Thanks to a nasty bug last week, I'm still emptying my South by Southwest notebook.
A documentary about a musician's fall is sure to be particularly powerful stuff at a festival known largely for launching bands to stardom. Perhaps that's part of what made Beware of Mr. Baker such a favorite at South by Southwest, where it won the coveted Grand Jury Award. The documentary, after all, tells the tale of talented, rakish drummer Ginger Baker, who has finally become old, sitting at home in South Africa, low on cash, short on friends, and far removed from his heyday.
Today the Virginia Senate will likely pass a budget. After weeks of deadlock, that's quite a feat in itself. But for Senate Democrats—who had already voted down two previous budgets and prompted a special session—the latest document is a much bigger victory.
The last time Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison took on Rick Perry, things didn't go so well. Hutchison, among the most popular politicians in the state at the time, was the favorite to win the Republican nomination, and instead Perry rode into the general with overwhelming support. Among Hutchison's key problems—besides simply running a bad campaign—a nagging reputation as a moderate, who was at least somewhat pro-choice and who'd voted for the bank bailout. After the disappointing finish, she later announced she wouldn't run for re-election in the Senate. This may be her last year in politics. And evidently, she's decided that it's no time to back down from her political rival.
As someone who has sat through a lot of them, I can say with authority that legislative committee hearings are, on the whole, a bit arduous. There are exciting moments—a major bill debate, a particularly interesting or moving witness, and the like—but often, it's fairly uneventful.
The moment occurred in New Hampshire Tuesday. The gun was loaded, but didn't go off thanks to a safety mechanism. The freshman rep responsible blamed his "shoulder holder"—and the fact he was a bit lightheaded from giving blood.
Somehow I guessing everyone was a little more alert after that.
For months, the Georgia Legislature has served as a key battleground for the charter-schools debate. Now the fight goes to the voters, who will ultimately decide the fate of a constitutional amendment to allow "state-chartered" schools over the objection of local school boards.
Last week, I mentioned two state legislatures had passed abstinence-only sex education bills. While Wisconsin's governor was already supportive of the measure, in Utah, Governor Gary Herbert was less certain. The measure would have banned any discussion of contraception, or for that matter, homosexuality. The current law in Utah already requires parents to "opt-in" if the course includes discussion of contraceptives, but this measure would have actually removed even the option for students to learn about more than simply abstinence. It had passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, despite protests and opposition from the state PTA and teachers' groups.
If there was one song I didn't expect to hear during the hipster-convention that is the South by Southwest Music Festival, it was "This Land Is Your Land." And while I didn't expect to hear it, I sure as hell didn't expect to sing. Let alone sing it twice on the same day.
The Lone Star State has been in the headlines a lot this week—and not just because South by Southwest is here. First there was the news that the Department of Justice blocked enforcement of the state's stringent and controversial voter ID measure. According to a letter from the DOJ, the state failed to show how it would deal with rural voters or the disparities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic voters in terms of who already has valid photo identification. While the case is already headed to the D.C. District Court, that's hardly the only battle between the feds and Texas lawmakers.
Maybe we can start bringing these books into the classroom too. (Flickr/romana klee)
Here's a way to save time debating women's health. Rather than allow people to fight and debate the issues around birth control and access to healthcare, simply don't tell them key facts about contraception and sexual health. That way, rather than fighting, kids will be blissfully ignorant. Or, you know, rely on the wisdom of my sister's best friend's cousin who says you definitely can't get pregnant if it's a full moon.
Legislatures in both Wisconsin and Utah have passed abstinence-only education bills. It's now up to governors in both states to determine whether or not to make the measures law.
One of the most visible publicity campaigns at South by Southwest Interactive festival this year featured two guys dressed up as a fighting elephant and donkey. They ran around downtown complete with gloves, satin boxing shorts, and even a referee. Americans Elect—the political group they represented that wants to nominate an independent presidential challenge for the 2012 election—tweeted photos of the pair fighting. They also tweeted attendees to invite them to the group's lounge. The room featured t-shirts, hats, and "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots"—with a donkey and elephant head instead of robotic heads. Of course, the biggest draw was the free beer, which they advertised nonstop.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval came into office with tough talk about taxes. Since then, it seems, he's grown disenchanted with Grover Norquist-style governance. For the second time in as many years, he's pushing to extend a group of temporary tax increases, rather than cut public-education funding. What is the world coming to?
It's hard to overstate just how dire the situation is around women's health care in Texas. The state has the third highest rate of cervical cancer in the country and one in four women are uninsured. After cutting family-planning funding by around two-thirds last legislative session, conservative lawmakers are now standing by their decision to cut off Planned Parenthood from the state's Women's Health Program, a move that ended $35 million in federal funding.
I was expecting some fireworks at South by Southwest Edu. The nerdy cousin of the hip SXSW festival, Edu held its second annual conference last week, as a place where those in tech and education could come together. Many showed up with apps to sell, and others showed up looking to buy. Teachers came, many with an eye toward incorporating technology into their lessons. But the many panels and three keynote speeches all came against a backdrop of budget cuts, low teacher morale, and changes in the the basic expectations of schooling, particularly around assessment. The panels would often allude to the trouble—one I attended, on "Redefining 'Data-Driven'" proved to be cathartic for some of the teachers laboring under strict expectations of performance.
Texas Republicans have been trying for years to pass a law that would require state voters to show identification before hitting the polls—and state Democrats have been equally determined to stop such a measure. The Rs came close in 2009, but the House Democrats, only two seats away from a majority, blew up the legislative session rather than see the measure pass. By 2011, however, fresh from Tea Party victories, the GOP had overwhelming majorities in both Houses.