THE BUM STEER COVER OF THE YEAR [January 1997] should go to Texas Monthly for the mean-spirited “digital manipulation” white mustache on Michael Irvin. I don’t approve of his actions, nor do I appreciate the clever high-tech visual artistry that the magazine used in a pathetic attempt to attract readers.
Susan Shulman

BEFORE YOU DECIDED TO PRINT THIS ISSUE, did you stop to think that substance abuse could be a problem for Mr. Irvin. If it is a problem, then, why kick a man when he is down?
Alda Garrett and Denise Garrett

What a Drag

I READ DAVE COOK’S ARTICLE about “gutter punks” in Austin [“Down on the Drag,” January 1997]. While it is an insightful article, I am concerned that these cult/gang members commit random acts of violence and destruction that seem to be completely ignored. Merchants and homeowners in the west campus area of the University of Texas have had significant problems with these gutter punks. The police and fire departments are well aware of the dangers these people present. Several of the gutter punks have been arrested for arson and other violence in the west campus area. They, or at least some members of their clan, present a significant threat to the safety of our community—a fact that I do not think should be overlooked.
Connie Niemann

I FEEL ENTITLED TO COMMENT on “down on the Drag” since the story presented my storefront in an unfavorable context. The article presented no solutions or sympathy for the plight of these children. I do not know if the article was a call for Austin to provide them with assistance. This situation exists only because Austin has a setting for these people and therefore that is considered an endorsement of their situation. The Jostens storefront featured behind the young man on the sidewalk is made of mahogany, and I pay $2,000 a month to rent the space. Sixteen students have earned degrees while working at the store in the past six years. Almost daily these student employees are cursed, spat upon, and threatened while they clean up the vomit, urine, and excrement as well as the trash left on the sidewalk by the poor vagrants featured in your article. The storefront is constantly being battered and destroyed—usually out of boredom. Austin should provide a sheltered setting for these people. All they have now is the Drag, and the students and the businesses on it are their caretakers.
Jim Taylor


HOW COME JASON COHEN MAKES NO MENTION of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter in his article on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [Travel: “What a Hall!” January 1997]? The folk-blues great spent much time in Houston and Dallas, where he played his famous twelve-string guitar on Deep Ellum with the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson. He was a favorite of Governor Pat Neff, who granted him a pardon from the Texas state penitentiary in 1918, where he wrote “The Midnight Special.” In 1975 there was a movement afoot in Texas to have Lead Belly’s body dug up from its Louisiana resting place, about a mile from the Texas border county of Harrison, and reinterred in a Texas site near Caddo Lake, but it went nowhere because the musician’s family was content to have his body stay put. Later that year Louisiana erected a historical marker honoring Lead Belly on its side of the Caddo Lake shoreline.
John Reynolds
New York City

Passing Words

ANNE DINGUS’ “TO DIE FOR” [LIFESTYLE, January 1997] regarding obituaries was fun, and I hope it was received that way by many. A friend who moved here from another state has been puzzled that so many of us at least skim the obits. This article explains part of it, but also we are of an age to expect death and obits from the nearby city’s newspaper bring back memories. Just a few weeks ago one listed the substitute teacher who was with me only a few weeks of my life but who got me interested in reading in the fifth grade. This week there was the doctor who literally saved the life of one of our children. I was also attracted to one who had the surname of relatives and the only accomplishment listed was that she had stayed sober for fourteen years! No kin, but I was glad for her and hers.
Gwen Arnold


THE TAAS TEST DOES NOT, AS GREGORY Curtis says, represent the full Texas Education Agency–mandated curriculum [Behind the Lines: “Testy Mail,” January 1997]. The graduation-level TAAS tests only fifth-, sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade essential elements. Although this is not a secret, neither is it advertised. The TAAS has its place, but it should be understood that it is a basic skills test. The TAAS is a good floor, but a lousy ceiling.
Jerry Jesness
Los Fresnos

I HAVE NO QUALMS ABOUT TEACHING the TAAS curriculum. It is the statewide testing and the matter of comparing scores that bother me, also all the publicity about something I consider private (the testing of students). Personally I think we educators should rise up as a group and tell the truth. What benefits have we seen from TAAS testing? High test scores? Praise for our school? A little prize money for our school? What negative effect has TAAS testing had on our students? More than we can see, I suspect.
Yvonne Vestal

I THINK THE TAAS TEST HAS A POSITIVE effect on students. Students are able to improve their test-taking and studying skills through preparing for the test, skills that should be taught more often in high school. If it was proven that the percentage of sixth-grade students from poor households who passed the math section increased from 45 percent to 66 percent, it is obvious that there are positive outcomes of the test.
Michelle L. Mayr
El Paso