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Lawrence Wright: 2018 National Book Festival

Lawrence Wright: 2018 National Book Festival


>>Manuel Roig-Franzia: My
name is Manuel Roig-Franzia. I’m a reporter at
the Washington Post. But much more importantly today, I am the designated
introducer of all Lawrence’s. I was on this stage just
a couple hours earlier to introduce Lawrence
Jacksons, Author, Professor and now it will be my privilege to introduce you
to Lawrence Wright. Before we get started,
we just wanted to thank the co-chairmen David
Rubenstein for his support and if anyone is interested in supporting the festival I
would direct you to your program where you can take
a look at that. Also, Lawrence has agreed,
this Lawrence has agreed to answer some questions
afterwards about this book “God
Saved Texas”. So why have I read Lawrence
Wright overall these years in the New Yorker
and in his books? I would say it’s because he has
this special gift among American writers to provide
historical context about complicated topics, to
placing perspective things that are very urgent and
relevant right now in our lives as he did in 2006 with his
Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Learning Tower”,
about the attacks by Al-Qaeda on September 11. And in this book he is turning
his eye for detail to the place where he lives, the
state of Texas, which I would argue
is also urgent and relevant at this moment. And he does so with his
quintessential ability to spot important detail. And he does so with an
unstinting, unremitting desire to get at the soul of this place
and it’s not all great, right? There’s – it’s a place
with its triumphs and it’s also a place
with its vanities. And he talks about it with
well I would say empathy. Just wanted to, before I
had the podium over to him, share with you one
little passage. “Houston is the only major city
in America without zoning laws. You can build pretty
much anything you want, anywhere you want except in
designated historical districts. You’ll see some odd sites such as a two story family home
adjacent to a roller coaster, or an erotic nightclub next to
a shopping gallery, or maybe and this was my favorite,
a house made of beer cans.” With that, I give
you Lawrence Wright. [ Applause ]>>Lawrence Wright: Well
thank you very much. It’s a delight and
an honor to be back at the National Book
Festival, which was founded by Laura Bush by the way. And you know she started the
Texas Book Festival first. And she was a librarian from
Midland Texas and her influence over books and authors and libraries is
really a great legacy. First of all, I better ask if
anybody here speaks Norwegian. There’s a maybe here, all right. Well I’m going to try this. [Norwegian] I’m told by a Norwegian friend it
means it was totally bonkers. If you are a Texas you’ve
quickly learned that everybody in the world has an
opinion about Texas. And, good or bad, but
everybody has an opinion. When I was – I think
it was partly because there’s this huge myth
that surrounds this state, almost unique among
our American states. But as a young man
I taught English at the American University
in Cairo. And I used to go horseback
riding out at the pyramids. And I grew up in Dallas, I’m
a city boy, I’m not a cowboy. But the owner of the stable
found out that I was from Texas and he began calling me Texas. And then one day I
went out and he said, “Oh Texas we’ve got
a horse for you.” Three guys bring this
rearing stallion out, his nostrils are flaring, his
hooves are ripping the air. It was terrifying. But because I was Texas I
had to get on this beast and he took me half way to
Libya before I could get him to turn around. But I felt I was literally
astride the Texas myth. You know there’s a difference between the way Texas
see themselves and the way other people see us. For the most part Texans think
of us as confident, hardworking and relatively non-neurotic. People outside of Texas tend
to have a different view. They see us as mindless
individualists, people who hate government,
braggarts and exaggerators, people who are careless with
the truth and with money and with our personal lives,
we’re insecure but obsessed with money and prestige. It seems a little ironic
to me that the person who perhaps most exemplifies
these values is a certain narcissistic Manhattan
billionaire now living in the White House. I’ve often wondered what
it would be like for Texans if Donald Trump was from Ft. Worth rather than from Queens. The way that Texas was taken down during the Johnson
presidency and the Bush’s. I wonder if New York will
ever be held to account in the same way for the
values that he represents. Now another thing
about the views that people have towards Texas
is that they tend to break down along political lines. Liberals look at
Texas with dread. As far as they’re concerned it’s
the most heartless of societies. It is the kind of ground zero of Daddy Warbuck’s
predatory capitalism. And conservatives view Texas as the promised land
of entrepreneurs. Minimal government, low taxes. And of course both of these
things are absolutely true. Now one thing everybody would
agree on Texas is growing at a break neck speed,
twice the rate of the United States as a whole. People thing of Texas as
being kind of a rural state, but three of the top 10 largest
cities in America are in Texas. And the 11th largest city in
America is Austin, where I live. Far cry from the little
college town I moved to in 1980. Houston and Dallas are projected
to each have 10 million people by the year 2030, that’s
just 12 years from now. Just to put this into
perspective, New York City, the largest city in
American has eight million. There are 29 million
Texans right now. That number is projected
to almost double by 2050 at which time Texas will be
almost as large as New York and California combined. The next census Texas will add
four congressional districts giving it a total of
42 electoral votes. Now California, the largest
state has 55 electoral votes, but that number hasn’t
increased since 2003. And it won’t in the
next redistricting. New York has been
losing population, congressional delegates and
electoral votes for decades. So like it or not
the future is Texas. Now how did Texas get
to be so important? I can answer that question
with a single word, oil. Texas would not be where it is
today or anywhere close to it if it weren’t for three wells
that I’m going to tell you about that made Texas
what it is. And start back in the
turn of the 20th century, there was a little hill
outside Beaumont in East Texas. It was called Sour Spring Mound. It was gassy, school
boys used to set it on fire every once in a while. And there was a con
man, well as an aside; con men play an unusually large
part in the history of Texas. But this particular con man
was named Patil O’Higgins. He had lost an arm in a
gunfight with a deputy sheriff and he decided that
he could find oil in Sour Spring Mound Hill. And he predicted that he would
discover oil at 1,000 feet down. Totally made up figure. The one thing that he
did that was an act of genius was he hired a
Croatian American mining engineer named Captain
Anthony Lucas. And you have to understand, back in that day wells
weren’t really drilled, they were pounded
into the earth. Captain Lucas adopted a new
innovation called a rotary bit, so that as a first time wells
were actually drilled rather than pounded. And the other thing is
underneath Sour Spring Mound was quick sand. So whenever they pulled the pipe
out the hole would collapse. So Captain Lucas started
pouring mud into the hole and it formed a kind of concrete that preserved the
integrity of the hole. That’s beginning –
that was the beginning of the modern drilling industry. Now Patil O’Higgins
was hoping for a well that would produce
50 barrels a day. On January 10, 1901 at
1,020 feet, 20 feet away from his estimate the
well suddenly vomited mud and then six tons of
drilling pipe flew up into the sky over
the derrick. It was terrifying. The roughnecks all scattered and
they waited for things to quiet down and then began to
creep back to where the – to well to try to clean things
up and suddenly there was a roar from somewhere deep,
deep in the earth from another geological age. And oil spewed up 150
feet into the air, it was the first gusher. Nobody had ever seen one before. For the next nine days
until this well was capped, the well came to be
known as spindle top, spewed out 100,000 barrels a
day, more than all the wells in America combined
at that time. You’d have to take yourself
back to Texas at that moment. It was an entirely rural state. The money that was
there was from cotton and timber and cattle. Spindle top changed all that. The real wealth poured
into the state. Houston became the – is anybody
here from Houston by the way? Well at the very beginning of
this Houston adopted the motto, Houston gateway to Beaumont. There was already a little
bit too much self-city pride for that to endure so they
captured the oil business and took it to Houston and then
made Houston the energy capital of the world. And Texas as we know
it was born. Now also born was a pattern
with the boom comes a bust. Prices after Spindle
Top crashed. In many places oil was
cheaper than water. Now that was the first well. That was the beginning of Texas. There was another well that
I’ll tell you about that was in East Texas on the
Daisy Bradford lease, Daisy Bradford being the
widow who owned the land. There was a con man,
Columbus Marion Joyner, fondly known as Dad. And he had been drilling
on the Daisy Bradford lease for several years,
two dry wells. He was broke. And so what did he do? He got some phony
geological reports. And he went around showing these
geological reports that said that they were going to tap into the greatest oil field
ever known at 3,500 feet. Once again a total
lie that turned out to be absolutely true. On October 3, 1930 there was
a gurgling at 3,456 feet. Thousands of people gathered. They’d heard about Spindle Top. Farmers in bib overalls
and ladies in dresses sewn out of Sears Catalog
patterns and they were waiting for what would happen next. No doubt they were thinking
that soon they’d be rich. Soon they’d be walking down
the Champs-Elysees buying furs and jewelry and considering
their investments. The thing is this actually
happened for many of them. The gusher comes,
children – the black rain as it began to be called. Children danced in the rain
and painted their faces. Nine months later
there were 1,000 wells in East Texas producing
half the total US demand. In one leased Texas town,
Kilgore there were 44 wells in a since city block. You could walk through downtown
Kilgore from derrick to derrick without your feet ever
touching the ground. And of course prices went
from $1.10 a barrel to $.13 and the governor had to
shut down well production. Now the last well I’m
going to talk to you about is more pertinent
to your life right now. By the 1909’s people were
talking about peak oil. Peak oil is that
moment when half of all the recoverable petroleum
resources have been discovered and exploited. And from then on it’s just
a long downhill slide. And that’s where people
thought we were in the 90’s. And into this period there’s
a man named George Mitchell, probably the greatest
wildcat Texas has ever known. He was the son of
Greek immigrants. His father had been a shepherd
in Greece and moved to Galveston and opened up a shoe
shine stand. And George Mitchell was a
prodigy, acting on a tip from a bookie in Chicago. He leased some land
North of Dallas. And he believed in by 1980 that American only
had 35 years remaining of recoverable conventional
sources of petroleum. And the only alternative
that he could see was coal. Now Mitchell was
an environmentalist and very progressive
conservationist. There’s a – you will
know about the woodlands, they built a planned
community outside of Houston that exemplified these qualities of environmental
preservation and conservation. And he looked down the road
of what was going to happen to America and the world
if we turned to coal. Either we would have
to sacrifice energy of our civilization or we
would destroy our planet with the pollution. In his opinion the only thing that could rescue the
planet was natural gas. It burns far cleaner than coal. And as it happened, he had
300,000 acres under lease and he also had a contract
with the city of Chicago to provide 10% of that
cities natural gas needs. It was a terrific
deal when he signed it but his resources were
continually diminishing, so he was facing bankruptcy. Now a mile and a half
below this area that he had under lease 70 miles north of Dallas is a geological
stratum called the Barnett Shale. Its 5,000 square
miles in dimension. It covers 17 counties,
most of them in Texas. And it was estimated and known
to have the largest gas reserves of any on shore field in
the entire United States. So everybody knew gas was there. There was a problem. Those other wells that I told
you about were in limestone or sandstone and petroleum
molecules moved fairly easily through that kind
of porous rock. But shale is tight rock. In other words there’s no place
to move, it’s like a prison; so how do you liberate
those gas and oil molecules? Well dynamite. That was – they tried that. Bazookas, machine guns. In 1967 the atomic energy
commission exploded a 29 kiloton nuclear bomb in Northern
New Mexico 3,000 feet below the surface. And that was the first of
30 such nuclear devices that were used to try
to free up the gas that people knew was down there. And actually did work, but
the gas was radioactive, which as you know
surprise, right? So a technique had been
developed using fluid, hydraulic fluid to
more precisely shatter, create little fractures
in this rock. But it was just too
expensive to work in shale. Now Mitchell had the problem, he
had the contract with Chicago. He had this quest to save
civilization and he had a lot of gas that he had to get. So in 1981 he drilled his first
hydraulically fracked well. Fracking comes from
fracturing in the Barnett shale. It was CW Shay #1
and it lost money. And so did the next 300 wells
that he fracked at the cost of 250 million dollars
to his company. It was in 1998, 17
years after CW Slay #1 that the SH Griffin
#4 was drilled. And through refinements in the hydraulic fluid it
was finally profitable. And that’s the day that
fracking revolution began. It was the third
time in Texas history that the state has
transformed the energy business. Bear in mind the US industry
was in a long decline. From 1970 which was the
peak of our oil production when 10 million barrels
a day were produced in the United States, the
production had been declining and declining and that
period of time many of you will remember was
marked by oil embargos, wars in the Middle East,
gas lines and the fear that the world economy was
being held hostage by regimes that were often intensely
anti-Western, anti American. So US production
touched bottom in 2008 when only 5 million
barrels of oil were produced in that year, barrels per day. And oil prices hit a
record of $145.00a barrel. But the fracking revolution
was already under way. By 2010 14,000 wells in the
Barnett Shale alone US oil and gas production
doubled in five years. It’s the most remarkable
thing if you look at a chart what you see is
this long – just up like that. Now we’re producing more oil
and gas than we ever have and we’re actually exporting
– it’s higher than ever. Now of course we all know as George Mitchell did
not understand at the time that fracking comes along with
its own environmental cost. And a lot of it has to do with
the methane gases that escape from poorly controlled wells. Mitchell warned that
this industry needs to be intensely regulated,
but it is not. Comes the crash of course
in January of 16 oil was under $30 a barrel and Houston
alone lost 70,000 energy related jobs. But something didn’t happen. The Texas economy did not crash as it had always done
whenever oil prices had crashed in the past. It had become a much more
diverse state economically which accounts for this amazing
growth that we’re seeing now. Now Texas is often
compared with California. In fact, it works both ways. You – it’s fascinating to
live in a country that has two such dynamic but
opposing models. Our governor Greg Abbot
is constantly warning about the dangers
of Californization. He’s – in Austin where I live,
he sees it as a kind of spore on the fungus of California
that’s destroying the Texas way of life. And the examples he cites
are plastic bag bands and burdensome tree ordinances
and lately its plastic straws that have been banned. These are all no doubt a
serious threat to our democracy. But this whole idea that California is the
enemy has taken root. And I’m in a band and our
drummer has a sticker on his kit that says “Stop Californication
of Texas music”. I have no idea – I don’t
know what it means. But it’s in his mind that
Texas music is under attack. The gross domestic product of
Texas is 1.6 trillion dollars. If it were a country it’d
be the 10th largest economy in the world just
ahead of Canada. Now California has
40% more people and its GDP is 2.6
trillion dollars about the same as
United Kingdom. But Texas has been
closing the gap. Exports from Texas nearly
outrank those of California and New York combined right now, and Texas already
outranks California in the export of technology. From 2000 to 2016 job growth
in Dallas and Houston grew 31%, three times the rate
in Los Angeles. In Austin that outpost
of liberalism at 50% during the
same period of time. Take that governor. 2017 the fourth quarter
growth in Texas grew 5.4%; there wasn’t a single other
state in the entire country that was above four,
except for Idaho. There must have been
a run on potatoes, but Idaho did very well. California grew at 3.2%
during that same time. Now these are two
states that are so alike and yet so different. They’re both a majority,
minority prefiguring the country that America will someday be. They’re kind of mirror
images of each other. California is an entirely
democratic state, at state level and Texas hasn’t elected
a democrat to state office since 1994, more than 20 years. They couldn’t have
been more different, and yet when I was a young
man, when I was your age, Texas was a blue and
California was red. Texas produced Lyndon
Johnson and the great society and California produced
Ronald Reagan and the modern conservative
revolution. So these things are
constantly in flux, but the ways in which California and Texas – kind of like the double
helix or something. They revolve around each other
always opposing in a kind of dynamic conversation. It naturally brings
up the question and I’ve been asked
this a million times. You know will Texas turn
blue or even purple? And the answer is yes. It will. When is
only the question. The growth is in the cities. The – even the suburbs which
have been so – such strongholds for the republic party. New immigrants are
coming in with different – all this growth brings in
people who aren’t a part of the Texas political culture. And they have their
own histories. In fact working the
opposite way was my family. We moved to Texas in 1956. My dad was a returning war
veteran and like many people who had fought under
General Eisenhower, he was an Eisenhower Republican. And so he moved to –
moved to Abilene and then to Dallas because of the jobs. People don’t move to Texas
because of the scenery, but it’s a great job producer. And it offered my father
as it has offered millions of other people a
chance to succeed, a chance to become the kind of
person he always wanted to be. But he was an Eisenhower
Republican and it was Dallas, the city that we moved to that
became the first city in Texas to elect a Republican
congressman, the first since reconstruction,
after the Civil War. So I remember the turn. Now Texas is already far
more liberal or progressive than our elected representatives
would lead you to believe, the demography and the politics
are at odds with each other. There was a figure – I mean
the people who really count in Texas politics are
the primary voters in the Republican Party. Up until recently
and it may change, but we’ll see it’s been the
Republican primary voter that has determined the
outcome of the election. Now Wendy Davis who was the
previous candidate for governor against Greg Abbot
who was crushed; he beat her by 20 points. She made the observation that
Texas is not a red state; it’s a non-voting blue state. And she’s absolutely
right about it. Texas has always been
at the very bottom or near the bottom
in voter turnout. Now why is that? People often blame the Hispanics
in Texas for not voting and it’s true that
they tend not to. But why would that be true? Well in my opinion where
in California they do tend to turn out. It’s because they’ve never
had a candidate who spoke to their needs especially
the disenfranchised Texans that have never been that
charismatic figure who spoke in a language they understood. Now it’s going to be an
interesting test this November, a very interesting test between
Raphael Cruz who is Hispanic but born in Canada,
no Texan can forget. Who Anglicized his name to Ted and who speaks rather
halting Spanish and Robert Francis O’Rourke who
since childhood has been known by the Spanish diminutive Beto,
who speaks very fluent Spanish, and has been in every single
one of the Texas’s 254 counties, including all that border area where he speaks to
people in Spanish? Whether Texas is red or blue or
purple, the decisions we make in Texas are going to
determine the future of America. Right now, 10% of all school
children in America are Texans. But Texas spends $2,500 less than the national average per
student; it’s 49th out of 50. Fortunately not the 50th, it’s
a rich state, it’s shameful. The nation’s report card
just pointed out that in the fourth grade Texas
school children are 45th in the nation in achievement. Children are our
future; it seems pathetic to have to point that out. But the legislature has been
cutting back on its contribution to public education as a kind
of war on public schools. In a state that’s projected
to double in 30 years, the challenges and
infrastructure are overwhelming. They were not nearly beginning
to meet that challenge. I’m thinking especially
of our coastal areas, which just a year ago this
week you know Harvey hit. And I was in Houston right
after that and it’s a question about the survival, not
only of our coastal cities but the oil refineries and
storage tanks and ports that are so essential, not just
in the Texas economy, to the American economy. When we were led by climate
change skeptics this places our state in a certain peril. Now I think Texas is
a wonderful place. It’s bold, it’s created,
creative – it seems to have
a mandate to lead. And as Texans we need to make
sure we’re up to the challenge to do less I think
would be unTexan. I’ll be happy to
take your questions. [ Applause ]>>Mr. Wright, thank
you for your remarks. I know you didn’t go to school
here, but since you live in Austin I wanted to ask
you if you have any comments about today’s Texas/Maryland
football game.>>Lawrence Wright: Well we were
on a plane with a lot of them; unfortunately I was
not watching the game. I actually – you know we came
– my wife and I came yesterday and we went over to the Library
of Congress and I looked out and there were thousands
of people. And they were waiting to
say goodbye to John McCain. And it was really,
really touching to me so we watched the
funeral this afternoon. It was a very, very
moving moment. It could be who knows, a
small turn of the screw in improving our Democracy.>>Thank you.>>Would you be kind enough to
share with us your prediction of the outcome of the Cruz/O’Rourke
contest this November? And then would you
please give us a date when Texas will become
purple and the date when it will become blue? [ Laughter ]>>Lawrence Wright: You
know I can make up a figure about the odds and – because I
still think that it’s a climb for Beto, not only is he a
Democrat, he’s from El Paso. And for whatever reason we
have never elected anybody from El Peso to statewide
office. I don’t know what it
is about that place. And – but I met him
only one time. It was at a Fox station
in Dallas and I was promoting
my book and at 7:00 in the morning we are
in hair and makeup. And he has a kind of a
Jimmy Stewart quality. He’s a very ingenuous guy. But he’s on first so
we walk into the studio and the anchor comes
over and I don’t know if Beto had said anything,
but the anchor says, “Well you’re really handsome and
you’re kind of tall, aren’t you? And you’ve got the
charisma thing going”. I thought maybe I’m
underestimating this guy. This is a Fox station in Dallas. I think it’s you know, people
would say that he had no chance. And right now he’s
within single digits. There’s – he doesn’t
have any support on the ticket and
that’s a problem. So you know, I would say 60/40
but now I’m thinking 55/45. It’s just a guess. The day, if he is
elected, Texas is purple. You know you can start – you can
mark that down on your calendar.>>How about the date
when it becomes blue?>>Lawrence Wright:
I can’t go that far. My crystal ball is all cloudy.>>Hi Mr. Wright, I actually
grew up near Kilgore, so I’m very familiar with
the history you gave. So this book, did it
come about after having – after you wrote their long
form article last summer? Did that – was that the genesis
to then like deepen that article and then write this book?>>Lawrence Wright: Yeah
I write for the New Yorker and my editor David
Remnick asked me, he said, “Larry I want you
to explain Texas”. And because it is
a little mysterious to people why I live in Texas. And I reminded him that
I get paid by the word. It’s a very big question
you just asked and so I started writing
and I couldn’t stop. You know I had – I used
to work for Texas Monthly and I thought I’ll never
write about Texas again. I don’t want to be
a regional writer. And – but I couldn’t stop,
so the book came out of that.>>Thank you for being
here, I loved the book. I grew up in Florida but
my brother goes to UT so I’m sort of Texas adjacent. My question is, I mean I guess
you just sort of answered it but when you were writing
this was the audience you had in mind sort of everyone else,
or was it people in Texas or a mix and how did that shape
you’re reporting and the way that you wrote the book?>>Lawrence Wright: You know
that’s an interesting question. I – part of it, I don’t ever
really write for an audience. I kind of write to try to –
I want to write the book I’d like to read about something. And the – in this case I had – I know instinctively what
people think about Texas. Sometimes it’s been stated
very much in my face. But I wanted to address
those things, but also I think
you know I wrote – years ago I wrote a
memoir about growing up in Dallas during the
Kennedy assassination. And one of the things that struck me was Texas has
rather impoverished literary archive and there just wasn’t
very much said about what it was like to be from Texas or
from Dallas at that time. And your life is so enriched
when you say you grow up in Paris or Brooklyn even. You have all this
literature about it and it helps you understand
the culture you live in. So part of my goal was
to enlarge that archive and also I just had a really
lot of fun doing this and so I – it helped me understand
the place I live in and myself better in it.>>Thank you.>>Hi Lawrence, I
have a question about your previous book,
“The Looming Tower”. So this is a book that outlines
a bunch of the extremists who were fighting the Soviets
in the 80’s and then turned to the Americans in the 90’s. One thing I have to
still get a full grasp on is how these guys could
suddenly in the late 80’s and early 90’s become so
hostile and aggressive against the country that for
a long time had been providing them arms and helping them
achieve a major political goal? So could you speak
to that some please?>>Lawrence Wright: Yeah,
the turn against America – you go back to think about some
of the Mujahedeen back then, there was a delegation that
came to the White House and one of them tried to convert
Ronald Reagan to Islam. Just think about how the
world would be different. But at that time we were on
good terms with the people who became the Taliban
in many respects. But the – once the Soviets
left there was really no reason geopolitical reason for us to
be in; so we left the country. And it was in chaos and
it turned to Civil War, and then it turned into a Jihad. And I don’t think we would
have paid any attention to it really were
it not for 9/11. You know Steve Cole was
speaking earlier and you know if Taliban weren’t on our
radar, but 9/11 changed all that because they were
hosting Bin Laden. They weren’t participating
in the war on America. But because they created a
sanctuary that made it possible for Al Qaeda to train
its soldiers. You know they had the
opportunity to return him and they failed to
take that opportunity, so the hammer came down. But now it’s the longest
running war we’ve ever been in. Wish I had a better
answer for you then.>>Hi there, I’m from New
Jersey but my first exposure to Texas was when
I was six years old and I met Sandy Cheeks,
SpongeBob’s friend from Texas. People from my generation
will probably understand where that comes from. But my question is you
talked a little bit before about how California and Texas
were mirrors of each other and I think that
also kind of exists in the way those two states
have handled their approaches to race and higher education. Have you explored that or can
you comment about that whereas in California they can’t use
race to – as a consideration for the UC system or as in
Texas it was kind of upheld that race could be
used as one metric.>>Lawrence Wright: I thought
the University of Texas had kind of ingenious idea about how
to handle race admissions. They decided to take
to admit the top 10% of all public school
students who applied. And the assumption was that the
schools themselves were also segregated, so they were
going to be a large number of minority students coming
out of minority schools. And it didn’t work. The truth is minority population in the African American minority
population in the University of Texas is very, very small. And then the Hispanic
population has increased but it has not been
effective and both of these school systems
are circumscribed by laws that make it very
difficult to entice or recruit minority
students into those systems. And I don’t know exactly how
we’re going to go about fixing because the court is
fighting against it. And rules are really unclear. I think that’s true
in California as well.>>My question is about
the Texas economy. You said the future is Texas and
I guess that will be the case if the state’s economy continues
to grow at the rate that it has and people come there for the
jobs as they have in the past. So I’m just wondering how much
of – in your view how much of the state’s economic
growth is due to the low tax, low regulation policies
that have sort of defined Texas’s approach? Versus frankly just the good
luck of having oil in the ground and natural gas in the ground?>>Lawrence Wright:
That’s a good question. As I say Texas wouldn’t
be Texas without the oil. And yet I do think that
businesses migrated to Texas because they see it
as a freebie in a way. So they’re liberated from
taxes and they don’t – because most industries are not
social welfare organizations. They don’t care that much about the consequences
of their behavior. And Texas is very stingy
in terms of its social net. And if you subtract money
from public schools, which is almost the primary
organization of government, well then it’s cheaper, right? Of course you’re
failing your children and you’re not providing
for the future of your own – your workers as a future. So it is a conundrum. Texas can afford to be more
generous and more far sighted and that’s what I’m
constantly harping on. It’s not – I think there
may be some trauma left over from these many busts
that we’ve been through and Texas was never
rich in the ways that people think
of it as being rich. I mean there are more
millionaires per capita in – well certainly in
Connecticut and Maryland, but there was one –
South Dakota I think? Yeah some places that
you think, really? But everybody used to
– when good times are in Texas you would see
these oversized dollars for sale in the airport. And so the oil is
really flowing, but it never really
flowed down to the people. But that doesn’t mean that
there wasn’t money gushing through the state. And we’d be far – and also I
think we’ve been in provident in our state government,
California, the liberals they
left their government with an 8 billion dollar
surplus and Texas – excuse me, 6 billion dollar
surplus in California and Texas has an 8
billion dollar deficit. So you wonder where the fiscal
conservatives really are. Thank you. Can I just finish with these because we’re the
last speakers, right? So nobody else, but you guys
I’ll take your questions. Yes sir?>>You make a lot of point of
comparing Texas and California. Being from New York and
living a lot of my recent time in Florida I’m wondering what
Texans think of New Yorkers or Floridians as in contrast to what they might
think of California?>>Lawrence Wright: Well Florida
is sort of equally crazy. So there’s a kind of affection
and tolerance I think of and it’s seen as
where a sunshine state and there’s a consonants
in our politics I think. Although Florida seems to be
a little more influx in terms of its politics right now. New York, I adore New
York and – but you know for a long time New York
was seen as the embodiment of all the things that
we’re fighting against. And yet you know our
country wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for all
these different entities that we management to create.>>My son graduate
from Rice in May, he’s a native Washingtonian. And over the four years he was at Rice our family really
loved learning a little bit about Texas. I’m sad that we won’t
have a reason to go back there any time soon. But I’m wondering since we
are at the book festival and since you mentioned
that you felt as a Texas that there maybe wasn’t a
literary legacy for you. Is there a book that you would
recommend, aside from your own, novel, history, anything that
you would recommend to folks who want to learn a
little more about Texas?>>Lawrence Wright: In my book
I’d write about Stephen Harrigan who is my best friend and I
think he’s the best writer that Texas ever produced. And he has a novel called
“Gates of the Alamo” that is just wonderful. But I’ve just finished
reading a manuscript. His history of Texas, which
is you know magisterial. And it’s going to come out
in the fall of next year. And its tentative title is “Big
Wonderful Thing in the World”. But it’s – his book is
a big wonderful thing.>>I should have
said in addition ->>Lawrence Wright: That’s fine;
I marked you down right away.>>You mentioned that Texas used to be much more blue
or just blue overall. Assuming that people don’t move
out in droves, does that mean – is the older generation
also more progressive?>>Lawrence Wright: Well
no, the primary voters, the Republican primary voters
have been determining the politics of the state
for decades. I read a figure that there
are more of them over the age of 65 then are under
the age of 50. Now that demarcation
tells you a lot. You know there is a kind of dinosaur era that’s
moving into the past. And you know who will
come in the wake of them? It’s hard to say, but I
don’t think that the – I think that the kind
of reactionary politics that we’ve seen in the state for a while are people
are really tired of it. This attack on public
schools at the same time that we were having this
argument about bathrooms. And whether transgender
people can move, migrate from one
bathroom to another. That was the sole discussion
about public education in this past legislative
session. That’s shameful. That’s an avoidance
of the responsibility that these people have. And I’m hopeful that you know
in the next session which begins in January we’ll have a
more sober minded group of people there. But if not, believe me
I’ll be on their case.>>Mr. Wright, I
grew up in California and then more recently
spent 10 years in Houston. And actually loved it
as well and was there when they actually
elected a lesbian as mayor and when we moved there,
there was an African American and currently there was
another African American – I was wondering I you
could comment on a part of the economy related to
energy aside from the petroleum and gas industry, and that’s
the wind energy growth?>>Lawrence Wright: Yeah,
thank you for bringing that up. Texas drives more power from
wind than any other state. Currently 15% of the power
in Texas comes from wind. And solar is coming
along, not as quickly. I don’t know why, we’ve
got plenty of sun. But the – there’s one
very conservative town, Georgetown which is north
of Austin which gets all of its energy from
renewable sources. And Dallas and some other places in Texas you can
choose an energy plan. And you can choose to have
renewable only sources. And if you choose that the
energy at night is free. Free. The wind blows more at
night and they have to unload it and so it’s hard to beat
free in terms of pricing. But you know it’s – I think
it’s – I have to give credit to Rick Perry, he’s the governor
that instigated that and I wish as energy secretary that
he would remember some of the legacy he
left behind in Texas. Last question.>>Well Mr. Wright, thank
you for coming to this event. My mother recently moved to
Houston, I’m from California, so I like and interested in this
comparison that you’re drawing between the two states. When I went to visit her in
Houston the thing I noticed about Texans is they’re
the only state I know that wears earrings
of their state. I don’t notice people from Ohio
wearing like Ohio earrings. But at any right, that aside, the first thing you
mentioned was about Houston that they don’t have
a zoning policy. Can you elaborate? When I visit her I notice that
and about how weird that makes “weird”, how unique –
I’ll say it that way; how unique that makes Houston. Why doesn’t it? Do you know the history ->>Lawrence Wright: Yeah it
was to keep the companies out.>>Oh of course.>>Lawrence Wright: Zoning
was a communist plot. And the 50’s this was – In the 50’s it was assumed
that this was a real threat. And so they decided that
there would be no zoning and the liberals thought maybe
that’s not such a bad thing. Because it will make it easier
to integrate our housing. And it did. And one of the things
about the no zoning things, Houston is constantly – it’s like a school teacher
erasing the blackboard and doing this again. So it’s constantly
erasing and creating but it has affordable housing. And you know, compare
that to the city as most like Los Angeles,
it’s very difficult to find affordable
housing there. So I’m kind of forgiving about
the – it’s an experiment. But you know it has
its up sides. It can be – it can be kind
of crazy, but that’s – if you’re going to spend time in Houston you have
to get over that.>>Not going to get
over it, it’s unique and I can’t think of any other ->>I don’t think
there’s another ->>Wondering what
the history was.>>Well listen thank you guys;
it’s been great talking to you. [ Applause ]

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