A package of Texas Observer articles demonstrates the sham of Donald Trump's border wall stance. Gus Bova's main article reports that construction will begin in February on 33 miles of wall slicing through two Texas counties along the Rio Grande River. ...


Texas Observer exposes fallacy of Trump's wall demands and more...

Texas Observer exposes fallacy of Trump's wall demands

A package of Texas Observer articles demonstrates the sham of Donald Trump's border wall stance.

Gus Bova's main article reports that construction will begin in February on 33 miles of wall slicing through two Texas counties along the Rio Grande River. Land for the 30-foot-high structure already has been seized through expedited eminent domain, Bova reports Local residents say they have no problems with illegal immigrants crossing the border.

The seizure covers land a Hispanic family has owned since before Texas became a state. Other property includes a state park, a federal wildlife refuge and the national buttterfly center, all of which will be bisected by the wall. Parts of the land will be cut off, and access restricted. Bova reports that 95 percent of the property is privately owned.

The wall will harm rare wildlife species and ruin the river's scenic beauty. While the Rio Grande is reduced to a trickle in some areas, the portion along the new wall has expansive water vistas.

Approved by Congress last March with a $545 million appropriation, the new section of wall adds to the 110 miles already built under the Bush and Obama administrations.

Another Observer article notes that border security is already a multi-billion operation, including an increase in the number of border and ICE agents, observation towers, and Texas enforcement operations. A third article details the civil rights abuses carried out by border agents, who have strayed behind their 100-mile limit in surveillance and apprehension operations.

The Observer's articles show the idiocy of Trump's $5 billion wall request. Despite Trump's delusions, there's no "open border," and the United States is already paying an exorbitant price for "border security," in terms of money, corruption and civil rights abuses.

Relentlessly reporting on Texas politics and culture since the 1950s heyday of Ronnie Dugger and Willie Morris, the Observer keeps producing essential work as local newspapers decline. The New York Times or Washington Post should reprint the Observer's articles or do similar in-depth stories from the border.

Along with the Observer, which keeps producing a monthly print magazine, Texans also receive the benefit of strong reporting from the online Texas Tribune. While the Observer receives some ad support and contributions from nonprofits and readers, the Tribune is funded by a civic-minded wealthy investor.

Another online news site, the Bayou Brief, shines a needed light on Louisiana and Mississippi politics. While the Bayou Brief is welcome, Baton Rouge and New Orleans readers have fairly vital local newspapers, with the Baton Rouge and New Orleans Advocate competing strongly with the New Orleans Times-Picayune and its NOLA web site.

The newspaper industry's decline is troubling for America's endangered democracy, but an increasing number of local news web sites strive to fill the need.




200 years ago this spring, John Keats was touched by God

This year marks the 200th anniversary of John Keats' astonishing creative breakthrough in 1819.

In the spring of that year, Keats wrote "Ode to Indolence,""Ode to Melancholy,"  "Ode to Psyche,"  "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "Ode to a Nightingale." 

That brilliant outburst followed  "The Eve of St. Agnes" and "La Belle Dame sans Merci." The creative streak, among the greatest in English literature, began in the fall of 1818 with his uncompleted epic, "Hyperion: A Fragment."

In the fall of 1819, he capped his poetic run with what some consider the most perfect poem in the language, "To Autumn."

That ended Keats' career, except for the haunting poem to his love Fanny Brawne, "This Living Hand," written at the close of the year. Stricken by tuberculosis, and mentally beset by financial worries and his obsessioin with Brawne, Keats gave up poetry, the youthful renunciation as irrevocable and shocking as Rimbaud's.

In a desperate attempt to cure his tuberculosis, Keats traveled with his friend Joseph Severn to Italy. Keats died in Rome at age 25 in a small apartment overlooking the Spanish Steps, and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery.

Keats and his poems have been a touchstone for me since I discovered his life and work in college. Each year, I reread  "Ode to a Grecian Urn," "Ode to a Nightingale" and "To Autumn." I've never considered the other odes on the same level, although I recently reread "Ode to Melancholy," which has some of the most beautiful lines in poetry.

Fairly obscure at the time of his death - he requested that the epithet "here lies one whose name was writ on water" be engraved on his tombstone - Keats is now considered the greatest poet of his era, his best poems rivaling Shakespeare's in their lyric mastery.

Keats' poetic outburst and tragic life influenced William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who abandoned their youthful poetry to write their deeply meditated novels.

Standing at Wentworth Place, Keats' home near Hampstead Heath where he wrote his 1819 poems, I could sense his presence. That outpouring of words and images came to him over a few months, then ceased. In the London spring 200 years ago, he wrote poems that have transcended time.



Perhaps the Apocalypse will be televised

It's good to know we'll have plenty of "content" for the looming end of the world.

Upsetting fans who remember when Netflix was a cute little low-cost startup, the corporation announced a huge price increase for money to develop more original shows and movies. The NetFlix stock price also leaped.

The media monolith that began as a mail-order video service raised its monthly rates to fight off burgeoning competition in the streaming universe. Apple, Disney, Xfinity and others are now also developing original content.

It's already nearly impossible to keep up with all of the shows, movies, documentaries, podcasts and so on constantly flowing in the giant computer cloud.

Soon, people will have devices implanted into their brains for 24-hour streaming, even while sleeping. Virtual dreams, Paypal accepted.

The new world of self-driving cars will be equipped with constant content. Video images will flit across our refrigerators, ovens, computer screens.

As the hunger for content increases, incomes for writers, musicians and video makers plunge. Book and magazine reading declines. Newspapers disappear. Science and education sink. Climate news worsens. Democracy deterioriates, and migrants flee horrible crime and violence.

 Don't worry. We'll be streaming, if we can afford it after robots take our jobs. Each of us will get vouchers for Big Macs and Whoppers.







Innovative editor Adam Moss leaving New York magazine

The beleaguered magazine industry received another shock Tuesday with the annoucement that New York magazine editor Adam Moss will be leaving in March, as The New York Times reported.

Under Moss, New York magazine and its online branches Vulture and the Cut produced outstanding coverage of politics, business, international relations and climate change while riding ahead of the wave in TV, fashion, film, books, theater and art reporting.

Former editor of the New York Times Sunday magazine, Moss carried New York's legacy inherited from founder Clay Felker into the Internet age.

Despite its incisive and far-ranging coverage of New York City and the national scene, profits remained sluggish. Recently, the magazine announced a pay wall for its web site.  That seemed to conflict with the web site's free-wheeling style.

As with Graydon Carter and Tina Brown at Vanity Fair and Anna Wintour at Vogue, New York closely reflected Moss' personality. Moss' departure is another sign that the era of strong editors and vivid magazines is passing away.




Volume 2 of Sylvia Plath's letters register her losing battle with depression

Sylvia Plath's last letters rival Cordelia's death in "King Lear" as the saddest final act in English literature.

I haven't read Plath's letters, the closing one written the week before she killed herself in the dark early morning hours of Feb. 11, 1963.

My sorrow over the 30-year-old poet's death comes from the recent outpouring of reviews following the publication of the second volume of Plath's letters, from 1956-1963.

Detailing the day-to-day unfolding of her doomed marriage to Ted Hughes, and the steady progress of her own writing career, the book edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil gathers 575 letters to 108 correspondents and runs to nearly 1,000 pages.

Along with her brave final letters seeking to remain buoyant as Hughes abandoned her, Plath in her final months wrote the startling poems that catapulted her to posthumous fame. Her autobiographical novel "The Bell Jar" was also published after her death.

The letters reveal a kaleidoscope of personalities, according to the reviews. She's a resourceful, ambitious promoter of her work and her husband's, sending out submissions and fellowship applications.

In chatty letters to her mother, Aurelia, she's the perky young housewife, talking about food and housework and child care.

Recently discovered letters to her Boston psychiatrist, Ruth Beuscher, later Barnhouse, register Plath's mental and emotional deterioration as Hughes enters an affair with another troubled young woman poet, Assia Weevil.

As I read these reviews in publications from the New Yorker and Atlantic to the Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books, I wanted to reach out through time and space to rescue the young woman, at moments so full of life, and at others so burdened with despair.

Hughes comes off as an all-time despicable cad, but to blame him for Plath's death gives him too much credit. Her longtime depression killed her. It's hard to say why depressed people decide one day to give up the battle.

In her last words of her last letter, written a week before her death, she said, "I am incapable of being myself & loving myself. Now the babies are crying, I must take them out to tea.”