Our readers talk back.
Fri., July 26, 2002
More Dumb Growth
I urge any sane Austinite that likes what's left of this once unique city to send similar comments to our city leaders:
I would like to register my complaint concerning the plans for Fifth/Sixth & Lamar. In this day and age of corporate swindles, the city of Austin should be embarrassed that they are being taken once again. I truly don't appreciate the fact that my tax dollars will be going to subsidize many national chains that are in direct conflict with the interest of many locally owned businesses at Sixth & Lamar. Furthermore, to mask this corporate welfare as endemic of smart growth densification is a bastardization and abuse of that platform. I am very much in favor of less suburban sprawl and increasing urban pedestrian traffic, but running local businesses out of downtown and clearing room for big box retailers isn't "Smart Growth," it's a corporate scam. Urban densification isn't possible without mixed use development which included light retail development with residential districts.
Last I checked, people don't mind living above a small deli, but not too many people live over Best Buys. This won't help increase pedestrian traffic, it will just increase auto traffic in an already impossibly congested area. How are the interests of Austin served with more traffic jams, more locally owned businesses going under and all the profits generated from valuable downtown real estate being shipped out of Texas?
Vulgar Language Unnecessary
Your article had good points ["Page Two," July 19]; however, your vulgar language was unnecessary. I'm glad you have freedom of speech. I'm sorry you don't know how to handle it.
Herbert L. Lawson
Maturity or Accommodation?
If it weren't for The Austin Chronicle, Barton Springs would have been history long ago. However, the Springs will soon be history if the Chronicle doesn't either support the proposal to save the Springs adopted by 28 neighborhood and environmental organizations or propose its own plan to save the Springs and rally public support for it.
Your muddled "I'm against it but I'm for it" diatribe ["Page Two," July 19] on the Stratus deal is sadly consistent with the thinking of many other community "leaders," both public and private sector. You go around and around, but never mention, much less explain, the proposal for real action that we laid out last summer, which now has garnered overwhelming community support, and which is a reasonable, compromise alternative to the surrender-and-declare-victory deal now on the table (and the deals like it that are soon to follow).
It's easy for a community to lose its soul if you just pass the buck. Blame the Legislature. Blame the Statesman. Attack environmentalists, who certainly cannot be nearly as sophisticated as you. Make excuses for developers, who do have property rights but do not have the right to poison our aquifer. While they might not be evil in your book, Stratus' major shareholders don't live here, don't care about Austin, and don't even have the guts to reveal their identity and have relentlessly attacked our home waters and home rule powers for 12 years now.
The "sad maturity" you call for is dooming not just Barton Springs but San Marcos Springs, Comal Springs, and the entire Edwards Aquifer Ecosystem from Del Rio to Georgetown. Perhaps you might entertain some intelligent and creative action instead, some maturity that embraces wisdom rather than sadness. Perhaps a bit of coalition building around the States -- say among alternative weeklies in Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio -- could help inform and tap into the love all Texans have for the Hill Country and its Great Springs. With your help, and the help of your friends, we could easily put an end to the divide-and-conquer tactics of developers trumping local control with legislatively created special districts and other tricks.
The real sad part is that saving Barton Springs and the rest of the Edwards Aquifer has been and still is today a rather simple matter. It's a lot cheaper too than paving and plumbing the countryside. But it does require real leaders who are willing to champion the actions demanded by the citizenry for years, rather than continue to make excuses for why we have "no choice" but to continue allowing -- and heavily subsidizing with our own tax and ratepayer funds -- excessive, suburban sprawl development that no rational or caring person/investor would propose for such a vulnerable watershed.
If you don't figure it out, and tell your readers, it won't happen. The Chronicle used to do that. I hope it will again.
Don't be sad,
In her review of Arthur Dong's film, Family Fundamentals [Film Listings, July 19], Marjorie Baumgarten makes a reference to the filmmaker's name which is troubling on many levels ("... filmmaker Arthur Dong (yes, that's his real name) ..."). Beyond the obvious racial offense, trivializing a name in this way is sophomoric (do we really need to turn a film review into a script from Beavis and Butthead, snickering at every opportunity for sexual innuendo?) and seems to arise from some troubling assumptions. Is Ms. Baumgarten assuming that since the film involves gay subject matter, it must automatically be sexual in content and therefore the director might be using his "porn name"? Or is she falling back on that tired cliche that no "real" Hollywood figure dares associate with gay-themed work for fear of ruinous career consequences? Either way, how can the statement possibly be viewed as at all relevant or appropriate? To Ms. Baumgarten I say: "grow up!"
And to the editors of the Chronicle, I encourage you to give more careful thought to how these things reflect on your credibility as a newspaper. Such commentary is worthy of a second-rate rag, not a paper that bills itself as a legitimate alternative voice for the Austin community. If my own creative work ever has occasion to be reviewed by the Chronicle, I hope the writer will not think it necessary to assure the readers that my last name does, indeed, rhyme with "bitch." Next time, please raise the bar higher.
Baumgarten's Cheap Shot
I was disappointed by the review of Family Fundamentals [Film Listings, July 19] written by Marjorie Baumgarten. Whether she likes the film or not, her so-called humorous reference to Arthur Dong's last name would reflect something that is disrespectful to the Asian community. Is it really possible that Ms. Baumgarten could be so completely unaware of professionalism that she has to take a cheap shot by making fun of an Asian surname?
Please respond to this note, I'd love to know your take as well as your newspaper's policy on slurs to a filmmaker of color.
Co-President, Strand Releasing
[Ed. note: We received more than a dozen letters relating to the Family Fundamentals review.]
Marjorie Baumgarten's response:
I take issue with your conclusion that this mention is a racial slur. Given the movie's subject matter, I felt (and still feel) that pointing this out to the reader was useful information. In fact, I would have inserted the same comment had award-winning documentarian Kirby Dick made this movie. Call my sensibilities sophomoric if you want, but you need only look at 20 years of Austin Chronicle publishing and my film reviews therein to know that this paper does not endorse racist attitudes or expression.
Setting Bunch Straight
RE: Point/Counterpoint: Slusher vs. Bunch section of the July 19 edition of The Austin Chronicle. In a debate about the traffic impact of the Stratus Deal and in opposition to Daryl Slusher's statement that the plan would dramatically reduce traffic, Bill Bunch of SOS states, "... both the proposal and city staff's traffic analysis of the deal is severely flawed. The city's Urban Transportation Commission has rejected these estimates. The staff analysis underestimates traffic to a significant degree, by ignoring trends of increasing vehicle miles traveled."
The UTC did discuss the travel estimates of the Stratus deal and did allow the city staff to counter the claims of an SOS representative about the calculation of these estimates, but did not formally accept or "reject" the estimates of either side, or pass any resolution or opinion questioning such.
Assuming the quote is correct, Mr. Bunch is in error citing the Urban Transportation Commission as an opinion holder about city staff estimates and calculations.
Carl H. Tepper
Urban Transportation Commission
Dear Mr. Black (the man in charge, no?):
"Non-lesbos"? ["Coach's Corner," July 12] When will you smug heterosexuals get off your fucking high horse and leave us the fuck alone?!
Slower Growth = Lower Taxes
An error in "Perry's Imperial Corridor" [July 12] should be noted. Mike Clark-Madison says "SH 130 ... is budgeted at $11 million per mile."
The SH 130 contract has been split. The 50 miles in Travis and Williamson counties were let for $1.1 billion dollars, or $22 million per mile. The contract also allows $168 million for 10 years of maintenance (on a brand-new highway!). Add in the operations cost (all those toll collectors and compliance cops) and the true cost of the road is considerably higher. These operations costs go on forever.
This magnificent sum is peanuts compared to the $2.2 billion projected for SH 45, US 183A and the MoPac extension. These three roads total 32 miles and are expected to cost $2.2 billion. That works out to $69 million per mile. Forget the operations costs. That's a lot of money. But if
you want to add in just the interest costs, you're over $100 million per mile.
Libertarians think there is a better way. It's called congestion management. It means that Austin would grow a little slower than our leaders would prefer but our taxes could actually decline and we could get a handle on gridlock.
It's your choice.
Vincent J. May
"Remember the Alamo!"
Regarding the problems surrounding the production of The Alamo:
Let me make sure I understand this -- the geniuses behind the film are having a John Sayles script doctored?!
That speaks volumes in and of itself. No wonder it's stalled, it deserves to be!
Wanted: Libertarian Proofreaders
Regarding your comments in the July 19 edition ["Naked City"] on our notice for the Bill of Rights Rally and Distinguished Speakers series: Yes, we regard the constructs of the English language as an oppressive burden and feel free to express ourselves employing a suitable lexicon of our choosing, provided it does not coerce or bring harm and injury to others. In this case, we were hoisted by our own petard.
Seriously, next time we will have our notice proofread, and hold the liver.
Yours in Liberty,
Patrick J Dixon
Chair, Travis County Libertarian Party
Reviewing a Review
Normally, I find letters to the editor about movie reviews to be nothing more than pointless "reviews of reviews." In the case of Marc Savlov's review of the movie Pumpkin, however (July 12th), I'm gonna break my own rule.
Did Savlov and I see the same movie? He labels it as a schizophrenic film that can't decide whether it's a dark comedy or a sentimental love story. Perhaps, if he'd been paying attention, he might've noticed that every "sentimental" scene contains something that satirically undercuts the sentimentality and makes it look absurd (Pumpkin, the "Challenged Games" athlete, tells Christina Ricci's character that she's "the smartest girl I've ever met"!). In other words, Pumpkin is satirizing Hollywood's standard sentimental crap.
Maybe Savlov oughtta see it again, and actually watch it this time ...
In Search of Alternative Fuel
In response to Carl T. Swanson's letter, "Clean Energy Doesn't Exist," "Postmarks," July 5, 2002:
You asked, "Where is my alternative fuel?" It has existed for the duration of fossil fuels. Perhaps you should direct your "rants" to our newly installed president, "Cocaine Bush." Ask him if he thinks he will find it at the end of an auger drill in a national preserve.
The Karnes Household
P.S. As far as your solar panels, efficient light bulbs, and fuel-efficient cars, check out your neighbors' houses and driveways. After all, this is Austin.
Hole In the Wall & Stratus: Same Song, Different Verse
Thanks for the great coverage of the Hole in the Wall send-off and the council's capitulation to Stratus (F.M.) Properties.
A week in Austin left me reeling with new stories of growth, old haunts being force to close, layoffs, and one person after another seriously discussing moving out of the central city due to the out-of-control taxes. I left three years ago for the same reasons.
It is amazing that in a city with such a vibrant film community that there is no longer a comfortable, traditional movie theatre in the central city. You now have to drive five to seven miles to see a first-run movie if you live in Hyde Park or East Austin. Maybe the new Livable City group will focus on this issue, too.
Austin is a better place because of Louis Black and Brigid Shea. And Amaya's Taco Village, of course.
Barton Springs: the New Hole?
Last week Mr. Black wrote, "It took the inflated real estate market in Austin to kill the Hole." The same could be true for our beloved swimming hole -- Barton Springs. The City Council will vote on the Stratus developments (plural) today. While the Council, city staff, and Stratus have had two years to "work on" and "negotiate" the proposed settlement with this corporate developer, the citizens of Austin have had 13 hours to tell the Council how Stratus will impact our City's future.
Now that the Council, city staff and others involved have earned two-year degrees in "How to Negotiate With a Developer That Holds You in a Headlock," it's time for you and me to help the Council with their next degree, "How to Defend the Future of Austin's Environment, Starting With Our Aquifer."
Today, Thursday, July 18, we have another opportunity to address the Council about the Stratus developments (a total of 15 tracts), which have been rolled into one issue. The Stratus controversy isn't about you or me, this Council Member or that developer. It's about Austin. It's about all of us. Join together and fight for our right to clean air and water, and to protect the future of Barton Springs.
Take Care of Your Pets, Austin
Maybe you've noticed them while driving across town. Or sitting on your back porch. Or jogging around Town Lake. Cats are everywhere! With over 250,000 free-ranging cats in Travis County, its hard to go out without running across ... or over ... one.
Rachel Proctor's "Not Quite No-Kill -- Yet" [News, July 19] draws attention to one of the results of so many careless cat owners in Austin -- many cats end up running free until brought in for a lethal injection at the Town Lake Animal Center. Nobody likes the idea of killing thousands of cats each year.
Many additional cats contract feline leukemia and other diseases while running around our streets. Others end up flat in the road. The lucky ones who manage to survive do so by killing millions of local songbirds, squirrels, and other native wildlife. Then they leave paw prints on our cars when they come into our yard to poop in our flower beds.
Austin is a great place to live. It will be better when we learn to take care of our pets. For the sake of the local wildlife, the health and life of your pets, and the good will of your neighbors ... please get your cat neutered or spayed and keep it indoors. It's the responsible thing to do.
For more information on how to keep your cat from becoming a menace take a look at www.abcbirds.org/cats/ catsindoors.htm.
Travis Audubon Society
Don't Forget the Mormons
Michael Ventura wrote ["Letters @3am," July 12]:
"None of the greatest philosophers wrote in English and no one speaking English has invented a world religion because English is not that kind of language -- it is at its most awkward in the terrain of the subtle and the mystic."
English might not be the language of philosophers. One
might even argue that the worldwide adoption of English and capitalism have pretty much killed off philosophical thought altogether.
But Mr. Ventura can't deny that the burgeoning Mormon church was born and grown in the English language. I suppose you could call it an offshoot of Christianity, in the same way that the Catholic church is an offshoot of Judaism. But the fundamental differences in practice and theology make it a very separate entity.
I'm not Mormon; it just seemed to me a sort of obvious oversight.
Barbara L. Green
In his criticism of military assistance to Hollywood ["The Hightower Report," July 19], Jim Hightower is surprised to find himself in agreement with something called the CATO Institute, which he describes as an organization of right-wing, gung-ho military cheerleaders. Now, check me if I'm wrong here, but I suspect he's referring to the well-known libertarian think tank the Cato (a name, not an acronym) Institute, with which he is probably dimly acquainted from 30-second TV debates as "some conservative outfit." These guys are clearly not "Liberal Democrats" therefore in Mr. Hightower's FDR-vintage worldview they must necessarily be "Conservative Republicans" hence right-wing and, again by definition, militarists. However, there's this new thing called the Internet, and anyone who pops over to the cato.org Web site will find this oversimplified. In fact nothing could be more glaring than that Cato writers advocate a generally anti-interventionist foreign policy and are usually highly critical of U.S. military actions in recent history; indeed, they argue the terrorist attacks of the present day are to a large extent provoked by Americans being where they don't belong. They oppose widening of a specific response to 9/11 into some general "war on terror" with invasions of Iraq, Columbia, etc. They are against conscription. They call for the cancellation of pork-barrel weapons programs and other corporate welfare. They oppose the expansion of the national security state and the regime of universal surveillance. And incidentally, they have consistently and vigorously denounced the drug war with all the militarization of law enforcement and international aggression that has entailed, an issue on which Mr. Hightower and practically all the so-called left have been curiously noncommittal.
James M. Grace
Twisting the Good Book
"Christians are the walking Bibles people do not read." -- Joyce Meyer
The two twins who beat the little boy are wrong, and the Bible does not support their actions. It is sad that people will use this excuse to talk badly about God and Christians. If these adversely affected people would read the Bible they would see verses that say not to harm children and to educate them properly -- otherwise it would be better for the person not teaching correctly to tie a millstone about their neck and jump into a body of water. That makes sense to me; a bad teacher will promote bad attitudes in children. The two twins are in huge trouble and will pay for their crime -- a crime that the Bible does not condone.
The walking Bibles of those two men are warped. Thank God many Christians are better walking Bibles.
I am a kindergarten Sunday school teacher who believes that parents have a right to spank their children when necessary; any other physical punishment beyond that is abuse I believe.
I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was 3, and He takes care and has taken care of me and my family and friends.
God is good; people make bad choices and some try to take passages of the Bible out of context to justify their wrong behavior.
Thanks for your time and attention.
"Tell the truth and stir people to good."
Rabbis for Peace
I have read Rabbi Joseph Feluskin's book, Jewish Literacy, marveled at Rabbi Hillel's philosophy of "tikkum olam" mentioned in his book. The words "tikkum olam" means "seeking to bring perfection into the world."
Apparently, Hillel's philosophy is being revived after 2000 years, in a group of Jews and non-Jews calling themselves "the tikkum community." The word "tikkum" by itself means "to heal, repair, and transform the world." Michael Lerner, editor of a magazine called Tikkum, formed the group and in an article in The Nation, May 20, 2002, has invited Jews and non-Jews who care for social justice to sign on at www.tikkum.org.
If enough people join this group, perhaps peace with justice between Israel and Palestine will be encouraged so that healing and repairing and transformation can begin.
P.S. I'm a Christian who believes "tikkum" is possible if enough people care.
Baumgarten's Jaundiced Review
Regarding the comment in your review of Family Fundamentals [Film, July 19] "Ironically, filmmaker Arthur Dong (yes, that's his real name) never delves into the glaring contradiction staring him right in the face: how someone can be both gay and Republican without compromising one practice or the other." It seems that Ms. Baumgarten manages to both insult Mr. Dong (yes, his real name ... he's Chinese, Ms. Baumgarten ... did you snicker as you wrote that hoping someone else might have your same juvenile sense of humor?) and miss much of Mr. Bennett's commentary on that exact subject. If you follow your argument, it should also be difficult for blacks and Latinos to be Republican as well, as their causes have often been at odds with Republican doctrine and policy. The point Mr. Bennett makes is that the best way for him to stimulate change in a party in which he believes is from the inside as a participant. The issue is not of compromising either part of his beliefs. As for Mr. Dong's subject matter being so much "spilt milk," perhaps the reviewer should consider that not everyone shares her jaundiced view of the world and its contradictions. It is exposure to those ideas foreign and disagreeable to us that sometimes force a dialogue where none has existed before. It is that dialogue that can nurture tolerance on both sides of an argument. At the very least, the effort should be lauded, not derided.
Are You for Real?
Dear Mr. Black,
I have read the review written by Ms. Marjorie Baumgarten on the film, Family Fundamentals [Film, July 19], directed by Arthur Dong. I question whether Ms. Baumgarten is an appropriate person to have been assigned to write this review. She clearly states that "My problem with Dong's films may ultimately boil down to our points of view." A reviewer need not be sympathetic to what he/she is reviewing, but one must be sure to not let one's personal bias get in the way of a fair review.
Secondly, the flippant remark about Arthur Dong's name is not only uncalled for, but it is disrespectful. An equally ignorant person may ask, "Is the name Baumgarten for real? Bumgarten, ha ha ha ..." For your information, as well as Ms. Baumgarten's, Dong is one of the many spellings for a Chinese family name. In Southern China, it is pronounced a certain way and can be spelled as "Dong" or "Dang." With a Mandarin pronunciation, it is often represented as "Tseng" or "Zeng." (I suppose with some of your readers already snickering, prompted by The Austin Chronicle's insensitivity, this will not be of much interest.)
Ms. Baumgarten may have concluded that much of what Mr. Dong chooses to make documentary films on is "spilt milk." Raising the topics and exploring the issues, in and of itself, has worth. Among the viewers a film reaches, perhaps there are individuals who find themselves in a similar life situation. If the film plays a role in helping individuals to continue to grow personally and to build understanding with the people they really do care about, that's not a bad thing, in my book.
Laura Wong (Washington, D.C.)
Yes, That's Her Real Name
I respect each person's right to differing opinions, especially if they differ from mine. However, I was very offended by the insensitive and borderline racist comment by Marjorie Baumgarten (yes, that's her real name) when referring to the name of filmmaker Arthur Dong in Baumgarten's review of his movie, Family Fundamentals [Film, July 19]. Baumgarten (yes, that's her real name) was somehow surprised by the common surname of Dong. Is she so small-minded (or racist) that she had a need to point out her lack of knowledge of Asian names? Perhaps a visit to Asian neighborhoods or getting to know a few Asian people might help Baumgarten (yes, that's her real name) grow as a human being and an American.
Young Gee (yes, that's my real name)
I don't think that your German-derived family name, which means "tree garden" is any more or less humorous than that of my dear friend, Arthur Dong, a noted Asian-American filmmaker who has tirelessly documented issues dear not only to others of his orientation, but also to members of the Chinese-American community, of which he is a proud member. Unless you think that it is necessary to search for puns related to the word penis when reviewing a film concerning homosexuality [Film, Family Fundamentals, July 19] (do you do it when you review most other films ... which are almost always about heterosexuals in one way or another?), I find your derision of this fine filmmaker's family name to be a disgusting attempt to make fun of a courageous individual's ethno-racial background and sexual orientation in one fell swoop. Would you have done this if the filmmaker had been a Jew named SHMUCKER or FALLICK or PHALLIS ... the family names of three different individuals that I know? Your newspaper has been cheapened by its failure to edit out this unrelated little piece of homophobic racism. Clearly, the reviewer found a personal attack necessary. Shame on your staff. A printed apology would be a minimum gesture of reconciliation.
What's Your Point?
Ms. Baumgarten and Mr. Black:
I am disturbed by the comment "Ironically, filmmaker Arthur Dong (yes, that's his real name) never delves into the glaring contradiction staring him right in the face: how someone can be both gay and Republican without compromising one practice or the other." Austin Chronicle, July 19, [Film] austinchronicle.com/film/pages/movies/34372.html.
What makes you comment on his "real name"? What are you trying to tell the readers that you have not already said? Are you reacting to his race? Are you sexually objectifying him?
Whatever you think of this documentary or its creator, you should respect your readers not to indulge in insults and slurs.
L. Crew, Ph.D., D.D.
East Orange, New Jersey
No More 2nd-Grade Humor
Reviewer Marjorie Baumgarten may not agree with Arthur Dong's approach to his subjects in "Family Fundamentals" -- he tried to keep his politics out of it and focus on the internal paradoxes of families in which the parents are anti-gay and the children are gay. He was more interested in hearing what the families themselves had to say, and certainly the children had plenty of political perspective to offer without the filmmaker injecting himself into it. But for Baumgarten to make a casual crack about the director's Asian name -- "yes, that's his real name" -- is ridiculous.
Even for an alternative newspaper.
Allowing critics to be sarcastic and caustic is one thing, but this just makes the Chronicle look like an elementary-school playground. Shame on you.
Kudos to Cap City Comedy Club
I'd like to say a very belated thank you to the owners, management, and staff of the Capitol City Comedy Club. These fine folks as well as five excellent comedians contributed their time and effort on June 10th to hold a benefit for Chase Bisig. Chase is the 10-year-old son of Kari Caldwell, a well-known figure in the Austin service industry who died on March 23 of this year.
These comedians performed at no charge, and 100% of the bar and wait staff tips went to the Chase Bisig Education Fund. Special recognition should also go to those local businesses and individuals who donated items for the silent auction which was held before the show. More than $6,000 was raised for Chase as a result of this event.
Most importantly, however, was the enormous turnout. The night was a testament to what a genuinely wonderful person Kari was. She was one of the kindest, most gracious people I have ever been fortunate to meet and is sorely missed by all those who knew and loved her.
In the article "Not Quite No-Kill -- Yet," [News, July 19] I take exception to Rachel Proctor's repeated misuse of the word euthanasia, which means a mercy killing of a sick or injured animal. Rachel, when you mean kill, say kill. Your attempt to make it sound humane is unjust to the dogs and cats who die. Next time, try execute. That would be more accurate.
Secondly, when an abandoned and traumatized dog is subject to a behavior evaluation which may include repeated yanking on its tail or other questionable testing, should we be surprised when it growls? By using inappropriate methods to determine adoptability, the percentage of adoptable dogs at Town Lake Animal Center is artificially reduced. With more reasonable testing criteria, the number of reported adoptables and the adoptable kill rate would be considerably higher.
But finally, we can't blame Town Lake for the animal control problem, we must blame ourselves. In order to get to the root of the problem, Texas must pass legislation that requires breeders to be licensed, and requires pet owners who are not licensed breeders to spay/neuter their animals. Enforce these laws with fines for unlicensed breeding, and we can cap off the No-Kill Millennium by closing the Town Lake Animal Center due to lack of need.