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Letters are posted as we receive them during the week, and before they are printed in the paper, so check back frequently to see new letters. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor, use this postmarks submission form, or email your letter directly to mail@austinchronicle.com. Thanks for your patience.
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'Texas Chainsaw' Facts

RECEIVED Wed., Oct. 22, 2003

There seems to be a lot of conflict as to the truth of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was just wondering if you could provide me any insight on the subject. Your archives don't go back to 1973 online. The movie says it was based on a true story, but several Web sites dispute the story and say it is not true at all. I would greatly appreciate any info you may be able to provide me so I can settle some local disputes with friends and co-workers.
Thanks,
Chris Carta
   [Ed note: As far as we know the "true story" refers to Ed Gein in the Midwest upon whose exploits the original was loosely based. Readers?]

'Texas Chainsaw' Facts Part Two

RECEIVED Wed., Oct. 22, 2003

Dear Editor:
   My friends' debate has once again started. Was there a massacre in Travis County, or is this whole story purely inspired by the Ed Gein story? What are the facts?
Pamela Rankin

UT More About Business Than Learning

RECEIVED Wed., Oct. 22, 2003

The UT administration has shown repeatedly that they are more interested in running UT like a business than as a site for learning. Case in point: UT sees graduation rates of students as a problem to be solved by the number crunchers in the Tower, tweaking tuition rates to manage students, but instead, the administration should let students choose their own rate of learning. The reality is that UT isn't interested in the choices individual students make regarding their own education and its pace; its attention is toward rankings that reflect the churning out – in standardized intervals of standardized products – workers for the Texas economy. Learning can't be sped up like products on an assembly line.
   Students and their parents pay good money (it's about to get much more expensive) for an education at UT as it is, and they should be the ones who determine the pace at which they want to participate in the process of education, not the Tower with its flat-rate tuition and five-year (graduation) plans. Longer graduation rates shouldn't be seen as an institutional problem to be solved through managing student choices but as individual choices, and they should stay that way. Go to www.utwatch.org to fight the university machine.
Nick Schwellenbach

New Pledge?

RECEIVED Tue., Oct. 21, 2003

Here's a new version of the Pledge of Allegiance that definitely does not violate the letter or intent of the U.S. Constitution and reminds both American adults and children of that unique document from which our freedom springs.
   "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under the U.S. Constitution, the supreme Law of the Land, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
   First, my version essentially just incorporates Article VI, Clause 2, of the U.S. Constitution, which emphatically states, "This Constitution is the law of the land." I believe our founders wanted to make it quite clear to future generations that our Constitution is "the law of the land," and not the sacred (to some) Quran or the sacred (to other's) Bible or the sacred (to some) Hindu scriptures or the sacred (to other's) Buddhist writings or whatever sacred writings some hold sacrosanct over all others. In other words, in our free, pluralistic society, the U.S. Constitution and its applicable amendments that guarantee and protect the freedom of U.S. citizens is just as sacred, in my view, as all the other faith-based sacred writings of the world.
   Second, after 9/11, I have had a hard time believing or trusting anything that any religious fundamentalists have to say about anything. Essentially, 9/11 was a horrific "faith-based initiative" launched by a monopolistic, religious dictatorship against our peace-loving, pluralistic, liberal democracy. Since all religious fundamentalists are religious monopolists (i.e., the public marketplace belongs solely to them), they all share a mind-set that inherently opposes any document (such as our sacred U.S. Constitution) that guarantees the citizens of a country the right to be free from any type of tyranny – right now! Therefore, I only place my trust in the U.S. Constitution.
Sincerely yours,
Paul Sorrells

If Republicans Are So Pervasive, Why Redistrict?

RECEIVED Tue., Oct. 21, 2003

So – the incessant anti-redistricting drumbeat continues. The kicking and screaming by the faithful of the Democratic Party, an organization that for more than a century enjoyed total control in Texas, is unseemly and pitiful to behold.
   These howling Democrats in the tiny liberal island of Austin would have us believe that Tom DeLay, Rick Perry, and David Dewhurst have dreamed up and implemented this political reality check all by themselves. Well, here's a news flash: There's a rising conservative sea surrounding Austin, literally millions of grassroots Republicans unalterably opposed to the discredited tax-and-spend philosophies of a party whose giveaway programs of the past 50 years have "bought" votes while creating welfare class problems that plague our nation today.
   As the Democratic hold on Austin is inexorably weakened, Lloyd Doggett is probably quietly mouthing the words of that old Johnny Cash song: "How high's the water, Mama?"
Phil Brandt

Rules of the Road

RECEIVED Tue., Oct. 21, 2003

This letter is for the pedestrians and bicyclists of Austin, especially near UT. Just so y'all know, there are rules of the road that you – yes, you – are supposed to abide by. I understand that "pedestrians have the right of way" and "give bikes the right," but there are a few guidelines that you have to take responsibility for.
   Didn't your mom ever tell you to look both ways before you cross the street? This comes up because, as I go through the West Campus area, countless pedestrians just step out into the road without looking where they are going, or who's coming straight at them! And I don't even mean in a crosswalk at a stop sign – I mean in the middle of the road. This is dangerous, folks, and I don't want to be the one you step out in front of!
   Here's a news flash for you bicyclists: Those funny, octagonal, red signs with big white letters are stop signs. Just because you are on a bike doesn't give you the right to just barrel on through without even slowing down. I see this on a day-to-day basis, and it scares the bejesus out of me! Some day, someone is not going to see you, and – splat – you'll be just another hood ornament.
   I am a pedestrian and a bicyclist, too. I have learned to coexist with my motorized vehicular counterparts. I suggest that y'all try and do the same before you end up as another statistic.
C.C. Rowe

Wants Many Political Parties

RECEIVED Mon., Oct. 20, 2003

Louis Black tells us that he believes in the American two-party system of government ["Page Two," Oct. 17] but then goes on to add, "The free-flowing expression of conflicting ideas, the frustrating politics of negotiation ... is actually the founding fathers' greatest triumph." Unfortunately, these statements precisely contradict each other. We will never have a truly free-flowing expression of ideas and/or real negotiation until there is genuine diversity in government. Witness Washington's lockstep approval of the war on Iraq and subsequent cash hemorrhage, the PATRIOT Act, and the tax giveaway to the rich. Not even traditional Republicans – i.e., those who are not members of Bush's neo-conservative freakshow junta – have a place at the table anymore, and Democratic liberals have been gone from all but the invective of talk radio for years. Until the Green Party, the Libertarians, the Socialists, Populists, and yes, even traditional Republicans are given an opportunity to participate in government, the Republocrats will continue to maintain the status quo. The lack of genuine discourse in government is precisely why so many people are disenfranchised from the process. On the other hand, Louis hit the nail on the head the week before when he told us that we can no longer afford the war on marijuana. The direct cost of arresting and incarcerating more than 700,000 people a year for victimless marijuana "crimes" is estimated to be 9 billion dollars per year (see www.mpp.org/harmful.html). If we add to this the cost of lost productivity, etc., the true cost of marijuana prohibition is probably closer to 20 billion dollars a year. Twenty billion dollars would pay the salaries of 300,000 additional school teachers or alternatively would buy a complete monorail system for each of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., Austin included, in five years. Think about it.
Patrick Goetz

Texas Justice Flawless

RECEIVED Mon., Oct. 20, 2003

Rita Radostitz's article on the death penalty ["Why Is Doil Lane Still on Death Row?," Oct. 17] seemed a bit, well, disingenuous when it claimed that "inmates need to prove they are retarded," or words to that effect. 1) You don't get to be an inmate without first being tried and convicted, and 2) any attorney is going to argue before the trial judge that their client is incapable of contributing to his or her own defense.
   For someone to be on death row, they have to be competent to stand trial, which means two things. Did they understand the consequences of their actions when they committed the crime – i.e, did they realize shooting someone seven times would kill them – and the second criteria is, does the defendant understand the difference between right and wrong? Nada mas, campers. Mentally retarded people are not totally helpless and incapable of understanding the difference between right and wrong, unless you want to denigrate all people who are handicapped. BTW, only a real asshole calls handicapped people "retarded."
Carl T. Swanson
   Rita Radostitz responds: Mr. Swanson confuses two distinct legal concepts – competency and mental retardation – which are determined by completely separate legal standards. In the Atkins decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged that many people with mental retardation are indeed competent to stand trial. However, the court determined that the evolving standards of moral decency in the United States prohibit the execution of those with mental retardation. In other words, despite the fact that a person with mental retardation might be competent, the impact of their impairment renders them less morally culpable, and therefore not subject to capital punishment, although they may still be tried and, if convicted, sentenced to prison. The court's reasoning is similar to the treatment of juveniles charged with a capital crime – although a 15-year-old youth may both know the difference between right and wrong and be able to assist his/her attorney (the standard for competency), the citizens of the state of Texas have decided (and the U.S. Constitution requires) that they be exempt from being executed, even if they are competent to be tried and held accountable for their crimes. As for Mr. Benjet being an "asshole," my guess is that the many men and women with mental retardation who have benefited from his expertise and efforts to save their lives would disagree with that assessment.

League of Women Voters Finds New Map Flawed

RECEIVED Mon., Oct. 20, 2003

To the editor of the Austin Chronicle:
   The League of Women Voters of the Austin Area is very concerned about the impact of the recently passed congressional redistricting act on voters in Austin and Travis County. For many years, leagues across the state have said that the current redistricting process is deeply flawed and that it needs to be fixed. The current process certainly bears this out.
   The league has three criteria against which newly created districts should be measured: compactness, coincidence with boundaries of local political subdivisions, and nondilution of the voting strength of minority populations. While it isn't clear at this point what impact the new districts will have on minority voting strength, the other criteria have clearly not been met.
   We hope that Austin and Travis County voters will work with us in future legislative sessions to find a better way to accomplish redistricting.
Barbara S. Hankins
President
League of Women Voters of the Austin Area

Timing Suspicious

RECEIVED Mon., Oct. 20, 2003

Good to see Southern rock get some print ["Down South Jukin', Oct. 17"], but the timing is suspicious. I grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., home of Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, the Johnny Van Zant Band, and Blackfoot, among others. Actually, the Allman Brothers gelled and played some of their first shows in Jacksonville.
   I have always admired and understood the vibe of Southern rock. It is not racist, ignorant, or musically inept. Quite the contrary, it is full of pride, energy, and the musicianship always blew my mind. Just how did Skynyrd get that twin engine guitar sound?
   I find the timing and announcement of the rebirth of Southern rock suspect. Granted, the Drive-By Truckers are great, but just because a hip band says Skynyrd is cool should not make the revival of the genre. I saw the Kings of Leon at the ACL Fest, and sure, the outfits and the hair looked "Southern," but it seemed pretty polished and coordinated to me.
   I am glad that young bands are being influenced by this music, but give respect to the originals, please.
   If I am not mistaken, I remember an old Chronicle blurb from a year or so back that mentioned Skynyrd was in the running for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and one of your writers quickly dismissed them.
   I guess the times are good and the trend is now, but please do not refer to it as SoRo.
Thanks,
Greg Johnson

Clearly Has Better Taste Than Us

RECEIVED Mon., Oct. 20, 2003

Thank you for publishing my letter ["Postmarks," Oct. 17].
   However, I have to tell you, using the title "Trust My Taste, Not Yours" sounds a little petty for one opinion on a limited subject (and the opinion was not especially scorching at that). Not to tell you how to run your shop, but mentioning Zevon in the caption and not the petty point about taste would have been the classier thing to do. That way you keep the focus where it belongs – on the ideas and concepts and off of the personalities.
   Then again, maybe I clearly do have better taste than you guys.
Thanks,
Hodgson Eckel

Libertarians Tell Us Exactly How to Vote

RECEIVED Mon., Oct. 20, 2003

Editor,
   I was wondering when you would get around to coming out in favor of legalizing pot ["Page Two," Oct. 10]. It's cool that you want full legalization instead of some bogus "medical" exemption that requires people to pay off doctors and register themselves with the police.
   The next step is to declare that you will never again vote for, or endorse, any pro-drug-war candidate. That would rule out 99% of all the people you have ever endorsed. That is, to blurt out the fact, all of the Democrats in Texas are drug warriors. Ever since the great progressive FDR outlawed marijuana.
   A few Democrats are sensitive to the issue. They promise new welfare programs to help the drug users' children – after they have sent their daddy (usually black or Hispanic) to prison. That's not good enough. Surely, you will never again endorse Sheriff Margo Frasier, who said her henchmen "did everything right" when one of her no-knock raids ended up with a dead child, shot while sleeping.
   Not to worry. Two Republicans – Terry Keel and Ron Paul – and every Libertarian on the ballot support freedom. With your voice, Louis, you could reform the Democrats. Or they'll die. No backroom deals. Tell them to announce their position on legalization or go to hell.
Vincent J. May
Elgin

Don't Drug Test Students

RECEIVED Mon., Oct. 20, 2003

Re: "Weed Watch," Oct. 17
   Why, after 30 years of failure, do we continue to listen to our federal government instead of social and health care experts when dealing with drugs? Do you really think that by subjecting our students to random drug testing we will eradicate drug use? What we will do is alienate our children and breed an atmosphere of distrust. Then those who wish to experiment with drugs will do so anyway once they are out of school. Parents cannot depend on schools or government to handle the issue of our children using drugs. They have lost all credibility in this area. Current and past presidents have used some of the same substances that the drug czar wishes to test for. So what message are we really sending our kids? Americans better wake up and take some responsibility for keeping their kids on the right track. Schools are no place for this type of action. We need to educate our children in school. Not treat them like suspects by forcing them to pee in a cup. I guess urinalysis will be the new pledge of allegiance?
Sincerely,
Scott Russ
Baton Rouge, La.

It's Progressive to Restrict Your Rights

RECEIVED Fri., Oct. 17, 2003

It's amazing what you can find when you have access to market research data. When graphed out, the country is easily split between areas that smoke and areas that don't.
   
   A majority of these smoking areas are in the South, sweeping from Virginia through the southern states and stopping abruptly in Austin. This block of the country is where one finds the fewest number of smoking ordinances, and understandably so. In regards to recognizing the need for public health standards they are behind the curve.
   
   The opposite is true for the areas of the country that have already banned public smoking. The populations of these cities don't smoke in the first place, so why not ban it? What the people want the people should have. It's all very democratic.
   The interesting thing about Austin is that it is right on the border of these smoking and nonsmoking regions. We are in the middle of the curve, not ahead of it but hopefully not behind it. What we need to do is realize what influence we have over other parts of the country. We are leaders in the fields of music, film, renewable energy, computer technology, sustainable building practices, and organic farming. Why would a city like this not want to take the progressive stance and push tobacco to the wayside?
   
   I understand why people would want to smoke in a bar. I was once a smoker. But after looking at the history of my family and counting the number of lung cancer deaths, I have realized that this problem is deeply ingrained into our society. Banning it publicly would keep our city on the progressive end of the spectrum and be a benefit for all citizens – those who don't smoke as well as those who do.
Rad Tollett

Doesn't Get Warhol, Respectfully

RECEIVED Fri., Oct. 17, 2003

Andy Warhol was an untalented hack as a "creative artist," but adept at the art of self-promotion. Given the greater success of other self-promoters, I can't understand why Andy Warhol's self-promotion skills make him significant.
   
   He's unable to self-proclaim his celebrity, so now the tawdriness of the artifacts he left behind is all that we have left to ponder.
   
   Because Warhol commercialized his output, and reproduced it in such quantity, the marginal value of a Warhol creation is close to zero. It's basic supply and demand economics: With so many reproductions around, there are more units to be sold than there are buyers.
   
   The notion of an "original work" with Warhol's output is meaningless. He had a factory where he churned out as many copies as there were suckers lining up to buy.
   
   Gore Vidal called Warhol the only "genius" with an IQ of 60. If you attempt to watch any of Warhol's films or read any of his personal notes and comments, it's easy to believe that Warhol had a nearly room temperature IQ.
   
   Al Capp commented on Warhol through his comic strip Li'l Abner, that abstract art was "A product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered." That could have been directed specifically at Andy Warhol. He said himself that his work was all surface, lacking depth, and that he was not trying to say anything profound or significant with his output. Talented kids usually create artistic output superior to what Mr. Warhol generated.
   
   Perhaps it's time to toss Andy Warhol's output into the trash can of history. He probably would have wanted that: recycling trash as performance art, now that the trash producer is gone.
Respectfully,
Brian Lynch

Smarter Than Savlov

RECEIVED Fri., Oct. 17, 2003

Editor:
   I suspect that Marc Savlov needs a nice, long vacation from the arduous task of reviewing films. Obviously, his initial goof-up regarding the ending of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 wasn't his fault (since it was recut after he saw it) ... but to call that ending a "zinger" is a bit harder for me to understand. Anyone who was paying attention while watching the movie (and who has seen as many movies as Savlov apparently has) predicted that little "surprise" way, way, way in advance (I figured it out after the opening credits, rather than the closing ones). It's not a "zinger" if it's totally predictable.
Matt Diedrich

Texas Kills in Our Names

RECEIVED Fri., Oct. 17, 2003

Thank you, Rita Radostitz, for your reporting on Texas' attempt to execute the mentally retarded ["Why Is Doil Lane Still on Death Row?" Oct. 17]. It's almost impossible to find out about the killings that Texas is doing in our name, and your coverage is invaluable.
   
   On a related note: Jose Rivera, another prisoner Texas is trying to kill, was in the news in August because of questions about his mental condition. And Mark Robertson recently got a stay because he was sentenced unconstitutionally (the jury would have had to lie if they wanted to save him from the death penalty). And we just executed the first white person – Larry Allen Hayes – for killing a black person since 1854!
   
   These cases are not the exception to the rule in Texas. If folks knew how "justice" is carried out in this state, even those pushing for capital punishment would want some changes.
   
   In Texas, your silence is deadly. Please keep up your reporting on the death penalty and do not allow the state to kill in our names without our ever hearing about it.
Rachel Penticuff

We're Only in It for the Money

RECEIVED Thu., Oct. 16, 2003

Dearest Chron Readers,
   I have been quite confused about the Chronicle's hardcore anti-smoking ordinance lobbying. I wonder why a progressive paper that normally rallies against air pollution would be an advocate for more carcinogens in my lungs. I wonder why a publication that rails against corporate greed (Wal-Mart) would take the side of Philip Morris.
   I picked up this week's Chron, and maybe some understanding: the full-page, color ad for Winston cigarettes – one can only imagine the revenues ($$$).
   Louis Black, don't sell out Austin's health!
Thanks,
Zac Trahan
   [Ed. note: You got us Zac, the only reason someone could have a different opinion than you is if they'd sold out. We're rolling around in the money here, our consciences be damned.]
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