The Austin Chronicle


August 25, 2000, Columns

Needle & the Damage Done

Dear Editor:

Can anyone down there in the land of longhorns, cowboys, and cactuses (I'm an American, I refuse to say cacti) tell me why it's perfectly legal for the state of Texas to forcibly inject a drug into a man that will kill him, but it's illegal for a man to voluntarily inject a drug into himself that will thrill him. I don't understand it. It's "a great puzzlement to me."

John C. Anderson

Silvis, Ill.

Clown Princess of Porn


Having worked at Dreamers before, during, and after Kelly Petrash's brief reign of terror as self-proclaimed "Porno Princess" ["Better Living Through Porno," Aug. 11], I found her exposé to be much like Krusty the Clown's autobiography -- self serving and with many glaring omissions.

Houston Smith

Movie Grades Arbitrary

Dear Chronicle:

A glance at the ratings in the last issue would leave one to believe that Coyote Ugly, Small Time Crooks, and Sunshine are all equally worthy (or unworthy) of my movie ticket money. Of course if you read the reviews, you would immediately sense that Sunshine is a cut above the other two movies (I am surprised it was not rated higher). This presents a problem. I do not like to read the reviews before I see a movie. The less I know about the film, the more I can enjoy the surprises. So, am I right to assume that each reviewer decides on the number of stars to award? If I know this, at least I can factor that into the decision.

Joe Sherfy

Austin Theatre Professional

Dear Editor:

To Marcus Phillips ("Postmarks," Aug. 11): How are you defining "professional" vs. "amateur" theatre, and what is your own qualification to judge the quality of a theatrical work? Why on earth would you suppose that Mssrs. Faires and Polgar have only "amateur theatre" as their reference and benchmark? Even if the Austin theatre community is, as you suggest, woefully amateur (which it is not), do you really suppose these guys have never seen or participated in theatrical productions elsewhere? Are you aware of their individual credentials? Have you seen the body of their work? Before you make such inflammatory accusations you should take the time to research your topic.

A pay scale for a production or the number of out-of-town artists hired does not dictate the ultimate quality of a show. I have seen both brilliant and wretched plays produced by Broadway houses, large civic light opera companies, and regional theatres across the country. I have worked at regional theatres where the quality varied significantly from show to show. As for my own credentials, I am a theatre artist with more than 20 years of experience as an actor, director, dramaturg, playwright, designer, and manager. I have had the pleasure of working with Robert Faires, and I can tell you that he is a consummate professional of the highest order. Pay scale has nothing to do with it.

As theatre artists, as critics, as members of the greater Austin community, we should all strive to continue our growth as a cultural center and to improve the overall quality of artistic work presented. Informed criticism helps move us in that direction. Thankfully, the Chronicle offers some of the sharpest, most articulate, and well-researched criticism in town.

Michelle Polgar

P.S. My own disclaimer: I should divulge that I am married to Robi Polgar. I have left my professional judgment of my husband's work out of this discussion for fear of any conflict of interest allegation.

Review Irresponsible

Dear Ada:

Unlike yourself, I don't get paid to criticize other people's work. Yet every now and then something comes along that is so poorly built, I'm inspired to do it for free.

There is so much misleading, inflammatory, wrong-headed commentary in your review of Summer Youth Theatre's production of Aristophanes' The Frogs ["Through the Eyes of a Kid," July 21]that I don't even know where to begin. Okay, how about with this -- "while raunchy banter is all well and good, that degree of prurience is just plain icky when adults are in charge and children are involved." Maybe the word "youth" in the title of the group threw you. The "children" in that production are more commonly called teenagers. And I'm not sure what you were like as a teenager (or what your world was like) but I know nothing I saw on that stage was "raunchy" or "icky" or even came close to the immoderate interest in sex that I encounter every day just reading a magazine or watching TV. Geez, there weren't even any cuss words. Not one. Horse cock is not a cuss word. A horse-cock is a carved figure on the prow of a ship, just like it says in the play.

At any rate, the elements of the production that you praised, the "professionalism ... of the well-trained troupe" for example, can be traced, I bet, back to director Clay Towery and the other "adults in charge" who treated the ensemble like a group of young professionals and not like children. For you to suggest that these talented and generous folks have behaved inappropriately, or somehow took advantage of the students is not only way off base, it's irresponsible.

As for "let's remember where we are. This is still the Vortex, which means no opportunity for sexual innuendo goes untaken." Well, that's just exactly the kind of lame remark that makes people like me (who make art) think people like you (who piss on it) are lazy and tired. I mean, "untaken"? It isn't even a word.


Kirk Smith

Cold War Aftermath

Greetings to my independent journalistic cohort:

What pleasure to enjoy Michael Ventura again; it's been since I read him in L.A. Weekly when I was out there writing my first screenplay, waiting tables in the late 1980s.

Jason Stout's sketch of the pachyderm and jackass loading up the ICBM that flagged Ventura's piece ["Letters at 3AM," Aug. 18] reminded me of Hannibal and his sneak attack across the mountains to Rome's rear. The analogy is that "Star Wars" just can't hold the atomic warfare line. Guerrilla nuclear tactics would bypass SDI. Why should potential adversaries forego the cost of constructing this albatross of limited nuclear war when The Bomb could be delivered via railroad, river barge, tramp steamer, or U-Haul truck -- a quantum leap above what happened to the OKC federal building. A decade ago Gorbachev cryptically said their response to missile defense would be "asymmetrical."

As we go in the red paying for this thermonuclear Maginot Line, the guns and butter reality is that our competitors shall be able to invest in education, health, housing, and infrastructure. They'll have more disposable income for the pursuit of happiness. We'll continue to be beaten in the world economy.

Ventura mentions the talk of global corporations dwarfing the power of nations, but that they don't have armies and guided missiles. However they profit from this military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. They cheerlead this debacle.

So what's to be done? Lennon said there aren't problems, only solutions. What's wrong with peace, love, and understanding? Throw in a dose of economic and social justice. Campaign finance reform would confront the addiction the Republicans and Democrats have with the arms races, nuclear and conventional.

I was born a cradle Catholic and a yellow-dog Democrat. Grandmother was a ward healer in Muskogee, Oklahoma. 'What's that guy smoking?' you ask. Well it's not that I got to close to the incense thurifer at High Mass. I'm not losing my faith, but I am going to join the Green Party and vote for Ralph Nader. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Your dirty rat,

Joe Ratley Jr.

Exotic Animals Not Pets

To the Editor:

Thank you for Cheryl Smith's story, "Meow Mix" [Aug. 4]. Sonakali Gardens & Zoological Preserve (, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Round Rock, is dedicated to rescuing abused, neglected, and injured wildlife and exotic animals held as pets by people who are either unable or unwilling to care for them.

Many people find it a romantic notion to have an exotic pet in their home until they find it was more than they bargained for. Frequently, the pet owner finds they cannot tolerate the mess, noise, or activity because they expected the animal to behave more like humans. The pet owner then finds himself in the heart-wrenching position of determining the exotic pet's fate. Our preserve is dedicated to making a home for these unfortunate creatures, who through no fault of their own find themselves in a position where the owner resorts to releasing the animal into the wild, or euthanasia.

With the help of generous donors in Round Rock and Austin, we hope to make a 500-acre nature preserve where these animals may live their lives in peace and comfort. We are also preparing for an international research center dedicated to researching animal behavior and emotion. We have hardly begun our major fundraising efforts and have already been nominated for the President's Points of Light Award as well as Time magazine's Heroes for the Planet. Our organization has even taken steps to promulgate an "Animal Bill of Rights."

Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum once said, "In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught."

The Austin Chronicle has our organization's appreciation for drawing attention to the plight of exotic pets. They are not pets; keep them in the wild, from where they came.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Davidson, CEO

Sonakali Gardens & Zoological Preserve

WOD Suppression

Dear Sir:

Congratulations to Nate Blakeslee ("Drug War in the Panhandle," July 28) for his dissection of a common Drug War act of suppression. His well-written piece shows how the WOD is primarily about social control and not about money; eleven thousand bucks a year Tulia should lay to rest the hackneyed economic determinism that corrupts WOD debate.

Blakeslee also lays the groundwork for another disturbing WOD practice: enforcing impotence upon progressive politics. If the black community of Tulia had suffered this treatment over bus seating, loitering, or getting loaded on a street corner, progressives, the media, and much of the public would be up in arms. But since the suppression was over drug use, one can expect moderates, libs, and leftists to murmur something about disproportionality, treatment vs. punishment, and mandatory minimums -- then turn away. So much for Democratic Party defense of civil liberties. It's a bad habit learned well from the McCarthy era and the political far right and reform prohibitionists, such as pothead Gore and the censorial Diane Feinstein, know it.

And now we have the WOD -- the new Communism -- where both cop and politician beat down the hated then turn to look passersby in the eye and ask: "do anything 'bout it?" No wonder all this tired talk about cost-effectiveness, collusionist cabals, and new tax sources. Who wants to deal with the passion outside your door? And no wonder the far right won't give the WOD up without a vicious fight. It's a cheap and easy way to keep everyone in their place. In short, the WOD works like a champ, once you get the money out of it.


Stephen W. McGuire

Stolen Moments


Re: Postmarks "Stop the Smut!" Aug. 18, 2000

In response to this unsigned e-mail letter that starts: "Dear Friends:" (he/she certainly is no friend of mine), this person is an immoral thief and coward. I don't know if the law addresses the number of free copies of the Chronicle a person is entitled to, but it seems to me that one copy per family is fair. (Perhaps two or three copies is OK to be distributed to neighbors.) But this person stole my copy -- there were none available at my local HEB because he/she removed all copies. Because of this theft, this HEB now posts a sign at the usual Chronicle spot: "Those who wish a copy of the Chronicle, ask at the Business Counter." (I'm sure this will reduce circulation.)

I probably would have skipped most (all) the "smut" articles, but I missed out on "Day Trips," "Car Talk," "Letters at 3AM," "The Straight Dope," Cuisines, Arts and Film, Politics, etc., etc., etc.

Is the Chronicle going to refund the advertisers and individuals who placed Want Ads for lost readership? If the number of "picked-up" Chronicles are not reliable, how can the Chronicle arrive at a fair advertisement rate charge?

Just because this person couldn't properly raise his/her "middle school and high school" children to skip the smut articles is no reason to deprive me of those (non-smut) articles I regularly read.

This person claims God told him/her to steal all those issues of the Chronicle. Well, this person's God is different from mine, who taught me to always consider the rights of others before acting.

This person is a coward for leaving her/his message unsigned.

Very truly yours,

Arthur Schwartz

Cap Met in Wrong Direction

Dear Editor:

Two letters published August 11 describe inadequacies of Austin's bus system. The letters are accurate. Our bus system is not run well enough. Some of the buses are in very bad condition; they lack shock absorbers and emit black smoke. On the last bus of the day, a recorded message announces transfer opportunities that don't really exist. There are bus stops on busy streets (e.g., Airport Boulevard at 46th Street) that consist only of a sign in the weeds beside the road: no sidewalk, no bench, no shade.

People say that it's hard to run a bus system without a denser population distribution, but these failings have nothing to do with density. They are due to lack of attention to quality. And this could be fixed. Capital Metro could hire regular bus riders to do quality reports on the system and fix the problems. Many of the buses need to be replaced.

Right now, Capital Metro is giving away $100 million to build roads for private cars, while the bus system remains neglected. It would be much better to spend this money to run a decent bus system. Decent bus systems exist! A public transit authority is suppose to run a public transportation system, not build roads for private cars.

If Capital Metro can afford to throw away $100 million on roads for cars, it can afford to fix the bus system. Now's the time. If anyone would care to start now, the bus system could be fixed before November.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich

Give EMS Green Light

Howdy y'all:

A couple of years ago part of the responsibility for the safety of the public of Austin was taken from the hands of the safety professionals. AFD fire fighters are the first responders to residential emergencies.

At that time AFD's concerns on response delays due to traffic calming projects were silenced here in Austin. The public's safety when residential emergencies occur was then placed in the hands of the politicians. And ever since City Hall and Public Works and Transportation have been high-handed with regard to traffic calming devices. Austin has been putting down traffic calming whereever uninformed residents would let them.

The muzzle city hall has had on AFD is about to come off. Last week, meetings were held by city officials, the city manager, and AFD. The city manager and PWT is doing as much as they can in the way of damage control, to take the heat off city hall.

And there is good reason for concern. From AFD assistant chief Les Bunte's paper to UT which is titled "Traffic calming programs & emergency response: a competition of two public goods".

"A policy analysis was conducted specifically for the conflict that had arisen in Austin, Texas. Based on quantitative processes, this analysis showed that Austin would lose an additional 37 lives per year with patients of sudden cardiac arrest if the Fire and EMS Departments experienced a 30 second delay in response times due to traffic calming. The analyses also concluded that at best, only one pedestrian life could be saved each year from traffic calming as pedestrian fatalities rarely occurred within residential neighborhoods. A risk/benefit analyses also demonstrated that traffic-calming devices have more of a negative impact than a positive impact to the community."

For those of you in Austin who dogmatically decided that all traffic-calming devices are the best thing since sliced bread ... you have been mistaken. Sudden cardiac arrest is the number one emergency call in Austin's neighborhoods.

Rick Hall

No Apologists Necessary


Every day of the year for the past five years in newspapers and magazines, on television and radio all across Texas, this state's leaders have been rightfully taken to task by journalists for a countless number of issues from excessive air pollution to low teacher pay to lack of gubernatorial leadership. Now here comes State Sen. Ken Armbrister, former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill, state Rep. Rob Junell, and Sandy Kress of Austin, all Democrats, saying it's just so terribly unfair that Al Gore is criticizing Texas leadership. These four say they feel betrayed. Republicans are snickering up their collective sleeves at these four Democrats who carry water for George W. Bush and then whine in public about being "betrayed" by their party's leader.

This little group of crybabies should be called what they truly are, apologists for Bush's mediocre record. They do not speak for Texans who think the rest of the country should know that even way down here folks still believe harsh and unhindered criticism of our leaders keeps this democracy healthy. It's just as fair for citizen Gore to criticize Bush's record -- and all those who contributed to it -- as it has been for years for all of the Texas journalists noted above.

Jefferson Hennessy

Boomtown's Roots


Many Austinites lament the fact that Austin will never be the place it was 30 years ago -- small-town friendly, with clean air, uncongested highways, uncrowded schools, and a low cost of living. Some long-time residents blame the newcomers for the "californication" of Austin.

In 1977 the Austin Chamber of Commerce said: "So highly prized is the opportunity to live in Austin that employees are willing to compensate for these advantages by accepting less take-home pay. Austin's wage scales and average earnings figures are noticeably less than other Texas cities, and impressively low compared to metropolitan areas in other states."

In the 1980s the Chamber of Commerce, successive City Councils, the university and local mass media united to attract industry to Austin. Advertisements in national media and local government subsidies lured industries to Austin. Many contend that the boom was ignited when the research consortium Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp. (MCC) located here in 1983.

As the comic strip artist Walt Kelley put it in "Pogo," "we have met the enemy and they is us" -- or at least some of us. A small group of Austinites (some now long gone) worked hard to bring about Austin's exponential growth -- for their own profit. But they will tell you, "A rising tide lifts all boats." Unfortunately, too many Austinites have been left high and dry, and not because of the summer drought.

Werner J. Severin

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