Our readers talk back.
The Sound of Music?
Your article about the noise ordinance ["Keeping the Peace," May 3] skewed several issues.
First, the question on your cover is irrelevant. It's not "how loud?" but "how many people's rights are being violated?" Any decibel level can be exceeded by any sound if you're close enough to the source.
Second, about half the people involved don't think that the sound is music. An impartial article would not refer to the sound as "music."
Third, the sound is not channeled by the creek; the banks are much too soft, sloped, shallow, and curved. The sound carries to Hyde Park because the amphitheatre couples to the atmosphere as a planar (plane-like) source, rather than as a point source, and because (as mentioned by your article) of atmospheric temperature gradients which tend to refract the sound downward.
Of course, one possible solution, which no one appears to have thought of, is to move Stubb's to West Lake Hills. Ha ha.
A Sound Engineer Speaks
I would like to point out and clarify a discrepancy in the article "Keeping the Peace" [May 3], which is fundamentally related to the issue of the local noise ordinance.
The article states: "Decibels increase exponentially ... Every 10 decibels doubles the volume. Therefore, 85dB is not slightly louder than 75dB, it's twice the volume."
As a sound engineer, I would assert that the above quote is not technically correct.
The human hearing mechanism is extremely sensitive and responds to an extremely wide range of sound intensities. However, it happens that the subjective human perception of increasing loudness is not directly proportional to actual increases in sound-wave energy. Simply put, great changes in the intensity of a sound-wave are perceived by the listener as relatively small changes in loudness.
For this reason, an arbitrary logarithmic scale is conventionally used to measure sound pressure level (SPL) in units called decibels. This scale expresses a ratio between the amount of physical energy contained in a sound wave (measured in watts per square meter), relative to a reference magnitude labeled 0dB SPL, the threshold of audibility -- very, very faint but not silent. A sound-wave measuring 60dB has an intensity a million times greater than 0dB; 70dB measures 10 times the sound intensity of 60dB, while 80dB represents sound a hundred times as intense as 60dB. A 10dB increase, though substantial, is not perceived as a doubling of volume.
The term "volume," as used in the article, is ambiguous, since it can refer either to changes in sound-wave intensity or to the subjective impression of loudness. Different people can perceive identical changes in sound intensity as different changes in loudness, so there is no hard and fast rule which adequately describes how much of an increase in sound energy is "twice the volume." To put the 75dB-versus-85dB question into perspective: While one would have to raise one's voice a bit to hold a conversation over background noise of 75dB (imagine a busy restaurant), one would definitely have to shout over background noise of 85dB, about the level of the average vacuum cleaner running.
Other than that, excellent article.
Gray Area of Sound
In your May 3 issue, Andy Langer states, "... every 10dB doubles this volume. Therefore, 85dB is not slightly louder than 75dB, it's twice the volume" ["Keeping the Peace"]. This is understated. When dealing with sound pressure levels, each six decibels represents a doubling. Reversing the formula for SPL reveals that 10dB represents a factor of over 3. The proposed standard of 75dB is less than 1/3 of the current level.
*[The sound pressure level of a sound is 20 times the logarithm to the base 10 of the ratio of the measured root mean square (RMS) value of the sound pressure to a reference sound pressure.]
The Music Room
Andy Langer responds: While it's true that there is no hard and fast rule, audio experts had directed us to "the Rule of Thumb for Loudness," which says, "the loudness of a particular sound is that the sound must be increased in intensity by a factor of ten for the sound to be perceived as twice as loud." You can find a full explanation at www.hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/sound/loud.html
In Search of the 'Tribe'
Try as I might over the last two weeks, I have been unable to locate the mysterious "Tribe" that Mike Clark-Madison claims to have discovered ["Austin@Large," May 3 & 10]. He suggests it was connected to the Kirk Mitchell and Beverly Griffith campaigns, so I began my search there.
Mr. Mitchell's campaign literature included a laundry list of "progressive" supporters from environmental and neighborhood organizations. But Mitchell also received the support of the Black Women's Political Caucus, the African-American community newspaper The Villager, People's Community Clinic director and head of the Brackenridge Oversight Council Dr. Jim Brand, longtime planning commissioner and community matriarch Jean Mather, and ex-dean of the UT School of Architecture Larry Speck. Could this be the elusive "Tribe" that Mr. Clark-Madison refers to? Somehow I don't think so.
Beverly Griffith's supporters would seem to make an even more interesting and diverse "Tribe." Griffith received the support of every environmental organization in Austin, neighborhood leaders from across town, as well as a slew of Democratic clubs like the South and West Austin Democrats. Admittedly this might constitute the "Tribe," but what of Griffith supporters like former Mayor Roy Butler, retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, Old Austin icon Willie Kocurek, NOKOA publisher Akwasi Evans and former aide to Lady Bird Johnson and living Democratic legend Liz Carpenter? Jeez Louise! If that were the "Tribe" I'd love to be a fly on the wall at their secret meetings! Can you imagine what the initiation rituals might be?
So, try as I might, the only "Tribe" that I have found is in the word diatribe, which has been used by some to describe Clark-Madison's recent editorials.
The search continues...
P.S. (In the interest of full disclosure I did serve as a consultant to both the Griffith and Mitchell campaigns, among others.)
Sierra Club Responds
I was sorry to see the letter from Mr. Lonny Stern, who was "shocked by the Sierra Club's endorsement of the two-way streets proposal ..." ["Postmarks: Bike Route Basics," May 10]. Perhaps Mr. Stern will understand that the Chronicle is not the Sierra Club's newsletter and therefore cannot publish our entire position statement on a given issue. Our policy has always been to emphasize human beings above automobiles, and sidewalks and bike lanes above new road construction. Our transportation chair, Dick Kallerman, is a regular attendee at CAMPO and City Council meetings, constantly advocating for more bicycle and pedestrian facilities in this region. I invite Mr. Stern to join the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org) so that he can receive our local newsletter 10 times each year, and thereby learn about our positions on such issues directly. We always welcome new members.
Austin Sierra Club
A Letter From Linda
Louis Black, in his ungracious acceptance as a winner in this election (helping having defeated Prop. 1), raises the question as to whether I helped bring Beverly Griffith down ["Page Two," May 10]. Here's a "proposition" perhaps he can't refuse. If Louis cops to partial blame, I'll take the brunt. What I failed to do was adequately warn Beverly as to the onslaught of political attacks by both newspapers for her association with the independent movement. Even I was surprised.
Could it be that the downtown political clique, together with the Austin Police Association, Chamber of Commerce, and Real Estate Council, who now feel emboldened by their "resounding" defeat of Beverly Griffith and Prop. 1, know better than we independents, that 70% of 9% is a measure of how weak they truly are. This explains the ferocity of the attacks.
Independent Texans is out to discover the key to increased voter turnout. The Chronicle needs to give independent politics a fair hearing, lest you be seen as providing the same journalistic "advocacy" as our daily rag.
'Less Than Hetero,' Less Than Cool
Dear Mr. Hernandez,
I read the review of Belle and Sebastian yesterday ["Phases and Stages," May 10] and thought it gave a good feel for the concert (which I missed ... I was called to Dallas on a reporting assignment. I'm a freelance journalist).
There was one phrase that jarred me, though. The description of a crowd member who was asked onstage by Murdoch as "less than hetero" is unnecessary and insensitive. The sentence would have stood up much better if it had just gone on to say, "and then outdanced by the energetic Murdoch as he could look on with marmalade eyes." In this way, the wording doesn't address the dancer's sexuality and leaves a nice ambiguity. Was the dancer ogling Murdoch or was he just in awe of Murdoch's talents as a dancer and musician?
I'm sure that Mary Sledd wasn't trying to be malicious when she wrote "less than hetero." But does she know this guy's sexual orientation for sure? And, even if he is gay, are he and all of the rest of your gay readers comfortable with being described as "less than hetero" or "less" than anything for that matter? The point which Mary is trying to convey is that Murdoch asked him up because he liked the way he danced (but then Murdoch outshined him).
While I've been in Mary's position of having to review concerts before, and can see that maybe this phrase was passed over as something that sounds descriptive and clever, I think it's worth remembering that we're talking about regular people here and are entering some sensitive turf. The guy who got up onstage is not a public figure. And at the end of the day, who cares who he prefers to sleep with?
I don't think it's good to censor any mention of gender, sexuality, or for that matter race from articles. In fact, some of Belle and Sebastian's songs refer to homosexuality and I can see a review of their concert touching on that. But writers (and editors) need to do so with empathy.
The Correct Home of the Goblin
Raoul Hernandez notes in Recommended Music [May 10] that "little is known about [Orange Goblin's] dark, hash-encrusted doom metal." That may be true, but one thing that is known is that the band is, in fact, from Great Britain, not Iceland, as he writes in the sentence previous.
The People Want the Truth
Thank you for your unveiling of Disney© in Michael Connor's May 10 piece exposing how our human tendency to like cute things has been exploited, marketed, and otherwise sold to the highest bidder -- ourselves. I always suspected that this corporation was extremely greedy, but I am thrilled to know the actual facts. You should print more articles like this one -- let the people know the truth!
A Way to Improve Turnout?
Given the repeated abysmal voter turnout in local elections, I wanted to inquire why local elections are not conducted simultaneously with national elections? I submit that if all elections were held on Election Day, we would minimize the taxpayer expense of holding elections and dramatically increase voter turnout. Sounds good, right?
Does anyone know why we aren't holding local elections in November?
Waiting for Waits
Being a longtime Tom Waits fan, I looked forward to reading Margaret Moser's interview in this last issue ["This Business Called Show," May 10]. And while I enjoyed what was there, the one question I wanted an answer to never came up. That being: Is it true he has sworn to never play Texas again after the incident at La Zona Rosa at SXSW?
Of course, this story has been going around for three years now, and as far as I know, no Texas dates during that time. I know he was supposed to play SXSW again this year, but the show never happened. Being an admirer of both man and music, I hate thinking that he would actually turn his back on a whole state of fans over a closing-time incident at one bar. And not having been there, I'd add that there's always two sides to the story. But even if the club was totally at fault, is that justification to blackball the whole state?
So I'm wondering, did Margaret just not think to ask? Or did she ask and not get an answer? Because as much as I enjoy his music, I really can't see buying anymore Tom Waits CDs if he is going to snub the thousands, if not millions, of fans in Texas who probably know nothing of this.
So, if you could, what's the straight skinny here? My future Tom Waits purchases are hanging in the balance.
Margaret Moser replies: The question was moot as Waits' people did indeed negotiate for a SXSW 2002 show that did not happen for logistical reasons. Waits will doubtless play here when he tours again. If he tours.
Some Facts For Mr. V
Michael Ventura's dark flight into his unconscious (May 3, "Letters @ 3AM") may have had a purgatory effect on him but dumped a tidy load of crap on us. Perhaps if his missile had been composed earlier than 3AM, Ventura might have had the wherewithal to scare up a fact or two. Here's one, Mike: The functions of gargoyles indeed were (and are) widely known ... "what exactly do they guard. Upon whom are they to be loosed?." Gargoyles are decorative water spouts and are only found on the building's exterior. The fact that they "... seem to have the run of the place" to you is your imagination still straining under its childhood trauma. Here's another fact for you Mr. V. The reason for these ornaments' ugly stylings is well-known, too; they were meant to guard the church by frightening away the ubiquitous demons. This explains why it was "necessary to include these monsters, even where they would not be seen." ... because, as you have demonstrated to your readers, they can visit you any time, anywhere.
Let it go, Michael. The news is good! There is no god(s). The Church that haunts you has no more apotropaic power than those gargoyles do. Its leaders are as confounded by its contradictions as you are.
Now that we've heard your confession, you can go in peace.
P.S. A grotesque is a gargoyle which doesn't spout water but can still scare the devil.
First Weed, Now Cigarettes?
Wouldn't it be nicer if Austin's bars and nightclubs weren't filled with cigarette smoke?
Your readers might be surprised to hear this sentiment coming from a smoker. The problem I have with smoking in bars and nightclubs is simply that too many people do it. Like many smokers, I enjoy the smoke from my own cigarette, but not from everyone else's. If bars and nightclubs could enforce a limit, of say, 10 people smoking at a time, that would solve the problem. But such a limit couldn't really be enforced.
California prohibited smoking in bars and nightclubs in 1998. When I first heard about this regulation, I was skeptical. I didn't think smokers would agree to follow it. However I recently went to California, and I found the law works. The state regulation prohibits smoking in enclosed spaces, but sensibly permits smoking on outdoor patios. Smokers by and large have accepted it.
I love Austin, but going out at night is now a more pleasant experience in California than it is here. Austin City Council Member Beverly Griffith says she supports a smoking ban in this city's bars and nightclubs. Unfortunately, she believes bar owners would fight such a change tooth and nail.
Bar owners in Austin should take a close look at what has happened in California. A year after the smoking ban took effect, the California Department of Health Services collected revenue data from businesses affected by the ban. The department found there was a greater percentage increase in taxable sales for bars and restaurants from Jan. 1, 1998 through Dec. 31, 1998 than in either of the two preceding years.
I am not going to take a side in the longstanding debate about whether or not second-hand smoke can cause lung cancer. I don't know the answer to that question, so I'll stay out of it. It's enough to know that too many people smoking cigarettes in an enclosed space is irritating. Isn't that enough reason for a ban in this city? I hope so.
City Council: 'Coke Whores With Credit Cards'
So, Austin is going through an economic slowdown, everyone seems to be aware that this is not the Land of Milk and Honey it was three years ago. Everyone, that is, except the Austin City Council. They are still out spending money like coke whores with a stolen credit card. Just a question ... did anyone on that council ever consider not spending money on bullshit? Sixty million dollars to fuck up the traffic downtown? Here you go, Daryl, try this one out: If people cannot figure out how to get around downtown on the streets we have now, they're not going to help the economy because they're too dumb to have a job. Another thing: Light rail was voted down. People in Austin don't want our streets torn up for the next 10 years in some asinine attempt to "ease traffic." The "problem" is not lack of carrying capacity for our roads, it is assholes who think their cars are restaurants, make-up rooms, phone rooms, reading rooms, and places to check your e-mail. If people in Austin quit screwing around and actually drove their cars, there wouldn't be the problem we face now. Cap/Metro is still working on implementing Light Rail. It was voted on, it was defeated, but Cap Metro said "Screw them, we're doing it." Well, screw Cap Metro, they should be taken to court and made to comply with the will of the voters. Give the money back to the people who work and earned it.
Did any of the Three Stooges ever consider that Austin really doesn't need to spend $60 Million on a New City Hall? Heaven forbid the people who work for the citizens of Austin not get a new Imperial Palace to dictate from. Maybe, if revenue is down, spending should be curtailed, but not in Austin. "Nothing's too good for our city employees as long as our taxpayers can foot the bill." Like we need a new helicopter hovering over Sixth street at $1,200 an hour.
Just a thought,
Carl T. Swanson
Austin: One Giant Ticket Trap
Recently, I was traveling up I-35 near 183 when I noticed about six or seven APD motorcycle officers camped out in the shade of the overpass. Within a half mile past that I observed another officer issuing a citation and, within another quarter-mile, yet another officer issuing a citation. It was a kind of mass ticket-issuing party. This doesn't appear to be officers patrolling, but officers grouped and oriented for the sole means of creating revenue by preying on motorists traveling a major thoroughfare. I witnessed this shakedown again a couple of weeks later on I-35 South at the Austin city limits. Seven or eight APD cars in addition to a police helicopter were performing the same scam. Why? Is the city of Austin hard up for money? What happened to the surplus from the boom years? I don't see it in my city. A poorly planned pedestrian bridge was finally erected -- only after pedestrians kept dying on the Lamar Street bridge. The streets haven't improved. Town Lake is still trash-strewn, the hike-and-bike trail still unsafe, the MoPac pedestrian bridge still fouled with bird droppings. Where did the money go, Kirk? Then I see a story on the local news about the APD getting new BMW motorcycles.
Film Commission Name Flap
I noticed in a column last week by Marc Savlov ["Short Cuts," May 3] that there is a lawsuit filed against the Austin Film Commission claiming that name is infringement on other groups. All I know is this: Roxanne Wheelis, founder and director of the nonprofit Austin Film Commission, is an honest, committed Austinite who has worked downtown for many years, and has shown leadership in working for the needs of downtown businesses. It seems to me she saw a real need locally for a more active, engaged film commission that not only responded to the needs of film producers, but really included the concerns of local businesses. Also, she is committed to including East Austin and smaller surrounding communities. I have known Ms. Wheelis for years, and I think she is a great asset to Austin, and I hope the Austin Film Commission is an outstanding success. I think it already is in awakening an elitist tendency of certain Austin organizations.