The Austin Chronicle


July 7, 2006, Columns

Problems With Coroner's Office

Dear Editor,

Re: Jordan Smith's article on the Travis County Medical Examiner's office for June 30 ["CSI: Travis County," News]. I have many issues with the examiner's office and other entities within Travis County, over their handling of the case of my son, Aiden Joe Perez. Their incompetence has caused a substantial amount of heartache for so many people (in and out of county). In many cases, the fraud committed by the ME's office has led to convictions of innocent people (ruining their family's lives and leaving the mourning without closure). Taking someone's organs, harvesting them, incinerating them, and disposing them in a dump may indeed be acceptable under Texas Health & Safety Codes or under Texas Administrative Codes. However, they both require the next-of-kin approval. As we know, the chief ME "skips" the step of approval from family or ignores their express written instructions on the autopsy-request form (as they did with the case of my son).


Candra Walker


Problems May Not Be Fault of Bayardo

Dear Editor,

Most of your readers will never have to visit Dr. Bayardo's office, so your article exposed us to the problems he deals with on a daily basis, such as outdated and inadequate equipment, shortages of supplies, and an overworked staff ["CSI: Travis County," News, June 30]. Whether his fault or that of our county commissioners, these issues were present before and have remained during his 30 years. I myself have been to the coroner's office, and after reading your article I am more appreciative than before. My son Alex, 19, died in an auto accident in Jan. 2004. When I picked up his autopsy report, I sat to read it. I asked someone there to explain some of the conclusions in the report. I must admit I was still grieving and angry at the time, I told the person helping me I wanted to speak to someone else, someone who could answer my questions. They asked me to wait. After a few minutes Dr. Bayardo himself sat next to me. He carefully went over the report and answered all my questions. He shook my hand, offered his condolences, and excused himself. Who knows which one of its many problems his office faced, but he took time out for a grieving dad that day, and who knows how many times he's done that over 30 years? Thanks, doc.

Jesus M. Vasquez

Pineo's Pretentious Drivel

Dear Editor,

My unhip mind seems to have missed something in reading Barry Pineo's review of the Hyde Park Theatre's performance of A Brief History of Helen of Troy [Arts Listings, June 30]. After the usual trite, college sophomore rants about what a rotten, cruel, unfair world it is (merit doesn't really matter, the rich get richer, and the rest of us "poor schlubs get considerably poorer," "wage slaves" et. al.), he concludes that we shouldn't miss it because we'll miss: "a funny, sad, wise, ultimately human story. So strange to watch a play in which fellatio is performed on a young man who has just been assaulted; in which one person spits on another, not once, but twice; in which a daughter quite clearly propositions her father; in which an adolescent girl talks about the sexual act in the crudest of terms; and in the end to be left saying that the story is not so much about brutality as it is about caring, about connection, and, mostly, about love." So just where is all this "wisdom" and "love," Barry baby?

Violence, teen lust substituting for lack of affection, incest, ugliness, the degradation of the human spirit – all of which true progressives know, I'm sure, is hidden behind the pleasant, materialist facade of every middle-class, suburban American, family. The review says more about the mind of Barry Pineo than anything else. That classy-Lolitaish pornolike pic that accompanied the review revealed more truth about the play than any of Pineo's pretentious drivel.

Nathan J. Latta

Another Piece in the Perplexing Puzzle

Dear Editor,

Re: Jaxon ["Page Two," June 16]: I try to think of death as just another piece of this perplexing puzzle, but lately my ghosts are complaining of overcrowding. Thanks for the notice.

James "BigBoy" Medlin

Greatly Restrict Immigration

Dear Editor,

As part of the "anti-immigration crowd" Louis Black puts down ["Page Two," June 30], let me partially explain my reasons for this stand. One is that I don't think our infrastructure can support millions more poor people when there are already lines waiting for health and mental care, jobs, and affordable housing.

I've worked alongside blacks, Mexicans, and Asians, barely making it on $7 per hour. Many people here now are already forced to take jobs with no benefits, no unions, no organizing for rights. When millions of even poorer people come in, I fear employees will lose all the benefits workers ever fought for and won. There will be no more labor organizing, at least, not in my lifetime. How can workers fight effectively for a minimum wage when there are millions of people willing to work for less?

Also, anyone with common sense knows that the more poverty there is, the more crime there is. Letting millions of poor people come here without enough jobs will foster an increase in crime. I'm not saying immigrants would be the perpetrators – just that there would be many more desperate, hungry humans.

This is not the land of milk and honey or the welcoming sanctuary of freedom and opportunity. It's getting tougher every year to survive in the United States, both financially and as a free citizen. I feel that all immigration should be greatly restricted, except for political asylum, until all the workers here now are earning a living wage.

Incidentally, don't you think since so many immigrants come from Mexico, it should open its borders? Not a chance! Mexico has very restrictive immigration and citizenship laws.

Fancy Fairchild


Against Helmet Law

Dear Editor,

I sincerely hope that the Austin City Council has no intention of passing a law requiring adults on bicycles to wear crash helmets. There is no law requiring adults on motorcycles to wear helmets. Motorcycle helmets are much more effective than bicycle helmets, and motorcycling, even with a helmet, is much, much more dangerous than bicycling without a helmet. An absurd set of laws like this creates disrespect for the law. It can also lead the more reckless and helmet-loathing bicyclists to quit bicycling and start motorcycling. This makes the streets less safe and the air more polluted.

There has not been a rash of deaths or severe injuries among adult unhelmeted bicyclists lately. In fact, most adult bicyclists in Austin wear helmets. The bicyclists killed by cars this year were wearing helmets. Many people, both cyclists and noncyclists, vastly overestimate the efficacy of bicycle helmets. This can cause trouble.

The youth helmet law in Austin is no longer enforced because almost all the tickets issued were to teenaged African-American males riding after dark. This is a very small subset of child cyclists. Helmet laws, when enforced, make laughingstocks of the police.

It's legal for cars to park in bike lanes. It's legal for motorists to talk on cell phones while driving 2-ton cars. It's legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. To require all adult bicyclists to wear helmets seems very absurd in this context. I hope that Austin's City Council is intelligent enough to reject this ill-conceived idea.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich

Isn't the Idea to Save Souls?

Dear Editor,

Re: The controversy regarding atheist UT professor Robert Jensen joining St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church is confusing to me ["Church Fight," News, June 23]. I thought churches were in the business of saving souls. How can they do that if one of the prerequisites for joining is that your soul be already saved?

Alan Sweeney

Protecting Standard of Living

Dear Editor,

When employers have an unlimited supply of labor, what is the incentive to pay a decent wage ["Page Two: A Prayer Too Far," June 30]? Is labor a commodity that when the supply is high the price is low? What is the harm in protecting the standard of living for Americans? What is the chance that we can stop a natural migration of a populace intent on improving their standard of living?

Charles Lokey

Playground Not Massive?

Dear Editor,

After reading Mick Vann's review of the Lazy Fork [Food, June 23], I immediately set up a family gathering for Saturday the 24th. What drew me to the eatery was Mick's mentioning a "massive playground with strings of lights and all kinds of gizmos for the kiddos." I have a 10-year-old, so any restaurant where he can act a fool in a space set aside for just that purpose is great by me. The massive playground amounted to basically a smallish dirt patch with some concrete animals for the kids to crawl on. I actually asked the hostess if there was another play area for the kids because the rinky-tinky dustiness out back in no way met Mick's description. She apologized and said she, too, had read The Austin Chronicle article and found Mr. Vann's prose to be misleading.

In addition to finding Mick's description of the playground to be mildly deceptive, he either hit the Lazy Fork on a real good night, or we on a bad one. The brisket was tough, the second round of chicken was raw on the inside, and the ribs were not as meaty as we'd like. I was also particularly saddened by the rolls, as they came out flat as pancakes and tasted of raw dough. The service, well, we'll just leave it that we were fairly well-ignored as all of the waitstaff and second servings of meats and sides were directed to the party table instead of ours.

One high point: The sausage was incredible. Everyone at our table, seven of us total, thought the sausage to be the best in town. I asked our waiter, in one of his rare appearances, if it could be purchased retail through a local vendor. Much to our chagrin, nope; only available at Lazy Fork.

We are willing to give the Lazy Fork another try as I usually agree with Mick Vann's reviews. I am truly hoping that my overall assessment of the place was tainted by my disappointment with the playground and service and that subsequent visits will live up to the hype.

Thanks for your time,

Laurie Gonzales

Barbecue nut

[Mick Vann responds: I'm not quite sure what you expected for a play area for your child, especially when very few restaurants have them in the first place. The play area seems larger in space than the back patio seating area, which handles a large number of people. My group all commented on how big the play area was, and I actually said that it should have been smaller to accommodate more diners: After all a restaurant is for dining, and not child diversion. The surface appeared to me to be decomposed granite (the material used on the hike and bike trail) and not dirt. All 20 or so kids that were out there when I checked it out were having a blast, and they were in a safe environment, in full view of their parents. I'm sorry you think I deceived you or if your son was disappointed in his play experience, but I stand by my comments on the play area and my dining experience.]

Cars Are Here to Stay

Dear Editor,

In response to Ms. Babich I would just like to say, for the record, my car isn't smelly ["Postmarks," June 9]. Sure it is in dire need of a wash and its floorboards have become a repository for all manner of flotsam, but stink it does not.

And for every irresponsible driver Ms. Babich encounters, I can provide an equal number of irresponsible bicyclists. A bicyclist is required to obey all applicable traffic laws, yet I have seen many who fly through red lights and stop signs. Or others who dart in and out of traffic without signaling, or who blow past pedestrians on the sidewalk along the Drag, mere inches away from hitting someone.

Ms. Babich also says she makes transportation a major factor when choosing where to live and work. In an ideal world, everyone would live within walking or cycling distance from where they work and shop. Unfortunately, people don't always have that choice. Most people eke out a living when and where they can. One's level of education and availability of employment within his/her desired field dictates where a person works. And income level, housing availability, and affordability dictates where a person lives.

Let's face it: Personally owned, engine-powered conveyances are here to stay, whether that engine is powered by gasoline or green beans. Great distances are unreachable by walking or bicycling in any practical sense. Technology will eventually conquer the fossil-fuel issue, and an efficient, environmentally friendly solution will be found for personal vehicular transportation. Coupled with advances in mag-lev, light rail, and high-speed bullet trains, society will have an effective method for moving its people.

Eric Harwell

Public Transportation Lacking

Dear Editor,

Gary Liddy tells us ["Postmarks," June 30] he "constantly promote[s] the advantages of the 'X-Auto' downtown lifestyle to [his] suburban friends," while admitting "outside of the nighttime entertainment areas, it's deadsville." He then insults his "friends" by dismissing them as unable to appreciate urban living. Gary, darlin', the fact that some of us don't want to live in an expensive downtown condo doesn't mean we don't understand the benefits of a walkable city. I lived in San Francisco for two years, and I didn't miss having a car at all, because I didn't ever need one. Everything I required was within walking distance of my apartment. I wasn't ever stranded without a car – I could walk to a doctor's appointment or go shopping and make it back to work before my lunch break was over. And when I wanted to go someplace on the other side of town, it was a quick, cheap trip on the subway, bus, or an always-readily-available (and affordable) taxi. Have you tried taking a cab in Austin lately? You'd better have plenty of cash and the dispatcher's phone number to call well in advance. Taking one of Capital Metro's "Night Owl" routes home when the bars close at 2am? Be prepared to stand on a dark street corner with no bench for half an hour or more, and wear comfy shoes, because it's unlikely there's a stop close to your destination. For Austin to create urban density to increase the tax base, reduce traffic (including DWIs), and stop urban sprawl into environmentally sensitive areas, we must promote not only downtown and midtown development (don't get me started on the ridiculous "McMansion" ordinance) but frequent, extensive 24/7 public transportation covering the metropolitan area so we can get anywhere, anytime, quickly, cheaply, and safely.

Camille Whitworth

Letter Was 'Personal'

Dear Editor,

Last week's Chronicle carried a letter ["Postmarks," June 23] from Jeff Brooks, former "director" (actually meeting coordinator) of the Crude Awakening citizen's group in Austin. Mr. Brooks also posted a lengthy diatribe about the group to our own Web site bulletin board, chastising the group and its members in much the same way.

Crude Awakening is a group of concerned local citizens – mothers, fathers, students, professionals, retirees, laborers, and housewives – who are studying the issue of global oil depletion and sharing what we learn with each other and the community at large.

We are not pessimists or optimists, extremists or partisan; rather we are concerned citizens, basing our decisions on the overwhelming evidence that supports our findings – specifically, that global oil and gas production will soon be incapable of meeting demand. That this will have profound implications on both economic and societal dynamics worldwide is supported by numerous credible studies, professionals, and geopolitical factors. Much of this information is available to the public to view via our Web site.

Mr. Brooks coordinated our group meetings for a total of three months in 2005, during which he did organize a "town hall" meeting. Following the town hall meeting the majority of active Crude Awakening members expressed dissatisfaction that Mr. Brooks was not leading the group according to its intended purposes, but rather to support his own interests in political policy.

Mr. Brooks hasn't attended a single group meeting since, and he really doesn't have any firsthand knowledge of what we're about. We don't know why he chose to publicly attempt to discredit the members and the credibility of our group a year after stepping down – we can only guess that it has something to do, again, with his own personal political activities and aspirations.

Peter Lunsford

Crude Awakening

AISD's 'Movie of the Week'

Dear Editor,

I was impressed by the way Michael May covered the "much-ado" story of Austin High art teacher Tamara Hoover in your June 23 issue ["Hoover: Caught in the Flash," News]. Thank goodness Mr. May brought revealing insights to the subject matter. If only the other paper's writers could have such moxie. This is frickin' Austin for cryin' out loud! Home of Hippie Hollow, where even allegedly one of our high-ranking city officials once sunbathed on a regular basis. They didn't run them out of town. They help run the town now.

Could this whole hullabaloo simply be due to some closed-minders being jealous of a teacher who is leading a life of artistic expression?

She is not afraid to show it. Thank you Mr. May for peeling the layers in this whole "movie of the week" wannabe mess. And to Ms. Hoover and Danger, dammit, you go girls. Do not let them break your creative spirit. Turn a negative into a positive and show those scant few just how incredibly foolish they are.

W. Keith Sharp


Against DPS Surcharges

Dear Editor,

I recently became painfully aware of a new program instituted by the DPS: The "Conviction Surcharge/Driver Responsibility Program." Using this new authority, the DPS now slaps on an additional charge equal to the original fine, no matter which municipality issues the ticket. It gets worse. You also owe that amount for the next three years (convictions in the past 36 months). I was ticketed for no insurance by a small-town policeman. I was guilty, and I paid my fine ($260.00). About two months later, I received a "Conviction Surcharge Notice" from the DPS, stating that I now owe them an additional $260.00, and I have 30 days to pay up or else my license will be suspended. (The surcharge for no insurance is actually $100 per year more than it would be if I were cited for two separate moving violations which caused two separate accidents – go figure! To me, this reeks of revenue enhancement and even extortion, to use a harsher term. It violates the double- jeopardy rule as violators are punished not just once, but three extra times. According to Texas insurance journals, only 1% of the revenue from this surcharge (potentially $250 million per year) actually goes to fund the "Driver Responsibility Program," 49.5% goes directly into the state's General Revenue Fund, and the remainder goes to fund trauma centers and EMS. It seems that if DPS really wanted to reduce citations for no insurance, etc., they would use some of its revenue to publicize the programs existence and warn drivers of the exorbitant fines, like the well-known "Click It or Ticket" program.

Look up "surcharge" in the dictionary. Its primary definition is: "an overcharge, especially when unlawful. An additional or excessive burden, overload." Surcharges are unethical and immoral!

Alan Jeffreys

My View is the View!

Dear Editor,

Tom Davis was a "former Army officer"? Doing what, laundry? Mess hall? Trash pick-up? I was in the Army, and when I was in, our officers had to have a brain; Tom proved he does not. Hey Tom, are you joking me, you're really that stupid to think we started torturing people in Iraq? How dumb are you? You going to equate making people stand naked with bags over their heads with suicide bombings and beheadings of truly innocent men and women? Saddam cutting people's hands off was our fault? Tossing people off of roofs was something we taught? Cutting the ears off of soccer coaches who lost in 1995 was because of something we did? Daniel Pearl was beheaded before Saddam was overthrown, long before men we made to stand naked with bags over their heads, Tom. Maybe if you got your head out of your ass you wouldn't be so stupid, yeah?

Carl Swanson

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