photograph courtesy of Megan Wilde, peyotedoc.com.
In “Peyote at a Crossroads,” Alpine filmmaker Megan Wilde explores the central role that peyote plays in the identity and religious lives of Native peoples – and the imminent threats to that ancient bond between plant and people.

photograph courtesy of Megan Wilde, peyotedoc.com. In “Peyote at a Crossroads,” Alpine filmmaker Megan Wilde explores the central role that peyote plays in the identity and religious lives of Native peoples – and the imminent threats to that ancient bond between plant and people.

“Peyote at a Crossroads”: Documentary Traces an Ancient Bond Between Plant and People

It’s an unassuming cactus – with an outsized cultural impact. From its home range in the Texas-Mexico borderlands, it’s been incorporated into the religious lives of Native peoples across North America. Peyote has mind-altering effects. It’s been an illegal narcotic … Continue reading

Nature Notes is broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:35 am and 4:45 pm, and again on Thursdays at 7:06 pm.
This rendering shows a snapshot from a cosmological simulation of a Lyman-alpha blob. (J.Geach/D.Narayanan/R.Crain/European Southern Observatory)

This rendering shows a snapshot from a cosmological simulation of a Lyman-alpha blob. (J.Geach/D.Narayanan/R.Crain/European Southern Observatory)

Astronomers Find Clues In The Case Of The Glowing Space ‘Blobs’

A mysterious glowing “blob” in outer space has puzzled astronomers for more than 15 years. Now, a team of researchers says it has uncovered the secret behind the blob’s eerie light.

The blob was first spotted back in the late 1990s by Chuck Steidel, an astronomer at Caltech, and some colleagues. They were observing a bunch of galaxies in the distant reaches of the universe, he recalls, “but we also saw these big blotchy things.”

At first, they thought they had somehow accidentally screwed up the images. But then they realized they had actually discovered strange, glowing clouds of hydrogen gas.

They were huge — about 10 times the Milky Way in diameter — making them some of the largest known objects in the universe.

Steidel’s team named these mysterious objects Lyman-alpha blobs. The “Lyman-alpha” part of the name just refers to the wavelength of light they emit. And the “blob” part was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, says Steidel, “like the blob from outer space or something like that.”

He and other astronomers just couldn’t understand what made the blobs glow.

“There was no obvious source that could be illuminating that blob,” says Steidel.


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Many Reasons, One Cause In Pipeline Protest

Opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to grow beyond its North Dakota roots, with solidarity protests Tuesday in dozens of cities across the country and the world.

The protests began in April with a few members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation is downstream of where the 1,200-mile pipeline is slated to cross the Missouri River. The tribe is concerned a leak could contaminate its drinking water and that construction is already harming sacred sites near the reservation. But as the protests have spread, the motivations have also become more diverse.

In Denver, more than a hundred people packed into the Four Winds American Indian Council, a cozy church with big stained glass windows on a leafy street south of downtown Denver. Some held signs with slogans like “Break free from fossil fuels.”

Derek Brown was not one of them.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for fossil fuels,” he said. “I drove here.”

Brown is Navajo and for him, the pipeline protest is not an environmental fight. It is about tribal sovereignty and making sure Native Americans have a voice.

“We don’t have a seat at the table of negotiations,” he said. “I feel like we have to make a stand that we are still here, that we still exist. American Indians are not dead.”


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Got Questions About The 2016 Election? We Want To Answer Them

In Texas, there’s far more at stake in the 2016 election season than who takes the White House.

The state is battling with federal courts over the voter ID law. Demographic change is accelerating. In one West Texas congressional district, national politics have become local politics.

We know you have questions, and public radio stations across the state are working together to answer them.

We want to hear from you — not just here at Marfa Public Radio, but at the Texas Standard, KUT Austin, Houston Public Media, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio and KERA in North Texas.

Curious about how the national landscape is affecting politics in Texas? Or are you just wondering why lines are so long at the polls? What stories do you want to hear leading up to the election?

What’s the big question you’d like to see answered by November? Let us know.


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Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers monitor the situation at Sul Ross State University in Alpine amid a campus-wide lockdown on Thursday, September 8, 2016. (Pete Szilagyi)

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers monitor the situation at Sul Ross State University in Alpine amid a campus-wide lockdown on Thursday, September 8, 2016. (Pete Szilagyi)

Shooting at Alpine High School Leaves One Dead, One Injured

Updated to include a comment from the Marathon Motel indicating a reported bomb threat there was the result of a misunderstanding.

A seemingly average Thursday morning in small-town Alpine, TX turned traumatic after a 14-year-old female freshman student shot and injured another female student before turning the gun on herself.

Brewster County authorities said the shooter was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

The identities of the shooter and the victim have not been released.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson expressed shock at the incident that took place sometime after 9 AM, saying his department had never had to respond to an “active shooter” situation of this type before, especially at a local school.

“It’s not supposed to happen here,” he said.

Authorities said the shooting happened inside the high school near the band hall. Band Director Chuck Wilson – who said the victim was one of his students – echoed Dodson’s sentiment about the unusual nature of the shooting in a town where violent crime is rare.

“This is supposed to be something that happens someplace else,” Wilson said. “It’s really hard to put into words, it’s not something you can really prepare for as a parent or as a teacher, and it’s tough.”


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Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter speaks during a Sunset Advisory Commission hearing in Austin on Aug. 22, 2016. (Marjorie Kamys Cotera)

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter speaks during a Sunset Advisory Commission hearing in Austin on Aug. 22, 2016. (Marjorie Kamys Cotera)

Lawmakers Push Back on Railroad Commission Overhaul Proposals

State lawmakers on Monday considered a host of recommendations to reshape and rename the Texas Railroad Commission, a powerful agency that oversees a host of oil and gas activities but not railroads.

Staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission, the legislative body that periodically reviews state agencies, has called for big changes at the 125-year-old agency, including beefing up its oversight of drilling, pipeline safety and abandoned wells; improving record keeping; changing its name to the Texas Energy Resources Commission; and no longer regulating natural gas utilities.

But as a hearing of lawmakers on the Sunset commission stretched into evening, it appeared unlikely that all of those recommendations would make it into legislation.

One legislator said he believed the entire review was was unnecessary, and the criticism mean-spirited.

“When I went through this report, I thought to myself, ‘Why are you so angry at the Railroad Commission?'” Rep. Dan Flynn told Sunset commission staff.

“Oil and gas industry is the heart and soul of the state of Texas, the Canton Republican added, “And for us to go and attack an agency that’s done a pretty good job, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Though no lawmaker completely echoed Flynn, his spirited defense of the Railroad Commission underscored the difficulty of implementing change at the hulking agency in Texas, the nation’s oil and gas king.


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The Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, Idaho, is a contract facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The Justice Department says it is phasing out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found they have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government. (Charlie Litchfield/AP)

The Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, Idaho, is a contract facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The Justice Department says it is phasing out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found they have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government. (Charlie Litchfield/AP)

Justice Department Will Phase Out Its Use Of Private Prisons

U.S. Justice Department officials plan to phase out their use of private prisons to house federal inmates, reasoning that the contract facilities offer few benefits for public safety or taxpayers.

In making the decision, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates cited new findings by the Justice Department’s inspector general, who concluded earlier this month that a pool of 14 privately contracted prisons reported more incidents of inmate contraband, higher rates of assaults and more uses of force than facilities run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and … they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote in a memo Thursday.

At their peak, contract prisons housed approximately 30,000 federal inmates. By May 2017, that number will have dropped by more than half, to 14,000, Yates wrote. The Bureau of Prisons tends to use contract facilities to confine inmates who require only low security and who tend to be in the country illegally. The U.S. government spent $639 million on those facilities in fiscal year 2014, according to the inspector general report, in payments to three companies: Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp.


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Pump jacks dot the landscape outside Midland, a West Texas oil town. (Ilana Panich-Linsman for NPR)

Pump jacks dot the landscape outside Midland, a West Texas oil town. (Ilana Panich-Linsman for NPR)

Texas Town’s Fortunes Rise And Fall With Pump Jacks And Oil Prices

Out on the wide open plains of West Texas, you can see the horizon for 360 degrees, interrupted only by the nodding up and down of pump jacks pulling oil up out of the earth.

There lies the aptly named town of Midland.

To get the hang of the place, you need to start downtown, on a corner near the Chase Bank, where an electric billboard displays the essentials: the temperature, a message — “God Bless Midland” — and a number. On this day, it’s 45.94.

That number — the price of oil by the barrel — affects everything in Midland: whether people have jobs, how much they pay in rent, whether waitresses make tips.

And that number helps explain why the middle class in Midland shrank faster than almost anywhere else in the country since 2000 — because so many people here have gotten richer.

This boom-bust town reveals a complex picture of America’s economic recovery.

During the boom, people got rich.


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Outside the opening of Robert Irwin's new permanent installation at the Chinati Foundation on July 23, 2016. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

Outside the opening of Robert Irwin's new permanent installation at the Chinati Foundation on July 23, 2016. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

Robert Irwin Brings ‘Big’ To Texas With Permanent Art Installation

The 87-year-old conceptual artist unveils a large-scale installation of his work in Marfa, Texas, this week. He’s spent his career creating site-specific art that often treats light as its subject.

Listen to the NPR story above and read the full transcript of this story here.

photograph courtesy of Megan Wilde, peyotedoc.com.
In “Peyote at a Crossroads,” Alpine filmmaker Megan Wilde explores the central role that peyote plays in the identity and religious lives of Native peoples – and the imminent threats to that ancient bond between plant and people.
El Cosmico in Marfa (flickr user: Marci)
Native to North Africa, aoudad were introduced to Texas in the 1950s. At ease in the roughest terrain, they’ve flourished in the Trans-Pecos, and aoudad hunts are good business. But wildlife managers say the newcomers are edging out native species.
This rendering shows a snapshot from a cosmological simulation of a Lyman-alpha blob. (J.Geach/D.Narayanan/R.Crain/European Southern Observatory)
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Wed. Sep 28 Interview: New Oilfield Discovery in Reeves County Raises Concern About Light Pollution, Effect on McDonald Observatory

Today’s West Texas Talk guest is Bill Wren of the McDonald Observatory, who has spent years helping communities and developments design outdoor lighting systems that cast light on the ground instead of projecting it into the sky. Dark skies are necessary for McDonald scientists to recognize details deep in the universe.

Now a new threat looms. Recent announcements from Apache Corp. suggest a massive new oil field – and all the lights it will bring – will begin developing in Reeves County just north of the Davis Mountains home of the observatory.

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Native to North Africa, aoudad were introduced to Texas in the 1950s. At ease in the roughest terrain, they’ve flourished in the Trans-Pecos, and aoudad hunts are good business. But wildlife managers say the newcomers are edging out native species.

Aoudad – For Wildlife Managers, A Hardy Newcomer’s Success Raises Tough Questions

Some visit the Big Bend for a day or a week – and have their fill. But an intrepid few find they’re suited to this harsh terrain, and make it their home. Native to northern Africa, aoudad – or Barbary … Continue reading

Nature Notes is broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:35 am and 4:45 pm
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El Cosmico in Marfa (flickr user: Marci)

Thu. Sep 22 Interview: Liz Lambert

Today on West Texas Talk, host Pete Szilagyi speaks with hotelier Liz Lambert. She’s built a network of popular hotels including Marfa’s El Cosmico, plus locations in Austin, San Antonio, and soon — Todos Santos, Mexico.

They talk about the origin of the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love, how the Foo Fighters came to record an EP at her Saint Cecelia Hotel in Austin, and the line between inspiration and appropriation.

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Tue. Sep 20 Interview: Ballroom Marfa to open “This is Presence” exhibition September 23

Today on West Texas Talk, Institute for New Feeling artists Agnes Bolt, Scott Andrew, and Nina Sarnelle talked about Ballroom Marfa’s multi-media, multi-faceted fall exhibition

Curator Laura Copelin described “This is Presence” as “artists thinking about technology and its effects on the body.”

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Vote For Your Favorite Elections Question For Our “Texas Decides” Project

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been compiling questions about this year’s election sent to us by voters across Texas. It’s part of a project we’re calling “Texas Decides.”

Now, it’s time for you to help us decide which questions we answer!

Vote for the questions you find most intriguing below, and our reporters at public radio stations across the state will use the results to start digging in. On September 27, we’ll pick your five favorite questions and start reporting.

We want to hear from you! Not just here at Marfa Public Radio, but also at KUT in Austin, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, Houston Public Media, and KERA in North Texas.

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