11 Hours (left) in Iowa

I am a tremendous, shameless election junkie. The kind with an Intrade account. The kind who woke up a bit too early this morning, as though it were Christmas (or Beer Bike).

I love the absurdity of putting Iowa – Iowa! – first, and the resulting frenzy in the heartland. There is a media circus, but it’s separate from the action and shunned by the participants, who value handshakes over media buys – allowing candidates who wouldn’t see the light of day elsewhere to make a grab at the spotlight. There’s the obscene, absolutely nonsensical degree of pandering: ethanol subsidies in the 90s and 2000s, thankfully done away with as of  Saturday, were the best excuse for wide-angle shots of corn fields this country has ever seen. There’s the sadistic joy obtained from forcing beltway suits to down corndogs at county fairs. There’s the pressure to roll up your sleeves and lose the jacket. Maybe it’s growing up somewhat outside the center of influence, maybe it’s the threadbare childhood, maybe it’s having farmers for grandparents – but there’s a strange, uncomfortable populist streak in me unsuppressed by years of meritocracy and only satiated by such elevating spectacles.

Caucuses are an exemplary idea: frenetical masses crowd into classrooms, forced to listen to their compatriots campaign informally before casting secret ballots. They make buttons!

I don't even care that I hate every single one of these things.

Mostly, though, today is an excuse for me to re-watch the absolutely stellar two-part West Wing episode “Twenty Hours in America.” Which takes place in Indiana, not Iowa, but that’s beside the point. It embodies the process of the thing: presidential advisors fail to notice a skip in time zones, miss a flight, and learn to refrain from introducing themselves as people who work in the White House if they want to effectively land a hitch in the back of a pickup.

Oh, and this bro:

11 Hours (left) in Iowa

Boquillas and Big Bend

Here’s a thing I have feelings about!: the opening of a border crossing in Big Bend National Park.

Last time I was in the area, my boyfriend and I were driven from camping in the highlands by terror (harmless mountain lion encounter – but still! Not 20 feet away!). At some absurd hour of barely-morning, we set up in the nearly abandoned Cottonwood campground – and woke up not an hour later to footsteps outside our tent.

One swinging MagLite later, whoever had been around was running into the brush and we were piled into the car, headlights blazing, back to the mountains to sleep crushed vertically onto car seats. The decision to camp by the Rio Grande may, of course, have been a skosh bit of idiocy (albeit as a side effect of sheer exhaustion) – but I had camped on the border before, and felt a perhaps false sense of reassurance. Truth is, there’s not much to it:

And I’d be a liar if I said my only venture outside of these United States didn’t involve some wading.

In any case, there’s no doubt that the residents of Boquillas – a town just across the border that, from what I could tell, survived on tourism and providing beer to the 18-to-21 crowd – has suffered tremendously since the existing crossing closed after 9/11.  Trinkets appear by landmarks overnight, with requests for compensation.

Some of the comments on the article I linked to (and in other places, though generally not on sites frequented by BBNP visitors) are vicious: allegations that the potential border opening will do nothing but expand drug trade, criticism of the Mexican government for “relying on tourism” and the United States for reviving a scant population, and cries that opening the town to park visitors would destroy the sense of wilderness.

As someone who never ceases singing the praises of Big Bend, who would rather be nowhere but the middle of nowhere  – and as a potential crime victim with an interest in national security – here are my counterarguments:

1) Information is better than no information, and open communication with Boquillas residents helps Border Patrol to do the job effectively. There’s no cell service in that region of the park, and with the border closed residents can’t alert patrol members of strangers, crime, unusual activity – anything they would do and have ordinarily done in order to maintain stable relations and protect their economy.

2) Anyone who thinks the growth of a 19-family town across the river will be enough to tame or temper 800,000 acres of desert is insane.

3) The town isn’t a drain on the region – it enhances it. You can’t spend a day hiking and not want to drive down to the river, enter a makeshift gondola run by Singing Victor, and re-hydrate with cervezas. Impossible.

4) Victor himself: “I don’t think the terrorists want to cross here on a burro.”

Boquillas and Big Bend

South by…

This is a bit behind the times, but as of late June Texas was one vote away from approving a Confederate flag license plate. Here’s a bit from Paul Burka at Texas Monthly that I’m going to quote directly simply because I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly:

Texas is both a southern and a western state, and, of the two, I much prefer the western heritage to the southern. To me, the Confederate flag is inextricably linked with a dark part of our history, namely, segregation. That is my personal reaction; I do not ascribe that view to others. I had a history professor who liked to say, “Every man his own historian,” by which he meant that each must make our individual judgments about history.
The west, on the other hand, is a land of great vistas and rugged landscapes and endless distances that reinforce our state’s great myths of the wide open spaces and the great ranches and oil fields that sat atop land so unforgiving that only the devil could love it.

Celebration of the Confederacy is something I don’t understand in general. I get the bit about heritage, and about preserving family histories in particular; I also understand how that aspect of the trend appeals so strongly to the collection of southern fratboys who have adopted it. What I don’t understand how Texas, of all places, fits in. We are a state as focused on progress and expansion as we are dedicated to pride in the past, but that pride itself is focused and nuanced, and particularly self-centered. I will take annual joy in breaking from Mexico, in forging a new nation and succeeding – and also in the eventual recognition that that nation could become something better and stronger by joining with another. I will never comprehend exit en-masse in support of a bloc we did not rely upon quite so heavily, and can’t begin to suspend recognition of social injustice for the sake of a cultural symbol. Among other things, it also clashes quite violently with my mental categorization of what I consider home. Even Houston, overrun with immigrants of all stripes and suburban sprawl and Czech barbecue – almost especially Houston, entrenched in oil money – is, in my mind, very much a part of the American Southwest. “Rugged” is the overused, romanticized, and appropriate term. In Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy begins a sprawling border epic with a crawl out of the gulf and through Nacogdoches. In Padre and Palacios, we ride horses on the banks. Our old money eschews pastels and boat shoes for pressed Levi’s and hand-crafted boots. I like all of these things this way, very much, and association with the south rather than the west in such a deeply embarrassing way seems incongruous. Let Georgia pull shit like this; it doesn’t belong here.

All that being said, I’m desperately hoping it gets approved, if only because it’s the sort of story that would get national recognition: any ammunition allowing Obama to take down Perry more easily is a good thing.

South by…