It's a salmagundi of responses this issue, with bits regarding dolphin bacteria, word use, national politics, and Marc Savlov's cinematic taste (or lack thereof).
I make two suggestions:
Car-Free in Colombia
If I were making a commercial for light rail (to paraphrase Louis Black), I'd focus on global warming and our nation's role in scuttling world air quality standards. But then again, if I were making a transportation commercial, it might not be about light rail. It might be about what Bogota is doing.
On Oct. 29, 2000, Bogota held a referendum on two proposals. One proposal bans car use from 6 to 9am and from 4:30 to 7:30pm on weekdays, beginning Jan. 1, 2015. The vote was 51% in favor, 34% against, and 15% blank. The second proposal establishes an annual car-free day, to be held on the first Thursday in February. The vote was 63% in favor, 26% against, 11% blank. Bogota held its first car-free day (called Sin Mi Carro en Bogota) on Feb. 24, 2000.
Bogota already closes some streets to cars on Sundays, so that people can bicycle and walk for recreation. In the past four years, the portion of the city's population that bicycles for transportation has grown from 0.5% to 4% -- a 700% improvement. Bogota is building 200 kilometers (120 miles) of new car-free cycle paths. Car-free cycle paths and footpaths are the cheapest, cleanest transportation facilities there are.
Colorado is building a car-free cycle path from Denver to Boulder. Marin County, Calif., is building a 22-mile car-free cycle path.
You won't read of such matters in the car/oil- sponsored press. But they're happening. What if Austin built car-free cycle paths (or even just closed some car lanes), closed some roads to cars on Sundays for recreational purposes, and held its own Car-Free Day? Something might change.
Revenge of the Nerd
Last week Mr. Smarty Pants asserted that "Dolphins get ulcers from the same bacteria that cause them in humans," which, so far as I can tell, was taken from a recent scientific article (if you're really interested, skip on down to the library and pick up the Nov. 6 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology and read "Isolation and characterization of a helicobacter species from the gastric mucosa of dolphins, lagenorhynchus acutus and delphinus delphis"). To pick nits, the existence of the bacteria doesn't really ensure that ulcers show up; indeed, recent studies with dogs and cats have failed to conclusively produce a correlation between the presence of the bacteria and disease (see J Vet Intern Med 2000 Mar-Apr; 14(2):125-33).
That's okay. There is a long and protracted history of weird helicobacter studies in the scientific literature, which is far more interesting than any real questions that might get answered anyway. Take, for example, the curiously titled "Marked enhancement by fish meal of Helicobacter pylori-induced gastritis in Mongolian gerbils," published in August's issue of the Japanese Journal of Cancer Research. The authors assert "fish meal contains factors which greatly enhance H. pylori-induced gastritis in Mongolian gerbils." No kidding.
Bolder still are the authors of "Concurrent enteric helminth infection modulates inflammation and gastric immune responses and reduces helicobacter-induced gastric atrophy" in last May's Nature Medicine, who suggest that intestinal worm infection might prove beneficial to those suffering from ulcers. However, these studies were done in mice. One hopes they repeat this study with humans, but procuring experimental subjects might be difficult. After all, the investigators would be forced to request that subjects receive an ulcer, an intestinal worm, or both. Perhaps high pay might entice potential participants to sign up. All I can say is, don't look at me.
So, to sum up: Dolphins may or may not get ulcers from the same general bacteria as people; eating fish is bad if you're a Mongolian hamster with an ulcer; eating a tapeworm is good if you're a mouse with an ulcer.
Hope that clears things up.
The Art of Composition
Dear Chronicle Folks:
I'm a big fan of the Chronicle and appreciate your smart writing and valuable perspective about goings-on here in Austin. Keep up the great work!
I do, however, want to point out an editorial error that I see regularly in your pages. Your writers often misuse the word comprise. Comprise does not mean compose, as is suggested by your usage in these examples. Parts compose a whole; the whole comprises its parts. Examples of correct usage would be "the campus comprises 15 buildings" or "the staff comprises 15 workers."
You can find good discussions about comprises in Theodore Bernstein's The Careful Writer and Barbara Wallraff's Word Count.
I'm an editor, and this just happens to be a pet peeve. On the whole, I admire your careful editing and clean copy. Thanks for a terrific read every Thursday!
On the basis of only two evaluations in the Film section written by Marc Savlov, I am inspired to write you.
Savlov gives the superlative Billy Elliot only one and a half stars [Nov. 10] while rating the very substandard and disappointing Unbreakable three stars [Nov. 24]. Had I trusted the Chronicle to preview my films for me as I usually do, I would have missed a perfectly delightful film. As it is, I did trust Savlov enough to try Unbreakable which not only wasted my time but lost $4.75 to an unworthy cause. If only I had known how askew Savlov's critiques are, at least I could have gone to other more reliable sources for my selections.
As much as I hate to say it, as long as Savlov's name appears by the listings, I will no longer trust the Chronicle. Do us all a favor and reassign him to another beat, and reinstate your integrity.
Saura's Goya a Masterpiece
On films and scrutinizing history:
I recently attended a projection of Goya in Bordeaux by Carlos Saura. Then, almost by chance, I read Ms. Marjorie Baumgarten's critique of the film (uncut version in Nov. 17 issue of the Chronicle). I had not only reveled in what Ms. Baumgarten calls Storaro's magisterial touch and lighting sorcery but was also able to follow, without being a specialist in the subject, the events the Aragonese master was narrating: the intrigues of the queen consort Maria Luisa, Goya's dislike of the court painter Bayeu, his affair with the Duchess of Alba, Napoleon's invasions, the reasons of the exile, ...
Ms. Baumgarten would have liked to see more pesky details of historiography. It may be a question of taste, but I rather look for those in a library. I just found out that our state university library has over 132 titles on Goya, 15 on Carlos IV, 17 on Joseph Bonaparte, 21 on Fernando VII -- some of which, after watching the film, I would like to consult. Despite our critic's opinion, Saura's insular focus seems to have worked: He got me interested in this particular painter. Now, I'd like to learn more about Goya, hoping that his art will open history up for scrutiny.
Chronicling New Zealand Film
I believe Sleeping Dogs (1977) was Roger Spottiswoodes' first film [The 6th Day review, Nov. 17]. The first New Zealand film to gain U.S. release, it featured Sam Neill and a great appearance by Warren Oates (natch).
FCC's Double Standard
Here's an interesting question: How can an FCC official run somebody over in their rush to get back to Houston or their impatience with the "hippie population" and get only a small comment in our local weekly ["Naked City: Static Quo," Nov. 10]?
I am absolutely amazed that Mr. [Loyd] Perry can run somebody over and tell the media to refer to the FCC's "publicity" officer. I'm glad that the Chronicle covered it and hope something comes of this. Broadcasting without the required (yet unattainable due to cost to any station that isn't selling advertising or set up with a huge amount of money from an interest group of some sort) permit is illegal, but so is running someone over with what I believe is intent. Free Radio got their punishment and I hope Mr. Perry gets his.
[Ed. note: "Naked City" featured a lengthier piece on the FCC raid on Nov. 24.]
Illuminating the Bike Laws
You ran a letter a while back (Sept. 1) from a cyclist who said a local cop told him that bikes must have a blinking rear light. (The cyclist was writing to publicly thank the officer.) While I agree that anyone biking at night without a rear light has a death wish, the truth is that it's not against the law to ride without one. You have to have a white headlight and a rear reflector, but you don't have to have a rear light (although it's obviously a good idea anyway). If the officer really told the rider that a blinking red light was required, the officer was wrong.
Complete text of the actual laws pertaining to bikes is available at BicycleAustin.com.
Defending the Defense Budget
Mr. Black, I recently read your paper's endorsement of Mr. Nader for president [Nov. 3], and was disturbed by the numbers you mentioned regarding military spending and children's health spending. I bristle at the idea we are not handing out enough money or that the military is siphoning it off. Just what is so significant about the military taking 51% of discretionary spending? It's one of the few things we spend money on that is actually mentioned specifically in the Constitution. Maybe you should consider the following figures, before you worry about the military's alarming 51%. In 1965, the military was 51% of the total Federal budget of $100 billion. Since then the Federal budget has grown to about $1.5 trillion, or a factor of 15. The military budget is about $250 billion, or only about five times 1965 figures, roughly the rate of inflation. By your own figures, discretionary spending must be only $500 billion or so. So in 35 years the federal budget has grown at a far faster rate than military spending or inflation. The rest of the federal budget, and the greatest cause for the 35-year bloat, is the $1 trillion known as "entitlements." I know its supposedly off-limits, but isn't it part of the problem? Why just pick on the military? Maybe because it's not a direct handout? If there are problem areas, it's a matter of priorities. And the solution is not to raid the military coffers, but look where the real money is -- entitlements.
John K. Smith
Isn't it ironic that the Republicans have no problem whatsoever probing and prodding the microscopic, embryonic condition of a pregnant woman and determining what that woman's intent was and what her responsibility is, but when it comes to a pregnant ballot held up to the light in front of God and everybody, they look the other way, with no responsibility to the voter's intent.
Stuck in the Muck Again
The barely legible six words that tainted the left-hand border of the Nov. 10 Chronicle prompted me to write this. The words simply read "wash this off your hands, ralph." I am utterly disgusted with this covert attempt to place the possible win of Bush II upon Ralph Nader.
The fact that Nader is singled out as a scapegoat for the Democratic Party's wrongdoing is pitiful. I don't suppose the reason Gore lost those votes is due to his constant move to the right, giving most disenchanted voters no other option than to vote for Nader. Essentially, American voters are being blamed for voting their hopes and their dreams by supporting a candidate who actually represents their interests, Nader. You are condemning those voters, mostly liberals and progressives, for not giving their vote to Gore. In your eyes, Americans using their vote to bring about change somehow constitutes "throwing the election to Bush," to quote Nov. 17's "Letters at 3AM" column. Well that mentality makes me ill.
CNN exit polls actually show that in a two-way race, only about 47% of the Nader voters would have voted for Gore, 21% would have voted for Bush, and 30% would have abstained from voting in the residential election altogether. In the swing state of Oregon, where Nader is chastised for Bush's victory, Bush won the state by a margin of 23,000 votes; Nader had received 54,000 votes.
Now had the presidential election been a two-way race between Bush and Gore, Gore would have received 47% of those 54,000 of Nader's votes, around 25,400, and Bush would have won Oregon regardless with a victory of approximately 8,000 votes. Do the math.
Don't believe the hype, the democratic propaganda, or the Chronicle. With respects to the writer of those six dirty little words, who did not back up their claim, try thinking before you slander. It must be so easy to use clandestine child-like tactics of mudslinging, than to actually inform oneself. Then again, ignorance is bliss, isn't it? Well try washing ignorance off your hands.
Student & Green Party Supporter
Miss Nina Messed Up
For the love of God, would the besotted Nina Simone backers ["Postmarks," Nov. 10 & 17] please wipe the foam from the corner of their collective mouths? Having attended the performance, let me reveal my version of that night's events: The deafening applause emanating from Bass Hall was the sound of mostly white, middle-class liberals vigorously patting themselves on the back for being so enlightened and politically correct. I'm sorry, but does Miss Nina have divine dispensation or can she be critiqued like the rest of us unwashed, sloped-forehead, knuckle-draggers?
You loved the show? Great. Some of us didn't. Doesn't the possibility exist that her repeated appeals for more and more applause might be, I don't know, maybe a wee bit contrived? Doesn't the possibility also exist that 15-minute drum solos -- followed by a five-minute bass solo, mind you -- might be friggin' stupid? Nina may not have received the memo while living in self-imposed exile in France, but after her Sixties heyday came the 1970s. That's when drum solos and bass solos were flogged to death by an endless succession of self-indulgent rock and jazz bands with too much ego, and often, easy access to mind-altering chemicals. Finally, some of us are actually sick of hearing the all-too-familiar roll call of black icons we're supposed to applaud on cue -- Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Bob Marley, and MLK. At the very least, can people like Nina and her backers update the PC roll call to include contemporary individuals (and concerns) so we don't have to continually crane our neck to genuflect over the past -- especially the, ugh, 1960s?
Was the show without merit? Certainly not. Her slow, nearly a cappella dirges ("Four Women," for example) were, indeed, transcendent. But those 15 minutes or so aside, this was a performance painful in its political correctness and showbiz schmaltz. If that's your thing, fine, but some of us actually want the artists we pay $30 to see stepping their game up. And we definitely don't need the show to be an exercise in self-congratulation.
PS: R.I.P. Doug Sahm
Big Money the Big Winner
Laugh about it, shout about it,
when you've got to choose,
every way you look at it you lose ...
The current circus surrounding the presidential election should not obscure that there was a clear winner in the Nov. 6 election -- big money. Why is everybody so concerned about Florida? This year's biggest winner is the financial services industry, which contributed no less than $195 million, predominantly to Republicans. As expected, the Democrats' hands are not clean either; lawyers and lobbyists contributed the lion's share of $85 million to the Dems' campaign chest. Upon reflecting on the estimated total federal campaign fundraising bill of $1.3 billion, an innocent may ask, "What are they paying for?" Companies are quick to explain, "We just believe in the system." Whose system? Attentive capital city observers may recall last month's Fortune 500 meeting where numerous CEOs lounged about in the Texas Senate Chamber with their feet propped up on our members' desks. Whose government? Our democracy is soiled when citizens' voices are drowned in the sea of corporate cash and influence. Despite all the hoopla of the "invigorated public" bedazzled by 24-hour news coverage of "he said, she said," the choice has already been made -- and every way I look at it we lose.
Statistics: The Center for Responsive Politics -- www.opensecrets.org.
Chucking the Chad System
It is most distressing to learn at this late date the full explanation for the shallow indentation votes, the accumulation of chads beneath the punch hole area, a space only 1é4 inch deep which becomes full at the presidents' holes. The most popular will have more chads and therefore become full faster, making more and more votes come out too shallow. It is not the fragility of advanced age but the solid buildup of card paper under the punch area making it impossible to make any more than a dent. That explains why other areas are punched out clearly. They were physically prevented from voting properly; it is not the voter's fault.
Molly Ivins is the first to mention this factor in the punch ballot method. She says it is old knowledge to veteran election workers. It is no surprise that the largely Republican counties had upgraded to more foolproof systems. I wonder just how much chad from past elections was still in the trays as suggested by Molly; could it be possible that old chad could be added just prior to opening the polls? Is there no provision for keeping this tray clear during the polling? Why is the tray not three inches deep?
Double votes are easy to figure. If one hole is for either Gore or Bush then one can assume that the minor candidate would be a mistake. It's not too likely that double votes would be for both Gore and Bush. Those votes should be counted just to know how many would have voted for whomever; benefit of the doubt should go to the voter.
I guess it would be just too dangerous for the public to know just how thoroughly we have been cheated.
The fact that Gore won so many more votes than Bush in the "popular vote" means simply that something is wrong in Florida. Bush does not want us to know the full count. Obviously!