Readers weigh in on the criminality of musicians, the integrity of neighborhoods, and more.
Furr's Also Innocent
After reading about Robert Conran's story ["Now Serving ... Time," June 29], I was disturbed not so much about his questionable conviction, but about the article layout which gave the impression that Furr's corporate behavior was responsible for Conran's imprisonment. Furr's was prominently featured on the cover and in photos on pages 24 and 30. When I picked up the Chronicle, my first impression was a story on evil corporate behavior. Only after reading the article (twice), did I realize that this was a story on the inaccuracy of single eyewitness testimony and legal incompetence (letting Conran testify and jury selection). Furr's -- the victim -- only action was to report what the cashier saw (as they were obligated to do).
Vouching for Conran
I lived in Houston in the Eighties and remember Los Mortales. I remember Conran being part of the crowd I associated with, and even though I didn't know him well, he didn't strike me as the type of person that would rob anyone ["Now Serving ... Time," June 29]. Many of us at that time probably looked kind of rough but we never actually committed any crimes. Although I had never heard Los Mortales play I heard lots of positive feedback on Conran's talent. I can see how easy it is to get fingered for something you didn't do because of the way you look. I also know how easy it is to get negative and give off the wrong impression in court when you're so outraged by your circumstances. The irony is that the real criminals, people like Ted Bundy, Jeff Dahmer, and Timothy McVeigh, are all clean-cut "regular" looking guys. Look at what they all did.
If you've ever been through the criminal justice system in Texas you know how flawed it is and how easy it is to be wrongly convicted. You also know how easy it is for real criminals to escape justice. Conran's sister was right. After a while you do begin to feel the need to document your every move.
Keep Neighborhood Integrity
It is hard to believe that Brooke and Carter Bruce could actually be surprised by their neighborhood's opposition to their plans to transform Marathon Boulevard into a Buttercup Creek subdivision clone ["Austin Stories," June 29].
What a shame that their source of inspiration for redevelopment appears to be Cedar Park, and not Hyde Park. Rows of front facing, suburban style garages would be an eyesore that is out of place in a traditional Central Austin neighborhood. Furthermore, the scale of their new trophy home is clearly incompatible with their more modest surroundings.
The Bruces would have much better served their once charming street by preserving it's original character through the renovation of the existing housing stock, rather than embarking on wholesale demolition. Please stop the destruction and razing of our traditional central city neighborhoods!
Thumbs Down: Reviews
While I like to look up movie listings on your pages, I might suggest you do away with the movie reviews and the star ratings, since it is obvious your reviewers are clueless and their ratings are so far from reality as to be a significant disservice to the viewing public. I keep forgetting this and have narrowly avoided missing the recent Tomb Raiders movie, which was most enjoyable, because I made the mistake of reading the review.
Blackshear: The Teachers' Tale
As another school year draws closer, we can't help but reflect on our previous teaching experiences. Between the two of us, we spent five years teaching at Blackshear Elementary School. Teaching there was hard, leaving was even harder. There has been much publicity in the last year about Blackshear. The community has rallied around the school and provided some much-needed support, both financial and physical. Blackshear has a new principal. Blackshear has a new teaching staff. The district appears to have finally decided to take an interest in what is going on there. The news tidbits that really seem to get us fired up are the ones that talk about how Blackshear finally has teachers who teach and teachers who care about the students and believe in them. It makes us wonder what you people thought had been going on there. We had the privilege of working with some of the most caring, dedicated, and resourceful teachers in the district. Don't misunderstand, everything was not peachy keen, obviously, but there was teaching and learning happening on that campus. Has anyone ever asked what it was like to teach at Blackshear? Has anyone ever asked to hear what the teachers had to say or what kind of experiences we had? No one has ever asked us. So, we decided to tell, finally.
The teaching staff at Blackshear was a mix of experienced and novice teachers. The novice teachers usually only stayed one or two years and were then replaced by more novice teachers. "Why is this?" you may ask. Many Austin schools have the luxury of not having to hire first-year teachers. On these campuses, teacher turnover is low and unless you student-taught on that campus, you will probably not be hired. In our situation, turnover was high and experienced teachers were reluctant to transfer to Blackshear due to its longstanding reputation. So, Blackshear was left with a pool of inexperience and naiveté. Many inexperienced teachers need a great deal of support. This was another teaching "luxury" that Blackshear did not provide. The end result was a low-performing campus.
The kids. We still miss those kids. We still tell stories about these kids. We still have pictures of those kids hanging up in our new classrooms. We loved those kids, we cried when we left. We will never forget. But they were tough. In school, we learned about having a teacher "bag of tricks"; well, we used all those up on the first day. But we believed, we believed that they could learn, that they deserved to learn and that they deserved every opportunity we could somehow manage to give them.
Many of us persisted. Some were not able to fight the battle and they were lost. It seems to us though, that the biggest battles were not the ones fought in the classrooms. The battles had started long before we arrived, but we didn't know who was fighting or why. It seemed like we should have all been on the same team, fighting against the same demons, but we weren't. Those battles left us frightened for our jobs and wondering how long we could continue to function in the environment we were in. They left us not knowing who was on our team from one day to the next. It was almost like a game, except it was no fun. We never knew what the rules were and there seemed to be no hope of ever winning.
This is just a brief glimpse into Blackshear's past. It is our hope that no one has to endure the same struggles we did. We taught to the best of our ability, we believed in those children, and we endured public humiliation. Please do not assume that the media has given you a true picture of the way things were. Ask us ... we'll tell you.
Dueling River Cities
I think it's funny that Andy Langer seems perturbed that Charlie Robison prefers to be thought of as a San Antonian rather than an Austinite, though the talented musician spent a whole 11 years in Austin ["Right Man for the Job," June 29]. In a town that adopts creative types who spend more than a week at an Austin residence as its own, it must be more than a little disconcerting when someone rebukes the label. Writers at the Chronicle have long been in the habit of designating various musicians, filmmakers, and artists as being "from Austin," though the designees often have spent less time in the city and more time elsewhere, and frequently arrive with solid reputations already acquired. The Meat Puppets, Doug Sahm, and Robert Rodriguez spring to mind as prime examples of this practice. I nearly busted a gut laughing when I once read in these pages that Flaco Jimenez was an Austin musician.
Confronted with an artist who politely declines the designation, Andy Langer is surprised and, perhaps, a little too critical. It seems that Langer is offended not only by Robison's refusal to be identified this way, but by the fact that Robison actually "loves" San Antonio. Loving San Antonio over Austin? Heresy!
It must be hard for some Austinites to fathom the idea that not everyone secretly desires to be described as "from Austin," and impossible to imagine that there are people, like Robison, who are not as enamored of Austin as they are.
Hasta la Vista, Austin!
I'm a newcomer to Austin. I've only been here since January, 1985.
But I'm already leaving. It's tough because there's a lot I'll miss: sunsets over the Hill Country and spring wildflowers. The City-Wide Garage Sale and breakfast at Cisco's. Eating ribs at Artz, dancing at the Broken Spoke, and saying the Pledge to the Flag with the Downtown Lions.
But there's more I won't miss. I won't miss spending the equivalent of 15 days a year sitting in traffic and exorbitant property taxes. Mostly, I won't miss the retreat from common sense disguised as "political correctness." I won't miss a city that gives undeserved scholarships to kids who misbehaved at an unsupervised party but nothing to teenagers whose parents didn't allow them to attend. Or a city where police "can do nothing" when militant bicyclists terrorize a single mother trying to get past their blockade to pick up her young son. And I won't miss a city that pays lip service to East Austin in planning meetings but has systematically transformed downtown into a yuppie playground beyond the means of many Austin families.
There's no perfect place, but Austin used to be about as close as you could get. I'm glad I was here when people still knew that the Armadillo and the Night Hawk are not endangered species and that Cactus Pryor isn't just another xeriscape plant. The great irony is that in the rush to embrace all of the uniqueness that once was Austin, that very "Austin-ness" has been lost in the fray. Sounds like an opera. Maybe one you'll see in the new Performing Arts Center. After you pay to park. If you can afford tickets.
I'll be back. Because Austin is a great place. To visit. I just don't want to live here anymore.
Room 710's Silenced Partner
Hi. My name is Adriana and my husband and I own Room 710. I'd like to thank Chris Gray for writing such a refreshing story about the bands, bars, and venues that make Red River a force to be reckoned with ["Red River Valley," June 22]. Unfortunately though, you never mentioned Asher Garber. He's our partner, too.
And without him, Room 710 wouldn't and couldn't exist today.
Thanks for listening
Be Car-Free This Fourth
Amy Babich is right to question the insanity of more cars downtown ["Postmarks: Seaholm Plan Will Clog Streets," June 22]. Perhaps we should merely send cars (with no people in them) into the parking garage bowels of those new buildings.
That's no less ironic and incongruous than motorists driving to reach the new pedestrian bridge in order to walk on a structure named for a visionary architect killed in a plane crash, whereas pedestrians were killed using the old Lamar bridge, and posters for the Pfluger Bridge dedication showed no people on it.
Parking garages and cars prevent us from celebrating July Fourth by Town Lake, so why not celebrate Independence Day by declaring independence from the carbarians and declare less dependence on the auto, especially in the downtown area, where we must Stop Terror on Pedestrians (STOP)!
A Moment in Time
I was biking home from a rugby tournament in Zilker Park on Saturday evening. After an already great day I crossed our new pedestrian bridge. At 9 o'clock that evening there were over 50 people standing on the bridge (not including those who were running or biking through) To my left was a beautiful sunset. To my right, a train was crossing the river with the golden sun rays reflecting off its windows and below me were couples drifting past in their canoes. Parents stared at the sunset while children tried to point out that there was a train close by. I was surrounded by people of all ages soaking up as much of the scene as possible. I want to thank the city for that moment. Thank you.
Taking Back the Airwaves
First of all, a shout out to Emily Pyle for writing about our sisters and brothers at Free Radio Austin (FRA) and KIND Radio in San Marcos ["The Death and Life of Free Radio," June 22]. We also appreciate the mention of www.Radio1Austin.com, though we're a bit disappointed that more was not said about our own situation with Johnny Law (a.k.a. "Big Money's FCC") or about the politics that essentially killed the previous administration's Low Power FM (LPFM) licensing plans.
RadioOne volunteers spent countless hours and many of their own dollars putting "non-licensed, non-commercial micro-radio for Austin -- Radio1Austin" on the FM airwaves from May 6 to October 4 of last year. That's when we got our own unpleasant visit from the FCC's Loyd Perry a few days before FRA got its second visit -- not coincidentally, just before the Fortune 500 Conference came to town. Volunteers then looked into putting our station on the Internet, and by the end of November we started streaming our mix and contacting our programmers about coming back to do Net radio. Slowly we improved our Web site, though it's been hard keeping programmers motivated when so few folks are listening at any single moment.
Yet, Johnny Law continued to pursue a legal vendetta against the station. Recently two of the station organizers were forced to accept a $1,400 settlement, which has put us in danger of being unable to continue operating the station. This also included a permanent injunction barring one organizer from additional unlicensed radio broadcasts with an automatic $10,000 fine for doing so. (Checks to help us defray the expense of the settlement can be made out to Radio1Austin and sent to: P.O. Box 4502, Austin TX 78765)
It's no secret that Big Money's lobbyists killed the possibility of LPFM for most of us. Corporate radio's National Association of Broadcasters (NAB, which is what they've done to our airwaves) pushed hard for Congress to hamstring the FCC's LPFM plan. They argued that LPFM supposedly created interference that would muddy their broadcasts, but of course the real threat lay in giving folks without multimillion-dollar budgets access to their airwaves. Some members of Congress were actually leaning toward support of broader LPFM licensing until a significant player joined the NAB camp.
It was National Public Radio's support of the NAB's position that tipped the scales, and in December of last year a rider was attached to a budgetary law that Clinton wouldn't dare veto. (For more info, see some of the Web sites listed in Ms. Pyle's article, or www.lipmagazine.org/articles/featsakolsky_77.htm.) The law basically stripped the FCC of the power to grant LPFM licenses, putting that power in the hands of Congress instead and guaranteeing -- for a time at least -- that LPFM would not be a threat to complete corporate domination of our airwaves.
Yet, resistance is not futile.
LPFM can slowly come back from the moribund. KIND's legal case holds some slivers of hope. Other unsung heroes around the country continue to challenge corporate hegemony on our airwaves via their own microradio stations. In the meantime, we at Radio1Austin will continue a while longer to air underrepresented music, commentary, and views, even if you can only tune in via the Internet.
[Ed. note: This letter was signed by eight other programmers of Radio1Austin.]
Responses & Rhetoric
I would like to respond to Carl Swanson's letter to the editor["Postmarks: Oh, the Bitter Irony," June 29] regarding Michael Ventura's article. First of all, I am tired of reading about or listening to the Republican rhetoric about liberals. Most of these yahoos couldn't define what a liberal is if a dictionary was given to them, nor differentiate between Iran or Iraq, which like our president, is not uncommon. The word liberal is a generic term used by reactionary conservatives attempting to protect their pathetically cultivated, generic, religious, and fascist lifestyles. It has actually become quite boring.
Obviously he failed to understand the point of Michael Ventura's article, which doesn't surprise me considering it is easier to throw around generalizations than it is to be coherent and articulate. Michael Ventura was being factious. He was using a typical Republican position to point out the hypocrisy of the conservative agenda. Get it, he was taking the piss out of you!
It is evident that Carl Swanson is a typical one-dimensional individual that should refrain from political or even simple language interpretation. As I said, it is easier to vote Republican than to think. Obviously he is following closely behind our inarticulate, scripted, and incompetent president. Everything is just fuzzy logic. What a frightening concept.
A good example is the Kyoto Treaty, which has been internationally recognized and scientifically proven. On the contrary, the Republican Party tends to oversimplify matters and/or discount the consequences of conspicuous consumption. As long as Shrub and Dick cater to the auto and oil industries, the United States will become more and more isolated, socially dysfunctional, environmentally destructive, fiscally irresponsible, and suckers to corporate whores. How can we then send rebate checks to a nation of spenders, yet set out on an ambitious missile defense shield that has no scientific basis? That is ironic.
AISD Needs Attitude Adjustment
AISD suffers from many ills, some of which have been identified and are under remedy due to the level of their publicity, and to Dr. Forgione's initiatives since becoming superintendent.
Still, there remains an underlying ailment infecting the whole of the district, one which must be identified and eradicated before the residents of the Austin community can begin to speak proudly of their school system once again. That ailment is attitude. A poor attitude from too many within the district toward the district itself, toward the jobs they chose to apply for and were hired to perform, toward the parents of the children they are to be educating, and unforgivably, even toward the children themselves.
As an employee of the district this summer and in years recently past, I have witnessed appalling displays of poor attitudes from those with whom I have been surrounded, the most recent example coming as I worked within the summer camp program at Dobie Middle School. The treatment of the students within these programs by the Dobie Middle School staff was jaw-dropping. The students were being approached as if rodents; unwelcome interruptions in an otherwise pristine day of campus-wide re-arranging and cleaning.
Especially disturbing were the attitudes of the janitorial staff there. Smoking cigarettes and cussing in front of the children just outside of the school. Attempting to get a janitor's assistance, even for the simplest and most routine of tasks would result in either complete refusal or disgruntled resistance.
Such attitudes, and the atmosphere these attitudes create on a campus, are crippling the district. Children and their parents ought to feel a sense of warmth and embrace upon entering a school's campus, not the cold and chilly stiff-arm greeting them this summer at Dobie Middle School. AISD's "Attitude Ailment" must be confronted by its superintendent and school board. Failure to provide leadership in this area can only impede Austin's school system from becoming the stellar educational institution its children deserve.
Former School Board Write-In Candidate
The Finer Points of Fine Print
After reading Jim Hightower's "The Fleeting Friendliness of Fleet Bank" ["The Hightower Lowdown," June 22], I'd like to share another small-print ditty I've been noticing from "friendly" credit card offers.
Like many people, I keep getting offers for new cards or for transferring balances, all with splashy "low introductory APR!" stickers on the envelope that keep showing lower and lower digits each day. They're so frequent at this point they scream, "We're begging for your money."
Anyway, read the fine print: Four out of five banks offering low intro transfer rates require you to pay off all balances at the higher APR before they'll apply a penny to the lower one. That means if you're carrying a previous balance you can't pay off in a few months (which I'm sure is most people), you'll never, ever see that "0.9%." I've also received "notices to changes in your policy" that have said the same thing.
These bank offers are bunk. Dunk 'em.
Missing: Old Glory
On a recent visit to the U.S.S. Texas Memorial in Houston, I found, to my disappointment, no American flag flying from the battleship.
I have made Gov. Rick Perry and Mr. Andrew Sansom, executive director of the memorial, aware of this dreadful oversight to Texas and American naval patriots.
I pray that the people of Texas will support whatever steps the governor and Mr. Sansom may propose to guarantee that this does not happen again.
James R. Audet
Return of the Looney Librarian
Mr. Stuart Prestidge,
The Looney Librarian strikes again ["Stacked in Her Favor," Oct. 20, 2000]. Rose Aleta Laurell, director of library services in Lockhart, along with her team of relentless volunteers, has won the most prestigious public relations award for libraries in the country. She traveled to San Francisco on June 18 to collect the John Cotton Dana Award for outstanding public relations. The award was presented at the American Library Association annual conference by representatives of H. D. Wilson, one of the world's largest publishers of reference books. There were seven national winners, including the Carnegie Library in Pike's Peak and the New Mexico State University Library, all with budgets many times that of Lockhart. The lady in the pink jumpsuit and gold hardhat wowed everyone, receiving kudos from the director of the New York public library!
Seems the local press is largely ignoring this story -- and the restoration/expansion is set for dedication on the 101st anniversary of the original dedication -- July 6 at 6:30.
The article you wrote about the Looney escapade was our favorite, we always bring each other back to earth with "... and the crowd swelled to the teens."
Come and see what the Looney Librarian has wrought now???