The Austin Chronicle


January 19, 2001, Columns

Death Penalty: Up Close & Personal


Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I am writing to express my feelings about a portion of your "Top 10s of 2000" article. I would like to preface this letter by saying thank you for bringing us articles that need to be heard. It is comforting to know that you will continue reporting on the subjects that the mainstream media has deemed too controversial to mention.

That being said, I am pro-death penalty. I never really surface the reasons why until I think back to my seventh-grade year when my stepfather let me go to a triple murder case trial. My stepfather was the elected sheriff of Trinity County at the time and you can bet that in a small town that was all that was going on. My sister and I even broke into his briefcase and saw pictures of the murder scene.

Your article subsectioned "Top 10 Executions" ["The Year That Wasn't," Jan. 5] made the general statement that James Beathard "probably was not guilty" and received questionable representation. I can say that some small-town indigent defense attorneys lack experience and have to work with the prosecutors to actually help them on certain cases. I will concede that point and admit that is not a great situation for the defendant.

I want everyone who is reading this to know that I not only went to Alabama to pick up a key witness who told us endless stories of how evil Mr. Beathard and his accomplice were, but that I also met the defendants on multiple occasions. I will save you details of the trial that was written up by several national magazine publications. Basically for a $3 million insurance policy, Mr. Beathard and Gene Hathorn murdered Mr. Hathorn's parents at point-blank range.

If I would not have seen those pictures I would still not be in favor of the death penalty. The first picture I saw was of Gene Hathorn's five-year-old brother curled up in his closet, shot point-blank with a shotgun right between his eyes.

I'm sorry about this long rant but I just want people to know that James Beathard and Gene Hathorn are guilty. No question about it. Mr. Beathard had a smile all the way through his trial to make all of the sympathizers feel sorry for him. Congratulations to your staff for making people feel sympathy for him again. I am glad James Beathard died for his actions.

Thank you for your time,

Charles Stover

Chron: Petty & Not Too Bright

Mr. Black:

Who wrote the "The Year That Wasn't" column (Jan. 5)? Every other piece in this issue had a byline; "The Year That Wasn't" did not.

I'm intrigued by the many references to Bush and Perry's lack of intelligence. ("Hutchison is smarter ... than Perry," "... the somewhat bovine Perry ... ," "Perry will mistake the word 'avocado' for abogado ... ," "Rick Perry is not very bright.")

I don't know president-elect Bush, but I have known Governor Perry for 11 or so years. And, while I have never checked his SAT scores or the results of his IQ test, and although I do not agree with all of his proposals and ideas, I find him to be smart, quick-witted, determined, and compassionate.

I acknowledge that the Chronicle has never pretended to be interested in responsible or objective journalism. This is yet another example of your lack of responsibility to your readers. It's rather cowardly for an anonymous journalist to sit behind his computer monitor and take unfounded personal jabs at a public figure.

Makes you look petty. And not very bright.

Jenna Hays McEachern

City Schools Need Cooperation

Dear Editor:

While the fact that achievement of minority students in Austin lags far behind the achievement of their Anglo counterparts is glaring proof that something indeed is inequitable, to place the burden to close the achievement gap solely on the shoulders of public schools is unfair and unrealistic ["Sterling Lands' New Mission," Jan. 12].

The fact still remains that this town is segregated, and will remain so until the city does a better job of addressing the needs of its poor citizens. Instead of creating an overpriced housing market, perpetuating corporate welfare in the name of "Smart Growth," and annihilating old neighborhoods by asphalting over them so that suburbanites don't have to sit in traffic, the Austin community should be organized around the idea of building people capital through improved job training, affordable housing, and other social services for the parents of children of all ethnicities who attend schools in depressed neighborhoods.

Education begins in the home; if that institution is not well supported how can the schools in these communities be expected to produce the kinds of results demanded by Lands, the school district, and the state? Schools are already working themselves to the bone, stretching their budgets to the seams to increase teachers' capacity to teach all students well and provide them with best resources possible.

Do doubt that there are big problems with AISD's magnet program and its ability to attract and retain teachers -- let alone encourage the good ones to stay in the classroom or teach in East Austin schools; these are just symptoms of the larger problem. Until city leaders begin to talk turkey about the socioeconomic inequities that should not exist in such a prosperous town, there may never be any real lasting change. Where is the City Council in these talks with Lands, his followers, and AISD personnel?

A tired but trying teacher,

Araceli G. Chavarria

Webb Middle School

Getting All Sides of the Eastside

Dear Editor:

The article about the Eastside story was very informative ["Sterling Lands' New Mission," Jan. 12]. I wonder however, why other members of the Eastside political machine (?) haven't voiced their opinions on this seemingly crucial issue. It would add to the overall balance of the argument if our other elected officials were able (not your fault) to give us their opinions about the state of our so-called inner-city schools.

P. Byron Miller

Don't Disrespect Reagan High


There is currently much misinformation circulating in Austin regarding Reagan High School. Reagan students, teachers, administrators and parents do not deserve the negative conversations prompted by the AISD Magnet/Charter discussions.

Reagan is not a substandard, underenrolled school. Reagan has over 1,400 students (two-thirds are in walking distance); Reagan students last year led the district in dual credits (ACC courses for both high school and college credit); Scholarships awarded to Reagan seniors more than doubled last year to $2.2 million and many of our students take AP and honors courses. In what other school will you find an AP or Honors Course that has 90% minority participation?

We implore the people of Austin -- be careful in the remarks that you make about over 1,400 students. Think how you would feel if you were working as hard as you could and by all measures were successful in school, yet you constantly read and heard your school and you labeled substandard. Our efforts to build pride in the Reagan student population are formidable, as we must constantly argue against "potshots" that people take against our students.

The magnet struggle is a fight for equality for all students. Consider that research shows that smaller schools are more effective with low-income students. Then consider that Reagan has the largest number of economically disadvantaged students in the district. Is there anyone who really believes combining more students on one campus will improve their education? Or is it just a matter of ignoring the needs of those perceived to have less power?

While it is true that Reagan has been rated low-performing in TEA's standards, this rating has been because of the dropout rate, not because of TAAS scores. Reagan's TAAS scores are comparable or better than other high schools with similar populations. The dropout problem is an AISD problem, not a problem of a few high schools. The problem is systemic, beginning with our elementary schools and must be dealt with by district-wide solutions.

The Reagan community is concerned about the large number of dropouts living within the current boundaries of our school. We are also concerned about the current students who are intelligent, hard-working teenagers. These hundreds of students do not need to be taken out of their neighborhood school. They could, of course, use more support from both AISD and the Austin community. We would be pleased to dialogue with anyone about issues in our school community but until you've talked with people directly involved, please Austin, keep negative comments about Reagan High School out of your plans and leave our community with the pride and dignity that it deserves.

Reagan High School Parents

Carol Darby, PTSA President

Gloria Neunaber, CAC Co-Chair

Down With Jazz Snobbery

Dear Editor:

Harvey Pekar's acerbic commentary on Ken Burns' Jazz documentary ["Better Than Nothing," Jan. 12] was an excruciatingly painful exercise in intellectual and artistic arrogance. While Mr. Pekar made it patently obvious that he knows more about jazz music than 99% of the population, he failed to acknowledge that many of the musicians the documentary chooses to focus on were considered avant-garde at the time of their initial contribution to the music.

I do not consider myself a jazz expert, but I do consider myself a jazz enthusiast. I was gratified by the quality of the series so far. I was happy to see that Burns has adopted an Afrocentric approach to his subject and the documentary does much, in my opinion, to establish in the minds of the mainstream the cultural, intellectual, and artistic primacy of the American Negro to 20th-century American art and life. Best of all for me, however, it goes beyond mere musical conceptualism and intellectual posturing to touch upon the spiritual basis of the music, and by extension, the African-American experience.

By watching this series I have actually learned things I did not know before about jazz music, its personalities, and their historical context. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same after reading Pekar's article, which reminded me of some dumbass diatribe by a heavy metal head concerning the phallocentric prowess of a guitar god who plays more notes in his solos than another. I pity Mr. Pekar for his narrow intellectual prejudices.


Jon Pearson

It Ain't Got That (Western) Swing


I think much of Harvey Pekar's critique of the Ken Burns' jazz documentary was right on. His assertion that Burns' conservative take on jazz history functions as an explicit rejection of jazz's avant-garde is entirely justified. Though I agree with this criticism, the deficiencies of the documentary shouldn't be focused solely in terms of the jazz fringe.

Where I think Burns fails miserably is that he completely ignores hugely popular jazz performers (and bandleaders) like Bob Wills, Milton Brown, Spade Cooley, and Hank Penny.

Country music historians have long associated these names with Western swing, which is fine enough. However, Western swing was not a sub-genre of country -- as they typically assert -- but an outgrowth of jazz. Hence the "swing." Meanwhile, ill-informed jazz historians have been quick to close ranks against artists like these because they don't fit the traditional profile of the jazz musician. Make no mistake, though, these guys saw themselves as jazz musicians, hired musicians who could (and did) play jazz, and embodied the fundamental jazz principles of individual improvisation within the context of collective swing. In fact, I would suggest that the job of these performers was to translate the innovations of Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington for a rural audience weaned on "country" music and big band swing. I would also add to this list other names like Bill Monroe, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Jerry Garcia, Ray Charles, Doug Sahm, Gatemouth Brown, and even Ray Price. Whether or not you like it, or are willing to accept it, any musician who embraces these ideas is -- in part -- a jazz musician, and they deserve to be recognized for their contributions to jazz history.

Lance Davis

Treating Class With Class


I want to thank all of folks at the Chronicle for the classy way you handled a sensitive subject ["Dancing About Architecture," Jan. 12]. I am so proud to be a part of this community and feel blessed to be a part of Austin's music scene. It truly is made up of caring people behind the clubs that provide the music, the people that support it, and the people that report it. I went through this tough time and thank God I came through it. I appreciate you letting the folks know what happened and taking the valuable space in your paper to give some background to enlighten people of the facts. I hope I didn't hurt or offend anyone in my dazed days but if I did, maybe your article will help them understand it wasn't the real me these past few months. Anyway, thank you again for your class and your heart. You represent the very essence of Austin.


Dale Watson

Stop Overlooking Visual Arts

Dear Mr. Black:

I write to express disappointment that the visual arts were excluded from The Austin Chronicle's Top 10 Lists in the January 5 issue. While offerings in the visual arts in Austin have yet to reach the level of cities like Houston or New York, our community has much of which to be proud. Austin is home to serious, exciting artists; to thought-provoking exhibitions; and to new, high-quality commercial galleries. All of us who work to create a more vital art scene -- artists, dealers, museum staff, trustees, and others -- appreciate the role that the media can play in making the city's cultural accomplishments better known to our growing public. Please think about giving greater prominence to the visual arts in your future coverage of the arts.


Elizabeth Ferrer

The Dr. and Mrs. Ernest C. Butler

Executive Director

The Perfect Kiss


Legend has it that then-Gov. Bush, following a stern dressing down by Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, suddenly and impulsively planted a kiss on Bob's fearsome visage, thereby immediately transforming an adversary into a political advocate.

Therefore, we should not be too surprised if President George W. Bush chooses to display his charm technique at the January 20 inauguration by smooching ex-President Clinton.

Ted Corin

Damn Yankees


Two sections on "Naked City" [Jan. 12] were zesty. The first one, showing Mr. Forgione that his school system is ... racist? Giving a chance to a black preacher to grow to prominence, by demanding the staffing of schools with Texans to reflect the demographic makeup of the barrios among other good things. So, when New Yorkers, Oklahomans and Philadelphians start packing up, teachers living in my area are going to be assigned to train my kids, and I won't be dealing with outside fast-talkers at Johnston or Govalle? Good. The second one was yet another blow to the political structure of AISD and its bureaucracy on the resignation of Mr. Maldonado who would have improved the dropout rate. Do you know that this pendejo's computer system can't even put the tilde on my surname? And Mr. Forgione's getting a pay raise!

Paul Aviña

Global Warming Causes Hot Air?

Dear Editor:

I must be getting old, I misunderestimated Amy [Babich, "Postmarks," Jan. 12]. And I was mean, I tried to engage an unarmed person in a battle of the minds. Worse than I thought, she is one of the really silly people who think that they are special enough to "destroy the planet." This planet has been through far worse than Amy or anyone could throw at it and it seems to be doing pretty well, in fact, last time the planet was destroyed it led, eventually, to Amy and me. Sad thing is, I really wanted her to actually tell me I was wrong, to present some negative aspect to the possibility of global warming, to engage in a serious debate about the junk science that some people embrace so desperately, but she apparently could not, so she slipped into an "I bet he" dodge. No matter, perhaps someone else out there might want to suggest some negative aspects of global warming, it might be fun actually. Someone out there might try to explain the transport mechanism that moves CFCs from the Northern Hemisphere to the South Pole where it supposedly destroys ozone. Time Saving Tip here ... there is none. Hadley Convection Cells in the atmosphere at either side of the equator prevent transport of suspended solids and gases from traveling to either hemisphere. Then there are more Hadley Cells surrounding the poles. But it would be fun to argue. Amy, hang in there, and don't let that old 8-track of "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar" get melted out in the sun.

Thanks amigos,

Carl Swanson

The Public Is Noticing

Dear Editor:

Thank you for posting our wish lists in the Holiday edition ["Public Notice," Dec. 29]. The soccer team got donations and two cash donations have arrived that we feel were sparked by your column. On behalf of the Martin JHS community, thanks for your support!

Lori C-Renteria,

MJH Partners in Education Coordinator

Chavez' Nomination DOA

Dear Editor:

Linda Chavez' withdrawal from the Labor nomination had very little to do with her housing an undocumented person. She was already opposed by Democrats and others for major ideological reasons and would have faced nasty confirmation hearings. I'm sure this was a fight she was not looking forward to.

Chavez complained about Washington's so-called game of "search and destroy." No one needed to do any searching, she already had a bad reputation among Latinos, Blacks, women, and working people. It seems that she has been out to destroy the efforts of Americans to gain equality, fairness, and better wages. While supposedly helping a few people, she has denied millions of others by opposing needed programs and civil rights policies. Bush, in his usual obtuse fashion, hailed her as an advocate of "civil rights for everyone."

Linda Chavez was definitely not qualified to be Secretary of Labor in this new millennium. The fact that she worked under Reagan alone is enough for many to feel she is unsuited for such a position. She is a disgrace and insult to her race and gender. She's also an insult to labor. It would have been quite ironic indeed if such an anti-labor person were head of Labor! As the GOP's "good Mexican girl" she would have continued to work on their behalf and not on the behalf of minorities and working people.

Anita Quintanilla

Query From Across the Pond

Dear Sir or Madam

I am contacting you in the hope that you might be able to assist me. I am researching professional baseball players who served in the military during World War II. More than 1,000 major league players joined the armed forces between 1940 and 1945 -- many fought on far-off battlefields and some, sadly, never returned. More than 50 years have now passed and it is my fear that information on the military activities of these men will be lost if it is not gathered soon.

I am particularly interested in Eddie Kazak, who is from Austin. I would be very pleased to hear from anyone who may have information about his activities during the war.

My contact details are listed below and I thank you for your time, trouble, and anticipated co-operation.


Gary Bedingfield

55 Capel Road

Enfield, Middlesex


Great Britain

[email protected]

Austinites Against Ashcroft

Dear Editor:

I urge others to take action now to stop the nomination of John Ashcroft for attorney general -- here are three great reasons why:

1) Ashcroft voted:

  • against affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws

  • against a crucial AIDS provision

  • against environmental protections

    2) He has received accolades from prominent ultra-conservative groups and institutions, for example:

  • The Christian Coalition has given him a perfect 100% rating in every year since 1995

  • The National Right to Life Committee rated Ashcroft 93% in 1995 and 100% every year since then.

    3) He is opposed by many progressive organizations, such as People for the American Way, the NAACP, NARAL, LCCR, the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and the National Council of Jewish Women.

    "There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions. If ever there was a time to unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism, it is now." -- John D. Ashcroft, Human Events, April 10, 1998

    Amanda Winters

    Restoring the Economy the Right Way

    Dear Editor and Readers:

    First, there are serious questions as to whether a candidate who lost a national election by 540,00 votes is the legitimate president of the United States. Obviously, the founding fathers intended, set up the electoral college to reflect the majority vote. The press reports that Gore presently leads in Florida. I abstained, but the conclusion of this vote is obvious.

    Second, are the daily press (newspapers) and national press reliable? Previous polls showed that 80% of the public did not believe they were reliable, but at this point, one wonders if they are just not promoting people they want in a position -- or have avoided any objective investigation or background check on candidates ... or just can't count.

    Third, Bush has almost caused a recession, before even taking office. He stated, "I am worried about an economic slowdown," which is printed in USA Today. All the leader of the nation has to say is such a phrase and the majority will stop buying big-ticket items like cars, TVs, computers and families will start pulling their money out of stocks. Bush has already created economic chaos, and some Austin companies have shown a 45-degree drop since November, when he grabbed a presidency. The majority remembers the recession he caused as senior adviser to President Bush (he was living in Washington, D.C., when the recession hit).

    Fourth, what would restore the economy? Certainly a huge tax break to the top 1% will not even increase their wealth. The top 1% own businesses or properties that must sell their products to the 99%. Therein, increasing the income of the 99% by $100 a month will enable them to buy more services from the 1% at the top. Second, Texas and California polls showed the majority wants the college grants to cover the cost of college -- as existed from FDR to Kennedy. The 90% decrease in college grants, due to Republicans, results in less than 35% of Texas college students being able to graduate from University of North Texas, ETBU, UT-Arlington, UT-El Paso, etc. Only an educated population, making higher wages, will be able to afford cars, computers, large homes, and newspaper subscriptions ... and keep these companies growing.

    Let us provide 80% of a potential tax surplus to marketable college skills, and 20% as tax breaks to the 99% of the population. The phones are open and you may express this opinion to Bush, or live to regret it.

    Frank D. Bartlett

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