Our readers talk back.

Ante Up for Art, Austin

Dear Editor:

Thanks for Robert Faires' cover story on the sorry state of arts funding in Austin at present ["Culture Ca$h," Feb. 7]. Our arts-education group has been around since 1994, and this is the worst fundraising climate we have encountered in nine years. It can be very frustrating to work hard at building a program only to watch it slip back to funding levels of five years previous.

On the other hand, I commend the Austin City Council for making an effort to sort through the current crisis in arts funding and come up with a plan for the future. We only hope that struggling arts groups can weather the current famine for another year without closing their doors.

There are several things that individuals can do to help at both the city and state level. You can purchase "State of the Arts" license plates for your vehicle to contribute to the Texas Commission on the Arts, which funds artists across Texas. You can attend some of the many dance, theatre, and musical productions put on by local artists. And you can buy our CDs (hint, hint).

Support for the arts is everyone's business, so please do what you can! Austin is blessed with a wealth of artistic talent. Sit on your hands and watch it disappear.


Michael Melinger

Austin Jazz Workshop

Hitting the Nail on the Head

Hey Robert:

You should be a carpenter. Your article of Feb. 7 about hard times and the arts ["Culture Ca$h," Feb. 7] hit the nail on the head. We (Austin) have sooooo much to lose.

Russell Wiseman

DAC Theater Manager

Pickle & St. Johns Set Example


Let's see ... numerous families from diverse locations and backgrounds with different values, and yet the common goal of preparing their children and themselves for the world that is clearly at hand. If our larger community was exhibiting the same level of awareness, good faith, and dedication to those challenges as the Pickle/St. Johns community ["Changing Places," Feb. 7], then we could truly aspire to greatness and become a beacon for our often laggard state. "Oh what a beautiful city."

Dan Robertson

Caligiuri Needs a Vacation

Dear Mr. Black:

I am writing to suggest that Jim Caligiuri needs a break from reviewing bands considered "alternative country." Please witness the inconsistencies:

He gave Micky and the Motorcars 1.5 stars ["Phases and Stages," Feb. 7] for their debut album, Which Way From Here -- on which they allegedly "prove that their musical miscues must run in the family, because this band has the same problem [as] Reckless Kelly." Except, Chronicle writer Christopher Gray gave Reckless Kelly's debut album 3 stars; it was called "ass-kickin'" by music editor Raoul Hernandez. Where are these miscues, exactly?

Caligiuri laments that the Motorcars take cues from Steve Earle and Uncle Tupelo. While there are worse influences for a young band (especially since the same writer gave the Uncle Tupelo anthology 4 stars), the real question is: "Since taking cues from Steve Earle is bad, why does Caligiuri compliment Slaid Cleaves for the same thing?"

Is it that the Motorcars sound vocally like Reckless Kelly? Four brothers lead the two bands; what could one expect? Still, Caligiuri lauded Colin Gilmore for sounding just like his dad Jimmie Dale, and gave him 3 stars for a debut "album" (of four tracks).

When albums by Pat Green and Cory Morrow get two stars each from Caligiuri (performers who are rebuked by reviewers nationwide for their almost-sycophantic emulation of artists like Robert Keen and Jerry Jeff Walker), I wonder whether he has begun to lump everyone with a roots-rock/alternative country/Texas Music label into the same steaming pile.

If Jim Caligiuri continues to review this kind of music, I will opt to ignore him and repeat the following to myself: "Even though the 'authorities' charged with covering all things alt-country may have not approved (God forbid something sound good), it was hardly a crippling blow" (written by Chronicle writer Michael Bertin about Reckless Kelly's debut, when a national magazine panned it in 1997).


Tracy Edmondson

Arts Appreciation

Dear Editor:

I'm debating whether or not Terri Lord's crappily slopped-together cover art to last week's issue on arts funding [Feb. 7] was meant to be some sort of ironic statement on the current climate of art appreciation or simply the relegation of art duties to persons who have no fucking idea what they're doing. My guess is the latter, which I suppose is, in and of itself, quite a subversive (if unintentioned) statement on just how bad things have become. Now, off to driving my cab!

Kurt Volk

Out-of-Work Graphic Designer

Apple Annie's Great Carrot Cakes

Dear Chronicle:

Rachel Feit's article on "Marrying Style With Substance on the Wedding Table" ["A New Kind of Catering," Jan. 31] recognized some great caterers but left out my absolute favorite caterer, Apple Annie's. Our wedding cake was the world's best carrot cake decorated very creatively with real flowers and butterflies and Bolivian bride and groom dolls from my trip to South America where I met my husband. Please give credit to Apple Annie's for working with couples to design beautiful original cakes and for having the most memorable delicious food for receptions. Apple Annie's should not be such a well-kept secret. You can find some of their delectables at Whole Foods and Sun Harvest. They also bake with spelt for folks allergic to wheat.

Thank you,

Joy Sablatura

P.S. I would scan you a photo of our cake if I had a scanner!

Incisive Commentary?


How do you guys do it? It's hard to explain the feelings I have upon discovering the Tom Tomorrow editorial in your latest edition [Feb. 7]. Such breathtaking insight. Such adroit verbal ability. And above all, such subtlety.

I showed my wife, and she said "Well, he really makes me think." Keep this coming. I hope you go directly to the phone, call this man up, and offer to pay him double. He's a real find.

Ron Brown

Thanks From Frosty's Soul


In the 22 years that I have lived in Austin, I have been involved in benefits for different people, causes, and organizations. The real meaning of these endeavors did not become clear for me until I was the one at the receiving end. Over all of the years that I have played in Austin and seen things come and go, I have done my fair share of bitching ... all of the live venues that have been closed, all of the sound ordinances that have been legislated, etc., etc. However, on Jan. 30, 2003, at Frosty Fest I, hosted at Antone's, I became aware of the very reason why I have been gently held here in Austin: the people and the music community. The first question ever asked by man of God was "Am I my brother's keeper?" The music community of Austin has answered this question for me resolutely. Yes, we are our brothers' keepers. From all walks of life and flavors of consciousness, we are one: Austin's people. And so, with humility, I thank you, one and all, for accepting me as a member of this community.

From my soul to yours,

Peace, Harmony, and the best of Health.

B.E."Frosty" Smith

Americans Against the War


I'm frightened. I see President Bush speaking on war to groups carefully picked so they will hoot and holler support at everything he says. The applause heard makes it seem to uninformed Americans and viewers around the world that all Americans support him.

I wonder why containment of Iraq can't work. It has worked so far! Inspectors can be kept there permanently at much lower cost than war.

I also wonder: If the U.S. and other oil-hungry countries had to sign a pledge not to share the spoils and use Iraqi oil after the war, would our hunger for battle continue? If Iraq had no oil, would we be so battle crazed?

I see Iraq almost bending over backward to avoid war and agreeing to most of what America wants. Yet the goalposts of what is required to avoid war keep getting extended by the U.S.

I worry that more troops overseas will leave us more exposed to terrorism at home. I'd rather spend the money on shoring up our defenses here.

I see France, Germany, and other nations who have more experience than the U.S. does with the ravages of real war constantly denigrated by the Bush administration for their beliefs that war can be avoided. I fear that our diplomatic relations with these countries and others will be hurt forever. The "if you ain't fer us, you're agin us" bully threat is mean. Would the U.S. like to be bullied like this?

And most frighteningly, I see a segment of the American public resigned to war, just to get it over with.

Claude M. Gruener

Exploiting Fear and Sorrow


In his UN speech, Secretary Powell asserted that Saddam Hussein has ties to al Qaeda, even though intelligence operatives in the FBI and CIA argue these ties don't exist. It appears the administration is using American's sorrow and fear about 9/11 to sell a war on Iraq even though the two have no connection. Any case for war must be made on the basis of facts, not fear.

Secretary Powell also produced evidence to show that Hussein may still have banned weapons. We know Saddam is bad, just as he was in the 1990s, when inspections resulted in the destruction of the majority of his weapons capability. History shows that inspections can disarm Iraq. Let's let them continue and win this one without war.


Eric Arn

Military Isolationism & Unilateral Free Trade


Chronicle readers understand that Republican support for dictators in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Latin America have created enemies of America. I suspect many readers even questioned the Democrats support for U.S. aggression in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Indonesia, and Rwanda, not to mention the bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory.

But, I'd like to add to the war accomplices the Greens, as unwitting contributors to U.S. aggression and global conflict. It stems from their accurate skepticism of corporate influence, but their fundamental misunderstanding of economics.

U.S. corporate and union interests have duped the Greens into supporting trade restrictions on the dubious grounds of supporting the average American and protecting foreign laborers. But, Third World laborers work in sweatshops because they pay better than sweaty unemployment. Third World prosperity depends solely on the freeness of their economies as dictated by their governments.

Trade embargoes against Cuba, Iraq, and South Africa were intended to inflict damage. Anti-global, anti-trade initiatives are just milder forms of the grain embargo against Russia and the food and oil embargoes against Japan, which provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Editor Black is wrong in saying "Any simplistic attitude about the Iraq situation does it a disservice" ["Page Two," Feb. 7]. The good news is that we aren't stuck with an inherently fucked-up world. There is a simple, win-win, Christian, atheist, Muslim, pacifist, pro-American, world-peace, world-prosperity answer. It's American military isolationism, and American unilateral free trade. It creates no foreign enemies, and requires no foreign alliances.

Nader and Hightower are wrong. There's only one worthy peace freak I know of in Austin. His name is Terry Liberty Parker. He's a freak, he's a libertarian, and he's right.

Wes Benedict

Talking About Taxes --


Responding to "What Libertarians Think" ["Postmarks," Jan. 31] ... It should be what healthy people think -- why adding a dollar on cigarettes is a good idea. Especially when it comes to children's health. Hopefully, they will think twice before spending that extra dollar on cancer sticks.

That young couple with the baby that Vincent May wrote about, causing them an added burden and being unfair. Hogwash! They have the option to quit smoking and be a role model to their children. The nicotine does transfer to the infant's blood just like alcohol and other drugs.

I also would support Rep. Naishtat if he would add a dollar in tax on six packs of beer and bar drinks. Just think of all the lives and brain cells we would be saving.

I love those libertarian health bills and add my support to Rep. Naishtat.

While we are talking about taxes. Let's cut out the space boondoggles and military taxes. We have enough here on Earth to take care of (people's health care, education, etc.). Let's oppose the dividend tax cuts and support the "Payroll Holiday" bill that Kerry is carrying. The middle class will then be in better shape as far as their taxes. Let's support more money in building more solar PVs and windmills and fuel cells. That's where we should be going for jobs.

Mary Blumberg,

your far-out liberal friend

Living in America


Artists Mo and Shala Jamal, along with their four sons, left Austin on Jan. 29 to start a new life in Canada after the U.S. rejected their long-standing plea for asylum ["Holiday Greetings From the INS: Hit the Road," Jan. 10]. They were given less than 30 days to pack their belongings and leave the country. Whether their asylum status was rejected as a bureaucratic glitch or Middle Eastern paranoia, the fact remains -- they are gone. The Jamals contributed to our society, our tax base, and our economy, but were forced to leave the U.S. despite hundreds of phone calls, e-mails, and letters sent to Congressman Lloyd Doggett -- a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus -- and to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison -- a member of the Congressional Arts Caucus.

Hutchison's office explained to me that this matter is "judicial" and the senator has no jurisdiction regarding the Jamal's case. I had to explain to the senator's staff that the INS is part of the Justice Department, which is a part of the federal government that is overseen by the U.S. Senate. The staff member then admitted that the real reason is that if the senator got involved with this immigration case, it might set a "precedent." (What precedent? That if you help one human being you may have to help another human being.)

I attended the Jamal Farewell Concert on Jan. 27 ["Naked City," Jan. 31] and was overwhelmed by the support from hundreds of artists, musicians, citizens, and friends who gathered on behalf of the family. I was proud to be an Austinite and a Texan that night. The next day, as the Jamals packed up their lives, I witnessed as student after student came by in tears to wish their beloved violin teacher -- Mo -- a last farewell. I remembered what Sen. Hutchison's office said to me, and I was ashamed to be a Texan and an American.

Richard May


A Libertarian History of Health Insurance


In 1910, a one-year health insurance policy sold in America for $1. Most people had coverage or were able to pay for medical services out of pocket. With inflation, that would be about $20/year today. Of course, the menu of services today is greatly expanded, and there have been quality improvements so a policy might have increased to $200/year. Why are we paying $2,000?

In 1912, the practice of medicine was regulated, creating a monopoly. Prices soon began an inexorable rise. In 1914, the income tax was instituted. Having a monopoly confers the power to shift taxes on to consumers and prices began rising faster as doctors forced the patients to pay more.

In 1910, people used co-ops to buy health care. When insurance was regulated, the co-ops were effectively shut down. Now they're illegal. Regulation caused insurance premiums to rise inexorably.

Having outlawed voluntary socialism (co-ops), reformers created state socialist alternatives (Medicaid, Medicare).

This created more problems. Bureaucracies are inherently inefficient and wasteful. Costs went up inexorably. To pay for this, taxes had to be increased again and again. We have already seen that state-licensed monopolists have the power to shift taxes on to consumers by raising their prices (in this way doctors serve as tax collectors -- not taxpayers). Inexorably higher and higher.

To make health care affordable, Democrats call for more regulation and higher taxes, while Republicans call for more socialist programs (Bush's $400 billion seniors' drug plan) paid for with deficits (taxes on children). Libertarians call for free markets and abolition of income taxes. Break the monopolies, legalize alternative medicines, and legalize voluntary socialism for consenting adults.

When you see doctors advertising "Satisfaction guaranteed or your money cheerfully refunded," and you have $9,000 more in your pocket every year, you'll know that Libertarians succeeded.

Vincent J. May


We Have a Constitution, Use It!


The call for a new trial by five jurors, who had previously voted to convict Ed Rosenthal on federal charges after becoming informed of excluded evidence and argument, indicates the need for procedural reforms.

Interestingly, most of the reforms needed are a return to the standards that prevailed when this country was founded, when all issues of law were argued in the presence of the jury, and motions to exclude evidence and argument were only made against the prosecution, not against the defense.

It should also be made a rule that when a judge gives his opinion to the jury on what the law is, he should do so only as an expert witness, subject to cross-examination and rebuttal. In a republic with a written constitution, what is and is not law is itself a fact issue that must be decided by the jury like any other question of fact.

Jon Roland,


Constitution Society

Lost Souls of Woman and the Democratic Party


Mr. Sean Vanity says the Democratic Party and woman have lost their soul. He told me so on his radio show. He thinks they have lost their bearing; I thought he was going to start swearing. I could picture him sitting there at his altar of a pitchman, across from his instrument, mounted onto his cashboard, a plastic Jesus figurine, mumbling to his little action-figure friend something about blowing those liberals to smithereens.

He's really feeling his oats; he's ready to lower the boom; it must be because he purchased his fourth TV, to go into one of his 13 rooms. Maybe the mirrors room! Nah. Maybe the cigar room! Hum. I think I understand what Mr. Vanity is saying: Don't go away mad, just go away. Isn't it all so confusing and frustrating, this political process? Just walk away, forget about it, leave it alone (let your heart not be troubled), be happy.

That's what some very shrewd citizens are counting on, in fact banking on. To so disgust you regarding the political process that you simply disengage, because they think you're too simple-minded to pump your own gas. Oh wait! That was 20 years or so. And so many fewer carcinogens ago.

So some of you may think it despicable the way I chose to reference Jesus in the same article with Mr. Vanity, and not mention the American Flag Pin, strategically placed on the Lord's Lapel. Available with a set of pictures of the president aboard Air Force One looking out the window to see if Heaven's Gates are open. Immortality is just $89.99, C.O.D. only.

Irony, that Ruler Planet of ours, must have gotten a huge laugh from Thomas Paine. The citizen must take back the citizenry or suffer further at the hands of? Exactly what (We the People) suffer from now, the very things he warned those who would listen then, are what we allow to happen today.

I wonder what Irony thinks of Mr. Vanity's statement that the Democratic Party and woman have lost their soul, while it looks down upon us, in our fishbowl.

Susannah Alabama Ohltorf

Save the Libraries!


Unless we act quickly, the ability of all Texas academic, public, and school libraries to provide public access to reliable electronic information will soon be in jeopardy.

The information that our libraries provide electronically is not available on the Internet, and it's not free. For several years, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission has purchased access to high-quality electronic databases for all academic, public, and school libraries in Texas to provide free to their users.

This program is known as the Texshare Databases. The current cost is about $10.5 million per year.

That seems like a lot, but it's really a bargain for the people of Texas. If each library in the state had to purchase these databases individually, the total cost would be about $140 million per year.

Almost $7.5 million of the $10.5 million comes from a multiyear grant from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, which will expire in fiscal year 2004. The remaining $3 million comes from the state.

Without this funding, only the largest, most affluent libraries would be able to afford all or part of these databases. Millions of Texans would find themselves without the basic information they need for education, consumer, health, social, and business research.

The cost of the databases would simply be pushed down to the cities, universities, and school districts. The taxpayers of Texas would end up paying far more than they do now, and access to the information would be distributed very inequitably.

The cost-avoidance argument for continued funding of Texshare databases might be persuasive, but I haven't yet mentioned the economic and social value provided by the databases. They were used more than 16.5 million times last year by thousands of Texans.

These are not recreational databases. People use them to find information essential to their education, health, and jobs and on social and economic issues. If a very conservative value of just $5 per search is assigned to that usage, the value provided by the databases last year was more than $82.5 million. The true value is probably many times that figure. Obviously, if funding of these databases ceases, the social and economic loss to Texas would be enormous. The loss would seriously damage Texans' ability to compete educationally and economically with people in other states and countries who have access to these databases.

Please contact your legislators and urge them to vote for an extension of the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund and continued state funding of the Texshare databases.

Thank you,

Beth Wheeler Fox, Library Director

Westbank Community Library District

Here's an Idea: Quit Smoking

Dear Editor:

Vincent May of Elgin recently wrote concerned about a young couple, barely scraping by financially, who would be pushed into poverty if forced to pay another $1 per pack cigarette tax, as is being proposed by one state legislator ["Postmarks," Jan. 31]. If Mr. May's statement that the couple is now paying $1,500 a year in cigarette taxes is correct, then the couple is smoking a combined four packs a day!

Here's a solution that would put a lot more money in that couple's checking account while improving their health -- stop smoking. Easier said than done, I realize, as cigarettes are an addictive product that can be very hard to quit, but many people do so successfully each year.

Kicking the habit would save the couple the cost of smoking-related medical expenses, in addition to the price of cigarettes and current cigarette taxes. More importantly, they would be protecting the health of their baby by eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke.

Texans Investing in Healthy Families, a nonprofit coalition, is urging Gov. Rick Perry and legislators to raise the cigarette tax by $1 per pack, with 5 cents dedicated to statewide smoking prevention and cessation programs that could help all Texans, including that young couple.

The tax is a win/win. Not only would it generate $1.5 billion in new revenue, but it would save lives and cut health care costs by spurring smokers to quit and deterring youth from ever picking up the deadly habit.


Yvette Freeman

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