Nazis, Kamikazes, Communism: What Can the Texas Suspect’s Pins Tell Us?

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the 17-year-old suspected of killing 10 people at a Texas high school, wore clothes that featured several symbolic pins. Here’s what they mean.

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They Served Their Time. Now They’re Fighting for Other Ex-Felons to Vote.

A nationwide movement to boost the turnout rate of former felons is being led by activists who have served time in prison.

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Books of The Times: In ‘God Save Texas,’ Lawrence Wright Ranges Far and Wide

But that rightward tug has more to do with gerrymandering and cynical pols than with demographics. The state is becoming more urban and less white. “It should be as reliably blue as California,” Wright says. “Instead, it is the Red Planet in the political universe.”


Lawrence Wright Credit Kenny Braun

Wright rattles off the familiar stereotypes: “cowboy individualism, a kind of wary friendliness, superpatriotism combined with defiance of all government authority, a hair-trigger sense of grievance, nostalgia for an ersatz past that is largely an artifact of Hollywood.” He concedes they’re all true. But they’re not all there is. “God Save Texas” also depicts “a culture that is still raw, not fully formed, standing on the margins but also growing in influence, dangerous and magnificent in its potential.”

The book rambles far and wide, and it’s a testament to Wright’s formidable storytelling skills that a reader will encounter plenty of information without ever feeling lost. A bride and groom emerging from a chapel leads to a disquisition on the Spanish conquistadors and the explorer Cabeza de Vaca; a chapter on Texas radio turns into a discussion of Texas gun laws and a consideration of Texas snakes.

“It sometimes seems that every living thing can bite or poke or sting or shoot you,” Wright says of the state where he lives. He has a deep knowledge of the terrain; he has been hoarding details over a lifetime, consulting history books, his reporter’s notes, his own memories and what one imagines is a massive clippings file of truly strange stuff.

Politicians offer up much by way of raw, often confounding, material. Sometimes all Wright has to do is relay the facts, arranged just so, and the hypocrisies come shining through. Describing the Republicans’ obsession with their failed “bathroom bill,” which would have forced transgender people to use the restroom that corresponded with the sex on their birth certificates, his deadpan delivery cuts deep: “Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is under indictment for securities fraud, added, ‘This is a spiritual war.’”

Other details showcase what Wright calls the “burlesque side” to Texas politics, which sometimes finds its way to the national stage. Wright recalls the 2016 video of Sen. Ted Cruz wrapping a strip of bacon around the barrel of an AR-15, pulling the trigger, peeling the bacon off the smoking gun and eating it with a plastic fork. “The object of the video apparently was to show a jollier and more human side of the candidate,” he writes, knowing he doesn’t have to say more than that; the senator, the bacon and the gun have done all the work.

But the book isn’t only about current affairs, and Wright — who was born in Oklahoma and moved to Abilene, Tex., as a child in the 1950s — weaves in his own intimate history with the state. He fled Texas after high school, doing “everything I could to cleanse myself of its influence.”

That influence included its long shadow of racism. In 1845, the bankrupt Texas Republic chose to be annexed by the United States as a slave state; the alternative was a bailout from the British, which would have preserved Texas’s independence but required it to switch to a system of non-slave wage labor. Texas, at this crossroad and others, chose slavery every time.

Wright has ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. In Abilene, he kept a portrait of General Robert E. Lee on his bedroom wall. He would later cover the civil rights movement for The Race Relations Reporter in Nashville. “I still feel ashamed of the prejudices that I struggled to shed,” he writes. He doesn’t say much here about that struggle, though in his 1987 memoir, “In the New World,” he explores his Texas upbringing with vulnerability and candor.

Since returning to Texas in 1980, Wright has lived in Austin, the state capital that serves as a scapegoat for state lawmakers, who routinely attack the city in showy attempts to establish their conservative bona fides. They’re almost as fixated on Austin as they are on California. To them, as Wright puts it, “Austin is a spore of the California fungus that is destroying America.”

Wright doesn’t counter the moral panic with moral panic. His tone is gentle, occasionally chiding, and he seems most comfortable in the center lane, allowing the road hogs to pass by while he holds steady at the wheel.

Certain readers might crave more righteous anger from someone writing about Texas, especially now, when there’s little room for agreement and plenty at stake. But Wright’s project is perspective, not conquest. In a chapter on Texas culture, he praises the work of contemporary artists who have returned to their Texas roots “with knowledge, self-confidence, and occasionally, forgiveness.” “God Save Texas” is his vivid bid to do the same.

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How a Community Was Sacrificed to Save Houston

Cinco Ranch was designed to be flooded. So after Hurricane Harvey hit, the Texas suburb was sacrificed to save the city of Houston. We followed homeowners as they decided whether to cut their losses or rebuild, knowing it could happen again.

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A Career Change? I’ll Drink to That!

Now, at 60-something, Ms. Milam has joined a growing contingent of female distillers and whiskey enthusiasts. In addition to the single-barrel bourbon, she sells a 90-proof rye and a 114-proof barrel-proof bourbon in bulbous French bottles. The labels are masculine (bearing an image of Ben Milam with a musket) yet elegant (the label design on the barrel-proof bourbon was inspired by Coco Chanel perfume).

Ms. Milam said a young woman approached her at a recent tasting. “She said, ‘I think for women, drinking whiskey is the last frontier of equality,’” Ms. Milam said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I love you.’”

Ms. Milam switched gears after she had a “mountaintop experience” in 2015. One of her V.I.P. clients, Jimmie Vaughan, the Grammy-winning Austin blues guitarist and singer, called to ask for a favor. He wanted Ms. Milam to help with his speech inducting Stevie Ray Vaughan, his deceased younger brother, into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and to lend emotional support at the ceremony.

“She has a smooth class about her that makes everything cool,” Mr. Vaughan said. “I’m sure that she’s going to do great in the whiskey business because whatever she does, works.”


Ms. Milam’s brand, Ben Milam, is named for a relative who was a hero of the Texas Revolution. Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Ms. Milam said she figured she would never do anything in the music business to top that, and it freed her to pursue other ventures. She had been taking distilling classes at Koval, which operates out of Chicago’s first distillery, and booked a trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

It was all so seductive — the bluegrass and the beautiful horses, but especially the big, old rick houses, where the whiskey reels in the years in wood barrels.

“I really thought about coming home, selling everything I have, and moving to Kentucky and getting a job there,” Ms. Milam said.

She continued apprenticing at Koval, and in June 2016 acquired property in Blanco about 100 yards off U.S. 281, behind an auto parts shop.

Inside Ben Milam, a modest bar area is accented with periwinkle boots, a typewriter, a cow skull, and a canvas bearing two old photographs, of her mother, Rosie, and her father, Merle. The Austin artist Bob Wade, known as Daddy-O, had spliced the photos together to appear as one, which he then tinted by hand.

Mr. Munroe, the head distiller, visited with South African tourists, while Jordan Osborne, the head brewer, tended to the mash in a production space decorated with a giant Texas flag. Ms. Milam will not disclose how much she has invested in Ben Milam, saying only “mucho grande.” She said her “trends are good,” in financial terms, but she contends that she has never pursued money, only experience.

Still, she is riding a national trend toward profitability. Fifteen years ago, the United States had roughly a dozen distilleries. Today it has more than 1,700, said Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Tex., a board member of the American Craft Spirits Association.

“It’s a great, clean industry,” Mr. Garrison said. “It’s creating a number of good, high-paying, well-qualified, well-educated jobs.”

Ms. Milam recognizes that ultimately what she is doing is paying tribute to her father, whom she regards as the driving force in her life. An only child, she savors the memory of being 6 and having him wake her after midnight to drive to the oil patch to watch the roughnecks work their magic.

She realized that it was physical, dangerous work, but that it came with great rewards.

“In the oil business, whiskey was currency,” she said. “Somebody did you a favor — get him a bottle of whiskey.”

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Texas Illegally Excluded Thousands From Special Education, Federal Officials Say

A state “target” meant to limit the number of students receiving special education services violated federal law, regulators said in a letter ordering the state to make amends.

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OPEC Took Aim at U.S. Oil Producers, but Hurt Itself, Too

The Saudi-led cartel thought low prices would squeeze American shale output. Now its effort to reverse course is proving difficult to pull off.

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