Michael Hardy
Freelance journalist

From The New York Times, July 2018

30-Foot Painting of the K.K.K. Puts a Museum to the Test

 

AUSTIN, Tex. — The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin knew it had a painting on its hands that required sensitivity: a 30-foot-wide panorama by the Houston-based artist Vincent Valdez that imagined a modern-day Ku Klux Klan gathering. And a string of recent art-world controversies had emphasized the need for such curatorial caution.

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From Texas Monthly, April 2018

The Battle of the Blue Cat Café

 

On a recent Friday afternoon, the Blue Cat Café, in East Austin, hummed pleasantly with activity. Patrons lounged on couches or sat pecking away at their MacBooks as half a dozen cats roamed freely over and around them. A server went from table to table with an iPad, taking orders for whimsically named vegan dishes like Alley Cat Tacos and BBQ Briscat. Apart from the cats and the feline-themed decor, the cafe seemed like just another shabby-chic hipster hangout. Anyone willing to pay a $5 “kitty cover” could come inside, order a coffee, and play with the adoptable cats. The cozy atmosphere made it easy to forget that the cafe is ground zero for an intense public debate over gentrification, a flash point for long-standing tensions between the majority-Hispanic neighborhood and wealthier, whiter developers.

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From Texas Observer, January 2018

Big Trouble in Little Cambodia

 

On the morning of September 5, just over a week after Harvey made landfall, a convoy of four trucks rumbled into a parking lot outside the small, orange-roofed Buddhist temple. Out stepped 12 people, all but two of them men, from a coalition of far-right groups, including the American Freedom Keepers, the Confederate Riders of America and the New York Light Foot Militia. The groups had been helping with Harvey relief in nearby Alvin when Francis Marion, the Freedom Keepers’ heavily bearded leader, learned about the community. As the convoy drove down gravel roads lined with discarded furniture, Marion could smell mildew and the rotting carcasses of drowned dogs. Set back from the road were rows of crumbling houses and sagging double-wides.

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From Texas Monthly, December 2017

The Two-Billion-Dollar Buyer

 

Tilman Fertitta first learned that the Houston Rockets were for sale, appropriately enough, from the team’s public address announcer. It was the afternoon of July 17, and Fertitta, the billionaire owner and CEO of the Landry’s restaurant group, was in New York on business when he received a text message from Matt Thomas, the man whose solemn duty it is to intone, before each home game at the Toyota Center, the requisite liturgy: “Red Nation! It’s time to run as one for your Houston Rockets!”

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From Texas Observer, November 2017

The Impossible City

 

Houston should not exist. In August 1836, just a few months after Texas won its independence from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto, three New York real estate speculators purchased 9,000 acres of swampland at the junction of Buffalo and White Oak bayous, drew up a city map and began advertising their uninhabited bog in American and European newspapers as “the great interior commercial emporium of Texas … handsome and beautifully elevated, salubrious and well-watered.” An illustration depicted a quaint village nestled among rolling hills.

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From Texas Monthly, July 2017

Country Revival

 

They don’t make Texans like John Sharp anymore. The 67-year-old chancellor of the Texas A&M University System drives around College Station in a beat-up King Ranch Edition Ford F-150, often with animal traps in the bed, a .44 caliber hunting rifle leaning against the passenger seat, and a plug of tobacco under his lip. Calling his expletive-laced conversation salty would be an insult to salt. He owns a 1,600-acre ranch thirty minutes from campus, where he raises two hundred head of Corriente cattle and several dozen goats, the investment value of which he will expound on at length to anyone willing to listen. (“The future is goats,” he likes to say.)

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From The New York Times, March 2017

Rigged Election? Dispute at Texas A&M Has Even Rick Perry Chiming In

 

COLLEGE STATION, Tex. — “An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”

For each of Texas A&M’s 64,000 students, otherwise known as Aggies, those words are intended as a creed. The Aggie Code of Honor is drilled into freshmen at a required orientation session. It appears at the end of all written exams, followed by a space for students to sign their assent. A marble monument to the code graces the campus here.

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From The New York Times, March 2017

In Fight Over Bail's Fairness, a Sheriff Joins the Critics

 

HOUSTON — It was an awkward scene for officials of Harris County, Texas, who are defending themselves in federal court against a claim that they keep poor defendants locked up just because they cannot afford bail.

On Wednesday a judge and the county sheriff testified for the other side.

“When most of the people in my jail are there because they can’t afford to bond out, and when those people are disproportionately black and Hispanic, that’s not a rational system,” said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was elected after the case was filed.

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From Playboy, February 2017

Houston, We Have a Party

 

Forty-three years ago, Hunter S. Thompson traveled to Houston to cover Super Bowl VIII, which pitted the Miami Dolphins against the Minnesota Vikings. Thompson spent a week searching for cocaine, hanging out at a “sporadically violent strip joint” called the Blue Fox and screaming fiery predawn sermons from a balcony at downtown’s Hyatt Regency. The gonzo-journalism pioneer later described the city as “a cruel, crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence…a shabby, sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops and super-rich pansexual cowboys.”

Houston hosts the Super Bowl again on February 5. Thompson is no longer alive, but the cruel, crazy town he described most certainly is.

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From Texas Monthly, January 2017

Blood and Sugar

 

Driving through Sugar Land, the suburb of 90,000 half an hour southwest of Houston, you can see the signs of growth everywhere. There’s the Smart Financial Centre, a $90 million, 6,400-seat concert venue that will celebrate its grand opening this month with a stand-up set by Jerry Seinfeld. Next door is the University of Houston’s Sugar Land campus, which will soon break ground on a 150,000-square-foot classroom building. The past decade has brought a new terminal for the city’s regional airport, a $37 million stadium for the city’s Minor League Baseball team, and an outpost of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, complete with its own T. rex. In 2014 Money magazine named Sugar Land the best small city in America to find a job, noting the number of Fortune 500 companies with a major presence there. But hidden amid this prosperity is a reminder of a forgotten past.

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From Vox, October 2016

What Happens When A President Puts His Opponent In Jail

 

At Sunday night’s debate, Donald Trump twice threatened to throw Hillary Clinton in jail should he win the election. Putting Clinton in jail has been a recurring theme in Trump’s campaign: For months, “lock her up” has been a popular chant at Trump events — most notably at the Republican National Convention this summer.

Besides being illegal, that’s a really, really bad idea. I should know: I saw the same thing happen up close in Sri Lanka in 2010, when I was working as a reporter for a local English-language newspaper, the Sunday Leader.

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From The New Republic, August 2016

The Crazy College of Qatar

 

Over the past decade, American universities have gone on a worldwide building spree, opening branch campuses everywhere from Accra (Webster University) to Dubai (Rochester Institute of Technology) to Seoul (George Mason University). New York University has been the most aggressive, establishing degree—granting outposts in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai as part of its strategy to become the first “global network university.” Such empire building has drawn protests from faculty and students, who object to diverted resources at home and unfair labor practices abroad.

But private universities aren’t the only ones trying to set up classrooms overseas.

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From Texas Monthly, June 2016

Gold Rush

 

Early on a gray morning in April, dozens of elite athletes—rangy pole vaulters, wrestlers with bulbous ears, beach volleyball players with baked-in tans—hugged themselves for warmth on the windswept plaza outside the Today Show studio, in New York’s Rockefeller Center. In exactly a hundred days, they would march into Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium as part of the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics. But on this chilly morning, as they waited to appear on live television, the beaches of Brazil seemed a long way off.

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From Harvard Magazine, April 2016

Potholes, Pensions, and Politics

 

In January, the newly elected mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, J.D. ’80, donned work gloves and safety goggles, picked up a shovel, and spread hot, smoking asphalt over a gaping pothole on Neuens Road in West Houston. As news reporters watched, the small-framed, powerfully built 61-year-old announced that this was the 936th cavity plugged since he took office.

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From Texas Monthly, August 2015

Mr. Bryan's Magical History Tour

Photograph by Marie D. De Jesus/Houston Chronicle via AP

James Perry Bryan Jr., a trim man with neatly parted silver hair and courtly manners, sits at the head of a long mahogany conference table, ignoring the cup of coffee his assistant has brought out to him on a saucer. He wears a dark-blue blazer, creased khakis, and loafers—patrician chic. When he speaks, his voice has a quiet, gravelly authority.

“We have the greatest history of any state in the union—there’s nothing to compare to it,” he states flatly.

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From The American Scholar, March 2011

Letter from Sri Lanka

 

On the morning of January 8, 2009, Lasantha Wickrematunge was driving to work in a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo when his Toyota Corolla was blocked by four motorcycles. The masked riders smashed the car’s windows and dragged Lasantha into the street, where one of the assailants punched a hole in his skull with a captive bolt pistol, the kind used to slaughter livestock. According to eyewitnesses, the motorcyclists then sped off in the direction of a nearby military checkpoint, leaving Lasantha dead in the middle of a crowded intersection.

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From Houstonia, August 2014

The Return of the Neighborhood School

Image by Rob Dobi

Hogg Middle School occupies a stately red-brick edifice embellished with fanciful Romanesque touches: ornamental friezes, balustraded towers, arched doorways flanked by fluted Doric columns, and an entablature above the grand entrance portal inscribed with the name of its dedicatee, James S. Hogg, the first native-born Texas governor, whose family donated the land on which the school was built in 1926. Situated on a quietly prosperous residential street in Woodland Heights, Hogg looks like the kind of school parents might walk their children to in a Norman Rockwell painting. 

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From Houstonia, June 2013

Epidemic of Silence

Image by Alyssa Orr

When Oswaldo Gutierrez tells you the news, he will be careful not to use the words “infectious” or “disease,” even though what you’ve contracted is both.

He will take you somewhere private, maybe a vacant room off the hallway, unless of course you’re incapacitated from, say, a gunshot wound to the head, in which case he will come to you. Gutierrez will say that he works with the lab at Ben Taub Hospital and that a routine screening test came back positive. He will emphasize the hospital’s plan to run a confirmatory test, even as he knows, five years into this job, that there are only two or three false positives each month. If there are other people around, he won’t say the name of your disease out loud but will silently point to the word on his lab report: HIV.

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