USA Today's Top 6 World Travel Destinations of the Year.
In no particular order:
5. The Netherlands.
Having lived in New Mexico for the last 6 years, I can only say, what the fuck are you talking about? I mean, what???????
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
So I promised a discussion of my trip to Houston. My illness has got in the way. I was going to do this in a series of posts but that clearly is not going to happen. So I will just throw them all together here in a series of short notes. I am also going to include something about a trip to El Paso I took in October.
I think all of this goes under the general heading, "Texas, One Weird Fucking Place." Actually, before we get to Texas, I need to give all of my readers some very important advice. Never eat in Carlsbad, New Mexico. I have had 2 meals there in my life. I have regretted both very much. The first was in the town's nice restaurant. I ordered the pasta with the marinara sauce, as opposed to the other option, the meat sauce. As a vegetarian, the choice was obvious. Except that in Carlsbad, the marinara sauce still has meat in it. On this trip, I stayed the night in lovely Artesia, New Mexico. That night I watched Iron Chef America where I saw a battle over some kind of weird Australian fish. Maybe my hopes were too high. But I stopped in some Carlsbad greasy spoon for breakfast. I ordered the cheese omelet. What came was some eggs topped in about a pound of greasey cheesefood. The oil from the cheese coming apart was just laying on top. I ate it, but it was hard going. That I got a kidney stone 2 days later is not surprising. I knew my body would get its revenge against me for that meal.
Also in New Mexico, this time just outside of Loving, in the southeastern corner of the state, just before the Texas line, I saw one of the West's more interesing idiosyncracies--a cowboy church. I can't remember the title but it had a picture of a bucking bronco buster on it. I have heard about these but have never seen one. I guess fundamentalist Christianity is real big among the cowboy population of the world. I believe it too. I would need to believe in some kind of better afterlife if I had that horrible job.
From there I headed down toward the Mexican border. I hit Del Rio, Texas, just over the border from Ciudad Acuna, about 3 pm. I was hungry. I didn't eat lunch because I thought I could find some kind of super-tasty Mexican food right over the border in Del Rio. In El Paso, there is a long strip just before you cross the bridge. I was hoping for something like that. Couldn't find anything. Obviously, it's there but I didn't find it. And I was super hungry by 3. So instead I just hopped into the Thai restaurant across the street for some pad thai. God I love the postmodern world.
I headed east from Del Rio toward San Antonio. I was lucky enough to pass through Uvalde. Now you are asking, what is in Uvalde, Texas? Why, it is the hometown of one John Nance Garner, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first vice-president. When I saw the sign for his grave, I dangerously pulled across 2 lanes of traffic to screech into the cemetary. Garner evidentally regretted his acceptance of the VP slot. Roosevelt was notorious for ignoring his vice-presidents. Harry Truman didn't even know of the existence of the atomic bomb when he took over in April 1945. Garner commented that the office was "not worth a bucket of warm piss." I was really hoping this would be on his gravestone. Alas, I was devastated not to find it there.
From Uvalde, I passed through Seguin. What is in Seguin? Texas Lutheran University. Alma mater of Verne Lundquist. Texas is not known for its self-loathing. When you think of Texas, images of people lacking confidence in the world, hating life, and showing few emotions is not really what most of us think of. But every place must have a center of self-hatred, and for Texas, it is clearly the campus of TLU in Seguin.
Finally, I reached San Antonio. I decide to stop by the Alamo. Never been there. Don't really care. But I figured I should see. As soon as I saw it, I was proud. What a great sight. A landmark where the Mexican army slaughtered a bunch of redneck Texas slaveowners revolting against laws forbidding slavery in Mexico. Wish they would have killed every last white Texan. Damn, I'm proud of you Mexico.
I was even prouder when a group of Mexican-Americans decided to get a ton of pictures taken of themselves right in front of the Alamo flashing their gang signs. This was possibly the best travel moment of my life. A giant "Fuck You Whitey Texan" to all of you crackers. Talk about claiming the meaning of a historical site for yourself. Awesome. And there were some irritated whites, let me tell you.
Then I turn around and see a school bus from a town outside of San Antonio. That town--Hereford. The mascot. The Whitefaces. Yes, that's right. They are the Hereford Whitefaces. Now I know that Hereford cattle have white faces. But somehow, and call me crazy, I'm thinking that the Whitefaces has a meaning not related to cows. I know it's the South and all, and it's impossible to imagine such double meanings on the issue of race, but could it be that Hereford was claiming whiteness for the town? Nah....I must have spent too much time in the academy.
God, I love Texas.
I was hoping to make it to Jasper, where those two rednecks lynched that black guy 10 or so years ago by dragging him behind a truck. Unfortunately, the kidney stones intervened. Oh well.
All of this made me remember my trip to El Paso in October. I had a little time to kill so I drove through the Lower Valley, which is a traditional Hispanic neighborhood of El Paso. I come to a stoplight. It is named Avenida Rafael Septien. Rafael Septien was the kicker for the Cowboys in the 1980s. Only in Texas would a street be named for a kicker. I wonder if that is the only street in the nation named for a kicker. Great stuff.
I'm not sure if Texas is the best or worst place in the country for me to live. There is nowhere else that I would laugh at people as much. On the other hand, it might permanently poison me. What a place!
Monday, May 22, 2006
Tonight, I am seeing Albuquerque play the Tucson Sidewinders. Isotopes Stadium is the most hitter-friendly park in organized baseball. The wind right now is blowing at about 40 mph. This could be interesting.
Over/under on triples for tonight: 3 (it would be 2 without the wind).
Sunday, May 21, 2006
I love silent movies for many reasons. Not least among them is that they are a window on their time in a way that talkies never quite managed to be. Silent movies just laid society bare, whether it is Fritz Lang savaging the loose morals of Weimar Germany in "Dr. Mabuse the Gambler," Lon Chaney playing a Chinaman, or D.W. Griffith's Reconstruction revision.
Buster Keaton's films are a look into early 20th century America as much as any other silent movie figure. For instance, take "The General." The book it was based upon had the hero being a Union soldier. Keaton figured that the hero would be more sympathetic if he was a Confederate and so he changed it. A little-known fact but interesting.
More directly, many of his films reflect the challenges that Americans faced during the early 20th century. This was a time of intense change in the United States. In 1880, the United States was most Anglo-Saxon (at least among its European immigrants). It was mostly rural. Large swaths of the West remained virtually unsettled by whites. The doctrine of separate spheres held more or less and middle-class women generally worked out of the home if they worked at all. Although the Civil War had begun transforming the American economy, it was still a nation of farms and small towns. By 1920, all of this had changed. Millions of immigrants had come from eastern and southern Europe, challenging both what it meant to be white as well as what an American was. The Industrial Revolution had completed its sweeping changes of the American economy and American society. Women increasingly worked outside of the home and even lived alone. In 1920, over 50% of Americans lived in cities for the first time. The automobile had changed spatial patterns in the United States, gave individuals more freedom, and brought the world closer together. The West was fully settled by whites and this supposed traditional outlet for American problems had gone. Technological innovations were coming at a rapid pace--refrigeration, airplanes, radio, washing machines, etc., etc.
Many of Keaton's films deal directly with the challenges the individual faced in this crazy new nation. I just finished one of fine DVDs Kino has put out of Keaton's work. The feature of this DVD was "Go West," while "The Paleface" and "The Scarecrow" were shorts that Kino also included. To a greater or lesser extent, all 3 of these films deal with this issue of modernism.
The most striking of the three is "Go West." Here Keaton is a poor vagabond who ends up working a cattle ranch in Arizona, despite his lack of any cowboy skills. He also makes friends with a cow, which pretty much provides the plot. You might say this sounds pretty lame. But it's not. Keaton starts out in Indiana. He has to sell everything he owns. He thinks he should head to the city for a fresh start. When he gets to the city, he is run over by the sidewalk crowd. He struggles through the hordes of people going the other way, falls, and is trampled upon. He scrambles into the street where he is hit by a car. How many people got this joke in 1925? Nearly everyone I would guess. With an audience that no doubt contained many urban migrants, this joke would have hit home.
Keaton quickly realizes the city is not for him and he hops a train heading west. He falls off that train while inside a barrel in front of an Arizona cattle ranch. Here is the life Keaton is looking for. He's a loner and he can be lonely here, except for his pet cow which he spends the rest of the movie trying to save from slaughter. Incidentally, you can really see from the film how bad cattle farming destroyed the vegetation in the Arizona desert, even by the 1920s. Eventually, the cattle are to go to Los Angeles for processing (and when was the last time LA was a beef center?). Keaton hops the train in a last ditch effort to save his cow. But a rival farmer is trying to raise prices for all the local cattle ranchers and he refuses to allow Keaton's boss to sell the cows. There is a shootout and the engineer is forced off the train. Keaton takes over and when he gets to LA he lets all the cows out. This is a big mistake. The cattle start roaming the streets of LA, entering boutique shops and scaring all the urban dwellers. Here is another clash between the rural and urban. Of course, the cows are there to provide beef to the local population but that population has no desire to see that beef, particularly within their barber shops and clothing stores. Buster ends up saving the day by dressing in a devil outfit to attract the cows with the red and running away from them while leading them to the stockyards. This movie took place in the present, but it is so old that it seems like it was talking about a day long ago. But the rancher has a car, even if his ranchhands use the old ways and ride on horses. Buster and his cow get a nice ride back to the ranch in the car.
The first short, The Scarecrow, is less about modernism than the other two, but even in its 20 minute running time, it says quite a bit. The first gag is these 2 bachelors living together who have managed to turn their apartment into a sort of marvel of gadgets. All the appliances turn into other appliances (the phonograph is a stove for instance). All of your kitchen accoutrements hang from the ceiling for easy access. The point of this film is the 2 guys going after the same woman. Buster wins her. What's interesting is the use of transportation technology. Horses are still around but so are cars. Buster and his girl get married by basically running over a preacher standing in the middle of the road. He gets picked up in their open motorized vehicle. Buster is driving, his girl is in the sidecar, and the preacher is marrying them in between. Stealing this vehicle gives them an advantage over the transportation options of the girl's father and her other beau, who have horses as well as other motorized vehicles.
More interesting from our standpoint is The Paleface. Here Buster plays a butterfly chaser who helps protect a tribe of Indians from having their land stolen by the oil industry. Again we have a western where modernism is intruding upon life. The Indians are minding their own business but are under attack from oil barons. The Indians (played to all the stereotypes you would expect, though they are sympathetic at the same time) decide to kill the first white man they see, which is butterfly-chasing Buster. He gets away long enough to hide in a settler cabin and create a fire-proof suit out of asbestos he finds there! The Indians then burn him at the stake but he lives because of his asbestos suit. Nothing in the movie on how long it took him to get cancer from the suit. Anyway, he is then accepted into the tribe and he helps them get back at the oil men and of course they win the day and Buster gets to hook up with his favorite squaw.
Of course, Chaplin (among others) touched upon many of these same themes in his early work. But Keaton's films seem to exist in that borderland between the modern and pre-modern America that millions were crossing over in the early twentieth century. These films are worth watching for many reasons, the first of which is their sheer quality. But they also have great value as a window into history and I strongly recommend them for that.
So John McCain got booed giving a commencement address at The New School. So sad. I would feel slightly more bad for him had he not given the address at Liberty University last week. Quit pandering John. I know you are a conservative and on one level, that's fine. But don't think you can talk to Jerry Falwell's students and then have any legitmacy talking to one of America's most traditionally liberal student populations. Decide where you stand and stick to it. But quit faking your independent credentials. You've had plenty of chances to do something right. You could have stood up to W. Hell, you could even have not campaigned for him in 2004. But you did. And you have to live with the consequences.
No doubt next year you will receive a far better reception speaking at Oral Roberts and BYU. Stay there where you belong.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Rob links to a Crooked Timber post on music. This is a good post. He gives props to Tom Russell, which gets a lot of respect from me. Mary Gauthier too. But he doesn't like the Drive-By Truckers. He says, "The Drive-By Truckers who struck me as over-loud Skynyrd wannabees."
I don't think he gets the point of the Drive-By Truckers. And it's not just him. Lots of people who don't like DBT say the same thing. I think a lot of this stems from a ingrained aversion to Southern Rock. Many people see Skynard and they think of rednecks from Alabama and the Confederate flag in the background. This was certainly part of Skynard. But they miss that a) there was a lot more going on there culturally than they know and b) the music is good. Lynard Skynard wrote smart songs, were excellent guitar players, and just generally were one of the best bands of the 1970s. The Drive-By Truckers definitely follow in the tradition, as they would be happy to tell you and as anyone who has heard "Southern Rock Opera" knows. That's a good thing. They are building on a fine tradition of American music. Like Skynard, DBT are superb songwriters, great musicians, and put on a wonderful show.
I guess what gets me is that I think people are putting politics and culture over the music. I think that people who don't like that band don't like them for the same reason they don't like Skynard--they don't like the South. And that is not a good reason to like or dislike music. If a person likes Skynard because of the Confederate flag, it's just as bad.
The other thing I want to say about Southern rock comes out of the comments from Lawyers Guns Money, where my earlier post on seeing DBT live is quoted extensively. Some of the commentators took exception to my saying that DBT had said the first interesting thing in the genre of Southern Rock since at least the first Black Crowes album. Some took exception because I tolerate the Black Crowes. Whatever. But others mentioned bands like Gov't Mule and Widespread Panic. I think that Southern Rock has split onto 2 paths. The more commonly tread path today is like Gov't Mule and Widespread--going off into Jam Band territory. I do have a strong dislike of jam bands. I don't think Gov't Mule and Widespread are really saying anything interesting in Southern Rock through their music. In fact, I don't think they are really saying anything at all. Someone who likes jam bands will no doubt disagree with me, but I think bands like those just use words as an excuse to play long, pointless solos. I like my music in the form of songs. So shoot me.
Some of you may remember my death list post back in January. I am proud to say that I struck gold today for the second time this year with the death of Peter Viereck, one of the founders of the conservative movement in the 1950s. Although Viereck later moved away from the New Right, his influence was pretty big. While for a lot of reasons I have no love lost for the first person to go this year, Coretta Scott King, I can say that it feels better when the person who dies is someone you don't like.
May has sucked.
I already blogged about the kidney stone. Well, I was admitted to the hospital last Thursday and got out late Friday morning. That was the worst of it. But even since then, I've hard sharp pains in my kidneys. I am pissing blood like you wouldn't believe. Supposedly this is normal. I have taken exactly 100 Motrin since Saturday morning. No doubt my liver thanks me. I had a lovely stint (the sexiest word in the English language) from Thursday through Tuesday. I was glad to get that out--for those of you who haven't had such a thing, imagine a rubber tube being pulled through your penis. For women I don't know what the equal experience would be. So that was fun. Unfortunately, it started my kidney pains, which had subsided by Tuesday, all over again. 2-3 times a day, I go through 30-45 minutes of pretty intense pain. I am OK the rest of the time. This is good. But a pain-free day would be nice.
Add that to the fact that it is hot as hell in New Mexico in May, the thing with the salvage title used car, and the end of the semester, and you can only imagine how much I have loved this month.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Much more on Texas later. It's a crazy place. I have the greatest Alamo story ever.
But for right now, let me say that getting kidney stones sucks. On the other hand, the ER at the hospital I went was pretty good.
I would describe kidney stones as having your intestines eaten by fire ants. I never knew what pain was before today.
I should also say that our country has come up with some amazing narcotics. God bless America!
Thursday, May 04, 2006
I have to make a trip to Houston this weekend so blogging will be somewhere between limited and nonexistent.
Of course where would anyone rather spend a weekend than beautiful, mild, lovely Houston, Texas.
On the other hand, they have a Venezuelan restaurant I want to try. I have no idea what that is but I am curious.
My ability to deal with the practical side of the world is limited. I can deal quite well with some parts of the world. I am very good at eating. And wasting time. Academia, generally, is right up my alley. But when I have to deal with practical things, nothing good ever happens.
Unfortunately, I have been dealing with all kinds of practicality lately. And it sucks. I was in the market to get a used car. I wanted a car just like my old car. I found just such a car. In good shape (seemingly), clean, low miles, nice color, good mileage. Everything I want. Good price too. Thought I was getting a hell of a deal.
On Tuesday, I buy the car. We sign off on the title, etc. Later in the day, I'm dealing with registering it, etc. I look closely at the title and what do I see but that it is a fucking salvage title. Of course this bastard I bought it from didn't mention it. Given that it's a single person and not a dealer, I probably have no recourse. I took the car immediately to the dealer to have them check it out. While it needs a little work, that work seems to be mostly related to general wear and tear. It may be that the car lasts me for several years, but I definitely paid more than the car was worth.
I like to think that most people in the world are good. Despite what I think is an extremely undeserved reputation as a curmudgeonly misanthrope, I really like people and want the world to be happy and nice. Then I get ripped off.
Conservatives always talk about morality. But morality is not about who you fuck or what language you use in casual conversation. Morality is about the way you treat other human beings each and every day.
I should have expected it though. Cars are a piece of complicated technology. And we all know how much I love technology.
I should begin this post with a nearly irrefutable statement:
The Drive-by Truckers are the best rock and roll band in America today.
Now that we have that out of the way, to the show proper. Curt Kirkwood from The Meat Puppets opened the show. It was pretty cool. He played some old Meat Puppets songs and I assume some new stuff as well, but it was in that same crazy ass style as the Meat Puppets. The songs were long, didn't make any real sense at all, were played at about 15 different tempos throughout the song, and were a great way to start the night. I don't know that I would have wanted to hear 2 hours of this, but for 40 minutes or so, it really hit the spot. Definitely a good opening act for a show like this.
The problem was that the audience kept fucking talking so much that you could barely hear what he was singing. I'm tempted to attribute this problem to Albuquerque music audiences (more on Albuquerque and music later) but I don't think that was the problem. I've seen this before. When I saw Jon Dee Graham open for Alejandro Escovedo in Seattle last year, he had to get mad at the people near the bar for them to shut up. I guess it must be really hard to be an opening act playing acoustic for a really great closing act that lots of people have come to see, and who are playing electric and can just drown everyone out.
Son Volt was the second act. They were absolutely awful. Now, I'm not a big fan anyway. They've never done much for me. But this was a dreadful show. I was so bored it's hard to express in words. What's really amazing is that the show was both loud and boring. How is this possible? I don't really know but I guess it is. The solos went nowhere. Jay Farrar has the charisma of a rock. No one seemed to be having any fun. The songs all sounded the same. They also seemed to have no heart or spirit in them. The last 4 songs or so Son Volt played were much better--and not surprisingly they were the older songs. The difference in the sheer quality of the older and newer songs was remarkable. If this is typical, Son Volt should never play another show. Jay Farrar seemingly has nothing more to say. Son Volt has to be one of the most overrated bands of the last 10 years.
On the other hand, the Drive-by Truckers kicked much ass. I was fully rocked. This is just such a great band. The songs are spectacular. They have 3 songwriters much superior to Jay Farrar. They had fun. They sang like they gave a fuck. Their guitar solos had meaning. And think about that. Every band uses guitar. But how many bands actually do something with it? How many bands make it worth a damn? How many bands today come up with a riff that you remember? And Drive-by Truckers do this with every song they write.
One of the great things about Drive-by Truckers is how they are rehabilitating one of the most underrated forms of American rock and roll--Southern Rock. They are firmly within that tradition but are taking it new places. Can you ask more of a band than that? And when was the last time a band really made a statement in that genre? The Black Crowes in 1991 or so maybe? Early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers albums?
They played a lot of new songs that I didn't know. I wish I had a chance to listen to the new album a few times before I went. One thing that is key for a show like this is to hear the songs ahead of time. The lyrics are so great that they are key to the listening experience. The new songs seemed to be really good, especially "Gravity's Gone," but I couldn't generally follow along too well. Oh well. They played great versions of "Goddamn Lonely Love," "Carl Perkins' Cadillac," "Marry Me," "Sinkhole," and many of their other excellent tunes. Plus they ended with Patterson Hood singing "Let There Be Rock," which is a great closing song. If I had to make any complaint, and this is extremely minor, it was a little hard to hear Patterson Hood's vocals. I don't know if this was equipment related or perhaps it is because his voice is a little thinner than Jason Isbell or Mike Cooley's. But whatever. A really top-notch show. Probably the best show I've seen in the last 9 months or so.
The one issue I want to bring up here is the terrible reputation Albuquerque has for concerts. This show was advertised big time. But the place was still probably only 60% full. People just don't come out to shows here. This is nationally known. Many artists just go to Santa Fe (where venues charge $40 or more) or they skip New Mexico altogether. For a town this big, and for the increasingly hip reputation of the town in general, the music scene is really bad. There are lots of people trying to change this. But ultimately, people have to put up the money and come out to see some live music.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
In a disaster for the University of New Mexico, the basement of Zimmerman Library caught on fire Sunday night, destroying up to 90% of the periodicals. This may make us the only research institution in the United States with no periodical collection. Not good. Hopefully, the vast microfilm collections, particularly useful for Latin American scholars, are OK. We don't know the answer to that yet.
What's pathetic though is the response. The less than stellar student newspaper, The Daily Lobo, has basically said that the real tragedy of the situation is that students have lost a good place to study. One student by the name of Bradley Knockel, who I hope to never have in a class, remarked,
"You can study anywhere. If you need a book, you've got databases online. I kind of think libraries are outdated."
My friend and occasional commentator Colin whipped off this letter to the student newspaper in which he refers to this idea as "unfortunate and ignorant."
I should say so.
UPDATE: Recent reports are saying that far less of the collection was destroyed than first thought. Perhaps 10%. Still very bad though. Of course the library is closed for the foreseeable future. None of this makes Bradley Knockel less of a numbskull.
Bill Richardson evidentally agrees with George W. Bush that the National Anthem should be sung only in English.
Richardson, the half-Hispanic governor of New Mexico, has one thing very much in common with another 2008 presidential hopeful, Bill Frist. They are both incredible panderers. Like Frist, Richardson has zero principles.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
From Atrios, via Left in the West, comes this comedic tidbit that in 1919 the US Bureau of Education commissioned a Spanish-language version of the "Star-Spangled Banner." But of course that was under the administration of that commie Woodrow Wilson. No doubt the Harding victory in 1920 was a direct result of out-of-touch Washington liberals betraying our American ideals....
More on this via the wonderful David Neiwert, including some of the multiple languages the song has been translated into.
Ooooh...how scary! Harry Reid is threatening to filibuster judicial nominees over the Jack Abramoff case.
I'm mean, really. You're not going to filibuster Samuel Fucking Alito, a man who has the potential to inflict massive damage upon this country but you are going filibuster to publicize a scandal. I mean, I'm all for publicizing this scandal but I'm also for having some damn priorities. Should Democrats be filibustering Bush's judicial nominees? Hell, yes. Should it be for a reason that is actually principled, like preserving the Constitution? It would be nice.
While this article discusses the (surprising) fact that both the Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress are supporting renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, what is really amazing is that an (unnamed) group of Republican senators are proposing to do away with "obsolete" parts of the act like interpreters at voting booths and ballots in languages other than English.
So...when did "obsolete" begin to mean "not in our political interests?"
The three GOP senators who seem to be supporting this are among the true leaders of our nation--John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, and the Cicero of Oklahoma himself, Tom Coburn. And over 50 House Republicans wrote that allowing such provisions to continue would "encourage the linguistic division of our nation and undermine the 'melting pot' ideal."
Of course the melting pot is an inherently racist term because it assumes that all foreign cultures will be subsumed within the English, Anglo-Saxon dominant culture, except with tastier food options at our strip malls.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Lou Dobbs strikes again, this time in an insipid cnn.com article.
Yes, according to Lou, "radicals" have taken over the pro-immigration movement. Why? Because there are national organizations supporting the boycott and these groups want to destroy the American economy. That's right. They want to destroy the American economy by not working. Oddly, according to Dobbs, they also want to destroy the American economy by working. It's those damned "leftists," according to Dobbs, who are instigating this.
So...Lou, what exactly are these people supposed to do? If they work, they are the enemies of America. If they don't work, they are the enemies of America. Sounds like a good, well-thought out racist argument to me.