A Treasure Vault in Houston


Johnson Crossroads


Robert McCormick

When I first corresponded a couple of years ago with McCormick, who is still living in the same modest ranch house in northwest Houston where he has been for decades, he began by asking if I could help him find out what happened to Orin Blackstone. 

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That unofficial knighting launched one of the postwar period’s most storied careers in American cultural fieldwork. Searching for records led to searching for the people who made them, and McCormick had natural gifts when it came to approaching strangers and getting them to talk, or if they could, to sing and play. He had a likable, approachable face, with pronounced ears and intelligent eyes. He took a job with the census, expressly requesting that he be assigned the Fourth Ward, the historic African-American neighborhood in Houston settled by freed slaves who migrated there from all parts of the South, where he knew he would find records and lots of musicians, going house to house. The fables of his research are legion. He drove unthinkable miles. At one point he started traveling county by county or, rather, he started moving in a pattern of counties, from east to west, marking a horizontal band that overlapped the spread of slavery west from the Atlantic colonies. He investigated 888 counties before he was finished. He asked about everything, not just music but recipes, dances, games, ghost stories, and in his note-taking, he realized that the county itself, as an organizing geographical principle, had some reality beyond a shape on the map, that it retained in some much-diminished but not quite extinguished sense, the old contours of the premodern world, the world of the commons, how in one county you would have dozens of fiddle players, but in the very next county, none — there everyone played banjo. He began to intuit a theory of “clusters,” that this was how culture worked, emanating outward from vortices where craft-making and art-making suddenly rise, under a confluence of various pressures, to higher levels. Elaborating that theory would be his great work, or part of it.

This amazing story can be found here at the New York Times Magazine.


Welcome to Texas … but please leave the Californians behind


Worldwide automotive giant Toyota plans to move a significant portion of its U.S. headquarters from California to West Plano.
The company is negotiating to buy an office site in Legacy business park, where it would locate more than 4,000 workers.

The manufacturer has been in talks for months with property owners and developers in Plano, real estate brokers familiar with the project say.

The planned relocation represents a victory for Gov. Rick Perry, who has made repeated visits to California to lure businesses to Texas with promises of lower taxes and easier regulations.

The state is already home to Toyota’s pickup plant in San Antonio and a General Motors Co. factory in Arlington. Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Perry, could not be reached for comment.

The automaker won’t be the first big company Texas has poached from California.
Occidental Petroleum Corp. said in February that it was relocating from Los Angeles to Houston, making it one of about 60 companies that have moved to Texas since July 2012, according to Perry.

Toyota has more than 5,300 employees in California, most at its Torrance campus.
Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto told The Wall Street Journal that the city had been preparing for news of a move after learning there was an announcement planned Monday.

“We’ve done everything over the years to support Toyota,” he said. “But let’s face it, this decision isn’t something you make on a Friday afternoon and announce on Monday. This has been going on for a while.”

Seems like California has done everything it can to drive businesses out of the state.

Short And Pithy; The Way A Commencement Speech Should Be

Since graduations are fast approaching, and our charming, yet formidable First Lady has already stirred some controversy, we should examine what a commencement speech should be: short, to the point, fairly uncontroversial.

In short, common sensical.

In 2007, economist Thomas Sargent delivered such an address to the graduates at Cal Berkeley, not known for being a hotbed of rational common sense, but actually a very rigorous school when you get into the sciences, particularly the hard ones.

At 335 words, it is a shining example of a very high pith-to-word ratio.

Economics is organized common sense. Here is a short list of valuable lessons that our beautiful subject teaches.

1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible.

It gets better from there.

Read it. It will take most of you less than five minutes.

Bringing The Good News To The Nations

One of the under-noticed pieces of good news these days is the explosive growth of Christianity in the more underdeveloped corners of the world. We’ve seen tidbits here and there about Africa, but China is flying under the proverbial radar. This article says that by 2030, if present growth trends continue, there could be as many as 247 million Christians in an officially atheistic nation.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.

“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”

China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.

“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”

In a contest between a communist tyrant and the Holy Spirit, I know which outcome I would bet on.