Texas To The World Dispatch #11

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“There was a vastness here, more air, more sun, more space, and I thought that here a man drew some of that vastness into his soul.”
– Conrad Hilton
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Some Sad Things Known to Man
What happened along a stretch of highway near Uvalde last week is tragic on more levels than most people will recognize. Twenty-year-old Jack D. Young was texting while driving U.S. 83 and he crossed the center line. The resulting head-on crash with a church bus out of New Braunfels killed thirteen of its passengers. Young survived and told a witness at the scene he was sorry; he had been texting on his phone.
Young might have grown up with a greater sense of the dangers of texting and driving if the governor of his state had not vetoed an anti-texting and driving law in 2011. The driver was fourteen when Rick Perry decided that a statewide law banning texting and driving was “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” Of course, Perry and his fellow Tea Partiers are quite happy to “micromanage” the behavior of women with problem pregnancies. They can hardly be trusted to make sound decisions and must be given legislative guidance.
Only four states in the union don’t have bans on texting and driving and, of course, Texas is among that number. The house of representatives has just passed a new measure, (the sixth time), and it is expected to win approval in the state senate. But it is thirteen lives and one governor too late. Conservatives like Perry who believe the death penalty is a deterrent to capital murder don’t think a law banning driving and texting will have a deterrent effect. Perry said he believed in education and information to stop the practice, which is the same logic he applied to young people and sex: Teach them about abstinence.
That’s why Texas has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. All of the roads running backwards in Texas lead to Rick Perry, and he is standing on the shoulder with blood dripping from his hands while watching the tragedies caused by his choices.
A Heart of Darkness
The detritus of Perry’s administration isn’t just highway wreckage. The human suffering can be quietly disturbing and mostly invisible. A recent report from the journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows that Texas retains the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developing world. The study indicates the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births went from 18.8 in 2000 to 23.8 in 2014, a jump of 27 percent.
Hey, we’re always number one!
Take note of the time frame. This was right in the heart of Perry’s administration. Conservative Republicans led then by the new energy secretary cut $73.6 million dollars from the $111.5 million family planning budget in 2011, which was just as the maternal death numbers began their spike. Eighty family planning clinics around the state were forced to close and those that kept their doors open could provide services to only about half of the women they had previously helped. All the Planned Parenthood clinics were eliminated from the state program that delivers preventive health care to poor women, even if they didn’t offer abortion services. That’s 130,000 child-bearing aged women no longer getting cancer screenings or contraception.
Tell your momma, your daddy, too: A vote is a powerful thing. Don’t give it to fools.
A Kaleidoscope of Crazy
Let’s start with Simple Sid, the putative agriculture commissioner of Texas. He’s returned from a trip to Israel where he signed some type of agreement to do business with an organization of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. He probably was either unaware, or didn’t care that the Shomron Regional Council is not recognized by either the United States government nor the United Nations. (We are not certain Sid even knows what the U.N. is). Miller stepped into the middle of 35 settlements that have been at the heart of much of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. And it’s worth asking: Who does this dumbass think he is? The Texas Department of Agriculture even put out a news release calling the West Bank “the heartland of Israel.”
Miller can sign anything he wants with Shomron but it has no force of law as an international agreement. The Christian radicals in the Texas legislature, though, tend to have similar thoughts. A bill is moving through the state senate that will prevent Texas from signing contracts or doing any type of business with companies that boycott Israel.
When the armies of the End Times meet at the hills of Megiddo, their legions will likely now be wearing cowboy hats.
Simple Sid’s ignorance might be a benign political danger but Steve Stockman’s appears to have been an active evil. The former Texas congressman and two aides have been indicted by a federal grand jury for stealing $1.25 million dollars from charities to pay his campaign and personal debts. One of the two former assistants has apparently reached a plea deal with the feds and he’s going to sing to the jury about the scam. Stockman, widely reviled even by the people who elected him, blamed his legal troubles on the “deep state,” which is to say the CIA, NSA, illuminati, FBI, and maybe even Oprah.
It’s either the deep state or he’s a lying, amoral thief. Pick one.
There is also still a fine chance that the current Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton might be put away for 99 years. Every attempt by his lawyers to get the charges dismissed has been denied, and a judge recently decided to move the trial out of Paxton’s home of Collin County. Judge George Gallagher was apparently convinced to change the venue when prosecutors presented a fund-raising document for Paxton’s 2014 campaign that included most of the influential names in the county. They argued an unbiased jury pool did not exist in the county. The judge agreed. Paxton is accused of misleading investors by failing to tell them he got commissions when they put money into a company he was recommending. Inadvertent comedian and former Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm said the ruling was “latest in a pattern of injustice against Ken Paxton and his family.”
Yet another victim of the “deep state.”
“New Yorkers have their own way of speaking, their own tempo, and Texans are a lot like that. As much as you think Texas is one thing and New York is another, they’re very much the same.”
Jerry Jeff Walker
The Troubles of “Tex” Tillerson
The University of Texas was puffed up with pride when the most powerful position in the new president’s cabinet was handed over to alum Rex Tillerson. But there is more to being Secretary of State than looking good in a suit. The Exxon CEO’s dubious background of having his company lobby to stop sanctions against Russia was not exactly a good American look, and even though he is now retired from the energy giant, he is still a significant stockholder, which means his policy chops will default in the favor of big oil.
The problems are much bigger, however. Tex might just be a tad “off.” Several reports have said he does not want career diplomats making eye contact or speaking to him directly and he takes a private elevator to his seventh-floor office to avoid interacting with State Department workers. Maybe he’s grumpy and tired after having to ride on a U.S. government jumbo jet instead of a more luxurious Exxon aircraft. Tillerson got grief in the media for a report that said he had fatigue after his first overseas trip to South Korea, which he later claimed was false and it was their explanation to cover up a diplomatic failure to invite the big fella to dinner.
Diplomacy is all about the subtle blame game.
Tillerson and Exxon just took another kick in the ol’ pump jack when a New York judge denied a request to move a climate fraud case to Texas. (Gee, wonder why an oil company would want climate charges heard in Texas?) Seventeen states attorneys general have launched a massive investigation to hold oil companies accountable for fraud regarding climate change, and, of course, Tillerson’s company is the big dawg. (Maybe he can seek a change of venue to Moscow?) The fraud case is broad, and Exxon has already been subpoenaed for information on the decades of research it has conducted and never released, much of it under Tex Tillerson’s leadership. The A.G.’s have promised to pursue the case to the fullest extent of the law.
Tillerson has promised he’s not tired and his nap won’t really be that long.
A Storm Across the Prairie
As a TV news correspondent, I ended up in communities devastated by tornadoes. In 1979, I was assigned to travel to Wichita Falls and report on an F-4 that was part of what meteorologists still refer to as the Red River Valley Tornado Outbreak on April 10th of that year. Fifty-nine funnel clouds were confirmed and 58 people died, and it was hard for a young guy to think recovery was possible from what I was witnessing. I was also at the Jarrell, Texas storm, an F5 that pulled up asphalt roadbeds, reported on a killer funnel cloud that hit Grand Island, Nebraska, and saddest of all Saragosa, a small town of migrants in the Chihuahuan Desert near the Davis Mountains of West Texas. A trio of twisters spun through the little community just as a group of children were completing their Pre-K Head Start graduation ceremonies. Six were among the thirty dead.
This is why I’ve never quite been able to understand the notional value of being a “storm chaser” and the actual loss of life that occurs to capture video on tornado behavior. Three “chasers” died last week on the Texas South Plains while trying to keep up with a funnel cloud. Their cars collided at an intersection. They were contractors for the Weather Channel, which, a few years ago, almost lost three people in a tornado outside El Reno, Oklahoma. (Three Colorado researchers were killed). One of those victims, who survived and underwent extensive surgery, was my long-time video photographer and producer Austin Anderson.
While there are actual scientific endeavors underway by some storm chasers, there is no shortage of adventuring and adrenalin seeking. More people are being drawn to the idea of trying to spot and track tornadoes, almost as if it were a sport. This is encouraged, in part, by breathless reports and live streaming videos coming in over the web from people who have managed to pull together money to buy equipment and vehicles to run the roads chasing funnels. Tornadoes are unpredictable, however, and can turn in an instant, which is what happened to the chasers who died in El Reno.
Allow me to offer a bit of sound counsel for those considering storm chasing as a hobby: Funnel clouds are meant to be raced away from, not driven towards. Write it on your palm or something, if you can’t remember.
Your Week in Wall
Hard to tell if the bidders on the project to build Trump’s whining wall are serious or making fun. One of the proposals submitted to the federal government has a monorail running across the top of the 30-foot-high structure, and another suggests paying for it by creating family tree monuments and inscriptions along the U.S. façade. In the long history of dumb government decisions, this one may eventually be the first chapter that children read in future classrooms, assuming the republic has much of a tomorrow.
The list of people who despise this project lengthens every time there is another news report, and many of them are people who voted for Trump. Conservative Texas ranchers and farmers near the border are calling it bunk. Some of the Texas Wildlife Association members find themselves struggling with how to denounce the wall without being too critical of the president. There are more natural obstacles along the Texas-Mexico frontier that are considerably more formidable than anything humans might build; canyons, mountains, deserts, rivers, various reptilian creatures, and100-degree heat all come to mind.
If you want a further understanding of the sadness of the Great Wall of Whiner, a couple of fine pieces of journalism with compelling photography are handy to educate you in an expeditious fashion. One, from the American-Statesman of Austin is photos and vignettes of people and their interests and how they clash with the unreality of a wall cleaving their daily lives. The other must see and read piece of work on this subject matter is from the wildly talented David Bacon, a photographer and writer who shows families separated by the wall and trying to live their lives by literally talking, reaching, and touching through the current structure. People often schedule weekly time to get together while the Border Patrol watches their every move, as if a kiss between iron grates might be a new kind of international crime.
We here at the Hill Country Hacienda have a proposal regarding the Weirding Wall: Don’t build it but say you did. Trump supporters are clearly not cognitive enough to discern the difference between truth and fallacy. Dumb-it-down-Donald can tell them he built it, and the Mexicans paid for it and everything is working just as he had promised. The few who go down to the border to see the Eighth Wonder of the World will marvel at what they don’t see.
“Oh, it’s invisible,” their president will say. “I got the Mexicans to pay us to develop a new cloaking technology so the wall wouldn’t obstruct our beautiful views on the border.”
“Oh, my,” they will exclaim. “Why, yes, yes, it is. It’s a perfectly perfect wall.”
“And I built it,” Trump will proudly add.
And that, my children, is the story of the emperor’s new wall.
Guns for Fun
We don’t need no steenkin’ gun laws. A Republican State rep from the DFW area wants to eliminate all licensing and fees for gun ownership because FREEDOM!! Jonathan Strickland, a Republican, (of all things), thinks the courses to learn how to use a gun also ought to be optional. This means anyone can get a gun, those with raging testosterone, or with emotional chemical imbalances, ex-cons with old grudges, jilted lovers, crazy politicians, and anyone else who wants to pack heat to the local Walmart. The GOP said this was its number one issue during its last convention, and it’s one of just a handful of measures Strickland is sponsoring this session because he wants to concentrate on making it great. Clearly, Bat Masterson from Bedford has limited cranial capacity; how hard can it be to repeal laws requiring registration, training, and fees to carry a gun?
Might as well get rid of them, anyway. The training regulation was dropped from ten hours to four. “Okay, that’s your finger. Goes on the trigger here. The bullets go up in there. Point it at what you want to hit or kill. Squeeze trigger. Any questions?”
Also, don’t shoot and drive. Text and drive, sure. But we have laws around this state.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Your Data
Remember those conservatives who don’t want government messing in your private lives; well, unless you want to have an abortion or believe in some god other than theirs? Anyway, every Republican Texas senator and congressconehead you sent to Washington has voted to sell your Internet browsing history to private companies.
What if people can find out you gave money to Ted Cruz? Can you imagine walking into a party and having people point at you? They might be able to find out you posted in a chatroom that John Cornyn is a handsome raging hunk of manhood. Dear gawd, they could learn you gave money to Greg Abbott.
The horror. The horror.
Pipeline Paucity
Remember the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock and Keystone and the mad Nebraskans who will have none of it? We aren’t done with pipelines, at least not in Texas. An industry publication is reporting that oil production in the Permian Basin of West Texas has exceeded pipeline capacity. Let’s get out the trenching machines, file some eminent domain claims, hire welders, and get after it, boys! We have got to get that sweet, intermediate crude down to the Gulf to put it through refineries and onto ships to global markets so it can be burned in gas engines and turned into carbon dioxide that drives global warming and melts glaciers and raises sea levels.
Good news is that as the sea rises the coast line moves in and the length of the pipeline is reduced so costs go down. You may rest assured there is a long-term planner at Exxon or Texaco or Apache who already has that in a spread sheet projecting a method for recovering sunken costs as planet spins toward ruin.
Pee Pee Repeal
Lt. Gov. Damn Patrick can’t stop talking about his bathroom bill. He acts like the state’s fate depends upon it. In one sense, he could be right. If it passes through the house, and gets signed by the governor, chances are good that next year’s Final Four in San Antonio could be the state’s Final Final Four. The NCAA got North Carolina to adjust its law that discriminates against transgender people because it was losing major sporting events and almost $4 billion in tax revenue from companies cancelling big gatherings and refusing to move their headquarters to a place that frets over the behavior of a miniscule percentage of the population. (Please, go find a story about a transgender committing a crime; especially in a bathroom). Patrick doesn’t care. He doesn’t want the NCAA running Texas, and a lot of people don’t want Patrick running it, either. He’s decided that keeping boys who are certain they are girls, and girls who are certain they are boys, out of bathrooms where they feel the most comfortable is the number one issue facing Texas. Not rising property taxes. Not health care in a state where one out of every four is without coverage. Not absurd property taxes. Not decaying infrastructure. Not teacher pay.
Nope. What matters is where teenagers struggling with their sexual identity go pee.
Out west on the cap rock, a town called Post will likely never catch your attention. The community is named after a Michigan man whose doctor had told him he needed warmer and drier air to sustain his remaining health. C.W. Post, a cereal entrepreneur, (applause please, Austin techies), headed to Texas to build his vision of Utopia. Post had built a business on corn flakes, which came to be known to America as “Post Toasties,” but what he wanted to construct on the dry lands out west was a town where people could work hard and have a happy home.
Of course, he didn’t think much about rain, which everyone in West Texas thinks about, even more than oil or money or the opposite sex. Post was a manic-depressive, often under treatment, sometimes in a sanitarium, and he often tried to use dynamite to explode the sky to make it rain on his nascent utopia. He said it worked about 50 percent of the time, which would be a reliable statistic at the right time of the year. He said he was battling the sky for water. Consistent failure of his dream’s realization led to further melancholy and Post later committed suicide. The town bearing his name is doing just fine.
And not far away, in the same county of Garza, in a small place called Justiceburg, there was born a young man who learned to play baseball. (Often, my narratives will take such a turn in the spring). He had big forearms and ended up playing baseball at Sul Ross University in Alpine, and, eventually joined the Detroit Tigers to become their first baseman. In 1961, he won the American League batting crown with a .361 average, and is the only player to ever hit a ball out of the old Tiger Stadium over the gigantic right field roof.
In the little town of Post, the high school baseball stadium is named after him: Norm Cash Field.
“If you’ve ever driven across Texas, you know how different one area of the state can be from another. Take El Paso. It looks as much like Dallas as I look like Jack Nicklaus ”
– Pro Golfer Lee Trevino
Texana: Part II
Judge Roy Bean: This here court is now in session, Judge Roy Bean presiding, handin’ out the law west of the Pecos.”
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“Texas history is a varied, tempestuous, and vast as the state itself. Texas yesterday is unbelievable, but no more incredible than Texas today. Today’s Texas is exhilarating, exasperating, violent, charming, horrible, delightful, alive.”
Edna Ferber, author of Giant, 1955