Our readers talk back.
Slusher Rebuts MCM
In Mike Clark-Madison's last column he maintained that I oppose single-member districts and favor a mixed system (districts with some at-large representatives) because I would not be a "viable" candidate in South Austin where I live (north of Stassney between South First and Manchaca) ["Austin@Large," March 8].
As the Chronicle election numbers expert Clark-Madison should know the truth of the matter. It can even be found in some of his past articles. In a 1999 election report he divided South Austin into two areas. In "S/SE" he reported that I won 26 of 31 boxes, by an average margin of 31%. In "SW" I won 16 of 25 boxes, with an average margin of 18%.
Most of the boxes I lost were in far Southwest Austin, like Circle C where I lost by 900 votes. Still I won "SW" by 591 votes. No plan that I have seen includes my home within the Southwest district. So let's look closer to my home.
South of Ben White between I-35 and Westgate I won 16 of 18 precincts, including 65% in my home precinct (against five opponents). I feel safe in calling this viable.
As to a mixed system, I have repeatedly stated my reasons for supporting that over straight single-member districts. I can only fit a few here. First, Austin voters have rejected single member districts five times. One reason is that voters worry that council members would concentrate on only one district rather than the entire city. Along those lines, many citizens want more than one council member to be answerable to them.
The push for single-member districts began some 30 years ago as a way to insure minority representation. Since that time Austin has made tremendous progress on that front. An African-American has served on the council since 1971 and a Hispanic since 1975. Austin now has a Hispanic mayor, a Hispanic State Senator, and an African-American County Judge.
Austin has also made significant progress on another goal of the Civil Rights movement, that no one be restricted on where they can live because of race. Although there is room for more progress, African-Americans and Hispanics now live throughout the city. To design a system based on minority citizens living in a certain area seems somewhat contradictory to that progress.
Still, there are strong arguments for geographic districts. That is true in traditionally African-American and Hispanic areas that still have higher percentages of those populations than the city as a whole, and in outlying areas where residents have not had a neighbor on the council for some time, or never.
I believe a mixed system is the best way to balance these interests and historical currents. It provides geographical and ethnic representation and has council members who must answer to the whole city.
I think it is also important to consider Austin's growing Asian-American population, which is too small and too widely dispersed to constitute a majority or plurality in any district. A mixed system provides more opportunity to Asian-Americans -- the possibility of winning a district or at-large seat.
We are talking about Austin's form of government. The current system has been in place for some 50 years. A new system would likely be in place that long as well. I take that responsibility very seriously and would never base my approach to such an important issue on base principles like those of which Clark-Madison accuses me -- even if the facts were as he states.
Austin City Council Member
Dear Cousin Bunch:
I am pleased to hear that you're trying to educate yourself, especially after the last fiasco in which you claimed the city was having a "fire sale" of environmental preserve acreage. That sale led to purchase of more land, that is contiguous to better preserves while placing impervious cover limits on the sold land several times stricter than SOS. Now, you say Slusher and Goodman are less worthy of public service than Ms. Griffith ["Postmarks: Bunch's Opinion Still Stands," March 8]? Bill, you are using a mule's behind as a telescope. Specifically --
Griffith's work to empower citizens and neighborhoods. According to the Dawson NA, she and Thomas delayed adoption of a neighborhood plan that took citizens two-plus years to create. Only the influence of DNA's new president motivated Thomas to change his vote. Griffith then voted yes, and tried to call what she delayed for weeks, "the Griffith compromise."
Griffith supported "bond funding for affordable housing." Actually, Griffith regularly votes against zoning for affordable housing. She's currently opposing an affordable housing project on Dessau Road for single parents (with much-needed child care). It's hard to believe she was serious about affordable housing bonds, since those were posted, without backup, three days before the council was to vote on a transportation bond ballot that was a year in the making.
As to Slusher and Goodman opposing a "plan" to save Barton Springs, isn't the SOS ordinance, Smart Growth initiatives, the Desired Development Zone, thousands of acres in land purchases, and cooperation with the feds part of an ongoing plan? I've been waiting for 10 years to see SOS's plans for saving the aquifer, but all one hears is what SOS is against.
Your "top down approach ..." quote is useable by anyone feeling slighted by organized society. Even democracies have rules transposed from above. Bill, elected officials hire and fire the help, listen to interest groups, lobbyists, and citizens, and vote how they think is best. Maybe you should realize that you can't run the city, unless you're elected. And, in governing you have to get enough votes to make a majority.
In the March 1 "Austin@Large" column, Council Member Beverly Griffith's style was quoted as, "First, nail your shoes to the floor. ..."
In support of our neighborhood, Council Member Griffith has stood firm. In the past we have seen support two-step, side step, dance around, and walk off the dais to avoid taking a stand. Not so with Beverly Griffith; her support has been unwavering.
Kensington Park Neighborhood
University Dems: The Real Story
In Lee Nichols' article titled "Endorsement Wars" [March 8], one crucial element regarding the rescinding of Lulu Flores' endorsement by the University Democrats was not made clear. The University Democrats are not accusing Ms. Flores or her campaign with violating any rules of our organization, nor are we accusing them of purposefully intimidating students during the endorsement meeting on February 6, 2002. However, several students present at the meeting, who are students in the classes of the professors who were present, expressed to the leadership of the organization that they were uncomfortable voicing their opinion during the caucus portion of the meeting due to the presence of the professors. This is contrary to the ideals of our organization and cannot be tolerated. The University Democrats and their members must feel free to express their opinion on issues that come before the group and should not be intimidated by the presence of authority figures. It is for this reason that the endorsement of Ms. Flores was rescinded. Subsequently, the University Democrats have amended our constitution to grant professors of UT ex officio status within our organization, thus preventing this from happening in the future.
As for Ms. Montoya's claim that she was unaware of the next meeting, the University Democrats put up fliers around campus, sent an e-mail to our listserv, and had a table up on the West Mall in order to inform people about the meeting, just as we always have. Furthermore, our Web page (www.udems.org) has been constantly updated to include regularly scheduled meetings and events since the beginning of the semester. There was nothing left out to try and prevent the presence of these new "members" from attending the next meeting. Perhaps if they had actually intended on becoming active members of the University Democrats, they would have sought out this information.
Amber D. Crowell
ACC Board Candidate Speaks
In the article "Winter Heat Wave at ACC," printed in your March 8 issue, Cathy Vaughan wrote "faculty and students are considering potential candidates [for the ACC Board] ...." My name is Dr. James McGuffee, and I have been actively campaigning for the Austin Community College Board of Trustees since November of last year -- before the current financial crisis at ACC was made public. With more than 10 years of employment in higher education, an earned Ph.D. in computer science, college administration experience, and a commitment to professional service, I have the background needed to serve effectively as a member of the ACC Board. For complete details on my background and experience, please refer to my curriculum vitae available online at www.accelection.org.
One of my stated positions has been a need to reform the Carver model of governance so that the board can have additional sources of information to determine whether or not the president of ACC is in compliance with board policy. The board not learning of the 2000-01 budget year deficit until January 2002 is just one example of where the board could have benefited from additional sources of information. In line with this issue I also support a shared governance model at ACC. Decision making at ACC should benefit from the knowledge and talent of all employees.
Austin Community College is one of our most valuable public resources. Please join me in helping ACC remain strong and continue to be an asset to central Texas.
James W. McGuffee, Ph.D.
Place 3 Candidate
ACC Board of Trustees
New Dog Park Development
During the flurry of argumentative articles and letters about leash laws, leash-free areas, and enforcement of such ordinances, something has happened at Bull Creek Park that will hurt all park users.
Areas adjacent to the actual leash-free area of Bull Creek have been considered leash-free by dog owners for years. These areas (from the "official area" to Loop 360) were not posted and, being isolated, were perfect places to let dogs run. Now they have been posted, and the only place that is officially leash-free is the picnic area.
By posting these areas, Park Police will force all unleashed dogs and their owners into the most crowded part of the park. The "official" leash-free zone is the only part of park in that has picnic tables and cooking facilities. The potential for conflicts between picnickers, families, and dog owners is increased by these postings. No park users are served by this change. The job of enforcing the new postings is also problematic since much of the newly posted area is isolated and only accessible by wading the creek.
All users of Bull Creek Park should contact the Parks Advisory Board, City Council, and Park Police to request that the way that has worked well for years be made official. City Council should extend the leash-free area from its current limits to Loop 360.
New Party Blood Needed
Yawn ... How "New Thinking" and "Open Minded" the staff of the Chronicle was endorsing Democrats for every elected position save one. So, what have the Democrats done for Austin? A new $10 million bridge because white yuppie joggers can't manage to stay on the sidewalk? Golly, what about East Austin? What about spending the $10 million where it's really needed, in community centers, in taking care of the elderly poor who live here? A $53 million City Hall? A freaking $2.4 billion budget? Cops who arrest people for total bullshit and the constant cry for "more jails"? The Intel Building? Holy shit, you're right, we'd better keep those people in office, think of the damage they could do to the local economy if they had real world jobs! What about all the liberal crap about term limits? I see a couple of "elected officials" are trying to find a way around the issue, and you are right there helping them do it. Which is fine, but your constant endorsement of only liberals shows the truth of the statement, "If all the liberals in America walked across a field of freshly fallen snow, there would only be one set of footprints." This town has some serious problems, and keeping the same party and same individuals in charge isn't going to bring forth any solutions.
Carl T. Swanson
A 'Health'y Alternative
[The "To Your Health" column] is great! Info is very helpful -- authoritative without being too technical. Wish we could get it into the Current here in San Antonio. Keep it coming, please.
From Sea to Sterling Sea
I suggest an art gallery on the moon, fully automated shipping and handling, six-car garages, a computer in every cranium, a precise replica of the great pyramid in Round Rock, free mummification for all, organic gasoline to quench our thirsts, a minority government run by Sir General Ashcroft, and free rides from Amy Babich. Yes, Bruce Sterling ["Information Wants to Be Worthless," March 1]! You have found the path. The future is real.
Baron Bon Savant,
Todd Alan Smith
A Lawyer's Dream
Re: the "not" Villas on "not" Guadalupe
Why postpone the vote? Because the developers know that they cannot overcome the "valid petition" of neighbors who oppose their elitist student high rise so the call went out ... give us some time to "work" on these people ... or revise the boundaries of the zoning case ... again (to eliminate opposing property owners). And the city staff jumps into action for their masters.
So why be surprised that it is business as usual at the C.O.A.? Why be concerned about preserving a priceless part of our city? Beats me, especially in light of D. Slusher's New standard for acceptance of blight being 1,000 feet away from my house (Chronicle, 3.1.2002 page 16).
You can bet some lawyers have been busy this last week in Austin.
I Love 'Buffy'
Kudos to Belinda Acosta for the television fandom story ["Fandemonium!" Feb. 15], and showing that you don't have to be mentally deficient to love a television show. I thought her story missed out on a few key points as to why some shows develop such a following, and so I wanted to add my two cents.
I have a good job and a degree from a top university. I have interviewed rock stars. I have traveled the world. I have a social life. Yet every Tuesday night I set my VCR for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a newspaper journalist I love the wordplay. As an aspiring fiction writer I find the plotting and pace of the show something I can only hope to achieve. And as a student of myth, philosophy, and religion, Buffy is the closest thing our modern culture has, aside from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, to what mythologist extraordinaire Joseph Campbell described as the human need to retell the common myths of quest, love, and responsibility anew for each generation. The Greeks did it their way, with poetic verse about their gods told around the fire. We do it ours, with a super-stylish blonde battling demons on the boob tube, a medium considered the trailer trash of modern entertainment. If creator Joss Whedon had written a bestseller, or created a movie trilogy -- or even one movie -- as good as the television show, Buffy fans would have been proud to be quoted in the Chronicle about their appreciation of the show. Instead, they, like me, probably get funny looks at work when they gush about that week's episode. Too many people can't get past the cultural stumbling block of the words "television show."
It's like being able to afford a McMansion in suburban north San Antonio but instead opting for a quiet cottage near downtown. Many won't understand, but it's their loss.
I consider myself luckier than those whose worlds revolve around, say, Star Wars. Movies are a one- -- or, if you're lucky, three- or four- -- time shot. A television show, if done well, promises more chances to watch and appreciate.
Oil a National Security Issue
I am not a traditional environmentalist. Until recently I was just the opposite. An engineer with more than 30 years supporting the oil and chemical industries in one way or another, to me radical environmentalists seemed at odds with the basic entrepreneurial/capitalist underpinning of our economy. I saw our heavy use of oil as an economic issue. It remained the cheapest form of energy, and there was no viable/economical alternative. We neither had the technology nor the will of the consumer to change. This is no longer so. I now see this as a security issue.
Americans are yearning for security, and for good reason. But if it's energy security we're hoping for, then our government and auto makers need to take responsible steps towards reducing our dependence on oil. The numbers paint an obvious picture. The U.S. accounts for 25% of worldwide oil consumption, yet only 3% of the world's oil reserves lie within our borders. There simply is not enough oil in the Arctic to quench America's thirst for oil. Scientists estimate that there is only a six-month supply of oil in the Arctic Refuge, and we can't get it to consumers for over 10 years. We can't drill our way out of this pickle; we have to do more with less oil.
American technological innovation could lead the way to vehicles that go farther on a gallon of gas. Already, Toyota and Honda are selling vehicles that get more than 50 miles per gallon. It's time the U.S. auto makers caught up. If the vehicles produced by the Big Three don't meet the needs of an American consumer looking to save gasoline, save oil, and cut the pollution that causes global warming, then Congress needs to step in and raise the standard. In this time of patriotism, why aren't American auto makers ending their resistance to sensible auto efficiency standards? Why aren't they coming out with cars like Toyota's Insight, a hybrid that uses 20% of the amount of oil used by a Ford Excursion?
Our auto makers should come out with a "Patriot Car," an American-made car that gets 50 miles per gallon. And our Congress ought to draft an energy policy that requires auto makers to accept a 40-mile-per-gallon standard for both cars and light trucks. It's the patriotic and sensible thing to do in order to end our dependence on oil.
Save the Night Sky
Sitting out on my Central Austin back deck last night, watching the lovely stars I can fortunately see above, and the still-active traffic of MoPac whizzing by in the soft yellow glow of the highway lights, I realized something really alarming. The stars could be drowned out by light, and my yard could be lit up like a parking lot in the not so distant future.
The MoPac "improvements" and possible "expansion" could mean something other than just the added noise and pollution -- it could mean the end to our ability to see nature at night. I may no longer be able to see the first lights of Orion's belt, or the big owl who sometimes perches in the old tree out back. Even the wonderful glow of the rising moon could be reduced to something much less spectacular.
I urge anyone along the entire MoPac corridor to consider the change of our night sky should Campo and TxDOT make the choice to "improve" what was promised to us many years ago to be a "boulevard" through Central Austin.
I don't have concrete proof that lighting "improvements" are in order, but I have a pretty good hunch that this is in the works. I've been in enough high-growth cities to watch the stars disappear under the guise of "safety" to motorists.
We may not be able to stop all improvements, but we can band together to at least try -- and if nothing else, stop the unnecessary ruin of our night sky.
Please write to CAMPO, write to the City Council, write to TXDOT and tell your neighbors to write as well. Take the time to do it now, don't assume someone like me will stop it alone because it's not possible to do it alone.
Energy Reform Needed
I would like to pose a challenge to Americans. I would like us to become world leaders in the energy field; not the traditional energy that we have come to know and depend upon, but renewable energy. We have the technology. I've seen it in West Texas: row upon row of wind turbines, generating electricity from a renewable energy source. I've seen it again in California, driving into Marin County -- sleek, beautiful wings moving gracefully with our earth's natural power.
We need to displace petroleum with renewable fuels, through the use of ethanol and biodiesel. We are a nation of great wealth in farmland and have the potential to grow our own fuel. We have always had the power and the potential. What we need is the will to move into tomorrow, and for there to still be a tomorrow. We don't need to look to the Alaskan wilderness to remain independent, but only to our own farmlands. Now more than ever, independence from foreign oil and homegrown technology should appeal to us.
The Bush Administration believes that we are unconcerned about our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and dirty energy sources. I do not believe this. I challenge you to prove this. I challenge Senators Hutchinson and Gramm to support Senator Daschle's energy plan S.1766 this week. The Energy Policy Act of 2002 will ban MTBE and replace the oxygen requirement with a national renewable fuels standard requiring a 40-mile per gallon standard for both cars and light trucks. If Toyota and Honda have found a way to meet this goal, certainly American auto makers can meet the challenge.
I have spent the last 20 years working in the chemical industry, and I certainly would not "bite the hand that feed me," but I feel all of our industries -- including petrochemicals -- will ultimately benefit from a stronger, more secure energy plan.
Austin's Big Heart
I had a wonderful, totally "Austin" experience today. A bunch of really nice people got together to help a friend in need, and it gave me such a warm feeling I had to share it.
Sweet little Aimee works at the Continental Club. She broke her leg badly on February 6, and faces time out of work and a bunch of unexpected medical expenses. So a few friends there decided that maybe a little benefit was in order, and some very cool musicians like Toni Price, Chaparral (with little Victor -- a 9-year-old drumming sensation!), the Damnations, James McMurtry, and the Weary Boys agreed to play on Sunday for nothing. And all the money collected at the door, plus the big "Aimee Fund" tip jars on the bar went directly to Aimee to help. A lot of good Austin music fans, friends of Aimee and friends of the Continental Club came down and plunked down some cash to help.
And some great restaurants like Chuy's, Shady Grove, Kenichi, Vespaio, El Sol y la Luna, Güeros, and others donated food gift certificates to feed the nice bands, who were playing gratis, after all.
And me? I got to drink some beer, listen to some great live music, help out a friend, and be reminded that Austin still blows away any place I have ever lived. Wow. I feel so good, and so happy to live here, where people help people who need a hand.
I'm sure if you visit the Continental Club you can still drop some much-needed cash in the jar for Aimee. Or you can just say thanks to the gang there for helping to make Austin what it is -- a small town with a big heart and the best soundtrack life has to offer.
Austin's Many-Colored Screens
Can we just go ahead and stop calling Austin the "Live Music Capital" and commit to the more accurate "Righteous Film Capital of the World"? You got your Arbor, your Dobie, your Alamo, SXSW, Cinematexas, Austin Film Society, Cinemaker Co-op, the bygone Funhouse Cinema, and now the Blue Screen series at the Blue Theater. (And I'm sure there are 10 more I've forgotten.)
Anyway, just wanted to send along thanks to y'all for the ongoing effort to keep us all informed and excited about this stuff, and especially to Marc Savlov for the article kicking off the Blue Screen series a couple issues ago. Let me also send word back from the front that the series continues to freak and jam. Last night: a bunch of films by Matt McCormick and Johnne Eschelman who came down from Portland to show them in person -- and they were brain-zippers every one. (Unfortunately, very few folks showed up to check them out, so please keep after the shirkers if you can. It's for their own damned good.)
Anyway, keep up the good work, and mas, mas, mas!
Dear Editor Black,
I am perusing this week's Chronicle, the online, and not coincidentally, the paperless version, which I have to do on Friday, because while I can wipe my ass with this week's edition on Thursday, I cannot see it on my computer until Friday. Please note that I said, "can wipe my ass" because I have never nor do I plan to ever wipe my ass with the Chronicle, but if I am out of toilet paper on Thursday, I have a solution at several locations in my neighborhood. Back to my searching for a movie to see. You see, I noticed that the movie section is quite annoyingly called the "Screens" section. I must respectfully request that you stop calling the movie section "Screens." It implies that there is more than movies going on in the "Screens" section. Will you be listing the filmstrips being viewed in our public school classrooms? Is there a slide show of Aunt Mabelle's daughter's wedding that I can catch down at the Alamo? No and no. The only listings in "Screens" are movies. So please, and I am asking nicely, call the movie section "Movies."
To further my argument, as I was looking for your e-mail address I noticed that on the contact page Marjorie Baumgarten is listed as the Film editor. Since there is no film section, only a "Screens" section, what does Ms. Baumgarten do? Did you know that you are paying an editor for a section that does not exist? I am very happy that I can be of service. I also noticed that the "Screens" section has no editor. Maybe Ms. Baumgarten will not mind a change of duties. It seems only fair since she has been pulling down a salary while she is in charge of a section of the Chronicle that does not exist. I hope this can all get straightened out soon. I am thinking that easiest thing for you to do is merely change Ms. Baumgarten's job title to "Screens" editor. Unless she will be reviewing "Paul Revere: Man of Action, Silversmith to the Stars," the latest filmstrip over at Brentwood Elementary School, please change the masthead. I reference my above comments in that regard.
SWT Deserves Better
Had the powers-that-be been as timid in 1918, 1923, 1959, and 1969 (when other name changes occurred), the university in San Marcos would still be called by its original name, Southwest Texas Normal School. Name changes have become almost a tradition as it evolved from a minor teachers' college into a major university. When Lyndon Johson succeeded John Kennedy as president, snobs snickered at the contrast between presidential alma maters Harvard and Southwest Texas State Teacher's College. Why not something bolder in the 21st century? Southwest Texas deserves a less provincial moniker. Besides, is San Marcos really in Southwest Texas?
Thanks for your consideration.
Peter Flagg Maxson
Gramm Against Finance Reform
Campaign finance reform looks as if it is finally going to happen, but a recent New York Times article hints that there is one lone Republican who is bent on a filibuster: our very own Phil Gramm.
The bills passed by both House and Senate would ban soft money, i.e., the huge unlimited contributions which large corporations, the wealthy, and unions give to the parties. Anyone who thinks a congress person will remain totally objective when considering legislation pertaining to these special interests is living in a fantasy world.
What Mr. Gramm and other opponents are calling "free speech" is nothing more than the sale of democracy to the highest bidder. If a corporation wants to express an opinion about public policy, let them write a letter to the editor, like the rest of us.
Requiem for Huffstickler
(On attending Albert Huffstickler's Memorial Service at the Hyde Park Theatre, March 4):
Here was a man.
All the faces spoke smiles at once, all the chairs were warmed
those who couldn't get in huddled outside, exchanging poems--
Here was a man
unafraid to go searching in and around the tricky spots
we normally leave alone
an asker of questions many of us wouldn't even realize were questions,
but upon hearing the answers, think, why didn't I think of that?
I didn't know him, he wouldn't know my name,
but he knew who I am, I can read it in his refrain
"remember the Goddess when she passes ..."
I don't know the exact words but his meaning for me was clear--
you ARE your neighbor
your person at the bus stop
your fellow traveller
not afraid, aware
Beware of yourself becoming numb to another's need
beware of the rut you call yourself
beware of normalcy creeping in like kudzu and naming itself you
beware of not doing what you think you might want to
beware of yourself
and the actions you do
Here was a man, aware of you.
For the last time your writers have failed to find some obvious truth in a story. I am speaking, of course, about the somewhat touching story regarding St. Michael's Academy ["St. Michael's Passion," Dec. 14, 2001]. As a graduate from this now "hotly debated" Catholic school, I regret to inform the public of the many misconceptions made in this article. In short, the assumption is that this institution is falling apart is far from the truth. If only the research was more extensive, the obvious truth would have been revealed: Former head of school, Jack Kennedy, was, in fact, not human.
One time a group of us were all sneaking out of class, you know, like kids do, to play our daily game of kick the can against the wall, and that's when we saw it: Jack Kennedy undressing his skin only to reveal his true robotic exterior. The five of us guys will never forget that day and that is why we all made a pact never to say a word about it, unless, of course, people were ready for the truth. After reading this article, I knew just what I had to do, so I am now proclaiming this tragedy to be the result of our society's growing dependency upon robots.
When robots are running schools, negative things will happen. When Kennedy would pass through the halls he would demand that we "smiled like chrome Christmas ornaments," and every Wednesday and Friday he ordered the school to attend what he called, "town meetings" where we were supposed to sing "like household applications." For he loved the simple droning of electric current, especially coming from the mouths of 400 confused students. I can recall many instances where students witnessed Kennedy breaking down in the highways, falling to his knees and grabbing bystanders desperately, asking them what it's like to feel human emotion and saying his only wish in life was "to cry like a real human."
How did St. Michael's fall apart? By hiring an incompetent robot whose programming was obviously out of whack. Will this school or the students and faculty members who encountered this fearless robot ever be the same again? Yes, because robots are like terrorism and terrorism is bad, very bad, like robots.