Watching the world watch Texas.

February 28, 2022

As liberty is under assault in Europe with Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, it’s appropriate to recall a certain letter penned from the Alamo on February 24, 1836, where Commander William Barret Travis sought reinforcements to the church mission turned garrison, “I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid” he wrote as the small fort was surrounded by Mexican forces.

Dictator Santa Anna demanded surrender or all would be put to death. Travis responded with a cannon shot. You can hear journalist Scott Pelly narrate the story and read Travis’ inspiring letter here.

One hundred and eighty-six years later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky faces another brutal dictator and calls for aid.

“If you, my dear European leaders, my dear world leaders, leaders of the free world, don’t help us today, if you do not strongly help Ukraine, then tomorrow war will knock on your doors,” he said, the Financial Times reports.

In this issue of Branding Texas: Texas sues Meta, the GOP’s resurgence in blue counties, a new vaccine is made in Texas, what is a barndominium, and what it really means to be Texan.

Thomas Graham


Meta faces Texas suit, and not the virtual kind

While the future of virtual reality and social media is boundless and exciting, exploiting user data surely is not. CBS News follows the Texas lawsuit against Facebook’s parent company Meta, in which Attorney General Ken Paxton says Meta “violated state privacy laws and should be responsible for billions… in damages.”

Although Facebook’s “tag suggestions” feature was disabled last year, its problematic features are the key focus of this lawsuit. The issue stems from its use of facial recognition, which would automatically link a user’s photos to their friend’s profiles. Paxton claims three points; that the “company collected facial recognition data without consent, shared it with third parties, and did not destroy the information in a timely manner.” Any of these would constitute a violation of state law, but the trifecta warrants more serious repercussions.

The lawsuit somewhat dramatically cites that Facebook “captured Texans’ biometric identifiers without consent… not thousands or millions of times, but billions of times.” And maybe such an infraction deserves the drama. After all, this is not the first time Meta has been sued for privacy abuse. Just last year they settled a separate suit for $650 million.

Facebook and Meta’s history of abusing user data may not be over at the end of this suit, but it does send a strong message that you don’t mess with Texas.

The GOP gains in South Texas

Hispanic Republicans showed up in droves during the 2020 elections to vote for Donald Trump, much to the surprise of the Democratic party. Politico delves into the political resurgence of the GOP in Texas and why this was unexpected.

One reason for the Hispanic population’s turnout for Trump was because of his time spent in South Texas. Trump made “some of his biggest inroads” with these voters during his campaign. Four years since he first made those connections, four Hispanic women have become party chairs in the southernmost part of the state, and even more were running for congress.

Maya Flores, one such GOP candidate looking for a congressional seat, said that “people here just never had Republicans knocking on their doors… the way we did in 2020.” Flores’ experience is echoed by the many Hispanic men and especially women who went to vote for Trump. While the Democrats assumed the Hispanic vote was theirs, the GOP put in the effort to create new political communities. In addition to better campaigning and marketing, a major part of increased turnout was due to ideology. Flores and the Hispanic community voted for Trump on account of “religious, anti-abortion and pro-border views.”

Several staunchly and historically blue counties saw a striking increase in red numbers, including Starr county, which saw thousands more Republican voters than in previous years. Although Starr county did not end up making the switch to Republican, Biden polled much less favorably than Clinton did in 2016. A real change did occur. While the Democratic party’s blue wave may have shaken things up a bit, it made the party’s elites overconfident in their numbers. The GOP is gaining among Texas Hispanics, and to the thousands living in those southern counties, it’s a surprise to no one.

This piece from the New York Times details the red-wave phenomena further west in Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border where formerly democrat officeholders are abandoning the party of their youth.  As J. David Goodman reports on the political landscape shifting amid a dramatic rise in illegal border crossings, the costs to local counties of dealing with these issues, and the grassroots work of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to inspire the party-switching, “The governor gave me the nickname Yellowstone,” Ms. Carruthers recalled, referring to a popular television series. “He said, my goodness, you’re true grit, you remind me of my favorite show.”


The new Texas Vaccine

NPR News reports on a new COVID-19 vaccine that could help to alleviate the issue of supplying vaccines to lower-income countries. Corbevax was created at the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development in Houston, Texas, and has already shown promising results.

The creators of Corbevax, Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Botazzi, moved to Houston from Washington. They originally sought to create treatments for “neglected tropical diseases.” When the SARS outbreak occurred in 2003, they shifted their attention to finding a cure for that instead. Although their work had potential, the SARS outbreak died down on its own with no need for a cure. The treatments were put aside, that is until now.

Because SARS and COVID-19 are similar in nature, Hotez and Botazzi decided to use their previous work on SARS to tackle the issue of COVID. With the help of several philanthropies from Texas and around the nation, they received the necessary funding to pursue this idea.

Corbevax works differently from Moderna, Pfizer, and other mRNA vaccines. It instead uses a long-established methodology involving protein subunits. Because it uses this older technology, and does so effectively, Corbevax is cheap to produce.

At just near $1.50 to make, lower-income countries will be able to afford a huge assortment of these vaccines. India has already given it emergency use authorization, and production has been taken up by a local manufacturer.

Hotez and Bottazzi decided to share the details of Corbevax’s creation process and recipe with other labs and manufacturers so that as many people could receive the vaccine as possible. In contrast, Moderna and Pfizer have not shared their vaccines.

The work that Hotez and Botazzi started and abandoned years ago in Houston has come around again to start making an incredible difference. From humble beginnings in their Texas lab to sharing notes and saving lives with scientists across the globe, these Texans deserve a star.


Our Barndominium Lady

Oliver Bell and Stacee Lynn Bell, lovingly dubbed as the Barndominium Lady, have brought an exciting new type of homestead to the Texas frontier. Texas Monthly explores these barndominiums and introduces us to the dynamo couple.

The barndominium, whose name comes from a combination of barns and condominiums, is a newer home design trend that features a “low-maintenance [and] energy-efficient structure.” Because they make use of more cost-effective materials like sheet metal and steel, they can be designed and created faster than traditional homes as well.

Stacee Lynn Bell shares the story of how she got involved with barndominiums, often shortened to “barndos.” She began the journey in 2017 with a small, 1,500 square foot barndo that served as a platform to expand on. After two years of innovation and updates, the Bells created their second barndo. This one was even better, with over 5,200 square feet of space and many improved features.

During construction, Stacee Lynn was consistent in posting updates about the project to her social media channels. These intriguing posts attracted a lot of attention and would lead to the creation of their company Our Barndominium Life in 2020. At OBL, the Bells “draw up floor plans, make contractor and builder referrals, and consult on finish-out selections.” Stacee Lynn says that at first it was hard to keep up with all the new business.

That certainly isn’t the case now, however. The couple is now handling over 100 projects, the plurality of which are in Texas. This success has also worked its way over to their social media, where from humble beginnings, the Barndo Lady has increased to nearly 100,000 followers on Instagram and over 400,000 on TikTok.

Stacee Lynn has reached a pseudo-celebrity status in the home-building world. With the support of her husband Oliver and their many fans, the Bells have built an incredible business centered around an innovative new form of housing that sports an even more lively name. Barndominiums have taken Texas by storm and there’s guaranteed to be even more to come. Both the Bells and the barndos are part of what makes Texas such a beautiful place.


What it really means to be Texan

Texas, for a time, advertised itself as “a whole other country” and Texas is easily one of the most recognizable states in the US, both within its borders and overseas. The National Review is only too correct in pointing out how mythologized Texas really is, however. An out-of-stater might know the story of the Alamo or how our state capital building is slightly taller than the one in DC, but they never have the full picture. Not really.

Texas can and has been described in many ways, but “modest in scope” has never been one of them. The National Review points out that there is a lot behind the Texas brand – much more than meets the eye.

Texas is home to five of the largest 15 cities in the US, and places like Houston are “practically a utopia of interracial harmony [comparable] to Los Angeles or New York.” Pickup trucks made by Toyota are just a short drive from where Apple makes its Mac Pro. Diversity is so synonymous with Texas that it may as well be a native.

Unfortunately, a diverse history leaves room for mishaps. Like how Amarillo once banned novels such as The Grapes of Wrath, Brave New World, and 1984. Or how public school students “must be given a ‘heroic’ accounting of the Alamo.” Or how we allowed our beloved Whataburger to be taken over by corporate Chicago.

Texas can also have pride issues at times. We all know that Texas has great barbecue, but ask any resident and Texas has the best barbecue in the world. Everyone knows Texas is obsessed with football, but any native will tell you Texas fields the greatest gridiron talent anywhere. It seems that everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes our egos.

But I believe Texas does, in fact, have a lot to be proud of. Our barbecue is the best, we do have beautiful outdoors, and our state really is big. It’s for these reasons and so many more that people come to love Texas. There’s something irresistible about that Texancharm that folks just can’t get enough of.

People can talk about the mythic version of Texas all they want, with its ten-gallon hats, drawn-out accents, and fanatical stately patriotism. The real Texas is much more interesting and much more real. It’s a diverse hub of people from all walks of life, with incredible sights to see, delicious foods to eat, and storied history that we can all learn and grow from. Mythic Texas is fine and all, but to quote the author Roberto Parada, “give me the real thing.”


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