Neuromancer the Movie

Rumors are surfacing again that William Gibson‘s classic cyberpunk SciFi novel Neuromancer may finally be reaching the big screen.  The 1984 story—winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards—has had far-reaching impact on pop culture as Gibson fleshed out the ideas behind “cyberspace” and “the Matrix.”

You might have heard a bout a little movie series based on that last term, drawing heavily from Gibson’s prognostications. Even earlier, Keanu Reeves gave a preview of his role as Neo in the film version of Gibson’s 1981 short-story “Johnny Mnemonic”.

Many have tried and failed to adapt the Neuromancer dystopia.  Let’s hope this one’s a go.

P.S. Congrats to author N.K. Jemisen on her 2nd Hugo award for The Obelisk Gate, sequel to last year’s Hugo winner The Fifth Season, itself due for a TV adaptation.  The 3rd novel in the series, The Stone Sky, is now on your favorite bookseller’s shelves (and on my library wish list).  Both science fiction and fantasy authors, Gibson and Jemisen, are outspoken critics on social media, but I like their stories anyway.
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The Disease that Afflicts all Modern Institutions

Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

Repatrimonialization

Modern state institutions, which are supposed to be impersonal even if not necessarily democratic, are particularly vulnerable to insider-capture in a  process that I labeled “repatrimonialization.”  As we have seen, natural human sociability is built around the twin principles of kin selection and reciprocal altruism—the favoring of family or of friends with whom one has exchanged favors.  Modern institutions require people to work contrary to their natural instincts.  In the absence of strong institutional incentives, the groups with access to a political system will use their positions to favor friends and family, and thereby erode the impersonality of the state.  The more powerful the groups, the more opportunities they will have to do this.  This process of elite or insider capture is a disease that afflicts all modern institutions.

Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, page 464

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The Fates Have Been Kind — New Music for 2017

The Fates have been gracious again to Americana music this year.

2017 has featured several strong releases from long-time Country music stars (Alison Krauss, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson), Alt.Country should-be stars (Son Volt, Mavericks, Jason Isbell), and ignored-by-radio Texas Country stars (Aaron Watson, Sunny Sweeney).  I’ve been streaming a LOT of music this year, and frankly, I’m having a hard time keeping up with the cornucopia of new music while also enjoying my favorites.  What a beautiful conundrum.

Some favorite new Albums released so far in 2017:

Alison Krauss – Windy City:  Alison honors her Country heroes with her own take.  This would chart higher except for the multiple custom “Deluxe” releases (Spotify has one, I bought a different one from Target, etc.) messes up Last.fm’s Scrobbles.

Marty Stuart – Way Out West:  Marty Stuart credits his whole band with this production evoking wide open spaces and classic Country music–in fact he has both kinds of music, “Country” AND “Western”.

Aaron Watson – Vaquero:  A nice-guy cowboy in the cut of George Strait, Watson throws in just enough pop country to keep the radio DJs happy.

The Mavericks – Brand New Day:  This disc is just plain fun, with plenty of horns to liven up the dance line.  Their last release made into to my Top 10 for 2015 and I’m thinking this one’s a keeper.

Sunny Sweeney – Trophy:  Wow.  Just wow.  Powerful songwriting.  Powerful performance.

Some others:

  • Otis Gibbs – Mount Renraw
  • The Infamous Stringdusters – Laws of Gravity
  • Songs of the Fall – Confessions (Colorado local band touring internationally)
  • Kasey Chambers – Dragonfly (late release in the U.S.)
  • Son Volt – Notes of Blue
  • Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child
  • Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway
  • Dead Man Winter – Furnace (Trampled by Turtles lead’s side project)
  • Nikki Lane – Highway Queen
  • Blackie & the Rodeo Kings – Kings and Kings
  • Lindi Ortega – Til the Goin’ Gets Gone (4-song E.P.)

And very strong recent releases:

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound:  This is the future of Country music.
  • Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 1:  I’d settle for this as the future of Country music, too.
  • Amanda Anne Platt – Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters:  This is how we write music for the future based on our rich musical traditions of the past.  Now if we could get the Scrobbles to

And last but far from least, Halden Wofford & The Hi-Beams – Missing Link: Hot off the record press, if you can find it, buy it.  Classic Colorado real country, rock-a-billy, whatever, it’s good stuff.

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Gene Habets, 1940-2017

20130826-152902.jpg

Eugene “Gene” H. Habets, 77, of Dutton, Montana, passed away June 15, 2017, at home with his family.

Gene was born on January 12, 1940, in Conrad, MT, to Eugenius “Eugene” Hubertus and Irene (Slezak) Habets. Eugenius emigrated from The Netherlands with his father in 1913, and Irene’s parents emigrated from Silesia. Growing up Gene worked on the family farm and silver mine near Valier.

Gene married Lois Ann Franklin on December 2, 1967, in Anaconda, MT. Their children and grandchildren were the loves of their lives. After crossing the country as a custom cutter, Gene worked in a mine in Anaconda, was road superintendent for Pondera County and owned a restaurant in Conrad. After retiring the first time, Gene was a mechanic with A&P Motors and Greyn’s Supply in Dutton. In his spare time he flood irrigated and worked on cars. His favorite car was a 1958 Chevy Impala.

Gene is survived by four of five daughters, LaVee (Kenneth) Arnold of Shelton, WA, Vi Habets of Dutton, Char (JC) Shepard of Pagosa Springs, CO, and Farlee (John) Albertson of Bremerton, WA, and his five brothers and sisters. His grandchildren include Tyler (Jessicca) Arnold of Helena, Chris Albertson of Shelton, Carrie Carlbom (Austin Christopherson) of Rawlins, WY, Mallory Arnold of Lacey, WA, Sarah Albertson of Bremerton, Cyndi Albertson of Shelton, Steven Werre of Dutton, Derek Carlbom of Dutton, Dominique Albertson of Bremerton, and Brian Carlbom of Pagosa Springs. Gene was preceded in death by his wife Lois, daughter Noreena Habets, parents and one brother.

A vigil service took place June 20, at 7pm, and funeral mass June 21, at 1pm, both at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Choteau. Burial followed at Dutton Cemetery under the direction of Gorder Jensen Funeral Home. Memorials are suggested to Benefis Sletten Cancer Institute or Lions Club of Choteau, Easter Egg Hunt Bicycle Fund.

Condolences may be left on-line at www.gorderjensenfuneralhome.com.

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Songs of the Fall – Confessions

Stetson Adkisson and Cia Cherryholmes—Songs of the Fall—have a new Americana album out, called Confessions.  After an initial singer-songwriter release as Stetson & Cia, they recorded a self-titled album in 2012.  So this may be a sophomore effort, or it may not. In light of Cia’s multiple Grammy nominations with her Cherryholmes family bluegrass band, this couple has high expectations and they’ve been working on these songs for awhile.


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The result is pretty good.  Stetson grew up in Pagosa Springs, and a couple years ago they moved back to the mountains of Colorado from the hills of Tennessee.  Their last album, Songs of the Fall, opened strong with “Beneath the Willow” and several strong tracks without filler.  This effort also opens strong with the upbeat “Love and Lust”. I caught two well-crafted releases on the new album at a local show back in the fall of 2015, the upbeat “Good to Have You Back” and the maudlin “Lucky”.  The rest of the album is growing on me, although I’m puzzled by the choice of “Confessions” as a name. It’s almost a nod to a Fleetwood Mac or Blondie pop sound, without diluting their roots too much, or something completely different. A friend heard a kinship to The Civil Wars duo.  Whatever the trend, the couple can cover the bases from string band to rock & roll when they want to.


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Confessions was just released in mid-May 2017, and they’ve been holding release shows around Southwest Colorado.  Songs of the Fall perform as a strong duo and I’ve also seen them with a band adding bass, uke & beat box.  Stetson, Cia, and their little one head to Europe in August, with dates posted for La Roche-Sur-Foron, France, and Bystricka, Czechia.

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Declaring That a State of War Exists: 6 April 1917

On this date, 6 April 1917,  in response to a request by President Wilson on 2 April, the United States Congress approved America’s entry into the Great War, which came to be known as World War I.

resident Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany, causing the United States to enter World War I.

Joint Resolution Passed by the United States Senate and
House of Representatives

Effective April 6, 1917, at 1:18 p.m.

WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America; therefore, be it

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared; and

That the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

While American troops have been deployed overseas many times since 1776, the United States Congress has only officially declared a State of War 11 times.  This first time was 1812.  Two were for World War I (Germany & Austria-Hungary) in 1917.  The last six were for World War II (Japan, Germany, Italy) in 1941 and (Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania) in 1942.  Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, etc. were never declared states of war.

Three years on from the start of Europe’s Great War, Woodrow Wilson had campaigned on a peace platform in 1916, and in his academic heart I believe he thought the United States would be able to keep to the sidelines.  Yet peace was not to be.  Under increasing public pressure—in particular due to unrestricted submarine warfare and especially after the infamous Zimmerman telegram, and with the February Revolution deposing the Tzar in Russia—Wilson came around 180 degrees in a matter of months and to War it was.

p.s. The Denver Post wrote a nice little squishy piece in their 6 April 2017 edition, with the graphic above.

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Windy City Turn Loose My Baby: Alison Krauss Absolves the Sins of the Nashville Sound

https://alisonkrauss.com/about

Alison Krauss‘ new release Windy City is a journey forward into the past of Country music.

I kick myself that back when Alison was starting out as a youngster in Central Illinois, I was wasting my college days in Urbana-Champaign listening to classic rock and college rock, leaving my country roots temporarily aside.  By the time I grew out of this phase, I had missed multitude opportunities to see the likes of Ms. Krauss, Uncle Tupelo and other young legends-to-be play live music in my college town.  Live and learn.

Alison Krauss has been doing some living and learning of her own.  On Windy City, she learns to let go, handing the song-picking reigns over to veteran Nashville producer Buddy Cannon, and handing over most of the fiddle-playing to a cast of legendary studio musicians and fellow Union Station band members.  Krauss has noted that she started out with a vague intention, simply to find songs that were older than she was.  As a contemporary, this results in songs mostly older than I am… mostly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windy_City_(album)

The set list became a mix of major & minor hits of 50s & 60s Nashville Sound and some others that drew on the style, in particular “countrypolitan”—heavy on the piano & strings designed to appeal to the pop market, in competition to the more traditional honky tonk Bakersfield Sound.  As a traditionalist, I’m firmly in the Bakersfield camp.  As a roots music fan, I’d also rather listen to most anything Chet Atkins’ greed produced a generation ago than anything coming off Music Row today.


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In the spirit of Chet Atkins, Buddy Cannon starts off the album with Brenda Lee, an artist who stretched between rockabilly, country and pop, with the big sound of 1963’s “Losing You” which went to No. 6 on the pop charts.  Lest we pay too much tribute to the Nashville Sound, Cannon comes back with two more traditional songs from The Osborne Brothers, a popular 60s & 70s bluegrass outfit.  “It’s Goodbye and So Long to You”, which originally featured Mac Wiseman‘s vocals, and the title track, originally released on a 1972 album “Bobby & Sonny” along with songs written by Tom T. Hall, Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard (again with the genre-stretching).  “Windy City” evokes a similar spirit of urban migration and lost love heard in Harlan Howard‘s classic “Streets of Baltimore”, popularized as a Chet Atkins production for Bobby Bare released in 1966, and later recorded by Gram Parsons among others.  As an Illinois native, “Windy City” is an appropriate personal reflection on the state’s major metropolis, as well as a fitting refresh of an overlooked country standard.


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The next group of songs continues to confirm and confound.  Buddy gives Alison a gift with Willie Nelson‘s only single on Monument Records, 1964’s “I Never Cared For You.”  I have to confess my ignorance of the earlier release, as I know this song from 1998’s Daniel Lanois production, Teatro (one of my favorite albums of the 90s).  Track 5 “River in the Rain” is a Roger Miller show tune from the Huck Finn musical Big River, a 1985 Tony-award winning effort that becomes the exception to prove Krauss’ song-picking rule.  Vern Gosdin‘s Top 10 hit “Dream of Me” also pushes the sonic timeline to 1981—producer Cannon was a co-writer, and offers backing vocals along with his daughter Melonie.


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While folk & bluegrass master John Hartford originally wrote “Gentle on My Mind,” released in 1967, and won Grammy Awards in 1968 as Best Folk Performance and Best Country & Western Song.  The song also became a breakout countrypolitan hit for Glen Campbell, winning him Grammys the same year for Best Male Country & Western Solo Vocal Performance and Best Country & Western Recording.  Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin also rode the song to No.2 on the UK music charts.  Johnny Cash even released a poignant version in 2003, on his Unearthed collection, go figure.  Its a song music critics—traditionalists and too-cool-for-school crowd—love to hate, but again a generation on its a guilty pleasure, a song in any arrangement so much better than anything on the radio, the sins of the Nashville Sound perhaps must be forgiven.


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The standard release then wraps with another Brenda Lee song, “All Alone Am I”, a 1962 pop hit, originally a Greek show tune; Bill Monroe‘s 1951 Decca B-side “Poison Love”, and Eddy Arnold‘s 1955 song “You Don’t Know Me”, which Wille Nelson also honored as the title to his tribute to co-writer Cindy Walker.

Windy City is a departure and a continuation of Alison Krauss’ eclectic musical production, from hardcore bluegrass and gospel to the neo-traditional folk of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, to her musical flirtation with Robert Plant and several duets the past few years.  Krauss offers something here for Country radio and the everyday Country music fan, along with the nuance appreciated by Americana music fans.  If you buy only one album this year, buy Windy City and put it on repeat.


Windy City was released 17 February, Krauss’ first new solo release in many years, and debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top Country chart and No. 9 on the Billboard 200 album sales chart.  There’s several versions of the CD out on the retail racks:

  • 10 track standard version
  • 11 track Cracker Barrel Exclusive edition
  • 14 track “Deluxe Version”, which is streaming on Spotify and elsewhere.
  • 16 track Target-exclusive version adds two more tracks

Too bad I’m 100-miles or more from the nearest Target, and even further from a Cracker Barrel Country Store, so it’s standard version at home & Spotify streaming from work.

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In Search of… American Roots Music at the Grammy Awards


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William Bell won the Best Americana Album Grammy Award earlier this month for This Is Where I Live, released on a revived Stax label. A lot of people said nice things about the award and what a great artist Mr. Bell is, and I don’t doubt its true. It’s also true that while I consider myself a deep Americana music fan, I am also self-educated on Americana music and I had never heard of Mr. Bell before the Americana Music Awards last fall.

Wikipedia says Mr. Bell, born in 1939, is best known as an R&B and Soul artist active in the 1960s and 1970s.  I like Traditional Blues, and I don’t mind most R&B especially the older tunes.  Yet, with so much good Roots music coming out the last few years, the Grammys played it safe once again as a popularity contest for known names.  Now, I’m not saying Mr. Bell’s album isn’t good—I don’t really know because I haven’t listened to it much.  I’m saying I don’t know R&B.  R&B is not on my Americana roots radar.

Quantity vs Quality

Americana is by necessity a big tent.  It’s a bit alt.country and a bit folk-country that’s a bit too thoughtful for Pop Country radio.  It’s a bit too traditional for Music Row.  It’s a bit too much for the mass marketers to know what to do with.  Industry insiders, such that Americana has, have pushed for years (especially through the Americana Music Association) to gain industry recognition, but in doing so they’ve pushed the “Big Names” and they’ve pushed the genre envelope to bring more people under the tent.  In ever-expanding “Americana” it often feels to me like we’re appropriating whatever is popular just to get more tweets & Facebook posts.

Getting a “Best Americana Album” category named in the Grammys’ Roots Music category was quite a coup for the AMA and friends.  We have our annual awards, yes, but with a fraction of the media attention of the Grammy Awards bonanza.  The price of quantity, though, is accepting the fact that the vast majority of Grammy voters probably have never heard what us regular roots music fans consider “Americana” music.  We get name recognition over music recognition, like just any other high school prom queen coronation.

Field 13 American Roots Music

Category 45 is Best American Roots Performance, “in the style of any of the subgenres encompassed in the American Roots Music field including Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk or regional roots.”  Nominees this year (winner in bold) included:

  • AIN’T NO MAN The Avett Brothers Track from: True Sadness
  • MOTHER’S CHILDREN HAVE A HARD TIME Blind Boys Of Alabama Track from: God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson
  • FACTORY GIRL Rhiannon Giddens Track from: Factory Girl
  • HOUSE OF MERCY Sarah Jarosz Track from: Undercurrent
  • WRECK YOU Lori McKenna

Category 46 is Best American Roots Song (Songwriter).  Nominees this year included:

  • ALABAMA AT NIGHT Robbie Fulks, songwriter (Robbie Fulks) Track from: Upland Stories
  • CITY LIGHTS Jack White, songwriter (Jack White/The White Stripes) Track from: Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998 – 2016
  • GULFSTREAM Eric Adcock & Roddie Romero, songwriters (Roddie Romero And The Hub City All-Stars) Track from: Gulfstream
  • KID SISTER Vince Gill, songwriter (The Time Jumpers) Track from: Kid Sister
  • WRECK YOU Lori McKenna & Felix McTeigue, songwriters (Lori McKenna)

Category 47 is Best Americana Album.  Nominees:

  • TRUE SADNESS The Avett Brothers
  • THIS IS WHERE I LIVE William Bell
  • THE CEDAR CREEK SESSIONS Kris Kristofferson
  • THE BIRD & THE RIFLE Lori McKenna
  • KID SISTER The Time Jumpers

Category 48 is Best Bluegrass Album

  • ORIGINAL TRADITIONAL Blue Highway
  • BURDEN BEARER Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
  • THE HAZEL AND ALICE SESSIONS Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands
  • NORTH BY SOUTH Claire Lynch
  • COMING HOME O’Connor Band With Mark O’Connor

Category 49 is Best Traditional Blues Album

  • CAN’T SHAKE THIS FEELING Lurrie Bell
  • LIVE AT THE GREEK THEATRE Joe Bonamassa
  • BLUES & BALLADS (A FOLKSINGER’S SONGBOOK: VOLUMES I & II) Luther Dickinson
  • THE SOUL OF JIMMIE RODGERS Vasti Jackson
  • PORCUPINE MEAT Bobby Rush

Category 50 Best Contemporary Blues Album

  • THE LAST DAYS OF OAKLAND Fantastic Negrito
  • LOVE WINS AGAIN Janiva Magness
  • BLOODLINE Kenny Neal
  • GIVE IT BACK TO YOU The Record Company
  • EVERYBODY WANTS A PIECE Joe Louis Walker

Category 51 Best Folk Album

  • SILVER SKIES BLUE Judy Collins & Ari Hest
  • UPLAND STORIES Robbie Fulks
  • FACTORY GIRL Rhiannon Giddens
  • WEIGHTED MIND Sierra Hull
  • UNDERCURRENT Sarah Jarosz

Category 52 is Best Regional Roots Music Album (a catchall for Cajun to Hawaiian)

  • BROKEN PROMISED LAND Barry Jean Ancelet & Sam Broussard
  • IT’S A CREE THING Northern Cree
  • E WALEA Kalani Pe’a
  • GULFSTREAM Roddie Romero And The Hub City All-Stars
  • I WANNA SING RIGHT: REDISCOVERING LOMAX IN THE EVANGELINE COUNTRY (Various Artists) Joshua Caffery & Joel Savoy, producers

Whatever your genre, life is too short to listen to pop music.

p.s. I met Sarah Jarosz very briefly at the Folk ‘n’ Bluegrass here in Pagosa last spring. Amazingly nice woman.

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Political Order and Political Decay in the Time of Trump

Fukuyama - Origins of Political Order / Political Order and Political Decay

Political Order and Political Decay is the second part of Francis Fukuyama’s epic tome of political economy begun in 2011 with The Origins of Political Order.  The 2014 follow-up fills out the 2011 tome’s theory of politics as biology with consideration of Democracy and The Western State, Colonialism, and ultimately Political Decay—the question of whether all ordered states will inevitably decay, independent of the health of the society they serve.

Fukuyama starts his second volume continuing his examination of the Administrative State, the Rule of Law, and Democratic Accountability, after the French Revolution, and more particularly the Industrial Revolution.  Why did some liberal democracies “get to Denmark” in developing modern, relatively incorruptible states, while others stayed mired in in clientelistic politics and high levels of corruption?  And maybe most interestingly, how did the United States shake off its early, Jacksonian populist corruption for Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive scientific administrative state?

In the non-Western world, the European states shaped our current politic order (and disorder) through colonialism.  I am not one to blame Western Culture for all the ills of the world, and every nation has the opportunity to improve their own lot, but looking back on the Colonial Era we (the Western Powers) really did muck it up.  Accidents of geography, with nation-states and cultural/tribal areas all mixed up, didn’t help but that’s not the whole story.  Areas with pre-colonial indigenous institutions were better able to recover after colonial powers departed, while others were left to whichever local strongman could fill the power vacuum.  Democracy holds those institutions accountable, but has very little to do with creating an effective state in the first place.

“Modern institutions require people to work contrary to their natural instincts.”

“The spread of democracy depends on the legitimacy of the idea of democracy,” writes Fukuyama in his Introduction.  “But ideas do not exist in a vacuum.”  Fukuyama supports the idea that a strong middle class, and particularly the Industrial working-class, are the foundation of democratic order.  He continues, “democracy worldwide has been facilitated by globalization itself, the reduction of barriers to the movement of ideas, goods, investment, and people across international boundaries.”  Yet the broad middle class is at the same time threatened by “the disappearance of middle-class jobs as a result of advancing technology and globalization.”

We all face the need to balance stability and change.  All political order eventually decays.  Fukuyama cites two major pressure points on our current political institutions and order—rigidity and “repatrimonialization”.  The stability of enduring norms and institutions has allowed us to achieve continuous prosperity; yet life changes and we adapt or die.  Organizations are also subject to what Fukuyama labels “repatrimonialization”, or a devolution to kin selection and reciprocal altruism explored at length in the prior book.  “Modern institutions require people to work contrary to their natural instincts,” he writes.  While written well prior to the last election cycle, so much of what disturbs me about Mr. Trump’s populist-elitism falls into this idea of repatrimonialization, from nepotism and rampant conflicts of interest, to his focus on “making deals” outside the rule of law.  That’s not “draining the swamp” and it’s not good for the future of the American republic.

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Pancho Villa Crossed the Border…and got US into the Great War

Pancho Villa crossed the border in the year of ought sixteen
The people of Columbus still hear him riding through their dreams
He killed seventeen civilians you could hear the women scream
Blackjack Pershing on a dancing horse was waiting in the wings

Tonight we ride, tonight we ride
We’ll skin ole Pancho Villa, make chaps out of his hide
Shoot his horse, Siete Leguas, and his twenty-seven bride
Tonight we ride, tonight we ride

We rode for three long years till Blackjack Pershing called it quits
When Jackie wasn’t lookin’ I stole his fine spade bit
It was tied upon his stallion, so I rode away on it
To the wild Chihuahuan desert, so dry you couldn’t spit

Tonight we ride, you bastards dare
We’ll kill the wild Apache for the bounty on his hair
Then we’ll ride into Durango, climb up the whorehouse stairs
Tonight we ride, Tonight we ride

When I’m too damn old to sit a horse, I’ll steal the warden’s car
Break my ass out of this prison, leave my teeth there in a jar
You don’t need no teeth for kissin’ gals or smokin’ cheap cigars
I’ll sleep with one eye open, ‘neath God’s celestial stars

Tonight we rock, Tonight we roll
We’ll rob the Juarez liquor store for the Reposado Gold
And if we drink ourselves to death, ain’t that the cowboy way to go?

Tonight we ride, tonight we ride
Tonight we fly, we’re headin’ west
Toward the mountains and the ocean where the eagle makes his nest
If our bones bleach on the desert, we’ll consider we are blessed
Tonight we ride, Tonight we ride

Tom Russell, “Tonight We Ride” off Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs (2004)


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On 28 January 1917, President Wilson ordered Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing back home from his punitive expedition against Pancho Villa into Mexico.  Back in March 1916, Pancho Villa had led a raid on the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 17 US citizens in retaliation for US recognition of his rival and former ally Venustiano Carranza as president of Mexico.  Pershing charged back across the border and chased Villa across Northern Mexico all summer and into the fall.

While American leaders put a brave face on the expedition, it was clearly a farce.  As Pershing later wrote, “Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turned back at the first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover, like a whipped curr with its tail between its legs.”  Instead, Carranza used his rival’s travails to whip up anti-American sentiment and solidify his own position.

Even more damning, failure of the incursion likely gave Germany the confidence to approach Mexico as a potential ally against the United States in World War I, as exposed in the Zimmermann Telegram.  The British intercepted the telegram, send on 16 January 1917, and provided a decrypted copy to the United States on 19 February.  President Wilson released the text on 28 February, whipping up American sentiment against both Mexico and Germany, and leading to American involvement in the Great War—World War I.

Words lead to action—America’s taking sides in Mexico led to actions against American citizens.  Actions lead to consequences—a small military action helped lead to a very large military action.  And, to paraphrase Santayana, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

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