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April 20, 2001, Columns


Van Os, a Hero!

Editor:

Regarding your article on the union-busting allegations against David Van Os ["Union's Due," April 6]:

I was married to David Van Os for 22 years. David is one of the most honorable people I've ever known. Throughout his career, he has worked tirelessly against extremely heavy odds for employee and civil rights; he has worked to the point of exhaustion many, many times and has passed up many, many opportunities for considerably more lucrative employment. I do not for an instant believe the labor-busting charges leveled against him; I take it on complete faith that there are extenuating and extraordinary details not yet revealed. Furthermore, I find the gleeful maliciousness with which these allegations were reported downright creepy and kind of sinister, especially given that y'all do not know (for whatever reasons) the other side. What's going on? The bigger they are the harder they fall? A thrill at the prospect of bringing down someone, even when it's someone who has devoted his entire adult life trying to better the lives of working people, a philosophy I would assume y'all profess? Past differences?

Furthermore, the writer also reveals an ignorance of labor law, an ignorance that plays to the negative stereotypes and perversions of union workplaces. For examples, a union contract does not protect incompetent workers; it does not protect employees who knowingly delete office files (in a law office especially, for crying out loud!, where there are confidentiality and ethics issues); a union contract does not protect employees who refuse to meet with their employer for work instruction.

I am truly grieved by your article and look forward to your updates after both sets of details are revealed.

Becky Willard


Hoping Bikes & Birds Can Coexist

Editor:

As a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Coordinating Committee, I have been involved in the Bull Creek Preserve public access plan review from the start of the process.

I take issue with some of the statements in Dan Oko's article on the BCP in the April 13 issue of the Chronicle ["Flippin' the Birds"]. The first is Don Koehler's statement regarding the "grandfathering" of parkland that "allows" the continued recreational use of the Barton Creek Greenbelt and Wilderness Preserve, the Bull Creek Greenbelt, and the Emma Long Metro Park. These are city of Austin parklands that have been included in the BCP acreage count, an inclusion many recreational access advocates consider to be a re-allocation of land that was acquired for a single dedicated use, public recreation. For anyone with Austin Parks and Recreation to say that we are being "allowed" to continue using it is simply absurd and misconstrues the mission of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the parameters of the BCP.

The second issue is Oko's statement "... from the get-go that only low-impact activities, such as hiking and wildlife viewing, would be allowed on the preserve." That is not correct. The draft Public Access Management Plan, dated April 2, 1998, allows off-road cycling on marked trails in all the units of the Bull Creek Preserve. This was the management plan that the Citizens Advisory Committee and other interested parties expected to be discussed at a public access forum held by the city on Dec. 4, 1998, to introduce the Public Access Plan for the city's BCP holdings. That access plan was amended in a revised draft on Nov. 25, 1998, less than two weeks before the public access forum, to exclude off-road cycling from the Forest Ridge tract of the Bull Creek unit.

The majority of the Austin mountain-biking community seeks to conserve and improve our public lands, and we welcome any opportunity to work with city of Austin land managers to do so.

Hill Abell


Balcones Responds

Editor:

In discussions of important conservation efforts like the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, it is always disappointing and frustrating to see erroneous information displayed by (I assume) well-meaning authors. I won't belabor the literary license or questionable editorial devices Dan Oko used to trash the BCP or excuse the bikers ["Flippin' the Birds," April 13], but Oko seems to have either listened poorly, taken few notes, or simply garbled the facts from his interview with me. Regarding the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, Oko heard me say that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "still lacks at least $10 million before it can complete purchases" for the Refuge. I wish we were that close. The $8 million to $10 million figure I recited to Oko is the estimated value of lands for which we have likely willing sellers at present. At current land prices in the Refuge area, that might buy us as much as 2,000-3,000 acres, putting us somewhere around 20,000 acres or well less than half of the proposed "46,000-acre" Refuge. To our great frustration, we have exactly $0 in uncommitted land acquisition funds for the Refuge for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Another fact that Oko overlooked in his notes was that we recently received approval to expand our acquisition boundary to 80,000 acres to give us better opportunities to work with willing landowners to protect the endangered birds and afford better watershed protection. That expansion was prompted by continuing and accelerating losses of land in the Refuge area to development activity.

One last geographic gaffe: The Refuge will not "spread piecemeal across Travis and Hays counties." (a) Our prime goal in new acquisitions is to tie together existing Refuge tracts to better meet sound preserve design criteria, and (b) we're in Travis, Williamson, and Burnet counties, Dan.

Chuck Sexton

Wildlife Biologist

Balcones Canyonlands NWR


Access to BCP Helps Warbler

Editor:

Thank you for your recent article calling attention to the loss of public access to the Forest Ridge Tract of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) ["Flippin' the Birds," April 13]. Cyclists have been excluded from Forest Ridge in an attempt to protect and preserve the golden-cheeked warbler. Unfortunately, removing public access to the BCP lands may undermine public support for protecting the warbler. Public access to the BCP lands builds understanding and support for the warbler.

The biologists are concerned that the BCP lands may be insufficient to provide for the Warbler's continued existence. The BCP lands are fragmented and are surrounded by developments that intrude upon the edges of the BCP lands. However, it is easier to fence out cyclists than it is to fence out house cats.

The removal of cyclists from Forest Ridge is based on three false assumptions. First, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) asserts that cycling was not an approved use at Forest Ridge. Cyclists have used Forest Ridge since before the city of Austin acquired the land for the BCP. After the City purchased Forest Ridge, the city and USFWS were happy to work with Austin Metro Trails & Greenways (AMTG), the Bull Creek Foundation, the Austin Ridge Riders, and other organizations to minimize and mitigate impacts from cycling at Forest Ridge -- impacts to the slopes, not to the trees where the warbler nests. After working cooperatively with the community, USFWS requested that the city exclude the groups that had been working at Forest Ridge.

Second, USFWS assumes that cyclists and horseback riders crossing Forest Ridge have an adverse effect on the warbler. USFWS has no evidence, no studies to support this assumption. A study is currently being conducted in warbler habitat at Fort Hood to determine if cycling has an impact on the warbler. When that study is completed, we hopefully will have an opportunity to again discuss cycling at Forest Ridge.

Third, the BCP plan assumes that all of the warbler habitat in Travis County outside of the BCP will be lost to development. In fact, as part of the city's purchase of water quality conservation lands under the May 1998 Proposition 2 bond authority (Prop. 2 lands), the city has incidentally acquired some additional Warbler habitat that will be preserved.

AMTG is committed to ensuring public access to public lands and is currently participating as a stakeholder in the development of the land management and public access plan for the Prop. 2 lands. Closing Forest Ridge denied cyclists the opportunity to ride its trails. Some of the Prop. 2 Lands could offer a wider range of opportunity to cyclists of all abilities than was taken away when USFWS closed Forest Ridge.

Sincerely,

Jeb Boyt

President,

AMTG


What's in a Word? A Lot.

Editor:

I was very disturbed to read the following two sentences in David Garza's report of a speech by Carlos Fuentes ["In Person," April 6]: "Interrupted by eager applause at the LBJ auditorium, Fuentes denounced the United States' policy of condescension toward the drug situation in Mexico. He lambasted the Zionist thread of current political thought, too, which argues for the mobility of goods and currency but not labor in our continental free market."

I understand that a reporter faces a quandary in reporting a speech of which some of the content may be very offensive to and potentially contribute to hatred and violence against some. On the one hand, there is the responsibility to report what was said. If this is done well, it is a service to everyone. It may even be particularly helpful to the potential offendees. On the other hand, where the volatile nature of the content is presumably obvious, there is naturally a desire to resist editorializing against the content while reporting the fact of its having been purveyed. The impulse to refrain from editorializing is of course a good one. Nevertheless, the second sentence quoted above steps way over the line of refraining from editorializing against the content. It very clearly endorses the claim that there is a "Zionist thread" in current (American) political thought and that this thread "argues for the mobility of goods and currency but not labor" in the NAFTA market. Moreover, it clearly implies that this "Zionist thread" is, (for some mysterious reason), interested in the American drug economy. Similar claims by Louis Farrakhan have been reported but not endorsed by the mainstream media.

The fact that someone of stature would make preposterous anti-Semitic statements and receive applause is news (assuming that Mr. Fuentes did indeed say such things, which I don't know that he did). It is quite another thing for a reporter to endorse such claims, whether by carelessness or by conscious intent. Reporting such claims as news rather than reporting the fact that someone made such claims is profoundly irresponsible.

Stephen Schulz

Editor:

After a second reading of David Garza's review of the recent visit of Carlos Fuentes to Austin ["In Person," April 6] (which I did not attend) I realized that it was impossible to tell if Fuentes had "lambasted the Zionist thread of current political thought, too, which argues for the mobility of goods and currency but not labor in our continental free market," or if Zionist was an adjective used by Mr. Garza.

For anyone with more than a casual reading of history, it should be amply clear that the complex constellation of inequities in the system that permits U.S. interests to exploit the poorest strata of Mexican workers began long before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Presumably Mr. Fuentes or Mr. Garza was implying that the abuse of workers who are not permitted full rights in the state in which they live is a modern, purely Israeli creation. They might well speak to the "guest workers" who toil in Switzerland and Germany, but remain Turks, Algerians, Italians, etc. For the truly adventurous, a careful reading into the laws in Muslim lands concerning the Dhimmis (people of the book; i.e., Jews and Christians) will find ample evidence that separate and unequal (but heavily taxed) was in place centuries before Colon and the Spanish landed in this hemisphere.

Please do not conclude that the purpose of this letter is to defend the injustice or violence of the Israeli state against the Palestinian people. It is simply to question what appears to be the growing and all-too-casual use of the word Zionist.

Finally, one wonders what kind of editorial supervision permits such leaps of political geography. When one examines the roster of the multinational corporations that employ and abuse thousands of Mexican workers in the maquiladoras in the so-called free trade zone at the border, one finds the usual list of corporate beasts working in concert with the wealthy and connected of Mexico (Mr. Fuentes' milieu, in fact). To imply that this phenomenon, like that of the millions of Mexican immigrants who work, underpaid, in the worst jobs north of the border, is somehow Zionist, is irresponsible journalism.

I do not care whether or not you print this letter. I would appreciate, however, clarification as to the true author of the adjective, Zionist, in the aforementioned article.

Sincerely,

E. J. Cohen

[Ed. note: It was an editorial oversight not to have placed the word "Zionist" in quotes since it was in fact Carlos Fuentes' term that David Garza was reporting. The Chronicle regrets the error. -- Clay Smith, Books editor]


Finding the Beauty in Billboards

Editor:

Why does the Chronicle's editorial staff presume that it is okay to demand the extinction of billboard structures? Not because of any recognizable precedent in case law. Those who own billboards themselves and the land on which they are located have a right to use their property in any way that does not violate applicable law. Retroactive legislation that requires the removal of otherwise-legal billboard structures places an undue burden on these property owners. Billboard bans and billboard-removal ordinances have routinely and rightly been rejected by the Supreme Court as violations of the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

The facts are that billboards provide valuable services to business, travelers, and consumers, jobs for hundreds of creative employees, and a source of revenue to landowners. They are cost-effective and, at their best, intelligent and beautiful. I've been in the billboard business for more than 20 years, and am for the most part proud of what we've accomplished. While I agree that scenic areas should be protected from all commercial exploitation whenever possible, downtown Austin, U.S. 183, and I-35 hardly fall into that category. At least billboards do something for the people of this city.

I wonder: Does the Chron's support of billboard bans have more to do with the fact that billboards compete with newspapers for limited advertising dollars?

Sincerely,

Bill James


Don't Overlook Today's 'Texan' Comics

Editor:

On April 6, you published a "Page Two" editorial regarding The Daily Texan, emphasizing how many of its former cartoonists are now prolific in the entertainment industry, and how "None of the current crop of Texan cartoonists has caught [your] eye."

First I'd like to make a couple of clarifications. Although Shannon Wheeler didn't go to UT, he was, in fact, a cartoonist for The Daily Texan. And Windsor McKay's comic was entitled "Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend."

Your contention that self-reflexivity "indicates a certain poverty of the imagination" is unbelievably myopic. Have you ever actually read "Los Hooligans"? Sure, it employs "skilled narrative and clever illustration," but it really wasn't that funny. "Los Hooligans" and "Eyebeam," not to mention countless others, often utilized the comic strip form as a prop, a convention that you so ignorantly chastised. We, as humans, question our own reality regularly. A comic in which the characters do the same can be a brilliant way of invigorating them with life.

By lumping the newer Texan cartoonists together, you've overlooked numerous examples of comic greatness. You neglected Bryan Douglas' comics "The Lab" and "Destroy Ted Turner!!," the two overall best comics in recent Texan history. "Signs of the Apocalypse" by Dave Youmans satirizes pop culture in increasingly inventive and universally entertaining ways. Mac Blake's "Bill & Erik" explores the complex, humorous relationship between a squirrel and a superhero. And Mike Woodson's "Irritability" contains so much more hilarity than the average comic that it's difficult to believe his art is so beautiful.

So why aren't most of the comics in the Chronicle character-driven masterpieces? "Lowball," Lynda Barry, "Red Meat," and Mueller's comic, although great in their own rights, in no way conform to the standards you set for the Texan cartoonists.

I agree: You are a better talent scout in hindsight.

Kurt Hothan

Author, "Bloodsausage"

Editor, The Daily Texan Comics

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