Watching the world watch Texas.

March 30, 2023

In this issue of Branding Texas: Trump lands in Waco; cold war between policy wonks in Texas continues; West Texas A&M “dragged” into controversy; Dallas Museum expansion plans too “faddish” for some; plus Elon Musk’s plans for a libertarian utopian town in Texas…just a stone’s throw from our own XW Ranch.

Thomas Graham


One real-life Wonder Woman came from my hometown of Corpus Christi

During the run of the 1970s TV series Wonder Woman, reports Gannett reporter Jon Oliva, the real wonder was Corpus Christie stuntwoman Kitty O’Neil.  Kitty, who died in 2018, did some of the toughest stunts on the show, including making one leap off the side of a 127-foot hotel.

Kitty was deaf since infancy, and her life inspired a TV movie, Silent Victory, in 1979. Earlier, in 1976, she earned the title, “Fastest Woman in the World” after she steered a blue, rocket-propelled 38-foot car across an Oregon dry lake bed, hitting the astonishing speed of 512 miles per hour.  Mattel later produced a Kitty O’Neil action figure.

In March, Kitty’s remarkable life was commemorated on her March 24 birthday with that day’s Google Doodle, drawn by award-winning artist and graphic designer Meeya Tjiang.


Trump dallies and rallies in Waco

The world media still can’t keep its eyes off Donald Trump, but he seems to have his own eyes keenly focused on Texas to boomerang his bid to return to the White House. Trump’s initial announcement of his presidential campaign in November lacked sufficient sizzle, so he came in March to Waco to restart things.

He hasn’t been out of the news since – well, before the turn of the century? Criminal investigations of his campaign practice now remain of keenest interest even to normally more sedate media outlets like Qatar-based Aljazeera which also covered the Waco rally, giving his bid to return to the White House international attention.

Trump’s recent rally in Waco took place on airport grounds, which made it seem a bit tentative to CBS, almost as if he needed to be sure he could quickly escape all that adulation. Most analysts remain skeptical of his ultimate success in returning: Few of the state’s mostly-Republican legislators showed up at the rally.  And his enthusiastic handlers were forced to endlessly deny to the media that the coincident 30th anniversary of the government’s clumsy raid on the Branch Davidians had anything to do with the timing of the rally, and I’m surprised at the relatively few mentions of former President George W. Bush use of the same airport for his frequent comings and goings from nearby Crawford.


Attention to the tension between our most-liberal Texas cities and our conservative legislature

Political analysts in DC are also fascinated by the continuing “cold war” between our relatively progressive Texas cities and the Republican-dominated legislature now in session under the pink-painted dome.

Saul Elbein, a sustainability reporter at the politically powerful The Hill, notes that there is next to no support for locally popular no-kill animal shelters and water quality measures among conservative legislators.  In fact, Elbein reports that Texas legislators are now seriously considering stripping Lone Star cities of their ability to regulate “blue-tinted” environmental, labor and safety behaviors.

It’s first of all a war of ideas, and the skirmishes pit the principal advocacy group for the state’s cities, the Texas Municipal League, against the power of The Texas Public Policy Institute Climate-change reporter David Gelles of The New York Times recently gave a critical shout-out to the Austin-based TPPI, noting the Congress Avenue think tank’s emerging leadership role in opposing E.S.G. legislation — shorthand for prioritizing environmental, social and governance factors — not just in Texas, but all across the country.


West Texas A&M “dragged” into controversy

Reporter David Wu of the Washington Post reminds readers: ”Texas Republicans have joined their colleagues in at least 13 other states in filing bills targeting drag shows this legislative session, according to a Washington Post analysis, amid a broader conservative effort to target LGBTQ rights at the state level.”

Now a feisty LGBT+ organization on the West Texas A&M campus near Amarillo is taking on that university’s president, Walter Wendler, who suddenly canceled a planned student drag show as “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny.”  (That’s lots of alliteration for a non-English major – President Wendler is principally trained in architecture with a Ph.D. in education).

Wendler seems to be enjoying the fray.  Reports CNN, “In an email to the school community Monday, Wendler said drag shows ‘discriminate against womanhood,’ compared them to blackface and said there was ‘no such thing’ as a harmless drag show.”

Organizers of the canceled event are undeterred and are now suing Wendler on First Amendment grounds.


Dallas Museum of Art expansion plans ‘too faddish” for some?

Art critic Brian Allen, watchman on the arts at conservative flagship National Review, is alarmed that his beloved Dallas Museum intends to raise millions for a campus expansion that will feature “diversity, inclusion, and equity.” That’s abbreviated as DIE for those who are suspicious of such standards.

Writes Allen: “If it’s like DIE in staff hiring and management, it’ll be a straitjacket and a curse. We’re living in a surly, glum moment now. DIE is the poisoned fruit growing from our zeitgeist. Why let it inspire our architecture?”

Allen is nonetheless fond of the current art district – opera house, sculpture center, performing arts high school, new skyscrapers and parks – that grew up around the Museum’s “elegant, quietly dignified, and out of style” Barnes building – which opened in 1984 and houses most of the museum’s collections.


Elon Watch – Building a new company town in Texas

Like captains of industry before him, Elon Musk has now decided to build his own town. It won’t be called Elonville, thank goodness, but doesn’t his choice of the moniker “Snailbrook” seems a bit, well, interesting?

Editorial writer Binyamin Applebaum notes in The New York Times that utopian towns – like The Woodlands near Dallas –  either fail or become too pricy for the original inhabitants.  Musk’s principal concern seems to be that housing in the Austin area is too expensive for workers he might recruit for his Giga Texas plant.

Brand strategist Arwa Mahdawi, writing in The Guardian, warns that a libertarian utopia such as Musk envisions for his new town, without rules or regulations, is likely to join any number of free-spirit utopian communities over the ages that eventually go smash.  She snidely thinks he is simply taking on too much these days – growing ever more powerful, running Twitter, while “sucking up billions in government subsidies” and planning trips to Mars.

Why “Snailbook?”  The town-to-be is named after Gary, the official snail of the Boring Company, Elon’s slow-moving tunneling start-up, which has a workshop near the new location.  Perhaps he can compare notes with King Charles the Third of Great Britain who encouraged the construction of his own, also badly named, new town, Poundbury, because His Majesty felt the need to encourage a return to some of the more classic designs that made England – well, cozy.


Will AI now put Texas country songwriters out of business?

We have all gnashed our teeth in a jealous rage when we’ve heard a perfect country song and thought, but those are the dumbest lyrics I’ve ever heard, so why am I cryin’?

One country boy who knows his way around #ChatGPT, Kelly Dearmore at the Dallas Observer has asked that Great Artifice in the Cloud to write the perfect country song about Texas. Go here to see what hath been wrought by the computer.

Just a sample of the chorus:

Oh, Texas, you’re the land of the free,
From the Red River to the Gulf of Mexico,
Your skies are big and your heart is true,
Texas, we’ll always stand by you.

You’re playing with fire, Kelly. How long before the Observer starts turning the news editing over to a chatbot? By the way, does ChatGPT know that “free” doesn’t rhyme with “Mexico”?


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