Our readers talk back.
Fri., Feb. 11, 2005
Ms. May's excellent article on the college pipeline accurately identifies many of the leaks in the pipeline ["How to Get Your Kids Through College," News, Feb. 4]. Of these leaks, adequate K-12 preparation is crucial to enlarging the pipeline. Unfortunately, the state has refused to invest in the single most important factor in adequately preparing students for college well-qualified teachers.
Schools serving poor and minority students have far lower percentages of well-qualified teachers than schools serving affluent and white students. For example, as I testified in the school finance court case this past summer, the percentage of properly certified Algebra I teachers in predominantly African-American schools is approximately 50% while the percentage of Integrated Physics and Chemistry is less than 35%. Percentages for English I and geography are not much better. Not surprisingly, students in such schools fare poorly on state achievement tests and the SAT. Until the state provides serious incentives for the best teachers to teach for long periods of time in such schools, we will continue to see large numbers of poor and minority students remain woefully underprepared to undertake collegiate coursework.
The Senate school finance plan addresses this issue, but the House education plan ignores this problem and simply chooses to punish such schools rather than invest in them. The Senate proposes providing stipends to teachers willing to teach in hard-to-staff schools. While this alone will not solve the problem, it would be a first step in ensuring an equal opportunity to learn for all students in Texas schools, not just those students lucky enough to live in certain Zip codes. Until then, we will spend millions of dollars trying to remediate students who could have been well-prepared in high school for far less money if only the state would invest in teachers.
Ed Fuller, Ph.D.
Department of Educational Administration
The University of Texas at Austin
Bands Are Neglected
Re: Darcie Stevens' "Who Is This Band and Why Won't Anybody Book Them?" [Music, Jan. 14].
Have Skullening played Emo's yet? I know it was mentioned by some astute jackass in response to Ms. Stevens' cover story ["Postmarks," Jan. 28], featuring the San Antonio band, but when I looked at the Emo's ad, with an excitement I generally reserve for shit like Christmas, I didn't see Skullening's name mentioned anywhere.
I did see an advertisement for a show, featuring opening act "Skullering." Sure, it was a typo ... perhaps somebody at Emo's was taking a wry stab at the band's so-called "obscurity," but nevertheless such a technicality further reinforces the headline the Chronicle chose for the feature.
While one of the band's featured in Ms. Stevens' article has popped up at Emo's with some regularity over the last year, two of the other bands in the article had been insulted with advice along the lines of "Go play the Vibe" by Emo's booking staff. No one wanted any of these bands until guys like Jesse Hodges shook the local scene up with Rancho Relaxo. While people may have interest in them now, this was not always the case.
I will say one last thing in Ms. Stevens' defense: She listens, and she's at least trying. Following her atrocious attacks on the Red River district, I discovered she was approachable and merely lacked the guidance of those who work and book these clubs. When approached, she is always willing to lend you her ear and give something new a try, which is more than I can say for her superiors.
In this town, people love to waste their time and energy on pointless bitching. I'm sure Ms. Stevens will receive a lot of empty-headed advice from subliterate Chronicle readers, but I for one am glad she exists. She's a great counterweight against the ignorance and inactivity of her peers. As for the young man who wrote in a few weeks ago: It's a shame it took Darcie Stevens to get you to write something about Skullening. In the future, instead of mewling about the inadequate job others are doing, why don't you get off your lame ass and set an example? While Darcie's doing something, you're doing absolutely nothing. Sorry, pal, whining doesn't count.
Looking Out for the People
The formation of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, as a new toll road authority in Central Texas, causes Travis County to commit the full faith and credit to the RMA bonds, obligating Travis County to raise taxes to pay for the bonds if the toll fees do not cover the cost of the bonds.
The RMA will sell its first bonds within days. The toll plan in Central Texas is unpopular because so many of the roads in the plan already are fully funded by taxpayer dollars. Hence, the tolls constitute a double tax. The sale of the bonds will "marry" Travis and Williamson counties under an RMA that is mostly run by Williamson County representatives.
Why would the Travis County Commissioners Court allow Travis County citizens to bear the burden of paying for maintenance, tolls, and possibly higher taxes for roads the state is already responsible for?
Who is looking out for the interests of the people of Travis County? Certainly not the Travis County Commissioners Court. Legislators and the people of Texas need to speak out on this issue.
Dolores Leyba and Jim McDermitt
Ventura Wrong on Derrida
It's disappointing that Michael Ventura, typically a courageous freethinker when it comes to the art of letters, has fallen under the popular sway of the reactionary neoconservative critics who disparage Derrida without spending more than a few cursory moments with his texts. ["Letters @ 3AM," Jan. 7] Creative and analytical readers expect such slog from Publishers Weekly and The New York Times Book Review, but not from Ventura. I guarantee that had Ventura ever picked up a book of Derrida's, rather than rely on Derrida's reputation-according-to-newspapers-and-magazines, he would have been impressed. Surely he would have disagreed with Derrida, but he would have at least recognized another writer just as equally devoted to the magic of language and literature. A sure sign that Ventura is out of his range in this essay: He lambasts Derrida for "confusing multitudes," as if Ventura himself wouldn't be the first to lead a charge of asking questions to engage with a subject from a fresh viewpoint, even if those questions weren't immediately answerable and the engagement turned up more questions than answers.
Anti-intellectualism, as if it needed any more nurturing in this country, could be more easily critiqued and dismissed if independent thinkers like Ventura didn't lazily jump on its bandwagon when convenient (especially considering that it's not even relevant for Ventura's focus in this essay).
An element of bitterness clearly informs Ventura's closing jibes at any and all literary theorists, and a longtime reader of his columns has to wonder: Is anyone besides Ventura allowed to write about literature? (Consider that one-third of all his columns have been devoted, illuminatingly, to the writing process and the many forms that literature takes.) An analogous portrayal of the logic of his critique against literary theorists could be represented like this: I hate all trombone music because I've only heard bad trombone music. Surely Ventura's not letting the slackening analysis that passes for thought in America determine his own level of rigor as he matures.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Jim Nash Is Back in Town
Whatever happened to the live music scene in Austin? East Sixth Street has become a joke with sleazy bars, and except for Stubb's, there is nothing worth going to east of Congress. Except for Jovita's, the Broken Spoke, Austin Music Hall, La Zona Rosa, Alligator, and the Saxon, the scene is dead. Oh yeah, there is the Cactus Cafe on campus, but try parking around the Drag without a sticker. Even the lame cover bands are gone from Austin, and instead there are hundreds of wannabe punkers playing their one-note samba on Red River, in between stays at the Ranch and Austin State Hospital.
OK, I know, Austin is weird, and we now have Michael Ventura back in town from El Ay. Great. He can compete with Robert Rodriguez for the worst movie ever made (Dusk to Dawn vs. Roadie) and bad wannabe punkers on meth.
You want live music? Try San Marcos, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, because it sure ain't in Austin any more.
[Editor's note: Michael Ventura currently resides in Lubbock.]
Recognizing the Importance of Public Transit
I discovered The Austin Chronicle on a recent trip to Austin. As a big fan of public transportation, I was amazed by the article "Here Comes the Train" [News, Jan. 28]. The plan is brilliant ... replace drive-and-park retail with pedestrian retail, create high-density housing surrounding stations, and blend outer stations into the suburban landscape. As a Dallas resident, I am impressed by Austin's plan for two reasons: 1) The plan for TOD is designed to make it necessary rather than just an option, and 2) your community seems to really embrace the change rather than fight it. This is where Austin differs from Dallas and our light rail (DART). Although our train
is popular in ridership, it is not a necessary part of our city, but an alternative option. Some of our stations have apartments adjacent, but they are a novelty and not available for sale. And, sadly, our train is met by opposition at every newly proposed plan. The people of DART do a great job of pushing the train through, but it is always a fight.
Congratulations to your city for recognizing the importance of public transportation and embracing the unknown in an effort to improve.
No Carnaval Coverage!?
Hey, alternative-unbiased media; eclectic, open-to-all-things weekly; reviewer of everything from sex at the Vortex to glam-slam at the thank-you-mam, what gives?
No Carnaval coverage!? You should be ashamed of your third-estate self. There's just no acceptable reason for the dis, so get with the program and picture the party that has become the symbol of midwinter festivities in Central Texas!
Yours in bewilderment,
[Editor's note: Carnaval Brasileiro was featured as the lead art for the Calendar section and recommended in the "LuvDoc Recommends" column in the Feb. 4 issue of The Austin Chronicle.]
Fantasmagorical 'Bang Bang'
Thank you so much for your inclusion of the history and stateside debut of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ["Bittersweet Spotlight," Theatre, Feb. 4]. Your research was spot on! I'm sure the U.S. version will be Fantasmagorical for all.
Jeff F. Kehoe
The Ian Fleming Foundation
Yes to Playful Pondering
Re: "Letters @ 3AM," Feb. 4. The only thing I can say to that playful pondering is a resounding "Yes"!
Who Doesn't Have an Agenda?
I just wonder if this gentleman who wrote the letter vilifying Sen. Waxman and the Chronicle ["Postmarks," Jan. 28] paused to send the same form of letter to Fox News for their obvious and arrogant support for our White House, which includes slanting the facts that he's so fond of and his "biased" preaching from his moral soapbox. Does he actually really believe that Fox News and a few others do not have an agenda?
The Sludge Also Rises
America is a melting pot, as our liberal friends like to refer to it. But a melting pot melts down what is put into it, and the pure product goes to the bottom and the impurities form on top as scum or sludge, which should be discarded. Our liberal friends want to save the scum, so they rush it into court or run it for office. Our founding fathers knew better; they discarded the scum and strengthened our nation by standing firm on the Christian principles and values on which we were founded.
Medical Pot Bill
I urge all Texans to support HB 658, a medical marijuana bill authored by Democratic Rep. Elliott Naishtat and joint authored by Republican Chairman Terry Keel ["Naishtat Files Medi-Mari Bill," News, Feb. 4]. This bill will protect doctors from being investigated solely on grounds that they discussed marijuana as a treatment option with their patients.
The bill would also enable Texas jurors to hear evidence supporting an affirmative defense of medical need in marijuana cases, which is currently not allowed.
I founded both NORML and HEMP organizations in San Antonio in the early Nineties. I heard many stories of both doctors and nurses smuggling marijuana to cancer and other patients. Marijuana was the only medicine that helped these people from their suffering. They broke the law knowing that this medicine was the only thing that would help them. I had so many sick people calling me asking where and how they could obtain legal medical marijuana. I was heartbroken to have to tell them that our government didn't care about them and would rather arrest them.
In the Nineties, San Antonio NORML staged a protest as the local DEA HQ. We presented a demand to the head of the DEA that marijuana be legalized for medical use. They locked their doors on us and tried to hide. They were afraid of their citizens demanding truth and justice for the ill.
We are now seeing polls both locally and nationally that show that our citizens support legalizing marijuana for medical use. I urge all our citizens to contact their state representatives to support this bill. You can contact Texans for Medical Marijuana at 512/220-9209 or at www.texansformedicalmarijuana.org.
Why a No. 1?
I have an answer (not necessarily Michael Ventura's, but mine) for those who wonder who the No. 1 country in the world is ["Letters @ 3AM," Jan. 21]. Why does there have to be any? I believe there are a number of No. 1 countries, depending on what category you are discussing. Basically, there are a number of pretty much equally good countries, each better in some ways and worse in some ways. The question really is, why do Americans place so much value on being No. 1 in everything and have to insist that we are? The world would be a much better place if they could get over that.
Inflation and Recession Not the Same
Inflation and recession are not equally mutable. Inflation has several natural barriers. People save money. Brokers recommend short-term investment when inflation is predicted. When stock prices drop, everyone sells. This means less government intervention is needed to reduce inflation.
I support President Bush's efforts to encourage inflation. However, where does it end? For the past century there have been several small recessions creating an economic level far below what it was before. Therefore, inflation is needed to bring the economy back up. Inflation creates jobs. United States citizens need jobs. It is important everyone is out and able to earn a paycheck. Recession puts the jobs created at risk. Would the government simply go back to normal after the unemployment rate is satisfied? I hope not.
Though an unpopular idea, inflation needs to be sustained in order to counter future problems whatever they may be. Inflation is created because of shortages. After long enough, companies will try to counteract by creating a surplus. Surpluses lead to lower prices. A tendency toward recession will begin again. Perhaps a small incremental tax during inflation will help limit inflation from going out of control. Then simply stop raising taxes in years when there is decreased or no growth. Heavy tax breaks are always around for severe situations.
Sometimes taxes are distributed unevenly. Take Denver for example. Several years ago they were not equiped to deal with tourism. Therefore, they had higher taxes on tourist-related goods like hotels.
There still needs to be a way to finely tune the economy. The future is a mystery. A flat tax may not be the best solution. More people need to see inflation and recession are not as equally likely.
State of Union Smugness
George Bush, on his State of the Union smugness, is promising me, a baby boomer in her 50s, the security that FDR promised my deceased parents. However, he says that my son and grandchildren must privatize and have the sense to buy into Google before Google went $200 today.
Frankly, I want my Social Security D.C. investors to look into the crap in environmental Texas, calculate Pennsylvania and offshore San Diego, and then tell me that George Bush has an inkling about the economic situations Jenna and Barbara Jr. will be facing come 10 years from now.
I am so grateful that Jenna and Barbara are paying for my retirement, and too bad the oil well my great-grandparents bought in Brazoria County is running out.
I mean, I know Sixth Street policing of spaced and high kids is important, but ...
Love and peace,
Luisa Inez Newton
Didn't Like State of the Union Address
The State of the Union address by the president did not set out any new plan, but it did provide the usual rhetoric. Much like Vatican I the similarities are, maybe not coincidental, "Accept, obey, and pay" could have been the short version of his speech. George Bush said, "Policies to advance that ideal at home and around the world." An idealist or is it arrogance? This man and his administration are about denying the rights and dignity of human beings. This man and his administration even profess the belief that "Christianity" is the only vision for our nation and the world under the guise of "democracy."
It was such a heartfelt speech for Americans that are of course heterosexual and practicing Christians, because if you're not in that category then you're just a "lost soul" in need of deportation, obliteration, or incarceration. I found his speech to just reiterate his discriminatory, idealist, heterosexist, proletariat ideal of a world. Theologian Gerard Philips said, "Never substitute individual judgment [Americans or people thinking for themselves] for the collective wisdom of the whole church [Republican Party today], as voiced by the hierarchy [George Bush]." So it seems anyone who has the courage to question, to think differently, is then his enemy and an enemy to his administration or like the Vatican I termed "liberals." He could just reinstate the "anti-modernist oath" and make it pivotal for designation as an American citizen. This way there would be no expectation or desire for a real democracy and true freedom for all Americans.
Where's the Real Crisis?
I want to know why George Bush is so concerned about Social Security. What is it really all about? The real "crisis" we are facing is with Medicare and our health care system. That is what Bill Clinton tried to fix. Why is this genuine crisis being ignored? What is the Social Security "fix" really about?
Paul D. Habib
With the release this week of his slash 'n' burn budget, George W. Bush has finally showed the hand he has been holding for the past four years. The great tax giveaway of '01 and its lesser sequels perplexed many economists. Why was Bush shifting the tax burden from the corporations to the middle class? What was he thinking by giving away our surplus? Why was he willing to borrow so much from other countries to fund his ill-fated and half-baked policies?
The answer is clear now. Bush was draining away the necessary funds from the programs that help average Americans the most. Now, with this "budget," his vision is almost complete. Gone is the America we once lived in, in which we looked after our neighbors. It has been replaced with a "me first" society that brings out the worst in human nature. And without a touch of irony, Bush blames the cutbacks on the deficit he created, all while trying to sell the snake-oil of privatized Social Security a plan to add more than $4 trillion in red ink to our debt.
Even a cursory look at Bush's plan confirms huge cuts in programs that most effect Americans' lives, including supporting farming families, protecting the environment, and health care for our soldiers. It seems likely that the details of the budget will be even more alarming.
If the president installs his vision of America with this budget, it may be decades before this country can recover its moral soul. This country was not founded to inflate the wealth of those in power; it was founded to support and protect all of us.
Bush should be ashamed of his misguided priorities, but sadly, he has neither the humility nor the sense to do so.
Twentysomething male professionals used to sip martinis. In any given Manhattan bar at any given happy hour I found myself mesmerized by a sea of salon-quality haircuts drifting into a wash of pastel sport shirts. Promenading penny loafers stirred noxious colognes into the overwhelming scent of machismo, adding to an atmosphere already filled with language simultaneously smart, sophisticated, and snobbish.
Yuppies. Whatever happened to them? They were such a distinct pack, trademarked by gold-rimmed Ray Bans, the baby-blue Porsche, and the cashmere sweater worn not for warmth but rather as some sort of elitist cape. They giggled between their teeth for Christ's sake, and they thought it was sexy.
Twentysomething male professionals still sip martinis in swank New York clubs, but they look nothing like the yuppies we fondly remember. They are still young, urban, and professional, but in addition they look feminine.
What was once merely Old Spice overindulgence has turned into perfume frenzy. Men I know are now applying "product" to their hair, shaving with four-bladed razors, and donning matched outfits just to look the part for breakfast at a crusty diner. This new breed of male yuppie becomes giddy over accessories faster than a teenage girl at Claire's; I even spotted one chatting on his cell phone as he pranced through drugstore aisles snatching up all the leg wax and facial cream. What is going on?
One likely explanation for this neutered form of masculinity is that modern gender rolls are being questioned to a degree not seen since Roman times. As we enter an age of testosterone transformation, existing monikers such as "yuppie" become dated. Today metrosexuality, often used as a moniker in itself, has merged with the young urban professional, creating a new breed of muppie men that are more sheepish than their predecessors but just as mesmerizing.
Based upon ambiguous exit polling, the popular wisdom is that Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election because President Bush was strong on "moral values." Although that response was given by only 22% of those polled, the pundits immediately declared that John Kerry had been found unworthy of the voters' trust because he lacked the same moral fiber that President Bush exhibited.
Democrats did not lose the presidential election due to a lack of "moral values." Nor did George W. Bush win the election because he is a born-again Christian with "strong moral values." George W. Bush was re-elected because he was president on September 11, 2001. In practical effect, President Bush owes his re-election to Osama bin Laden.
Although President Bush apparently believes that his re-election is proof that the American voter approves of his policies, including his ill-conceived war in Iraq, American history teaches that the re-election of presidents during wartime is the norm and not the exception. Abraham Lincoln is the best example of a president who was re-elected because the voters chose not to "change horses in the middle of a stream" during the Civil War. More recent examples are Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Since presidents undoubtedly feel more important and have greater political appeal when they put on their uniform as commander in chief, it is no surprise that Republican strategists quickly declared a war on terror while the debris from the World Trade Center was still smoking.
The question is, how long will George W. Bush and his fellow Republicans remain in uniform?
President Bush has given us the answer in his second inaugural address: until the final battle between the forces of good and evil is won; until the last terrorist is killed and the last tyrant is overthrown.
Forever is a long time.