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Here comes SXSW. And, surprisingly, the Young Conservatives of Texas still don't like us.

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In the midst of so many densely layered controversies swirling about, I've neglected to celebrate the impending kickoff of SXSW 2004. As Publisher Nick Barbaro and I are both partners in SXSW (along with Roland Swenson, who is the managing director and has the everyday, hands-on responsibility of running the show), my support for the event is a conflict of interest. But my enthusiasm and delight are completely genuine. This year looks to be outstanding on all fronts: The Music Festival offers just a knockout lineup; the list of Interactive speakers and panelists is ripped from the headlines concerning what's happening in cutting-edge media news; and the Film panels and Festival just thrill me. The Film Festival is honoring political documentaries this year and offers many new ones, including the premieres of Bush's Brain, based on the Wayne Slater and James Moore book about Karl Rove, and Paul Stekler's Last Man Standing, on the 2002 Texas elections. The Festival is offering a retrospective of great political documentaries, as well.

The Austin Music Awards on Wednesday, March 17, officially kick off this year's SXSW Music Festival (though there's music at more than 40 other clubs that night as well). Your votes have been counted, and lists are being prepared. You author this event. Your votes determine who will be honored in front of a crowd that mixes Austinites with SXSW attendees from all over the country. This year's lineup is diverse and exciting as usual, with the great Paul Ray as emcee. There's a St. Patrick's Day throwdown with the Greencards and Cluan. Also performing will be Tia Carrera, a band that has Chronicle critics knocking their heads against walls, trying to think of new ways to praise. Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez might be the only act in the 20-year-plus history to be invited to perform at two consecutive Awards Shows, but The Trouble With Humans, their new release, made not inviting them an impossibility. The Class of '78 is a tribute to the musical myth that was Raul's, with Larry Seaman, Stephen Marsh, Randy "Biscuit" Turner, Jesse Sublett, Jon Dee Graham, Randy Franklin, Terri Lord, Ty Gavin, and lord knows who else. Los Lonely Boys are musically dominating Austin, as well as breaking out nationally in a way we've rarely seen – attracting audiences that shatter all preconceptions and are mixed in age, race, and musical affiliation; they simply love the band. The brothers are kicking ass and don't even have time to take names. In addition to playing the Awards Show, they'll play free at SXSW's Town Lake stage on Saturday (with SXSW sponsoring free shows there on Thursday and Friday, as well). I bet they pack both venues and anywhere else they play.

So come celebrate your choices at the Awards Show. There will be lots of great guests and surprise presenters. But the best part is just admiring the depth and diversity of Austin's musical talent while getting to show them our appreciation.

There are too many great films at SXSW Film to even note a sampling (though I probably will next week). But I have to recommend Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist, a documentary on Haitian radio pioneer and crusading journalist Jean Dominique. Deeply moving, the film illustrates the complexity of the problems facing Haiti. Once again front-page news, Haiti has a tortured history and a near-impossible present. Demme's film gives the situation a very human and inspiring face, even if it ends up offering little in the way of hope. Watching it tore me up in a very real way, not through manipulation but simply with its depiction of the passion, power, and persistence of the human spirit in its quest for justice and equality, even in the most daunting situations. Demme will be in attendance at the Saturday, March 13, screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown.

Wristbands and Film passes are now available. Check this issue's SXSW supplement (second link from the top) for the full range of events being offered and how to gain access to them.


A quick note of admiration must be offered for the Young Conservatives of Texas. In an era where so many lose their sense of purpose or are easily lead down tangential paths, the YCT remain focused. Certainly not conservative in the sense of a deep-rooted respect for the democratic values this country was founded on, they remain completely dedicated to their mission. Never seduced by notions that people have reasonable disagreements or that views they may disagree with might actually be held by principled and sincere people, they move forward.

Given the Republican dominance of the state and national government, one might think they could relax a bit. But that is to underestimate them. Some partisan Republicans seem more interested in winning than in achieving long-held principles through policy, but, compared to the YCT, they are but appeasers. For the YCT, it's not about just winning, but devastating the enemy; it's not just electing their own, but destroying any opposition. Lesser patriots might be tempted to answer reasonable arguments with logic or to stake positions with respect for those they oppose. Wimps! Next to the YCT, most fraternities look overly sophisticated, shackled by society, and prevented from following their unrestricted passions. Remember, the YCT organized protests at Dixie Chicks concerts long after most of America had grown tired of the trumped-up controversy over one remark (rather than a career of political positions). Ignoring 200 years of slavery, 100 years of segregation, and their own disdain for social engineering, YCT embraces equality. They know that 40 years after the passage of civil rights legislation (OK, so it was misguided, but still), the playing field is now level because the government says it's so (though don't believe most else of what the government says, unless it's from Bush). Bravely ignoring their own mostly privileged pasts, they assault any attempt at reasonably dealing with social inequities.

Making Sherman's travels through Georgia seem subdued, in a recent e-mail broadside the YCT tackled recent Chronicle endorsements for two judicial candidates in Republican primaries. Those of lesser passion, weaker principles, and who are more easily distracted might have countered our endorsements with arguments or simply by citing other Chronicle editorials. One can't imagine anything much easier than discrediting a Chronicle endorsement to hardcore Republicans. The YCT is above stooping to that level of discourse, refusing to let others dictate the agenda. Under the thoughtful heading "Endorsements Appeared in Same Issue as Prostitution Ads" and, as usual, extensively quoting themselves, they go the distance: "Rushing continued, 'We call on Paul Green and Bill Green to renounce their endorsements from The Austin Chronicle. Not only is The Austin Chronicle an extreme left-wing publication, it publishes advertisements for prostitution services that appear in the very same issue in which Paul Green and Bill Green are endorsed. Prostitution is immoral and illegal. Paul Green and Bill Green have an obligation to renounce support that comes from such a corrupting, left-wing source." The spirit of Joe McCarthy is alive and well! Why argue when you can smear?

In this space, we've suggested that they are mostly interested in wowing potential future blue-chip employers, but even here they've shamed us. Risking not getting their first job choice, they've endorsed Steven Wayne Smith for re-election, even as so many Republicans across the state are working hard against him. We can only hope that the best law firms in Texas understand that principle is more important than performance, devastating your enemies more important than judicial competence. There's not a dry eye in the room as we listen to the YCT sing their songs of civil protest: "Ain't going to let no understanding turn me round, turn me round, turn me round/marching to the privileged land." end story

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