Our readers talk back.
In 1989 I was making my living as a musician and had the good fortune to be playing with a group that was included in the SXSW festival. I will never forget my initial impressions of this town, in fact they lingered with me for so long that about a year ago I had a business opportunity to relocate here and made some sacrifices in order to accomplish that. Now that I live and work in Austin I couldn't help noticing how many longtime residents are endlessly complaining about how their town has "changed drastically" or is not the "good old Austin we used to know and love." While it is true that the corporate landscape has richened and traffic and pollution continue to be concerns for all metropolitan areas, Austin enjoys many benefits that other cities its size in this country would kill for. Every time I swim a mile in Barton Springs, stroll into Antone's for some world-class blues on a Monday night, or catch an opening of a new film that you couldn't see unless you lived in New York City, or enjoy any of a hundred other small and great pleasures this town has to offer, I am grateful that my feet are planted firmly inside the Austin city limits. Perhaps this letter will help remind others just how fortunate we all are to live in such a beautiful, cultural city deep in the heart of Texas.
Questionable Content, Usage
I am a native Austinite and a longtime reader of the Chronicle. But I am also a father. On more and more frequent occasions, I'm startled by the content you choose to include in a Chronicle which is free to be picked up by any kid in town. Please take a hard look at your editorial policy and your willingness to accept advertisements, editorial content, and artwork which are lewd, pornographic, and explicit.
If you have young children of your own, please consider whether you'd be proud to bring your publication home for their review. I realize they don't fall within your target demographic, but neither is delivery of your publication restricted to an age-appropriate audience (if there is an appropriate age).
By the way, I've grumbled to myself about this issue for some time. The incident that sparked this e-mail was Marjorie Baumgarten's recent online review of a "G" rated movie, in which I question her use of the phrase, "who seems to have some bug lodged up his butt." I doubt that phrase would be allowed in the movie she reviewed, yet she feels it appropriate for use in a review to be read by audiences seeking "G" rated fare? Surely she's talented enough as a writer to come up with more palatable and context-sensitive phrases. Unless of course, she intended it as a slight jab at readers like me, in which case, doubtless she'll be happy to note she's lodged one up mine.
The Big Pollution Picture
Think your kids are going to be healthy just because they don't have to breathe mold spores? Are you totally missing the bigger picture? Do you really even know if it's mold and not air pollution causing their respiratory problems? I don't have mold in my home or place of business but when I go outdoors I certainly get respiratory symptoms. As the air pollution in Austin has increased, so have my symptoms. Same for every friend I know.
Why should every homeowner in America pay the price of increased insurance premiums from mold exposure, when we are all being poisoned daily by toxins that we are creating ourselves? Why should we support bond money for one health concern when we are facing the biggest health crisis in mankind with air and water pollution at the most alarming rates imaginable?
Consider a couple of your common hydrocarbons you and your children breathe in every single day. (And if you're one of those stroller-jogging moms, you should pay attention here.)
Carbon monoxide -- a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. A product of incomplete burning of hydrocarbon-based fuels, carbon monoxide consists of a carbon atom and an oxygen atom linked together. In 1992, carbon monoxide levels exceeded the Federal air quality standard in 20 U.S. cities, home to more than 14 million people.
Two-thirds of the carbon monoxide emissions come from transportation sources, with the largest contribution coming from highway motor vehicles. In urban areas, the motor vehicle contribution to carbon monoxide pollution can exceeds 90%.
Benzene is produced in petroleum refining, and widely used as a solvent and in the production of industrial products and pesticides. Benzene is also found in gasoline and cigarette smoke. It has been shown that exposure to benzene is related to the development of leukemia and lymphoma. Benzene has a suppressive effect on bone marrow and it impairs blood cell maturation and amplification. There are leaking underground gas storage tanks all around town that are seeping benzene into your ground water.
How much bond money will it take to clean up these pollutants? Billions of dollars? Sound ridiculous? Well then why don't you just open up the windows and let the "fresh" air in? You can check daily for how fresh your air is here: www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/cgi-bin/monops/psi_rpt .
Bike Route Basics
I'm shocked by the Sierra Club's endorsement of the two-way streets proposal, "you can make things better for cars or better for pedestrians, but you can't do both at once." How is this plan superior to adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes?
Pedestrian and bicycle traffic happen when effective sidewalks and bike lanes are available. The current lack of bike paths is what's keeping people from riding bicycles underneath or above major thoroughfares (i.e. Lamar, I-35, 290, 183). Pedestrians and bicyclists respond to infrastructure, not the number of directions on a street. For example, there's heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic on Guadalupe (a two-way street), but not much on Lamar (another two-way street). There's pedestrian and bicycle traffic on Congress, but not Riverside, on Barton Springs, but not North Loop. In these cases, pedestrians and bicyclists are encouraged by ample sidewalks and designated bicycle lanes.
Simply making two-way streets doesn't produce more pedestrians and bicyclists. While Congress is traveled by both cars and alternative commuters, that street is unique in that it's wide enough for bicycle and pedestrian provisions. Fifth Street doesn't have any infrastructure in place now; will allowing two-way traffic make more room for sidewalks and bicycle lanes? The "pedestrian consumer" effect becomes hazy.
One of the roads proposed for a two-way change is San Jacinto. Chronicle readers awarded San Jacinto as "Best Route for Bicyclists." Why? The road is wide, leaving generous room for bicycle traffic and sidewalks, and its one-way traffic translates into fewer idling cars and left turns.
Will making bidirectional traffic improve the situation for bicyclists, or is this a scheme to court more shops into downtown? This plan encourages air pollution for theoretical increases in window-shopping. Let's clear the air (literally) and pass on the two-way street plan.
Lonny A. Stern
A Moldy Issue
Thanks for your coverage of my frustrating struggle to have AISD address the mold and other indoor air quality issues in our schools ("How Moldy Are Our Schools?," April 19). Since the story was published, I have been required to submit all questions in writing through the AISD Public Information Office and pay for all printed responses. In my 10 years of involvement with the school district, I have never had to comply with Freedom of Information Act. I have to wonder how many other parents are forced to comply with the same rules. Meanwhile, students and teachers are sick and the district continues to downplay the poor state of breathable air in the classrooms. While neighboring school districts err on the side of safety and respond promptly to mold, AISD just continues to err, in my opinion.
I have received numerous responses from readers nationwide struggling with the same issues. I hope your attention to indoor air quality will result in everyone being able to breathe a little easier while trying to learn (and teach) in Austin's classrooms. Thanks for covering this complex and important matter.
Teresa Van Deusen
'Ride Herd' on New Council
I find it amusing that Mr. Black would claim to know what I think, that my thoughts include a belief that Chronicle readers "are stupid and need road maps to show them clearly how to proceed," and that, by contrast, the Chronicle trusts its readers ["Page Two," May 3].
To the contrary, I and others have been begging the Chronicle to provide some news, an occasional investigative piece, perhaps just one comparison of candidates on issues and voting records. Instead, every week we get endless political punditry telling us exactly what to think while attaching useless labels and derisive names (e.g. "the Tribe" ["Austin @ Large," May 3]) to anyone who dares disagree or ask a question.
Austin would have been dead as a functioning community a long time ago were it not for The Austin Chronicle. I appreciate enormously what both the leadership and hard-working staffers at the Chronicle have done for Austin over the years. I do think we are all in trouble when it's hard to tell if you are reading the Chronicle or the Statesman.
You promised to "ride herd" on the new council. I sure hope so.
Instant Run-off the Answer
The May 4 elections proved that Austin citizens are concerned about spending tax money, yet it also resulted in another costly run-off election between Betty Dunkerley and Beverly Griffith. The time has come for an amendment to the city charter to allow for Instant Run-Off Voting. IRV is a proven and effective system that eliminates the need for run-off elections and could save hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars ... as well as their time. If we're serious about saving money, it's time to give IRV a chance.
[Ed. note: Griffith dropped out of the race on Monday, eliminating the need for a run-off.]
Savlov Hates Action Films
After reading Marc Savlov's slam of this year's most enjoyable Bond remake, "The Scorpion King," ["Film," May 3] I have to ask a question. Why on earth do you all send him to preview action films? He hates them, as he continually makes clear in his reviews. He'd really rather watch something subtitled in an eastern European language, and we'd really rather find out if the movie's going to be fun. Please make both critic and readers happier and stop sending Marc to sit through and smear films in a genre which we all fully understand he hates.
Don't Lose Music & Art Class
Dear Chronicle Editor:
It was recently mandated that elementary school children receive 30 minutes of structured physical activity per day in elementary school. I am looking at copies of a survey issued by the Austin ISD Health Advisory Council dated 3/24/02 regarding ways to incorporate this activity into the AISD school day. This survey asks for input from the following stakeholders: principal, classroom teacher, PE teacher, fine arts teacher, and "other." As far as I know, parents have not yet been asked about this issue.
I am deeply concerned about this, because the two cheapest options both include reducing the number of days per year that a child receives art and music instruction. A third option puts the burden on our already overworked classroom teachers.
We lived in a school district that had neither art nor music in elementary school, and the absence was very apparent. We chose to move here in part because of the strong music programs in the schools. In Austin where many children speak limited English, art and music provide areas where they can connect. And many native English-speaking students have the hook of music or art to keep them in school through graduation. Not everyone will learn best drilling for standardized tests. A fine arts teacher is far less expensive for our community than a dropout.
Of course, the acceptable options will cost money, and, of course, those mandating aren't going to pay. If you, as a parent or a citizen, care about the instruction of art and music in our elementary schools, the time to voice your concerns is now. I am told that this issue will be before the board on May 13. Let your administrators and board members know what you think.
Vietnam Nothing to Brag About
The words "stunned" or "numb" or "dumbfounded" are not sufficient to describe my feelings when I received the attached political advertisement for Don Turner. Mr. Turner is the incumbent in the Precinct 2 race for the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board.
While many of us are still mentally struggling with the events of September 11 and the senseless loss of so many people, while we are greeted each day with headlines of despair from the Middle East, while many of us have fond memories of growing up in Central Texas and swimming at Barton Springs, or now find a moment of peace while listening to the water, what do we say to a public official who brags about his wartime exploits in Vietnam?
Save Barton Springs
As spring heats up into summer, please go swimming in Barton Springs. We might not be able to for much longer (if you don't believe me, ask a scientist who studies the Springs). When you jump in, you'll be reminded that clean water is worth fighting for. You might even be inspired to think that the city of Austin, which owns Barton Springs in the public trust, should not hasten the pollution of the soul of our city.
The city of Austin has drafted a deal with Stratus Properties for Stratus' 1,253 undeveloped acres around Circle C in the Barton Springs watershed. This deal would allow Stratus to build 1,000,000 square feet (about 1/8 of downtown) of buildings, plus 1,700 residences, plus -- well, Stratus won't tell. Adding insult to injury, the city's deal would subsidize Stratus with $15 million in tax rebates and other development incentives. In other words, we would be paying Stratus to pollute Barton Springs.
If the City Council really wanted to save Barton Springs, it would do two things: (1) do what 10 neighborhood and environmental groups have requested and develop a comprehensive plan to save the Springs before approving any development deals; and (2) find public and private money to buy key tracts in the Barton Springs watershed, which would cost a fraction of the $430 million in tax dollars that the city, Travis County, CAMPO, and TxDOT (the Highway Department) are planning on spending to pave the watershed to serve Stratus and other developers.
If you don't like that plan, that's fine. Let's talk. But if you think it's good policy to give developers in the Barton Springs watershed a competitive advantage over downtown and the rest of Austin; if you think it's good policy for city lawyers to have confidential "settlement" negotiations with developer lawyers when no litigation exists between the two; if you think it's good policy to "settle" with $15 million in subsidies that promote sprawl, let it be noted, this policy is killing Barton Springs.
Save Our Springs Alliance
Defending Rahul Mahajan
Is it true? Did Rahul Mahajan completely reverse his political and personal orientation to become what Mr. John Wielmaker described in the April 19 Chronicle "Postmarks" ["Mahajan: Not a Jolly Green Guv"]? How tragic! He used to be a democratic champion, a peaceful protester, an informed, engaged, and concerned citizen ... how sad that Wielmaker has somehow uncovered that he's instantly and inexplicably been transformed into a totalitarian Pol Pot sequel.
It's one thing to be wrong, but Mr. Wielmaker was downright libelous. I have never heard or read any statement from Mahajan suggesting, as was printed, that "America deserved September 11" (perhaps Mr. Wielmaker has Rahul confused with Jerry Falwell). Nor can Mahajan be considered to be "against democratic tolerance" or totalitarian. Although his peaceful stances don't sit well with some, it's insulting to accuse someone who engages in civil debate, questions policies, and peacefully protests injustices as undemocratic ... once upon a time that was known as patriotism.
Ad hominem attacks such as these are usually reserved as a last resort for a losing argument. I would encourage the curious and concerned alike to look into all candidates' positions personally and make an informed choice.
The Reivers Are Rock Stars!
Reading Michael Bertin's piece on the Reivers ["Pop Beloved," April 26] was like feeling a warm, summery breeze rush in through the screen door. A lot of my favorite memories of Austin have to do with this group, both collectively and individually, as I'm sure is true about countless other people.
I had only been in town from California a few months, back in 1989, when I went to catch the band at the late, great Liberty Lunch and became an instant, devoted fan of theirs. I liked their songs, I loved them as people and as performers, and I was astounded by how diverse their audience was: skinheads, cowboys, yuppies, rastas -- and not one fight or problem in sight! I thought, If this is what this city is like, I am never going to leave! (Alas, I eventually did, more's the pity.)
Through them, I discovered the Austin music/arts scene, for which I'm completely grateful; even better, I was privileged to meet them all in person and enjoy their off-stage companionship. To me, John, Kim, Cindy, and Garrett -- under any name -- are rock stars, and always will be!
Enduring Respect for Reivers
I frequently ponder vexing questions like: 1) If the Reivers ["Pop Beloved," April 26] had "made it"-- as a just world would have ensured -- would they still be the Reivers? and 2) How can I get my buddy to give up his obviously underappreciated Reivers T-shirt? John Croslin, et al., can take this much to the bank: In my nearly 16 years in Austin, no band has ever meant as much to me and in my remaining time here, no band ever will. I'd kill for that T-shirt.
Toth Still Kickin' It
"Pop Beloved" was an interesting piece [April 26], but I'm compelled to correct one jarring error. Cindy is currently playing bass with Trigger Happy every Tuesday night at the Parlor, so let's not place them in the past tense. She also plays in Violet Crown (led by another Austin veteran, Larry Seaman), every Monday night at the Hole in the Wall.
There are still plenty of opportunities to hear your favorites of yesteryear in their current incarnations, so overcome inertia and get out to support them and the clubs that book them. Please. You won't regret it.
P.S. There's a chance to hear Cindy play a doubleheader, as both bands play Thursday, May 2 at the Hole.
Don't Touch My Building
Something wrong is happening every day at Sixth and Congress to me and other citizens in front of One American Center. Most people are waiting a few minutes for the bus, as in my case, or chatting or smoking, all innocent activities. Some people lean on the building to shift the weight off tired feet, and it is those people who are harassed every day by a blue-jacketed security guard enforcing their policy against anyone leaning on their precious building.
When I first saw it happen to someone else, it irked me but soon the bus came and I blew it off. Then it happened to me. The last three times I voiced my opposition to such a senseless policy and then reluctantly complied. I didn't want any trouble, I just wanted to get home from work.
Today I decided that enough was enough already and the guard must have sensed it because he brought along his supervisor. When I refused to remove my shoulder from the building, the supervisor guard stepped away and got on the radio, and to whom I wondered. Is he calling the police on me because my shoulder is touching the wall? They have a building at the busiest intersection of downtown just for that reason, because of its location. They benefit from lots of foot traffic into Starbucks and other shops and sell parking spaces at a premium, and yet will not even allow anyone to touch the building.
Where is the line between public property and private property? My feet were clearly on the public sidewalk but my shoulder was also clearly on their private property, but certainly they can see that we did nothing wrong. That didn't matter to the supervisor guard, because he threatened a charge of criminal trespassing and I refused to give my name when he whipped out his pad.
I didn't stick around to find out to what extent they intended to take this nonsense because the bus arrived and off I went. The supervisor guard told me not to go and I detected his disappointment in not getting a bust.
So what rights do I have as a peaceful citizen waiting for the bus? What rights do they have to brush us off their damn building while not doing anything wrong? And do you think we should hold a boycott of all shops and parking at One American Center, or should we stage a "lean-in" where scores of us lean against the building and thumb our noses at them?
Oracle Deserves No Incentive
The Austin American-Statesman reported Saturday that Oracle Corp. is considering locating a data center (a building that consumes huge amounts of electricity, or about enough to power 600 houses) in Austin and, if so, plans to locate it in an area of the city that would qualify it for "Smart Growth" incentives. Since economic conditions have changed substantially since some of the "Smart Growth" initiatives were established, I believe it might be prudent for the city of Austin to revisit the need for maintaining some of these initiatives and economic incentives.
Given the current economic climate, there appears to be little threat from Oracle Corp. erecting new structures in the environmentally fragile hills of West Austin that these incentives were established to discourage. As we all know, there is plenty of vacant local office space available for lease, so I question why the city of Austin and its taxpayers should offer any incentives to Oracle, or any other company, to place its data center in Austin.
As I gather more information, the need for offering these incentives might become clearer to me, but without any additional information it appears to me that the need for offering these incentives has been obviated by the prevailing economic slowdown. Does anyone else agree?
If they want to move here great, but let's not subsidize this activity.
Michael Ventura expresses his alarm over the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear reactor sites, and lists four possible scenarios as to why they have not been made more secure ["Letters at 3AM," April 19].
A year or two ago, there was an airplane in which the pilot had died at the controls from a heart attack. I don't remember the outcome of that situation, but I remember the plane being escorted by USAF jets.
I have later learned that any time a plane breaks communication with its control tower, that the protocol is that the USAF automatically dispatches to the plane. No order is given or necessary for the escort to commence.
So what happened on Sept. 11? The pilots of the four planes which were hijacked had certainly had communication with the control towers interrupted. Why were USAF jets not dispatched to those planes?
The answer is quite disturbing. It would have taken a presidential order for the escorts not to be dispatched.
So, Mr. Ventura, the answer to your question is not incompetence or corruption (on the order you described at least).
What I want to know is why the Chronicle is not reporting on the concentration camps which are already up and running and foreign troops already training on U.S. soil, to engage U.S. citizens. The pretense for a major assault on the middle class will be a catastrophic smallpox outbreak, which will occur with full knowledge of our "shadow government."
America's Two-Faced Policies
Spending on the military is money everyone loses. The money the USA and the former USSR spent on the Cold War could have built everyone in the world "basic" housing with vaccinations all around. The mentioned Raytheon and Boeing ["War: Made in Texas?" May 3] could innovate and develop alternative energy supplies (among numerous other options) for those in the dark in the Third World and make up for the lost profit margins on scale.
The Bush Administration, full of old Cold Warriors, can't see beyond the next quarter's profits and have embarked us on a war against terror whose only triumph so far was a war fought with American air power and proxy soldiers; the peace yet to be won in Afghanistan but civil rights fully routed in the USA and future tax revenues earmarked for destruction rather than peaceful construction and engagement. Palestinian suicide bombers exposed to bomb and missile fragments stamped with "Made in the USA" might have a much different opinion of the American way if they had electricity generated from fuel cells that were made in the USA, if they used biotechnology made in the USA, if they felt they weren't victims of terrorism they perceive as sponsored by the USA.
This is the New Millenium, and new times calls for new thinking. We don't need to spend another hole in the pockets of the U.S. taxpayer only to see another enemy crumple without a shot like the USSR; whose destruction the former Soviets aided and abetted better than any schemes sponsored by the USA.
The electorate must bring this to the attention of our "leaders" at the ballot box. It would be a shame to see history repeat itself and the world lose the opportunity to correct its problems due to a lack of leadership and greed for quick profits.
Seoul, South Korea
Cinemaker Co-op Overrated
In your "Page Two" column last week, you took time out -- as the Chron usually does -- to plug the "too-often-unsung heroes" of Austin filmmaking, the Cinemaker Co-op.
Ordinarily, I'd mourn their inability to properly complete an application for funding from the Austin Arts Commission. Unfortunately, I believe the Cinemaker Co-op deserves squat ... nothing. Not a fucking dime. "This is an extraordinary group with an amazingly far-reaching impact," you write. I'm guessing, though, They Do Not Have Any Impact Whatsoever -- except on the Chronicle writers they put on their bar tab each night.
The Co-op makes Super 8 films. It is not an art; it's a hobby. The films are unimpressive, as anyone who's rented their showcases at Vulcan knows. There are unsung kids editing digital work of far more personal, social significance than a group of high-profile thirtysomething barrel-chested whitebread hacks projecting two- to four-minute sketches in the Way It Used to Be.
Perhaps Mr. Black would like to tell us how much it takes to produce 2-3 minute black & white or color silent films and project them onto a wall? How much money do these Artists require to continue their contribution to your "unique film environment"?
Your wife and son may use the facilities twice a year (which does make your plea, Louis, a conflict of interest -- which is what keeps the theatre community filled with their own thirtysomething hacks) but who cares, right? Anything for the next gen of Rodriguezes, Linklaters and anyone else who may become profitable in the course of your Cheap Talent Sales Pitches. Fortunately, not every up-and-coming filmmaker is a doe-eyed blowjobber ready for the Big Sell-Out.
Why should AAC'S money go to lame fuckarounds with junk cameras despite the Chronicle's saga of cheerleading the biggest time-waster in town?