LAMAR HANKINS | MIDDLE EAST | Hamas, Israel, and the Palestinians

Israel’s Wall in Bethlehem, West Bank. Photo by Montecruz Foto / Creative Commons.

To criticize Israel’s government and policies is not antisemitic.

By Lamar Hankins | The Rag Blog | December 5, 2023

I am reluctant to write about Israel at this politically- and emotionally-charged time because there is little respect for free speech in our country, which has long been known for free speech.  Groups and individuals — right, center, and left — want to cancel the right of free speech for those with whom they disagree.  I am also reluctant to broach the subject with Jewish friends and acquaintances for fear of damaging our relationship, even though I have always made clear distinctions between the State of Israel and being Jewish.  To criticize Israel’s government and policies is not antisemitic.

I try to approach the world through logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than through authority, tradition, or religious or political dogma.  With that in mind, and with compassion for those being harmed on all sides, I realize that if I don’t discuss Hamas, Israel, and Palestinians, I leave the discussion up to those who are willing to distort history and current affairs to suit what too often is informed by prejudice, false information, and fear.  But my biggest difficulty today is sorting out fact from fiction.

And we can’t separate fact from fiction without understanding what has happened and is happening from the perspective of the other.  We must understand the experience of Israelis and Jews and Palestinians, both Hamas supporters and all the rest.  Understanding the other’s perspective does not mean that we excuse unconscionable behavior.  But without understanding the other’s experiences, their emotions, and the realities of their lives, there never will be a just peace in this part of the Middle East.

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JONAH RASKIN | FILM | The reign of terror waged against the Osage. A review of the movie ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | November 24, 2023

Jonah Raskin will discuss this article and related issues on Rag Radio, Friday, Nov. 24, 2-3 p.m. (CT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin or streamed at KOOP.org.


For the past 600 years and maybe far further back in time than that, indigenous people all over the world have taken a terrible beating, though they have also survived. Novelists, poets, painters, playwrights, and filmmakers have told that story of genocide and resistance in its many iterations over and over again, and still the wars go on. David Grann tells a small part of that global phenomenon in his nonfiction book, Killers of the Flower Moon, a bestseller. Now, famed director Martin Scorsese has adapted parts of Grann’s story for a long movie that describes the war that white settlers, businessmen, and lawmen waged in the 1920s in the state of Oklahoma against a Native American tribe called the Osage.

The Osage called the war that was waged against them a “Reign of Terror.” When oil was discovered in Osage territory in Oklahoma, the Indians suddenly became wealthy. In many ways they assimilated white values, without totally surrendering their own heritage and language. Both resistance and compliance went on at the same time.

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LAMAR HANKINS | DEATH AND DYING | Dying on our own terms in Texas

Texans are unlikely to see a medical assistance in dying law any time soon, but other options are available for those facing an unacceptable, protracted death that lacks the dignity most people seek.

By Lamar Hankins | The Rag Blog | October 12, 2023

[Lamar Hankins will be Thorne Dreyer’s guest on Rag Radio from 2-3 p.m., Friday, October 13, 2023, on KOOP-FM 90.1 in Austin or at KOOP.org.]

Few people want to discuss dying, including most Texans.  Nevertheless, more and more people are demonstrating a willingness to plan for what every person will eventually face.  The use of advance directives; the proliferation of Death Cafes, where death and dying issues are discussed in an informal setting; organized discussions in many social, nonsectarian, and religious groups; and the passage of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) laws in several states over the past few years attest to an increasing interest in thinking about and discussing death and dying.

The need for assistance in dying

Many people don’t see the need for assistance in dying.  I will point to four examples by way of explanation.  An inoperable brain tumor can lead to painful headaches and seizures that leave a person in misery, with no hope of recovery.  As the symptoms get closer and closer together, they may have no opportunity for a peaceful life.  Often, the medications prescribed to control the symptoms leave the person unable to function in any normal way.  Death is certain, but how soon it will come is unknown.  Brittany Maynard, who had an inoperable brain tumor at the age of 29, explained her decision to use the MAID law in Oregon to end her own life:

Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.  Now, I’m able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love, and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature with those I love. And I know that I have a safety net.  I hope for the sake of my fellow American citizens that I’ll never meet that this option is available to you.  If you ever find yourself walking a mile in my shoes, I hope that you would at least be given the same choice and that no one tries to take it from you.

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ALICE EMBREE | LATIN AMERICA | The First 9/11: Fiftieth anniversary of the coup in Chile

September 11, 2023, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1973 military coup in Chile.

Painting by Carlos Lowry, 2023.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | September 10, 2023

The Austin Committee for Human Rights in Chile began after the coup.  It is where I deepened my understanding of U.S. complicity in that coup.  It’s where I was called Compañera, where I met a partner who had been in Santiago that fateful day.  The long shadow of dictatorship, lasting 17 years, marked my life and others I came to know in the Chile solidarity movement.  Our solidarity efforts echo a previous generation’s experience with the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, a long shadow of dictatorship.

As we live in a time of peril, climate apocalypse, state bans on bodies, local bans on books, and sustained attacks on democracy, I can’t help but feel we are on a precipice.  Imbued with remembrance of movement victories and a sense of solidarity, we live with a palpable fear of losing ground, of losing democratic rights we thought were inalienable.

I was moved by Ariel Dorfman’s recent article, “Defending Allende,” in the New York Review.  He was there when Allende won the presidency.  He speaks of it beautifully:

I had one of the most moving epiphanies of my life on the night of Allende’s election on September 4, 1970. After listening to him promise a delirious crowd that he would be el compañero presidente when he entered La Moneda in two months’ time, I wandered along the streets of Santiago with my wife and friends and witnessed the wonder, pride, and determination on the faces of workers and their families as they walked through the center of the city.

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LESLIE CUNNINGHAM | CIVIL RIGHTS | The March on Washington: Now 60 Years Later


Hundreds of thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s, Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963. U.S. Government Photo.

Now it’s the 60th anniversary.  Ten years ago (see my article below) I was marking a lot of half century points in my life; the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and momentous events of the months following it loomed large.  Somehow it’s a decade later and I’m still alive, but my head’s been reeling with what’s happened during this time — the good, the bad, and a lot of ugly.  This is very frightening to those of us who remember the 1950s — segregationist violence, McCarthyism, and the very real danger of nuclear annihilation. Today it’s the resurgence of overt racism, homophobia, violent white supremacy, and Christian nationalism that we once thought had become fringe but is now a serious power.  

 So once again, what is to be done? I wrote about “seeing all those people, all those BLACK people, all those men and especially women, young and old, whose event this was. Seeing their seriousness and power and determination. They were the instigators, they were the organizers, they were the leaders of their own struggle.” What I felt vaguely in 1963 was that black and brown people (“especially women”) would also be the leaders of a multiracial movement for change, and that I did not want to be in organizations and campaigns dominated by Anglo people — though I’ve found myself doing just that at various times in the last 60 years.

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JIM SIMONS | A PASSING | Greg Olds and the Gang of Six: An Abiding Memory

The original gang of 7.

By Jim Simons | The Rag Blog | August 25, 2023

AUSTIN — A dear friend passed in June at 86. Greg Olds was a quiet, thoughtful person. Even though he was very sick, he assured us he was fine. No fuss, self-deprecating and witty. Some of his youth was spent in Oklahoma where his father taught law. Greg was a graduate (in journalism) at UT. But he didn’t care for the school, thought it loud, aggressive and pretentious. So he became a strong fan of OU. When able, in early years, he drove to Norman for football games. He regularly went to the OU–Texas game at the State Fair Cotton Bowl. I went with him once. No repeats for me. His tickets were in the section where OU fans sat. I kept my allegiance for Texas to myself.

After graduating at Texas, he did post-graduate study at the University of Missouri.

I first met Greg at Scholz’ beer garden in 1967. He was with Ronnie Dugger, the hard-driving editor of the liberal publication, the Texas Observer. I was on friendly terms with Ronnie, who hailed me over to the table. Greg at that time was editor of the Richardson newspaper in North Dallas. I didn’t know it but Ronnie was vetting him as possible editor of the Texas Observer, because Ronnie hoped to spend more time on other writing. A critical book on LBJ was often mentioned. Greg was liberal in his politics and did take over as editor of TO at the end of 1968, possibly a bit later. In 1967 I was working for the OEO, “War on Poverty.” We became friends, as we were for the rest of Greg’s life.

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ALLEN YOUNG | BOOKS | Two new memoirs by gay liberation pioneers, one by a lesbian and one by a gay man.

The experiences of Shelley and D’Emilio differ largely because of their unique backgrounds and life goals.

By Allen Young | The Rag Blog | August 16, 2023

Two new books, which I just finished reading, merit a wide-ranging readership, so whether you are well-informed about the gay movement, or know little about it, the writers offer some valued insights. Furthermore, you might also have some fun getting to know two very different individuals. The authors, Martha Shelley and John D’Emilio, both in their seventies, have contributed an enormous amount to the gay movement and thus to the transformation of our nation’s politics and culture.

The books are: We Set the Night on Fire: Igniting the Gay Revolution by Martha Shelley and Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood: Coming of Age in the Sixties by John D’Emilio. Memoirs, as most readers know, are quite popular, and I want to address that for a minute.  I found this on the web: “Since the early 1990s, tens of thousands of memoirs by celebrities and unknown people have been published, sold, and read by millions of American readers. The memoir boom, as the explosion of memoirs on the market has come to be called, has been welcomed, vilified, and dismissed in the popular press.”

I authored a book that is an autobiography, somewhat different from a memoir. My 2018 book is Left, Gay & Green: A Writer’s Life, and a review was published on The Rag Blog.

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TOM ZIGAL | ART | Carlos Lowry’s portrait gallery for our time


La Peña Presents:

Rastros Inolvidables / Unforgettable Traces
Paintings by Carlos Lowry, August 13-September 11, 2023

Opening Reception:
Sunday, August 13, 2023 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Live Music by Trio Tiburón
La Peña is located at 237 Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78701


By Tom Zigal | The Rag Blog | August 8, 2023

I’ve known Carlos Lowry as a friend and co-conspirator for 45 years, and he continues to surprise me, inspire me, and challenge me to explore the amazing, complex warren of his passions and fascinations. Mostly politics, music, and film, but I’ve also seen him cheering ringside in a crowd of millennials at a pro wrestling match. Trying to keep up with his intellectual and artistic pursuits is like trying to grasp a common thread that stitches together all the incredible images in Rastros Inolvidables/Unforgettable Traces. You’re gonna need to Google.

In this new exhibition, Carlos is not only paying tribute to the revolutionaries, pop stars, and legendary figures who intrigue him, he’s inviting us to educate ourselves and embrace the fullness of history and share his personal admiration for Emma and the pecan shellers, the daring New Wave filmmakers, and even an old cowboy named Top Hat you won’t find on Wikipedia or a Facebook page. Each colorful image is a world unto itself that beckons us to activate our courage, to defy brutality and despotism, and yet to enjoy the catharsis and uplifting wonders of art and music. This is a portrait gallery for our time. Not a preening procession of chancellors and kings, but the heroines and heroes and forgotten ones who intrigue Carlos Lowry and inhabit his fertile imagination. And now they are our icons as well.

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ALICE EMBREE | VERSE | The brutality of August

The clock was stopped at 11:48 a.m. I took this photo the day they dedicated the memorial.

On August 1, many of us remember the 1966 University of Texas tower shooting.  Fifty years later, in 2016, the University of Texas in Austin finally honored the victims of that mass shooting with a ceremony.  The clock was paused.  A bagpipe player led a solemn march from the main mall of the campus to the site where a memorial plaque was dedicated.  Keith Maitland’s movie Tower honored the heroism shown by many that day.  This poem, written in 2012, refers to Claire Wilson James, a survivor of the shooting.

The brutality of August

I try to fill the birdbath each day
One day missed and it becomes bone dry
Birds perch on its lip and leave
Dismayed

The rosemary needs water
Her leaves begin to close,
The tips of fronds turn down
As though they have given up.

Not as bad as last year, we say.

But in July I begin to dread August
To fear the searing heat
That leeches moisture from my skin
Turns ground cover into dust.

And I think of August 1, 1966
Forty-six years ago.

Claire hit by Whitman’s bullet
Her partner lying dead beside
Her baby stilled inside her

On the university mall
Beneath the tower still raining bullets
With its slogan “ye shall know the truth”

We were so innocent before that day
Before we learned to fear August.

Alice Embree
Austin, Texas

This poem first appeared in Looking Glass, a collection of poems by Alice Embree, published in 2018, by the New Journalism Project.

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LAMAR HANKINS | EDUCATION & DIVERSITY | SCOTUS majority misunderstands benefits of college in its recent affirmative action decision.

United States Supreme Court Building. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress Collection / raw pixel / Creative Commons.

By Lamar Hankins | The Rag Blog | July 27, 2023

Listen to Thorne Dreyer‘s interview with Lamar Hankins on Rag Radio at 2 p.m., Friday, July 28, 2023, on KOOP 91.7 in Austin or stream at KOOP.org.


Six members of the Supreme Court clearly demonstrated their lack of understanding of the purposes of higher education in their recent decision about affirmative action in colleges and universities, specifically at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.  (See Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, two cases decided together.)

While it is shameful that Harvard, the intellectual prototype for university education, discriminated against Jews, African-Americans, and now Asians (an offensively broad and unspecific category) in admission, doing nothing about such discrimination should not be acceptable to anyone.  Yet the Supreme Court majority leaves little room for remedies.  Indeed, the Court majority has no interest in such matters, ignoring that the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted to end discrimination against slaves and their progeny by prohibiting the states from depriving any person of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” and from denying anyone within a state equal protection under the law

Many universities have followed practices that create the opposite of fairness and equality. 

But many universities have followed practices that create the opposite of fairness and equality.  So long as universities and other institutions practice legacy admissions, we will have discrimination in favor of whites.  So long as athletic skill is placed above academic achievement in awarding admission to a university, the lie of academic excellence will be exposed.  Further, there are preferences for the children of high-dollar donors and faculty.  Perhaps, as some have suggested, diversity can be achieved by using the demographic data of income, family wealth, and neighborhood impoverishment, along with academic competence.  If so, this remedy has yet to be demonstrated.

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BRUCE MELTON | CLIMATE | It’s not the heat… The difference today with climate change is duration.

Is it time to rent out Texas?

By Bruce Melton | The Rag Blog | July 21, 2023

Listen to Thorne Dreyer’s interview with Bruce Melton on Rag Radio at 2 p.m., Friday, July 21, 2023, on KOOP 91.7 in Austin or stream at KOOP.org.


It’s not the heat, it’s the warming beyond evolutionary boundaries.

There’s a quote that has been around forever, variously worded and attributed to many. The origin of the story seems to be General Philip Sheridan in San Antonio after the Civil War: “If I owned Texas and all Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.”

It’s always been blisteringly hot in Texas. In Austin, we have not set a new all-time temperature record since 2012 at 112 degrees, which was a tie from 2003. We hit 2009 a half dozen times (+/-) in the 20th century, including 2017, 2019, 1923, and 1925
(+/-).

The difference today with climate change is duration. In the 20th century we had on average about 10-to-11 days at 100 or above every year. In 2019 the five-year average was 40 days and since 2022 the five-year average has been 47 days. In 2011 of course we endured 90 days at 100 or above, so there is a lot of natural variability. In 2021 we only had 12 days above.

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RICHARD CROXDALE | TEXAS HISTORY | The battle of Waller Creek: The felling of the Erwin Drum

In the Movement Folk Tales, Frank Erwin plays the role of the evil stepmother.

Frank Erwin Monument

Frank Erwin monument by Jim Franklin, The Rag, October 28, 1969.

By Richard Croxdale | The Rag Blog | June 20, 2023

The Rag Blog is cross-posting a piece of history published by People’s History in Texas (PHIT). 

Frank Erwin currently has a huge basketball and performing arts stadium named in his honor — The Frank Erwin Center.  The University of Texas is going to blow it up in 2024.

Some older political activists are gleeful.  They might even go down to the Texas State Cemetery and have a seance over his grave.  They may even dance a jig of victory.

In the Movement Folk Tales, Frank Erwin plays the role of the evil stepmother, the wicked witch, the troll under the bridge. Rather than having a stadium named after him, some might say that a more appropriate statue of him would be a troll under the Waller Street Bridge.  Since the stadium it is going to be blown up, and Waller Creek has been cleaned up, maybe there still is hope for the Erwin troll statue.

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