Day in France since 1998.)
On Car-Free Day in a participating city, parts (not all) of the city are closed to cars, so that people can try this out. The number of participating cities and the car-free area grow every year. Bogota, Colombia, held its own Car-Free Day on February 24, 2000. The Web site for European Car-Free Day is www.ecoplan.org.
Of course, Austin's not ready for this. Austin's not even ready to lower speed limits for cars (a simple measure which reduces pollution, increases road capacity, and improves public safety). Austin gets its dirty air described as "unclassifiable" so that our "green council" can issue bonds for more new roads for cars. More roads, more parking spaces -- these are Austin's solutions to pollution and transportation problems.
Let's be a little smarter than our "green" City Council, and vote against these counterproductive road bonds.
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Just a quick note to say thanks to Mike Clark-Madison for his excellent coverage of light rail, the Mueller conversion, the Blanton saga, and so much more. The coming few years will decide the fate of our city's urban spaces and, as a result, our quality of life. It is reassuring that we finally have perceptive, intelligent coverage of design and planning issues. Mike is not the lone voice in the wilderness, but his journalistic integrity and entertaining style makes his work stand out.
[Ed. note: Spencer is the host of the KLRU television program Austin at Issue, which frequently features Clark-Madison as a guest.]
Rail Supporters Avoid Truth
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: The writer of the letter headed "American Subsidy" ("Postmarks," Aug. 4), justifies subsidies for light rail by citing subsidies for many other forms of transportation, and adds that transportation subsidies are as American as God, motherhood, and apple pie. (I, too, heartily endorse the latter three.)
However, the real question is, are the potential benefits from light rail in Austin enough to justify its initial cost and continuing subsidies?
Evidence shows that the success of other cities with light rail has been quite mixed, to say the least.
The same letter writer recently returned to sender, unopened, a second envelope containing creditable information from other cities about their experiences with light rail. Social psychologists call this behavior "selective exposure," the avoidance of messages which might cause "cognitive dissonance," or psychological discomfort.
Perhaps Austin voters will be more receptive to varied information about light rail before casting their votes in November.
Werner J. Severin
Dear Sir or Madam:
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: I waited several minutes for the "Dillo Dash" bus recently before I inferred from the bus-stop sign I was waiting at that this route had been discontinued. This confirmed for me what seemed to be your correspondent Denis Fitzpatrick's impression that the people who run Capital Metro are too well-paid to have any idea of what it is like to ride buses. What is the first thing you need to do if you are going to discontinue, or curtail, or alter, or reschedule the buses on a route? You post a notice in all the buses that might be assigned to that route, a month or two before the change, informing travelers on that route of the fact. It's no good just scattering those huge schedule books on the buses twice a year -- especially when the books don't even divulge when their validity expires.
Reminds me of a conversation I had once with a bus driver in another university city who couldn't see why it was any worse for a bus to be a few minutes early than for it to be a few minutes late. (It is unreasonable to insist, as Mr. Fitzpatrick would, that no buses should ever be late -- that would mean scheduling them to allow for the maximum congestion, the maximum number of disabled passengers boarding and leaving, and the maximum number of people holding the bus up to ask the driver where (s)he plans to take that bus today, at each point on the route, so that most buses would be reduced to an infuriating crawl as they slowed down the schedule: But, indeed, no buses should ever depart on early.) We will never get a satisfactory service as long as the agency is run by people with neither the experience nor the intelligence to understand a passenger's needs.
Something that would be really useful would be a really large route number on both the back and the sides of every bus. Then, if a bus passed me on a street I could know I might be able to take that bus next time; or, if I see a bus crossing the intersection I am approaching, I can know whether I've just missed the bus I want. (I share Mr. Fitzpatrick's disgust for buses "wrapped in advertising" -- I had to apologize for this once to a visitor who couldn't see properly out of the bus window -- but if they do make tens of thousands of dollars for the city ... maybe some benefactor could consider leaving a legacy to compensate the city it would renounce this form of vulgarity.)
Capital Metro Casualty
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Although I own a car, I choose to ride the Capital Metro bus to work to avoid being one more car that contributes to traffic jams and rollover wrecks each weekday morning. I have braved the freezing air conditioning, the frequent standing-room only, the bus drivers who don't care to follow the schedule, and I'm through. I will take my car to work from now on.
We recently moved, or I would have changed to driving my car earlier, because Capital Metro had a bus driver with road rage in charge of getting me home. I joined with fellow passengers in calling the "customer comment line" to complain, and even complained in writing about this bus driver who drove too fast and shook his fist at cars. He still drives my old route.
Currently, I wait 20 minutes or more (depending on the whim of the bus driver's timing) for the bus to take me home. I have to make eye contact with the bus driver or he will not stop. I sometimes have to stand most of the way because there is no room to sit.
Is the solution to the dissatisfaction with Capital Metro to put money into a "light rail" system, when most people (for good reason, I now think) don't even take the bus? Who's going to ride the light rail system?
People who have been riding the bus will. Why not put money into improving the bus system? Capital Metro doesn't seem to be doing their job. Where is the competition?
See you in traffic, ozone day or not.
A Voice for the Vortex
To the editor:
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: I couldn't agree more with Ada Calhoun's opinion of the cast of The Frogs at The Vortex ["Exhibitionism," July 28]. They are tight, animated, and professional. I do take issue with her assessment of the show's sexual content. To feel uncomfortable when adult content is presented by a young person is natural. But her review is unfair to the actors by implying that they are less capable of expressing the play's broad sexual innuendos effectively simply because of their ages. And to imply that just because someone is 14 years old they aren't entitled to be sexy, aren't even entitled to have a sexual view of their world, is unfair and short-sighted. Putting aside these concerns, as well as Ms. Calhoun's furthering the oft-repeated notion that Vortex is all about sex, her review lauds the theatre, the director, and the actors. Hopefully, that's the part readers will focus on.
With sincere thanks to the Chronicle arts staff,
Out of Touch With Times
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: In her July 28 article "The L.A. Way," Ada Calhoun called me the head theatre critic of the L.A. Times. That title belongs to Michael Phillips. My title is "theatre writer." I am primarily a reporter, secondarily a critic.
Los Angeles Times
Defending His Views
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: I read with great surprise the negative comment about me and my public access program Alternative Views in your July 14 edition ["All Access: ACAC Then and Now"], particularly because past articles in the Chronicle were very positive. It is not clear in the article if Kirk Hunter or the writer made the remark about me and Alternative Views presenting "looney conspiracy theories." Kirk and I were friends and mutually supportive when we were doing our shows on ACTV. He actually let me use several of his works on my program.
If your reporter had bothered to check with me, he would have learned the following facts about me and Alternative Views, which has been considered the most successful program in access history:
1. My doctoral dissertation from UT is "The American Power Structure and the Mass Media." I shared much of what I learned with the viewing audience.
2. During the 19-plus years of production, I made 563 one-hour shows.
3. Alternative Views provided viewers with information and perspectives that were not shown on the establishment media. The show featured news from the alternative press, documentaries that would not be played on the establishment media, and interviews. Some documentaries either won or were nominated for Academy Awards. Some of the guests either were Nobel Laureates or were nominated for that honor.
4. The show won the two most prestigious prizes in the access world: the "Hometown USA" and the "George Stoney Award," the highest honor someone in the access field can receive.
5. The program was distributed around the country to over 285 cities and suburbs to a possible weekly audience of over 11 million households. It also was shown in several foreign countries. The audience response was uniformly positive.
6. Most of the guests on the show were either published experts in their fields or had significant personal experiences. Among the guests were former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former Congressman Henry Gonzalez, Dr. Benjamin Spock, John Henry Faulk, Jim Hightower, Ralph Yarborough, Cesar Chavez, former secretary of labor Ray Marshall, peace and environmental activists George Wald and Helen Caldicott, Mexican presidential candidate Cardenas, the former foreign minister of Sandinista Nicaragua, and on and on.
7. Alternative Views also gave time to over 100 local activist groups seeking to present their ideas and information.
8. The final tribute to the program is the request by the American History Center at the University of Texas to archive all Alternative Views programs and written material, in order to make them available to scholars.
I strongly suggest that the Chronicle reporters check all their facts before writing false and slanderous comments.
To the Editor and Marc Savlov,
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Imagine my surprise as I sat in Chuy's and opened the Chronicle and found that you had reviewed my CD Song For Newborn!
I think I made a spectacle of myself, but I always do that. I would like to thank you very much for reviewing the CD, and renewing my faith in the Chronicle as the greatest newspaper in Austin. I hope that you never forget how important your newspaper is to local artists and musicians. I certainly won't. Anyway, loved the review, know that Eric Gustafson did the guitar work on "Twisted," and apparently my new nickname is "Gitch." Where's Amy Babich?
Sheldon Reynolds of Lucid Dementia
Ventura Bleak, Myopic
I never thought the letters in "Postmarks Forum" were real until this happened to me: Having just returned from the International Wizard of Oz Club's Centennial Convention, I found Michael Ventura's Oz-related column waiting ["Letters at 3AM," July 21].
The gist of the column seems to be this:
A) The MGM movie sends mixed, disturbing messages.
B) The book is exactly like the movie.
C) L. Frank Baum published racist comments in a small-town newspaper in the 1890s. Therefore, the book, which is interchangeable with the movie, is a "moral mess."
Talk about messes. Mr. Ventura, any junior high English teacher knows when a student rents the movie instead of reading the book. Your assertion that "the book's the template of the film" wouldn't hold up in a seventh-grade essay, and certainly doesn't here.
In Baum's book, Dorothy's aunt and uncle are disillusioned, yet kind. Wanting to return home is natural, not a cop-out. Nobody gloats over the Witches' deaths. The Tin Woodman even cries when he steps on a beetle. Every "negative" detail of the story that Mr. Ventura deconstructs is unique to the MGM version. Baum wrote: "To please a child is a sweet and lovely thing"; I'm sure MGM never thought in those terms.
As for Baum's racist writings, they disturb me, too. However, removing them from their specific context distorts them. Baum was struggling to make ends meet on the harsh prairie when he wrote those words, and reading them with an ear for bitter irony allows one to gain a new perspective. I doubt anyone bashes Swift these days for promoting child-eating.
Even if Baum meant every word literally, it unsettles me that Mr. Ventura believes in the nine years between those writings and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz's publication, Baum couldn't have changed. What a bleak (and myopic) world-view! Sometime in the next nine years, Mr. Ventura, even I might read your column again.