World affairs and more Critical Mass mess missives
Fri., Nov. 9, 2001
Gas Mask Not Funny
I've read the Chronicle for many years and although I am not always impressed with the caliber of journalism your publication has to offer, I have always believed that your staff is composed of generally thoughtful, kind people. I have to tell you that when I picked up your Halloween edition and saw the cover art of the gas mask, the powder, the caption, I was pretty angry[Oct. 26]. I think the level of insensitivity and poor taste that this gesture implies is way beyond the parameters of fun. I sincerely hope that you, your associates, and loved ones are never the victims of the level of gratuitous violence that was inflicted on innocent people in planes, office buildings, newsrooms, and mailrooms over the past two months. I doubt then that you would find any of these events even remotely "hysterical."
Israel a Scapegoat
With regard to Wilson Wade's letter in the Oct. 19, 2001 issue of The Austin Chronicle [Postmarks: "Food Not Bombs"], there has been hatred of the West by Muslim extremists long before the existence of the state of Israel. Bin Laden has made Israel (and our support of that democratic state in the Middle East) a handy scapegoat for his fanaticism. It makes a nice propaganda tool -- just as hatred of the Jews was an effective mask for Hitler's grandiose expansion plans in the 1930's.
The Palestinians could have had their state in 1948 when the U.N. created the state of Israel. Many Arab countries urged the Palestinians to reject that U.N. offer.
Moreover, where does Mr. Wade's concern for the Taliban come from? Among other things, those fanatics have subjugated women in a way that should be of great concern to all free-thinking and intelligent people.
Helen C. Spear
Efforts for Peace
In your letters column of Nov. 2, Sheldon Reynolds wonders if there are nonviolent Palestinian protests ["Postmarks: Israelis, Palestinians Both to Blame"]. Yes, and also many joint Israeli-Palestinian activist groups. Since she is a journalist who cares about this issue, I can't believe Muna Hamzeh doesn't know about any of them. But it wouldn't be the first time news media and politicos of both left and right prefer polarizing stereotypes to the less glamorous work of patiently building a workable peace.
These sites list Israeli-Palestinian peace groups and describe some of their efforts:
Recently Yassir Arafat appointed Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University, as representative of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Nusseibeh told an Israeli gathering, "The Palestinians' real ally for the future is their enemy, and your real ally is the Palestinians." He called the intifada "totally counterproductive." You can read more here: www.nytimes.com/2001/10/17/international/middleeast/17PALE.html .
My heart goes out to Muna Hamzeh ["From Bethlehem to Austin," Oct. 19] for the loss and suffering she feels. She and many other Palestinian people are living in terrible conditions. Ms. Hamzeh blames Israeli aggression and U.S. indifference for her plight -- however, there is something missing in her assessment of the situation. Today the Austin American-Statesman once again reports that Syria is a sponsor of terrorism, supporting Hamas and other Palestinian extremist organizations. Does Ms. Hamzeh not feel some degree of resentment toward her Arab brothers in Syria for undermining efforts of the Palestinians to achieve peace? Does she not feel anger that Palestine is being used as a pawn by Arab nations in the region? Israel has nothing to gain by a continuing conflict; it can only benefit by peace in the region. Israel does not want to govern Palestine, but Palestinians must prove they can govern themselves before independence can be a reality. Indeed, it is the Arab countries, long vocal about their opposition to an Israeli state of any shape or size, who benefit and make political capital of the continued pitiable conditions of the Palestinian people. Peace between Israel and Palestine would legitimize the state of Israel, and this is unacceptable to several Arab nations. Sadly, until there is a true willingness on the part of the Arab world to let the state of Israel live in peace, and to allow Palestinians to make their own choices for an independent state, I think there is little chance for peace in Israel or Palestine.
L.A. vs. Austin
After recently becoming an Austinite after 15 years of being an Angeleno, I found Ken Lieck's "Tale of Two Cities" ["Dancing About Architecture," Nov. 2]to be highly entertaining and, in a weird way, nostalgia-inducing. I can't really evaluate his comparisons between Austin and Lunatic Asylum (which I consider to be a more accurate name than "Los Angeles") until I've lived here for a few more months -- but I guarantee that L.A. can best be described by the ancient proverb: "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't wanna live there."
Of course, it depends on what type of neighbors you're interested in having. If you wish to live in a city whose citizens are easily described as "egotistical," "incompetent," "dimwitted," and (in the case of the body parts of the female citizens) "plastic," then L.A. is the place for you. Hopefully I won't soon be using the name "Asylum" instead of "Austin" to describe the city where I live ...
Matthew K. Diedrich
I completely agree with Kerry Collie's letter of last week asking you to "Make Moser Stop" ["Postmarks," Nov. 2]. I can't believe you are publishing something like this in the Chronicle. This kind of drivel is something I would expect from the Statesman but never the Chronicle. Is there anyone out there that really cares about his "whirlwind five-day trip with a most inauspicious start" to New York, except for maybe his mother? Please don't waste precious print and paper with this type of column that insults the taste and intelligence of the Chronicle's readership.
Save One for Bikes
Two recent letters to this newspaper point out that the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge cost over $8 million and still does not link North Lamar with South Lamar for pedestrians and cyclists. Why are improvements for non-motor traffic so costly and so ineffective?
The reason is that it's against city, county, state, and national policy to do things the cheap and easy way. The cheap and easy way to make Lamar Bridge safe for all users is to close one lane in each direction to motor traffic, in order to open it to non-motor traffic. Cars and trucks can be kept out of the pedestrian/bicycle lanes by means of bollards.
But no one will even consider doing this, because it would slow down motor traffic. And we can't have that. It would mean the end of everything.
If Austin or part of Austin ever needs to be evacuated quickly, we'd better not try to do it exclusively by car. If we do, all the cars will form one big jam, and people will be trapped.
Suppose we equipped all major roads to carry all forms of transportation safely, by reserving one lane in each direction on each road for non-motor traffic.
This would have numerous benefits for the citizens of Austin. It would make it much safer and easier for people to get from one place to another without using cars. It would reduce air pollution, injuries and deaths due to car crashes, noise stress, demand for oil, and demand for parking spaces. And it would make it possible to evacuate Austin in an emergency.
An Airport Lesson
I approached the airport for the first time since the terrorist attacks in September. Since leaving a regional sales position and traveling 90% of the time, I was curious to see how much flying might have changed since September 11. As I walked in the door, I could see the long line of people for the security checkpoint. In the past, approaching a line like that would cause me anxiety, impatience, and put me in the foulest mood ever!
The atmosphere seemed much quieter than usual, and I didn't see quite as many people running to the terminal, yelling in the cell phone, or sighing with exasperation because they could not get the next flight, or because the line was too long.
Terrorism not only took thousands of American lives, but has threatened our well being, and freedom to do ... anything. I can honestly say as an American, this has changed me forever. This is a permanent change within myself, and the thought of being more patient and compassionate will not go away as time subsides. There will never be a time I step onto an airplane that I won't think of the Americans who gave their life for freedom, and the terror that they faced. Never again will I make some smart-alecky comment to the security guard for asking to check my briefcase for the 100th time. I will walk a little slower to the terminal, not running over people on way. I won't be exasperated with a person who has dropped their bag in front of me that slows me down. From this point on, I will make sure to stop and ask, "Do you need some help with that?"
Kelie G. Plank
A Distorted View
My God! It's amazing to me how the woman that got smashed into by Henderson can perceive the incident in such a distorted way. She sees her fellow driver as the victim somehow. I guess it's her "non-cyclist perspective," as she puts it, that makes her choose a side.
Henderson and his jeep, his preferred weapon for assault, got some damage after he ran a dozen cyclists off the road, crashed into two bikes, and then hit a car, deliberately and with malice, I might add, but passions run high when you have just escaped being killed by a rampaging vehicle. Nobody was "making a citizens arrest" as Krissy puts it. We caught up to him at the light and were confronting his murderous behavior when he got out of his jeep, after not being able to hit anyone from his jeep window with his fists, and approached two separate cyclists, and engaged in fist fights because he was road raging, and angry enough to assault multiple people with his jeep. How do you think those bikes got under his jeep, causing him to hit you, Krissy?
Joe Red Cloud
Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World strip that appeared in your October 26 issue has got to be worthy of a Pulitzer. One of the more disturbing trends in post-WTC America is the way in which the religious right has exploited the tragedy to promote its own political agenda of compulsory, state-sponsored public religion, most disturbingly reflected in Texas by Gov. Perry's insane pronouncement that he intends to make school prayer a campaign issue. Those who would seek to Talibanize America would do well to simmer down and reflect upon the words of wisdom in this simple cartoon. Thank you.
Atheist Community of Austin
Perry Not Above the Law
Rick Perry, the governor of the great state of Texas, advocates breaking the laws as set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Not only does he advocate the breaking of these laws, but actually leads the students of Palestine Middle School in doing so ("Perry Praises School Prayer," Austin American-Statesman, Oct. 20). Were I to engage in such reprehensible behavior, I would not only lose my job, but my teaching certificate!
Sadly, this is not the first time since he has been governor that he has flaunted his disregard for the laws of this great state and nation. At least one other time was when he suggested to a duly appointed officer that he be allowed to "get on down the road," instead of getting a ticket.
Perhaps it is actually time to start considering looking into impeachment for both his crimes against our country's laws and his attempts to teach a whole school full of children to follow in his footsteps.
Critical Mass Debate Rages On
I am appalled by the letter "Cars vs. Bikes" by Krissy Morrow that was featured on October 26 in The Austin Chronicle. Her letter contained inaccuracies concerning last month's vehicle accident that occurred during the critical mass bicycle ride. I wasn't there at the incident, but I saw a homemade video of the incident (from a friend who videotaped the ride.) I saw a jeep driver, Mike Henderson, speed angrily amidst about 30 bicyclists, before he stopped at a red light. This action intimidated the cyclists and was returned with shouts of "surround the vehicle!" Ten cyclists promptly surrounded the jeep, preceding signs of struggle on the driver's side. Later, I heard from witnesses that cyclists closed the door so the driver could not attack. (He made physical threats, which is not hard to believe after upcoming events.) Morrow stated that Henderson politely asked the cyclists to move. If it were polite, she could not have heard it 50 feet across the intersection in her car. When the light changed, Henderson's jeep did not inch forward "cautiously" as Morrow interpreted. The video shows Henderson rapidly accelerating, pushing bicyclists away, minus the cycle under his jeep. He then accelerated into the back of Morrow's car. Her article deems the cyclists mostly responsible which I believe to be unsubstantiated. I am not professing the cyclists innocence, and they are crucial to this incident. Morrow forgets the difference between Henderson and the cyclists, which is he was driving a car.
I am the proud owner of a bicycle and of a large truck. I enjoy both. The freedom each encompasses has its own costs and benefits. However drivers cannot underestimate the power of their car and the responsibility associated with these risks. Vehicles can speed travel, however one cannot demand this. Bicycle riding is a privilege, too, but a bicycle is often a less dangerous vehicle. Likewise, if it hadn't been bicyclists angering Henderson, what if it was a slow car, or a school bus? Drivers must realize what their vehicle can potentially do, and be alert. Be in control of yourself and "the powerful entity," or get out of the damn thing and ride a bicycle, a bus, or join our pedestrian friends.
Critical Mass: The Real Story
Okay, with all the differing versions of what happened on the Critical Mass bike ride in September ["'Statesman' Falls Off Its Bike," Oct. 5 and "Naked City: Hypocritical Mass?" Oct. 12], how are we to know what really happened? Simple: Watch the video which I now have at www.bicycleaustin.com.
Here's a short summary: Mike Henderson, frustrated by the delay, squealed his tires and sped his jeep recklessly through a pack of cyclists, who parted to avoid getting hit. Cyclists then surrounded him at the red light and yelled at him. The light turned green, and then Henderson stepped on his accelerator, plowing right through cyclist Justin Davis (slamming him into the ground), while Davis' bike was caught under the wheels. Henderson proceeded to crash into Krissy Morrow's Honda Civic which was waiting at the same light but headed in the opposite direction. Henderson got out of his jeep and one cyclist (reportedly one of those whose bike Henderson hit) pushed Henderson's head with his hand.
Henderson then walked around his jeep and grabbed another cyclist's bike, throwing it to the ground. That cyclist punched Henderson in the face. No other punches were thrown, Henderson certainly wasn't "beat up," and what little did happen certainly wasn't unprovoked (though I by no means support it). During this time, a cyclist slashed at least one of Henderson's tires.
Krissy Morrow's recent letter to the Chron about this event is complete bullshit, as the video proves. Henderson didn't "inch forward cautiously," he frickin' stepped on his accelerator with people directly in front of him. Henderson didn't try to flee ô la "fight or flight," since he then willingly got out of his jeep and started mangling a cyclist's bike. And then the cyclists didn't "beat the crap" out of Henderson, though the cyclist whose bike he was mangling punched him once until Henderson backed off.
I stopped riding in CM myself about a year ago because the riders were getting too confrontational for my tastes, and because most of them didn't do any bike advocacy outside of CM. And I don't condone the cyclists' aggression on the September ride either. But that said, whatever the cyclists did on this ride pales in comparison to Henderson's actions: He stepped on his accelerator and plowed through cyclists directly in his path, and slammed into another car with a child in the back. CM'ers didn't do anything close to this violent and reckless.
[Editors note: See this week's "Naked City" column.]
Attack of the Bandit Signs
I don't know if it is due to the impending recession, but bandit signs are popping up all over Austin these days. I'm referring to the commercial signs that hype scams like "lose 40 lbs." or "work from home" or "cash for houses." Placing these at street intersections or on utility poles is illegal and subject to fines of $100 per sign per day. If anyone else spots these signs, please take a minute either to pull them down or report them to Austin's zoning complaint line at 974-2875. There is also a grass roots Web site (www.causs.org) devoted to fighting these annoying signs.
All innocent people are subject to search, not just those living in Palestinian areas! Every car, bike, backpack. ["From Bethlehem to Austin," Oct. 19]
I am 25 studying in Israel for the year.
Instead of blaming the IDF for dealing with terrorism, ask yourself, "Why the searching?" The answer is simple. Certain fundamentalists whose ideals include killing oneself and others to create a world full of people who believe in the same ideals they do. When was the last time you took a moment to check out a suicide bombing training class? Palestinian children's television show? A math book for children raised with these beliefs? ("Five Jews on a street corner and you shoot two, how many are left?")
Click on the Web site "OperationSick.com" as long as you are watching CNN. I live in an Israeli area. I hear gunshots and bombings at night. I watch the "selective news" CNN that Americans watch.
CNN shows IDF tanks going into Palestinian areas as if it's another Vietnam. IDFers are protecting their own lives, in order to protect innocent people, from all sides. Americans are doing the same thing in Afghanistan right now.
Did you know that Israel gives Palestinians warfare supplies and money to be used for helping their people? Why don't surrounding Arab nations do the same? Do these Arab countries who originally housed the current Palestinians have imbalanced economies, miseducated citizens, and governmental powers who want to demolish good?
A simple solution? I am committed to one thing: being the best Jewish woman that I can be. Jews are no better than anyone else. We have a great deal of responsibility put on us, by the Torah. We show the rest of the world how to act. This war revolves around the Jews -- as every major war in history: the Inquisition, World War I, and World War II. Jews have to make peace within Israel. As we make peace in our homes, our country, so too will the world make peace.
Cry for All Victims
Thank you for printing "From Bethlehem to Austin" by Muna Hamzeh (Oct. 19). We rarely read a Palestinian viewpoint of Israeli occupation.
We have many cultural biases that predispose us to believe that Israel is glorious and good. This leaves us having to explain such Israeli policies as its iron-fisted occupation or accelerated settlement construction. We would notice that these policies were repressive if they were anywhere else in the world. We could criticize that government without being accused of being against its people or religion.
It is ironic that when we finally have a lone Palestinian viewpoint once in a blue moon, it is criticized for being insufficiently sympathetic to Israel ("Postmarks," Nov. 2). Yet we receive a pro-Israeli perspective most of the time. When Israelis are killed, for example, we get names and personal details so that these victims touch us. Contrast that to when Palestinians are killed, and we get a number, large, but impersonal. The message seems to be: "Who cares? They deserved it."
In my opinion, violence by any hand, regardless of justification, produces victims whose deaths are tragic. If I can sympathize with one set of victims, how can I not sympathize with all? We all bleed; we all leave families behind. There have been too many victims: Israelis, Palestinians, citizens from around the world in the World Trade towers, and Afghan families dodging our bombs this very day. Let's spend our time looking for better ways to live our lives without using or excusing violence. Reading another perspective, such as Muna Hamzeh's article, without shooting the messenger, is a start.
Tura Campanella Cook
Women Must Unite Against War
All of our hearts and souls were singed by the flames of Sept. 11, but we need not take the soul of democracy and all of humanity up in smoke as a response! Where are the women? Where are the mothers who stand to lose their sons in this ambiguous and dangerous war against the ambiguous and dangerous enemy called "world terrorism"?
Where are the wives who may lose the husbands that they love, the fathers of their children? Where are the grandmothers who have the wisdom and the life experience to know the anguish and futility of war? Where are the sisters who lost their brothers in Vietnam or now push their wheelchairs, or feed them, or simply watch them fade their tortured memories with alcoholism, drugs, or unbridled rage and bitterness?
Pain and suffering, death and destruction, that is what we as women know this war will cause for us and all of humanity. What will it take for the women of this country and this world to stand up together and say "no more violence"? We know that by participating in the mass media-created illusion of solidarity behind this war, under the guise of strengthening our nation, will only really weaken us as a nation as our problems, temporarily swept under the carpet, only deepen. Our problems of violence and fear in our schools, poverty, hunger, health care, child care, care of the aged, racism, unbridled exploitation of our natural resources by corporate giants, elimination of the middle class, the rights of workers, all of these difficult challenges will continue to worsen as billions of our tax dollars are poured unabashedly into the military, national security infrastructure, and law enforcement. And, where are the women, who know in their hearts that the violence of war, though it may temporarily reinforce our denial of our deeper global problems, will never in any way, solve them?
Mother, wife, teacher, patriotic American woman
Who's Responsible for Sept. 11?
Who is responsible for the destruction of the Word Trade Center on Sept. 11? Bin Laden and the Taliban say even though they fully approve of the Sept. 11 attack, as do millions of Muslims around the globe, they didn't do it. I tend to believe them. None of the 19 men who committed that terrible act were from Afghanistan. They may have met there years ago, when the Mujahideen was fighting the Soviets, but they were all from Persian Gulf countries closely allied with the west, and their commanding officers had spent years in Hamburg, Germany, and in the U.S.
Moreover, the money transfers and communication links uncovered so far indicate that outside support came from Europe and the Persian Gulf, not Afghanistan. According to news accounts, Atta's operation had a $100,000 budget, and that he returned $15,000 to his Al Qaeda paymaster, an Egyptian named Mustafa Ahmad, last seen in Yemen the month before.
The CIA wanted to pick him up, but didn't think their intelligence was strong enough. The Bush administration knows this. They know that over half of the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia, that the money came from Saudi businessmen as well as Muslim communities throughout Europe, and that the ringleaders travel freely throughout the Middle East.
But they also know that they're between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand every administration since Truman committed us to this corrupt and dying regime in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has a powerful and now murderous middle class, with its hand in the oil. This leaves us with a question: Is Afghanistan a show to divert attention from the real problem? Is the Bush administration more interested in easy access to cheap crude than in catching the real criminals?