Viva Villa!

Certainly an unpopular and even dangerous thing to say today down on the Texas border, where they are reclaiming the bodies of two Americans killed by bandits in Matamoros. But by ironic coincidence March 9 marks the 107th anniversary of the predawn attack on the little town of Columbus, New Mexico, and the adjacent U.S cavalry Camp Furlong by the outlawed bandit and failed revolutionary Pancho Villa.

It’s not clear Villa himself was on the scene or directing the attack from otra de lado, just as there is some uncertainty over whether he was aiming for the 13th Cavalry’s stables and armories, the vault of the local bank (it was still standing forlorn in an empty lot the last time I visited), or the head of the town’s leading merchant, who had cheated the general on an arms deal.

Whatever Villa’s motives, the raid left 17 American soldiers and citizens dead. Public outrage forced revered professional intellectual and passive-aggressive pacifist President Woodrow Wilson to send the Army into Mexico to capture Villa “dead or alive.” If you’re interested in the details, I highly recommend The Great Pursuit.

America faces a much greater threat today from the murderous cartels that have controlled the border for more than a generation, reaping enormous profits from the traffic in illegal immigrants and illicit drugs. We’ve ignored that underlying problem in our endless arguments over immigration and border security, but it’s past time both governments confront the issue –hopefully with more success than Black Jack Pershing (hampered by a hostile Mexican government and a dithering Presidential administration) had in chasing Pancho Villa.

Save the Oompa-Loompas

While I’m on the subject of cultural vandalism, can I add my small voice in defense of Roald Dahl and his endearing works? The idea that the owner of the copyright can edit and revise the work of a deceased author may be legal but it’s certainly not ethical. That Amazon can then reach out and retroactively bowdlerize the Kindle copies that silly consumers thought they already owned is even more outrageous. I’m saddened but not surprised that every living author, writer, reporter, blogger and cartoonist has not spoken out in protest, just as no sculptor has protested the iconoclasm defacing and destroying the works of their predecessors in recent years.

Not Dilbert!

I’ve posted in the past in defense of Pepe Le Pew, General “Black Jack” Logan, Davy Crockett and R.E.Lee, and I have little to add today to those comments, except to note all those men as well as that sexist skunk were (I thought) past our power to harm. Today I’m defending a living artist. To dismiss him as a mere “cartoonist” and so justify leaving him to the wolves while we continue our mad race to cultural extinction entirely misses the point. Breaking a man’s rice bowl because you disagree with what he says is fundamentally un-American.

We Still Miss You, Jack

Speaking of the Boomers, today marks the 59th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, an event as traumatic to that generation as 9/11 was to a later. The oldest of us was just 17, seniors in high school and only beginning to become politically aware. But everybody loved John F. Kennedy. He was young and handsome, a war hero with a great smile. He had a classy wife and cute kids. If Eisenhower was everybody’s grandfather, JFK was their dad.

He was an Irish Catholic and so was almost everybody I knew. Today, when we’re as likely to elect a Mormon as a Muslim, it’s hard to believe that a Catholic President was a big deal. But most of all, he had big ideas, and we were ready for big ideas. We were going to the moon!

“We choose to go to the Moon… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too. “

It was a New Frontier! And we, who had spent the last decade watching Westerns on TV and at the Saturday movies, were going to be part of that. Even today, more than 60 years later, reading a sampling of his rhetoric stirs the blood.

And then some nutjob with a cheap rifle shot him in the head.

A Lament for the Boomers

I posted Kipling’s Recessional a few days ago because I was thinking about the passing of the Boomers, which seems to me as significant a generational transition. While Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrated her reign over a global empire of 450 million people, Kipling recognized that the vigorous, self-confident generation that had built that empire was fading away. The coming generation would be caretakers, not empire builders, and the Pax Brittanica could not endure. He lived to see the truths of the Victorians collapse in the horror of the First World War.

As Churchill put it in My Early Life, “Scarcely anything material or established which I was brought up to believe was permanent and vital, has lasted. Everything I was sure or taught to be sure was impossible, has happened.”

It remains to be seen whether the Boomers leave behind a worse mess than the Edwardians.


You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

The Colorado Belle

The biggest wreck on the Colorado isn’t a riverboat at all, but a six-deck, 40,000 square foot casino. Once the pride of Laughin, the $80 million Colorado Belle was launched July 1, 1987, and shut down by order of the State of Nevada on St. Patrick’s Day, 2020, “to prevent the spread of the virus.” I’ve heard secondhand that the foundations are sinking into the riverbed by several inches a year, and the old Belle is now down by the stern.


God of our fathers, known of old,

 Lord of our far-flung battle-line,

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

   Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust

   In reeking tube and iron shard,

All valiant dust that builds on dust,

   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,

For frantic boast and foolish word—

Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

A Ghost Boat on the Colorado

There were no Colorado River Queens to match the Mississippi riverboats in elegance and size. The Colorado was a very different river back before we converted it into one of the planet’s greatest civil engineering projects. A shallow draft was needed to navigate the constantly shifting sandbars, with an engine and boiler strong enough to breast the current in the canyons. (This photo is the “Cochan” on the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. This picture was taken in 1900.)

Considering how few Colorado steamboats there were compared to Eastern rivers, it’s a pleasurable surprise to discover at least one ghost boat buried down in the delta. The Explorer, one of the first boats on the river, broke free of its moorings at Pilot Knob and was swept 60 miles down stream in the spring flood. A survey party found the remains in 1929, , according to this excellent history.