Alice Embree :
THE VOTE | Free the vote and the governor’s hostages

Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign led a four-day
march from Georgetown.

Photo by Alice Embree / The Rag Blog.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | August 4, 2021

The Austin American-Statesman headlined their story on July 1: “Republicans counter Willie Nelson, Beto O’Rourke rally to support Texas Democrats in D.C.” The account of “hundreds” at the rally, and the equal time afforded a couple dozen protestors gave me a shudder of 60s déjà vu. Hundreds marched 27 miles and thousands were at the Capitol.

While it is true that Beto O’Rourke gave a powerful speech and his organization, Powered by People, boosted turnout, Beto is only part of the story. It is also true that Willie Nelson made his first public appearance since quarantine to grace the crowd with his talent and rally them with his song, “Vote ‘Em Out.” But there was so much more to this march and rally.

Several of my Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA) compatriots marched much of the route from Georgetown. I joined on Saturday in front of the AFL-CIO building to walk the last mile, circling the Capitol before entering the grounds.

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Lamar W. Hankins :
TEXAS HISTORY | Forgetting almost all I ever learned
about the Alamo

The men who fought there may have been brave, but I no longer
count them as heroes.

The Alamo at night. Photo by Jean Beaufort. Creative Commons Public Domain license.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | July 29, 2021

As a child in the 1950s, it seems that almost everything I learned about “The Battle of the Alamo” was wrong, biased, or both. My basic public education taught me that the Alamo was the quintessential symbol of freedom, often referred to as the “cradle of Texas liberty.” The defenders in 1836 were brave heroes who valued liberty more than life. Well, they may have been brave, but I no longer count them as heroes.

I did not learn in school that the battle had little, if any, military significance. The men who fought at the Alamo had a variety of motivations that became subsumed in the popular mind as a fight for liberty. Less than three months before that March 6, 1836 battle, the mission had been taken by force by a group of mercenaries, insurgents, squatters, and rebels, who represented no one other than themselves and their kin. Independence was declared for a Texas Republic only four days before the March 6 battle, which probably lasted no more than an hour.

Many of the brave Alamo defenders escaped before the mission was overrun by Santa Anna’s forces, who then executed the survivors, including many who had escaped and been captured. These defenders were seen by Santa Anna as pirates or terrorists, to use a common modern term.
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BOOKS | Rails and roads

Novelist Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Underground Railroad,’ is an epic novel of bondage and liberation.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | July 29, 2021

Near the end of The Underground Railroad, his epic novel about bondage and freedom, the author, Colson Whitehead, offers two related ideas that are separated by only two pages. The first, which sounds like recycled Rousseau, goes like this: “Men start off good and then the world makes them mean.” The second idea, which might have been inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus, reads, “The world may be mean, but people don’t have to be, not if they refuse.”

Cora Randall refuses to be mean, though she is born a slave on a Georgia plantation and is abandoned by her own mother and abused by white men all through her childhood. She has every reason to grow up and become mean as a whip, but she maintains her essential goodness while toiling as a slave and then as a fugitive from slavery.

Anyone who took part in the Civil Rights Movement, supported the Black Panthers or who marched in the streets after George Floyd’s murder will find The Underground Railroad sobering and inspiring, and a good reason to keep on keeping on. Even if you didn’t cotton to any of those causes and organizations, you might read the book or watch the film. You’re liable to learn a lot about Blackness and whiteness in America.
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Joshua Brown :

Previous installments are archived at

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BOOKS | Look for the book: ‘Exploring Space City!’

Our much-anticipated book about Houston’s historic underground paper will be published before the end of the year.

Vendor promotion for Space City News.
Art by Kerry Fitzgerald from
Exploring Space City!

By Thorne Dreyer | The Rag Blog | July 22, 2021

Exploring Space City!: Houston’s Historic Underground Newspaper. Yes, our much-anticipated book about Space City! now has a name.

This project, which has been in the works for more than two years, is about to come to fruition. The book, which will run close to 350 pages, will be released towards the end of this year. A companion to Celebrating The Rag: Austin’s Iconic Underground Paper, which was published in 2016, Exploring Space City! tells the story of Houston’s dynamic progressive tabloid that ran from June 1969 to August 1972. Both books are published by the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)3 nonprofit that also produces Rag Radio and The Rag Blog.
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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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