Our readers talk back.
Mayor Wynn's Earned Respect
It is unusual to feel the need to defend a politician, but I do in response to Mike Clark-Madison's recent concerns about the visibility and impact of our mayor ["Where's the Mayor?" News, June 4].
I have a small-business point of view as the owner of Downtown Lounge. My first encounter with the mayor was during his election when he was first tentative about the smoking ordinance. I watched as he became more informed about the facts and consequences of a smoking ban and saw that it was a largely symbolic gesture that could have the unintended consequence of hurting our struggling entertainment community. I respect a person who listens and learns.
I see the mayor speaking to the downtown businesspeople about development in the city. I see him speaking at the opening of the new Austin Visitors Center about attracting tourists to Austin. I see him dragging his ass to Europe to attract solar-energy business to Austin. I see accelerated action on Block 21, Seaholm, Green Treatment Plant, the Federal Courthouse, improving traffic patterns such as at San Antonio Street, commuter rail, relocating Austin City Limits to downtown to nurture a world-class entertainment district. Progress on the Second Street retail areas to attract tax-generating business, the acceleration of plans by developers to building more resident units downtown, etc. I see that on the back of his office door is a sign that says "How many jobs have you created today."
I also see that there is much more that can be done downtown to help make parking more friendly, to refine some of our policies on panhandling, vagrants, noise control, traffic patterns, and continuing to work with the APD to make the area more friendly to businesses and visitors.
I see his fingerprints all over the revival of Austin.
Film Community Appreciates Wynn
Following up on Mike Clark-Madison's performance review of Mayor Wynn for year one ("Where's the Mayor?" News, June 4), I'd like to point out the mayor's strong record when it comes to the film industry. Both as a council member and as mayor, Will Wynn has set the tone for Austin's impressive courtship of the film industry. The results are self-evident: Austin received an 84% share of the budgets of all films made in Texas in 2003, and earlier this year, we were named the No. 1 city in America for making a movie by MovieMaker Magazine. We would like to give the mayor credit for his vision and leadership in this area of Austin's civic life.
Austin Film Society
I Dare You
There is an interesting placement of two consecutive letters on the editorial page in the May 28 issue ["Postmarks"]. The first, on p.10, belabors a point about the 2000 presidential election. If Jason Meador would remove his partisan blinders, he could see that the recount for which he and his fellow Democrats were shrieking was conducted by two well-known left-wing publications. The Miami Herald and USA Today determined that President Bush did win the popular vote. Visit this URL for more details: www.fair.org/activism/usatoday-recount.html. Liberals expect the nation to "MoveOn.org" from Bill Clinton's sexual peccadilloes and perjury in front of a grand jury but simultaneously insist on harping on a lost election from four years ago. How ironic is that?
The letter that immediately follows Meador's screed includes "It is the soldier, not the reporter that has given us the freedom of the press." A subsequent letter in the same issue by David Horton cites "funny stuff with the overseas military ballots." Horton is obviously referring to the Democrats' efforts to have the military ballots thrown out because their numbers favored President Bush. Numerous adjectives could describe such a plot, but as a son of a veteran, I would hardly consider political attempts to disenfranchise our troops "funny."
Does each hand on the Chronicle's editorial staff know what the other is doing? Just as inept dancers have "two left feet," inept editorial staffs apparently have two left wings, as the Chronicle's editorial staff just demonstrated on its own pages. On the subject of editorial pages, an interesting piece appeared in the liberal newspaper of record, The New York Times on June 30. Visit www.nytimes.com/2004/05/30/weekinreview/30bott.html?page wanted=1&hp.
As a conservative, I read the Chronicle because it makes me feel so comparatively intelligent. Publish this letter. I dare you!
Michael S. Foster
[Ed. reply: Michael, we all know you are more intelligent than we are, don't worry. Letters from the readers are exactly that they don't reflect the Chronicle's views but those of the letter writers, so they are often contradictory to one another. Even with the staff, however, there is not a mandated point of view, so if there are two pieces on essentially the same topic published months apart by different writers, there could be conflicting editorial takes.
Finally, as we publish almost every serious letter that disagrees with something we've published or attacks us in general, daring us to print something is foolish. The Chronicle thrives on discussion, disagreement, dissent almost anything to do with the free exchange of ideas.]
Union Supports Veronica Rivera
I was very grateful to see the Chronicle endorse Veronica Rivera in the ACC board run-off ["ACC Run-Off: Levin Defends His Record," News, June 4]. I do wish you had included at least one of my comments about the union's support of Veronica instead of an out-of-context, incorrect quote about her opponent's stealth candidacy. Veronica has the vision, energy, and dedication to be a great board member during a time of tremendous challenge. ACC needs the kind of reasoned, progressive leadership Veronica will provide. She is supportive of the faculty and staff that have made ACC one of the best community colleges in the U.S. We need her support because ACC is suffering from years of administrative incompetence. The college needs leaders who put students first and have the courage to make the tough decisions that will take.
Mark Goodrich President ACC/AFT local 6249
[Rachel Proctor May replies: Mark Goodrich is correct that I misunderstood one of his statements about ACC Place 6 candidate Marc Levin. Goodrich was speaking only for himself when he said Levin did "pretty well" on an assessment of his stances; I mistakenly thought (and wrote) that he was speaking for the ACC faculty/staff union as a whole. This is not the case: Many union members did not rate the longtime conservative activist "pretty well" at all. For that, I apologize. However, Goodrich seems to be most concerned about what I didn't write rather than what I did. This story was about Levin's ability to convincingly present himself as a moderate despite a long history of far-right views, not an assessment of each candidate's positions and strengths. With such a focus, a listing of Rivera's many endorsements seemed enough illustration of the support she enjoys within the ACC community, without necessitating glowing quotes from supporters.]
Didn't Win Home Country
Regarding the sham presidential election of 2000, every time some enlightened individual mentions that Gore didn't even win his home state ["Postmarks," June 4], I'm reminded that Bush didn't even win his home country.
Sincerely yours, Mark Gunn
We Need Intelligent Discussion
What is interesting to me with regard to Mark Vonderburg's challenge ["Postmarks," June 4] is that he complains of a lack of intelligent discourse within the "Postmarks" section even as he himself is offering simplistic admonishments in a sneering, superior tone (hey, I thought that was the province of the liberal elite). I would first like to point out that the amount of space given to the letters in "Postmarks" is limited. In order to be published, writers must constrain themselves to the 300-word maximum, so by default any argument is cut short.
Vonderburg is right when he states that we need intelligent discussion. Personally, I don't think we the people are as divided as our partisan leaders would have us believe. But if by "discourse" he means "shut up and listen to how stupid and wrong you are," I haven't time or interest.
I concede Vonderburg is also right about Gore running a terrible campaign: It was timid, lackluster, and safely centrist. But Bush was not elected; he was appointed by the Supreme Court (ostensibly under the impression that our fragile democracy would perish before a recount could be completed). A good many voters in Florida were denied the right to vote, either through erroneous purge lists or by tactics at the polls (they never saw the infamous butterfly ballot).
We have a responsibility within a democracy to question the actions of those who would lead us. All the legal maneuvering by the Bush team combined to offer at least the appearance that our democratic system was sabotaged in 2000. At worst, we had a coup d'etat and the "liberal media" failed to comment on it.
This November, most of the country will rely on the new electronic voting machines that remove the problem of the annoying butterfly ballot ... and a paper trail as well. Recount not an option. As citizens of this democracy, I should think that would make us all a little nervous.
Thank You, Michael Ventura
Austin Chronicle and Michael Ventura: Thank you sincerely for publishing this article ["Letters @ 3am," May 28]. Lane McCotter: Wherever you are, you will be called to account for your actions. Ashcroft: Your staff knows and some among them will one day condemn you publicly and see you sentenced. It may not be patriotic but it is American to demand "justice for all."
Austin Chronicle publishers: You will very likely get a ton of flak for this article, but know this: What you are doing here is right, it is above reproach, and above all, it is American. Please encourage Michael Ventura to write the facts as he learns them ... the American people are depending on you.
Mill Valley, Calif.
The 'Chronicle' Is the Enemy
I have been under the weather for the last few weeks and unable to take up the pen. You performed passably in the interim, Mr. Black, dabbling in the role of diarist. Your more reactionary tendencies were held in check but for a single slip concerning the "oppressed" in the last "Page Two" article [May 28].
The diarist achieves a universal perspective by reflecting upon personal issues admittedly a difficult task for a busy and important person like yourself, who must bone up on his weekly article while showering, as you describe it. I could think of no other reason except for a distracting schedule to explain why your recent "diary entries" reveal no growing concern for the future of your son. After all, the country is officially at war with an officially protean adversary. A 10-year war, by official estimates. Very soon now, our young men (and women, presumably) will be called up into the armed services. Every sign indicates a draft coming, regardless of the results of this next "free" election. Yet, your outrage these days is reserved for liberals who keep irrationally embracing the oppressed, even as the oppressed uprise and organize and blow themselves to smithereens.
Now, hasn't your paper pledged allegiance all these years to liberal standards like judicial fairness and sustainable growth and freedom of expression and so forth? I must say, sir, you sometimes appear as a wolf in sheep's clothing. I have begun to wonder who signs your paycheck. So, please tell us, is the Chronicle owned by the same media conglomerate that runs the Houston Press and the Phoenix weekly and other similar "alternative" papers in the other major cities of this country? Inform us if they do, because we deserve to know our enemy.
Toll Road Plan Is Bad
Understanding the toll revolution requires some key facts ["Here Come the Transporters," News, June 4]. First, this a Republican plan. Republicans, locally and statewide in the lege, voted unanimously for it. Second, it is a redistributionist plan. The toll rates are not set to user costs but are increased to generate tax revenues. The tolls are also intended to be permanent and they increase every five years.
It's true that the taxes can only be used for limited purposes. They include building more roads (free or tolled), rail systems (freight or passenger), airports, and utility systems (for instance, power lines or sewage lines).
Republicans had the opportunity to vote for a Regional Transportation Authority, which can only build roads, but they chose to give us a Regional Mobility Authority, with its expanded menu of allowable projects. We know that Mike Krusee wants to use Travis County tolls to build regional rail, and it is reasonable to expect that taxes collected in Travis County will fund utilities and free roads in Williamson County.
My estimation is that the typical Travis motorist will soon be paying $1,200 per year to support bedroom communities in Williamson County. It was reported last week that just one road, U.S. 183-A, may be priced at 50 cents per mile. Driving those four tolled miles twice a day for 300 days per year will cost $1,200. We have 120 tolled miles planned and CTRMA won't reveal how many additional miles of existing roads are planned for conversion to toll.
Libertarians support user fees, either gas taxes or tolls, but we oppose redistributionist taxing schemes. I would think some progressives would oppose this Robin Hood in reverse plan, too. If not they will soon be paying for the construction of sewage pipes to dump Williamson County sewage in the Colorado in East Austin.
Vincent J May
Kerry Support in Austin
I enjoyed reading your article about the Kerry Meet-Up at Mother Egan's ["Barnes: 'Take Back Texas,'" News, June 4], especially since I attended. I do have one minor quibble with your otherwise excellent article, however: There were well over 60 people there. In fact, there were at least 100. Austin is leading the way in taking back the state, and the numbers at that meeting reflect that fact. Keep up the good work in reporting, though, and feel free to drop by our meetings any time.
Kimberly B. Levinson
[Lee Nichols responds: The 60 figure was arrived at by a visual estimate, not a hard count.]
Remembering Robert Burns
Dear Mr. Editor,
It hailed on Memorial Day this year. On an Austin afternoon when the temperature reached 100 degrees, ice actually fell from the sky. At the time I thought that it might have been an omen of some import, but it was not until now that I discovered why: Robert Burns had died.
Louis Black detailed Robert's public accomplishments ["Page Two," June 4], but I never worked with him; to me he was just a good friend, and I will miss him. He was literate and witty (Robert always maintained that he had a brother named Rug Burns) and he possessed one of the sharpest minds I knew. Let me give you one example.
I will never forget a conversation that I had with Robert back in 1991 about palindromes. Palindromes are, as you know, words or phrases that are identical when spelled backward, like "dad" or "level" or "gateman's nametag." I mentioned the longest palindrome that I knew ("A man, a plan, a canal Panama!") and remarked to Robert that, at 21 letters long, it would be difficult to come up with a longer one. He then gave me a six-line poem that he had recently written. It is in free verse and is a palindrome of 73 letters, quite possibly the longest palindrome in the English language.
This is Robert Burns' palindromic poem:
Go there, gnaw.
A rat race!
We fill a minimal life.
We cart a raw anger, eh?
To get over ... us.
Rich in Community Spirit
While Cinemania weekend was a failure costing the sponsors tens of thousands of dollars, I'd like to point out that the nonprofit, DIY Ladyfest Texas took place that same weekend and met with great success with no financial sponsorship and very little press coverage (though not from lack of trying by the organizers).
Ladyfest Texas has achieved this two years in a row now, by simply relying on a handful of scrappy organizers and a dedicated grassroots music and arts community that believes in the Ladyfest Texas mission. It seems a shame to waste all that money on a doomed Cinemania weekend when there was a viable, amazing festival with a proven track record right under their noses that really could have used the additional promotional help but I guess we're just a bunch of "chicks" anyway.
Ladyfest Texas organizer
There seems to be many changes in the Chronicle lately. Your articles ... and your paper in general seem to be more "vanilla." It seems you are not willing to provide Austin the "weird Austin perspective" that you once provided. I find myself no longer reading your paper. Just thought you'd like some feedback from a longtime reader who now sees a "ho-hum" newspaper.
Can we please move on? The presidential election of the year 2000 was an example of government at its worst, but it is over. I do not want to read another letter from someone who feels that Al Gore ran a poor campaign. I have already pointed out the fact that Mr. Gore received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history ("Postmarks," July 18, 2003).
Could we please just move on? Thank you.
Gary L. Zimmer