This is the art of the deal. A child crying for her father. Another child begging to call her aunt. She's memorized her aunt's telephone number. "Papa, papa," the first child keeps screaming. This is the art of the deal. Related Stories - Lawrence ...


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Zero tolerance

This is the art of the deal.

A child crying for her father.

Another child begging to call her aunt. 

She's memorized her aunt's telephone number. 

"Papa, papa," the first child keeps screaming.

This is the art of the deal.



Lawrence Wright waltzes across Texas

ImagesOnce a separate republic, Texas boasts that it's bigger, better and friendlier than the rest of America.

Texas native Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New Yorker staff writer who has chosen to live in Austin rather than New York City or Los Angeles, examines his home state in "God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State."

Heralded for his book on Sept. 11, "The Looming Tower," and reviled by Scientologists for his expose of their religion, Wright in "God Save Texas" takes an affectionate look at Texas, blending his impressive reporting skills with an easy, conversational style.

He punctures a few Texas myths and exposes some of the state's bragging. Appalled by the extreme Republican control of the state's politics, and the decline of its progressive tradition, Wright displays his love for the state's food, music, ethnic diversity, unexpected urban sophistication, and friendliness. 

Venturing from the ultraliberal state capital and home of the University of Texas, Wright travels across Texas and reports on its extreme social, economic, cultural and political differences. During his journey, he discloses a treasure chest of personal experience. The book could have been subtitled "A Journey Into the Soul of Lawrence Wright."

Reveling in Texas' unique society, Wright shows that it's also a microcosm of the United States' cultural, political and social conflicts. He sees Texas as a barometer for the country at large.

His vignettes from San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas and Austin show the state's major cities as liberal islands in an extremely conservative state. Houston, he points out, is the most ethnically diverse city in the country, and he traces his hometown Dallas' growth from right-wing fortress before the assassination of John F. Kennedy to tolerant international city. 

The explosive growth of Austin has come with the gentrification and soaring housing costs afflicting other cities. Wright sorrowfully looks at how the city's increase in tourists and residents has brought the destruction of the special qualities the newcomers seek. He wryly concludes that the slogan "Keep Austin weird" is losing ground.

Smaller cities also receive his attention. He looks at the musical legacy of Lubbock and other towns, and the curious artistic colony of Marfa. His trip to the border city of El Paso reveals the gains and losses of Nafta.

Wright gives excellent summaries of fracking technology, early Texas history and immigration. He agrees that the border must be controlled, and that illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America bring rising crime, but opposes the construction of a wall, especially in the unspoiled wilderness of the Big Bend National Park. As he points out, a large double fence already divides Texas and Mexico near El Paso, with uneven success at halting illegal immigration.

Another strong section outlines the growth of America's gun violence from the original mass attack carried out by University of Texas sniper Charles Whitman. 

Atlantans will be amused at his dismissive views of the city's literary scene, undoubtedly outdated. After struggling as a freelancer in Atlanta, Wright found success after moving to Austin for a job at Texas Monthly magazine. His vignette on Atlanta includes the obligatory scene at the long vanished Old New York Book Shop.

"God Save Texas" is written with a meandering tone, marked by free associations. At times his digressions threaten to float away, but he generally keeps them from wandering too far from the main narrative. A few of the personal anecdotes fizzle, but most of them connect.

The rest of the country might have grown disgusted with Texas and its bragging, especially after the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Wright's affection for his native state is infectious, and he demonstrates why Texas matters to the rest of us.



Farewell, D.J. Fontana

D.J. Fontana was the drummer for the Louisiana Hayride's house band when a young Tennessee sensation named Elvis Presley appeared on the Saturday night radio show broadcast from Shreveport, La.

When Presley performed at the Hayride in 1954, he had made his first ground-breaking recordings for Sam Phillips' Sun Records, backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black.

Presley liked Fontana's backbeat, and after the Hayride performance, asked Fontana to join the band. As with drummer Ringo Starr and the Beatles nearly a decade later, Fontana's drums were a shot of rocket fuel. Backed by Fontana's beat and Moore and Black's elemental sound, Presley shot to international fame.

Fontana, who played with Presley on several of his movies along with guitarist James Burton and appeared with Presley on his 1968 comeback TV special, died this week at age 87. He was the last surviving member of Presley's pioneering original band.

After splitting with Presley following the 1968 TV special, Fontana enjoyed a long career as a Nashville session drummer. 

Few music fans knew his name, but millions recognized his signature beat, one of the primary sounds of rock n' roll.


William Styron's "Sophie's Choice" enacted on U.S. border

I think about William Styron's "Sophie's Choice" when I watch reports of immigrant children being removed from their mothers on the southwestern U.S, border.

Styron's book revealed the horror of a Nazi officer forcing a mother to make the choice of which of her children to save.

Now, the officious inhumanity envisioned by Styron defines U.S. policy.

Families must decide whether to leave a repressive Central American society or risk losing their children in a country once known as the home of the brave and the land of the free.

One of the great inhumanities of American slavery was the dissolution of families. A slave father sold to a plantation owner miles away would have to leave his wife and children. A sold child would be forced from his mother's home.

Jeff Beauregard Sessions is the avatar of those old South slave owners. He's the latest iteration of "The banality of evil."

Trump is like the Northern absentee owner of a plantation.

Styron in his "Confessions of Nat Turner" examined slavery's tragic toll on America.

In "Sophie's Choice," he saw the other side of America, the magnanimous refuge for brutalized immigrants like Sophie.

Deeply haunted by slavery's legacy, he believed that America was different from Nazi Germany. Sophie's unthinkable choice was the metric that defined the difference.

He would be sad to see America reverting to its worst instincts, the America of Nat Turner, not Sophie.



U.S. Open reverts to tradition with return to Shinnecock Hills

U.S. Open week has come around again. The championship concludes each year on Fathers' Day,  but for me it's Christmas in June.

This year, I'll be watching with one eye after completing the first fairway of cataract surgery Thursday as the boys begin play at dear old Shinnecock Hills.

The prevailing theme as the open returns to the historic course on Long Island is that the USGA needs to "get it right" after several disasters that have hurt the tournament's prestige.

Lamentable experiments at Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, newer courses that fell short of open standards, dismayed lovers of the championship. Last year's tournament at wide-open Erin Hills was more like the Winnebago Classic than the open. It was so unmemorable that I'd forgotten that someone named Brooks Koepka won the title.

The USGA is hoping for a thrilling tournament in its return to Shinneock Hills, one of the first courses in the United States and a founding member of the rule-setting golf association. The last open at Shinnecock Hills, in 2004, turned into a debacle when overcooked greens became nearly impossible to putt. Championship level golfers looked like the worst hackers.

Retief Goosen made enough putts to hand Phil Mickelson one of his many open heartaches. Mickelson, who missed key putts in the final holes, returns at age 48 in what might be his last chance to win the open and complete his career grand slam. Tiger Woods, making a comeback from serious injuries, is another sentimental favorite.

The younger generation led by top-ranked Dustin Johnson will most likely produce the champion. Jordan Spieth, PGA champion Justin Thomas, Masters champion Patrick Reed, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler are other names popping up on those pre-tournament favorites lists golf writers love.

Old newspaper folks were happy to discover that AJC stalwart Steve Hummer is covering the open in Suffolk, N.Y.  for the newspaper. Good to see the AJC still has the resources to send the wonderful writer to golf's signature event.

Hard to believe I began watching the tournament in 1960, when Arnie made his famous charge at Cherry Hills. Over the years, I've seen Nicklaus wrest the crown from Palmer in 1962, Ken Venturi's near death march in 1964, Arnie's blowup in 1966, Tom Watson's chip-in at Pebble Beach, Curtis Strange win two in a row,  extreme darkhorse winner Orville Moody, and Tiger Woods' memorable victory over Rocco Mediate. 

Now, I'm old enough to need cataract surgery.