Our readers talk back.
Not Optimistic About U.S.' Future
I wish I could agree with the optimistic thought that "within a few years of this massive dismantling most of those social structures will begin to be slowly rebuilt" ("Page Two," Jan. 9).
First, the Republican Party is doing everything it can to ensure it will effectively dominate the federal government, perhaps forever. Redistricting Texas to prevent Democrats being elected could well lead to redistricting the nation. And the California recall vote shows how duly elected state officials can be discarded. Let's not forget the nonstop efforts by President Bush to load the courts with far-right judges, nor what happened in Florida in 2000.
Then there are the American people who do not have the time to delve into issues and believe that being patriotic means supporting President Bush and Republicans. There's the media that has turned news into entertainment while giving short shrift to critical issues. And the Christian right who will vote for whoever publicly screams his religious beliefs (Christian, of course) the loudest.
The final blow is the increasing gulf between the rich and the poor and middle class. The rich can afford medical care, needed medicines, and private schools. They can purchase any social structures needed. Will they pay higher taxes for those who can't?
Claude M. Gruener
Dear Mr. Black:
I am a semiregular reader of the Chronicle, and while I rarely agree with your politics, I enjoy the paper. However, I was disappointed that you used a crank letter to avoid dealing with a serious issue last week, i.e., the scandalous Bush = Hitler libel that seems to be standard fare at MoveOn.org ["Page Two," Jan. 9]. If MoveOn were as marginalized as your letter-writer, they wouldn't be worth remarking on. Unfortunately, MoveOn appears to be the current mainstream of the Democratic Party.
You don't strike me as the kind of guy who believes Bush = Hitler. If not, you owe it to your readers to rein in their political fantasies from time to time rather than reinforcing them while you make fun of a nincompoop.
Gentrification of SoCo
Chronicle readers call Austin home, but chances are most of us have been born and raised in another part of the state, if not another part of the country. I left the land of glass and plastic, Dallas, eight years ago and swore that I would never move back to this cultural desert called Texas -- unless, of course, happenstance brought me to its oasis.
When I moved to Austin I wanted location over amenities -- soul over stuff. Although you won't find me sporting a "78704" bumper sticker, I was thrilled to find a funky little apartment complex a few blocks away from South Congress Avenue. Screw the five-bedroom house on a one-acre lot, I wanted to live in a part of town where people tuned into their neighborhood rather than tuning out to their plasma-screen television.
Unfortunately, a lot of people with a lot more cash have been thinking along the same lines as I have. The houses in my neighborhood, although built on foundations of tree stumps, are now going for 350k! The Motorola and Dell clans, realizing that a Capital Pacific Home = Death, have been looking for a little soul themselves. Land value rates are now so high I can barely sustain my rent, and the funky soul-filled neighborhood I moved into is now drastically changing.
On Thursday the eighth, three stores that I try to frequent on South Congress announced that they no longer could afford to stay. They have been officially rubbed out by [new businesses] and property owners seeking higher rents. Although the usurpers remain independently owned, their merchandise is dependent culturally on MTV and Stuff magazine. "SoCo" is effectively pushing out South Congress, the pastiche is forcing the original to move, and chances are I'll follow.
South Congress Landlords Hurting Austin
So, the landlords are kicking out shops on South Congress so that they can charge more to people opening "eclectic, hip shops." Is it all about money to the landlords? If so, you can charge a lot more in Santa Fe than you can here in Austin, or in L.A. How about you move there and open "eclectic, hip shops" for yuppies? Anyone can charge absolutely as much as they can get for their property, if money is what defines their lives. Decent people make a decent income and are happy with it without charging longtime renters more than they can afford to pay. So, go ahead landlords, close down the people who supported you when SoCo was trashed, put them out of business, let them worry about paying their mortgages, you can get lots more money than they'll pay you. Sleep well knowing you helped put a knife through the heart of what was once a very special place in Austin.
Carl T. Swanson
Handel's Music, but Words Written After He Was Dead
Some time back Smarty Pants wrote that G.F. Handel (1685-1759) wrote a hymn about "interstellar space" and "light years" ["Mr. Smarty Pants," Sept. 13, 2002]. Wrong, Mr. Pants! Handel wrote the music only, for a different set of words in his oratorio "Susannah." The words you saw were by Howard Chandler Robbins, who added them to Handel's music in 1931. Check it out!
[Sir, thank you for bringing this to my attention, but my disclaimer reads: "The above is information that Mr. Smarty Pants read in a book, magazine, or the newspaper; heard on the radio; saw on television; or overheard at a party." I believe the factoid in question was overheard on a radio playing at a party. This cleverly planned deception was not only a slap in the face to you and me, but to Robbins, and Handel. I will contact the FCC, host of the party, and the estates of Messrs. Robbins and Handel accordingly. If you e-mail me a mailing address, I will reward you with an honorary Smarty Pants bumper sticker as a small token of my appreciation.]
Austin Offers Rich Music Menu
Jesse Santos, why Austin is the live music capital of the world ["Postmarks," Jan. 9]:
Doubtless there are many who have called for your head for disparaging our city and musicians. I welcome your opinion.
The "lot of local groups performing every night" that you so casually dismiss are world-class. Any night in Austin there is rock to rap to soul to jazz to world beat to reggae to hip-hop and every point in between. I have seen music I cannot even classify and have been mesmerized by it.
I have enjoyed seeing many national acts, but I also have been blown away by local musicians who have practiced thousands of hours and played their hearts out for maybe 10 people. Many local musicians have played on national tours, and many famous musicians come here just to check out our music scene and are almost always amazed by it.
Yes, Jesse, many bands do not stop in our fine city. I could tell you a few stories about going to San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and even to L.A. to see bands, and the trips were almost as much fun as the destination and concert.
People live here because of the beautiful, friendly people; the climate; the lakes; the music; the arts; the parks; and so many more reasons that I cannot even begin to count them all. Perhaps a good resolution for you would be to count yourself lucky for the blessings you have to live in such a fine city with its artists, dreamers, and performers.
You ask us to "please spare me your bloody story." One of the great things about living in America and Austin especially is that we each have a story and can express it. I do want to thank you for using your freedom of speech to voice your opinion; however, I respectfully disagree with you.
Tom "Phoenix" Strubbe
lead singer, the Unsolved
Let's Have a 'Bass-Off'
I had the hilarious task of informing my friend of many years about his sudden surge in "celebrity" taking place in the pages of the Chronicle ["Postmarks," Jan. 2]. And Yoggie's response is very simple: and I quote, "Huh?" But seriously, right after that he said, "I would be happy to have a 'bass-off,' anytime, anywhere. Come one, come all bass players, and we can donate the proceeds to charity. Say for instance the Faith Home."
In his own words he said, "It would be fun to play with all those guys. And after all, it is for charity, right?"
So what do you say guys? I know a lot of you bass players have been following this, because I've been approached by several of you with this same story. And I'm just a lowly keyboardist.
With much respect to all,
Response to Standiford
The always eloquent Kurt Standiford asked in his most recent letter ["Postmarks" online, Jan. 2], in so many words, why all the liberals don't pack up and "move someplace where [they] can pull the wool over voters' eyes."
Unless I'm mistaken, this has already happened. Ever check out the Austin City Council, Mr. Standiford?
School Finance Solution Is State Income Tax
The plain, simple, fair, and painfully obvious solution to the school finance problem is being avoided like a leper in the mosh pit. Income tax. Surprise! The wealthy ones have the money the state keeps looking for. If you need water, go to the well.
I have a client who makes $600,000 a year. He pays 3% of his income in property taxes. I make $25,000 a year and pay more than 20% in property taxes. This method of taxation is designed by someone who has a lot of potentially taxable income.
So, property taxes totaling $150 a month in 1998 should be, at the current pace, just shy of $2,000 a month at my "no collar," pensionless, health-care-less, ripe old retirement age of 62 years in A.D. 2016.
Don't get me wrong, there is a certain satisfaction in paying for all the government pensions and benefits. I'll just have to settle for the vicarious experience.
James M. Paine
Wonderful Late-Night Eateries
Reading the article on Austin late-night eateries has made me fierce homesick ["Second Helpings," Food, Jan. 9]. Since moving to San Jose, Calif., in 2000, I've told all my pals how wonderful Austin is, how one can actually go out for dinner after 10pm.
San Jose, if you don't know, rolls up the sidewalks and turns off the stars nightly, at 9pm. The weekend club scene is blitzkrieg-closed by hordes of police at 2am.
Then I read this lovely article about Magnolia Cafe, Kerbey Lane, and even Katz's. Homesick I am. Wanting good food, after work. Is the Starz Inn coffee shop still open?
Oh, to once again savor the delicious green chile chicken enchiladas at Chuy's.
Yes, I miss Austin. I'd come back, if only there were some paying jobs.
Rock Is From the Soul
I've been reading a lot lately about the analytical forms of rock music, one guy even going so far as to mention Mingus and so on ["Postmarks," Jan. 2].
First of all Mingus played jazz. Jazz musicians play fast all the time; they know all the notes, when to play this, when to play that. All of this having nothing to do with rock. Rock was built on simplicity. Whether you can play three chords or 19, fast or slow doesn't matter. Anybody who says this band is better than that band is missing the point. Rock is about power, rhythm, sadness, love, and feelings I can't even write down on this paper. Not only that, all rock is corporate, if you sell albums, if people pay you to play, you're corporate! Just as Chuck Berry, who hoarded money and paid stand-ins because he was too cheap to keep a real band.
And for all you punk rockers, I'd just like to say, as I fire up a joint and slap on some Zeppelin, rock on.
History Offers Basis for Predicting Future
On y'all's Web site is a letter ["Postmarks" online, Dec. 19] I sent to the Chronicle, and in it are events from history, which I used as the basis for a prediction. What did happen to Gen. George A. Custer and Adolf Hitler, I said, "Both men bit off more than they could chew." I was suggesting that our country's war policies put us in danger of repeating history.
There was a "Page Two" editorial (Jan. 2) by Louis Black about using history to make predictions. The editorial said: "Over the years, we've received inane letters that begin with Plutarch's observation that 'history repeats itself' and proceed to take as law that the past offers a concrete guide to unfolding events."
Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post wrote, on Jan. 12, an article: "Study Published by Army Criticizes War on Terror's Scope." The "scathing new report published by the Army War College" was written by professor Jeffrey Record.
Mr. Ricks stated in his article that: "Record's core criticism is that the administration is biting off more than it can chew. He likens the scale of U.S. ambition in the war on terrorism to Adolf Hitler's overreach in World War II. 'A cardinal rule of strategy is to keep your enemies to a manageable number.'"
I do not write "under the umbrella of academic freedom" like a professor of the Army's Strategic Studies Institute, nor am I a rocket scientist. However, I also predict that if our political leaders continue to use overwhelming force to bite the butts of other nations instead of chomping down on the real problems Americans face here at home, in the future, a new base on the moon might be the only safe place for an American to live.
p.s. The moon might be a good place to go out to eat dinner -- but I hear the place has absolutely no atmosphere!
Are Libertarians the Only Environmentalists Left?
According to the Clean Air Force, 767 tons of ozone-forming pollutants are released into Central Texas air daily. CAF has proposed a plan to reduce emissions that will become law soon when local counties and cities vote on it. The crown jewel of the plan is mandatory testing of cars and trucks, at $27 a pop, and repair of high emitters, at an average cost of $550.
CAF says inspection and maintenance will cost $31 million per year, but $50 million is more realistic, not counting the lost hours of the vast majority of owners of clean cars. CAF says that inspection and maintenance will eliminate 7 tons of pollutants. That's less than 1%.
While emissions are reduced 1%, ozone is only expected to decline by one-half percent. CAF has chosen the most expensive method of ozone reduction acceptable to the EPA. Yet Democrats and Republicans are solidly behind this plan. Probably has something to do with all the money that the manufacturers of inspection and maintenance testing machines spread around the Legislature. Or could it have something to do with protecting big, dirty coal-fired power plants from having to clean up their toxins?
Either way, it seems traditional allies of the environment have become too fascinated with gadgets and procedures to remember that cleaner air with minimum costs should be the goal.
Are Libertarians the only environmentalists who still care about clean air?
Texas Education Still Needs to Be Desegregated
With all the helpful coverage and activism that has already emerged in response to the Texas A&M decision to rescind affirmative action in admissions, there is still one crucial fact which has not been reported: Texas higher education is still under federal supervision for desegregation.
Perhaps everyone is a little embarrassed by this fact, so people are a little reluctant to mention it publicly, but Texas has agreed to four successive "Texas plans" with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The first Texas plan officially began in 1983. The fourth Texas plan was offered by Gov. George W. Bush in the summer of 2000, and it will continue for several more years.
In fact, Texas A&M adopted affirmative action on Dec. 5, 1980, in order to show that the university could be counted on to act as a trustworthy partner in "good faith" during the upcoming years of desegregation. Affirmative action, therefore, is the university's way of saying, you can depend on us to take responsibility for our own desegregation.
The crucial context of desegregation changes everything about the importance of the Texas A&M decision, so it should be reported and discussed, not evaded.
Take a look at the video footage of U.S. troops showing off the "spider hole" where they caught Saddam Hussein, supposedly in December. The palm trees in the background are full of ripe dates; the problem being, dates only ripen in Iraq from July to September. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? I can see the Dubya regime waiting a few months to announce Hussein's capture (so that pesky blackout in the Northeast wouldn't steal their headlines, and the "capture" could be timed to kick Germany and France back in line), but how stupid do they think we are? Sure, we've forgotten that the reason Little Dick Rumsfeld knew Iraq had "WMD"s is because he sold them to Iraq in the first place, and we don't seem to mind the millions Big Dick Cheney stands to make from all those Halliburton contracts, but come on! What's next -- a big stockpile of chemical weapons just happens to turn up next October?
Oh well. I guess if America can get used to the idea of an election-losing military deserter in the White House, we can get used to anything.
What Are the Republicans Up To?
How odd it was that the Cheney-Bush machine decided to float out such a liberal Democrat idea as literally opening the border to Mexican labor, then follow it up with manned missions to Mars the next day. Did anyone not notice the real news that came out the same day that was delegated to the nether regions of the newspapers, that we are pulling the teams out of Iraq whose job it has been to search for weapons of mass destruction? Conclusion? There never were any, and the cause for war was knowingly amped up to the point of hysteria ... what? Surely you recall that Saddam had missiles that could reach the East Coast and vaporize, say, New York City, or at least Savannah, Ga., or Hilton Head. The ends do not justify the means here. Nor does the inexplicable foot-dragging the Republicans have done in conjunction with the bipartisan investigation into 9/11. Wrapping themselves in the flag amid the rubble of the twin towers is ironic, um, to say the least. Sadly, the Democrats are so busy hacking each other to pieces, it's hard to see them running the country when they can't even run their party. Choice?