Tarballs and Tainted History

Rachel Farris and Friend

Our friend Rachel Farris, otherwise known as blogger Mean Rachel, visits DogCanyon with a great post. We’re proud to welcome her to the Canyon, and recommend everyone read this, visit her blog regularly. You’ll wanna send her presents.

By Rachel Farris

BP’s wells aren’t the only things failing around Texas these days.

Education is quickly draining out of Texas classrooms, and as the oil spill made its way onto Texas beaches this weekend, word of the brain-drain that is our State Board of Education has most certainly gotten out. The spoof public relations Twitter account for BP, BPGlobalPR, tweeted a Texas-sized zinger that quickly zoomed to the top of Twitter.com today, garnering over 100+ retweets in less than two hours: “Our oil hit Texas beaches yesterday. Fortunately, in 20 years their school books will say nothing happened. #bpcares“.

Tarballs and tainted history. Lucky us.

The Texas State Board of Education has been caught in the national spotlight of mainstream news sources (see How Christian Were the Founders?) ever since, like a smelly oil well in the wind, reporters picked up the scent of how completely whacked-out the current SBOE members are–or, as the New York Times more politely put it, when the SBOE approved a curriculum that “put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks.” Now, thanks to the SBOE’s it’d-be-funny-if-it-weren’t-so-sad antics, BPGlobalPR’s tweet today pushed the long-term risks of a state board rewriting history to perhaps a larger–and younger–following with a taste for schadenfreude.

As far as I can see, the only thing worse than George W. Bush being back in Texas is the state of education here. Bill Hobby, former Lt. Governor of Texas, recently called Texas the “Laughing Stock State” as a result of the SBOE’s desire to remove from the pages of textbooks notable Hispanics like Lorenzo de Zavala, who helped draft the constitution of the Republic of Texas. As if erasing history wasn’t enough, Republican SBOE members like incumbent Ken Mercer want to actually rewrite history by replacing them with ultra-conservatives like Sean Hannity, who once said, “I’ll tell you who should be tortured and killed at Guantanamo: every filthy Democrat in the U.S. Congress.” Where do you think they’ll tuck that quote in the margins of a second grader’s social studies text? In the “Washed Up TV Hosts Who Historically Have Incited Violence” chapter?

Without a change of board members, as Governor Rick Perry continues to inexcusably refer to the BP oil disaster an “act of God,” Texas’s textbooks will soon reflect the same type of Republican ideology that Mercer’s opponent, Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, correctly called “a butchered curriculum…riddled with inaccuracy.”

And with teachers like Rick Perry and Ken Mercer at the helm, why even bother with standardized tests?

The World Is Rich, But It Is Not Mine

This world is rich, but it is not mine.
Where I live, hungry children are crying
I am not angry, at my own condition
I just want people to know my position.

Procol Harum, from a statement by South African Stephen Maboe

Congressman Joe Barton says he doesn’t want to live in a country in which those in authority are held accountable.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing, but I’m getting the spirit of his comments – and his beliefs – just right. He apologized to BP for the Obama Administration’s audacity and its demand that BP put $20 billion in escrow to compensate Americans devastated by the oil giant’s Gulf spill.

I’m only speaking for myself. I’m not speaking for anyone else, but I apologize,” Barton added. “I do not want to live in a county where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown.

Other Republicans (John Cornyn, Michele Bachmann) shared Barton’s concerns. Some tried to distance themselves. Whatever.

The point is that Barton spoke from his heart. In the worldview of Barton and his ilk, humanity divides neatly into two categories: the ruled and the rulers. It is a violation of natural law to hold rulers accountable. Surviving fish do not punish sharks for the flounder they eat.

Continue reading “The World Is Rich, But It Is Not Mine”

A Troubling Pattern in America’s Obama Story

George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and was appointed president by the conservative U.S. Supreme Court. A sanctimonious pundit class tells us it is crabby, unpatriotic and uncivil to dwell upon that bit of history. But questions of legitimacy (“does he really belong here?”) have dogged Barack Obama since he won the Iowa caucuses. Where have the “get over it” arguments gone? Long time passing.

There is an ugly pattern in coverage and conversation about Obama. The media’s immediate recourse to dubious language like “the Gulf oil spill is Obama’s Katrina” is just the most recent example.

Juxtaposed against the overt “get over it” arguments about Bush’s appointment, this presents us with some unpleasant suspicions about the national character. About Bush the media asked, “When will he succeed?” About Obama they ask, “When will he fail?” Obama’s the show that doesn’t belong on Broadway, and the critics clamor: when will the curtain come down?

Obama’s reflections at a San Francisco 2008 fundraiser about the source and symptoms of white, working class frustration would prove his undoing, we were told. Okay, then, surely the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s “God damn America” preaching would take Obama out. A poor debate performance against Hilary Clinton? Disqualifying, said many.

Obama’s handling of the health care debate? The economy? Jobs? Too often the questions turned not on healthy, objective, rational critique, but on when this guy’s Broadway show would close. It’s not a quite a birther rant, but it’s of the same family.

Part of this is just the media’s attempted fulfillment of the clichéd American celebrity narrative: the star that rises from nowhere must crash and burn. I think unrestrained and unthinking Obama worship fed the “star” part of this storyline. I’m anti-authoritarian by nature, and I read too much history and covered politicians far too long to imagine superhero exploits from any of them, ever.

Continue reading “A Troubling Pattern in America’s Obama Story”

When Johnny Came Home

(Author’s note: The president is expanding American presence in Afghanistan.  The Iraq war does not appear to be ending any time soon, in spite of significant troop draw downs.  I voted for something else and I support neither conflict.  In 2003, when President Bush launched the Iraq war, I traveled the country for a book project and spoke to families that had lost a son, husband, brother, daughter, sister, or mother in the war.  And anyone that supports US involvement in either conflict ought to have similar conversations. If you support either war, and believe the sacrifice of someone else’s child is necessary to protect our country from a perceived peril, then you must also believe your child’s life can be utilized to the same ends.  But before you make such a choice, listen to the families that have suffered the worst kind of loss.  Six years ago this month, the Mata family of Pecos, Texas, buried their handsome hometown hero.  A month later, I met the family at a fund raising old timers’ baseball game.  The money was to be used to support the children of a soldier who was killed when Jessica Lynch’s support unit got lost in the Iraqi desert.  The tragedy of Johnny Mata, which follows below, ought to be remembered.  And remembered.  And remembered. – JM)


“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” – Robert Benchley

The little girl sat at the table with her face leaning close to a small piece of paper. Her dark, bobbed hair swung forward, slightly obscuring the soft curve of her cheeks. She did not notice her mother enter the room.

“What are you doing, mija?” her mother asked.

“I’m writing daddy a note.” She answered without looking up, her concentration focused on the careful shaping of words and letters.

“Oh, mija.”

Nancili Mata wanted to cry. Instead, she smiled, and did not let emotion take control of her. When she surrenders to her sadness, she does so in private.

“I have to be strong because if I’m not my little girl will see me, and then she’ll hurt more than I will,” she explained.

At age seven, Stephani Mata has the oversized, startled eyes of a child finding amazement in the mundane. A happiness moves across her round face, and it rarely disappears. She has figured out a way to deal with a sadness no child should ever have to confront.

“They are just so sweet when she writes them,” Nancili said. “They make me want to cry. But I don’t. I won’t let myself.”

The notes began appearing after the funeral out in Pecos. Nancili found them stuck to pictures of her husband, Johnny. In the hallway of their new home, or on shelves, anywhere there was a photo of Johnny Mata, a message from Stephani might be attached.
Continue reading “When Johnny Came Home”

Coyote Nation

The Armchair CoyoteCoyotes have come to the city. I sit here writing in the foreshortened suburban night and listen to them howling and singing out back, hidden in what we used to call a gulch but is now called a green belt. A coyote can hold a note a lot longer than you think.

To many, they are a dangerous nuisance. Pet cats and puppies disappear. Coyotes, or “ghosts of the city” as a recent study calls them, get the blame. That study (pdf), by Ohio State’s Stanley Gehrt, says coyotes “have become the top carnivores in an increasing number of urban areas across North America…”

If pets disappear, though, so do skunks and rats. I think it’s a fair trade.

Years ago I sat on a little rise near the Rio Grande with my father and watched a pair of coyotes tag-team a deer, one resting while the other ran the deer in circles. The next, fully rested, took up the game so the partner could rest. It took four cycles. I’ll spare you the end of the story, except to say the coyotes seemed skilled and well-fed.

Continue reading “Coyote Nation”

Texas Political Guidebook — Chapter Two

Gretings from TexasTexas is a place bursting at the stock-pens with proud and determined individualists who live by the motto:  conform, or I shoot.

To those not fortunate enough to have lived in Texas, there is in this a mild suggestion of hypocrisy. A visitor from back East might be shrewd enough to put it gently, especially if he is still here. “Texans are a paradoxical people,” he might say.

In response, I’d resort to the Bible – “Let he who is without sin…” – except the phrase makes me edgy as the preacher whose eyes dart nervously about the sanctuary when he comes to that “without sin” part. The good pastor is well aware that his congregants, in their innocence, believe he’s been qualified by Jesus Himself to throw stones. They have come, he’s certain, to watch him hurl a few. In his dilemma is the origin of the phrase, “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

The thing is the congregants know they’ve got the preacher in a tight, and they know he’s going to have to put some lumps on a few heads to get out of it. It’s how they guarantee a Sunday’s salvific entertainment.

Continue reading “Texas Political Guidebook — Chapter Two”

Character Versus Brand: A Lesson in Framing

Advertising and marketing gurus have so successfully established the importance of “brand” that we in the political sphere often lose sight of the real core of political argument: character.

The distinction is not trivial. Brand is about a list of facts or attributes. It’s character people use in sizing up strangers, checking in on friends, weighing the merits of a politician. Continue reading “Character Versus Brand: A Lesson in Framing”

Little Words Mean Life or Death: Framing Health Care

“Little words can mean death or life to someone.”

-Electra, in Sophocles’ tragedy, Electra.

People die who could be saved. People suffer who could recover. Those are the consequences of the private insurance-based health care system in America today. Continue reading “Little Words Mean Life or Death: Framing Health Care”

Secession and Racism

And now, just after the inauguration of America’s first black president, comes loud talk of secession and nullification. What a coincidence.

It seems like only yesterday that right-wingers were condemning critics of a president as un-American, chanting “Proud to be an American,” and branding as traitors to America those opposed to state torture. Today, they say their enemy is America. Oh yeah, and these are the same people who decried so-called “situation ethics.” Continue reading “Secession and Racism”