Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shooting at the University of Texas

Law enforcement officers position themselves on the University of Texas campus in Austin.

The University of Texas bore witness to a disturbing shooting on September 28, 2010. Colten Tooley wreaked havoc on the campus early Tuesday morning by running down 21st Street with an AK-47, firing a few shots into the air before ducking into the Perry-Castañeda Library. Once in the library, he headed for the sixth floor, where he opened fire again, panicking those in the room and causing them to flee. The SWAT team arrived and cornered Tooley, who then shot himself.

About 9:30am, I was driving to my job on campus when I heard the announcement over the radio warning listeners that the University of Texas was on lockdown and all citizens were advised to stay away. A shooting had taken place inside a University building, and police were searching for a possible second shooter. Driving into the campus was like arriving at a ghost town, instead of a normally swarming tiny neighborhood of 50,000 students. The sun shone brightly but no was out. Emails, Tweets, Texts and a booming, campus-wide loudspeaker announcement warned students to stay inside, lock the doors. School was closed.

The University of Texas and the Police Departments involved should be commended for their quick response time and well-conveyed urgency. Twitter and texts as a means to notify the students? Well done. They proved they are up-to-date on communication technology and willing to employ all means necessary to prevent catastrophe.

Many parts of this story are tragic and upsetting. Eyewitness accounts from students on 21st Street say that they saw Tooley running down the street in a dark suit and a ski mask, once stopping to wave at people frozen in shock. He fired anywhere from 6-10 shots into the air. The taxi cab driver who drove down 21st Street honking and shouting at students to run deserves to be commended. Tooley made his way toward the PCL entrance where he crossed with Lawrence Peart, an international relations junior.

“So I start advancing toward the entrance and a man — pretty tall in a black business suit, ski mask and an AK-47 — runs in front of me, so I froze,” Peart said. “He was running down the 21st Street along that brick wall that’s beside the PCL and he glances over at me. He looked at me in the eyes then waved his arm as if to say, ‘Don’t come in here. Go away.’”

Did Tooley have intent to harm, or was this a macabre, grandiose suicide, a plea for attention in the final hour of his life? Reports say that Tooley had few friends and a family unwilling to comment. School papers reveal he was interested in gun control policy and identified as socially disconnected.

The unfortunate response has been a mixture of repugnant "good riddance" and relief for lack of casualties. While these reactions are understandable, the heart of the matter is that a young, very disturbed boy cried out in only the last hour of life. His family lost a son. Tooley may have suffered from depression, at the very least, isolation. How should we, as a society, address the plight of the young person today? Why are shootings in high schools and colleges prevalent in our country - how does this correlate with wealth, access to resources, exposure to violence? How did a nineteen year old gain access to an illegal automatic weapon? And, in the wake of tragedy, how can move away from fear and prevention techniques to the heart of the matter - why are so many Americans taking out rage and sadness in such malevolent ways?

Crime scene barrier tape is seen on the University of Texas campus near the scene where a gunman opened fire then killed himself inside the Perry-Castañeda Library, on the sixth floor.

Photos from Austin American Statesmen and The Daily Texan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Being Pro Choice In Texas

From The Austin American-Statesmen, Tuesday, September 21, 2010:

Travis County residents, religious organizations and others took their fight against using public money for abortions to the Travis County Commissioners Court Tuesday, but the court did not relent. The commissioners gave final approval to the $109.6 million Central Health budget, including $450,000 in contracts for abortion services for needy women. The vote was three in favor — Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, Commissioners Sarah Eckhardt and Karen Huber — and Commissioner Ron Davis abstaining. Commissioner Margaret Gómez was absent.

The controversy brought dozens of people on both sides to public hearings on the budget held by Central Health, formerly the Travis County Healthcare District. But only opponents spoke to the commissioners Tuesday, urging them to either vote down the budget or withdraw the abortion funding.Biscoe explained that the court did not have the authority to pull one item from the budget. “It’s an all or nothing proposition for us,” he said.

In fiscal year 2009, Central Health funded 582 abortions; so far this budget year, it has paid for 566, spokeswoman Christie Garbe said. The year ends Sept. 30. With approval of the budget, “we are happy and proud we can provide the full range of health care services for uninsured residents of our county,” Garbe said.

Marie Seale, director of Pro-Life Activities and Chaste Living for the Diocese of Austin, said she was representing 225,000 Catholics in Austin and Bishop Joe Vasquez in asking for a halt to the funding. Travis County is the only political entity in Texas that uses taxpayer money for abortions, Seale said.

Travis County taxpayer Paul Kroschewsky said he disputed arguments from Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region that poor women would be forced to have unsafe, illegal abortions without the assistance. If that were true, he told commissioners, women in other cities would be dying and people would be hearing about it. Biscoe asked what his position would be if Central Health paid for the abortions with money from the state’s lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies — not with taxpayer money. Kroschewsky said his position would be the same: he still would be opposed.

“You know deep down in your hearts it (abortion) is very, very wrong,” he said.

The logic about poor women dying from unsafe abortions and it being public simply isn't sound, and the "wrongness" argument aside: the point is about choice. Women who might not have access to abortions might travel in order to obtain one, obtain an illegal abortion and survive it, maybe even give birth, but most importantly still might want the option available.

Coincidentally, this study finds that women without access to abortions are more likely to go looking for them through other channels then medical professionals. Researchers found "more [Google] searches in states and countries with more restrictive policies or less access to abortion and lower abortion rates."

Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check writes:

"The lower abortion rates in more conservative areas are far more likely to be the result of lack of access than they are an unwillingness on the part of women to terminate unwanted pregnancies. If you don’t have a doctor in your county performing abortions, the abortion rate in your county is probably zero. But if you drive to the next county to get an abortion, their abortion rate goes up. We know that women will often travel across many states in order to avoid bearing unwanted children. (In Texas, women will often travel into Mexico, often just to avoid being seen in the local abortion clinics.) Claiming a low abortion rate indicates a lack of desire for abortion services is like claiming teenagers love “Beowulf” because they’re assigned to read it in high school.

We simply cannot correlate lack of service with lack of desire. She also makes the interesting point,

"Women with poor access to abortion services also face poorer access to contraception services that could prevent the need for abortion in the first place. We’ve all been tempted to simply give up and create a system of free states and anti-choice states, but such a system would almost surely increase the rate of unwanted pregnancy."

One thing is obvious: women are at the very least looking for access to reproductive services and family planning. Hats off to the Travis County Commissioners for having the common sense to allow adult women to plan their parenthood as they see fit and for providing such comprehensive health care services for uninsured residents of our county.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Texas Edition

Maybe it's just a way to sell things, but I can't help but notice how many things are marketed "Texan" here - meaning higher quality, bigger, or for whatever reason, generally better.

Lone Star Beer, for example:

The National Beer of Texas? What exactly does that mean?

Take the Ford F-150. Could this truck get any bigger? The Texas Edition can:

Dairy Queen's ad campaign is by far the most puzzling. Their slogan and theme song proclaim, "That's What I Like About Texas!" Dairy Queen? The...national chain?

Texan way of life is constantly preached and sold as best. I'm all for supporting local business, but the businesses all seem to be selling a gimmick, and none of them are headquartered in Texas.
There's definitely a superiority complex going on here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Tropical Storm That Could

According to The National Hurricane Center, Tropical Storm Hermine has "barely maintained its tropical storm status on Tuesday as 40 mile per hour winds kept lashing south Texas and the storm moved further inland about 15 miles south-southeast of San Antonio, Texas." Does this sound a little contemptuous of The National Hurricane Center? I have been outside today. This is no struggle to maintain.

I've noticed that Austinites are not experienced or properly equipped for severe weather. They simply ignore the dangerous weather (speeding drivers, attempts to ford closed roads:
or life completely halts (drivers stopping in the road; inability [or refusal] to get to work or school; the fact that I've talked about the weather so much that I'm blogging about it).

The roads are incredibly slick, terribly potholed, and lack proper drainage. It doesn't help that Austin drivers have been ranked as some of the worst in the US. The rolling hills that the area is famous for facilitate flash floods all over town, and streets act as gutters gone awry, pooling water into low lying areas - my front yard is under about 2 inches so far.

On a positive note, the rain will revitalize The Greenbelt, Austin's 1000 acre natural park
, and swimming holes and waterfalls will be full for the weekend. And when the sun comes back out, Austin will go swimming. Possibly in my front yard.

Sculpture Falls, The Greenbelt, Austin TX

Tropical Storm Hermine pictures copyright

Monday, September 6, 2010