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This month we’re pleased to bring you the Texas Monthly Brainstorm—a massive collection of ideas large and small, serious and quirky from a diverse group of big-thinking Texans on the topic of how we might improve our state. The notion to bring together all this brainpower came to us one afternoon as we were leafing through another day’s worth of wretched stories about the economy, gloomily pontificating that all the old ways of doing things were kaput.
“Well,” someone said, “what are the new ways?”
And so was born this project. As the submissions began to trickle and then pour in, we found ourselves feeling better by the day. Our brainstormers ran the gamut, from Red McCombs to Chingo Bling, but they all shared so much enthusiasm, vision, ingenuity, and raw brainpower that, well, maybe everything would be all right after all.
Months-long undertakings like these often develop a life of their own; unquestionably, the spirit of this project turned out to be one of hope. Educate all children! Revamp the tax code! Travel in pneumatic tubes! Not one person proposed that we build a giant underground bunker stocked with Campbell’s soup and Louis L’Amour novels. Considering all of this, the brainstormer that struck us as the best subject for this month’s cover was Pastor Joel Osteen. The pastor is no policy wonk, but without the indomitable spirit of optimism, perseverance, and faith for which he has become justly world famous, it’s a safe bet that none of the other more-nuts-and-bolts ideas on our list would get very far. We even joked that, paraphrasing the title of Osteen’s 2004 best-seller, an apt headline for this story might be “Our Best Life Now.”
Texans have always been good at coming up with solutions to new problems. When the first Anglo-American settlers hit the 98th meridian (which roughly follows the course of Interstate 35), they were confronted with a landscape unlike any they had ever seen before. Treeless, arid, and full of hostile Comanche riders, the plains presented a new sort of challenge. In his masterwork, The Great Plains, Walter Prescott Webb famously observed, “East of the Mississippi, civilization stood on three legs—land, water, and timber; west of the Mississippi not one but two of these legs were withdrawn—water and timber,—and civilization was left on one leg—land. It is small wonder that it toppled over in temporary failure.” The adaptations to that failure produced the entire modern ranching industry, with its now mythical accoutrements—windmills, six-shooters, barbed wire, cattle drives. Not all of these were invented by Texans, but they were all pressed into service here in a way that made them ours. They are part of our heritage, as are the many innovations and inventions that actually were born on Texas soil or hatched from the minds of Texans, including but certainly not limited to the chuck wagon, the wishbone offense, Dr Pepper, the breast implant, Frito pie, the single-chip microprocessor, the frozen margarita machine, and the artificial heart transplant.
At the other end of the spectrum from these brilliant creations are the dastardly schemes of Sir Allen Stanford, whose alleged (I have to say that) financial chicanery is chronicled by Mimi Swartz in “The Dark Knight”. Swartz knows a scam when she sees one. She wrote the book, literally, on the Enron debacle (Power Failure, with Sherron Watkins), and her decades of observing Houston’s booms and busts have given her a keen sense of the way status and wealth can act as a kind of narcotic, inhibiting good judgment and creating destructive addictions. At present, Stanford stands accused by the SEC of operating a “massive Ponzi scheme.” But as Swartz points out in her piece, his real evil genius was in his ability to bedazzle investors “by combining the style and values of Texas, Disney World, Hollywood, ESPN, and the Caribbean.” He capitalized on the pervasive idea that everyone, regardless of income, could be rich, that a few quick shakes of a money manager’s tail could turn any middle-class pension into a mountain of dough.
This idea, and the frenzy of greed that accompanied it, may have contributed more than anything else to the reckless driving that landed us in this economic bar ditch. Let’s hope for fewer ideas like that one and more like the 82 that start in The Texas Monthly Brainstorm.
Senior editor Pamela Colloff’s story of teenagers, sex, and murder in East Texas; senior editor Katy Vine’s profile of the most fabulous Dallas party planner ever; senior editor Gary Cartwright’s screed on the sorry state of sports writing; and an indispensable guide to summer weekend trips, from beaches to dude ranches.