Our readers talk back.

Story Is Neighborhood Planning

Dear Editor,

What happened to your reporting on the South Lamar Walgreens? Mr. Drenner's offer to rescue Taco X-Press from its enviable lease is not more important than the underlying zoning issues. The tug-of-war here is between innovative, urban, high-density, mixed-use, transit-oriented development and obsolete, suburban, low-density, stand-alone, car-only development. The city council is being asked to take an opportunity for a model infill project, adjacent to existing transit service, and turn it into a suburban parking lot with a drive-thru window. The neighborhood associations have countered with a plea for enlightened urban planning.

In your June 25 "Austin Stories" [News], the Walgreens item is followed by an item on Schlotzsky's. If you saw Council Member McCracken's slide show on commercial design standards, you'll remember that the Schlotzsky's location at Toomey and South Lamar was lauded as the sort of project we should encourage to replace our old suburban boxes surrounded by pavement. I used to shop at that old supermarket on Toomey, and when I look at the Walgreens proposal for Bluebonnet and South Lamar, I can't see any difference between the drugstore's basic dimensions and that old suburban box.

Worse still, the latest rezoning request is for footprint zoning, which means that when the prescription-drug bubble bursts and Walgreens abruptly disappears, another business will have a much harder time building outside that obsolete box the way Schlotzsky's did on Toomey.

The real story is that neighborhood planning for South Lamar begins in about six months. If council denies the current zoning request, Taco X-Press, the land owner, the neighborhood, and the city's tax base will all have plenty of time to negotiate a much better future than Mr. Drenner is offering.

Lorraine Atherton

Missing Broadway Texas

Dear Editor,

I am profoundly disappointed in the results of the Austin Critics Awards for 2003. Having looked over the nominees, I was surprised to see Broadway Texas listed among our other local productions. I felt sorry for the other nominees, for they were severely out-classed. Directors Scott Thompson and Richard Byron have put on Broadway-quality shows right here in Austin for years, and their expertly delivered Wizard of Oz was listed in many categories. Certainly, they put on the best musical, and their consistently inspired choreography could not help but be recognized. Even the finely crafted musical direction of Fred Barton was up for an award. And the sad part is: Broadway Texas has closed its doors forever. An extreme shame, considering the high quality of the shows they produced.

If they had fault, it was in not trimming back, in trying to deliver the best possible show for their audiences. At least, I thought to myself, here would be a final nod from Austin, an acknowledgement of all the hard work that Scott and Richard have done. They were up for two awards themselves; The Wizard of Oz had a chance at six total awards. How many did they win? Tied for one. How could this be? Perhaps the critics, like too many other Austinites, didn't even see The Wizard of Oz. Maybe it is true – two of the best directors in Austin have left us, and no one took notice. If that is true, how can we ever expect talent to come back and fill the void? Or perhaps we'll just be content with whatever is left. I, for one, will not. Thanks, Austin. Thanks a lot.

Jay Michael

[Robert Faires replies: All members of the Critics Table who voted on the categories in which The Wizard of Oz was nominated did indeed see the production as well as those of the other nominated musicals. The decisions on the award winners were reached by consensus of the voting members, based on discussions involving numerous factors, and in no way reflect a lack of respect for the talents involved in Broadway Texas. In fact, many of the sentiments you express about the quality of Broadway Texas/Austin Musical Theatre and its loss to the community are shared by the critics and were stated in this paper on repeated occasions, including a feature story published the week that The Wizard of Oz opened ("Down the Yellow Brick Interstate," Oct. 24, 2003, Theatre). The 33 awards and dozens of nominations bestowed on this company during its seven-year existence further testify to the high regard in which the Critics Table held this company and its founders.]

Shut Up and Watch the Movie!

Dear Mr. Black,

I attended the premiere of Before Sunset at the Paramount Saturday evening prepared to absorb every word and nuance of the film. When the film began, I moved over to the empty seat to my right so the balcony overhang wouldn't obstruct my view. I'm adaptable, or so I thought.

The man sitting to my right chatted with the woman to his right and five other friends farther down the row, pointing to the screen and fascinating them with his "knowledge" of something or another, throughout the film. He fortunately left for about 15 minutes but returned with more cocktails. He was there to impress or be seen, not to enjoy the film.

As a member of the Austin Film Society and frequent moviegoer, what is your advice on silencing such people? The shhhs from people around him didn't help. I really don't think a rational, calm request would've worked in this instance. And consider that this was a large, tipsy guy who shamelessly asked the most personal, offensive question of the evening to Julie Delpy during the Q&A.

I've been in this situation before but never to such an extreme. How do we silence the obnoxious so we can enjoy the movie?

Mel Hilton

Decide Rules of National Sovereignty

Dear Editor,

Phil Hallmark sees my comments on the Chronicle's Riddick review as an ad hominem attack on "us" ["Postmarks," June 25] – i.e., residual left-wing ideologues. I never used the word "stupid" once, but now that he mentions it ...

In the early decades of the 20th century, an enthusiastic advocacy of collectivist philosophy could have been excused as merely erroneous. But this is the year 2004. One hundred years, dozens of wrecked economies, and an estimated 100 million corpses later, and there remain people who believe that collectivism is "a pretty neato idea"? You can call such people many things, but I agree, "smart" is not one of them.

As for the "Iraqis that we have killed and maimed since 2003": A tyrant (or regime) who grossly violates all essential human rights thereby forfeits any claim to national sovereignty, in effect becoming commandant of a country-sized concentration camp begging liberation by any nation with the inclination and ability to do so. Such a tyrant by that same fact bears all culpability for any bystanders killed in the process of removing him. The question "how many [of them] were rampaging religious nihilists bent on our destruction?" though irrelevant in that ethical context, ought to be embarrassing. Most Iraqi casualties have in fact been enemy combatants.

For obvious reasons, Mr. Hallmark sidesteps any attempt at refuting my criticism of Savlov's Riddick review. Hallmark also is curiously silent about Hussein's quaint practices, which by default he endorses, of lowering human beings into plastic shredders, hacking off random body parts, pushing bound and gagged people off 50-foot rooftops, systematic rape and torture, etc.

If the facts make the "stupid" shoe a comfortable fit, is pointing it out still ad hominem?


Greg Gerig

Montrose, Calif.

Wake Up to Islamic Threat

Mr. Cunningham,

I understand the idea of attacking me personally instead of actually debating the issue of why so many Muslims hate America and George W. Bush ["Postmarks," June 25]. Nevertheless I am very grateful for your son's service to our country. You also asked if I had any insight into the Arab culture, other than the obvious advantage of living in Johnson City.

My father was an officer (colonel) in the U.S. Army. For two years he was the liaison officer between the king of Saudi Arabia and all U.S. forces in that country. My father could speak, read, and write Arabic and was very familiar with the politics in Saudi Arabia and with the people in control. I am not an expert, but I have some experience. By the way, if you think I like the message I'm sending, you're wrong. It fills me with dread, because I realize that it's not about oil or the president. If it were about those things, we could change those things. It's about the American lifestyle and moral values vs. the Islamic religious beliefs and moral values, which govern their lives. They will never accept our views as being anything but blasphemous and a slap in the face of all they hold sacred. They will never accept the Jews on much the same basis. I think the fact that men, women, and children are willing to kill themselves in order to kill a few non-Muslims is a pretty good barometer of their sentiments. I, too, Mr. Cunningham, live the American lifestyle. I value it. I too, would probably not survive in an Islamic state if I ever opened my mouth. I'm not saying this president didn't lie or doesn't have an agenda. You can say that about every president. I'm saying it goes much deeper than that, and you better wake up to that fact. Also, dear editor, I never said Bush "favored abortion" ["Postmarks," June 25]. He doesn't. I said he is willing to fight to protect your right to have one.

Alan Moe Monsarrat

Johnson City

'Mistake on the Lake' Nominees

Dear editor,

Since Cleveland's Lakefront Stadium is no more, the moniker "Mistake on the Lake" is up for grabs. I suggest it be awarded to a pair of bad ideas on Austin's Town Lake that are each other's solution. One is "Plan B" for working around the tens of millions of dollars in funding shortfall for the Long Center redevelopment that will result in the permanent removal of the familiar and architecturally significant dome, leaving a wide flat ring (like the brim of a broken hat) hovering over a disjointed collection of odd-sized boxes; and with only two of the three originally planned acoustically perfect performance halls being built ( The other is the apparent tens of millions of dollars someone perceives as available to convert the former Seaholm power plant into a studio for two dozen Austin City Limits tapings per year, with the noise of trains (freight and/or commuter) rumbling past during the performances, when that venue is an obvious site for a technology and transportation museum (and working train station).

Hmmm, threatened historic downtown architectural treasure/musical performance venue needing money, and, just across the river, money seeking to turn a historic downtown architectural treasure into an inappropriate musical performance venue. If only different music and performance styles could co-exist under the same (rounded) roof! If only KMFA listeners and KLRU viewers weren't mortal enemies! If only Chardonnay and Shiner could be served at the same lobby bar! If only these radically disparate camps could – oh, never mind; it's just too weird, even for Austin.

Kent Maysel

Walking Is the Best

Dear Editor,

"Cars Better Than Buses" ["Postmarks," June 25] omits from discussion the cheapest and cleanest means of transportation: walking. The fuel burned is solar, but it comes in such delicious forms (enchiladas, beans, pecan pie) that people consume it even when they're not going anywhere.

It's true that modern agribusiness and grocery transport consume large quantities of petroleum. But food can be produced locally without petroleum, given the space to grow it. Austin would have plenty of food-growing space if we could depave some of the vaster parking lots.

Our society's heavy use of giant machines, such as cars, is expensive. Fuel is by no means the only money sink. Motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. cause over 3 million injuries each year, with a government-estimated cost of $800 per person. Motor vehicles that weigh over 2 tons and can go 50 miles per hour or faster are very expensive, in terms of fuel costs, injury costs, road building and maintenance costs, pollution costs, and much, much more. Until human-scale transportation becomes planners' first priority, we will not see any practical transportation plans.

It is inaccurate to say that Austin needs maximum person-miles for minimum cost. What everyone really wants is optimum quality of life for minimum cost. It may not be necessary to travel 30 miles or more per day to be happy.

The car-based model of transportation planning cheerfully throws away the freedom of people under 16 or over 85. This view of travel emphasizes the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the machine. Is this a reasonable way to live? It's time to plan transportation and live life on a scale at which each person matters. This means valuing people more than cars. Let's start walking, and possibly cycling, toward life on a human scale.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich

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