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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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Get a (Second) Job

RECEIVED Wed., June 10, 2009

Dear Editor,
    To all the young people who are "paying your dues": Get a second job. I do not say that lightly, because I know that it's really hard to give up free time. However, what's happening these days is that all the knowledge and ideas that you gained in college and all the hard work are being eroded by waiting to get to the career you really want, and you don't have any experience to do that anyway. Meanwhile, people who got the golden ticket are gaining tons of experience, and they're leaving you by the wayside. "Maybe once you've gained some skills," employers say.
    However, if you have a job that requires little thought all day, take advantage of that. You heard me right: Take advantage of that. You're not mentally exhausted at the end of the day, so use a couple of nights or one day on the weekend to get a job like tutoring (if you want to teach) or helping small businesses (if you want to run a business or be an accountant). Yes, this is less free time, but it is slightly more money (unless you volunteer), and it's more experience. So, after you take that second job, set a time limit, i.e., don't necessarily work two jobs for the rest of your life. For example, if you become a freelance real estate agent, do it for one year, and evaluate how you feel after that year. Did the skills you learn interest you? Did you find yourself wanting to take on more responsibility? I took a second job, and I learned a lot about the skills I don't have but also the jobs I won't do.
    Artists and musicians (although I find that redundant) work a job while doing their real job all the time. White-collar workers need to find real ways to stretch their résumés and gain the skills they need to start the businesses or get the jobs they want.
Stephanie Webb

Tax Revolt Time

RECEIVED Wed., June 10, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Central Taxus, if you're not mad as hell about your property tax rates, consider that your counterparts in another Sun Belt state, Florida, pay one-third of what you pay! From personal experience, I can tell you that life is not appreciably better here for the taxes we pay. Under current economic conditions, a property tax freeze should be immediately instituted.
    After meeting with the Travis County property appraiser's office and getting nowhere, I am fuming. Like many others, my home is being measured against outdated peak sales data. With mounting foreclosures in my area, were I to try to resell my home now, I would experience at least a 10% loss. Further, May's 9.4% unemployment data is alarming, and it fails to reflect nontabulated unemployment rolls, corporate salary cuts, the underemployed, or others who have just given up!
    It's time for bloated government wages – federal, state, county, and city – to be carefully reviewed and trimmed. If corporations can do it, so can we! The Houston Chronicle recently published a searchable list of all state employee wages. It is clear that many state workers are paid handsomely by comparison to the private sector – not even considering perks and benefits that go far beyond retirement – at our expense. My neighbor, who barely works 40 hours a week, is listed as a "manager" for the Department of Housing & Community Affairs, is not college-educated, and is paid a taxpayer-funded salary of $71,000. A further insult: The state of Texas paid out $25 million in "bonuses" in 2008 alone. Balderdash! To research state salaries, visit the Houston Chronicle site: "2008 state of Texas public employee salaries.”
    It's time for a Central Texas tax revolt, wouldn't you say?
Brady Bragg
Pflugerville

What Church/State Separation?

RECEIVED Wed., June 10, 2009

Dear Editor,
    I recently attended my younger brother's graduation ceremony for Cedar Park High School. The ceremony began with a student-led prayer (to God and Jesus Christ), and another student quoted scripture from the Book of Paul. Even if everyone in the Frank Erwin Center that night was a Christian, since when can a state-funded school promote religion during a graduation ceremony? Oh, silly me, I live in a state where the governor nominates Don McLeroy to be chair of the State Board of Education. Maybe those who make it to college will learn about Engel v. Vitale, Lee v. Weisman, etc. in a political science class, since we're clearly not educating our high school students about the separation of church and state.
Lindsey Millikan

Taken by Pyrates

RECEIVED Tue., June 9, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Re: “Thwack!” [Earache! Music blog, June 8]: This is the best group I've seen in a long, long while. The Dead Pyrates Society will blow you out of the water! John Staehely can play guitar that will put most guitarists to shame, and the rest of the band can keep up with the best of them; Joe Kennedy can sing and put on a show like no other. I have their CD, and I can't get enough of them. I've seen them in Austin, Dallas, and I think once in Fort Worth. So if you want to see the same old rock & roll bands, don't go see this group, but if you want something that will blow you away, you have to go see the Dead Pyrates Society.
Claudia Coleman

Hipsters Overlook Batten

RECEIVED Tue., June 9, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Wow. I cannot believe the Chronicle missed this! A musician was in town Monday night who is one of the best guitarists in the world today. There was not even a mention, a clip, or even a smart-ass comment about the show. Her name is Jennifer Batten. Surely you guys have heard of her. Oh, I forgot anyone with the ability to play guitar with any talent/taste is not hip in the Chronicle's world of the same old singer-songwriter, punk, and hip-hop rap crap we are exposed to each week. This paper has a history of panning and or ignoring anyone who can play their instrument with any technical ability. By the way, Batten was the touring guitarist for Michael Jackson for years. Does that help put her on your hipster list? Probably not.
Thank you and good night,
Jack Pennington

Please Don't Honk

RECEIVED Tue., June 9, 2009

Dear Austinites,
    My wife and I moved to the beautiful city of Austin not too long ago. (Our sincerest apologies to those who wish no one else would move here, and our heartfelt gratitude to those who have welcomed us with big Texas hearts and grins.) Where we moved from was congested (yes, more than Austin) and people were, it seemed, always in a hurry to get somewhere. While visiting Austin in the past and since moving here, and this may seem silly, but one of the many wonderful things that we have found is that folks rarely use their car horns. Patience? Kindness? Courtesy? Not sure what it’s about, but we like it. And this has caused me, happily, to re-evaluate my horn-honking tendencies. Now when we hear a horn, we think that the driver must be from out of town. Please don’t allow the growth of Austin to compromise this lovely gesture (or nongesture). I urge Austinites (both locals and newcomers alike) to keep up the good work.
Honk-free in Austin,
William Tucker

Science and Religion Are Two Separate Topics

RECEIVED Mon., June 8, 2009

Dear Mr. Black,
    In response to your “Return to Forever” article [“Page Two,” May 29], I have a few concerns.
    While your article skips around, covering many topics, you did recall the same old issues that seem to get nowhere. Science and religion are two separate topics: Science is a way of thinking about our world, and religion is a way of believing about our world. It is indeed tunnel vision to think the two are linked or that they contradict each other.
    However, in your statement, “Certainly, the 24-hour Earth day in which we travel around the sun in no way restricts the creator,” you incorrectly stated scientific fact. Our 24-hour Earth day is a result of one Earth rotation on its axis, not revolving around the sun (which is equal to one Earth year) as you claim.
    Research shows that the average American is basically scientifically illiterate. For example, more than half of Americans do not know what causes the seasons nor understand the role of DNA and genes in heredity. Any discussion of evolution and creationism must first include scientific fact. Perhaps if our citizenry knew more about our planet and the diversity of living organisms on it, this debate would indeed be over.
Sincerely,
Julie Wasserman
Science educator
   [Louis Black responds: The 24-hour Earth day comment was a stupid mistake on my part. The Chronicle's usually so vigilant proofers missed it as well. The column accepted that science and religion are two separate topics but argued that they weren't inherently contradictory.]

Sound Ordinance Hurts Live Music

RECEIVED Mon., June 8, 2009

Dear Editor,
    On Thursday evening [June 4] between 8 and 10pm, my band the Gourds performed a free show at Shady Grove on Barton Springs Road. As a crane pivoted overhead like something from an H.G. Wells novel, Shady Grove was cited for a sound-ordinance violation. The irony was not lost on anyone there. In its race, which is already lost, to move people Downtown, this city is going to lose something that cannot be replaced. Music in Austin is a well-known quality-of-life element that draws unique people and businesses to live here. It is remarkable that up until now we have been able to maintain such a vibrant musical scene with the artificially overvalued real estate market. Before we lose control of it, the sound ordinance needs to be replaced by neighborhood-specific agreements between businesses and residents. In a rapidly growing city like ours, the police and fire resources wasted on call and response to this nonissue is ridiculous. And when it is more acceptable to have cranes undertaking major construction projects than it is to have a local band playing music for the citizens of Austin, I think we are at a serious crossroads. I hereby call on all musicians, music industry professionals, and supporters of local music to make some serious noise about this issue. If we do not, then those who call it "noise" will have their way. And all will be lost.
Kevin Russell
The Gourds/Shinyribs
   [Editor's note: For more on this, see "Unplugged, Literally," Earache! Music blog, June 12]

Moral Complexity Is Lazy; Moral Certainty Is Hard

RECEIVED Mon., June 8, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Re: “Page Two,” June 5: The ironic hypocrisy displayed by your condemnation of moral certainty is that you display remarkable moral certainty even though you contend there is no moral certainty. Confusion abounds.
    You reveal several examples, so let’s take just one. Your comments regarding abortion reflect massive revulsion of anti-abortion advocates who encourage the bitter excoriation and, in some cases, “murder” of abortion providers. On the other hand, you ignore the fact that all abortions mean the destruction of nascent human life and that late-term abortions are certainly homicide. Apparently you’re unwilling to label late-term abortion providers as equally evil as those who call for the murder of said abortion providers. So you belie your own position by revealing moral certainty in your abhorrence of anti-abortion advocates.
    While your position shows strong moral judgment, you conversely state that “complexity” dictates “complicating many judgments” ergo no moral clarity. So again confusion reigns. You’re obviously in blissful denial. But in reality your position is not logical and terribly incoherent. A rational person can only say – huh?
    Clearly you are a moral relativist. This thought process is the result of moral/intellectual laziness. It’s created to purposefully avoid the hard work of objective truth telling. While this is only human, it is extremely destructive. And on this 65th observance of D-Day, it’s especially appropriate to condemn your hypocritical indolence and warn of its dangers.
    Those young American warrior heroes scorned “complexity” to “condemn others” so you and all who don’t think critically are free to wallow in popular hip moral/intellectual nihilism. So be thankful. However, in honor of them, the truth of your view must be judged openly as mortally pernicious to liberty and humanity. You shame yourself! And note – this conclusion is not complex. Indeed, it is morally and intellectually clear.
Vance McDonald
   [Louis Black responds: There are many different reasons why people oppose abortion. Many do it from an absolute moral conviction that all life is sacred and life begins at conception. I respect completely if you disagree with this position. I have no respect or sympathy for anyone who opposes abortion but advocates the murder of doctors. In the same way I have no respect for any person or group who advocates murder for any reason.]

Very Positive Developments

RECEIVED Sun., June 7, 2009

Dear Editor,
    The fact that the city of Austin has pulled the original request for proposal in favor of creating a new one, that they are listening to input from the crowd, and that a group of motivated and technically savvy Austin citizens are ready to contribute to the effort are very positive developments [“The Genius of the Crowd ... Source,” News, June 5]. Thank you, William Hurley, for coordinating the OpenAustin effort, and thank you to the other Austinites who have passionately worked to shed the light of day on this process so far. Please go to OpenAustin.org and share your thoughts for how a city known for technical and cultural innovation should engage online with its citizens.
Chris Almond

Have We Learned Anything

RECEIVED Fri., June 5, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Is there anyone who believes that the far right wing stands for freedom? Haven't the last eight years taught us anything? Being morally honest means being truthful, doesn't it?
Steve Coon

Twitter Caught Council

RECEIVED Fri., June 5, 2009

Dear Editor,
    City Web staff will go before City Council June 18 to make the case for rebooting the redesign process. A revised request for proposal will be issued in July. A great article [“The Genius of the Crowd … Source,” News, June 5]. But I think there is one big miss in the reporting: the Twitter activation process that paused City Council in their tracks. When the issue was initially broadcast on Twitter, the Thursday before the Friday vote by the City Council, a group of Tweeters began rallying the troops to demand a halt to the Cignex award. I believe Lani Rosales of Social Media Labs proposed the hashtag #coawebsite that started the cascade of voices and action that put the vote on hold. At this point William Hurley and #OpenAustin or OpenAustin.org did not exist. There is a large number of posts (also predating Hurley's press-aware, press-friendly entrée into the discussion) that outline the situation and what the community response was that killed the Cignex Request for Proposals fiasco. You can find links to those articles on an alternative #COAWebsite site, www.meterthis.net. I encourage everyone to join their voices together on the OpenAustin idea platform, and I hope that the June 18 meeting with the City Council is productive. I look forward to a healthy RFP process once the new criteria is released in July. A lot of people are interested in participating. I know I am.
John McElhenney

U.S. Policy Is the Problem in the Middle East

RECEIVED Fri., June 5, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Flying directly in the face of Obama's conciliatory speech to the Muslim world about peace and human rights is the nasty reality of U.S. policy: the violent occupation of two Middle Eastern countries and the bombing of Pakistan with unmanned Predators. Our tax dollars funded warplanes and carpet bombs to Israel as it conducted air strikes over the suburbs of Beirut in 2006. We give $6 billion a year to Israel, which is imposing a violent apartheid system over the Palestinians, and we prop up authoritarian theocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia because they are business partners. The Arab "street" is well aware of this gross double standard and will only believe our rhetoric – regardless of who is president – when we end the occupation and subjugation of their countries.
Mike Rieman

Crowd Genius? Or Groupthink?

RECEIVED Thu., June 4, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Re: "The Genius of the Crowd ... Source" [News, June 5]: Genius of the crowd? Or groupthink? When we get City Council killing a project based on a few dozen squeaky Tweets, we'll really bring government to a standstill.
    It all sounds so good and happy on paper, this crowdsourcing hooey with its technical hand-waving, until someone actually has to build, test, and maintain 42 different SQL queries that talk to some legacy, proprietary database – for one city department. (Cleanup on aisle 10. "No way. I don't do 10." – the Gourds.) How about the dozens of meetings for that one department to figure out the business logic of who has view, edit, and publish rights for that department's area of the website? Is that logic already built into the Plone system? Has staff been trained on the Plone system? Maybe there's a reason that was a requirement.
    This will be an ugly, complicated technical challenge and an equally ugly, complicated business challenge. So many different departments, databases, constituencies, and approval chains. Let's get legal involved too. Think there are any privacy issues here with granting citizen volunteers access to fund financial information, crime incident reports, payroll, Social Security numbers, etc.?
    Methinks $800,000 is a bargain and would have been gladly paid to any company not based in the Silicon Valley. Say Austin-based Vignette, the world leader in CMS, curiously silent in this. No doubt they steered clear of this train wreck for a reason.
    "Hurley has since stepped down from the … organization team." Nice. Thanks for slipping the new website out 3 years.
Bill Kilday

Corporate Camera Abuse

RECEIVED Thu., June 4, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Why is it that lots of our good citizens flip out about police helicopters and crime cameras? Those same cameras and helicopters are there to protect us from those who would rape, rob, and kill us, but no one complains about the hundreds of thousands of private and commercial cameras and computers that spy on us every day in malls, stores, service stations, apartment complexes, and parking garages. They are everywhere. And what about the corporate databases that sell our private information on the open market? I worry about Exxon, Facebook, MySpace, Bank of America, Toyota, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Simon Properties, and Morgan Stanley abusing their power more than I do about the Austin Police Department. At least I feel some sense of compassion and safety with APD.
Delwin Goss

The Battle of Footnotes

RECEIVED Thu., June 4, 2009

Dear Editor,
    In "Return to Forever" ["Page Two," May 29], Louis Black tosses passing scorn at the person who dropped off a book opposing water fluoridation, thick with pages of footnotes: "If, in return, I handed them a book in favor that was even thicker with footnotes, would that change this person's mind? Of course not."
    So now there's a battle of footnotes? Well, what about the quality of the information contained therein? Does that count for anything?
    I'm not the one who dropped off the book, The Fluoride Deception by Christopher Bryson, but I have read it. The footnotes Mr. Black derides come from a decade of deep research by a determined BBC correspondent who, like himself, started out with no opinion and scant interest in the assignment that had been handed him. Bryson's footnotes come from the archives of the likes of Boston's Forsyth Institute, the Carnegie Institution, the University of Rochester, Sloan-Kettering, the U.S. Department of Defense, private collections of long-dead scientist-bureaucrats, and personal interviews with nonagenarians (including Edward Bernays, the "father of public relations" and author of Propaganda) who helped design and market the fluoridation scheme.
    Pro-fluoride publications thick with footnotes certainly abound, but none I've come across boast the caliber of this documentation. While everyone is entitled to their opinion or no opinion at all, it hardly makes sense to dismiss a book one hasn't read by comparison with a second, purely hypothetical book one also hasn't read. This shows ignorance of the learning process - the steps by which we come to place our trust in one source over another. People might rather study The Fluoride Deception side by side with some of the American Dental Association's and Centers for Disease Control's promotional tracts (e.g., ADA's "Fluoridation Facts," easily available online) and then decide for themselves whose footnotes most persuade.
Rae Nadler-Olenick
   [Louis Black responds: In retrospect I agree that I was too glib there. My point was that over the years, often on the most complicated issues, people have referred me to a book or books as well as a website or websites that invariably strongly support their point of view. I was not arguing for or against fluoridation but suggesting that passing on one work, no matter how scholarly, is not the best way to change minds. Let me be perfectly honest here: On fluoridation, as with global warming, I have no opinion. My feeling is that weighing in on such topics requires a great deal of study, searching out and reading materials representing all points of view as well as works that are less opinionated. When dealing with a controversial complex issue, listing scholars and experts, academic and scientific studies that back your point of view doesn't make the case. Almost always, there is as much intellectual weight behind an opposing opinion. Again, on fluoridation I was not taking a stand for or against but trying to address the issue of educating people and changing minds. On that I did a poor job in this case.]
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