Our readers talk back.
Closed Minds on State Board of Education?
I'm a Texas certified biology teacher, and I testified against the addition of intelligent design to Texas textbooks at the July 9 SBOE hearing. I'm shocked that board member Terri Leo, in her letter in your Aug. 1 edition, would accuse the 27 people who spoke against religion in science textbooks of "ranting." I can see no indication of the pro-evolution speakers "ranting" in the hearing transcript. Ms. Leo seems to think that adding religion-based theories to textbooks wasn't an issue at the hearing and that the 27 "ranting" evolutionists (many of whom teach at Texas schools) were delusional about the issues on July 9. But in response to the hearing, Holt-Rhinehart-Winston publishers have proposed a change in their biology textbook that would send students to resources on unscientific, religion-based theories. It seems we weren't delusional after all.
Ms. Leo shouldn't be accusing anyone of misquoting, when she misquoted David Hillis during the hearing, saying that he testified that the human genome project supports evolutionary theory. Although Dr. Hillis never mentioned the human genome project, Ms. Leo and Raymond Bohlin (an Intelligent Design advocate) discussed this at length. Probably this was not intentional misquoting on Ms. Leo's part, but rather an indication that she didn't listen to, or didn't understand, Dr. Hillis' testimony.
For a Texas SBOE member to speak so ill of the heartfelt testimony of Texas teachers, scientists, and concerned citizens, and to accuse others of misquoting without addressing her own errors, shakes my faith in our school board. I hope that in the future, Ms. Leo will listen more carefully, and will refrain from using such negative language against Texans who care about providing a strong science curriculum for our children, even if she doesn't agree with what they say.
Push for Intelligent Design From Christian Right
Last week's letters by Erick Kittelson and Shawn Pendley ["Postmarks," Aug. 8] demonstrate how easily the lay public can be confused by the creation/evolution debate. Both men give reasonable-sounding objections, but both seem unclear how science works.
Evolution is only scientific "dogma" in the same way that geometry is mathematical "dogma." It works. It's the solution the best evidence supports. In science, there's nothing invalid about challenging the prevailing theory and presenting an alternative theory. However, your alternative theory, to be accepted, must do a better job of explaining the problem -- biodiversity, in this case -- than the current one. Simply pointing out shortcomings in the current theory isn't enough; yes, there'll be shortcomings, gaps in knowledge to be filled in. However, the mistake that creationists/I.D.-ers make is in thinking all they have to do is discredit evolution and, presto, their beliefs are proved by default. It isn't that easy. If evolution were overthrown tomorrow, they would still have to establish a testable theory of creation that successfully resists falsification. However, creationists prefer to discuss evolution's "scientific flaws" without presenting anything better. Behe, Wells, and Dembski have all been rebutted.
I find it arrogant and hypocritical of creationists to claim science practices "dogma" in the same way religion does, whenever prevailing theories contravene their beliefs. I've presented, for example, massive documentation supporting macroevolution (www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc) to creationists who state categorically there is none. Typically, they refuse to read it, stubbornly insisting all such evidence is a hoax and a lie. Who's being dogmatic?
It's also ironic Mr. Pendley accused science of "creatively exploiting linguistic ambiguities," then went on to dress creationism up in hifalutin terms like "process structuralism" and "design inference." A rose is a rose, sir.
Like it or not, the push for I.D. in school curricula is coming from the Christian Right, and it is part of a broader theocratic agenda. Visit www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html to read the "conspiracy" in their own words.
I think judging how "low" the city of Austin's tax rate is compared to other cities requires a little more analysis than Mike Clark-Madison used in his recent article ["Austin Taxes: Too High, Too Low, Just Right -- or All of the Above?" Aug. 8]. For example, my electric bill includes fees of $11.18 per month for solid waste/drainage/street service that were added a few years ago to increase services without increasing the property-tax rate. Also, traditionally a utility transfer to the general fund provides some property-tax rate relief and helps to offset the large portion of tax-exempt property in the city.
If you add these items, we already have a pretty expensive city government, and makes me wonder why we can't make do at the 2002-2003 level of expenditure for a couple of years.
Taking a shot at Gov. Rick's hair ["Page Two," Aug. 8]?!?
Please -- I bet Sen. Gonzalo spends as much time in front of the mirror every morning getting pretty as Rick does.
Excuse me, "Democrat" does translate to "liberal."
How dare The Austin Chronicle publish that blasphemous cartoon by Doug Potter in the July 18 issue ["Ignorant Design at the SBOE," July 18] questioning the existence of an intelligent designer! Everyone knows that there is intelligent design. Why just look at the AIDS virus -- that was clearly intelligently designed. QED: AIDS shows that an intelligent designer exists. (Now whether or not he/she/it is benevolent is another question!)
Gary L. Bennett
Lucius Lomax Story a Gem!
To the Editor:
Under the heading "News" in your Aug. 1 edition was the sweetest little bio piece one could ever read anywhere. Who is this guy, Lucius Lomax? His "Calling Mom" read like a prize-winning short story. Gems like this are what keep The Austin Chronicle the delightful treasure hunt it has been since its inception. Thanks for staying fresh and alive.
If Republicans Really Want to Be Representative ...
If the number of Republican U.S. House members should reflect the voting population of Texas as Gov. Perry and Tom DeLay maintain, then shouldn't there be a proportionate number of women, blacks, seniors, and Hispanics in the Republican congressional delegation?
In 1990 the racial/ethnic population in Texas was reported as being: 62.8% white, 25.5% Hispanic, and 11.7% black. The figure for Texans who are 60-plus years of age was around 13%. All these minority groups should have grown considerably since then. It has been reported that U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has recently lobbied that hurricanes should be named more in accordance with racial distribution to reflect our multicultural makeup and not just white names.
So, how about it? If there are too many congressmen over 60 years old, some of them will definitely have to be reproportioned out of office. Some will have to go to make room for the Hispanic representatives and the blacks and women as well. We can then start to have our U.S. congressional delegation really reflect the voters of Texas. Hey, that Gov. Perry is a genius.
Austin Is an Uncaring City
I am responding to the letter from Betty Benton ["Postmarks," Aug. 8], who is apparently the guru of reality when she responded to Anita Quintanilla's letter about ageism in the Austin workforce. Ms. Benton, do you really think that every Hispanic female over 30 who (sob) can't get a job at Hooters should then become a friggin' nanny? Great! Anita can go push a double-buggy around affluent neighborhoods, as I grit my teeth about how people think racism/ageism/sexism doesn't exist anymore, but wait, those blond kids certainly aren't hers! Would Anita then be in her rightful place to you? Were you offering her a job, or what? Did you completely overlook the fact that she was applying for administrative work, which she is well trained for? Your response, Ms. Benton, was only an affirmation of her view that Austin is an uncaring city -- what a shallow, callous response on your part! Anita was expressing agreement with the article about Austin's social ills -- I suggest that you read it over and respond to that!
Hateful Letter Proves Point
Thank you for printing the hateful letter from Betty Benton that proved my point about stereotyping and racism ["Postmarks," Aug. 8]. Even though my letters and articles are about justice, fairness, and equality, there is always a reactionary response from a reader who obviously does not possess the needed qualities to understand and appreciate the meaning of my social commentary.
I have been in the "real world" for more than 50 years; I don't need advice from a young, white woman! Only when she has walked a million miles in my moccasins will she be in the position to possibly criticize and judge me!
Nixon Represents Insurance Industry, Not Voters
Dear Austin Chronicle:
Has another Nixon been caught with his hand in the cookie jar?
I watched in disbelief during this past [regular] session of the Texas Legislature as Joe Nixon conducted committee hearings on his "Tort Reform" legislation. I could not believe what I was seeing as I watched the way he dismissed out of hand anyone that had anything to say in opposition, while publicly embracing anyone in favor, especially anyone from the insurance industry. I commented several times during that shameful process that it appeared that Nixon was "bought and paid for" and "owned by" the insurance industry. Little did I know then how on-point and apparently accurate those words were. It now appears Nixon is opposed to recovery from the insurance industry for everyone but himself ["Did Farmers Buy Off Nixon?" Aug. 8]. As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." After these latest revelations, I am more ashamed than ever to have Joe Nixon represent this part of Houston and Harris County.
I trust you will stay on this shocking, but in retrospect, not surprising, story.
Still Proud of Nader
Are you kidding, Michael Ventura ["Letters @ 3AM," Aug. 8]? Have you been living on Mars? Sixty-eight percent of the American people that didn't vote, along with Jeb Bush & Co., allowed Georgie to win Florida. Most well-read people know this. Thousands of Democratic votes were not counted because of Florida fraud.
Nader has done more in the last 35 years for the American people and possibly the world than most others. Yes he's inflexible -- he's a lawyer. That inflexibility has saved American consumers' lives. And by the way, having been at his rally in Long Beach, Calif., in 2000; I heard him warn everybody about everything. Everything he said about the Republicrats came true. The Dems laid down while George rode right over them. Nader was locked out of the pre-election media, so no one listened.
Also hearing various interviews afterward, I've never heard him being evasive. His intelligence and vocabulary sometimes alienate those who need simpler language. That is who he is. An intelligent, honest man with the American people's best interests at heart. Less of a man never would've accomplished so much good.
Nader still has my trust and belief that he was the only honest man in the election in 2000 worth voting for.
What Is Nader Thinking?
I just wanted to thank Michael Ventura for saying what I've been thinking about the Green Party ever since the 2000 election ["Letters @ 3AM," Aug. 8]. I don't know if Ralph Nader has gone completely bonkers or if he's signed on as a quisling for the conservatives or if he thinks that by letting Bush and his friends do their worst, the American people will see their evil ways and rise up against them, but I do know this: As poor a choice as Al Gore might have been, he was a hell of a lot better than "W" has proven to be. George Bush could not have won the race for president without the help, intended or not, of the Green Party. Nader can rationalize until the cows come home, but it won't change the fact that we are a lot closer to a dictatorship in this country than we have ever been, and he could have prevented it.
March to Fascism
As always, Michael Ventura has it in perspective and "A Friendly Letter to the Greens" ["Letters @ 3AM," Aug. 8] is no exception.
Even more terrifying than the Neocons' march to fascism is that so many voters actually want this for America; enough to probably elect (not re-elect) Bush in 2004.
In November 2000, polls showed that 40-plus percent of Americans weren't interested in a fair election. They just wanted to go on with their soap operas and football games. Having their government hijacked was OK with them as long as their side did the hijacking.
As for me, I'm not quite ready to start practicing my goose step.
Larry D. Chasteen
In less than a year and a half, peace officers in Travis County have shot and killed three people in separate incidents. (Two were killed by APD, one by a county officer.) Since all three of the dead were black, the question has arisen: What are the odds that mere chance was the reason three blacks were killed, but no one else?
According to the U.S. Census, about 12% of Austin's population is African-American. Basic statistical calculation shows that the probability of all three victims being black by mere chance is less than one-quarter of a percent. (Interested parties may reach me for details.) Though no one intends to be racist in their work, an obvious racial disparity is emerging at the level of life and death.
What actions will Travis County and APD take to stop this pattern from continuing? Will officers' associations and individual officers take an increased responsibility for preventing this pattern?
We're Lucky to Have Rep. Ron Paul
You in the 14th District of Texas are the luckiest people anywhere to have Ron Paul as your representative. Many of us in Alaska have followed and supported his tireless defense of liberty, freedom, the Constitution, and smaller, limited government for years. Many of us are also supporters of the Liberty Committee and circulate all his weekly newsletters and newspaper interviews. In a time when most congressional representatives spend their time in office rushing around the country garnering support for their next campaign, Ron Paul is working hard to make sure legislative bills are constitutional, government spending is reduced, and alerting us to all noxious, unconstitutional government shenanigans. Our hat is off to you folks for electing Ron Paul. If we could persuade him to come to Alaska we would. Do all you can to support this treasure of Texas.
North Pole, Alaska
UK's Increase in Crime Not Related to Gun Control
David Honish said in his letter of Aug. 8 ("Guns Prevent Violence") that the UK's ban on the ownership of handguns was followed by a rise in violent crime. Despite the implication, this is not cause and effect. Gun ownership in the UK was controlled before the ban, and handgun owners were members of target-shooting clubs and had to store their guns in secure conditions, usually at the club. Unlike Texas, they were not permitted to carry their guns with them, and home or personal defense was not a valid reason to be granted a gun license.
Handguns were banned because of public revulsion after two incidents at Hungerford and Dunblane when members of shooting clubs used legally registered guns to go on murderous shooting sprees. The notorious 1996 incident in Dunblane was the final straw. Sixteen 5- and 6-year-old children and their teacher were shot multiple times to death in their school, and another 10 children and three teachers were wounded.
Although handgun target shooting was a fast-growing sport, only a tiny fraction of the UK population owned guns. The desire to own a gun is viewed with suspicion by the majority, so there was almost no opposition, other than from shooting-club members, to the banning of handguns.
While regrettably there has been an increase in violent crime in the UK, much of it related to illegal drugs, death by gun is nowhere near the U.S. level. In 1999 there were 4.08 gun homicides per 10,000 U.S. population and 0.12 gun homicides per 10,000 population in England/Wales.
There are greatly different cultural attitudes to guns between the UK and U.S., which makes drawing comparisons of limited use. While the widespread ownership of guns might prevent or increase violence, citing the UK ban on handguns is not relevant to the discussion.
More Death Penalty Reporting
Texas executes scores of people each year, yet we rarely hear about it. International media flock to Huntsville to see us kill again, but we're used to it. I'd like to see coverage of every single execution in your paper; and on weeks when there haven't been any executions, an informative article on capital punishment. Please help out, as the progressive newspaper for the death penalty capital of America.
Stunned at Lack of Fashion Coverage
I was stunned at the Chron's omission of any coverage of the fashion show that Gail Chovan of Blackmail held Saturday, July 26. How could something so groundbreaking as this be ignored? As a cutting-edge retail venue with national press, as a designer of remarkable talent, as a supporter and role model for the UT fashion group, as a founder of the successful and current club/fashion show/fundraising events, Ms. Chovan will continue to make news. Why isn't the Chronicle there to report it? That said, I would also like to add that "After a Fashion," as a vehicle to actually report on Austin's vibrant fashion scene, is woefully underutilized. (Mr. Moser is obviously very educated in the history and art of fashion but has somehow gotten stuck in the often imitated genre of "A Queen Reports on His Social Life.")
Jane A. Clarke
Amelia's Retro-Vogue & Relics
Damn Liberal Myths
It's 108 degrees in Austin. Thousands of people have evacuated as wildfires sweep through western Canada and threaten the American Northwest. Oil corporations can't even get into the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to drill because melting permafrost swallows their equipment. The death toll mounts as all of Europe suffers from record heat waves, while Spain and Portugal are in flames.
Are there no depths Those Damn Liberals won't stoop to in order to perpetrate the pseudo-scientific myth of "Global Warming"? They have to be stopped, before they melt the polar ice caps!
Why Were Deep Eddy Cottonwoods Removed?
Thank you for the "before" photo of the cottonwoods at Deep Eddy ["Naked City," Aug. 1].
Those native trees, with their massive root system, filtered the water that feeds the underground spring that fills the pool. Now the toxic runoff from the parking lot and street will more rapidly contaminate the spring and pool, just like upstream from Barton Springs.
Their roots held the soil: Now erosion will eventually compromise the pool foundation. It will be more than 80 years before the new saplings have comparable filtering roots, oxygen-generating photosynthesis, and shade, and never again "summer's snow" and "tinkling leaves."
There are nontoxic, effective, exoskeleton irritants (diatomaceous earth, cayenne) that are as effective as pesticides in removing borers, the first reason that city officials gave for killing the trees. Four officials ignored this alternative.
Then the reason became "falling limbs." A posted waiver absolving the city of Austin of any liability in the event of a wayward limb injuring a patron would have been legally binding. Ever heard of "Swim at your own risk"? Ever known anyone harmed by a wayward cottonwood limb on city property? Are all city parks' cottonwoods on death row because they age messily?
No, just Deep Eddy's trees because they blocked the screen, and thus limited the seating at the SPLASH! Party, a moneymaking venue on summer Saturday nights. Why wasn't the aging, "diseased" cottonwood just feet away from the felled ones also removed? Doesn't block viewing.
"Friends of Deep Eddy," indeed. Austin, plant a tree at home, in the cottonwoods' memory.
Costco Has Great Pizza
[Re: "Second Helpings," July 25, Aug. 1, and Aug. 8]
This may sound somewhat sacrilegious, but you missed some of the best pizza around and at the best price. It's at Costco.
'Short Eyes' Worth Watching
After catching the Texas premiere of Jesus Hopped the "A" Train, I am reminded of another "intense work of realism" regarding prison life: the play Short Eyes, by Miguel Pinero. Pinero wrote Short Eyes in 1977, while serving time. It was turned into a film that same year. The play was performed in New York City by ex-convicts who had gotten into acting while behind bars.
Both the play and the film are worth one's time, in my humble opinion. The film should be available in any independent video store (God bless 'em). In a rather tragic/ironic twist, one of the leading actors in the film who starred in the original stage production, Tito Goya, was executed for murder in 1985.
Endeavor, Wal-Mart Listen to Your Conscience
I don't have to inform you about the environmental impact of building the proposed Wal-Mart within a recharge zone. Austinites already know this. Nor do I have to go into detail about the impact of a 24-hour Supercenter, when it is built within the boundaries of a small neighborhood.
Rather, I'm writing to address the impact Endeavor and Wal-Mart have when they act without a conscience. Can they do what they want, absent of conscience and without regard to the will of the people?
The other day I read the profound statement, "If good people stand around and do nothing then evil will triumph." Unfortunately in this case and many cases, the good people are not standing around doing nothing. We've created lives so full of to-dos that we just do not have the extensive amount of time and energy it takes to fight these huge companies. Rather, we lie down and take it and say, "That's just the way that it is." Wal-Mart, Endeavor, and other companies are taking full advantage of this, raping us of our "American Dream" lives that we are working so very hard to create and to maintain. Are these companies becoming so huge that they don't have to listen to the pleas of citizens?
It makes no sense for Endeavor to build a Wal-Mart one block from my neighborhood pool, just like it makes no sense for someone to build a pool one block from any already existent Wal-Mart. The members of Southwest Austin should not have to accept that this is just the way that it is. Nor should they have to move from their homes, rearrange their lives, to accommodate for a bully with no conscience.
Endeavor, Wal-Mart, listen to your conscience and to the will of the people. Build your 24-hour Supercenter, but build on a main street, not on Sendera Mesa Drive. Build it outside the boundaries of a community and outside of a recharge zone.
Attention Classical Music Lovers: McCulloh's Back
I'm very happy that I can purchase classical-music CDs again. Thanks to the original article "Life After the Classical Section" [June 27] and the following letters, Russell McCulloh has been "snapped up" by Tower Records.
This store doesn't need any free advertising -- they're well advertised in the Chronicle. I just thought other classical-music collectors would be interested. Russell telephoned me yesterday, telling me of his new location and that he could now address the list of classical CDs I left with him at his old place last March. He said he had some in stock and would order the others or, if unavailable, would suggest substitutes. That's dedication!
Electoral System Needs to Change
"Of course Gore ran an inept campaign. ... And of course Gore was a corporate compromiser," (Michael Ventura, "Letters @ 3AM," Aug. 8).
Ventura then launches a lengthy assault on Nader's "refusal to admit" and his "doctrine," climaxed by the pathetic "George W. Bush and Ralph Nader are twins separated at birth."
Ventura won't think outside the little box that has been constructed to contain us. "No Green Party candidate can win the presidency in 2004; but for the Democratic candidate to prevail a substantial number of Greens must vote Democratic." How simplistically partisan!
We don't vote for candidates; we vote against them. When the majority does not vote, as is typical, they're voting against all the "choices."
The problem has very little to do with the individuals who run for office -- it's systemic. Ventura should know this, since he points to Arkansas and Tennessee as evidence for his rant against Nader and Green voters. The electoral college is an anti-democratic process that is used by politicians within our one-party system to nullify the votes of many while pacifying people like Ventura and directing their attention to blaming scapegoats.
Bush and Gore are far more similar than Bush and Nader. To argue otherwise is laughable. But getting Bush out of the Oval Office won't change the direction in which we are headed. There are plenty more like him to plug into that powerful position. Our electoral process enables them. They learn to play the blue-and-red electoral college game we get to watch on TV.
Democratizing the electoral process is not a quick fix solution, but choosing between the lesser of two evils is no solution at all. To learn about alternative voting methods that have the potential to democratize the electoral process, a good start is the excellent research at www.electionmethods.org.
Good News, We're Not Necessarily Doomed
I have to object to the editor's negativity in entitling my last letter "Don't Worry About a Job, We're Doomed" ["Postmarks," Aug. 8]. Are we Tall Texans or Feckless Wimps? I think it's time to sound the Oliphant and gird our loins for battle with the beast. Just because our social institutions are designed to encourage, even demand, perpetual population growth doesn't mean we can't create better ones. Just because the horrible nuclear family is a bust, doesn't mean we can't come up with a family that actually works. Just because our economy is designed like a giant chain-letter Ponzi scheme demanding a constantly increasing population lest it collapse, doesn't mean we can't create a better one which can stand and thrive on its merit, rather than by sucking an ever-increasing amount of blood from future generations, like the vampire of Transylvania cast large. The only thing standing in the way is our own ignorance, sloth, and a few self-serving moneybags.