The Austin Chronicle


July 16, 2004, Columns

The Council's Responsibility

Dear Editor,

There were two comments made by city staff in Jordan Smith's piece ["North Loop Neighbors Cry for Help," News, July 2] that I just can't let go by. First off, the city is now asserting that it can't close off the east end of 531é2 Street because the closure was not included in the North Loop Plan. That's true. But what Mr. Derr may be unaware of is that the North Loop Planning Team was told by city staff not to include a closure of 531é2 because city staff believed including it would cause council to balk at adopting the plan. Since we didn't want to do anything to gum up getting the plan passed, we left the closure out.

Talk about the wrong decision. In hindsight, we should never have listened to the city staff on this issue. Let our experience serve as a warning to anyone involved in putting together a neighborhood plan: It's your plan, not the city staff's; their "suggestions" of what council may or may not approve are probably designed to serve their interests, not the neighborhood's.

I also take issue with the claim that the problem of large trucks on residential streets is a "matter of enforcement." This statement is a perfect example of the city's pass-the-buck way of doing business. The street (531é2) is marked with tiny, ineffective "no truck" signs, which are universally ignored. When a truck periodically lumbers down the street, we call APD. APD says it won't do anything unless we get a license plate number. (You try running out of your house in the middle of the night in your boxer shorts to get a plate number!) When we've called 311 to report property damage caused by these trucks, 311 refuses to take an incident report. When we call APD back, APD suggests we ask to have the road closed off. The city's Transportation Department then says it won't consider the idea and that it's a "matter of enforcement" and we're right back to square one. Is Lewis Carroll running the city of Austin? And will he pay the repair bills the next time my phone and cable lines get ripped down by another truck?

Finally, Mr. Derr has a difficult job, and we in no way fault him personally for the city's lack of response to this problem (Mr. Derr has always been professional and pleasant to deal with). The problem is higher up. City Council needs to start setting policy instead of leaving it to unelected senior city staff. Until that happens, problems like ours will continue to fester throughout the city.

Christopher Burnett

'Slight Bias' on Lick Creek

Dear Editor,

In your current article on Lick Creek ["The Showdown at Lick Creek," News, July 2] you refer to the age of the Levi Rockshelter as being tens of thousands of years old. This wording implies it must be at least 20,000 years old. Making it the oldest by far in America.

The real age of course is 10,000 years plus or minus 175. I think your choice of words indicates a slight bias. I think sticking to the truth here would have been just as effective.

Conan Witzel

[Amy Smith responds: I think your choice of words indicates a slight bias, too. At any rate, I did err regrettably when I wrote that the Levi Rockshelter was tens of thousands of years old. According to the National Register of Historic Places, the rock-shelter served as a Paleo-Indian campsite between 9000-10999BC. The point is, this is an archeological site of historic significance that is at risk of being wiped out by development in western Travis County. As of late last week, the Fort Worth office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was still investigating the extent of damage that may have already occurred to this area along Lick Creek.]

Thank You Michael Ventura

Dear Michael Ventura,

At age 67, your column really got to me, and by the time I finished, I was weeping like I haven't wept in decades ["Letters @ 3am," June 25]. I guess my emotional response was caused by the fact that I recognized everything you talked about, having gone through a lot of it myself. I suppose I was weeping for all those things I have said goodbye to, but which I had never seen enumerated quite like you did.

I inherited a propensity for arthritis from my mother, and all my joints show it already, but, unfortunately I come from long-lived stock on both sides. My father died at nearly 99, just as his mother did; my mother died at 89. Their minds were clear right up to the end, but their bodies had given out long before.

I now face the same prospect, and am determined not to go through what they did. I've always regretted the fact that human beings don't come equipped with a handy on/off switch. We should be able to call an end to it when we feel we've gone far enough. Don't know yet how I would do it, but it is something that is ever-present in my mind.

Anyway, thank you very much for your piece. You gave voice to what goes through the minds of people in our age group. We just don't have the gift and the style you have to put it in words.


Luis Torres

San Antonio

What a Horrible Review!

Dear Editor,

What a horrible review (Molly Sweeney) ["Exhibitionism," Arts, July 9]! Your reviewer tells the entire story start to finish and leaves nothing for the theatregoers to experience for themselves.

I'm glad I saw the play before I read this review – or the wonderful experience of seeing it live would have been much less satisfying.

I heard more than one attendee mention it's the best play they had seen in Austin – and I agree wholeheartedly. Garry Peters' "broad gestures and aggressive delivery" were skilled and on target for the role of the alcoholic – without making Mr. Rice appear cartoonish.

I'm amazed especially since I've discovered that I saw the same show that your reviewer attended.

Susan Baughman

Ventura Needs More Sleep

Dear Editor,

Michael Ventura sympathizes with the self-absorbed, whiny, narcissistic students who complain "It's Not My Country" ("Letters @ 3am," July 9), because students identify only with "their" own language and area, but he offers no criticism of schools' multicultural, multilingual, diversity dogma which cultivates the segregation and balkanization he and the students resent.

So, he lapses back into the old liberal mantra as he jabs at the white imperialistic culture, yet his nostalgia begrudges and flirts with his own marginal, excluded, and derided immigrant upbringing and its basic values of stern teachers and the melting pot; but now assimilation into one culture would be discrimination. He falls back on the old worthless and wasteful nostrum of "education" and the need for politicians to "forge policies adequate to the changes." Schools are a national disaster and more money (from Iraq War?) will not decrease the decline of values and a common culture.

Students do have a chance at being Americans if they get beyond their pampered self-esteem and self-centered egos and their taught hatred for the American experience. They need to pledge allegiance to us all (including them) rather than allegiance to themselves. Ventura insists they are "smart enough not to care for a country that doesn't care for them." I don't agree with everything in the Chronicle, but it is part of our city and community and communication.

Michael insists "no one knows" if "America's very fabric (is) being torn apart." Perhaps he would be more persuasive if he got more sleep and wrote at 3pm rather than composed his "Letters @ 3am."

Gene Burd

Prevent Sprawl

Dear Editor,

I was concerned that the toll road plan was not well thought out, but I realize that there was some urgency involved so as not to lose funding ["Toll Road Plan Remains in Fast Lane," News, July 9]. Now that the plan appears to have become a reality I urge the City Council not to let new road construction lead to unmitigated sprawl.

I live in an interior neighborhood and am less affected by sprawl than most Austinites. Nevertheless, for the good of the city as a whole I am willing to have more density in my neighborhood if it will limit sprawl. However, I will be very upset with the council and other controlling entities if my neighborhood gets the density and Austin still sprawls uncontrolled or with minimum control. In my opinion a good gauge would be to see if traffic flows improve considerably and stay that way after the new toll roads are constructed. If traffic stays the same or gets worse then I am going to assume all that new capacity was consumed by sprawl.

David Piper

More and More Taxes

Dear Editor,

What an interesting dynamic going on in Austin. For the past several years just living here has cost us more and more (property taxes, e.g.). Now it's going to cost us more and more to drive to work to pay those property taxes ["Toll Road Plan Remains in Fast Lane," News, July 9].

Mary Patrick

Disagrees With Savlov

Dear Editor,

Thank heavens I took the advice of the film critic from "the other paper" and went to see The Clearing. Had I believed the review by Marc Savlov, I would have missed a beautifully crafted and fascinating film. What movie did he see anyway? Not the one I saw.

Diane Herzik

Why No Review?

Hi there,

Just curious, in your last Austin Chronicle, July 2, you had said the show of the year was going to be Devendra Banhart ["Recommended Events," Music], and lo and behold, it was amazing, yet there is no review of the show in today's AC. I thought for sure there would at least be a mention of it considering the AC said it was to be the concert of the year.

Justin Rostant

Doesn't Recall Vietnam Protests

Dear Editor,

A stolen election, the U.S. going to war under false pretenses, and government officials making millions off defense contracts – that "documentary" about George W. Bush? Hardly! In 1960 the presidential election had several instances of voter fraud; the Texas Republican Party sent over 10,000 registered letters to voters in South Texas, using the "poll-tax" rolls (in those days you had to pay a fee to vote – a leftover from Reconstruction). Over 4,000 of the letters were returned, marked "addressee unknown," "dead," "moved," etc. – but virtually every one of them voted Democratic in the election! There were similar occurrences in Illinois and West Virginia. If Richard Nixon had demanded a recount and voter verification, it is quite possible he would have been president, not Jack Kennedy!

When Lyndon Johnson demanded war powers after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and the war in Vietnam escalated in August of 1968, Brown and Root got all the contracts for military installations and other related projects. One of the stockholders of the company was Lady Bird Johnson, who made huge profits from the war, and indirectly, the lives of U.S. soldiers! The way the Johnson administration ran the war actually lengthened it; had the military been given free reign, it would have been much shorter, with far fewer casualties!

It is now known that the Tonkin Incident never happened, and the president was aware of the fact, yet the lie was used to escalate the war, and eventually cost over 50,000 U.S. lives!

I don't recall any howls of protest over the election, the profiteering by members of the administration, or the false pretense for war, much less a "documentary" about them! (I guess to the media it's morally acceptable for Democrats to do these things, but not the Republicans!)

As to the connection between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden – no one has ever found any positive written proof Adolf Hitler ordered the Holocaust!

John G. Dana

[Ed. responds: "I don't recall any howls of protest ..." Okay, you're kidding right? Endless demonstrations across the country against the war, including specific mentions of administration profiteeering, and countrywide outrage over Tonkin. Years of protests in almost every American city, but you don't recall them. Does this mean they didn't happen? What fiction is this? You don't recall a documentary? Let's start with Hearts and Minds, which won an Academy Award in 1974. Then Far From Vietnam, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, Agnès Varda, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker, and Alain Resnais, among others, in 1967. Also, among others, Santiago Alvarez's Solidaridad Cuba y Vietnam in 1965, Felix Greene's Inside North Vietnam in 1967, Oliver Stone's short "Last Year In Vietnam," and John Ford's pro-war Vietnam! Vietnam!, both in 1971.]

Reform Electoral System

Dear Louis,

In your July 9 editorial ["Page Two"] you state, "I believe in democracy" and "I believe in the two-party system." These beliefs are inconsistent. While democracy implies inclusiveness, the two-party system is exclusionary. In a two-party system, voters often vote against candidates rather than for their choice. It becomes the lesser of two evils.

In "non-swing" states, due to the winner-takes-all Electoral College, the feared presidential third party "spoiler" effect is a red herring. Up to half the votes won't count anyway. Further undermining "one person, one vote" democracy, the EC distributes power unequally. For example, a Wyoming citizen's vote is worth over three times that of a Texan's.

Over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the EC. There have been more proposals for Constitutional amendments on changing the EC than on any other subject. The American Bar Association has criticized the EC as "archaic" and "ambiguous." In 1987, an ABA poll showed 69% of lawyers favored abolishing it. Public opinion polls have shown Americans favored abolishing it by majorities of 58% in 1967, 81% in 1968, and 75% in 1981.

Only two states, Nebraska and Maine, do not follow the winner-takes-all rule. In those states, there can be a split of electoral votes among candidates through the state's system for proportional allocation of votes. Elimination of the EC would be better, but that takes a Constitutional amendment. Working within the anti-democratic framework of the EC, a proportional allocation of electoral votes is more realistically achievable in current winner-takes-all states.

This is only one of many realistic reforms we have available to us for making our voting process more inclusive and, thereby, more democratic. If you are interested in helping advance democracy through voting method reform, contact

Rod Sanders

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