Our readers talk back.
Wants Many Political Parties
Louis Black tells us that he believes in the American two-party system of government ["Page Two," Oct. 17] but then goes on to add, "The free-flowing expression of conflicting ideas, the frustrating politics of negotiation ... is actually the founding fathers' greatest triumph." Unfortunately, these statements precisely contradict each other. We will never have a truly free-flowing expression of ideas and/or real negotiation until there is genuine diversity in government. Witness Washington's lockstep approval of the war on Iraq and subsequent cash hemorrhage, the PATRIOT Act, and the tax giveaway to the rich. Not even traditional Republicans -- i.e., those who are not members of Bush's neo-conservative freakshow junta -- have a place at the table anymore, and Democratic liberals have been gone from all but the invective of talk radio for years. Until the Green Party, the Libertarians, the Socialists, Populists, and yes, even traditional Republicans are given an opportunity to participate in government, the Republocrats will continue to maintain the status quo. The lack of genuine discourse in government is precisely why so many people are disenfranchised from the process. On the other hand, Louis hit the nail on the head the week before when he told us that we can no longer afford the war on marijuana. The direct cost of arresting and incarcerating more than 700,000 people a year for victimless marijuana "crimes" is estimated to be $9 billion per year (see www.mpp.org/harmful.html). If we add to this the cost of lost productivity, etc., the true cost of marijuana prohibition is probably closer to $20 billion a year. Twenty billion dollars would pay the salaries of 300,000 additional school teachers or alternatively would buy a complete monorail system for each of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., Austin included, in five years. Think about it.
Texas Kills in Our Names
Thank you, Rita Radostitz, for your reporting on Texas' attempt to execute the mentally retarded ["Why Is Doil Lane Still on Death Row?" Oct. 17]. It's almost impossible to find out about the killings that Texas is doing in our name, and your coverage is invaluable.
On a related note: Jose Rivera, another prisoner Texas is trying to kill, was in the news in August because of questions about his mental condition. And Mark Robertson recently got a stay because he was sentenced unconstitutionally (the jury would have had to lie if they wanted to save him from the death penalty). And we just executed the first white person -- Larry Allen Hayes -- for killing a black person since 1854!
These cases are not the exception to the rule in Texas. If folks knew how "justice" is carried out in this state, even those pushing for capital punishment would want some changes.
In Texas, your silence is deadly. Please keep up your reporting on the death penalty and do not allow the state to kill in our names without our ever hearing about it.
Texas Justice Flawless
Rita Radostitz's article on the death penalty ["Why Is Doil Lane Still on Death Row?," Oct. 17] seemed a bit, well, disingenuous when it claimed that "inmates need to prove they are retarded," or words to that effect. 1) You don't get to be an inmate without first being tried and convicted, and 2) any attorney is going to argue before the trial judge that their client is incapable of contributing to his or her own defense.
For someone to be on death row, they have to be competent to stand trial, which means two things. Did they understand the consequences of their actions when they committed the crime -- i.e, did they realize shooting someone seven times would kill them -- and the second criteria is, does the defendant understand the difference between right and wrong? Nada mas, campers. Mentally retarded people are not totally helpless and incapable of understanding the difference between right and wrong, unless you want to denigrate all people who are handicapped. BTW, only a real asshole calls handicapped people "retarded."
Carl T. Swanson
[Rita Radostitz responds: Mr. Swanson confuses two distinct legal concepts -- competency and mental retardation -- which are determined by completely separate legal standards. In the Atkins decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged that many people with mental retardation are indeed competent to stand trial. However, the court determined that the evolving standards of moral decency in the United States prohibit the execution of those with mental retardation. In other words, despite the fact that a person with mental retardation might be competent, the impact of their impairment renders them less morally culpable, and therefore not subject to capital punishment, although they may still be tried and, if convicted, sentenced to prison. The court's reasoning is similar to the treatment of juveniles charged with a capital crime -- although a 15-year-old youth may both know the difference between right and wrong and be able to assist his/her attorney (the standard for competency), the citizens of the state of Texas have decided (and the U.S. Constitution requires) that they be exempt from being executed, even if they are competent to be tried and held accountable for their crimes.
As for Mr. Benjet being an "asshole," my guess is that the many men and women with mental retardation who have benefited from his expertise and efforts to save their lives would disagree with that assessment.]
Respectfully, Doesn't Get Warhol
Andy Warhol was an untalented hack as a "creative artist," but adept at the art of self-promotion. Given the greater success of other self-promoters, I can't understand why Andy Warhol's self-promotion skills make him significant.
He's unable to self-proclaim his celebrity, so now the tawdriness of the artifacts he left behind is all that we have left to ponder.
Because Warhol commercialized his output, and reproduced it in such quantity, the marginal value of a Warhol creation is close to zero. It's basic supply-and-demand economics: With so many reproductions around, there are more units to be sold than there are buyers.
The notion of an "original work" with Warhol's output is meaningless. He had a factory where he churned out as many copies as there were suckers lining up to buy.
Gore Vidal called Warhol the only "genius" with an IQ of 60. If you attempt to watch any of Warhol's films or read any of his personal notes and comments, it's easy to believe that Warhol had a nearly room temperature IQ.
Al Capp commented on Warhol through his comic strip Li'l Abner, that abstract art was "A product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered." That could have been directed specifically at Andy Warhol. He said himself that his work was all surface, lacking depth, and that he was not trying to say anything profound or significant with his output. Talented kids usually create artistic output superior to what Mr. Warhol generated.
Perhaps it's time to toss Andy Warhol's output into the trash can of history. He probably would have wanted that: recycling trash as performance art, now that the trash producer is gone.
We're Only in It for the Money
Dearest Chron Readers,
I have been quite confused about the Chronicle's hardcore anti-smoking ordinance lobbying. I wonder why a progressive paper that normally rallies against air pollution would be an advocate for more carcinogens in my lungs. I wonder why a publication that rails against corporate greed (Wal-Mart) would take the side of Philip Morris.
I picked up this week's Chron, and maybe some understanding: the full-page, color ad for Winston cigarettes -- one can only imagine the revenues ($$$).
Louis Black, don't sell out Austin's health!
[Ed. note: You got us Zac, the only reason someone could have a different opinion than you is if they'd sold out. We're rolling around in the money here, our consciences be damned.]
Smarter Than Savlov
I suspect that Marc Savlov needs a nice, long vacation from the arduous task of reviewing films. Obviously, his initial goof-up regarding the ending of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 wasn't his fault (since it was recut after he saw it) ... but to call that ending a "zinger" is a bit harder for me to understand. Anyone who was paying attention while watching the movie (and who has seen as many movies as Savlov apparently has) predicted that little "surprise" way, way, way in advance (I figured it out after the opening credits, rather than the closing ones). It's not a "zinger" if it's totally predictable.
Good to see Southern rock get some print ["Down South Jukin', Oct. 17"], but the timing is suspicious. I grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., home of Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, the Johnny Van Zant Band, and Blackfoot, among others. Actually, the Allman Brothers gelled and played some of their first shows in Jacksonville.
I have always admired and understood the vibe of Southern rock. It is not racist, ignorant, or musically inept. Quite the contrary, it is full of pride, energy, and the musicianship always blew my mind. Just how did Skynyrd get that twin engine guitar sound?
I find the timing and announcement of the rebirth of Southern rock suspect. Granted, the Drive-by Truckers are great, but just because a hip band says Skynyrd is cool should not make the revival of the genre. I saw the Kings of Leon at the ACL Fest, and sure, the outfits and the hair looked "Southern," but it seemed pretty polished and coordinated to me.
I am glad that young bands are being influenced by this music, but give respect to the originals, please.
If I am not mistaken, I remember an old Chronicle blurb from a year or so back that mentioned Skynyrd was in the running for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and one of your writers quickly dismissed them.
I guess the times are good and the trend is now, but please do not refer to it as SoRo.
Clearly Has Better Taste Than Us
Thank you for publishing my letter ["Postmarks," Oct. 17].
However, I have to tell you, using the title "Trust My Taste, Not Yours" sounds a little petty for one opinion on a limited subject (and the opinion was not especially scorching at that). Not to tell you how to run your shop, but mentioning Zevon in the caption and not the petty point about taste would have been the classier thing to do. That way you keep the focus where it belongs -- on the ideas and concepts and off of the personalities.
Then again, maybe I clearly do have better taste than you guys.
Libertarians Tell Us Exactly How to Vote
I was wondering when you would get around to coming out in favor of legalizing pot ["Page Two," Oct. 10]. It's cool that you want full legalization instead of some bogus "medical" exemption that requires people to pay off doctors and register themselves with the police.
The next step is to declare that you will never again vote for, or endorse, any pro-drug-war candidate. That would rule out 99% of all the people you have ever endorsed. That is, to blurt out the fact, all of the Democrats in Texas are drug warriors. Ever since the great progressive FDR outlawed marijuana.
A few Democrats are sensitive to the issue. They promise new welfare programs to help the drug users' children -- after they have sent their daddy (usually black or Hispanic) to prison. That's not good enough. Surely, you will never again endorse Sheriff Margo Frasier, who said her henchmen "did everything right" when one of her no-knock raids ended up with a dead child, shot while sleeping.
Not to worry. Two Republicans -- Terry Keel and Ron Paul -- and every Libertarian on the ballot support freedom. With your voice, Louis, you could reform the Democrats. Or they'll die. No backroom deals. Tell them to announce their position on legalization or go to hell.
Vincent J. May
Rules of the Road
This letter is for the pedestrians and bicyclists of Austin, especially near UT. Just so y'all know, there are rules of the road that you -- yes, you -- are supposed to abide by. I understand that "pedestrians have the right of way" and "give bikes the right," but there are a few guidelines that you have to take responsibility for.
Didn't your mom ever tell you to look both ways before you cross the street? This comes up because, as I go through the West Campus area, countless pedestrians just step out into the road without looking where they are going, or who's coming straight at them! And I don't even mean in a crosswalk at a stop sign -- I mean in the middle of the road. This is dangerous, folks, and I don't want to be the one you step out in front of!
Here's a news flash for you bicyclists: Those funny, octagonal, red signs with big white letters are stop signs. Just because you are on a bike doesn't give you the right to just barrel on through without even slowing down. I see this on a day-to-day basis, and it scares the bejesus out of me! Some day, someone is not going to see you, and -- splat -- you'll be just another hood ornament.
I am a pedestrian and a bicyclist, too. I have learned to coexist with my motorized vehicular counterparts. I suggest that y'all try and do the same before you end up as another statistic.
Nuclear Waste Most Important Issue
But really, folks. The one extremely important issue that should be faced by every single political candidate or wannabe in the coming election cycle is the question of cleaning and disposing of nuclear waste and stockpiles. Near as I can tell from current literature on the subject -- it may well be too late. Mix it up? Good luck. Now you're playing with plutonium.
Todd Alan Smith
It's Progressive to Restrict Our Rights
It's amazing what you can find when you have access to market research data. When graphed out, the country is easily split between areas that smoke and areas that don't.
A majority of these smoking areas are in the South, sweeping from Virginia through the southern states and stopping abruptly in Austin. This block of the country is where one finds the fewest number of smoking ordinances, and understandably so. In regards to recognizing the need for public health standards they are behind the curve.
The opposite is true for the areas of the country that have already banned public smoking. The populations of these cities don't smoke in the first place, so why not ban it? What the people want the people should have. It's all very democratic.
The interesting thing about Austin is that it is right on the border of these smoking and nonsmoking regions. We are in the middle of the curve, not ahead of it but hopefully not behind it. What we need to do is realize what influence we have over other parts of the country. We are leaders in the fields of music, film, renewable energy, computer technology, sustainable building practices, and organic farming. Why would a city like this not want to take the progressive stance and push tobacco to the wayside?
I understand why people would want to smoke in a bar. I was once a smoker. But after looking at the history of my family and counting the number of lung cancer deaths, I have realized that this problem is deeply ingrained into our society. Banning it publicly would keep our city on the progressive end of the spectrum and be a benefit for all citizens -- those who don't smoke as well as those who do.
Don't Drug Test Students
Re: "Weed Watch," Oct. 17
Why, after 30 years of failure, do we continue to listen to our federal government instead of social and health care experts when dealing with drugs? Do you really think that by subjecting our students to random drug testing we will eradicate drug use? What we will do is alienate our children and breed an atmosphere of distrust. Then those who wish to experiment with drugs will do so anyway once they are out of school. Parents cannot depend on schools or government to handle the issue of our children using drugs. They have lost all credibility in this area. Current and past presidents have used some of the same substances that the drug czar wishes to test for. So what message are we really sending our kids? Americans better wake up and take some responsibility for keeping their kids on the right track. Schools are no place for this type of action. We need to educate our children in school. Not treat them like suspects by forcing them to pee in a cup. I guess urinalysis will be the new pledge of allegiance?
Baton Rouge, La.
Homeland Security Focused on What?
Saturday night, when I parked my car at the Capitol's entrance on 11th and Congress, I wasn't expecting valet parking from the state police. But neither was I expecting to have my car broken into and my car stereo stolen within view and earshot of the state trooper's post. To add insult to injury, not only were the state troopers ineffective at stopping the crime, they were unresponsive after the fact.
So much for our Homeland Security. That a woman at 5 foot 2 inches could be intimidating to a state trooper is beyond me. These days, I guess one just shouldn't be upset to be robbed at the foot of the Capitol.
The irony of crooks within and outside of the Capitol was not lost on this worried voter. Proponents of the current redistricting plans are no better than the thieves at the curbside. And aren't we just as neglectful as that officer sitting back in his patrol car while our elected officials destroy the very fabric of our democratic process? At this point, we need not fear terrorists. The destruction of our social, economic, and political systems will have been an inside job.
What will it take to make you raise your voice?
Down, but not out,
Roni Ann Kendall
Marijuana Not a Narcotic
In the Oct. 10 editorial "Weed Watch: What Is the DEA Smoking?," the only thing I would correct is the term "narcotic" as applied to cannabis. Marijuana is not a narcotic: It is totally pharmacologically different from true narcotics like heroin, opium, morphine, or any other natural or synthetic substance meant to relieve major pain. "Narco" in Latin means "sleep" and refers to poppy-based preparations so commonly abused, whether by prescription or not. The government uses this to confuse the innocuous cannabis plant with truly dangerous substances to promote their political and moral agendas against the will of the American people, who in repeated polls show that they overwhelmingly support the decriminalization of cannabis for adult use and medical necessity. There is no shred of scientific evidence that would relate the substances in any way. For jackbooted, masked, cursing, machine gun-toting DEA agents to arrest quadriplegics in their wheelchairs for growing a few "too many" plants despite having legal permission from their state is more insanity in the failed "War on Drugs." Logic, reason, common sense, and compassion for the seriously ill is what Americans want in relation to cannabis. The prison/drug-testing/alcohol/petrochemical/tobacco/police cabals object to citizens having access to an easily grown plant -- it is hard to tax and represents a threat to the business they have built on lies, campaign contributions, and other political influence for generations. They aren't compassionate conservatives when they condemn to prison the innocent and peaceful cannabists for the use of a natural substance that has proved to be so efficacious in so many diseases and ailments. The government is on an immoral and unconstitutional basis in thwarting the states' desires to regulate this important and beneficial herb. The Bush/Ashcroft/Walters triumvirate disregards states' rights by not permitting the states to enact and enforce their own regulations. Evidently they believe that the people of the various states are not intelligent enough or informed enough to make these kinds of decisions.