Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Everything, Including Outer Space, Is Bigger In Texas

This is a time lapse video of night sky as it passes over the 2009 Texas Star Party in Fort Davis, Texas. The event has since become one of the largest meetings of amateur astronomers in North America and provides the opportunity for visual observing, astrophotography, and fellowship under clear, dark Texas skies. Cue the music. The images, taken with a 15mm fisheye lens, clearly display the galactic core of the Milky Way. Yeah, I know, I'm totally two years late and all, but looking at the stars is just like looking into the past anyway, amirite?

And so the song goes: "The stars at night..." Mind blown at 0:38.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Keep Austin Cozy

This is the Faulkner Plaza outside the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. The knitted covers are on 99 trees outside the museum as part of "Knitted Wonderland" and art project initiated by Magda Sayeg, founder of Knitta Please.

From Sayeg's website: Magda Sayeg, founder of Knitta Please, began by taking knitting out of the home and into the streets. The simple juxtaposition of this woven material placed within an urban environment has inspired a new generation of knitters who no longer view function as the sole purpose for knitting. This new approach to knitting questions the assumptions of a traditional craft while adding a previously unused material to the world of street art.

Just look at how she's transforming Texas and the world:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Drunk Driving: Just Another Texan Birthright

Texans identify as drinkers. I think that this stems from a culture saturated with satiation and entitlement - the typical Texan stereotype demands satisfaction with a side of ego. There is legitimate, positive pride and interest in cuisine and entertainment in Texas, coupled with numerous enabling bars and restaurants, but drinking is so pervasive here that it extends far beyond regular dining and social events to the point where I've even been offered a LoneStar Beer by my hair stylist or while browsing at boutiques. The drinking culture is deeply indoctrinated in youth, with Texas being one of the few remaining states where anyone under 21 can be served alcohol if in the presence of an approving parent. Texans are drinkers, despite their restrictive blue laws - alcohol can't be sold after 12pm in stores or before noon on Sundays, and liquor is sold in separate stores. Combine these cultural norms with Texas infamous sprawl and extensive roadways and you get an obvious statistic: Texas leads the nation in drinking and driving arrests and alcohol-related motor-vehicle fatalities in the country.

So while its unsettling to read that German Rodriguez, 52, was arrested for his 5th DWI this Wednesday, March 23, in Austin, it's somehow unsurprising. Rodriguez was sentenced to 60 years in prison, ineligible for parole for at least 30 years. He had collided with an oncoming car, driven by 17-year-old Michal Pawluk, during a left turn. Rodriguez suffered minor injuries in the crash and both vehicles were severely damaged. Pawluck is thankfully unscathed. This is the work of a five-time offender.

Especially on the heels of SXSW (but realistically on any given night) one can witness not only drunk driving, but what I like to call couch-driving, with the driver casually navigating, texting, putting on makeup, eating, drinking, fiddling with dials, or a myriad of tasks that can only serve to inhibit safe, precautionary driving. Lack of use of turn signals is also problematic. In other states, especially in cities, many people take breaks from driving, whether it be at college, or being young and unable to afford it, or having reliable public transportation. When one takes a break from driving and returns to it, full adult comprehension of the power of the machine is humbling. For Texans, who often are unable to break this reliance on their car, driving becomes so familiar that it becomes automatic behavior, rather than vigilant caution. This in effect seems to lead to a casual sense of invincibility.

The most unnerving part is that Texas seems to both recognize and understand the problem at hand, but aren't sure how to address the heart of the matter: that drinking and driving is deeply engrained in society's cultural norms that it is no longer shameful or even uncommon to be or know someone convicted of drunk driving. The state's own online traffic driving school, requires DWI offenders to pass a safety course and poses, "So what's the deal with Texas? Why are these numbers so high? Do drivers not care about the prospect of having to take defensive driving in Texas? Do you they not care about the prospect of dying behind the wheel? While nobody really knows for sure, one thing is certain. If drivers don't take drinking and driving seriously, things are only going to get worse."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Return - to Elsewhere

Return by Benjamin Heller, part of the "Ghost Town" series

Says Benjamin Heller on his series "Ghost Town", self-portrait images taken with Type 55 Polaroid film: "Traveling in West Texas I became fascinated with the phenomenon of the ghost town, places built up in desert places around a claim for natural resources... completely abandoned as soon as the boom is over. What is left behind? Crumbling walls, a window to the landscape, scattered objects and the spaces inside. The strongest elements of the ruins and artifacts left standing are like fragments and skeletons of past existences, still somehow resonant and haunting in the senses and imagination."

See more of his beautiful images here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Music + Weather + Fun + Free + Awesome = SXSW

The Strokes are definitely one of the bigger name bands to play at South By SouthWest this year, along with Bright Eyes, Wu-Tang Clan, Duran Duran and Queens of the Stone Age. Last night they performed a free show to an elated crowd out in the park. If free music, warm weather, performances by the lake, and encouraged sing-a-longs don't convince you that this truly is the coolest music festival of the year, well then keep on sipping the Haterade; see you at the mud pits of Boonaroo or the scorching desert heat of Coachella.

Here are the Strokes performing "Last Night" for their encore last night on the Auditorium Shores on Town Lake. Plus fireworks for the kids.

Sorry for the sparse posting these past few days, but its a crazy, crazy week. Hopefully Bill Murray will show up again this year to help out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Greatest Film At SXSW not actually a film. And sure, the Mario thing has been done before. But. Not. Like. This.

Created by Joe Nicolos as a two minute bumper for the SXSW Film Screenings. Nice shots of Austin, Joe!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Because Politics In Texas Can't Get Any More Ridiculous: Tommy Lee Jones For Senate?

From the Texas Tribune: "An idea of Houston attorney Geoff Berg's turned into a Facebook page and then became a website that he hopes might spark a movement. The message: Draft Tommy Lee Jones for Senate. Berg, a left-leaning commentator and host of the radio show Partisan Gridlock on KPFT, says he is "absolutely serious."

"I can't think of another Democrat in Texas that has the necessary name ID, that has positive name ID, that would be able to raise money, and that would have at least the potential to attract string voters and a substantial number of Republicans."

So far, Berg does not believe the Republican field for 2012 is particularly inspiring either — but "whatever right-wing extremist they nominate is going to waltz right in if the Democrats don't have a credible candidate."

Berg says that since he first publicized his push for Jones, he has received positive feedback from many active Democratic players in Houston. He has not, however, heard from the man himself. Berg insists he'll continue making the case for Jones until an equally or more plausible candidate steps forward, though he isn't holding out hope. "There is no one," he says.

"It says a lot about the state of our politics," Berg says. He's made this video to help with his efforts.

TLJ does look good in a cowboy hat.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

SXSW: A Festival Devoted To Getting You In On The Ground Floor Of A Very Disruptive New Local Coupon Deal Set

It's opening night of South By Southwest. The rest of the residents and their 200,000 house guests are flooding the city for film, music, and straight up getting down, but don't you lose your focus in the hullabaloo. Remember what you're here for: street cred. Here's a guide to maximize your hip factor.

"You probably recognize me from my blog."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Texan Teens Can't Comprehend Stork's Role, Beg For Sensible Sex Education

From the Texas Tribune: High school and college students from across Texas told lawmakers today they want more comprehensive sex education in public schools. The 60-plus students came to the Capitol as part of the Texas Freedom Network’s youth advocacy day.

Under current policies, most Texas schools teach abstinence only. A study funded under the Bush presidency showed that they simply don't work. The study reported by the Washington Post, "followed 2000 children from elementary or middle school into high school. The children lived in four communities -- two urban, two rural. All of the children received the family life services available in their community, in addition, slightly more than half of them also received abstinence-only education. By the end of the study, when the average child was just shy of 17, half of both groups had remained abstinent. The sexually active teenagers had sex the first time at about age 15. Less than a quarter of them, in both groups, reported using a condom every time they had sex. More than a third of both groups had two or more partners."

Sarah Brown, executive director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, says, "This is the first study with a solid, experimental design, the first with adequate numbers and long-term follow-up, the first to measure behavior and not just intent. On every measure, the effectiveness of the programs was flat."

According to a report released in January 2010 by the Guttmacher Institute, a policy analysis and research organization that focuses on sexual and reproductive health, Texas has the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate and the third-highest teen birth rate in the country. Clearly, something is not working. And we have to give these students major props for going beyond their schools to petition the law-makers, begging them to allow for *gasp* education.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D–San Antonio, told the students about a bill he has filed that would allow schools to emphasize abstinence, but would also require that they provide age-appropriate, evidence-based information about sex. Under his bill, Castro said, schools could opt out of teaching sex education and parents could pull their child out of the class. But abstinence-only sex education has a strong supporter in Gov. Rick Perry.

“Abstinence works,” Perry told the Tribune in this clip below. “Maybe it is the way it’s being taught, or maybe it is the way it is being applied out there, but the fact of the matter is it is the best form to teach our children.” The way it is being applied out there? Is the "misapplication" of Or something else? DOES. NOT. COMPUTE.

"From my own personal life, abstinence works," he says. WTF DOES THAT MEAN? That if Rick Perry didn't have sex with anyone before his wife, that that method should work for the teenage youth of today? That one rich, white male's example should be good enough for everyone to follow?

"Comprehensive education means teaching about abstinence and a myriad of other topics," said spokeswoman Martha Kempner of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Among them, she said: "contraception, critical thinking, one's own values and the values of your family and your religious community.

Governor Perry, please close your nonsensical mouth and actually listen to these students. They'll be voting in no time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Even Cowgirls Get To Choose

Happy International Women's Day and Feminist Coming Out Day! Here are some ways to participate.

Barbara Jordan, the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate after reconstruction and the first Southern black woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives said, "I get from the soil and spirit of Texas the feeling that I, as an individual, can accomplish whatever I want to, and that there are no limits, that you can just keep going, just keep soaring." Let's pass on that spirit of Texas to all women.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Nostalgic Texas

Sometimes living in Texas feels like living in a time warp. Perhaps because of so much of what you see here is so antiquated and beautiful.

Colorado County Covered Bridge, Colorado County, Texas

Phillips Gas Station in Turkey, Texas

The New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Sweden, Texas

The Barrington Living History Farm, Washington County, Texas

Camp Air General Store, Mason County, Texas

Mullins Post Office, Tom Green County, Texas

The people of Texas are as tenacious and sturdy as their architecture. This is Jerry and Shirley Chovanec, who have run Jerry's Store in Fayetteville, Texas (population: 261) since 1966. Here they are holding a painting of themselves, because that is an awesome thing to do in a picture.

This is their store, "the mercantile jewel in Fayetteville's tiara":

Seeing just how "small town" much of Texas is helps to give perspective on the traditional values upheld by the state's rural residents. Such a great amount of land space allows for pockets of quiet, quaint, historically preserved communities.

Photos courtesy of Barclay Gibson

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Proposed Texas Immigration Law Has Convenient Loophole For Slave Labor

A proposed immigration bill in the Texas State House of Representatives would make hiring an "unauthorized alien" a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, unless the is worker is hired for laborious, menial work that rich people just don't want to do themselves.

From Yahoo News: House Bill 2012 introduced by a tea party favorite state Rep. Debbie Riddle -- who's been saying for some time that she'd like to see Texas institute an Arizona-style immigration law -- hiring an undocumented maid, caretaker, lawnworker or any type of houseworker would be allowed. Why? As Texas state Rep. Aaron Pena, also a Republican, told CNN, without the exemption, "a large segment of the Texas population" would wind up in prison if the bill became law.

How do I even begin to respond to this? Riddle (aptly named!) wants to continue to employ undocumented immigrants (only in the domestic work sector), while simultaneously criminalizing their residency. This would allow undocumented workers to continue cleaning her house while she avoids paying payroll taxes and benefits to said workers and continues ignoring labor laws. Pretty crazy for someone whose catch phrase is, "What part of illegal don't you understand?" And of course she will never receive any penalties for hiring them in the first place!

If an employer could report an undocumented worker to immigration at any time without facing any repercussions for hiring that worker, imagine the power of that employer. If an employer doesn't have to follow labor laws, uphold minimum wage or safety requirements, or even give fair compensation, imagine the power of that employer. If an employer could threaten her worker by using the worker's immigration status as blackmail - imagine the power of that employer.

The supporters of this bill have sent a clear message about the value of Hispanics in Texas - maid service, lawn trimmings, and exploitation.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Texas State Students Honor Women's History Month By Offering Scholarship Exclusively To White Males

Drop everything, Women's History Month. Somewhere, a white male is underprivileged.

"I felt excluded," said Colby Bohannan, a Texas State University student. "If everyone else can find scholarships, why are we left out?"

From the Austin American Statesmen: Bohannan, a mass communication major and Iraq war veteran, and others formed the Former Majority Association for Equality — a San Marcos-based nonprofit group that is offering five $500 scholarships exclusively to white male students. Bohannan, the group's president, said the name comes from the idea that "if you're not a male, and if you're not white, you're called a minority." However, he said, "I'm not sure white males are the majority anymore."

Recent U.S. census data indicate Bohannan is right, at least in Texas, where Hispanics accounted for two-thirds of the population growth over the past decade and where non-Hispanic whites now make up about 45 percent of residents. But how many of those Hispanics are actually competing with Bohannan at Texas State? It's hard to tell, since Texas State includes Hispanics in it's "white" population.

Demographics – Main Campus

Population – African American 2.986

Population – Asian 735

Population – Pacific Islander 108

Population – American Indian/Alaskan Native 642

Population – White (including Hispanic) 38,139

Population – Other 10,442

Because this is what happens when white people get close to becoming the minority - Whites become inclusive, change the rhetoric, or shift the status in order to allow more people into the group. It happened before with Eastern Europeans or the Irish in early 20th century America. Next will be Hispanics.

But I digress. This 501(c)3 nonprofit (!!!) was formally incorporated with the state today. The Statesmen reports that the group hasn't received any applications. Bohannan said the group is raising money — as of Monday , the group had raised $485, according to its website — and that he hopes to award scholarships by July 4. The money can be used to go to any college, not just Texas State, Bohannan said. Applicants need to be at least 25 percent Caucasian, have a GPA exceeding 3.0 and demonstrate financial need. Bohannan said his group is not taking any stance for or against affirmative action.

"There's a scholarship out there for just about any demographic, except this one," Lake said. "We realize it's for good reason — this is a touchy subject. It's time in our society to look at the way our culture views race. It's time to give everyone an equal shot."

Uh, Bohannan? The rest of the country has already done that - it's called Affirmative Action. You know, helping people who don't start out with an equal shot? Those who don't have the advantage of being white and male? "White Privilege" goes beyond this silly scholarship and is based on white culture as the "norm" - forcing society to conform to Caucasian and patriarchal standards, particularly in schools, which have been districted and gerrymandered according to property taxes and are disproportionately advantageous to white people (who traditionally earn more, live in more prosperous areas, and pay higher taxes to better public schools, and have a history of patriarchy reinforcing their norms). Doesn't Bohannan realize that in the mere act of being born white and male, he won the lottery in this society?

What about women in education? Don't they also need some help? Ladies are killing it in school. According to the Women in America report compiled and by the White House and released today, more women are attaining higher education compared to males than at any other time in history.

Yet somehow, women are still earning considerably less, despite their qualifications.

Perhaps Bohannan could contribute that $500 to any woman working in the same job position he is when he graduates, who will undoubtedly be making less than he is.