Harry Targ :
BOOKS | The threat to democracy continues

Revisiting Nancy MacLean’s groundbreaking 2017 book, ‘Democracy in Chains.’

By Harry Targ | The Rag Blog | July 15, 2021

Nancy MacLean, in her groundbreaking 2017 book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, addresses one of the central problems facing the American people, indeed majorities of people around the world: the contradiction between democracy and capitalism.

As we look to the 2022 elections, the seemingly successful efforts of state governments, with support from the court system, to suppress voting, gerrymander districts, and in other ways to squelch the voices of the people, threatens majority rule. In addition, media consolidation, the creation of “news deserts,” restricting what is to be taught in the education system from grade one through the university, all are part of the concerted threat to fully inform the public. This too is a threat to democratic participation and majority rule. Consequently, it is useful to revisit MacLean’s main arguments.
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BOOKS | ‘By the Light of Burning Dreams’: Everybody
is a star

The book honors ‘the triumphs of the Sixties,’ though it does not neglect ‘the tragedies.’

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | July 8, 2021

Near the end of his days as a cultural revolutionary, Abbie Hoffman explained, facetiously, that he was to blame for crime in the streets, kids acting out, and drug addiction. He was reacting to the ongoing assaults on the Sixties and the smears on his own personality.

Even before the decade of the 1960s ended, critics of the counterculture and the anti-war movement lambasted radicals, feminists, and left-wing ideologists for creating anarchy and fomenting chaos.

Over the past five decades, the culture wars — with defenders of the Sixties on one side and detractors on the other — have not abated. Americans are still scapegoating “The Sixties.”
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BOOKS | Ethel Rosenberg’s life story told in new book

I found the book to be painfully sad due to the injustice and the cruelty of the execution.

By Allen Young | The Rag Blog | June 13, 2021

COLD SPRING, N.Y. — On June 19, 1953, the government of the United States of America, utilizing its much-heralded but deeply-flawed system of justice, ended the lives of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were put to death that day in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison on the banks of the Hudson River.

This atrocious action was, in my view, the most egregious moment in the long, dark period of mid-20th America combining the Cold War and the related anti-communist crusade often called the McCarthy era.

The Rosenberg case has been the topic of many books, and I highly recommend the newest one, Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, written by Anne Sebba, an award-winning biographer, lecturer, and former Reuters foreign correspondent. She is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research in London, where she resides. I found the book to be interesting and well-written, though painfully sad at times due to the injustice and the cruelty of the execution. Focusing primarily but not exclusively on Ethel makes this book unique.
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REMEMBRANCE | Texas film and theater icon Gary Chason passes at 78

Events celebrating Gary’s life are planned for Austin and Houston.

Gary Chason in 1979. Portrait by Janice Rubin / The Rag Blog.

By Thorne Dreyer | The Rag Blog | June 11, 2021

  • Listen to Thorne Dreyer’s August 17, 2010 Rag Radio interview with Gary Chason, here.

Gary Chason, an iconic figure in Texas film and theater – and my dear friend and longtime colleague – passed away on Sunday, April 18, 2021, at the age of 78. There will be celebrations of Gary’s life in Austin on Saturday, June 19, 3-6 p.m at Spiderhouse, 2906 Fruth St., Austin 78705, and in Houston on Saturday, June 26, 3-6 p.m., at Rudyards, 2010 Waugh Dr., Houston 77006.

Gary Chason and I first met in 1964, when we were both studying theater at the University of Texas. We lived in adjoining apartments (with only one kitchen) and we quickly established a friendship that would endure through the decades. Gary and I were both involved in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the movement against the War in Vietnam and, in 1966, I helped Gary publicize the Student League for Responsible Sexual Freedom which he co-founded at UT: an organization way ahead of its time (it fought for sexual freedom for all students, regardless of sexual orientation).
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BOOKS | Hilton Obenzinger bears witness to the times that have tried our souls

His new book of poems is ‘Witness 2017-2020.’

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | May 28, 2021

Ezra Pound, the twentieth-century American poet, once said, “Make it new,” and “Literature is news that stays news.” He would probably read Hilton Obenzinger’s new book of poems, Witness 2017-2020 (Irene Weinberger Books; $16.95), and observe that they are timely and topical and that they also go beyond the present historical moment and aim for something called universal.

As the title suggests, Obenzinger’s poems derive from his own observations and lived experiences in the four years from 2017 to 2020, when Donald Trump cracked a whip and when many, though not all Americans, jumped.

Obenzinger didn’t jump, but he heard the crack of the whip, and in “Fear Itself,” which is dated April 28, 2020, he writes “I’m afraid of Trump.” With good reason.
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Lamar W. Hankins :
WAR | My military ambivalence

I thought it was wrong to fight in the Vietnam War, and there has not been one since that I found compelling.

Vietnam War 1968. Troops of the 1st. Cavalry Division during an operation near the Ashau Valley. Photo by Philip Jones Griffiths / Creative Commons.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | April 22, 2021

Ambivalence is the most accurate word I’ve found to explain my respect and disrespect for the military. I came of age during the Vietnam-era military draft that conscripted 2.2 million draftees. Of those in the military sent to Vietnam, 25% were draftees, and they accounted for over 30% of the deaths in that war. More than 2.6 million young men and nearly 7500 women were used in Vietnam in our effort to prevent the unification of that country under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, who lived for brief periods in both the US and France, two countries that beset his land with war for over twenty years.

Researching the demographics of those who served in the military in Vietnam, I was surprised to learn that so few were draftees. At the time, it seemed that most of those going to Vietnam had been drafted. But whatever their status, I thought it was wrong to fight in that war, and there has not been one since that I found compelling, as was World War II, though not everyone agreed with that assessment. I have known conscientious objectors to WWII who did alternate service.
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LITERATURE | To cancel or not to cancel Jack London

Reflections on an American writer and a controversial movement.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | April 22, 2021

Jack London’s ashes, which are buried under a rock on Sonoma Mountain in Northern California, must be calling wildly to the living. In a new movie just out, that’s titled Jack London’s Martin Eden, Russ Brissenden, one of the main characters, who also figures in the novel, Martin Eden, is an African-American. The film also features two women of color who are labor activists and socialists. In London’s 1908 book there are no Black characters or people of color. Brissenden is as white as can be.

In fact, there are no significant Black characters in any of London’s 50 books, though there are some Mexicans and some Asians. The author wanted the real world to be for whites only. He mostly populated his fictional universe with white men and white women.

London was raised by an African-American woman
and an ex-slave.

As a child, London was raised by an African-American woman and an ex-slave, named Virginia Prentice, whom he called “Mammy,” much to her annoyance. It’s likely she would have been sad, hurt, and angry if she had read London’s essays, like “The Salt of the Earth,” on the superiority of the white race, and his letters in which he expresses what sounds like racist ideas.
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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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