“I was just a kid they called his sidekick…”

When I asked my wife to marry me, one of this first things she said to me (after “yes,” thankfully) was to ask if the Gourds could play our wedding. It wasn’t really a question—she was telling me that we would hire the Gourds to play, and that our wedding budget would have to work around whatever it cost. As I happen to love the Gourds, too, I had no objection.

I mention the Gourds because they are part of a long, proud, twangy tradition of Texas country/folk/bluegrass/etc. musicians. The Gourds certainly had their own unique sound, distinct from just about any other band I know, but they also belong to a tradition pioneered by people like Guy Clark, who died a few days ago at the age of 74.

This has been a bad year for music. Guy Clark’s death has hit me much closer to home than others, and it’s not just because he’s from Texas, or because he is a legend of Texas music. I don’t even know all that many of his songs. He wasn’t a singularly unique artist like David Bowie or Prince. It’s doubtful that anyone could call him a “visionary” on the same scale as Bowie or Prince. Guy Clark was an old guy with a guitar, writing and singing what he knew. He did it very, very well. And a whole lot of people loved him for it. Continue reading


Remember the Alamo

History turns to legend, and legends inevitably leave pieces of the truth behind.

Everyone who grew up in Texas, especially those like me who grew up in San Antonio, knows what happened at the Alamo 180 years ago today.

The Battle of the Alamo shaped our identity as Texans and helped to make this state, for both good and ill, what it is today. So remember the Alamo today, but also remember that history is more art than science—a human endeavor subject to our faulty memories and romanticized notions of the past.

Theodore Gentilz (Texas State Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Continue reading


Texas Is Bigger than…

You may have seen a meme (the idea kind of meme, not the image macro kind) going around comparing states of the northeastern U.S. to urban areas of Texas, like this one showing that Connecticut is about the same size as Houston:

Via The Bull / Facebook

Via The Bull / Facebook

(h/t G)

I found a site (MAPfrappe) that lets you do this by tracing outlines on the map, then dragging them around for comparison’s sake. It even adjusts your outline to account for the Mercator projection. I used it to make an outline of Oahu to show that it’s about the same size as Austin, but then wondered why I spent time doing that when I could have traced Texas in order to compare it to other places around the world.

You can use my outline to compare Texas around the world, too, but here are a few comparisons: Continue reading


Of Towels and Special Treatment

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was booked into the Collin County Jail last Monday, August 3, 2015, on charges of securities fraud, his mugshot shows him in a suit and tie, giving a rather inscrutable smile/sneer (I suppose your interpretation of the photo will depend largely on your opinion of the man.) Missing from the photo is a towel, which is apparently a standard practice for booking photos in Collin County, according to Mike Drago of the Dallas Morning News:

When my colleague Jennifer Emily reported on the practice in 2006 (it was eight years old at the time), Collin County officials explained that the intent was to help avoid wrongful identifications in photo lineups. If one guy is clearly wearing a suit and the other guy a dirty, old t-shirt, it could lead witnesses to finger the wrong guy. Or so the thinking goes.

Lt. Larry Smart said at the time: “We decided to make everyone the same.”

I couldn’t resist.

If it is the county’s policy to take mugshots with a towel, then taking Paxton’s photo without the towel seems like special treatment. Drago certainly thinks so:

Maybe it’s tempting to brush off the fact that there was no white towel under Ken Paxton’s crooked smile when he posed for his Collin County booking mug. Every other person booked there gets the ridiculous white towel, but not Paxton. So what?


But I don’t think it’s a trifle at all. I think it matters, if only as a tiny reflection of a dual justice system that treats nearly all of us one way and a very few of us another. It’s a system that willfully buries human beings in miscarriages of justice simply because they lack the means and access to power and money that Ken Paxton enjoys in spades.

Why should Paxton have been allowed to evade the humiliating white towel treatment when you or I wouldn’t?

As it turns out, it wasn’t anyone with the Collin County Sheriff’s Office who made the call to leave out the towel. It was Judge George Gallagher in the 416th District Court, who issued a written order on August 3 which states, in full:

The Court has been made aware of the policy of the Collin County Sheriff’s Office to photograph inmates in the Collin County jail while the inmate is wearing a towel around the neck of the inmate. Due to the high profile nature of this case and the Defendant’s right to a fair trial, the Court hereby ORDERS the Sheriff of Collin County, Texas to refrain from making the Defendant wear a towel while being photographed in the custody of the Collin County Sheriff’s Department.

It is possible that the judge issued this order on his own, but it seems more likely that Paxton’s legal team made some sort of expedited motion on the morning of August 3. My first thought was also that it seems highly unlikely that this would be the first time that a sitting Collin County district judge had heard of the towel thing, but Judge Gallagher is actually a judge in the 396th District Court in Tarrant County. He will be presiding over Paxton’s case because, according to an anonymous source cited by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (huge grains of salt!), multiple Collin County judges recused themselves.

The point seems to be that the judge does not think Paxton will get a fair trial if his mugshot makes him look like every other individual booked into the Collin County jail—well, that’s one way of looking at it, anyway. A policy that was, at least according to Collin County officials, intended to make everyone appear equal has now been found, by one visiting judge presiding over the case of one sitting Attorney General, to make the defendant look guilty.

Look, I am all for removing elements from our criminal justice system that unfairly burden defendants in favor of prosecutors for no apparently valid reason. But here’s the thing—before now, one could plausibly argue that the towel thing, while humiliating, did not significantly impact the interests of justice because everybody had to wear one in their mugshot. The stated intent was to remove extraneous details that might, consciously or subconsciously, sway people’s opinions. Judge Gallagher’s order destroyed that rationale. Now it’s just a thing that most people arrested in Collin County have to do.

That brings me to my second point: Would anyone else going before the courts of Collin County get this sort of consideration? True, most people are not as high-profile as Ken Paxton, but by making an exception to the usual rule, the court has effectively stated that Ken Paxton is exceptional. Obviously he is entitled to a fair trial, but is he more entitled to a fair trial than others? Does going the extra mile to ensure that his trial is fair, by giving him accommodations others probably would not receive, make other people’s trials less fair? It might. I hope a slew of motions in upcoming Collin County criminal cases test that point. The county’s justice system has only Judge Gallagher and Ken Paxton’s legal team to blame.

(h/t Texas Standard)


Texas AG Paxton under the Microscope

It seems fair to say that statewide Texas politicians of the Republican variety are having some legal troubles.

Some of them have led to full-blown legal proceedings, like former Governor Rick Perry’s pending criminal charge, the civil fine against Attorney General Ken Paxton from the Texas State Securities Board (for an incident that occurred before he was elected), and the criminal securities fraud complaint filed against AG Paxton by Texans for Public Justice (which goes before a grand jury soon).

Some have remained in the realm of allegations and suspicions, like current Governor Greg Abbott’s alleged misconduct with regard to the Texas Enterprise Fund when he was Attorney General. I’m not sure if any formal complaints are currently pending against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick—which is not to say he hasn’t had complaints (PDF file) before—but he sure does know how to stir people up.

"SCOTUS Marriage Equality 2015 (Obergefell v. Hodges) - 26 June 2015" by Ted Eytan from Washington, DC, USA (SCOTUS Marriage Equality 2015 58151) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Most recently notorious, I’d say, is AG Paxton’s official opinion (PDF file here or here), issued on June 28, 2015 in response to a request from LG Patrick, regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges and the Fifth Circuit’s order affirming that ruling in De Leon v. Abbott. Continue reading


The Truths We Hold

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

U.S. Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, February 2, 1861 Continue reading


That Texas Open-Carry Law

The Texas Legislature passed HB 910, which amends current law to allow open-carry of handguns. All that is left is for Governor Abbott to sign it.

Someone asked the following question in what became a very strange Facebook thread: Can a business ban people who are open-carrying guns under Texas’ new law? The short answer is yes, they can.

To delve a bit more, currently § 30.06 of the Texas Penal Code (yes, I do find that hilarious) allows businesses to prohibit people with a CHL from concealed-carrying on their premises, referring to it as “trespass by holder of license to carry concealed handgun.”

Via ar15armory.com

Click to embiggen (via ar15armory.com)

HB 910 (PDF of the final version here) amends § 30.06 to remove the “concealed” language, because it appears that, assuming the governor signs the bill, the state will now simply be licensing people to carry handguns in public, concealed or not. Continue reading


Blue Bell Agonistes

It’s hard to convey to someone who isn’t from Texas just how big of a loss the recall of Blue Bell Ice Cream is. Even if other types of ice cream are most likely still safe (h/t Bob), this hits us deeply here in Texas. Blue Bell isn’t just a Texas-based ice cream brand that lots of people passionately love. To many Texans, Blue Bell is ice cream.


We have lost OUR ice cream!!!

(Image h/t Lindsay)

Yes, yes, Ben & Jerry’s makes some phenomenal ice cream, but they’re from Vermont. Vermont is not Texas. They don’t understand ice cream the way we do. I’m not saying Blue Bell is better, per se, it’s just………well, it’s Texas.

We also have the phenomenally-awesome Amy’s Ice Cream here in Austin, but Amy’s is something of a destination, while Blue Bell is intended for home consumption. It’s just not the same.

It didn’t seem real to me until I went to the grocery store, and there they were….the empty freezer shelves, where once sat gallon upon gallon of creamy Brenham-made goodness: Continue reading