". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Fantasy of General Wellington's Invasion in the War of 1812

One of the persistent myths of alternate history fans is that Lord Wellington was asked by the British government to invade the United States from the Gulf Coast in order to defeat the upstart Americans in the War of 1812. [Example here.]

Whether or not there ever was a formal request made by the PM to Wellington, Duke Wellington supposedly declined, without grace or patience. Thus, it is a speculation without content.  It is so counter-factual, in fact, that there is not a single fact out of the period and location, to fuel such useless speculation.

Nevertheless the speculations continue apace, taking it as a given that this general, who was so good at his work that he defeated Napoleón himself in a battle -- a battle, let me haste to say, that didn't take place until after the first abdication of Napoleón, which concluded the Congress of Vienna, in which the surviving powers were wrangling over the division of the spoils of Bonaparte's empire, and Wellington was a primary player.*  With some level-headed dissenters, war gamers tend to believe that Wellington have quickly cut a swathe through the former colonies and returned them to British rule. This fuels ever more extreme counter-factual speculation as how would change the course of world history.

There is not a single fact upon which to build speculations.  In contrast, however,, there are ample facts that strongly suggest that Wellington showing up on the Gulf coast would have been as much a debacle as it turned out for British army general, Edward Pakenham, and British naval commander, Admiral Alexander Cocherane -- and very likely in the same way.

First he'd have had to defeat Andrew Jackson, who knew his territory, as he proved over and over, from the Floridas and the Gulf, all the way up the Natchez Trace and the Mississippi Corridor to Nashville, the water and land routes both, in this vast Louisiana Purchase territory. Whenever Jackson encountered the Brits in the Floridas and the Gulf, he'd defeated them (and hung some, even though it was illegal).  He'd been doing this long before the Battle of New Orleans.

This wasn't Wellington's geography, or the geography of any regular army, as the British learned in the War of Independence.  They occupied all the cities, but it did them no good (except to give contemporary Americans a silly idea of their own competence and exceptional capacity for success purely through the actions of single individuals, conveniently forgetting the essential roles of France in Spain in the ultimate outcome).

There were no places other than New Orleans to re-supply a Wellington army, and it was very far away from the hinterlands. There were no plantations to plunder yet, but those around New Orleans and Natchez. The land was covered in dense forest, swamps, bridgeless rivers and bayous. The American forces were skilled at living rough and at brigandage.  They'd have been at least as fierce a guerrilla third front as Wellington had encountered in Spain, except these would be working against him.

As intensely as Wellington had put himself through a military education he'd surely read the history of the War of American Independence.  As much time as he'd

spent in Spain, he'd surely have at recall the large role Spain's General Bernardo Galvez played in the Gulf Mississippi Valley in defeating the British back then and there, and how easy it was for him to do so, since the British military were not good on that ground. Moreover, now, in the present of the War of 1812, which in any case, as mentioned, was now over, Spain was Britain's ally.

So, yes, there are many facts that show Wellington, if, indeed he was formally asked to fight in North America, made the right decision to stay on this side of the Atlantic, while there is nary a single one to say he'd have met anything but disaster, whether by water, cavalry or infantry.  His artillery would have been as prone to incapacity by corrosion and mud as anyone else's, especially without roads along which to push them.  The horses would die from starvation, and the men as well.


Which was a fortunate circumstances for Britain and the rest of Europe, since Wellington was already on the ground in central Europe, where war was resuming, not sitting around uselessly in the Americas, where that war was over. The Treaty of Ghent had been signed December 24, 1814.

Wellington, where he was,  was perfectly positioned to take immediate charge of the British forces and confer with the generals of the other powers' armies during Napoleón's 100 Days: 20 March to 8 July 1815.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Richard Slotkin - Battle of the Crater + Cold Mountain

Commemorating a slaughter 150 years ago, from the NYT's excellent Disunion series, a piece by one of our greatest scholars and historical writers, the estimable Richard Slotkin

My own first understanding of the Battle of the Crater at the Siege of Petersburg, came from reading Slotkin's The Crater: A Novel of the Civil War, published more than three decades ago.  This event has evidently haunted Slotkin all this time, for he published a non-fiction study of this terrible battle in in 2009, No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864. Today, he observes the anniversary of the meatgrinder for everyone that the Crater was, as well as analyzing the frenzy of massacre in which the confed troops indulged themselves upon the African American troops.

There is another novel I've read, that features the Battle of the Crater.  It's the opening of Charles Frazier's 1997 best-selling novel, Cold Mountain. The senseless horror pushes confederate soldier, W. P. Inman, over the edge. Wounded, Inman deserts, to search for Ada, love, peace, and life, rather than continue killing. The before, during and after of the battle are the opening sequences of the film (2003), directed by Anthony Minghella

It may say something about us (whoever we are), that cold googling images for the film, Cold Mountain, does not bring up a single scene from the battle.  One must specifically request images of the battled from the film, and there are few enough of those.

Most of the images are of a feisty Renée Zwillenger with a two-barreled shotgun (in the only good role I could ever stand to watch her as an actress -- even though in the novel her character, Ruby, is a woman of color.  Would that have been changed if the film was made today?), dressed in mens clothing, 

or, in contrast, Nicole Kidman, in frilly southern bell dress.  And, of course, the appealing Jude Law as W.P. Inman.

The Battle of the Crater
July 29, 2014 6:33 pm

Disunion follows the Civil War as it unfolded.

By the end of July 1864, Union forces were entrenched outside Petersburg, Va., a major city south of Richmond. To break the siege, commanders in the IX Corps came up with a novel idea: A regiment of Pennsylvania coal miners dug a tunnel 511 feet long, right up under a Confederate strongpoint, and packed four tons of blasting powder into galleries at its end. When the mine was touched off it would blow a huge breach in the Rebel lines, through which infantry could attack and seize the high ground that commanded Petersburg.

The so-called Petersburg Mine was an extraordinary technical accomplishment, and its detonation on July 30 produced what was then the largest man-made explosion in history. But federal commanders bungled the infantry attack, which never got beyond the gaping hole left by the explosion. The Union army suffered 4,000 casualties, turning what came to be known as the Battle of the Crater from a spectacular opportunity to capture Petersburg to an unmitigated disaster.

But there is more to the Battle of the Crater than the ironic contrast of technological brilliance with military incompetence. Its real significance lies in its exposure of the depth and complexity of the racial animosities that underlay the Civil War.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside, who led the IX Corps, had planned to use his Fourth Division, which was comprised of nine regiments of United States Colored Troops, to spearhead his assault. Unlike his white divisions, the Fourth had not been weakened by heavy battle losses. Its morale was high, and it would be trained in the maneuvers required to pass the crater and debris field left by the mine explosion and seize the high ground.

Beyond the tactical problems of leading so large an assault, black soldiers and their white officers had to prepare for a combat in which they could expect no mercy if they were captured or left wounded on the field. Col. John Bross, who commanded the 29th U.S.C.T. at Petersburg, told the press, “When I lead these men into battle, we shall expect no quarter, and shall not ask for quarter.”

The Confederate government had declared that officers of the U.S.C.T. would be treated as criminals fomenting slave rebellion, an offense punishable by death. Fear of federal retaliation prevented open enforcement of that policy, but Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon had encouraged field commanders to apply its principles unofficially, “red-handed on the field or immediately thereafter.” Black prisoners not disposed of on the field were treated as slaves: returned to former masters, sold, hired out by the government or set to labor with other slaves on Confederate fortifications.

Seddon’s injunction reflected, and lent official sanction, to the racial animosity endemic to a slavery-based society. If anything, it had grown worse during the war. White supremacy was the social and emotional cement of Southern society, and when internal class conflicts and battlefield defeats shook popular morale in the summer of 1864, Confederate leaders rallied their people by reminding them that a Union victory would enable blacks to break the bonds of subjection that kept them in their place. Black soldiers were the incarnation of that threat, and Southern soldiers affirmed their racial identity by declaring their intention to show no mercy.

Union officers used that fact to their benefit. During their assault training, Fourth Division troops were enjoined to use “Fort Pillow! No Quarter!” as their battle cry. However, for the division’s officers the battle cry was not intended as a command. In the battle itself they took pains to see that their troops did not harm rebel wounded or P.O.W.s. Rather, it was a motivational ploy that reflected their own racial prejudice: They believed that Negroes, as a race, were timid and needed the stimulus of desperation to make them fight hard against white Southerners. That same prejudice would cost the Union dearly when, on the eve of the battle, Gen. George Meade – commanding the Army of the Potomac – forbade the use of the “Colored Division” as the spearhead, because he did not think black soldiers were good enough.

General Burnside went into a funk. Instead of making a new plan, he had the other division commanders draw straws for the mission. Chance decreed that Gen. James Ledlie’s troops should lead – a division unprepared for its assignment and exhausted by weeks of fighting, and whose commander was known to get falling-down drunk when faced with combat.

At 4:45 a.m. on July 30, the earth below the rebel strongpoint bulged and broke, and an enormous mushroom cloud, “full of red flames, and carried on a bed of lightning flashes, mounted towards heaven with a detonation of thunder,” one witness recalled. The explosion blasted a crater 130 feet long, 75 feet wide and 30 feet deep, with nearly sheer walls of jagged clay, “filled with dust, great blocks of clay, guns, broken carriages, projecting timbers, and men buried in various ways.”

The crater itself was an impassable barrier, and there were debris-clogged trenches to either side. The black troops had been trained to avoid the crater and drive for the high ground. Ledlie’s men, abandoned by their drunken general, drifted into the crater and stayed there.

The explosion had killed one-third of the South Carolina brigade defending the strongpoint, but behind it was a labyrinth of communication trenches where rebel infantry rallied. Confederate engineers, anticipating an attack, had planted a ring of artillery batteries on the high ground. They laid down a crossfire of canister shot that pinned Ledlie’s division in the breach. As more federal troops advanced, a terrible logjam formed in and around the crater.

In a last attempt to redeem this disaster, Burnside ordered the United States Colored Troops to attack. After four hours of fighting, the advantages of surprise and shock were lost, and the black soldiers would have to force their way forward through the mass of demoralized whites around the crater. Nevertheless, they accomplished far more than could have been expected: The commanders of the two leading regiments, utilizing their units’ training, improvised a pincer attack that captured 150 prisoners and a clutch of battle flags. The following regiments also worked their way through the mob and (with some rallied white regiments) tried to charge the high ground.

But by now rebel reinforcements had arrived. A brilliantly timed counterattack by Gen. William Mahone routed the attempted federal advance, and most of the federals fled. About a thousand gathered in and around the crater, but their position was untenable: Under crossfire by rifles and artillery, and vulnerable to mortar shells dropped among the helpless, they packed the crater bottom like fish in a barrel. Officers who commanded in the crater testified that black troops were the mainstay of its last-ditch defense, a thin line of riflemen defending the crater berm. One private of the Confederate 12th Virginia gave them the accolade, “They fought like bulldogs and died like soldiers.”

When Mahone’s Confederates finally closed in, the battle degenerated into a combination massacre and race riot. Rebels killed wounded blacks as they retreated to the crater. “The cry was raised that we would all be killed if we were captured among the negroes,” recalled one white soldier; some desperate whites killed their black comrades-in-arms to show they shared the Confederates’ abhorrence of race-mixing.

Finally a call went up: “The Yanks have surrendered.” Confederate troops clambered into the crater, and the first men down, one soldier wrote, “plunged their bayonets into the colored wounded lying there.” Col. John Haskell of Virginia observed, “Our men, who were always made wild by having negroes sent against them … were utterly frenzied with rage. Nothing in the war could have exceeded the horrors that followed. No quarter was given, and for what seemed a long time, fearful butchery was carried on.” Confederate officers eventually stopped the killing, but many black prisoners were murdered as they passed, under guard, through the Confederate reserves. Pvt. Dorsey Binyon of the 48th Georgia regretted that “some few negroes went to the rear as we could not kill them as fast as they past us.” Capt. William Pegram of Virginia took satisfaction in the belief that fewer than half of the blacks who surrendered on the field “ever reached the rear … You could see them lying dead all along the route.” He thought it “perfectly” proper that all captured blacks be killed “as a matter of policy,” because it clarified the racial basis of the Southern struggle for independence.

It is impossible to establish precisely the extent of these killings. In the average Civil War battle the ratio of wounded to dead was 4.8 to one. For black troops at the Crater it was 1.8 to one. Engaged Confederate troops also suffered a two-to-one wounded-to-killed ratio; but those losses include the 278 killed by the mine explosion – an extraordinary loss, beyond what infantry combat could be expected to produce. Thus it seems likely that more than 200 blacks were killed after they had ceased fighting.

Most eyewitness accounts of the massacre were written by Confederates, who saw the killings as something to boast of, consonant with the values of Southern society. Yet at every rank and in every Confederate unit there were also men who were appalled by the murders. Ultimately, moral responsibility for the massacre rests on Confederate leaders, whose racial polemics and military instructions gave official sanction to the motives for massacre, and not those of mercy.

Follow Disunion at or join us on Facebook.

Sources: Richard Slotkin, “No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864”; Bryce Suderow, “The Battle of the Crater: The Civil War’s Worst Massacre,” in Gregory J. W. Urwin, ed., “Black Flag Over Dixie”; Edward Porter Alexander, “Fighting for the Confederacy,” ed. by Gary W. Gallagher; George S. Burkhardt, “Confederate Rage, Yankee Wrath: No Quarter in the Civil War”; Peter S. Carmichael, “Lee’s Young Artillerist: William R.J. Pegram”; Keith Wilson, ed., “Honor in Command: Lt. Freeman S. Bowley’s Civil War Service in the 30th United States Colored Infantry.”

Richard Slotkin is the author of “No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864” and “Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution.” He is an emeritus professor of American studies at Wesleyan University.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nicola Griffith AsksWho Owns Science Fiction and Fantasy

She does it in an essay here, on Charles Stross's blog, "Charlie's Diary."

It begins:

I’m English. I've lived in the US a long time (in fact last year I got my US citizenship) but I’m still English. You can tell: all I have to do is speak. There's no hiding that accent. In England, I belong. I visit often; I feel at home; I just don't live there anymore.
A few years ago, when William Gibson was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, he said: I am a native of science fiction but no longer a resident.2 I understood exactly what he meant.
My most recent novel, Hild, has no fantastical elements whatsoever. It's not set in a secondary world, there are no dragons, no wizards casting spells, no special swords or magic rings. Yet the book has been nominated for three SF awards3. Why?

It's a nice essay, but I do have a caveat. In my judgment, and I'm a qualified judge, one would think,  Hild is not a literary novel; it's historical fiction.  It's not even a literary novel as historical fiction, as is Wolf Hall, for instance.

I can give my reasoned reasons as to why that's my judgment, but am mostly occupied by the hell of New Computer: making it be a computer, not a tablet, transferring, migrating, trying to figure out how to use the *&*&^%%$ thing as a useful machine.  Which also might mean dumping my main e-mail account, as MS dropped live mail in favor of Outlook, which they previously dropped in favor of Live, which so infuriated me I never changed over.  I had liked Outlook Express very much, and never did like Live Mail at all.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Vikings - Season 3 - History Channel - Trailer

At least it looks like my favorite characters all return.

I could watch an entire episode composed of nothing but Lagertha riding her white horse through a forest and falling snow.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Austin Slim -- You Asked

There's nothing special about them, other than the fit and they are comfortable for my back while walking around and about on cement.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's Reading Wednesday

However, due to the Work Trip Travel from Hell, and all the issues, including computer woes, related to that, I've read nothing to speak of since July 10th.

On the 10th I read enough of the historical  "police mystery" novel (Paris, 1870; flashbacks to the War in Algeria, which would have been 1848, which doesn't fit entirely well with the age of the Parisian detectives in 1870), Baudelaire's Revenge. by Dutch novelist, Bob van Laerhoven.  I returned the book to my carry on about 2/3 of the way through, with no intent to finish it. The women are grotesques, who, morally rotten, are rapidly rotting physically. They are fairly implausible characters, though a certain segment of Parisian men such the Goncourt Brothers, and cosmopolitans such as Dickens and his companions, might view women as such surrealist, hyper-active degenerates. This reader, on the other hand, felt in dire need of mental and emotional cleansing. P
articularly this is so, as political, social, cultural and material history all inform us that women, along with children and others without legal identity, were the most powerless members of society. What they did, what they were, were actively determined by men, their poverty and lack of other opportunities.


Such choices on the author's part for female characters make the publisher's choice, to portray on the cover, a figure who resembles so closely the title screens of the televised versions of Agatha Christie's Poirot, figure all the more inexplicable.

There are constant infelicities of translation on nearly every page.

So I've read nothing but that horrid book the entire time, with the exception of re-reading for the firswt time in a long while, some splendid pages of William Faulkner's The Unvanquished -- o, how he plays with time, language and pov!

However, today, not only did the splendid UPS fellow deliver my Tony Lama boots* but serendipitously, two novels were delivered by the equally nice Fed Ex fellow (neither of whom are responsible for what it is that they bring me):

1)  Deborah Harkness's concluding volume, The Book Of Life, of herAll Souls Trilogy;

2)  Joe Abercrombie's Half a King, which is probably only the first installment of a series, and a YA series at that, though there's nothing in jacket copy or pr that says so. The only clue is the text's font size -- much larger than one sees in adult targeted readers.

Again, for this reader, it's more than annoyance when nothing informs me that a book is YA, Romance, self-published or religiously themed -- and by golly, sometimes all of them at the same time!



*  Which, with a few other high points -- all about the work -- made the Texas trip worth doing.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Johnny Winter

Forwarded from RRC . . .

RRC Extra No. 48: Johnny Winter

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THE LION IS WINTER…. Dave Marsh writes:

The whitest man of them all could not only play the blues, he could play the hell out of them. For the past 45 years, that’s exactly what he did, night after night, whether he had the ear of the whole music scene or only of those devotees and passers-by who happened to be around on any particular evening. Johnny Winter was absolutely the real thing and, although Chuck Berry, Little Richard and even Bob Dylan played their part in his pantheon, the core of it always came back to the blues.

I first saw him under duress. An albino blues guitarist laying them flat in south Texas and brought north in a whirlwind of press releases threatened worse than tedium. My girlfriend said he was exactly the kind of blues player I loved best. It took about 15 seconds to convince me that he wasn’t good, he was great. It wasn’t just that razor sharp guitar or the gravel edge of his singing. Johnny Winter onstage, bathed in blue spotlights (because white ones burned his skin) was the blues stripped to an essence, confident and raging, nervous and excitable, heart-broken and drowned in not just his own but a world of tears, including your own.

I knew Johnny a little bit in those early days, mainly because I was friends with his manager, Steve Paul, the New York City impresario who flew to Texas the minute he finished reading the first Rolling Stone article about this weird cat in 1968 . Steve had long run a club called Steve Paul’s The Scene, which was the greatest all-night jam club in the history of New York City rock. Jimi Hendrix spent a lot of time there, as did whoever else was in town, from Johnny and his friends Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper to that other left-handed strummer, Tiny Tim. None of these was necessarily the unlikeliest person in the room on any given night.

We saw a lot of Johnny and Steve in those years in Detroit, at the offices of Creem Magazine. I can remember them turning up one day with a copy of Second Winter, the second Columbia album. Two discs, three sides, eleven songs. Fourth side blank. Why? After those, the level of material dropped off, they said. Hype? Well, anyway, a dubious rationale, albeit Columbia only turned up two outtakes when they reissued it on CD ten years ago.

But the real story was the battle they fought with CBS Records over its insistence that all albums made for the label be made at a company-owned studio using company hired and trained engineers. One of the most instructive lessons I ever had about record production came from that conversation, Johnny raving mad about the refusal of those engineers to recognize that to make this music, you needed the needle to rock into the red. Yeah, the sound got distorted. That was what the songs needed.  Johnny was righteously indignant. Steve was perfectly happy to have a good story for the papers, capped by his revelation that he had negotiated an agreement—in writing, he said—that Johnny could henceforth record wherever the fuck he wanted to, with whomever he chose.

Once, long after midnight at Creem, Johnny played us his brother Edgar’s first album, which struck me as all too arty. Johnny patiently explained, to universal incredulity, that Edgar had always been the more accomplished musician. I thought this was nothing more than touching brotherly loyalty until Edgar put together White Trash with Dan Hartman and Ronnie Montrose and sold more records in two years than Johnny probably did in his lifetime.

Johnny seemed unthreatened and, looking back on it, you have to think that he understood very well where his life’s work lay, although he did give straight-up rock’n’roll (of the day) a try, with the 1970 album, Johnny Winter And, which was a band concept, Rick Derringer on the other guitar and about half the vocals, with bass and drums by the other members of Rick’s pop group, The McCoys. It gave Johnny the closest thing he ever had to a pop hit, “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” Rick’s song sung by Johnny. It also gave him the only chance to croon that I can remember, on the semi-show-tune “Let the Music Play”: “I don’t know what brought you here / But I know what to do.”

Drugs, yeah, he took drugs, including all the wrong ones. He was a pretty bad mess, with a drug habit he did not discard for a very, very long time. He never tried to hide it much. One afternoon at Creem, which was living quarters as well as office space, he borrowed a bedroom for a nap. I went down to wake him up a few hours later and there he lay, sprawled out with his works neatly arranged beside him. Still breathing, but I sure the hell wasn’t gonna be the one to try to wake him up.

Yet the music continued to be fine through all of it or almost all. It was his anchor to life, maybe the only place where Johnny did know what to do. I’m guessing but how else do you explain it?

I once saw Johnny try to make sense of it. It was the early ‘80s and we were taping the David Susskind show for a “discussion” on the rock scene. Johnny was as nervous as ever; he liked people but he knew how many different ways he struck them as odd. So he kind of addressed himself to me, not a very good idea within the bounds of that particular exercise in megalomania. It was, for a while very much as if Susskind and the other guest, John Rockwell, were having one discussion while Johnny and I had another. What Johnny was trying to explain was the why of the drugs, how for him and for Janis Joplin, his friend from their youth in Port Arthur, and for others, the endless attention and...  It was as hopeless as any other mass media attempt to explain the lure and necessity of dope. But I’d pay money to have a transcript of what Johnny said, and more to have had Susskind pay attention to it, so that Johnny could’ve finished. It was probably the most sensible thing I ever heard anybody ever say about being an addict, though I remember none of his exact words. (Irish whisky + Lester Bangs the night before.) Finally, I intemperately exploded: “Johnny’s trying to tell you why.” Susskind treated it like who was I to tell him not to kick his dog, which in this case was Johnny.  I thought Johnny just trying to tell a philistine like that about such existential woes was in a certain sense more heroic than pathetic, though it was certainly both.

For me, the most heroic thing Johnny Winter ever did was make those Muddy Waters records for Steve’s Blue Sky label (distributed by CBS) in the late 1970s. I edited Rolling Stone’s record reviews then and so everything came to me early. I remember opening the first one, in 1977, not expecting much: Muddy’s last few tries for Chess had been dismally mediocre. Hard Again jumped out of the speakers, from Muddy’s first “Ohhhhhh yeah!” on “Mannish Boy.” It’s the perfect opening, not only because it summons musical thunder but because the words are all about the transformative magic Muddy not so much put into his songs but conjured from their structure. He’s boasting, but not idly, because this momentum is sustained throughout the ten songs.

Johnny’s insight came from treating Muddy, to his mind and mine the greatest of all bluesmen, as a singer and a galvanizing bandleader, not as a mere guitarist. (Muddy played no guitar on the record.) Thus, he could be surrounded, as he was on his greatest records, with superb players, mostly a bit younger than himself, and he could both record new songs and rework old ones. The version of “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” one of his defining songs, on Hard Again is a revelation—almost conversational, its cadences relaxed, nothing to prove because he is the proof. The four albums they made for Blue Sky are certainly not Muddy’s greatest recordings, but they are unquestionably his best albums, utterly traditional in the material and arrangements but recorded and organized as a modern rock artist—and I mean, artist—would.

Johnny Winter carried on, accumulating tattoos like blues merit badges. And he couldn’t entirely be ignored—the music simply wouldn’t let him fade away. Rolling Stone squeezed him in at 63 on its list of however-many greatest guitarists (he maybe wasn’t a whole lot better than more than 60% of those ranked higher). Johnny made albums once in a while—the last one was Roots, a beautiful set of classics featuring mostly well-chosen current guitar heroes (Warren Haynes, Sonny Landreth, Vince Gill, Susan Tedeschi). On it, Johnny’s singing, always scabrous and sassy, has taken on some of the tone of Dylan’s late work. But this is not a master engaged in mystification, making the listener struggle to divine a meaning that may or may not even be present. This is a bluesman,  pained and driven, reaching for lucidity. “I don’t know what brought you here, but I know what to do.” And he did it.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Marfa - Ft. Davis - The Buffalo Soldiers

By coincidence, the latest NY Times Disunion, the column that is tracking the Civil War years chronologically since 2011, concerns Kentucky's tidal waveof enlistment by, now former, slaves, the moment in 1864 the U.S. government declared it legal for them to join the military.  See: "A 'Stampede' for Freedom" by Aaron Astor here.

A Union soldier, an escaped slave from Kentucky, verified Douglass' statement when he said, “When I donned my Union blues, I felt freedom in my bones” ....

Camp Nelson, the largest recruitment center in Kentucky for the recruitment of black soldiers in 1864. Information about Camp Nelson and its black regiments here.

There are many black Kentuckian Civil War reenactors.
What unfolded over the next 10 months was one of the most extraordinary events of the entire Civil War. As many as 57 percent of all military-age black men in Kentucky joined the Army; nearly all of them had been slaves right up to the moment they enlisted. No other slave state witnessed such a staggering enlistment rate. Closest were Tennessee and Missouri, where 39 percent of eligible black soldiers joined. And just as white Kentuckians became increasingly disaffected with the emancipationist turn in the Civil War, black Kentuckians filled the state’s draft quota. ...

As all Kentuckians understood, black enlistment meant more than filling out the ranks of the Union Army in the war’s final, deadly months. In no other state was black enlistment more directly tied to emancipation than in Kentucky. Even as other Union slave states – Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas and Maryland – moved to eliminate slavery in the war’s final months, Kentucky’s Unionist leaders stood firm in favor of the peculiar institution. As a result, joining the Union Army proved to be the only path to freedom for black men and for their families. More than offering mere numbers in the ranks, these black Kentucky soldiers helped transform a conservative war for the old pro-slavery Union into a revolution in behalf of a Union based on a “new birth of freedom. 
As we know, full emancipation did not arrive until quite some time after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.  For black men, remaining in the military was the best way of ensuring their freedom would c

Though this Disunion column doesn't mention them, as outside the chronological purview, the Buffalo Soldiers come to mind, particularly this week, since after the war some of the most well-known black regiments were stationed at Fort Davis.

This map shows Fort Davis and the associated Davis Mountains State Park* location in northern Presidio County (the Davis Mountains are referred to, probably most often in Texas, as the Alps of Texas).

Life for African Americans remained difficult after Emancipation.  Among the many towering obstacles put in the way of African Americans claiming their rightful participation in society, by the various systems, north and south, African Americans were denied employment in almost any work that would allow for, either or both, accumulation of capital and the opportunity of social and political position.  The objective was to keep African Americans in the south, laboring in what became the neo-slavery of Jim Crow.

Fort Davis 1885

Fort Davis Buffalo Soldiers 1875

Fort Davis restoration

Fort Davis National historic site

An exception, to degree, to this system, was the military.  Many African Americans preferred to stay within the army than go back to work as, say, a sharecropper.  With the Civil War finished, the U.S. army could now give its attention to "subduing" the western tribes.  The postings in the Southwest were fairly miserable, far from even towns, much less urban centers.  The conditions were monotonous and frequently dangerous.  African Americans filled the need for troops.  The military provided a stable paycheck, and security from the violence of northern white supremacists, and labor coercion from southerners outraged at the idea of 'free" black men.

An account of the history of the Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Davis is here.

It also provided an opportunity to put two colonized groups of people at war with each other for the benefit of the white supremacist establishment.  But yet, yes, a man has got to do what he's got to do, to support his life and his family.  Most of all, it's not for someone like me to criticize such choices.


*  Birders' Alert:  The Davis Mountains State Park does weekly birding hikes in the primitive area of the park.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Back in Time - Monday/Tuesday - El Paso/Marfa

Yesterday we changed time zones again, from MTS, where El Paso - Juarez is located, to CST, where is Marfa. We are in West Texas, on the trans-Pecos, still in the Chihuahua Desert, on a plateau of the Guadaloupe Mountains. At 4,688 above sea level this means we are also in the land where it takes forever for liquids to come to a boil, toast to toast, etc.

A boutique town now, once its population was as large 100,000, once as small as 100, now it's 2,316.

Ranching is one of the primary businesses here, and always has been. One of my

favorite films, Giant (1956), was shot all around here. We had dinner in the very pricey Hotel Paisano restaurant last night, which is where

Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson stayed for the entire shoot. It's a splendid building, as are many others, such as the court house. When I'm feeling better, I'll do some exploring.

We're in a lovely house, owned by a gay couple in Chicago. Two bedrooms, two baths -- one of them to die for, which opens out to a small, walled in patio-courtyard, a kitchen to die for, hallways, dining room, living room, with a detached garage and detached laundry house. The front yard is screened from the street and sun with local trees and other vegetation, all of which smell wonderful. Though still an arid climate, it's not as dry here as more northwest where they're undergoing the third year of no rain. We drove twice through rain getting here.

The town is a terrific place for a few days away from it all. We were able to make our usual breakfast this morning before the MP, i.e. Marfa People, came to take Himself away. I made sure he had the sunblock -- but both of us forgot he should have taken his hat. They're shooting outdoors this morning.

In News From Back In Time (yesterday), we achieved Tony Lamas for me at a Tony Lamas factory outlet on the way out of El Paso. It was the fourth place we tried. It was a neverbefore experience, for I haave never before gone shopping with two men. I never shops with anybody, with the exception at times of going with el V and forcing him to get something wear.

PG drove with us -- in fact did the driving -- to Marfa. He got a terrific hat in the same Tony Lamas store. El V restrained himself from getting yet another hat. However, in El Paso, he did buy a pair of fiiiiiiiiiine navy and white spectators, perfect for salsa dancing, and in Juárez, the ugliest, most impractical pair of cowboy boots -- a caricature of cowboy boots one might say. He says they're for one of his Las Vidas costumes; he did wear them at the Museo de la Revolutión performance. PG, as did E, also bought boots in Juárez.

These are stores that men enjoy being in, plus I was very quick, having good idea of what I wanted. I walked into Justin's, Luchese (which two brands I've never liked anyway), see these extravagantly tooled and colored boots for rodeo queens and country star singers, but not for me. The  huge store that sold southwestern Indian jewelry, hats, saddles, belts, serapes, blankets, and you name it.  The other Las Vidas members bought lots of other stuff  there. It was good quality too, but there were no boots, oddly.

We spied the Tony Lamas outlet as we were living the city limits, and PG swerved to the frontage road exit. I have tended to like Tony Lama. I asked for the ladies' section. At first I thought this was going to be another bust. But the lady of the store showed me how to look for what I was looking for, which is PLAIN. I found something in black with a black on black design right away and tried them on. They seemed OK, if a bit large, but then, these are the extreme needle toe design -- i.e. stirrup boots, along with that higher, slanted heel, which, when I find the right pair of these, are the most comfortable foot gear for my back condition.

Walking in such boots isn't the game, but it works for me. The lady of the store returned, and found me another pair a little smaller, very much like the other, only ten dollars more in price. I put on and off both pairs several times, walking around in them. Picked the second pair after much consideration. I also chose four pairs of boot sox.

I asked if the boots could be shipped home instead of me taking them. She brightened right up and said if they went out of state they count as an out of state sale, and thus Texas sales tax isn't charged. 17 dollars shipping UPS. She's not going to send them out until Wednesday, so I'll be sure to be home when they arrive. Seventeen dollars shipping, losing the sales tax, the packing headache, and the extra baggage fee -- I came out way ahead with that.

We celebrated my boots and P's hat at Rudy's. P spied it, and it was gooooooooooood.  Rudy's loves and respects meat and all the associated dishes that go with barbequed carne.  The music was fine. The women working there were smart, competent, bouncy and darned good looking too.  About then I realized I was experienced everything I really love about Texas all at the same time.

This was followed by a chilling experience much worse than returning as citizens to the U.S. from a border city.

On I-10, driving west to east, we were stopped by a check point of Border Patrol - Homeland Security.  The highway was shut down, and the truck weigh station, that still functions as a truck weigh station, is now a Border Patrol checkpoint.  They stop every damned car pretty much to 1) determine whether or not you are U.S. citizen, whether you are carrying contraband, which presumably means human beings as well as botanicals and who knows what else.  They look inside your car, under your car, your car is sniffed by big dogs.  This time we got waved through fairly quickly, and instead of handing over our passports asked if we were U.S. citizens, and didn't bother to listen to P's response.

But what if a passenger doesn't happen to have her passport with her?  How many people never leave their homes without their passports?  I happen to, because I don't drive, and this is my non-controversial I.D. for entering university buildings and libraries.  el V and PG had theirs because we're traveling.  But what if you LIVE in that county?  Would you have your passport?  Well, probably by now you do, because that's how the U.S. rolls now.  That checkpoint announced among many other things that Border Patrol has the right to check any and every vehicle and person within 100 miles of any border.  That's a police state if I ever heard of one.

Presidio County

Presidio (derived from the latin presidium) - a fortress established in the southwestern United States by the Spanish in order to protect their missions and other holdings; "Tucson was first settled as a walled presidio" It also can mean a penal settlement or colony.

 Marfa is the county seat for Presidio County, which is located in the stretch of territory that was the disputed boundary of Texas, after the U.S. annexed all the New Mexico, California etc. territory from Mexico in the treaty that concluded the Mexican-American War (1846 1848).

 Texas insisted it all belonged to Texas. The slave power states, including all slavery all the time Texas as Mexico -- Mexico abolished slavery so Texas seceded from Mexico -- Texas a Republic, Texas as a state,  insisted it all should be slave territory. In the meantime the New Mexico Territory, which then included what is now Arizona, California, etc. were determined to be free soil. Thus the Great Debate that went on for four years, until the Great Compromise of 1850, brokered first by Henry Clay and concluded by Stephen Douglas.

Among other key issues somewhat settled by the years of the debate was the admission of the independent Republic of Texas as a state, in 1848, with its southwestern boundary defined partly along here, this stretch known during the Debate as the Trans-Pecos, which separates Texas from Arizona and New Mexico.

For this the United States paid Texas 10 million dollars, or rather, we paid off Texas's international debt piled up while a Republic, which it was unable to pay back. Texas was, of course admitted as a slave state, and voted with the slave power in all things. Thus free soil New Mexico and Arizona . further paid by their statehood being delayed until 1912, in order to keep the slave power states, who all seceded in the end anyway, placated.

Some of this history is referred to on plaques posted on the Presidio County Courthouse (built 1886).

Marfa Bank
Ultimately Marfa's continued existence is due to being Presidio's county seat. The business of the county's civil and criminal justice is done here; all the decreed administrative apparatus, agencies and so on are here, along with registration for titles for any and all property.  Very much of all of it is owned by the same people that owned the county before it was in the U.S. As this whole region is about ranching and mining, property titles have always been, as they still are, big business. Law offices are ubiquitous, just as they were around the County Courthouse in Kent County's seat, Chestertown -- a big reason that Chestertown survived as well. C'town isn't that much larger than Marfa, but it does have Washington College. Marfa's got tourism, close as it is to the historic Fort Davis and Big Bend National Park, and it gets movie business on occasion: besides the aforementioned Giant, others have had extensive location shooting here such as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. 

I am very excited to be spending some days here, in the territory that was fought over with so much oratory in the House, for so many years, the object of Henry Clay the Great Debator's last gunfight.

Cuidad Juárez - Sunday, July 13

A dear Albuquerque friend drove in to see Las Vidas Perfectas this evening at the Museo de la Revolutión en la Frontera in Juárez.  He and his girlfriend

stayed overnight in the Camino Real. So I got to drive over the bridge to Mexico with L.  -- and did not have to hang out all day while tech went on.  The LVP people took off for Juárez early in the AM.  My back couldn't have taken that kind of all day hang, even with breaks for the mercados. On the other hand, I'm not able to buy anything because getting it home -- American Airlines! and I am also getting cowboy boots this week and they sure do eat space and poundage -- and that would be frustrating. I do love exploring markets like this, whether or not I buy anything. There is always jewelry ....

Going across the border to Juárez was quick and easy.  Coming back was something else.  You can feel the vibration change in the middle of the bridge approaching the admittance gates to the U.S.  For one thing, at some point a U.S. border cop, on foot, appears, nonchalantly strolling across the lanes, for no particular reason at all. The peddlers attempting to sell mops, kitty art, bottles of water, popcorn etc., the people determined to wash your windshield, have gone poof into thin air. Traffic crawls to a halt.  It can easily take 5 more hours now to cross those -- what? 1500 feet to the gates.  We were lucky.  It took us about 35 minutes, but very stressful minutes.  Imagine the New Jersey Turnpike and the turn offs to the Holland Tunnel, but with armed military everywhere you look.  One strolls over and peers for a long time into the backseat where H and I are sitting.  We don't bother to interrupt our conversation to look back at him.

Yet it is a very distressing, particularly for H, who was born in Hidalgo Mexico, but has been a U.S. citizen for years and years, and lives in Albuquerque. One gets a much deeper sense of how truly awful all this is when traveling with U.S. citizen who is of Mexican descent.*

We have our "documents" at the ready as ordered. The guard who takes our passports asks "What were you doing in Mexico?" The implication is only creeps, criminals and other undesirables bother with Mexico. He  doesn't  attempt even the rudiments of politeness.  L is pumping George Jones on his car speakers. El V and L had been singing along.  As el V's the one at the window on the guard's side, he answers, "Attending the opera.  At the museum." The guard snickers, "Was it any good?" El V smarts back, "It was very good.  I was the star."  L groans.  The guard laughs, takes away our passports to run them through the scanners and databases. He quickly returns them.  Now we're allowed to return to the U.S. It takes three minutes to get back to the hotel and have dinner.  Except for el V, none of us have eaten since breakfast and now it's nearly 10 PM.

I did get to spend time in the Museum of the Revolution on the Border itself. Juárez had a huge role in the Mexican Revolution (the Revolution's armed conflict began in 1910 and lasted roughly through 1920).  Morever, like so many museums everywhere, part of the institution is located in the old Mexican Customs House (see: el paso del norte -- trade route!). As much a role as they play in history, I've come to collect visits to customs houses like I've been doing visits to castles.

Among the many interesting things observed about the audience in Juárez is -- it was entirely "Mexican," with the exception of the couple from Ft Worth - Dallas, who scheduled their vacation in order to attend every performance of Las Vidas (they are coming to the Marfa performances as well). However, the earnest, attentive, pretty and very young Japanese women, ubiquitous at anything like this anywhere I've been, in Europe, the U.S. and the Caribbean, particularly Cuba -- they were conspicuous by their absence today. There were three present at Saturday night's El Paso gig, but none at all at el Museo de la Revolutión.

52 women were killed here back in October, 2013, when a bomb was thrown into their place of work.

An image for Majorie Agosin’s book of poetry, “Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez.”
The buildings all around us in Juárez were so interesting, so attractive, despite many of them being so run down.  Street signs are not generally in evidence though.  All this the consequences of so many tens of thousands killed there in the drug gang wars, the exploitation of the maquilidoras and the violence there, particularly against women.

I would liked to have explored more, but L, who has spent quite a bit of time in Juárez due to his activist work, says it's really too dangerous.  If L thinks it's too dangerous, then it is.  L goes everywhere, anywhere.


*The Mexican born member of the Las Vidas Company had a nasty return as well.  He walked back with several of the other performers because it is so much quicker than driving.  You still have to show your passports and prove you are who you are.  The border patrol guard who took R's passport snickered about his hair -- it's very long, very beautiful and he had braided it into one his lovely signature braid designs.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, you creeps.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

El Paso 3 - Saturday

It wasn't predicted at 8 AM when I looked at the forecast.  Nevertheless, I am having a fine view of a spectacular thunderstorm rolling in fast over the mountains now at 3 PM MST.  Thunder cracking, and lightning, lightning whips reflected in the windows of the hotel's wings on either side of our room.

And now it's over. So fast, it's as if the storm never happened.  The pavement didn't even look wet.  As hot as the pavement is, the rain must have turned to evaporation upon impact.  The temperature was 96º, with a 'real feel' of 101º when the front rolled over us.  The southwest!

Among the events hosted by the hotel today is a bachlorette party. Evidently Mexican culture does these parties very differently than we see in the movies? Because there wasn't a cocktail in sight -- but the desserts were so luscious one gained ten pounds simply by looking at them.

The bride must have hundreds of female friends and relatives, as the dining room was entirely given over to the party and every chair was occupied.  The guests celebrating the bride were of all ages, from very elderly women to tiny girls in the cutest clothes and hairstyles, who behaved even more cutely (can one use that usage?

 Those little girls -- there were some who were maybe three years older than the littlest ones, and like -- I assume cousins everywhere, the older girls are adored by the younger ones, who follow them everywhere, and hug them every chance they get.  The older girls are careful and tender with the littler ones. Latin culture does inculcate that sort of attitude of children to each other.

Turned on the tv for the first time, to see what is up in that.  It maybe because this is a hotel, but the screen resolution was poor, particularly as used to high def and so on as I am from watching solely online. Commercial breaks as ubiquitous as ever.  But imagine the shock when thinking I'm settling in on a PBS overview of the Presidents of the U.S., from Washington to Lincoln.  Narrated by Newt Gingrich, co-written with his wife Calista, Rediscovering Religion in America (2007) proved how fundamentally religious each of the presidents was, and how they believed religion was more important than government to government. Religion here means protestant christianity only, and specifically evangelical protestant christianity.  The program was interrupted with endless, lengthy commercial breaks to sell many kinds of insurance from many insurers to senior citizens.  This is not a PBS as I have ever seen it.  This must be PBS in Texas ....

Gotta say: the women of El Paso are poised and stylish, with that extra elegance and bounce that is part of a latina woman's culture, from whichever hispanic background she hails.  A woman seated at my table at the theater tonight, now retired, used to own her own clothing design business.  She told me that fashion was really big business in El Paso, meaning designers as well as fabricators and manufacturers, though in the last ten years it went pfffffftttt, which is why she's now retired.  But the influence of it once being a big part of the city's economy and cultural life is still evident whenever you see a young or youngish woman, or a little girl.

However, there is still El Paso Fashion Week. I've met many women who worked in fashion in NYC, or whose daughters are now working in fashion in NYC, or who are going to NYC this fall, to study fashion or design at Pratt, FIT, NYU, and so on.

Most of the oxygen today was taken up by preparations for tonight's performance. Which paid off.  It was revelatory.  Las Vidas Perfectas continues to evolve, and shall for as long as it is performed.  The amount of talent assembled on that stage was breathtaking.  The amount of work, perseverance, faith and skill -- as well as the creative and artistic talent -- by so many individuals, to make this so successful can't be measured.

Super Moon, El Paso, Saturday, July 12, 2014
The first performance was a spectacular one, though the performers are all complaining about what was poor, what went wrong, how they effed up, etc. Artists are never satisfied with themselves.  It was spectacularly received too, and I know so, because I heard what audience members said.  For example: a young man, dressed in universal young hipster style, after the first section's applause died down, sighed to his companions, "O, I feel I've gone to New York.  It must be like this all the time there!"  (Ha!  It sure as heck is not, at least not anymore. But I remember what it is was like when I lived in Albuquerque, and artists from Europe or the coasts came in.)

In other words, it was an event worthy of an El Paso super moon!

Tomorrow night, Sunday, with the performance in Mexico, in the Museo de la Revolutión, will surely be even more so, as Ciudad Juárez is entirely Spanish-speaking.  As well, in the latino world, the arts and intellectual pursuits are far more respected than in the U.S.  Artists and intellectuals are part of the political discourse -- the entire spectrum is far more lively than anything you find in the U.S.  Print magazines remain important and vital in the nations south of us, whereas here, it's all gone online, whatever is left, and it's all about entertainment. If something takes longer than 164 characters to look at, make fun of it and dismiss it.  Unless it's filled with non-stop mindless violent action.  Then we can stare at it for days at a time, and so we do, getting to ever higher levels of The Game, whatever The Game may be.

However, in so many parts of some of these countries, violence is a way of life and politics that artists, intellectuals and the people themselves are desperate to change, particularly since so many of them are specific targets of the violence.  It's not a Game.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

El Paso 2 - Friday

Needing a break from the room, and el V's constant Las Vidas' practice, we went walking in what had been El Paso's city center, back when el V was a tad and his father was teaching biology at what then was Texas Western College, now, folded into the UT system, is the UTEP -- University of Texas at El Paso.  El V, back then, knew and loved this downtown - central business district of El Paso, filled with record stores and movie theaters as it was,

This is the El Paso Main Public Library when el V was a little kid.

The El Paso History Museum is in the foreground; the Main Public Library is in the background.

The museum's ground installations are a fringe benefit for the library.
and the public library.

Like so many cities, El Paso destroyed its downtown by tearing down much of the historic, attractive part, driving away the thriving smaller businesses, in order to build a sterile convention center, sports stadium, etc. The city also employed the Great Terminator upon the very neighborhoods and communites, that give a city a soul, the soul that make cities attractive and liveable:  El Paso drove a damned interstate through the rooted neighborhoods and mercantile centers, killing them dead under concrete, killing the soul.

So, with its downtown  deader 'n a doornail, like so many other cities, El Paso's revitalization wish fullfillment is to upscale the attraction of what remains in the old city downtown center, renting the spaces out to young(ish) entrepreneurs in the, usually vain, expectation these expensive camera cuisine restaurants, and the high fat food plus expensive imported beer sports bars will attract local business and tourism. Throw in the inevitable crafts mall, art galleries, a farmer's market once a week for part of the year, and First Friday Nights special offers, etc. How many small cities and towns have we seen doing this since the 1980's?

The real kicker is how the wealthy corps and politicians count on artists to fix the urban blight that they created themselves, and, then, if by chance the plan actually works -- as in NYC -- grab the real estate back and dump the creatives into the street -- but not these streets. The creatives fixed 'em so they're no longer welcome. Then begins the sterilization process all over again as the prices rise higher and higher and higher, with nothing inhabiting the real estate again except that from which anybody looking for any real fun and surprise will run from at 100 MPH.

There is construction everywhere, just like in every city that anyone wants to live in everywhere in the world, covering ever more open space under asphalt and cement, pretending to be public gardens and recreational territory.

Hotels abound throughout this area, as there are regional headquarters for every national / international bank, mortgage company, real estate moghul, and every kind financial and insurance corporation here -- not to mention those of such light "industry" as textiles and light furnishing finishing, that employ international cheap labor and ship internationally. The busy execs flying in and out, making deals, arming drug dealers, smashing progressive governments and labor movements need places to stay.

But where do they eat?  Probably in the strip clubs, which are further away? they aren't in these restaurants.

Then there is the tourism.  Where do they eat? Well, tourist college kids, think going to Juárez will give them better deals on getting so drunk they must crawl and more exotic and cheaper sex workers.  So there isn't enough enough clientele to make these places profitable 7 nights a week.  Partly, too, it's because they don't really want Spanish speaking clientele.

(It's más pleasant that our hotel's staff is bi-lingual, and so are the guests.  The staff were puzzled by el V and EVF's Spanish though -- they had to tell them it was Cuban.  Then there's E's Spanish-Spanish, pure Castillian -- she's from Madrid.)

What is great here though is the El Paso Historical Museum -- there is a lot of history -- the El Paso Art Museum -- and the El Paso Public Library.  The library is still where it was when el V was a little kid, though the building is not the same. It's open 7 days a week!  You see all kinds of people in it.  It reminds me of Greenville, Mississippi's public library. What else does this library do beyond all the things public libraries are providing these days, including wi-fi connection, computers and a/c?  It is showing the World Cup games for all those who can't watch at home, can't afford to be or don't want to be in a sports bar.  Is that public service or what?

The Kress Building has survived, but everything around it has been torn down, so it sits within a construction site; the streets around it are closed.  This historic post card doesn't show what a glorious jewel of a building it is.

It's nearly impossible to photograph the Kress Building now.
There are some buildings that didn't get torn down during their urban renewal, and I love those. So many Spanish-Moorish styled buildings, that are beautiful.  So we were out photographing madly early this AM while the sun was in the right place to have shadows and not glare.

It's such a pleasure to have all these recognizable bits come together that have not changed about being in the southwest: the clatter of cicadas, big sky, the dry heat, hearing "Mexican" Spanish, local tribes people, the Moorish-Spanish influenced design of buildings, fountains, patios, plazas and courtyards, the food (which though el V can't eat it, isn't stopping me from eating Mexican dishes every chance I get -- the hotel has some of the best red and green chili sauces for breakfast ever) -- and, this is SO TEXAN! Shiner Bock, my beer of choice for this trip.

Or so it felt as the sun rolled down, while the super moon rolled up,  turned yellow, big as a super-large cotton ball, over the mountains, then turned red in the smog for awhile.

El V had hired a car to drive us along the scenic route, as well as look for spots from his childhood days here. The driver was a self-educated tour guide, from India, who has lived in El Paso for 30 years. He was filled with information about everything to do with El Paso and Juárez, and enjoyed sharing.  He seized the opportunity to fact-check various things from the 1960's downtown and campus against el V's memories of the time.

These days though, West Texas is about to go into recycling toilet water, so depleted is the water table from irrigation, and how arid it is, now that the grasslands have been taken out for over a century.  Recycled toilet water won't preserve this profligate water way of life in a region that has always been arid.

Chihuahua grasslands now.

How all the Chihuahua grasslands used to be, only a century plus about twenty years ago.

It's painful to have those instinctive reactions to flying over the Franklin's flatlands, seeing it as ancient, primeval desert monster -- while the facts are that a century ago -- or perhaps a decade or so before that -- those flatlands, mesas and plateaus were grass tall as your knees and the clutching spread of claws on the twisted limbs sand channels were streams and rivers of flowing water. Cattle and cotton and oil .... (In the Sahara it was goats, among other things.)  How quickly we destroy the environment, yet insist we have no responsibility for that or any obligation to it.

This is what is keeping us from ever returning to the southwest -- water. The northeast we are water rich. Doubtless other regions will be going to war with us about this most precious resource of all, in the fairly close future.  Hey -- I've lived to see the return of the wars of religion -- it's not that unlikely I shall see water wars too. If I live, that is.

Dune feels more prescient all the time.