Texas To The World Dispatch #2

“I felt a little guilty about jangling the poor bugger’s brains with that evil fantasy. But what the hell? Anybody who wanders around the world saying, ‘Hell yes, I’m from Texas,’ deserves whatever happens to him.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time
Bound to Cross the Line
From the craggy peaks of the Franklin Mountains to the sugary sands of Boca Chica Beach where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico, (and Elon Musk will soon be sending rockets skyward), you will have hard time finding a soul that thinks a wall along the Texas-Mexico border is a reasonable concept. Good fences don’t, in fact, make good neighbors. The idea from the new president has been compounded into an even grander absurdity by the notion of adding a twenty percent import tax to Mexican produce and manufactured goods.
Resistance to the wall has unified all kinds of political persuasions in Texas. In El Paso, Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke may very well have found an issue to use as a platform to run for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz. O’Rourke is aligned with Republican Congressman Will Hurd, a former CIA agent in the Mideast, whose district has the most miles of border with Mexico. Hurd slammed the idea, too.
We Shall Overcomb
Trump’s understanding of the border and Mexico can hardly be considered nuanced. As far as anyone knows, he has been there once (to Laredo) and spent most of the time on his plane waiting for the wind to stop blowing or someone to find him a baseball cap to prevent his hair from creating an airfoil (hairfoil?) that might take him skyward and dump him on the ground in cartel country.
Like all things Trump, the timing on his wall rhetoric is impeccably bad. Mexico has recently finalized the construction of its Inter-Oceanic Highway from Mazatlan to Reynosa and Matamoros on the Texas border, and bridge traffic into the U.S. is booming along the Rio Grande. Imports from Australasia to the west coast of Mexico now move overland more directly to Texas and up to Midwestern markets and cities on the East Coast, avoiding the more costly and circuitous routes through California and Arizona.
The Mexican Federal Highway 40 D has long been dangerous and filled with mountain curves that led to the nickname, “The Devil’s Backbone.” Mexico reduced the danger of travel and of drug cartel encounters with an engineering feat that is historic, the construction of a $2.2 billion-dollar bridge. Maybe Americans should pay for that project since they buy food, autos, electronics, and narcotics that cross the great span.
If you’ve not spent any time along the border but would like a better understanding of the region and the absurdity of a wall, I recommend the work of my friend and former colleague Ed Lavandera of CNN.
Death and Texas
Hanging out in the pastures at Mount Carmel for 52 days during the federal standoff with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, I had a lot of time to talk to people, including fellow reporters. Two of the funniest lines I ever heard were during that horror show. Ken Herman, the Austin American Statesman’s columnist, who was working at the capitol, was the only reporter available to be dispatched. I ran into him a few hours later and he bragged about his early accomplishments on site.
“I’ve already set two Jewish world records,” he said.
“Really? And they are?”
“Most number of times peeing outdoors and total volume.”.
The other memorable quote came from a British tabloid reporter. He had been to Texas more than any other location since being assigned to the U.S. He told me they had a saying on Fleet Street in London, which I’ve found to be consistently accurate.
“The only two things you can count on for certain in journalism are death and Texas.”
Which, unfortunately, takes us back to voter fraud and Donald Trump. Texas has always been a fertile spot for grifters as much as dreamers, and Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud have found a proselytizer in a man who has been stopped from doing business with this state. Gregg Phillips says he has invented an app that can prove three million illegal votes were cast in the presidential election. He has offered no proof of his claims, however. Texans for Public Justice describe Phillips as a “revolving door kind of hustler.” He also owes about $100,000 in back taxes, according to the Guardian of London.
I expect him to get a cabinet appointment.
One interesting bit of data that Phillips’ app did not pick up was that its inventor (Phillips) was registered to vote in three different states, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. This, of course, has been one of Trump’s main complaints. He sees people racing from state to state to cast multiple votes to influence election results, millions of people chartering jets and running around voting, repeatedly.
Phillips reportedly had previously put together a hustle in Mississippi that was about more than voting, which prompted a state report by the legislature to say, “Mr. Phillips’s actions create the appearance of impropriety, facilitating an erosion of the public trust… [that] could constitute a violation of state ethics laws.” Also, had to do with an app.
When Mississippi calls you out for being immoral, well, fill in your own analogy.
Post Mortem Polls
When LBJ finally stopped worrying about investigations into his stolen primary election in 1948, Landslide Lyndon, (who won with 187 rigged votes), used to tell a story about a boy named Manuel who was sitting on the curb and crying because his father had come to town and not visited him.
“But Manuel,” Johnson would ask, impersonating the boy’s friend. “Your father has been dead for ten years.”
“Si,” Manuel sobbed. “But he came to town last Saturday to vote for Lyndon Johnson, and he did not come to see me.”
“Doesn’t Texas sometimes seem to resemble a country like Saudi Arabia, with its great heat, its oil wealth, its brimming houses of worship, and its weekly executions?”

Martin Amis, “The Palace at the End”

There Will Be Blood
Der Gropenfuhrer Trump’s disdain for the rights of women (and anyone not wealthy, in general), is hardly the only political dynamic that led to massive marches around the country. In Texas, Gov. Gregg Abbott directed the Texas Department of State Health Services last summer, (right after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s law assaulting Planned Parenthood), to require the burial of fetal remains after abortions. A federal judge in Austin placed an injunction on the requirement until a hearing to determine if it caused a “unique burden” on women and restricted a constitutionally protected right. (He needs evidence and testimony to reach this conclusion?)
Creative and angry women have communicated with the governor on this matter. They have been politely sending him their used tampons, panty liners, and pads. (Now the headline you read above seems awkward, eh?) One anonymous sender wrote on her package, “Unsure about the fertilized status of these panty liners.”
Another said, “Bury this!” The post office says it is illegal to send “human waste” through the mails. Can someone explain why is it not illegal to govern through ignorance?
Actual Human Waste
His name is Tony Tinderholt, a Republican state rep from Arlington, and he has filed a bill in Austin to make all abortion illegal. Tony, whose brain is apparently smaller than Trump’s hands, wants all you ladies to cut back on your sexin’ around so he’s going to eliminate your “backup plan,” which is, you know, abortion.
“Oh, my god, this is awesome. So glad I can go get an abortion after I call you an Uber.”
The day sperm improbably met egg to begin the creation of Teeny Tiny Tony has led us to the introduction of a house bill that will criminalize all abortions, including those after rape or incest, and orders Texas prosecutors to ignore all laws that state otherwise, including the U.S. Constitution and Roe v. Wade. I’d like to say there is no way in hell for such a piece of legislation to ever become law but Trump became president, so……
Tony’s not really an outlier in the Texas GOP, though. His party’s platform in 2016 called upon all legal authorities in the state to “to ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life.” The gathering of conservatives that wrote the platform also said homosexuality was a “chosen behavior.”
The room, it grows darker.
Cowards of the First Kind
What kind of weinie creeps up to a place of worship and sets it alight in the dark of the night? A handful of hours after the current president of this country signed an Executive Order banning immigrants from seven Islamic nations, the Islamic Center of Victoria burned to the ground. Sure, just a coincidence.
Investigators won’t say it was arson. Yet. The Islamic Center of Lake Travis, which was under construction, also burned to the ground just three weeks previous. Nobody is saying that is arson. Yet. Two in one month. These things happen. Sure. In Victoria, in a matter of a few days, residents raised $900,000 for reconstruction, and the Lakeway community had donated $50,000 for that rebuild.
Texan pro tip: Freedom of religion does not mean you are free to practice just Christianity.
He writes in front of an old wood stove in the downstairs corner of a giant former monastery on a hill with a glancing view of Saranac Lake in upstate New York. I know how he got there but I still struggle to understand. Paul Willcott’s a Beaumont fella, son of a pipefitter, who over-compensated his upbringing by earning four degrees from the University of Texas, including a PhD. in foreign language education and a law degree.
We met more than 40 years ago when he was running with his head down and his hands held too low as he passed rows of Washington Palms in South Texas, trying to be a competitive age group athlete while teaching English composition. I couldn’t make him a better runner but I’ve never known a better man. You should read his reminiscences on Texas and his edgy thinking on our times and what besets the human condition in 2017. Paul thinks of himself as a geezer blockhead.
I think of him as one of the greatest friends anyone might ever have. And his wife Ann is considerably more interesting than he is.
More quiet brilliance gone largely unnoticed? Consider the work of Robert McEntee, yet another Austin musician who writes and sings like a man who ought to be celebrated “from the rocky coast of Maine to the sunny shores of California.” McEntee traveled and performed with the late Dan Fogelberg and his tribute to his bandmate, “Over Peoria,” is as soulful and touching as Steve Earle’s “Fort Worth Blues,” an homage to the maestro Townes Van Zandt.

McEntee’s 2007 release of “Holding Out Hope” sounds like he wrote it in anticipation of the Trump presidency or because of the Bush administration. Regardless, it is a lament for our time. A few verses:

“Where are the men who brought this fate upon us now? Hiding in their pensioned estates Oh that justice might be done, someday in America Until then we’ll just have to cope That the day comes soon, I’m holding out hope

“Stand up stand up and witness what’s before you Know ’em by their deeds, and not their words And then watch ’em walk away, like nothing ever happened They’ll hang themselves given the rope That they don’t hang us first, I’m holding out hope”

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“Only Texas could turn defeat into a legend–and a song, and a tourist attraction, and a major motion picture.”

Rosemary Kent