Our readers talk back.
Don't Shoot the Capitol!
I was in Austin for business last month. During my one evening there I walked around UT and downtown, taking photos with my digital camera. I had taken a daylight shot of the Capitol building, but after dinner I thought it was lighted beautifully and tried to capture a night photo of it from the southeast corner of 11th and Congress.
After doing so, as I was walking back to my hotel, a Texas State Trooper car pulled up to me. Two officers got out and started interrogating me: Why was I photographing the Capitol? Where was I from? What was I doing in Austin? And they made me show them my California driver's license.
I asked them if there was any law against photographing the state Capitol from across the street, and don't hundreds of tourists do it each day on and off the grounds? They referred me to September 11. I responded that such actions had nothing to do with a threat to the Capitol building or the security of anything.
Others have recently experienced far worse transgressions of their civil liberties than this. However, by such thoughtless overreactions in so many ways that make no sense and protect no one, it's clear that America has let the terrorists undermine our basic freedoms. We're handing them victory beyond their wildest expectations.
We have become as "security conscious" as the Israelis. As an American Jew, I'm well aware of how insecure Israel remains despite such tactics. They, and now we, are missing the point. Ultimately, security will only flow from justice.
Toobin's a Crime?
On Saturday, June 22, three of my friends and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and drive to New Braunfels to partake in the most recent Texas sport of tubing. Though the majestic Guadalupe brought tons of fun, our trip was cut short by the New Braunfels police. Unfortunately, one of my friends yelled out his belief about police officers, and the next thing I know he was dragged to the shore and handcuffed. His charge, public intoxication.
My other friend and I, wishing to find out which police department and jail Brian was being taken to, paddled to the edge of the shore and asked for the name or location of the jail. I was told to get back on my tube and leave. I politely asked again, and I was quickly thrown down onto stone steps and dragged up to the grass, where I was sat on, forced into handcuffs, and threatened with mace.
At this point, my other friend, Ben, who had only drunk one beer, asked another police officer if he could retrieve our car keys from my pocket. He was also arrested for public intoxication.
We were taken to Comal County Jail, where we were stripped of all our belongings and left in a cold cell with only our shorts on. Fortunately, my friends made it out that evening with a $156 fine. I, on the other hand, had been charged with resisting arrest(?), which kept me in jail for more than 20 hours. I wasn't given clothes or a blanket and was treated like a swine in a stable.
My request is simple -- I know there were about 15 other tubers who saw this whole event take place. Many were yelling at the police for their unjust actions, and I know I was treated unfairly. My friends are witnesses, but I need others not affiliated with me to give their testimony. If you saw this event, please call me at 512/451-1874 and let my lawyer take your statement. I wish sincerely that none of this happened, but since it did, I must resolve it before I end up with a bad criminal record for a crime I didn't commit. Thanks.
The Message, Not the Medium
The video hacks and techno geeks have been lining up to dance on film's grave for 25 years ["Will Video Kill the Celluloid Star?" June 21]. They seem think it is somehow the medium itself that is keeping them from making their version of the Great American Film. If films were just made on a supposedly less costly and more "democratic" medium they, too, would be able to make their great opuses and become famous.
What these guys never quite seem to figure out is that the medium is just a tool for telling a story. Creative vision, refined aesthetic sensibilities, and grinding hard work and study make great films and great filmmakers. For a filmmaker with these qualities, the medium doesn't even matter. Without them, the filmmaker can have a stack of the coolest video cameras in the world hooked to a room full of high-tech digital editing gear, and they are still going to crank out mediocrity. When will they realize that it is nothing but their own limitations that keep most wannabes out of the exclusive club known as filmmakers?
What About the Worst?
I think it would be such a great help to the people of Austin if you had a "worst of" contest similar to the "best of." I would certainly like to let people know who not to call for services or where not to go to eat, etc. This would encourage those that win this contest to shape up or ship out.
Thanks for listening!
Laine K. Jastram
Visiting Austin from Houston saddens me so much as I drive to the old hangouts like Barton Springs and Lake Travis, because apparently more development increasingly continues to be the preferred way of life in this beautiful hilly country in Texas. Unlike Houston, Austin has much more to offer out of doors, and cutting down trees and paving away with concrete is such a sick and twisted concept. I cannot for the life of me understand why the true citizens of Austin could allow this to happen over the Barton Springs watershed, but of course it's not surprising seeing how our president wants to drill just about anywhere in the United States except his brother's state.
Swimming through the water at Hippie Hollow, one can now see pools of gasoline as two-stroke powered boats and wave-runners occupy not just space in water, but in air with blatant noise violations and noxious burnt fossil fuel smells. And now Austinites have to decide whether to continue sprawling out and out because so many people want single-family dwellings with green grassy lawns and sky-blue chlorinated pools? Fight, Austin! Don't take your tips from Los Angeles or Houston. Fight against these new developmental issues now before you. My words seem just as thin as the paper that the Chronicle is printed on, and when I revisit in years to come, I will remember when 2222 did not have an HEB or Walgreen's. But isn't the view from the Oasis such a sight for so many oblivious eyes?
Not surprisingly, the rhetoric of the letters ["'Chron' Pride Coverage Myopic" and "Self-Control and Maturity," "Postmarks," June 21] is 100% in line with Chad Ballard's recent "misquote" in the Austin American-Statesman regarding PRIDE. Who knew this faction would actually put it in writing that they're (a) happily ignoring the protesters' point about the danger and folly of marginalizing any segment of the queer community, "misfits" included, and, (b) absolutely as heteronormative as Ballard's quote has suggested all along?
Not to mention sexist, wow -- even a Freud reference! What year is it again? Have we forgotten about the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society, and the 1950s homophile movement in general, devotees of which advocated the censure of non-straight-acting queers? That was then. But obviously, some of our gay brethren haven't learned from this history.
Why don't Ballard and his homies just admit that they actually believe the things the AA-S quoted Ballard as saying? (I mean, come on, sex toys makes one a "misfit"?! These dudes are pilgrims!) It's sooo obvious ... and frankly, I'd rather deal with the Bible-beaters who hate us than with self-hating fags like these -- at least the former unabashedly admit to their hatred.
Kyre Osborn Edwards
Pedestrians' Right to Exist
Thanks for the level-headed report on the so-called Seaholm Master Plan ["You Call This a Plan?" June 14].
The northwest arm of the Pfluger Bridge does not dump pedestrians onto traffic-heavy Lamar. It is supposed to take pedestrians and cyclists to the existing sidewalk on the hill above Lamar, just below the railroad tracks, where we can continue to make our own way to essentially car-free Third Street (the existing street that passes over Lamar), which allows us to avoid Lamar by going west toward the existing Amtrak station and West Sixth or east toward existing downtown destinations, or we can take the existing protected access street straight north to the existing sidewalks in the 500 block of Lamar (an existing commercial area that is being marketed to tourists and conventioneers as hip and pedestrian-friendly).
City staff's proposal is to dump us at an intersection east of Lamar to cross, what is it now?, six lanes of traffic on Fifth, with no traffic light, no crosswalk, and no sidewalks, and unless the abandoned construction site is your destination, you have to cross Sixth Street under the same brutal conditions.
Similar ground-truthing of the Lumbermen's plan in relation to the YMCA, the hike and bike trails, future prospects for passenger rail, downtown and South Austin traffic patterns, the Seaholm building itself, and especially cost estimates turns up a complete disconnect from reality. Scrap the plan now, before staff wastes anymore money on it.
APD and the Eastside
"Victim No.1" is not so ["Austin at Large," June 21]. A couple of years back, another sick black was killed, brandishing a twig against an Austin cop, in the same neighborhood. And I can give you a list of acts of cowardice from APD officers against blacks, women, and immigrants, but I'd drift from the subject. It's the breakup of the family structure that some fools (blacks and Latinos) are practicing now, catching up with modern times. It's the lack of opportunities for everyone in East Austin, created, in part, by the constant influx of the "best and brightest" into the APD, by people with a rank, including their chief, from California. It's the NSA. It's the events in Europe. It's not John Coffey, but his command[ing] officer. Neither Linder, nor Bledsoe will get anywhere, and LULAC is rather passive. Nation of Islam can't move at this point, and the blacks in the media don't want to lose their little assignments. I'm thinking of the Rurales of Mexico, 100 years ago!
The Flaw in the Seaholm Plan
A basic principle of transportation planning is that first you find out where people are going before you build facilities to accommodate them (the reason for origin/destination studies). This is the flaw in the Seaholm Master Plan as proposed ["You Call This a Plan?" June 14]. While the Pfluger Bridge does accommodate recreational runners, it ignores the pedestrian and bike traffic that needs to cross the lake to get to their destination.
Lamar Boulevard is a major transportation corridor, and that also includes people not in cars. On any given day one can observe dozens of people taking the Pfluger Bridge and following an unnecessary, circuitous route across busy streets, railroad tracks, and against a one-way street to get across the lake to the other side of Lamar. Forget it if you are in a wheelchair or if the train is parked across the tracks.
A northwest arm is sorely needed to correct this oversight. There are merits to the Bowie Street underpass proposal, but it should not exclude a direct connection to Lamar Boulevard.
Austin Energy's GreenChoice
The June 21 article "Clean Energy: Austin's Next Boom?" is generally a fair depiction of the renewable energy industry and its economic development opportunities. However, the statement that "Austin Energy's GreenChoice reflects consumer preferences that do not correspond to available energy sources" is incorrect. In fact, the 76 MW King Mountain Wind Project, which began full-scale operation last September, was developed exclusively for Austin's GreenChoice program. Its output, which is real, not virtual, accounts for most of the 250 million kWh per year referred to in the article. Other sources are the Small Hydro of Texas project currently in operation, and the Tessman Road Landfill Methane project (expected to be in operation mid-July). As our GreenChoice customers grow in number, we periodically add new renewable resources, which are built exclusively for Austin.
Clean Energy Doesn't Exist
For years, I mean decades, we've heard liberals spewing about "Clean Energy" to "save the Planet" ["Clean Energy: Austin's Next Boom?" June 21]. So, where is it? When are the liberal scientists going to present "clean energy" to the world? I mean, come on. Liberals claim to be the smartest people alive, and they certainly have the money, so, where is this "clean energy" we've heard about? Where are the cars that get 50 mpg and are larger than a shoe box? Where are the light bulbs that never burn out? Where can I get my cheap, efficient solar panels or wind generators? Oh, wait. This is Austin, you could never put up a wind generator or solar panels here without the Neighborhood Gestapo, I mean Homeowners Associations, suing you. "Aesthetics." But back to "the rant." Where's my alternative fuel? Can't be too hard to come up with, liberals been demanding we do so for years. So, once again, where is my stuff the liberals been carping about? Just wondering.
Carl T. Swanson
Green Energy a Real Choice
Thank you for running the article, "Clean Energy: Austin's Next Boom?" [June 21]. Once again, the Chronicle has demonstrated vision and insight and positioned itself as far more than an entertainment weekly.
We at the Austin Clean Energy Initiative have been working since last fall to develop and deliver the message that the clean energy industry offers Austin an opportunity to diversify the regional economy, create jobs (especially so-called blue collar jobs), and make a real contribution toward cleaning the environment. We are presently working on a comprehensive report documenting this opportunity.
I noted one item that needs correction. The article states that, "[Austin Energy's] green power remains essentially virtual." In fact, the GreenChoice program sells energy exclusively generated from renewable resources.
Thank you again,
Austin Clean Energy Initiative
Don't Dis Greenpeace
Hi. Do you have a second for Greenpeace?
Well, whadda ya got?
We're working for clean energy.
Contrary to the opinion submitted this month by one pretty disgruntled (Get a grip, dude!) canvasser ["Beware of Greenpeace Solicitors," June 14], I actually believe in protecting the environment. I actually think Greenpeace (not to mention Earth First!, Clean Water Action, inter alios, on most issues, most of the time) does a pretty good job. Stuff someone like moi (who still actually has a credit card and, on occasion, look out y'all, will use it) can support.
So, you know, look around everybody. Look who's working for you. Respect Mother Earth. B-r-e-a-t-h-e in the air (of course if you've got congestive problems and/or it's an Ozone Action Day, you might want to do your thing indoors). And keep on rocking ("in the free world") Greenpeace. Don't let one bummed-out employee (dude) get you down. I mean even if it's 100 degrees outside and there's hardly anybody to talk to, just think about what you're doing: You're standing up to "the man," to big industrial polluters, to the Bush Administration (i.e., now they want to roll back 30 years of protections established under the Clean Air Act) and you won't, no you won't -- I've got a moment for Greenpeace 'cause they're rocking! -- back down.
The Bus Is the Answer
It's clear we need a mass-transit solution to save Austin. We need an approach that is affordable and low-risk. We need a system that is flexible but extremely reliable. And we recognize that the longer we wait, the more our community will suffer under the burgeoning weight of traffic congestion.
Buses are the solution to this problem. Not adding more vehicles or routes to Capitol Metro's flailing efforts, but building an intelligent system to manage Austin's movement needs.
This means advanced signaling (radio messages that change upcoming traffic lights) so buses never get stuck at intersections. Congested areas need dedicated bus lanes so existing traffic doesn't slow bus traffic. Larger buses with wider doors (why can't the whole side of a bus be a door?) for faster boarding and alighting.
But most importantly, we've got to get the yuppies on the bus. What will it take? Starbucks-compliant cupholders? Wireless Internet inside every bus? We can even hide the wheels so the buses appear as sleek as trains, if that will draw them in.
What's the big deal with trains anyhow? Every last mile planned for the original Light Rail proposal ran alongside -- or on top of -- existing roadways. Let's start by pre-selecting a few test commuters and running one bus along this route. Then, if it works, we add more buses.
Death Penalty Retraction
Dear Chronicle Readers:
A few years ago, a letter was printed in "Postmarks" from me that advocated the death penalty, and defended then-Governor George W. Bush for not granting clemency to the born-again pickaxe murderer who was about to be executed ["Postmarks: The Facts of Death," Feb. 20, 1998, austinchronicle.com/issues/vol17/ issue24/cols.postmarks.html].
On June 20, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the death penalty for mentally retarded murderers. Several compelling reasons were issued by the court for doing so: While persons with very low IQs may know right from wrong, they are less likely to realize the full weight of their actions; they are also more likely to act compulsively (without premeditation) and less capable of understanding their trials and assisting their attorneys. Moreover, they are more likely to confess to a murder they did not commit.
I had begun altering my position on capital punishment some time ago, when DNA testing was exonerating some persons on death row, and have been in favor of a moratorium on all executions.
As a zealous opponent of torture, I also am coming to view that the elimination of this tactic in interrogation of suspects of civil or war crimes will not come until the death penalty itself is deemed outmoded and universally abolished. This argument may be posited by Amnesty International, but I heard it from a psychologist.
In that letter to the Chron defending George W. Bush, I made the statement that he supported the death penalty because of the deep value he placed on the lives of the general citizenry. I have come to oppose that proclamation, although space and protocol prevent me from listing why.
Ups and Downs
With the latest FBI crime statistics out, I just thought it was time to send out a thank you to the U.S. Supreme Court and the antiquated electoral system that gave us another Republican administration. Like previous GOP leaders, this one has presented us with a tale of ups and downs.
I'd also like to note an odd Bush family resemblance: George the Elder has a Saddam shadow; George the Younger has a bin Laden shadow.
So thank you to those wise Justices for these happy times (well, happy days for corporations and the rich).
Clean Energy the Future
Thanks for the article about clean energy ["Clean Energy: Austin's Next Boom?" June 21]. Experts are increasingly agreeing that world oil production will peak soon, if it has not peaked already, and will then decline. (See www.oilcrisis.com, or do a search on Google.) When that starts to happen, petroleum-based energy will become more and more expensive. Austin has a chance to get in on the ground floor of a huge new industry in clean and renewable energy production and distribution. That would be good for the economy and the environment. Maybe this is an area where business leaders and environmentalists can work together.
Clean Energy Finance
I enjoyed Courtney Barry's article on the possibility of the clean energy technology industry playing an important role in economic growth in Austin ["Clean Energy: Austin's Next Boom?" June 21]. The article did an admirable job of balancing optimism with realistic caution.
The article quoted a local investment consultant as saying that there is "one specific" investment fund in the world dedicated primarily to clean energy. I am happy to inform interested Chronicle readers that there are at least two others. First, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Fund (which has $65 million in capital) provides financing for projects in emerging markets (globally). Second, the Solar Development Group, capitalized with $50 million, has both a business development arm that has grant and loan funds and an investment arm for normal financing, aimed at solar and other renewable energy applications in rural areas of developing countries.
Both these funds are managed by partnerships that include the Environmental Enterprises Assistance Fund, located in Arlington, Virginia. EEAF also has its own investment capital that it focuses on investments in a variety of environmental projects, including clean energy.
Keep up the good coverage of these interesting topics.
Clean as a Whistle
Courtney Barry's article on Clean Energy in your June 21 issue was terrific ["Clean Energy: Austin's Next Boom?"]. The opening sentence -- "Will 'clean energy' become a new industry for Austin...?" -- pulled the reader in, and she solidly built from there. It was interesting to learn about the local clean-energy incubator. But the story properly and informatively placed the Austin-Boom angle in state (SB 7's encouragement of clean energy), national (renewable energy production tax credit), and international (Swiss mutual fund) contexts. I was especially impressed with the thorough, yet tightly written, exploration of the technological, financial, climatological, and political issues. Your use of vivid everyday examples ("One megawatt ... is enough to power about 300 homes for a year" and "underlying each megawatt produced by wind power is the equivalent of 4.8 full time employees") kept the story very accessible to the reader. There is a lot more to explore here. I look forward to a follow-up story.
I found the recent article by Courtney Barry on the facets of the Clean Energy industry in Austin to be really interesting ["Clean Energy: Austin's Next Boom?" June 21]. I always appreciate the Chronicle each week, but especially when you've got such a great mix of stories as you did this past week. Great issue and an especially great