SocraticGadfly: 4/2/23 - 4/9/23

April 07, 2023

More fails by New Mexico magazine

Both of these in the "service" of pseudoscience, in its March issue.

First, in the story "Ancient Enigmas," about pueblitos (of which I'd already read plenty by David Roberts), there's:

“We emerged as one people,” says (Timothy C. Begay, cultural specialist with the Navajo Nation Heritage and Historic Preservation Department) of all the tribes that occupied the Four Corners. “We were one culture until Chaco fell. It was one voice, one people, one belief. We have sacred places that we still visit all over this area. If we came across the Bering Strait, why don’t we have sacred places in Canada and Asia?”

OK, I know any traditionalist Indian is going to say that. No need for the author to abet with this:

The story melds with the tribe’s longer-lived sense of its history in the area, a history centuries older than archaeologists can prove. The scientific research points to Athabaskan people (Diné and N’dé, or Apache) traveling across the Bering Strait and working their way down to the Southwest around the 1400s. The Diné say they were here far earlier, emerging near a lake in southwestern Colorado, and that First Man and First Woman settled at Gobernador Knob, a sacred mountain south of Navajo Lake. Begay says his people have always been here, something that future archaeology may yet confirm.


Begay is wrong in two ways. First, the Diné have not always been there, and as far as sacred sites, I'm sure your "cousins" in northern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia have them in plenty. He's also wrong in that, no, the Navajos didn't emerge with other peoples. This, to go woke on the woke, is just another installment in Navajo cultural appropriation of Pueblo traditions and religion. 

Then, in the piece "Abiquiu State of Mind," we have the tagline of author Molly Boyle:

Molly Boyle thinks even the truest atheist can have a spiritual encounter in Abiquiu ...

Tied to the end of the third-to-last paragraph of the body copy:

I’ve had metaphysical experiences during fireside suppers in campgrounds that line the Río Chama along Forest Road 151, and while winding through the wooden Stations of the Cross on an alternate path toward the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.

Kind of like the "To the Atheist" chapter in the AA book, eh?

Ms. Boyle may be an atheist in the narrow sense, like countless millions of Theravada Buddhists. But, as it's usually used in the modern West, to imply rejection of metaphyiscal entities? She isn't, if she's claiming to be one, and if she thinks a "spiritual encounter" should include metaphysics, even for atheists, like the AA chapter, she's patronizing as hell.

That goes along with encouraging neoliberal environmental Karens to illegally walk dogs off-leash in federal wilderness.

I only read because I have a gift subscription.

April 06, 2023

Texas Progressives talk boatload of Lege and neoliberal stupidity

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson is a siime mold in many ways for his deal with Strangeabbott and Goeb to have DPS troopers on Austin streets.

The Texas Observer got a GoFundMe temporary new lease on life. Without MASSIVE reform, including of its business and operations model, temporary is all it will be. (And, for this and other reasons, no money of mine shall it see.

Chris Tomlinson talks about George Mitchell's foundation's commitment to helping Texas transition to a low(er) carbon future. I remain somewhat more skeptical.

SocraticGadfy has an idea or two for honest property tax reform.

Why does Oilmonger Joe hate wildlife?

Plenty of other not-so-good environmental news to ponder where I got that link from, Counterpunch editor Jeff St. Clair's Roaming Charges for last Friday.

Will Healthwrecker Joe do what both his former boss, Dear Leader, author of Obamacare, and Der Trumpenführer failed to do and enforce provisions of the The Less Unaffordable Care Act that cover women's contraceptives, as House Democratic women are asking?

Court-packing is right.
Wingnuts take it in the shorts twice at the end of last week. Here in Tex-ass, a federal judge tossed Llano County's library books ban. Judge Pittman also banned any more book removals while the case is ongoing. Cool! Can we have Neoliberal Joe send the 82nd Airborne to enforce that? And, in Tennessee, another federal judge paused its anti-drag show law. Related? The Monthly profiles the efforts of the drag queen trying to stop similar law here.

Kenny Boy's best bud Nate Paul is back in jail.

Danny Goeb and Dade "Dade" Phelan continue to fight over property taxes.

Fresh off taking over Houston ISD, the TEA wants a partial grab at Austin ISD. That's even as civil rights activists are now suing it over the Houston takeover, which is a guaranteed loser in court. (I can't remember if it was ever tried ni Marlin after I left there, but I don't recall it. Of course, middle income, working poor and poor rural Blacks don't get on civil rights radar screens as easily as in big cities.)

Will the Texas Senate join the House and do something that passes for compassionate here in Tex-ass, namely, ending the death penalty for the mentally ill?

Given that the Lege is, per the Monthly, trying to undo even the modest protections the state has, purely at local levels, against loan sharks, don't hold your breath.

Off the Kuff wrote three posts about Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's entry into the Houston Mayor's race.

The San Antonio Report explains the "Justice Charter" referendum on the May ballot.

Your Local Epidemiologist assesses the risks and benefits of active shooter drills.

Mandy Giles writes about the effort to testify against HB1686, the bill that would ban all affirming health care for Texas transgender youth.

Emily Eby French documented the testimony about all the bad voting bills that had committee hearings in the Lege.

CultureMap delivers the ancient beaver fossil news we all needed.

April 05, 2023

Shame on Mother Jones' antienvironmentalism

In a puff piece touting lab meat, it can bemoan the environmental costs of eating meat yet not say a word about the potential environmental costs of eating lab meat. (Nor does it even mention that most lab meat research etc here in Merika is in the hands of Big Ag companies like Tyson.) This is a mammoth fail, pun intended on the original story.

In the past, I've written about lab meat's issues in these pages, starting with the likely humonguous electric bill to produce it commercially at a "scalable" level. Indeed, as I wrote 18 months ago, it's probably not scalable PERIOD. Not in 2030, not even in 2050, not never.

That said, MoJo plays around too much with Gang Green enviros, the type who, per Euclid's alleged bon mot, hope for a royal road to climate change when it doesn't exist. (These folks also ignore that veggie meat itself takes a fair amount of energy to make, is still nowhere near the cost of meat, and is also often less healthy than meat meat.)

I used to believe the hype, but that was years ago.

Bryan Hughes hating on indy and third-party candidates

Bryan Hughes hates Greens, Libertarians and independents even more. Via Ballot Access News, his SB 2532 would double signature requirements for independents, and double filing fees for all candidates, which would burden third party and indy folks more than duopoly candidates. And, no, the first part isn't just keeping pace with population growth. We already have a percentage basis for petitions for statewide races and Hughes wants to double that from 1 percent to 2 percent of the last gubernatorial vote. For local and regional races, there's a lesser of a numerical amount or a 5 percent bar for governor in the district, region or county the election covers. That doubling would go up to 1,000 people. That's a lot in a West Texas county if an indy who doesn't want to be a Dem wants to run for county judge.

The doubled filing fee would be $10K for U.S. Senator and $7,500 for other statewide. It also doubles all petition numbers for people in a recognized party wanting to do the petition route rather than filing fees.

At BAN, Adam Cerini sums up the issue in a comment:

According to the March 2023 issue of BAN, Texas has the second highest petition requirement of any state for independent candidates for US Senate at around 80,000. Only North Carolina is higher, and barely, at around 83,000. The median is 5,000. Two of Texas’ neighbors, Oklahoma and Louisiana, don’t require a petition – only a filing fee.
This bill would double Texas’ requirement to about 160,000, far in excess of any other state. If 50 independent candidates petitioned for US Senate, one in each state, the Texan would have to gather 22% of all signatures needed. Texas has only 9% of the population. It is unknown just how much the Texan would need to pay professional signature gatherers to collect 160,000 valid signatures. The fact that the filing fee would also double to $10,000 does not help matters. The indpendent candidate, of course, saves taxpayers money by not running in a publicly funded party primary.

Oh, BlueAnon Texas Dems? None of your senators, like none of the Rethugs, asked a single question of a witness.

April 04, 2023

Cataloging a few issues with the Texas Observer

As people who follow Texas media know, the Texas Observer almost closed last week, until current and former staff gave it a (temporary, for now) new lease on life with a GoFundMe drive.

But, it needs more reform. (This is a shorter, but broader-focused, and in some ways more mild, version of what I've written elsewhere, on a media criticism website.)

First, it needs board and editorial stability.

Second, it should look at a mag like High Country News, partnering with folks like Grist for some of its editorial content. Or Counterpunch. This is kind of common within left-liberal and leftist journals of general political opinion, environmentalism, etc.

Third, it should address the issues that led Tristan Ahlone to leave. (It does currently have two staffers who identify as "genderqueer," one of them Black.)

Fourth, as I've said here in the past, it should stop running stuff that would make Bernard Rapoport turn over in his grave. Examples? 

Sure. I spent a full blog post calling out everything wrong with the "Deep in the Heart Of" wildlife conservation film it touted, above all it being a paean to Texas exceptionalism, which the Observer should never enable, IMO. (Moving past that post, environmentalism, except maybe when tied to social justice issues, isn't an Observer forte anyway, although its Rio Grande and Brazos rivers pieces were ver good. And probably somewhat time-consuming.)

Or, it's habit of swimming too much in duopoly waters, like a handout to trucking companies in the 2019 Lege, where it blamed only Rethuglicans, not also Democraps.

The duopoly tribalism was far worse in 2020 when it kissed MJ Hegar's ass, and I called it out. (The piece also shows the Observer is still at times non-skeptical about Texas Democrats' jefe Gilberto Hinojosa any time he says "turning Texas blue" is just around the corner.)

I have noted elsewhere that The Nation is NOT so pure as to not accept advertising, as it does. The Observer needs to do the same. At the same time, I don't give The Nation money because it's still duopoly based at end. That said?

I'm going to quote from The Nation's advertising policy:

We accept it not to further the views of The Nation but to help pay the costs of publishing. We start, therefore, with the presumption that we will accept advertising even if the views expressed are repugnant to those of the editors. The only limits are those that grow out of our interest in assuring that the advertising does not impede our use of the editorial columns of The Nation to say what we want.

There you go. Period and end of story. If you're going to out-purity test The Nation on this, AND not paywall at least part of your website, and on that one, out-purity Counterpunch which is NOT duopoly-beholden and which IS to your left, you deserve to implode, dry up and blow away, or any other metaphor you want. 

Anyway, both the top link, and the Trib's original story, have more on just how dysfunctional it is. Fiscal mismanagement, including appropriation of funds without board of directors approval? Or not realizing that a grant donation was designed to set up a matching funds system? With news of that out, it may keep donors away until you prove you've addressed that. Board-staff backbiting? The departure of board head Laura Hernandez Holmes may help. 

We didn't get here overnight. Reading between James Canup's lines at the top link, the problems started pre-COVID. But, there's not more discussion of why they were allowed to fester other than the "we've always operated informally." That's an excuse, not a good reason.

Or so it seemed, as the Texas Democracy Foundation, which runs the Observer, had announced it was going to pull the plug. However, as for now, it's survived the executioner's ax. See below for details.

That said, as I've said at my main blog in the past, editorially, while they've had some great stuff in recent years, more than once, they've made me say that once again, Bernard Rapoport is turning over in his grave.

He might be turning over about non-editorial issues, either.

When you're giving away the store online, you can't afford to not take ads as a purity symbol. Dunno about the true lefties of Counterpunch, but I do know the left-liberals of The Nation take ads. And, because it's relevant to the Observer perhaps spouting purity test language, I'm going to quote from The Nation's advertising policy:

We accept it not to further the views of The Nation but to help pay the costs of publishing. We start, therefore, with the presumption that we will accept advertising even if the views expressed are repugnant to those of the editors. The only limits are those that grow out of our interest in assuring that the advertising does not impede our use of the editorial columns of The Nation to say what we want.

There you go. Period and end of story.

With that, it should be no surprise, per the Trib's story, that the shuttering itself is also being mismanaged. Kudos to Robert Frump for standing up for doing things right, but not so kudos for him doing things wrong himself on fiscal management, including not understanding that a grant was supposed to be on a matching funds basis. (See more below.) BS on Laura Hernandez Holmes for her PR shtick; that said, given her Beto connections, she'll make a Peter Principle upward fail.

And, if things were this bad, why were they advertising open position(s) less than a year ago?

Because turmoil?

Boy, that's discussed in the Trib piece. A magazine devoted to racial justice issues, among other things, running off multiple American Indian staffers has got problems. Bernard's granddaughter Abby is reported as clashing with Tristan Ahtone, American Indian editor hired in 2020, before resigning herself as board chair.

Andrea Grimes has a bit more on that, as part of a much longer piece that chides the mag for looking backward, not forward. She notes sexual as well as racial issues among the staff. But, I again note the multiple "genderqueer" plus multiple women and more.

And, on the "looking backward," here's a good pull quote:

For as long as I’ve been in the magazine’s broader orbit — since 2011 or so — the Texas Observer has been a progressive publication reluctant to look any direction but backward, grasping for the glory days of Ronnie Dugger and Molly Ivins, when Texas was a blue state and Rick Perry was a Democrat. Hell, a newsroom eavesdropper in the 2010’s could be forgiven for thinking Nate Blakeslee’s seminal 2000 Tulia investigation had been published just months before. I was as guilty of this as anyone; when I joined the staff in 2015, I thrilled at the opportunity to follow in Molly’s keystrokes.

To me, this ties in with the editorial issues. Namely, still looking in terms of tribal duopoly. A national Green Party didn't exist in 2000. Certainly, a Texas Green Party didn't. And,per what I said above, while the Observer might have something from time to time on race-based voter suppression, there's been nothing on third-party-based voter suppression. And, there's the other things I have noted above. Sadly, on this, I suspect Grimes herself is part of the problem, not solution. And, beyond that, Molly Ivins wasn't always all that, either. Jim Hightower, as I noted at her passing, kind of had her number. Oh, when was the last time Hightower was in the Observer? If ever? And, per his aside about Miss Molly not being a real populist, maybe that's part of the Observer's problem, along with its duopoly basis.

(Related to this? Among Texas leftists I know personally, neither Perry nor DBC tweeted about the Observer's dire straits. Texas Green Party's account has been semi-dormant since Election Day, and Kat's been off Twitter for almost a year, for whatever reason.)

As for the future? Enough other people DID pound sand, or else ignored that they were trying to fill in a rathole. In a new story, the Trib says they got over $300K. (They were at just over $200K Tuesday evening.) 

Back to the rathole, though.

The closure announcement was handled badly both for its suddenness and for the "ONE WEEK LEFT" angle as well. Given everything else noted up above, though, that bad handling, while sad, is not surprising in any way.

As for the GoFundMe raising enough to more than double the mag's reserves?

Yes, but.

That's a one-off. 

Why couldn't Canup get these types of donations before he became the "former" head of fundraising? And, can a GoFundMe be set up to allow "exit interview" type comments? As in "here's why I'm donating," or even more, "why didn't I donate before"? If not, why isn't the website set up for polling or other feedback? I mean, I had no idea things were this bad. I'm sure people who are more inside baseball on Texas Politics than me may have known something, and certainly knew the general turmoil but .... (The Trib's update story lists him as "former," still.)

If you don't have these "exit interviews" or website feedback? I'm not a development director, but I know a lot of this will be one-off donations, otherwise.

And, per the top link? You need more than that.

The Trib notes that last year's Molly awards dinner only raked half of what it used to. And, the Emerson Collective of Laurene Powell Jobs cutting off the pipeline in 2021? In terms of both proactive budget cutting and proactive searches for major replacements, what was or was not done? We KNOW that no website paywalls, no pay charges on email newsletters, and no advertising sales were done.

And, the Observer wasn't the only media site where Jobs either cut back on, or else eliminated totally, her benefice. I've written about that before, too. But, if I remember rightly, there were warning signs before that, and in general, indications that she saw her money as incubator or seed money as much as anything.

More seeming evidence of bad management:

Also that month [October 2022], the Observer received what seemed like a lifeline: a $1 million pledge by the Tejemos Foundation, set up by Greg Wooldridge, a retired investor, and Lynne Dobson, a philanthropist and photojournalist whose family started Whataburger. The couple disbursed $400,000 of the gift soon after, and later asked the magazine for documentation of matching funds and other efforts in order to receive the remaining $600,000, some of which would have gone to cover public relations, marketing and other vital business operations that had been long neglected.

Seriously. It's pounding money down a rathole to give them money right now. They probably need a few new board members, too. But, this is probably all going to be too late.

In the "we're still alive for now" story, the Trib, in its link above, cites Canup:

“The long-standing issues at the Observer, regardless of the personalities who fill the org chart, are structural,” Canup said in an interview before the board reversed its decision. “The board of the Texas Observer has always been informal in its operations. It’s easy for a sense of distrust to develop between the board and the staff, and similarly between the small business and editorial sides of the publication.”

There you go. That said, some of these peripherals is where Grimes is good. The "informal" atmosphere could foster a "good old boy" style (and occasional "good old girl.")

And, if it's not addressed? If the GoFundMe staves off destruction for a few months, per everything above, that's not necessarily a good thing.

Further bad management? Hernandez Holmes said significant money had been spent in the past few months without board authorization. Frump "pled guilty," both of these in the update story.

And also there? If she's claiming this:

“My intent in voting for layoffs and hiatus was never about closing down the publication,” she said. “The actions I took as board president were intended to allow space for the Observer to be reconstituted, and reimagined in a more sustainable form, so as to develop a strong business model that could adapt to an ever-evolving media landscape.”

She needs to stay gone. That's either a lie or hugely bad management.

Rapoport notes the one-off issue of the GoFundMe:

“Can those thousands of people sustain support — not just this one big push, but over and over again, because that’s what it’s going to need?” she said. “That’s the million-dollar question.”

I agree.

And, again, nobody's talking about running paid advertising. Nobody's talking about paywalling the website.



I very much don't want it to die. But, I want it to REALLY fix itself. It's kind of like the Green Party in that way. It represents, overall, some good ideas (though voter registration and third-party issues is one thing I have NEVER seen the Observer discussed), but it's been run horribly for a decade or more.


Update: It now has a "join" button, which is either entirely new since the GoFundMe or else upgraded. Puts NPR/PBS to shame. At the "basic" level, you get a digital subscription, which of course means bupkis because ... it's not paywalled!!! For an extra $36 and change per year above the "basic" level, you get a bumper sticker. Another $24 gets you a shopping bag. Another $48 gets you VIP invites to events. (What events does the Observer host besides the Molly Ivins dinner that fell off a cliff last year?)

Update 2: Shock me that other than a block-quote from Molly Ivins, John Nichols at the advertising-accepting The Nation doesn't mention the Texas Observer shooting itself in the foot with no-ads purity test.

Also shock me that Gabe Arana, in HIS Nation piece referencinng Nichols, ALSO doesn't mention it. And that he gets hypocritical with this:

For those of us at the helm of progressive media, the question now is the same as it has been since Google and Facebook came along and stole all of our advertising money: How do we sustain a fiercely independent press in the age of the Internet?
Dood, if you chose not to sell ads, Facebook and Google stole nothing.

April 03, 2023

The "thoughts and prayers" Lord's Prayer for the NRA

Our gun nut who art in heaven

Hallowed by thy clip;

Thy bullets come;

Thy shooting done in schools as at other sites.

Give us this day our daily ammo

Forgive us not our zeal as we support it in others.

Lead us not into surrender

But deliver us from meekness.

For thine is the AR, and the AK, and the Sig Sauer, forever and ever, Amen.