Our readers talk back.

Parents Can Make a Difference

Dear Editor,

I want to thank the Chronicle and congratulate Rachel Proctor May on her excellent articles about our schools ["Shrinking Schools," News, May 20]. Austin is in a quandary: People want to live central, but if they have children, they feel they have to drive to other neighborhoods or move to the suburbs for the best schools.

We were in the same predicament three years ago when our daughter first attended Travis Heights Elementary. The school was at its lowest point. That one year we went through two principals and two assistant principals. More than 80 parents took their children out. Instead of fleeing, my husband and I and other parents decided to fight for the school. This meant taking on AISD to get a great principal, and then working with her to stretch what little money we were getting to hire the best personnel.

But a principal cannot do it alone. We parents made it our goal to bring the neighborhood kids back. We did that through house meetings with preschool parents, a quarterly newsletter distributed to all homes in the neighborhood, and taking every opportunity to open up the school and encourage our neighbors to visit. The school is truly wonderful today, and our own expert – the school secretary – estimates that we will break the magic number of 600 for next year's enrollment, up from 427 in 2003.

If we can do it, others can, too.

Betty Weed

Travis Heights Elementary PTA president (retired)

I Love Brentwood Elementary

Dear Chronicle,

I am writing to thank Rachel Proctor May for her article on central Austin schools ["Shrinking Schools," News, May 20]. My children attend Brentwood Elementary, which is the only school to make both the "10 Most Underenrolled Schools" list and the "Top 10 Transfer Destinations." I have long been aware that many of my neighbors transfer their children to Gullett or Bryker Woods without even visiting Brentwood. This phenomenon is perplexing to me because of what I know Brentwood to be: a terrific school with a gifted and dedicated staff of teachers, administrators, and others. And some of the best people I've met over the past four years are Brentwood parents. But, as Ms. Proctor May writes, "people will talk," and a few sour stories about a school can evidently go a long way in a small neighborhood.

I only have good stories to tell about Brentwood, where both my children are thriving. But Brentwood suffers from the loss of families from this neighborhood. For this reason, I urge my neighbors with young children to visit the school, meet the principal, take a tour, and talk to parents whose children attend. When you're visiting, ask if you can look in on a classroom of older children to see what they're doing. Ask about the multi-age program, one of the only such programs in Austin; ask about the schoolwide character education through life-skills and lifelong guidelines, which instills a sense of community, responsiblity, and kindness to others; and ask about ITI (Integrated Thematic Instruction), a teaching technique used throughout the school that approaches learning in a holistic way. Finally, look at the children when you visit: their bright, eager faces remind me constantly of why I love Brentwood Elementary.


Susanna Sharpe

Supports Frankencurbs

To the editor:

As a resident of Shoal Creek Boulevard just south of Anderson Lane, I want to comment on your article on the "Frankencurbs" ["Shoal Creek Boulevard Frankencurbs Draw Ire of Residents," News, May 20]. The wider bike/pedestrian/parking lanes make the road much safer for people walking in the street, which is important since much of Shoal Creek Boulevard does not have sidewalks. The curb islands are helpful to keep people from driving in the outside lanes. I was at the neighborhood meeting five years ago when many people turned out to oppose the city's original proposal for bike lanes. There were many angry people there who did not want any changes to make the road safer for bicyclists or pedestrians. All those complainers had five years to work with the city on an alternate plan. If they don't like the plan that resulted, then they didn't put enough energy into working with the city on an alternative that they would find acceptable. I'm sure that many of the people complaining about the curbs at the recent meeting are the same who complained about the original plan. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease," as they say. If the city surveyed all the residents of Allandale, I'm sure they'd get a higher approval rating for the new curb islands than they got from the cranky change-averse people who chose to show up at their meeting!

Paul K. Smith

Not Intended for Print

Dear Editor,

A while back I wrote a letter to Food Editor Virginia Wood ["Postmarks," May 20]. That letter was intended as a communication between myself and her. It was not addressed to you or to "Postmarks." Imagine my surprise when I saw it in print! I would like Ms. Wood to know it was not my intention to make her look bad, and I send my best wishes to her.


Gary L. Zimmer

Factual Errors?

Dear Editor,

Re: The letter by Gary Zimmer in the May 20th issue.

Obviously, any reader of any publication has the right to take a columnist to task whenever they want. I'm sure that the Chronicle's Food Editor Virginia B. Wood accepts the fact that she took Mr. Zimmer's criticism well. But as long as we are talking about factual errors, goodness sakes, contrary to what Mr. Zimmer asserts, Guadalupe and Airport certainly do intersect. Since one of my best clients is located on Guadalupe Street just north of Airport Boulevard, I have driven through that intersection hundreds of times over the last 16 years. (Unless I have been in a parallel universe with a few glitches in it.)

Yours truly,

Forrest Preece

The Problem Is the Democrats

Dear Editor,

Louis Black just doesn't get it. The people vote Republican because the Democrats don't have any ideas ["Page Two," May 20]. They don't have any leaders. They haven't led this country on anything since LBJ escalated the Vietnam conflict in 1965 – 40 years ago.

The only thing Democrats know is they're against private Social Security accounts. They're the ones marching lockstep with their party's leadership, doing whatever they tell them to do. Now they're throwing a tantrum because the president wants Federal Appeals Court judges who don't match their own political philosophy. Did the Republicans in the minority in the 1930s and Forties filibuster FDR's nominations to the Federal Courts of Appeals because they were too liberal?

What is going on in the nation's capital right now is unprecedented. The Democrats want power. The people don't want them in power because they don't have any leaders and they don't have any ideas. They refuse to acknowledge this, and so does Black. They're losing the country, and they're convinced the only option this point forward is all-out obstruction.

I've been reading Black's interminable rants against Republicans since the end of the November election, but what's his solution? How does he propose to fix these "messes" he yammers and yammers about week after week? Better yet, what's the Democrats' solution for better governance?

Barry Levitch

A Stupid Fight

Dear Editor,

Geez, Louis, pick better fights, will ya? Stand up for our rapidly eroding right to offer a dissenting opinion against our government, or how about fighting for the rights of consenting adults to do whatever the hell they want in their bedrooms? These are good fights. Standing up for the right to inflict harm on others in a confined public place is a stupid fight. And you lost – get over it. Unless you think Diebold machines were tampered with in this process, this does appear to be the will of the people.

You ask where to draw the line, and the answer is: when your freedom inflicts harm on others. We have an overriding freedom to be left unharmed in the public arena. The evidence is not ambiguous; it is entirely clear that smoke harms nonsmokers. This also plays to your final point about addiction – you have the freedom to harm yourself; that freedom stops when your addiction harms me. Is that clear enough? Apply it to any of the addictions you mentioned.

As to your call to the "army of nonsmokers" to come and listen to music while you simultaneously disparage their musical choices: I can't begin to tell you how misdirected this is – instead, you should be calling for smokers to come and attend shows even if they can't smoke. If alleged music-lovers have prioritized their need to consume tobacco over their need to consume music, then why not address this problem directly? Get with the program, Louis, it is time for society to evolve to this point, and Austin is establishing its mark in this social Darwinism. It is a good thing, embrace it!

Kevin Taylor

Clarifying Wimberley's Point

Dear Editor,

In Daniel Mottola's story this week on Shoal Creek ["Shoal Creek Frankencurbs Draw Ire of Residents," News, May 20], he did a fairly good job summarizing the history of this debacle given the space he had to work with – but one thing bothered me. Lane Wimberley's quote ("if you must channelize traffic, remove the obstacles from the bike lanes") was taken by Mottola to mean that Lane's "obstacles" were the curb extensions. I happen to know that's not what Lane meant.

In fact, although some cyclists view them as a tight squeeze, the passage past the curb extensions is not the problem – it's passing parked cars that is the source of conflict here. The "obstacles in the channel" Lane refers to are the cars parked in what most people still think of as a bike lane.

When I was the only person on the UTC to vote against early versions of this plan, I did it because it was simply impossible to maintain car-free bike lanes and parking on both sides – because there is not enough street space to safely pass a parked car and still stay in the "bike lane." Cyclists riding this corridor today are in far more danger of either being "doored" by a parked car (if they stay in the 10-foot "shared lane") or hit by frustrated drivers (if they do the right thing and merge into the travel lane) than they are of running into curb extensions.

What was needed all along on this corridor was not Jackie Goodman-style compromise, because it's impossible to compromise car-free bike lanes with both-sides parking. What was needed, as Lane points out implicitly, was a choice between those two positions. It was nothing more than a complete abrogation of responsibility for the City Council to refuse to make this choice and instead hide behind the facade of supposed consensus.


Mike Dahmus

Rooting for Badgerdog

Dear Editor,

Your story on Badgerdog Literary Publishing by Nora Ankrum ["Write of Passage," Books, May 13] has reached the eyes of this Badgerdog director in faraway California. As a sometime poet, my contribution is as much rooting from the sidelines as it is constructive input. And I do know how to root. In my view, Ms. Ankrum has demonstrated the kind of writing skill that contributes not only to your readers' knowledge of what is going on in this Austin-based enterprise but also leaves them with a very clear picture of the inspiration the quietly talented students are gaining in the writing workshops she describes. She is obviously at one with the program she portrays. I want to thank her for reminding me of why I joined the Badgerdog board in the first place.

Bob Simon

Los Altos, Calif.

Rich Don't Understand

Dear Editor,

Somehow people who have inherited money and command large salaries cannot understand living on a very tight budget. They discuss private investment accounts as if everyone could afford to put thousands if not hundreds of thousands in these accounts.

The vast majority of working people are barely cover-ing the cost of their living expenses. The idea of their being able to invest thousands of dollars in a retirement account is a mirage equal to their hope of winning the lottery.

It would take my entire lifetime of earnings for any percentage of my Social Security deductions to accumulate enough to earn more than a few pennies. Our congressional leaders don't seem to realize that we are not given vacations in exotic locations, nor are we treated to banquets and cars. We do not collect money to travel and advertise our virtues as we run for office.

We go to work each day cleaning your buildings, taking care of your lawns and gardens, teaching your children, selling you your luxuries, serving your meals, driving buses, trains, or planes, and trying to pay our bills with the small salaries we are paid.

Social Security has been our lifeline in our retirement years. Remove our lifeline and you will doom millions to destitution.

Barbara Hannon

San Marcos

Peace Movement Caused Holocaust

Dear Editor,

The U.S. had a huge and well-organized peace movement in the late 1930's. Students were holding sit-ins demanding "more schools and less battleships," and 50,000 military veterans held a peace march in Washington, D.C. It was matched by a large peace movement active throughout the Western democracies. That the leadership in Germany and Japan were emboldened by that movement is undisputed. It more than likely accounted for the failure to put an end to Hitler while he was still relatively weak. So an argument can be made that the "peace advocates," sincere though they may have been, contributed greatly to the catastrophic blood bath we call World War II and even to the Holocaust. So the numbers in the peace movement will remain small right up until people forget what the last great peace movement brought us. War must always be the absolute last option. But taking that option completely off the table is naïveté run riot.

Scott Sexton

Events in Africa Important

Dear Editor,

I read your story about Gilbert Tuhabonye published on May 13 ["The Memories of the Long-Distance Runner," News], the same day I first saw the film Hotel Rwanda. Both were inspirations. But I suppose I had let myself believe the violence in that part of Africa had ended a decade ago. How easy it is to imagine that trouble in mineral-rich Afghanistan and oil-rich Iraq count for more than whatever happens in AIDS-infected and famine-ridden Africa.

Bill Taylor

Talladega, Ala.

Wishes He Read It in 'Chronicle'

Dear Editor,

Intellectually I understand why the leaked British memo failed to even register on the American collective consciousness, but then our Congress-critters wrote an official letter to Bush asking for an explanation ( and still, nothing. I wrote Lloyd Doggett to thank him for signing the letter; he wanted to know where I had heard about it. Wish I could have said, "I read it in the Chronicle."

Chris Judge

[Editor's note: The congressional letter, signed by Lloyd Doggett, et al., is available at the link cited by Chris Judge. The "leaked British memo" itself, with useful commentary, is available at the Web site of University of Michigan professor Juan Cole,]

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