The Austin Chronicle


August 13, 2004, Columns

Approach Rail Cautiously

Dear Editor,

Many wishful thinkers are hoping that Capital Metro's commuter-rail plan can generate its own ridership with transit-oriented development, since it's got some major obstacles to overcome in delivering existing ridership (requiring riders to transfer to shuttle buses to get to UT, the Capitol, and downtown, being the most obvious among them).

However, please be advised when evaluating this plan that, unlike light rail, commuter rail (at least in this country) has never generated any momentum for transit-oriented development, despite major efforts to the contrary. For instance, South Florida's Tri-Rail line has tried (and failed) for a decade now to generate TOD near their stations. Seattle, also, has seen no success in TOD with commuter rail.

TOD doesn't work without reductions in parking requirements, and reductions in parking only work if your tenants know they can take a train any time of day to many useful destinations. A train which runs every half-hour through parts of the city to which people don't really want to go, and which runs mainly during daylight hours (with freight running at night), doesn't meet these requirements. On the other hand, light rail in other cities has generated TOD precisely because it runs frequently and all day and most of the night (and because you can walk to your destination instead of transferring).

In the future, I hope Chronicle readers and especially writers will view this plan with a more critical eye. Commuter rail is very different from light rail, and you should vigorously challenge any assertions to the contrary.


Mike Dahmus

Urban Transportation Commission

Linda Curtis' Humble Opinion

Dear Editor,

In response to Michael King's response to my letter last week ["Postmarks," Aug. 6], where he takes the opportunity to call my longtime independent political activist friends in New York (Jackie Salit and Dr. Fred Newman) "cultists," I thought better of you. Didn't you know the "writer" who first wrote this stuff on Newman, et al., was Chip Berlet, who is funded by a major contributor to the Democratic Party? The Nation magazine repeated the attack after numerous articles telling Nader not to run because we, independents, need to support the Democrats no matter who's on the ticket, no matter what their platform, repeating the mantra, "anybody but Bush, anybody but Bush, ABB."

Those who continue to spread this partisan nastiness about Newman, Salit, Fulani (who I helped make history in 1988 as the first woman and African-American to get on the ballot in all 50 states), in my humble opinion, have a "Gollum-like" obsession with their "precious" Democratic Party. That's the same Democratic Party which just held a huge "cult meeting," called a convention, which we taxpayers paid for, where no dissent, much less Ralph Nader, was allowed. Hey, they even let in some Republicans, but they had to chant "Kerry, Kerry, Kerry," or they would have been thrown out on their ears, too.

My point, Michael, is that "cults" are in the eye of the beholder. I thought better of your commitment to truth and fairness.

Linda Curtis

[Michael King responds: Despite Linda Curtis' eagerness to blame the decades-long bad reputation of the Newmanites on the current crop of Democrats, it just won't wash. Chip Berlet is only one of many writers who have documented that sordid history, which dates back to the Eighties, and includes the Fulani campaign of which she is so proud. The Newmanite technique remains to use apparently innocuous front groups, like the current "independent" effort for Nader, to build financial and organizational support for Newman-run enterprises. I would hope that Curtis' efforts in Texas are entirely distinct from that strategy, but her declarations of solidarity here are hardly reassuring.]

A Baseless Charge?

Dear Editor and Michael King,

Standing in the midst of the Nader campaign locally, I have heard the charge a few times that Mr. King recently tossed into an editor's note ["Postmarks," Aug. 6]; that one supporting organization, Committee for a Unified Independent Party, is a "cult." Other than the fact that two of its leaders are psychologists and that they have been involved in something called "social therapy," I have been offered no proof as to such so that I might more adequately be positioned to respond accordingly.

Slapping the "cult" label upon a group is a quick and easy way to disparage it without usually being held accountable for backup. Very similar to such broad terms as "spoiler" and "egotistical" and well, "asshole" to refer to a separate, but recent "Postmarks" thread. (Alex Jones may very well be a hard person to deal with and perhaps his tactics are questionable, but is name-calling good journalism?) So how about a feature that goes into detail about this matter so we're not left hanging with a seemingly baseless charge? You have the power to make or break debates here locally; please use it responsibly!


Debbie Russell

[Michael King responds: In a letter to "Postmarks," Linda Curtis identified Jackie Salit as an "independent activist" without further identification, so I felt it necessary to add a note about Salit's organizational background. I didn't call CUIP a "cult" – I called it a front group for the New York-based "social therapy" movement under the leadership of Fred Newman, Salit, and others, which has behaved like a cult for many years. Their association with the Nader campaign appears to be yet another attempt to borrow respectability they can't achieve on their own, and Nader supporters should be very wary of that connection.]

Make Running Third Party Easier

Dear Editor,

This Thursday in Austin a decision will be reached pertaining to the eligibility of Ralph Nader to be included on the Texas state ballot for his presidential run. The reason for a court ruling became apparent during the canvassing effort to gather the proper amount of signatures for his inclusion. The petitioners were subjected to numerous forms of verbal abuse and in more than one case conflicting "rules and regulations" that supposedly apply to all who wish to participate in a presidential campaign appeared to be directed at eliminating the petition drive. These rules are suspect to say the least. Texas has the earliest deadline for independents in the United States. The normal standard in most other states is that ballot-access guidelines are harder on third parties than on independent candidates if they aren't the same. There isn't any constitutional basis for favoring any party. The current two-party system enacted the laws that protect incumbents. In order to gain access to the ballot as an independent one must spend upward of $100,000, excessive for a third party. Access to the public to gather signatures is very prohibitive and infringements upon canvassing can be extremely daunting. These laws that restrict persons from engaging in their constitutional rights to campaign for public office are archaic at best and illegal at worst. Let's hope that justice will be served in Austin this Thursday. Please try to have a good day.


Ed Devitt


Nader Is No Hero

Dear Editor,

With school about to start up again it seems only appropriate to review the definition of certain political vocabulary words, in this case, "hero." "A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life" (American Heritage Dictionary).

In her letter this week Linda Curtis refers to Ralph Nader as an "American hero" ["Postmarks," Aug. 6]. As we all have learned with Clinton, one's legacy being sacrificed is a far cry from one's life. If anything, Nader is merely the kamikaze pilot flying Kerry's plane into the GOP battleships.

I would like to remind Ms. Curtis that a true hero risks his life, not merely his reputation. Come November, I hope that the real American war hero, John Kerry, is able to trade his fighter jet for Air Force One.

Rachel Farris

Richie Still on Board

Dear Editor,

Both in Amy Smith's July 23 piece, "County Picks Hospital Honchos" [News], and in her Aug. 6 piece, "Newborn District Takes Its First Steps" [News], it was incorrectly reported that Vice-Chair Carl Richie II of the Travis Co. Hospital District Board of Managers is a former member of the Austin Housing Authority Board. Austin Housing Authority Commissioner Carl Richie II has not relinquished his position as commissioner on the board, and his term will not end until Dec. 23, 2005. The agency's commissioners help to ensure the Housing Authority of the city of Austin; provide safe, quality, affordable housing opportunities for low-income families; break the poverty cycle by motivating residents to become economically self-sufficient; and create meaningful partnerships to maximize available community resources for its residents. Anyone wanting more information about HACA and how to obtain housing can call 477-4488 or visit



Jennifer Jones,

Media Relations Specialist

Housing Authority of the city of Austin

[News Editor Michael King replies: We thank Jennifer Jones for the correction.]

Raise Gas Tax

Dear Editor,

I am saddened that some of my neighbors are choosing to demonstrate their frustration with the toll road vote by putting their efforts into recalling the elected leaders who inherited the traffic problem and voted for the only viable solution. Mayor Wynn and Councilman McCracken made a choice that most people understand is unpleasant but necessary. Shouldn't the real focus of upset be the anti-tax ideologues among the state legislators who refuse to raise the gas tax, which would spread the cost of road construction and maintenance over a much larger population and minimize the need for extensive toll roads?

Paul Silver

Moving Memorial

Dear Chronicle,

Michael Ventura's column ["Letters @ 3am," Aug. 6] about the preponderance of our dead and wounded coming from small-town, forgotten America puts me in mind of a monument in Quebec City. I have seen it countless times over the years, but it never fails to move me. It also never fails to strike me dumb with its strange and compelling forlorn echo. It is a memorial to the men of Quebec City who laid down their lives in service to the British crown during the Boer War. There are monuments like this all over the world, monuments to the strange and utterly cynical and obtuse machinations of war. Monuments which compel us to study them with a grave and determined fascination, that stamp on our faces and in our hearts and minds the final expression of the dead.

Steve Swartz

Schenectady, N.Y.

Madison Considers Joining Irony Anonymous

Dear Editor,

Mike Clark-Madison says in his "Access of Evil" story on the Austin Music Network that "the privately funded (that is, 'professional')" channel is a superior alternative to what we have now ["Austin@Large," News, Aug. 6]. How is this new channel going to be more "professional" than AMN? What shred of evidence does the author have that suggests this proposed channel is even going to offer music programming? There is no evidence because the City Council has yet to receive anything in writing from the so-called Austin Music Partners. Not having a written agreement or even proposal between AMP and the city makes me wonder how the author could suggest that "the city's failure to pull off what seemed like such a no-brainer and such a good Austin fit" is actually a bad thing. How was this proposal such a no-brainer? The only no-brainer here is not approving a deal that has yet to be put in writing.

John Mullaney

[Michael Clark-Madison responds: Ah well, another attempt at irony fails. The reader is absolutely right: There is no proposal, and thus no way to gauge whether the AMP channel will in fact better meet the city's goals – whatever they are – than would the existing music network. It's not me, but rather City Hall, who has decided that this pig in a poke is prettier than the hog already in the pen. I apologize for any confusion.]

Idiotic Review

Dear Editor,

I could use up several pages criticizing Marc Savlov's idiotic review of The Village ["Film Reviews," Aug. 6] (a review which focuses exclusively on the film's predictable plot twists and lack of "scares," to the exclusion of all of the film's superior qualities – a classic "Hollywood zombie" way of looking at the film), but I've decided to focus on one curious question:

According to Savlov, Sigourney Weaver plays William Hurt's wife. Does this mean that the characters played by Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard (playing her son and his daughter) are committing incest? Or is Savlov just wrong (again)?

Matthew Diedrich

[Ed.'s note: Marc Savlov's review of The Village misstates the relationship of the two village elders. The characters Edgar Walker and Alice Hunt, played by William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver, are not married and any intimations of incest between the characters' offspring were not intended. We regret the error.]

Scumbags Shouldn't Curse

Dear Editor,

What is it with this filthy, despicable, foul-mouthed scumbag cussing Alex Jones in this two-bit rag ["Austin@Large," News, Aug. 6]? It's kind of ironic this creep is cussing Alex using his right to free speech, and yet at the same time negotiating in the attempt to take over ACTV and limit our free speech, which is what Alex is yelling about. We the people want our free speech left alone. And Louis, here's a heads up; if you want a war, you got it, mister.

Johnny Bartee

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