Austin - bands, bikes, billboards, ballots, Bradley, and beyond - under scrutiny.
Bill James' ["Postmarks: Finding the Beauty in Billboards," April 20] claim that restricting billboards denies property owners their rights leaves me unmoved. The only reason land has value for billboards is that taxpayers bought right of way adjacent to that land and then paid road construction costs.
Rather than seeing the issue as one of property rights, I see it as one of landowners appropriating a public good -- the view of the sky -- for private gain.
I do agree with James that erecting billboards creates jobs, but so does manufacturing land mines and producing child pornography.
Finally, James notes that billboards provide a service to travelers. While this is true, only a small fraction do. The information conveyed on that fraction can tastefully be conveyed on the Highway Department's small brown signs. Commercial pitches, as a matter of policy, should be directed elsewhere where they can support media serving the public.
The $60 Million Question
Thanks for your continuing coverage of Gary Bradley's latest bout of acute mendacity ["Naked City: Bradley Mistaken," April 6]. While exposing Bradley's continuing violations of his deal with the city, please don't let Bradley's partners, including Capital Pacific Holdings, Clark Wilson Homes, and Lowe Enterprises off the hook.
Since Bradley is once again bullying Austin, seeking fast-track approval of connecting South MoPac to I-35, and fishing for legitimate partners like AMD, it would be a good time to write about the $60 million-plus judgment Bradley still owes to the federal taxpayers and the fraud that spawned this debt.
20 Miles to Texas, 25 to Hell
I have just been provided with an article you ran on March 16 ["Deep Blues From Gatesville"] about an unfortunate woman named Amy Smith (#62018), currently serving hard time for a very small amount of George W. Bush's former drug of choice (in addition to booze, that is ... )
Quite frankly, the more I learn of goings-on in the TDC, the more disgusted I become. I think the state of Texas ought to be ashamed of itself for incarcerating individuals who need drug rehabilitation and a follow-up of medication and therapy, rather than being warehoused, their lives wasted. Incarceration should only be for violent criminals who comprise a menace to law-abiding citizens, not unfortunate persons with a biochemical disorder no fault of their own.
And since Amy does have a biochemical disorder, she should not be disciplined (and harshly) for manifesting mood swings. If she "acts up" from time to time, this should not be a surprise. What would you do under similar circumstances -- incarcerated for over nine years so far, for a nonviolent offense, for a small amount of substance, constantly being jerked around by the system, never being allowed to gain eligibility for parole, or even hug her children? What would you do?
I'm a peaceful man, who does not have a biochemical disorder, but I'd be acting up a lot worse than Amy ever has.
The TDC is an indictment of the entire state of Texas, and Texas is a disgrace. I do not consider Texas to be civilized, and I resent that it is allowed to be a part of my country. I say to all Texans: If Amy is unfit to live free in your gun-totin', two-fisted cowboy culture, why not deport her to Yankeeland and save yourself any further trouble with her. (Not to mention the more than $15,000 a year it costs for you to warehouse her and waste her life away.)
Stephen Van Eck
Unjamming the Jam
Downtown Austin is plagued by traffic jams at rush hour. On Congress Avenue and other downtown streets, the cars clog every lane. They stop moving, but keep emitting heat and poisonous gases. Worst of all, the cars stop buses and law-abiding bicycles from moving. When the cars stop, everything stops except the sidewalk traffic.
What if traffic jams only stopped cars, not bicycles and buses? This could be accomplished cheaply. All that is needed is for bicycles to have their own lanes, safe and separate from cars and with their own traffic signals. The same applies to buses.
If bicycles had their own lanes downtown, safe and separated from cars, a bicycle would easily beat a car for downtown travel at rush hour. Observing this, some people who now sit in stalled cars at rush hour would opt to use bicycles downtown instead. Mobility would improve, the air would be cleaner, and downtown would be a more pleasant place.
The same reasoning applies to the bus. The bus is slow, but if it has its own separate lane it will beat a car downtown at rush hour.
Congress Avenue has eight car-dominated lanes: two for parking cars and six traffic lanes (three in each direction). Suppose that two of the six traffic lanes were for bicycles only, two for buses only, and two for cars, trucks, cement-mixers, and whatever else is allowed on downtown streets during business hours.
It's a cheap solution to downtown traffic jams. Why don't we try it?
Oko's Bird's-Eye Survey of BCP
I really enjoyed Dan Oko's write-up on the new restriction on biking on parts of the BCP ["Flippin' the Birds," April 13]. Well-researched and well-written, good stuff.
You Say 'Man-Shack,'
I Say 'Man-Check'
In Rob D'Amico's recent story "South Austin Secede!" [April 13] he provides the "correct" Austin pronunciation of Manchaca as "man-shack."
I disagree. My family settled on Williamson Creek near what was then called "the Manchaca Road" in the late 1860s and still live in South Austin and Oak Hill. We have always pronounced Manchaca as "Mancheck" or "Manchack." In fact, as a child, I vaguely believed that "Mancheck" was a Czech community somewhere south of Manchaca.
I have indeed heard the "Manshack" pronunciation, but I think this version is a mistake by newcomers, who can't seem to get their mouths or their heads around the whole problem; namely, the original Austin pronunciation is a mispronunciation of a misspelled word, Menchaca. Can't say I blame 'em.
P.S. Another pet peeve: the periodical letters to the editor in the Statesman or the Chronicle about Austinites' mispronunciation of Guadalupe. The fact is, this word is of Arabic, not Spanish, provenance. When Mexican Americans take care to give it the original Arabic pronunciation, then they can point the finger at Anglos.
For Being in the Funny Pages, Y'all Sure Are Sensitive
I couldn't resist writing in response to Kurt Hothan's overly defensive letter regarding the Chronicle's light criticism of The Daily Texan's cartoon page ["Postmarks: Don't Overlook Today's Texan Comics," April 20]. As a UT employee, I never fail to pick up a copy of The Daily Texan for the express purpose of checking out the cartoons, which are fascinatingly awful. "Complex"? "Humorous"? "Beautiful"? Come on. At best, they're uninteresting. At worst, they border on the surreal. Usually, they're just confusing. As an editor, Hothan approves material that displays a lack of some rudimentary drawing skills. The more accomplished who appear on the cartoon page rely purely on recreating favorite characters from "Dragonball" or some such anime style. I seriously doubt the appreciation of McKay is in the works as was suggested (you should be espousing "Herriman 101," btw). But don't take my word for it, I've made sport out of sending some of the Texan's strips to nationally syndicated cartoonists, which results in some interesting correspondence. To quote one who appears in Salon.com: "Woof." If this seems harsh, newspaper editors won't be so kind. If the only criticism printed in the Chronicle was that there was no current talent that "caught the reviewer's eye," you should take it on the chin and keep working at it.
Chron Coverage Is Skewed
I have lived in Austin for about two years now and like most people when they move here notice how great the music scene is. I noticed that your publication only covers one part of this music scene and almost completely ignores another. You do not even hardly acknowledge the younger bands that are really breaking through. The Riddlin' Kids got signed and you barely gave it mention. Bands like Pop Unknown, Cruiserweight, the Victory Drive, and Missing Digits. These bands are good, and I have never read one true article about any of them. Many people including myself go see these bands on a weekly basis and the bands receive no support from the Chronicle. It seems that you cover almost exclusively older bands, and I think you are overlooking the future of music in Austin. I am not saying that these older bands, as I put it, do not deserve coverage as well -- they are great bands too -- but there must be a way for everyone to get noticed. I would like to point out that I do read the Chronicle every week and I do think it is a great source of musical information. I did not want this to be a "hate the Chronicle" e-mail because I don't. I like it. Well that is just my opinion -- may not be a good one but it is something that I have noticed.
Fromholz 'Wonderful' & 'Special'
That was a wonderful article about Steven Fromholz ["Old Man River," April 20]. I have many fond memories of his performances, none so great as when he played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. That was a special moment. You should do more stories about him and his music.
An 'Unforgettable' Article
The article Christopher Gray wrote in the March 30 issue on U2 ["In God's Country"] was a terrific piece of writing. Bravo.
Like some people you mentioned in it, I kinda bailed on U2 after The Joshua Tree -- The Unforgettable Fire and War are two albums that are deeply meaningful to me. It was great to read a comprehensive accounting of their work, and to know that I oughta buy All That You Can't Leave Behind.
Once again, great job.
Lighten Up on Bud, Get More Beds
House Bill 1028, a bill to reduce the offense levels for marijuana possession in Texas, has received little attention from Texas citizens. While many individuals feel the bill does not apply to them, an official fiscal analysis has shown that it will. According to the Legislative Budget Bureau, decreased incarceration of marijuana offenders will save Texas over 40 million dollars in five years and more than 3,000 prison beds in 10 years.
If HB 1028 passes, it will mean more money and more prison space could be used to fight violent crime. Instead of punishing nonviolent marijuana users, the state could afford to keep rapists and murderers behind bars and not prematurely free them on parole. This bill will benefit all Texas citizens, and all Texas legislators should support it.
Marijuana Policy Project
Balancing the Ballot
I'm afraid it is letter-writer Robert Hansen ["Postmarks: IRV Muddies the Voting Waters," April 6] who is muddying the voting waters. His comments about IRV are far wide of the mark. IRV is used by millions of voters around the world every year with none of the problems he predicts.
His comments about U.S. electors are insulting. Most voters know whom they want to see elected. Most also know whom they would place second if their first choice couldn't make it home. Many will have a third and fourth choice, too. The preferences in IRV are not weighted in any way, so the comment about a "1, 2, 3, ..." scale being far too simplistic is just irrelevant.
No one is forced to mark preferences they don't have. So if Mr. Hansen wants to vote only for one candidate who has the support of only a small minority, he's knows where to put his "1." No one will force him to mark his ballot for any other candidate.
But many other voters who support the same candidate also have views about those who will become the front runners. By marking their other preferences "2, 3, 4, ...", they ensure that their voices will be heard. That doesn't sound silly to me. Far from harming the electoral system, the adoption of IRV would be a great step forward for democracy.
Simpler Than the Candidates Themselves
This letter is in response to Robert Hansen's letter decrying the value of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) ["Postmarks: IRV Muddies the Voting Waters," April 6]. He says that IRV is a bad idea because it would create more problems than we already have. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is noteworthy that Mr. Hansen contradicts himself at the beginning of his letter. First, he says that IRV is too difficult to understand. Then, almost in the same breath, he says that it is "way too simplistic." Well, which is it? I would submit that this contradiction reveals the speciousness of his arguments.
IRV is actually a simple and sensible electoral reform that will save taxpayer money and create more voter choice in single-winner elections. It allows voters to vote for multiple candidates in single-seat races by ranking them in order of preference -- 1, 2, 3, etc. Most importantly, it assures that a "spoiler" effect (ô la Ralph Nader) will not split the vote and result in undemocratic outcomes. And, yes, Mr. Hansen, you can vote for just one candidate without invalidating your vote.
IRV saves money because it eliminates the need for costly two-round runoff elections. (Austin taxpayers had to dole out $440,000 for the last runoff election!!!) IRV increases voter turnout because it gives voters more choices at the polls. IRV promotes positive, issue-based campaigns, because candidates will want to seek second- and third-choice votes instead of disparaging their opponents.
IRV is an election reform that is rapidly gaining attention in the United States. It is already being used with great success in other democracies around the world, e.g., in England, Ireland, and Australia. Major efforts to establish IRV are underway in Alaska, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington, and California. And now we have the chance to do it right here in Austin, Texas.
I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about IRV to check out the Center for Voting and Democracy's Web site: www.fairvote.org/irv. There is a link on that site to information about our efforts here in Austin, including contact information for members of the City Council. Please contact your council members to encourage them to support this simple and sensible democratic reform.
Co-Chair, Green Party of Texas
Give IRV a Chance
In his April 6 letter concerning the proposed Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) amendment to the City Charter, Robert Hansen suggests several problems ["Postmarks: IRV Muddies the Voting Waters"]. I think his concerns can be addressed easily.
He believes that voters are too ignorant to rank candidates on a ballot. I think he's probably wrong, but in any case the voters themselves ought to decide. If they agree with him, they can vote down the charter amendment. It would be informative to hear what Australians say about it, since they currently use IRV in their parliamentary elections.
He complains that 1-2-3 ranking is too "simplistic." Maybe more elaborate systems could be devised, but IRV certainly provides more information about voters' preferences than the current system.
He is concerned that a ballot with an incomplete ranking will be disqualified. It will not. If a voter wants to mark someone for No.1 and that's all, that's fine. If No.1 is eliminated, the voter will be counted as casting no vote in the subsequent runoffs.
Anyone interested should have a look at this Web site: www.fairvote.org/irv.
In an analysis by National Priorities Project, it is clear that Tax Day is all about building the Pentagon, not our beloved community.
One-third is going to past and present military expenditures, and that is a conservative estimate. That leaves three cents for education, two cents for housing, and another two cents for the environment.
A recent penny poll of 147 Austinites showed that what people really want is social investment, the opposite of Congress' skewed priorities. People ranked education, job training, healthcare, and environment at the top, and military ninth.
Dwight Eisenhower said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
Let's change our federal spending priorities. For starters, see www.NationalPriorities.org/taxday2001/ pdf/austin.pdf and write to your representatives to support the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund. 888-Peace-Tax, www.peacetax.com.
Austin: Chronic Growing Pains
In writing on sprawl in Phoenix and Tucson, Edward Abbey observed that "growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." Malignant tumors are nothing more than otherwise healthy cells growing too fast, stealing resources from their neighbors and destroying surrounding tissue. Sadly, malignant metronoma has arrived in Austin, fed in large part by enormous taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies to feed the hypertrophy.
Despite all the talk about how our super-smart economy won't repeat the mistakes of Silicon Valley, how our movers-and-shakers "get it" that economic development must protect the environment and provide education and affordable housing, the action doesn't match the words.
Hypergrowth is killing Barton Springs, making Austin unaffordable, clogging roadways (for which the Chamber's only response is to build more and more roads), extinguishing native plants and animals, and poisoning our air. Yet our elected leaders continue to find hundreds of millions of dollars for corporate subsidies and sprawl road-building, thereby confusing hypergrowth with healthy living.
It's clearly time to slow down, take a break, and prioritize taking care of Austin's citizens and environment first. Our health -- physical, intellectual, spiritual, and economic -- depends on it.
Save Our Springs Alliance