Our readers talk back.
'Semantic Distinction'?Dear Editor,
News Editor Michael King responded to my letter in the May 6 Chronicle ["Postmarks"] clarifying that the site of the proposed expansion of the South Austin Tennis Center is not a neighborhood park and identified it as a "semantic" distinction, noting that some of the neighbors consider the area as their park. I appreciate the neighbors' interest in this site, but in order to accurately report on this story, the Chronicle needs to identify that it is only the neighbor's assertion, their spin, that it is a "neighborhood park."
This is more than a semantic or administrative distinction. The land for the South Austin Tennis Center was purchased in the early Eighties and combined with the South Austin Recreation Center. Half of the tennis center has been built, and the remaining land has been banked pending completion of the tennis center. The city's neighborhood parks are typically small parks with playgrounds and one or two other facilities.
The city has been working with the neighbors for nearly a year to address their concerns. The project has been downsized and modified to address their concerns. City staff are continuing to work with the neighbors, and there is still an opportunity to reach a compromise that will benefit the interests of the neighbors, the city, and the citizens of Austin.
While this may seem pedantic, you should be clear that this "semantic distinction" could wind up costing the city $8 million to $10 million if we are required to start over and build a tennis center in some suburban location.
Land & Facilities Committee
City of Austin Parks Board
Was Intended to Be a ParkDear Editor,
I must take exception to Jeb Boyt's statement in his letter of May 6 ["Postmarks"] that South Austin Park was never intended as a neighborhood park. A little history is in order. The original permit from 1973 shows the South Austin Recreation Center was sited on 12 acres of land next to West Bouldin Creek. The city purchased the 11 acres next door in 1978 from the James Bouldin estate with emergency funding from a greenbelt acquisition fund. The current tennis facility was then built on that half of the park. The South Austin Tennis Center and the South Austin Recreation Center have coexisted within the South Austin Park since 1978.
In 1986, then city agent Stuart Strong applied for a zoning change from SF3 to P for the entire 25.93 acres. The application clearly states the zoning change is for a park. Many long-term residents of the neighborhood remember celebrating that the land would now be a park and cared for by the city. Prior to the bond election of 1998, neighborhood meetings pushing the bond package were held. The proposal was sold to the neighborhood as improvements and renovation of the current site, not additional courts. The Chronicle's own Mike Clark-Madison noted the same in October of 1998.
Our neighborhood streets are overburdened now. The additional traffic generated by tournaments and league play will aggravate existing conditions. The city's own traffic analysis conducted in March shows both Cumberland and South Fifth streets to be over recommended traffic capacity guidelines now.
Tennis proponents claim more tennis courts are needed in the Austin area, but it is hard to understand the city's logic in expanding this facility. South Austin Park is our neighborhood's only park. The city should find another site to build a tennis tournament center and leave neighborhood parks alone.
Defending MetaphorDear Editor,
In response to the editor's hair-splitting diversion note to my letter ["Postmarks Online," May 6], stating that a downtown chemical factory was not a good metaphor, I understand the logic and have taken it into consideration. As it turns out, most of the bars I frequent allow smoking. I hate it and a lot of my smoking friends hate it, too, although they will light up in harmony with the atmosphere ... so for me, the metaphor still hits home.
Perhaps the corrected scenario could be, "If you were a tiny chemical factory spewing out hellish toxic filth in a radius of 30 or 40 feet, would you care who you poisoned?" Maybe the only real answer to this nonissue is for nonsmokers to carry a can of Extra Strength Raid around with them and use it every time someone lights up. We can take bets on who'll die of cancer first. What part of "deadly carcinogen" do you not understand? Any arguments against as complete a ban as possible are the mumblings of unfortunate addicts and their misguided enablers.
The first draft of my anti-smoking letter was a personal anecdote about how literally sick (incessant flulike symptoms) secondhand cigarette smoke made me in vans, buses, and bars when I was touring through every rock club in the country three or four times a year (I quit touring in great part because of the smoke). But it made me sound like a smoking "victim" and subject to the "quit whining/my rights as a smoker" response (by the way, would a smoker tell a friend who was in a hospital bed dying of cancer to "stop whining"?). So, instead I sent the mean anti-smoking "aggressor" letter.
I promise I won't be so bitter if all my friends quit smoking, and I think it will be easier for them to quit if the smoking ban is passed. I want them to get better and healthier. The fact that a good number of them are alcoholics (or becoming so) is enough to deal with. Let's criminalize cigarettes and legalize pot. At least it smells better.
Love you guys (the Chron staff). You do a fine job and thanks for the nice parties. As many bitches and moans as you might get from people (including me occasionally) about this and that, the Chronicle is still the centerpiece for weekly entertainment and local political information for just about everyone I know.
The Saddest PartDear Chronicle,
Some last words: It is very sad that so many have come to take it completely for granted when a person goes through the time, trouble, and financial risks to open a private business, offer a service, and invite the public in. The key words being "offer" and "invite." Many have come to take it so for granted that they feel they have a right to mandate that the environment of that private business cater to one's own personal taste. Imagine I own my own restaurant with my own dishes and recipes loved and appreciated by my neighborhood regulars. Then law becomes mandated that I change the whole menu to be less fattening so as to suit a few health-conscious up-towners who drop by occasionally. This metaphoric example may seem grossly extreme, but this illustrates exactly how bar owners feel right now.
The saddest part was that many who voted for this smoking ban were not the regulars of the bar community, and probably never will be. They did not help pay the bills for bar owners like the so many who spend three-to-five nights a week at bars, and they did not help keep Austin nightlife alive.
Their lifestyles barely include bars. Yet they felt justified in making sure every bar would be smoke-free just in case they might drop by.
Some of the voters truly believed this was for public health. What saddens me is how many really just wanted every environment to meet their comfort standards, and believed they had the right to this over a bar owner's right to offer the environment that he knows best suits his clientele. Just something to think about, Austin.
Alex Abel (not a bar owner, just a 20-year veteran of Austin nightlife)
Addiction Is Not a ChoiceDear AC,
Please tell me you don't think addiction is a lifestyle choice. That's like saying bipolar disorder is a lifestyle choice. I saw that you stuck a headline on Michael Hankin's letter that seems to be saying so ["Postmarks," May 6]. No one chooses addiction. Someone who picks up a cigarette/cigar is simply choosing to smoke ... unless it's Clinton. When your kid tries heroin at a party you think he or she is "choosing" an addictive lifestyle? Come on, addiction hijacks the brain, i.e., you ain't makin' choices, they're being made for you.
Smoking Is a ChoiceDear Editor,
Hankin should get a spankin' because you are all wrong, my friend ["Postmarks," May 6]. I am 41, and have done lots of things like drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes during my lifetime. I have an argument that certainly means something even though I drink and smoke, and here it is: I am strong enough that I can and do choose when and if I have a cocktail and/or cigarette. I can stop at one drink or one cigarette. Sometimes I go weeks at a time without either. I work out at least one hour every day biking, running, weight lifting, swimming ... and I am in great shape. I run a nine-minute mile on average. If I choose to have a cigarette, then I will. If I choose not to, then I won't. Smoking is a choice for people like me. Maybe you should heed your own words about kindness and understanding, for not all people are the same. I am certainly an exception to your rules of judgment and am very proud to be so. I think your point of view should be "helped in any way we can." I certainly am not trapped or desperate. I don't need help to do something if I really want to ... I make a choice and do it. Case closed. Incidentally, the smoking decision should be the business owner's. A bad decision means no business will stay open. Period.
A Culture of SubterfugeDear Editor,
Crash the most compelling American movie in recent memory ["Film Listings," May 6]? Next you'll probably try to sell me on the idea that murdering Iraqis is patriotic. Not only does Crash hit the lowest of low for the Hollywood totem, it's also one of the most insulting excuses for a film ever made. Insulting as it sprays its cliché-soaked message across theatre seats, diluting and destroying any thought toward the notion of complex human interaction. If you watch the screen close enough you can just make out the writer's mug chortling widely as his paper creations spin around like dime store toys in a pawn shop, the glow of his Apple laptop burning into his forehead. Careless reviews of films like Crash turn cinema into a culture of subterfuge. Four-and-one-half stars? We're totally screwed.
Now Is the Time to Take ActionDear Editor,
The smoke has cleared, and now is the time to take action. I'm currently in nonsmoking mode, but I voted against the smoking ban. I understand and appreciate that smoking can go hand-in-hand with drinking and having a good time with your friends. Most patrons of the bars I hang out at smoke. I accept it and respect it. Secondhand smoke ... so now we're safe from harm's way? That's another letter. Point: Don't abandon your favorite watering holes because you can't smoke inside. My favorite bars, like Lovejoy's and Beerland, will always mean more to me than a damn cigarette.
Dallas Waiting to HappenDear Editor,
The Keep Austin Weird campaign is an effort to preserve and empower the small, individual, noncorporate businesses in Austin. Having lived in California, Arizona, Nevada, and now Texas, I found the campaign to be original and refreshing. I have an aversion to uniformity and enjoyed Austin's eclectic businesses, people, and music. After watching Austin in the last five years, I have to say: Drop it. Austin is not weird, and the evidence should be making the ubiquitous bumper stickers an embarrassment. How is an 11pm noise ordinance, ignoring free markets and imposing a smoking ban on every single bar owner, current developments that pave over South Park Meadows, the surrounding area of the Backyard, and putting New York style shops in SoCo weird? The only thing weird about this town is its vanity. Austin, you are Dallas-Fort Worth waiting to happen. Get over yourself.
Chris Gray[Editor's note: Letter-writer Chris Gray is not Chronicle Music writer Christopher Gray.]
New Century Isn't China'sDear Editor,
In his article on $4-a-gallon gasoline ["Letters@3am," April 29], Michael Ventura closes with the speculation that "No country gets two centuries anymore. The 21st will be China's century. That's what $4-plus a gallon means, and nothing can stop it." However, this ignores the fact that China faces problems that are likely less tractable than our own, particularly their tremendous and burgeoning population. Without manufacturing exports (which are driven by access to cheap energy), the Chinese economy will stagnate or crash. In order to remain stable China requires cheap energy for agricultural production, as well. The water difficulties in North China are on a scale even Las Vegas can't imagine. The megaprojects China has undertaken to "solve" these problems are, themselves, heavily dependent on cheap energy. If today's high energy prices continue their upward spiral, the next century will almost certainly not belong to China ... in fact, if energy scarcity reigns as Ventura speculates, it may not belong to any human.
Some Closure PleaseDear Chronicle,
Every week I open up a new issue of your publication and eventually come across the "Weed Watch" section only to be greeted by what look like a pair of THC-inflamed goat or sheep eyes. Judging by the rectangular shape of the pupils I would definitely have to say they are not human. To be honest I find them rather eerie and was wondering about their origin. I'm in no way asking for a change here, only some closure.
Up all night,
It's Hard to Make Bush Look Reasonable, But This DoesMr. Editor,
The American people have become a victim of a pinhead punk in the Oval Office that has become a part of a plot to divide the United States of America. He is ignoring the open borders of the United States allowing the illegal Mexicans to come freely into the country because the Bush family is part Mexican and he has become a pawn and puppet for the Fox of Mexico who is sending all the Mexicans into the United States to populate and dominate the Western part of the United States and reclaim it for Mexico. The Mexican people have always believed that their enemy, the Anglo Exploiter, stole from them with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the bloody war of 1848 and the secessions of the first Southwestern states to the Union. Recently he appointed a Mexican attorney general. Next he will have him on the bench of the Supreme Court working for the interests of illegal Mexicans. Bush's part of the conspiracy shows he betrays the trust of the American people with a false obligation of duty that makes him a traitor and unfit to be president and should be removed from office in order to keep the United States one nation undivided.
Nonsmokers Time to Put UpDear Editor,
OK, so the nonsmokers got their ordinance passed. I've heard lots of people on the radio and through other media outlets say they would go out to the clubs to see live music if only there were no smoke. We shall see. I personally don't believe these people are going to magically start going to clubs just because there is no smoking. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. So, nonsmokers, are you going to start showing up at the clubs to see live music? Because if you don't, then some of the clubs that are incredibly important to this city's live music scene will disappear, and I'm gonna be pissed.
Some Modest ProposalsDear Editor,
As someone who has never smoked, I would like to thank Austin voters for ending the tyranny of the city's human cancer factories. Their clouds of destruction have rained, for far too long, on my trips to local music clubs. How dare they spoil my experience? How dare they threaten my very livelihood? Never mind the fact that I made a conscious decision to enter a smoke-filled establishment, knowing full well that I could have spent my hard-earned cash at a joint that shares my rabid anti-tobacco beliefs! If Sea of Thousand is playing at Emo's, then dammit, I'm going to Emo's! And if there's one thing I've learned from the Republican Party, it's this: If you don't like the rules, change them!
Taking a cue from the successful anti-smoking crusade, I am now looking at further ways to safeguard the health of our citizens. So, with great anticipation, I will begin rolling out the following three petitions:
1) To force the city's live music clubs to lower the volume. No Austinite should ever have to leave a punk show with ringing ears. Just ask Pete Townshend prolonged exposure to loud music can wreak havoc on your hearing. Muffle the guitars, save the eardrums!
2) To make it a felony offense to leave the home if you've got the flu. Or, at the very least, we can force carriers of the virus to wear containment suits in public. Each year, influenza is responsible for the deaths of thousands of children and old people. Just think of how many lives will be saved with my new ordinance!
3) To order the city's Parks and Recreation Department to block out the sun at Barton Springs and Town Lake. Skin cancer is a horrible, horrible affliction, and Austin's female residents should be free to wear their bikinis without fear of its leathery specter.
I hope that all of my townspeople will join me in these efforts. Remember everyone has the right to live to 150, with good health, supple skin, and strong aural senses.
Scott M. Daigle
Texas Legislature: A Beacon of Light?Dear Editor,
I just wanted to express the pure joy I felt when I heard about the Legislature's latest bill on cheerleading routines ["Naked City," News, May 6]. I mean, they must have gotten a lot accomplished this session. I admit I don't watch their goings-on like a hawk; but, when I heard about this jewel my mind was put to ease. Obviously, all of the real issues have been put to rest. Boy are we lucky we don't have to worry about things like health care, quality education for children, crime, the 6,000 homeless people in Austin alone, the thousands of abused and neglected children in this state, police agencies run amok, the state budget, corporate fraud at the expense of workers and consumers, the separation of church and state, a functioning prison system, and a secure border. The latter of which relieves me the most. I mean these Oklahomans come in and out of here like it's nothing. Glad to see our leaders have their priorities straight. We can't afford to have them wasting taxpayers' time and money after all. Thank you, Texas Legislature, for your beacon of light guiding us all back to a world free of those pesky civil liberties.
Stand Up for UnionsDear Editor,
Unions are the only way workers have any democracy at work, the only way that we are not completely under the thumb of the employer. The City Council should tell Pepsi that if the workers aren't happy with Pepsi's negotiating, or rather lack of negotiating, then the city will find another soft drink vendor ["Pepsi Brings Union Fight to City Council," News, May 6].
Past president, UT Shuttle Bus Union
Poisonous Factory DowntownDear Editor,
If there were a chemical factory downtown spewing out hellish filth, poisoning bars and restaurants, slowly killing everyone inside, would you say, "We can't say anything about that. It will take money away from the community. It's only present in a small number of businesses, and 'they' like it that way"? This is not a freedom of choice issue, it is part of a historic worldwide cultural and public health catastrophe. Fewer people died in the giant tsunami that brought the whole human species together in mass empathy than the number of American smokers and their passive murder victims that will die of cigarette smoking this year. The evidence on secondhand smoke is overwhelming, and the desperate corporate lies in response are laughable (but unfortunately perpetuated by their unpaid, complicit, and misinformed shill addicts). We might as well bicker over the subtle difference between sucking DDT up with a straw and shooting it into someone's open mouth and eyes with an aerosol can. And for fuck's sake, let go of those absurd notions of style and so-called personal "freedom" to pollute the lungs of everyone around you. Smoking doesn't make you look cool anymore. It makes you look like a murderer and a prime market share in the form of a haggard, stinking corpse-in-waiting. "Man, I know it's bad for me, but you gotta die sometime." The real truth is that you are not only killing yourself, but playing Russian roulette with the lives of all your friends, family, and every person around you. "My uncle lived to be 100 and smoked every day." This type of anecdote is perpetuated because it's not so fun to tell the stories of the other 500,000 people a year who went to hospitals and graves, hacking up pink pus and bloody phlegm.
Lease Sixth Street to Disney?Dear Editor,
Congrats on the smoking ban! Now Austin will have the same vibrant music scene we have here in the Silicon Valley. Err ... wait: We have no music scene. Has the City Council considered leasing Sixth Street to Disney and calling it a day?
Palo Alto, Calif.
Legislators Not Doing Their JobDear Editor,
Perhaps since legislators continue to avoid making decisions on such urgent issues as school reform, financing public education, sky-high property taxes, doubled cost of homeowners insurance, escalated tuition costs of higher education, etc., they appear compelled to sweep away their own inadequacies by telling Texans how to live.
One legislator wants to shut down nudie bars, while another wants the responsibility to choreograph the moves of young cheerleaders. My 8-year-old son likes to drink Nestle's Quick with his milk will legislators soon demand that he use only Hershey's?
It's getting pretty scary out there in legislative land. Maybe it's the drinking water at the Capitol that affects the thinking patterns of elected officials? Pretty soon some swaggering legislator is going to propose that instead of growing wild flowers on our property, Texans must grow daffodils and pansies and make it a law!
Historically, the great thing about America and in Texas specifically is that we're pretty much an "independent," resilient breed. We don't want people to tell us what we can or cannot do. In the past, the Republican platform was always to "Keep Government Out of Personal Affairs." So what's changed?
One thing is certain. Legislators have forgotten why they were voted in by the people they serve and have lost their bearings on what their responsibilities are. It's not to tell people they have to eat right and not supersize orders, or to make folks go to church on Sundays if they don't want to, or to close down nudie bars, or even to tell cheerleaders how not to "shake their thang." Maybe it's elected officials who need to be shaken up a bit?
In fact, if legislators had been doing the job they were hired to do, perhaps the financial and social lives of hard-working Texas families wouldn't be in such shaky shape. Maybe officials need to "bite the bullet," make the hard decisions, and let the rest of us go on with our hard-fought-for/hard-won independent American way of life.
Smokers, It's Time to Help Out!Dear Editor,
I, for one, am thrilled that the smoking ban has passed. I almost never patronize Austin's clubs and bars because I cannot stand the smoky environments, but you can be sure that now will change. I know there are others like me.
Though several major cities have successfully enacted bans, it's clear that many of Austin's venues are terrified of losing business. And, so, I exhort Austin's smokers: Continue going to the bars and clubs! Like the owners themselves, I don't want great businesses going out of business. Keep going to them!
You smoking folks have the power to allay fears and keep doors open.
Puritan Left Joins With Reactionary RightDear Editor,
The passage of the smoking ordinance proves once again that democracy just doesn't work but fascism, sadly, does. Because obsessive busybodies who must have their way for all will always be more highly motivated than people simply content to mind their own business. But the pop-eyed fanaticism of some of the measure's proponents, like Michael Hankin in last weeks Chronicle ["Postmarks," May 6], should make anyone's blood run cold. We all have different ideas about what diabolical temptations threaten to corrupt and pollute the social organism, and it is all too easy to plug your choice alcohol, homosexuality, rock & roll music into Mr. Hankin's style of argument. Now that the puritan left and reactionary right have thoroughly undermined old-fashioned notions of private life, mutual consent, and personal responsibility, civil society will give way to the struggle of pressure groups to impose their ideals of community with Tasers and handcuffs.