Friday, August 05, 2011 5:53 PM
I’m a recent bride. That means in the midst of our discussions of tulle, tuxes, and possible rainouts a couple of months ago, my fiancé and I applied for our marriage license, which required that we solemnly swear, under penalty of perjury, “that one of the applicants is a man and the other is a woman.” Ugh. Signing that application is an unpleasant step for those of us who strongly feel marriage is the right of everyone, gay or straight. And while the “one man, one woman” oath outright prohibits gay marriage, it can cause a tricky mess for transgender people who have had their sex changed.
Here’s the breakdown: In most states, your post-surgery gender determines who you can marry—so if a man transitions to a woman, she can use a court order to have her sex changed to female on her driver’s license and legally marry a man. In a tiny minority of states, the courts refuse to acknowledge the new gender, leaving the transitioned person in a strange no-heterosexual-marriage-allowed-for-you limbo. In one very special state (Texas), the governor (Rick Perry) has bungled the issue in a Republican debacle (wherein he accidentally signed a bill in 2009 okaying a transitioned person to marry their opposite-sex partner) and is now supporting efforts to strip away this right (which would nullify the transgender marriages that have taken place during the past two years). As the Huffington Post (4/25/11) puts it:
Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesman Mark Miner said the governor never intended to allow transgendered people to get married. He said the three-word sex change provision was sneaked through on a larger piece of legislation Perry signed.
It’s a rough world we live in where a leader can openly say, I never intended to allow you this basic human right—and now I’m trying to take it back. The rescinded rights would have real effects on Texas widow Nikki Araguz, who was born male and had her gender reassigned through surgery; she married her volunteer firefighter husband in the two-year window unwittingly opened by Governor Perry and is now battling for the right to his estate.
Which brings us back to the same-sex marriage debate and the dire need for legal recognition of life partnership, no matter who is signing the marriage license.
Source: Huffington Post, Miller-McCune
Image by virtualphotographystudio,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 9:51 AM
For most people, this is a story about Texas, for some, a story about architecture. And to a few who know about both Texas and architecture (I am thinking here of the late “Texas Ranger” John Hejduk), it is a sort of myth: an intersection of human beings with place, grounded as much in our imagination as in reality. It is also a coming of age story: the story of my first job and my first project.
As most stories do, this story has an ending, and the ending is so strange that I will break with convention and reveal it now: They buried her in a martini shaker … and a Dixie-cup.
. . .
Not so long ago, young and ambitious graduates of Texas architecture schools had few choices other than joining one of the corporate firms of Houston or getting out of the state — far out of the state. There were not many firms with large architectural or artistic ambitions, and even fewer with both. But there were a few such firms and one of them, the firm of Frank Welch, was in Midland, which is, as you might expect, in the middle of nowhere.
Midway between El Paso and Fort Worth, Midland, in the 1970s, was peculiar even by Texas standards. The land that it rests upon had once been an ancient seabed and had long ago been lifted up to become the Texas High Plains. It is a land full of tumbleweeds, high winds and dust storms. If you are unlucky enough to be outside during a storm, you will feel the dust sweep its way in-between your teeth, even as it covers the street curbs in gritty, brown drifts. This part of west Texas is also a land that once was full of oil; lots of oil, now mostly gone.
Midland was a small city of 60,000 then, but it ranked as the fourth wealthiest city in the United States. It had more millionaires per capita than any other city; it had more private planes per capita (used for business and shopping junkets to Dallas), more Rolls Royces per capita, etc, etc. It also had a lot of roughnecks and real cowboys. How George W. Bush got away with calling it the heartland is a mystery.
Like others in the 1950s, Frank Welch had found his way to Midland as part of a phalanx of Texans and Northeasterners (like George H.W. Bush and his young family) who traveled to the flatness and the heat of West Texas to find success. Frank had been a merchant marine in the Second World War; afterward he photographed Paris on a Fulbright (in an impressive imitation of Cartier-Bresson). He was handsome and talented, and he was married to a kind and gracious banker’s daughter. Welch was a well-admired architect in Texas, and his work, like that of his mentor and the granddaddy of Texas architecture, O'Neil Ford, was a version of critical regionalism well before Kenneth Frampton wrote his famous essay.
A good architect and a bon vivant: one could do a lot worse in Texas. Frank was exactly the kind of person I wanted to work for...
Read the full essay on
Places at Design Observer >>
Image by Cherie Benoit, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 22, 2010 2:42 PM
Not everyone would champion the arrival of a Walmart Supercenter in their town, but Joe R. Lansdale boldly argues in The Texas Observer that the mega-retailer isn’t all that bad. He tells the story of how his Texas town of Nacogdoches was revitalized when the regular Walmart was transformed into a Walmart Supercenter. Lansdale’s not advocating for child labor, unethical work practices, unfair wages, or outsourcing—he’s just in favor of convenience and practicality when it comes to small-town life. Here’s his take:
Let me tell you, the late downtowns in East Texas burgs were usually small stores run by locals. They generally priced things three times more than they were worth. Maybe they had to, but I don’t care. I don’t want to pay $30 for a hammer and a fistful of nails. If I wanted a banana, I had to go to another store. If I wanted to pick up a pair of shoes, another store.
If you worked, by the time you got off work, many of the stores were closed. Saturday, they might be open, but Sunday they were closed again. So for the working individual, the mother or father who had a kid wake up in the night with aching gums from teething, and you wanted something to make it all better, you had to wait until the next day.
With Walmart in town, lots of people can be put to work, far more than downtown ever employed. Someone has to run a 24-hour store, check people out, sack groceries, push carts, place stock, work at the McDonald’s sequestered in the back. The workers have all skin colors, not something I saw a lot of downtown, except for immigrants unloading trucks.
If you’re poor and barely making it, or even if your income is middle-of-the-road, it’s good to get what you need at slashed prices, anytime of the day, seven days a week, in a big, ugly, over-lit store that closes only on Christmas and half a day on Christmas Eve….now in our downtown are specialty stores that provide things we can’t get at Walmart, like maybe a stuffed deer head for that special place over the mantle.
Source: The Texas Observer
Image by jason.mundy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 15, 2010 5:18 PM
In the minds of some of the “experts” who hold sway over the Texas public school textbooks, Joe McCarthy was an American hero, white men are responsible for civil rights, and “evolution is hooey.” Over the past 15 years, Washington Monthly reports that an activist bloc has methodically taken over the Texas State Board of Education, bent on injecting hard-right ideology into the state’s textbooks. According to these activists, the Founding Fathers never wanted a separation between church and state, and they’re doing their best to break down the wall by changing the schoolbooks in Texas.
The politicized textbooks would be a problem just inside Texas, but economic factors have given the state a huge influence over textbooks throughout the country. Unlike many other states, Texas makes the decisions on a state level on what books local school districts can buy. So when the state makes a decision on what books to purchase for its 4.7 million high schoolers, publishers take notice. The only bigger market for textbooks in the country is California, a state whose budget is in such disarray, it announced that it won’t be buying new books until 2014. In the meantime, an anonymous industry executive told Washington Monthly, “publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list,” even if that means caving in to right-wing activists.
In what’s already been a fearsome battle, the Texas State Board of Education is in the midst of its once-each-decade meeting to decide which books are purchased throughout the state. The Washington Monthly meticulously documented how conservative activists took over the meetings, forcing out moderates, accusing them of being pawns of the “radical homosexual lobby” and similar claims. With meetings taking place until March, the conservative activists are in prime position to push textbooks in Texas and throughout the country to the right. Don McLeroy, a particularly vocal activist on the state’s school board and a staunch advocate of teaching creationism in schools, told Washington Monthly, “Sometimes it boggles my mind the kind of power we have.”
You can watch a video of the school board's discussions below:
, licensed under
Friday, November 06, 2009 5:22 PM
Melissa del Bosque, whose phenomenal reports for The Texas Observer are always worth reading, spent some quality time with a couple of cantankerous lawmen for her latest assignment, “Boots on the Ground: A Day in the Life of a Border Sheriff.” She even traveled into the barren desert on an ATV with Arvin West, sheriff of Hudspeth County and chairman of the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, in an effort to get to the root of the fear-mongering, sensationalist “battle zone” rhetoric that dominates cable news coverage of the Texas-Mexico border.
At times it’s like watching a game of telephone: Sheriff tells exaggerated story to Texas congressman, congressman appears on Sean Hannity’s show, Sean Hannity concludes that al-Qaeda terrorists are streaming unchecked across the border. Luckily, del Bosque also meets Lupe Treviño, also a Texas sheriff, who’s working to dispel some of the outrageous myths about border violence. “Treviño created an hour-long PowerPoint presentation called ‘Border Violence: Rhetoric vs. Reality,’ ” del Bosque writes. “He makes his case at luncheons and to any audience who will listen.”
Source: The Texas Observer
Thursday, August 20, 2009 10:30 AM
For the past few years, the Texas Observer has been tracking the under-funded and inadequate Texas state institutions for the mentally disabled. Workers at one such institution made international headlines when footage of resident "fight-clubs," organized by guards, found its way to CNN. The September-October 2008 issue of Utne Reader highlighted one of the Observer’s findings: “The culprit behind some 1,266 incidents of abuse in the past three fiscal years...is a systemic failure to fund enough qualified workers to provide decent care.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, after conducting its own investigation, threatened to sue the state of Texas if it didn't clean up its act, and quickly. The state did not act quickly, but it did act.
In June, the Observer delivered some good news. The Texas legislature finally voted to add $279 million in state and federal funds to the state school budget throughout the next five years. 1,160 more doctors, dentists, nurses, and direct care workers will be hired.
But one problem lingers: You get what you pay for and workers will still be paid "fast-food wages." Direct care workers are, on average, the lowest-paid state employees in Texas. If the state doesn’t move to fix this lingering issue, it faces the threat of another Justice Department lawsuit. "The hard work of bettering these sprawling institutions," writes the Observer, "has only just begun.”
The Texas Observer
Tuesday, April 15, 2008 9:55 AM
The nuclear energy industry isn’t just mounting a P.R. campaign about the great green hope of nuclear power. It’s also applying good old political pressure to get its way, the Texas Observer reports, strong-arming Texas environmental regulators in order to win approval for a huge nuclear waste landfill over scientists’ objections.
The Dallas-based firm Waste Control Specialists is close to securing approval for a low-level nuclear waste landfill in Andrews County, Texas, Forrest Wilder reports. If the company scores two more necessary licenses from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), “Waste Control could bury more than 60 million cubic feet of waste over the span of 30 years, more than half the volume of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium,” he writes. Which of course would be a radioactive dream come true for all the people who are talking about a nuclear renaissance but still unsure exactly where all that waste is going to go.
The licensing process has led to a clash at the TCEQ between the scientists and engineers who oppose Waste Control’s plans and agency managers bent on approving the licenses. Three employees have even quit because of frustration with the licensing process, Wilder reports. Chief among their reservations were indications that the dump might be dangerously close to the water table and that Waste Control had previous “radiation protection issues” with worker safety.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008 6:07 PM
Last week, Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman went down to Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest. In the latest episode of the UtneCast, Keith talks about a side of the raucous music festival that’s not often seen by fans: the quiet side. Hear music from Kaiser Cartel, Daniel Lanois, and Eliza Gilkyson, whose album Beautiful World is due out May 27.
UtneCast: The Quiet Side of South by Southwest: Play in Popup
Thursday, March 13, 2008 4:49 PM
The South by Southwest music festival is in full swing, with a horde of hipsters and music-biz people clogging the streets of downtown Austin, Texas. There’s a band playing around every corner, a tattoo on every forearm, hair in every hue.
The big-name performers on the opening night of this year’s festival—Van Morrison, Daryl Hall, R.E.M.—lent the event a somewhat geezerish vibe. All of them have new albums, and all are here to revive careers in various stages of dormancy and/or mediocrity. Their reputations attracted hordes of concertgoers regardless of the merits of their new work.
I was lucky to catch a set by another older performer, singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, who’s never been famous except in his home country of Australia. Kelly’s gig at a theaterlike venue called Esther’s Follies didn’t attract a line around the block like his contemporaries, but he too has a new album, and he proved that he’s still got the songwriting and performing chops to hold an audience in thrall.
Playing an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a talented young bloke on electric, Kelly revisited great songs from past albums, including “Dumb Things” and “Careless,” then rolled out some numbers from his forthcoming disc. “Stolen Apples,” the title track, is a clever retelling of the Adam and Eve tale. “Keep on Driving” rolled along with a rootsy feel, and while “God Told Me To” didn’t mention George W. Bush by name, its inspiration was clear as Kelly spit out the acidic lyrics. Before playing it, Kelly simply intoned, “God told me to, so I must be right.”
Then Kelly tackled a new song that cut right to the heart of the age issue. “You’re 39, You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine” played off of Ringo Starr’s “You’re 16, You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine” in its lyrics, but Kelly’s heartfelt song conveyed a deep and abiding love that’s nowhere to be found in Ringo’s pedophilic pop ditty. To be sure, a 39-year-old girlfriend would still be a spring chicken compared to Kelly, who’s 53, but the song conveyed a sentiment quite foreign to the youth-worshipping crowd at South by Southwest: Getting older doesn’t have to be a drag, and it can even be sexy.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007 5:20 PM
I remember visiting the town of Sydney on a vacation to Nova Scotia and staring in wonder at how normal life seemed to be alongside the Sydney Tar Ponds, a large toxic waste dump. It smelled, of course, but ducks bathed in the site’s toxic water and average houses sat across the street, less than 100 feet away. All that separated environmental devastation from civilization was a simple chain-link fence.
The same can be said for Texas’ Harris County. In a recent issue of the Texas Observer, Emily DePrang tours the Houston area’s 11 Superfund toxic waste sites—dumps so nasty that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shells out billions of dollars for their cleanup. After she visits sites like the Geneva Industries 13.5-acre dump where the EPA removed 62,000 tons of contaminated soil and a million gallons of “poison water” in the 1980s, DePrang wonders, “What could possibly be left?”
But like Sydney’s residents, the people of Harris County live their daily lives among the toxic dumps. And as in most cases of environmental damage, “[t]he sites,” DePrang writes, “have remained little known except to Houston’s poorest residents.”
For other Superfund news, check out Natalie Hudson’s recent piece on Utne.com. —Eric Kelsey
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