Ivan Koop Kuper :
LITERATURE | Larry McMurtry: The Houston years and beyond

‘I had two novel manuscripts in my drawer, which meant that I had options my fellow graduate students just didn’t have.’

Larry McMurtry at Rice.

By Ivan Koop Kuper | The Rag Blog | April 1, 2021

HOUSTON — Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Larry McMurty, age 84, died of heart failure the night of March 25, 2021, in his North Texas hometown of Archer City, 25 miles south of Wichita Falls.

In the fall of 1954, then-18-year-old McMurtry, right off the family ranch, arrived in Houston to begin his first semester at Rice Institute (later to be renamed Rice University). As an undergraduate, McMurtry shared a garage apartment on North Boulevard near Rice Village with roommates Douglas Milburn, who would become a German language professor at Rice, and future Houston engineer, John Haydel.

In his memoir, A Literary Life (2009), McMurtry fondly recalls how at Rice he was introduced to American-born, British “Modernist” poet, T.S. Eliot, and his “stream of consciousness” writing style used in his 1915 poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” This was a technique that would also be adopted by Beat-era writer Jack Kerouac, songwriter Bob Dylan, and McMurtry’s own son, singer-songwriter James McMurtry. In the 1970s, there was also a watering hole that was popular with Rice University faculty and students alike; including McMurtry, located on Lower Westheimer, in the Houston neighborhood of Montrose. Named for the epic poem, it was known to all as Prufrocks.
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Alice Embree :
THE VOTE | Voter suppression in Texas

It’s all wrapped in a thin white sheet called ‘voter integrity,’ but you can call it Jim Crow Revisited.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | March 25, 2021

AUSTIN — Texas is one of the hardest states to vote in in the country, and the Texas Legislature is about to double down on difficult. Bills marked as priority by Governor Abbott have been filed in the Texas Senate (SB7) and House (HB6) and scheduled for hearings.

Rep. Briscoe Cain says his bill, HB6, is intended to protect the “purity of the ballot.” That already sounds like the dystopian world of The Handmaid’s Tale, but wait, it gets worse. The legislation increases criminal penalties and creates new offenses. It’s all wrapped in a thin white sheet called “voter integrity,” but you can call it Jim Crow Revisited.
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Roger Baker :
POVERTY | We need a federal solution to homelessness

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has been ordered by Gov. Abbott to make the homeless camps under the Austin freeways go away.

Homeless man in Austin. Photo by Dustin Ground / Flickr / Creative Commons.

By Roger Baker | The Rag Blog | March 25, 2021

AUSTIN — The following is from an article by Jonathan Lee in the Austin Monitor, March 24, 2021:

Council floats spending “huge” portion of American Rescue Plan funds to solve homelessness  

…City Council hopes that solving homelessness — the city’s biggest priority — may finally be within reach thanks to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. Council members spoke effusively at Tuesday’s work session about the “transformational” change possible if the city concentrates its portion of the American Rescue Plan — $195.8 million — on solving key issues instead of spreading the money thin.This is the chance, Mayor Steve Adler said, to “take one of our most significant challenges and just fix it…

All the money must also be spent by the end of 2024. The city plans to allocate much of the funds to departments and programs this fiscal year, doling out the rest by the end of Fiscal Year 2022. The city’s ability to enact such change also depends in large part on how Travis County spends the $247.1 million it received — a far greater amount than expected…

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Harry Targ :
RACE | On anti-Asian racism: The historical record abroad and at home

With the election of Joe Biden, the shift in the direction of escalating tensions with China has continued.

Photo by Stefano Borghi / www.stefanoborghi.com / Creative Commons license.

By Harry Targ | The Rag Blog | March 25, 2021

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — Why is the United States returning to a policy hostile to China, perhaps creating a “New Cold War”? In addition, is there any relationship between U.S .foreign policy and anti-Asian violence at home? There are several answers to these two questions.

The United States seeks to maintain its global hegemony

As Alfred McCoy has described (In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power, Haymarket Books, 2017), the United States, relatively speaking, is a declining power. As to economic growth, scientific and technological development, productivity, and trade, the U.S., compared to China particularly, is experiencing stagnation or decline. China has engaged in massive global projects in transportation, trade, and scientific advances and by 2030 based on many measures will advance beyond the U.S.
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Lamar W. Hankins :
RED SCARE | The Communists are everywhere: Reflections from childhood

I don’t recall ever discussing the incoming Communist hordes
with my parents.

Captain America Comics #78 (1954), cover by John Romita Sr. / Flickr / Wikimedia Commons.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | March 11, 2021

SAN MARCOS — When I was about 10 years old in the mid-1950s, I had a great fear of Communists. At that age, I didn’t understand what communism was or why I feared Communists, but now I do. I’ve read several books about the McCarthy era over my adult years, which has helped explain my childhood fears. And when I say fears, I am not exaggerating.

Once or twice a month, my family would drive about 45 minutes from Port Arthur, through Beaumont, to Vidor to visit my maternal grandmother. It was usually dark when we drove home. My younger brother and I always rode in the back seat. As we drove along the 25-mile stretch of mostly open land on the southwest side of Hwy. 96 between Beaumont and Port Arthur, I noticed lights in the rice fields we passed, some blinking off and on in the distance, and some glowing steadily, often with a yellow tint. They could be seen both near the highway and far away.
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POETS | Tongo Eisen-Martin: A poet with genocide
on his mind

A story for National Poetry Month.

Poet Tongo Eisen-Martin, 2019. Still from YouTube, Wikimedia Commons

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | March 11, 2021

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. — English Department purists might complain that Tongo Eisen-Martin doesn’t write “real” poems, that is poems about birds and flowers, and thus shouldn’t be featured this year during National Poetry Month, which as always falls in April.

Eisen-Martin’s first book, someone’s dead already, was published by Bootstrap Press. His second, Heaven Is All Goodbyes ($11.17) was published by City Lights in its venerable Pocket Poets Series. Tongo’s brother Biko, an artist and an actor, designed the cover.

The first poem in the volume is titled, “Faceless.” The last is titled “The Oldest Then the Youngest,” and begins, “Grandmother, why don’t you ever talk about your children who the first world murdered?” The grandmother replies, “Because, son, I haven’t run out of knife handles.”

True enough, the poems don’t evoke birds and flowers, the end of winter and the coming of spring. But they do what almost all innovative and original poems do: they engage with human consciousness and play with words and images.
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Lamar W. Hankins :
JUSTICE | Saudi murder and American murder: An
ethical equivalence

While Khashoggi may have had no legal rights under Saudi law, Anwar al-Aulaki was a U.S. citizen and entitled to due process.

Left: Iman Anwar al-Awlaki, Photo by Muhammad ud-Deen/Wikimedia Commons. Right: Jamal Khashoggi. Photo by Alfagih at Arabic Wikipedia. Transferred to Wikimedia Commons.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | March 4, 2021

SAN MARCOS — I am as appalled as anyone by the 2018 murder at the Saudi Embassy in Turkey of Saudi national and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, on order of Saudi leadership, namely, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But as I read Nicholas Kristof’s column in the February 27, 2021, New York Times, I had difficulty seeing the difference between Khashoggi’s killing and that in 2011 in Yemen of the Yemeni-American Imam Anwar al-Aulaki by a U.S .drone, ordered by then-President Obama.

Obviously, the manner of death of the two men was different — Khashoggi’s is in a way reminiscent of the Mafia, and al-Aulaki’s by a sophisticated drone. But they were both killed, whether by medieval methods or modern, by order of heads of state (the presumptive head of state for Saudi Arabia and the elected head of state for the U.S.).

I don’t draw these parallels lightly. I voted for President Obama twice. But a closer look at American opinion about Khashoggi’s death leads me to conclude that there is no relevant moral difference between the two.
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ANALYSIS | Varied evolutionary pathways of 1960s activists

People active in the New Left and the anti-war movement evolved after the 1960s in many ways.

Ron Auerbacher and Jason Serinus reenact a 1970 photo (above) during exhibit at the
New York Public Library.

By Allen Young | The Rag Blog | February 25, 2021

ROYALSTON, Mass. — The recent death of 1960s anti-war and New Left activist Rennie Davis is the inspiration for this article. Without judgment or advocacy, I want to explore the varied shifts in consciousness that have taken place in the lives of several people who, like Davis, were peace and social justice activists during the Vietnam War era.

Only a short time before his death, at age 80, Davis received some media attention because of a new movie about the 1969 Chicago Seven trial. In an obituary written for The Rag Blog, my college friend, activist and professor Jonah Raskin wrote, “Rennie was a man with a deep moral consciousness who aimed to follow the dictates of his heart and his head no matter where they might take him.”

Jonah could not avoid one of the most impelling aspects of Davis’ life, namely this much admired Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) leader’s shift from the political left to the spiritual realm, specifically as a follower and promoter of the 15-year-old guru, Maharaj Ji.
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OBITUARY | Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

He was an insurgent poet, feisty publisher, lover of the written
and spoken word.

City Lights Book Store. Photo by Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | February 23, 2021

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif — He was a poet, a painter, a publisher, and a bookstore owner who helped to give birth to the writers of the Beat Generation, especially to the raucous work of Allen Ginsberg. Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded City Lights Books in 1953, along with fellow New Yorker, Peter Martin, who soon departed from San Francisco and returned to the East. Ferlinghetti died on February 23, 2021, at the age of 101. His Coney Island of the Mind has sold more than a million copies since it was first published in 1958.

Two years earlier, he published Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, the best known book of American verse in the second half of the 20thcentury. In 1957, Ferlinghetti went on trial for obscenity. He was found not guilty. The judge ruled that Howl had redeeming social value. That verdict helped to open the door to avant garde and subversive literature for the next 50 or so years.
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Alice Embree :
POLITICAL CRIME | Ken Paxton and the Three ‘Enemigos’

Charting the flagrant abuse of power by Texas’ indicted Attorney
General Ken Paxton.

Three Enemigos: Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Collage by Alice Embree/ The Rag Blog.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | February 13, 2021

AUSTIN — Indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is getting star billing in the crime genre, but supporting roles go to Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. The Three Enemigos are all playing their part in voter suppression and poor pandemic planning. But, let’s turn first to Paxton’s recent reviews.

Every Republican official in Texas with a functioning conscience knows what should be done with our long-indicted, oft-accused, hitherto unaccountable Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton… Paxton should be scrubbed from the Office of Attorney General with the thoroughness one applies to disinfecting any other contaminated surface… Any number of disinfectants might work against the stains left by a man who has managed to avoid trial for five long years on securities fraud charges and finally last year saw seven of his own top aides at the AG’s office allege that Paxton committed bribery and abuse of office in his efforts to help a campaign donor.

– Editorial, Houston Chronicle, February 9, 2021

The disinfectant approach is new. Somehow I can’t get Sarah Cooper’s comedic rendition of Trump’s disinfectant advice out of my head when I hear the word used.
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Larry Piltz :
VERSE | Bernie Sanders’ Victory Tour 2021

Bernie with friends.

By Larry Piltz | The Rag Blog | February 11, 2021

It’s as if Bernie’s lifelong journey of devotion to betterment of all, and becoming over time a beloved benign dogged pursuer of equality and fairness, almost the coming to fruition of a spirit of the age when a true motion forward along the arc of justice and peace is being made, in the wake of a long moment in time when a threat to all that is good and kind hung over us, here now is the wisp of a cosmic reminder of the new moment we are entering, Bernie, his persuasion and example having had its cumulative effect, a rebound success, appearing relaxed sitting comfortably, at ease, swaddled in warmth though winter, his mittens representing the hands-on work he’s done on our communal soul, having the rest he has so well-earned, and in sweet repose he has been appearing all over the country, the world, in famous and anonymous places, in people’s living rooms, weddings, everywhere, placed by people he’s never met who in good humor and touched by a joy and with a hope for the better are coloring in the future with a tongue in cheek but also real homage to a man who believes in us all, believes in our better angels, and who risks being cranky and over the top in the service of people becoming more aware and empowered to uplift our world, which is what his image means as it is injected into so many corners of our lives, like pictures of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in millions and millions of American homes during the Great Depression and World War II, someone we wouldn’t want to be without, someone who has loved us and known us better than we sometimes know ourselves, understands our better instincts and our need for something better, someone who devoted his life to us and lived it true and truly for the people, at long last an honest man deserving the trust we are capable of, Bernie Sanders gets the victory tour only he could generate, sincere, whimsical, and an honest expression of thanks and admiration. We love you, Bernie.

[Larry Piltz is an Austin-based writer, poet, and musician.]

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OBITUARY | Rennie Davis (1940-2021): Not the boy next door

He was a man with a deep moral consciousness who followed the dictates of his heart and his head no matter where they took him.

Rennie Davis in 1973. Washington Area Spark / Flickr / Creative Commons.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | February 9, 2021

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. — Rennie Davis sometimes seemed like the all-American boy who lived in the house next door that came with a lawn and a picket fence. In some ways he fit the stereotype.

Unlike Abbie, Jerry, and Tom, Rennie’s roots were patrician. Born in Michigan and raised in Virginia, he belonged to a 4-H Club as a boy. His father worked in President Truman’s administration as chief of staff for the Council of Economic Advisers.

I remember him as boyish, with a certain naivete.

Still, the more one looked, the less all-American he appeared to be. Something was going on beneath the surface that even he didn’t recognize. The Vietnamese did.
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