Friday, December 26, 2008

"True religion is this: seeing to the needs of the widow, the stranger and the orphan."

I expect to see more couples like this in the coming months, a couple I saw sitting on the side of the highway near San Solomon Springs, windburned and disheveled.

They are from Grand Junction, Colorado, "more or less homeless now," and hoping to hook-up with a friend in Fort Davis before moving on in whatever direction the wind blows.

I didn't pry. But my reserved demeanor had been affected by the immediate moments prior to meeting them.


I had just come from a ranch house under construction where I had gone, quite shyly, to express my condolences to a new arrival in town, a woman, who I knew from the internet news-feeds had just lost her husband the week before Christmas. He died on a camping trip in the Davis Mountains. They had only recently moved here and were building a home for semi-retirement. It is a very sad and tragic situation and I felt tremendous empathy for her.

The unfortunate widow at least has the support of a very beautiful, protective and loyal dog as well as a close friend who is now staying with her, supporting her through this traumatic Christmas. They don't know anyone in town and yet I felt so very powerless to be of any use and regretted that my visit may have appeared intrusive. Nevertheless, she very graciously granted me the honor of expressing my neighborly duty, sharing a brief moment of grief before I respectfully excused myself leaving her to her privacy.

As I was leaving, I saw this couple by the side of the road sitting in the tall grass.

I have my own loses with which to contend. Perhaps that is what has been driving me lately to such heartfelt compassion for so many others now suffering.
I dropped the dogs off at the house and came back to give the couple a ride to Fort Davis. It's only 35-miles away. The dogs had behaved badly at the ranch and I did not want them to harass this couple as well. It was getting near dark with a cold front on the way.

On the road, we chatted about the economy, about being homeless, jobless, about politics and UFOs. We arrived in Fort Davis at sundown, having basically scared ourselves all the way through the mountains talking about the bleak prospects of finding work (I am unemployed, too) and I dropped them off at Baeza's Grocery among a bustling crowd that was in and out preparing for supper. They at least had money for groceries.

Just on a whim, they let me take a picture -- one of today's shared moments. On the way home, I reflected on grace and prayed that others would be there to catch me if I fall. My God, these are my neighbors. This has been a very sad and lonely Christmas.

~ ~ ~

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Recovery Central: Jeremy Davis Keeps NFL Hopes Alive After Major Setbacks

Here's a great story of recovery, always tentatively focused within this 24-hour day. It's about an athlete who graduated from Port Neches-Groves High School, married the coach's daughter and went on to play college football at the University of Houston where, after having secretly used during his high school years, his drinking and use of drugs quickly progressed out of control.

How quickly we spiral downward.
Addiction is no respecter of athletic discipline or social status. Yet how miraculous is that grace that rescues us from the storms of life, providing refuge.


Jeremy Davis, featured in the Bob West sports column linked below, is pictured above with Pat Parish, the grandfather who raised him, and Jeremy's two daughters, Madison and Ella. [Port Arthur News photo by Mike Tobias.]
Published December 23, 2008 06:53 pm - Christmas means a lot more to Jeremy Davis these days, which is understandable considering he could easily be dead or wasting away somewhere in prison.

His life, once on a collision course with self destruction and disaster, has been remarkably transformed into one of high achievement, counting blessings and praising God. Those who do not believe in miracles might, after considering where this young man was no so long ago and where he is today. - Port Arthur News


Sober Davis overdosing on life

BOB WEST
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Christmas means a lot more to Jeremy Davis these days, which is understandable considering he could easily be dead or wasting away somewhere in prison.

His life, once on a collision course with self destruction and disaster, has been remarkably transformed into one of high achievement, counting blessings and praising God. Those who do not believe in miracles might, after considering where this young man was no so long ago and where he is today.

Where Jeremy stands this Christmas is on the verge of getting an opportunity to play in the NFL, following two years of earning All-America honors as an offensive guard at Division II Northwest Missouri State. The next step in his improbable journey is due to be taken when Davis plays in the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game on Jan. 31 in El Paso.

Because he's 6-3, 305 pounds, can cover 40 yards in 5.1 seconds and has a mean streak when he's on the football field, Davis is going to get a long look from scouts in attendance doing pre-draft evaluations. It won't hurt that he'll be playing for Gene Stallings, who coached at Texas A&M and in the NFL, before winning a national championship at Alabama.

Click here to continue at Port Arthur News site.



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Darkness; On the longest night of the year

My friend in Portland wrote this on the 21st and shared it with me today via email. The photograph was taken by him outside his residence at Portland University.

Darkness

Today is the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere, December 21. Midnight in Portland brought new layers of snow and then early morning freezing rain. The weather holds the northwest hostage. Our ground is covered with a white glaze almost blinding to the eyes as we labor to make our way around on foot. Most vehicles are on vacation today. The sun hides in the gray sky behind very gray clouds. The dictionary states that gray means cheerless and dismal. And, it’s just a few days before Christmas.

The final hymn sung at our Advent Mass this Sunday morning, proclaimed: “Jesus, hope of the world, -- Jesus, light in our darkness, here we await you, O Master Divine. Here we receive you in bread and wine – Jesus, hope of the world… shatter the darkness… banish our doubt and fear.”

Like all of us, I have dark days and nights. I have the usual gray bouts with loss, disappointment, loneliness, defeat, doubt, fear. Many of the stories told in this book are joyous and genuinely remarkable tales. They eventually add up to be a pleasing, hopeful account of life. Other stories cannot end happily. Some will never find their way to a satisfying outcome. In between uplifting or challenging stories are those usual portions of grayness. Hope is a gift that is intended to carry us through all that life dishes out. December 21 may serve as a good example for hope. It is dark now but we know that in the future there will be more daylight. We may not have the light we wish for now but it will come.

Years ago during a Quaker Meeting in Texas I experienced an epiphany, an awakening to the magnificent power of the Inner Light, the very presence of God’s Spirit dwelling within each and every person. While many religions with which I am familiar believe in the divine indwelling of God, the notion of God within us as light crystallized for me during a silent meeting of Friends. To me, Light signifies relationship, in this case deep connectedness in the very life of God, our loving creator. I realize how vital this truth is to the meaning of hope.

The prophet Isaiah understood this well when he spoke for God: “I will lead the blind on roads they have never known; I will guide them on paths they have never traveled. Their road is dark and rough, but I will give light to keep them from stumbling. This is my solemn promise.” (Is. 42, 14-16)

The snows will melt. The ice will be gone. The gray will allow sun to break through. Hope reminds me the same will be true in our lives. We remember our own stories. We reflect on the fact that God arranged for changes time after time, season after season. Every moment the Inner Light lives in us. It’s God’s promise.

-=Richard F. Berg, csc


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We All Failed Gary Webb

We All Failed Gary Webb
By Robert Parry
December 10, 2008 (A Special Report)

"Since Gary Webb's suicide four years ago, I have written annual retrospectives about the late journalist's important contribution to the historical record -- he forced devastating admissions from the CIA about drug trafficking by the Nicaraguan contra rebels under the protection of the Reagan administration in the 1980s."

A Special Report continues....

Monday, December 8, 2008

They Pray for Peace

The prayers of the innocent are the most powerful prayers of the Universe. Honor them! They pray for peace.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Zen, Authority and Truth" or "'Because I said so, you idiot!"

Last night I stumbled upon this great article about Soto Zen in America and the epistemological questions raised by the infamous scandals that occurred at the San Francisco Zen Center. The author, Stuart Lachs, audaciously asks the hard questions about authority and the institutions of Zen lineage that no one vying for the blessings of lineage within its monastic systems dares to ask.

You have to read the article, Richard Baker and the Myth of the Zen Roshi, or at any number of other sites to follow the discussion below. The article apparently created quiet a controversy when it was first published; although, I think, given the conditions exposed by the various scandals within the nascent American Zen community, the controversy is a necessary one if Zen Buddhism is to be taken seriously as a dependable method of spiritual awakening.

When I read the article, I immediately connected. If you're going to claim authority and exercise it, you darn-well better be an "
authority" and not just another authoritarian poseur dressed up in sheep's clothing. There's a difference and those of us -- especially those of us in the recovering community, those of us from dysfunctional families and/or those who have experienced the corporatist-controlled American justice system -- who have been exposed to the abusive perpetrations of authoritarians can spot the difference in a heartbeat, along with all the rationales used to exploit and then justify the abuse of authority.

After reading his article, and despite that the article specifically dealt with the abuse of authority in the Zen community though sexual abuse, thereby begging questions regarding "attainment," the rituals and the very monastic system of Zen lineage used to establish the teaching authority of the Zen roshi, I related my thoughts regarding the authority of a teacher "in his cups" to the author via the email system he provided for feedback:
CLIFF:
I heard that Chogyam Trungpa [picture
d at right] had a drinking problem. Indeed, if he developed alcohol dependence it is incredible that anyone viewed him as an authority in the light of "non-attachment."

I enjoyed your article and I wonder how so many came to discount the "method of experience" replacing it with "authority" in their epestimological heirarchy. Oh well. But then, I'll bet you've heard of the work of Canadian sociologist Bob Altemeyer in the area of the authoritarian follower.

Namaste,

-=cliffhammond
Steward quickly responded in gracious manner:
STEWART:
Hi Cliff,

Indeed, Trungpa had a pretty heavy drinking problem. My area is not Tibetan Buddhism, but I think there is a tradition of crazy wisdom in Tibetan Buddhism. My guess is his followers viewed his drinking and drunken escapades as manifestations of his crazy wisdom.

Maezumi roshi of the Los Angeles Zen Center [pictured left] also had a drinking problem. He went to a detox center to dry out, though some time later while visiting his brother's temple in Japan, died while drunk in a hot tub. The L.A. Zen Center kept this fact hidden for years. Zen people often believe in crazy wisdom too, which then allows every activity of the supposed enlightened Zen master/roshi to be viewed as enlightened activity - acts of bodhisattva compassion ... It does not allow the believing devotee to say- hey, this guy has an alcohol problem. I heard of one case where Maezumi would throw up because of the alcohol and his assistant thought, how kind of roshi to throw up so I can get over my aversion to vomit by having to clean it up. Yes, every thing Maezumi did was seen/understood/interpreted by this woman in a way to maintain the idea that her teacher, Maezumi roshi, was a completely enlightened being always doing bodhisattva acts of compassion to help save all sentient beings. The simple fact that he was an alcoholic, a short coming that many ordinary people have, was not an allowable thought. This is in a tradition that defines itself by, "seeing things as they really are!"

I think Trungpa or Maezumi or whoever can be seen as a teacher in spite of their alcohol dependence or other human short coming, but then may be not every word of their's should be viewed as unquestionable and they should not be viewed as perfectly enlightened beings above and beyond question. This makes for problems in religious groups
that hold their teachers to be enlightened beings above the question and understanding of ordinary human beings. Unfortunately, much of Tibetan Budhists believe their rimpoches/teachers... are just such beings and Zen has a rhetoric getting their followers to believe the same for their Zen masters/roshi.

Ideology and belief act as blinders. My guess is some thing like this was working with Trungpa's followers. This gets more complicated because also people do not want to give up being in the group, following the practice, thinking their teacher has some major human problems, belief in the group's or the tradition's ideology, may be losing their place in the hierarchy, and so on.

I have not heard of the Canadian sociologist Bob Altemeyer, but will look him up on the internet. Thank you for the reference.

Which article of mine did you read?

Thank you for the reply,

Stuart
Since this is an area of interest for me, given my own bad experiences with authoritarian minded perps on the job and in government, I responded without delay:
CLIFF:
You honor me with your extensive resp
onse. Thank you very much.

The article I read was, "Richard Baker and the Myth of the Zen Roshi," [Baker is pictured at right] wherein I noticed the theme of authority seemed to be the central focus -- the very elephant in the living room that Siddhartha is said to have warned against; or paraphrased, "Don't believe me, test what I say; trust your own experience." With lines of lineage determined in ways you have so articulately described, how could the method of authority not become the basis for knowing truth over the very words of the Buddha? What an irony, eh?

The publication by Robert Altemeyer to which I referred is The Authoritarian Specter. John Dean, former White House for Richard Nixon, found Altemeyer's study so penetrating that he made it the centerpiece for his 2006 polemic against the exploitation of its religious conservative base, using an enhanced version of the "Republican Southern Strategy," by operatives of the NeoConservative Movement. Dean's book is entitled, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Altemeyer made his latest work available for free on the internet: The Authoritarians. His concept, the "right-wing authoritarian follower," concisely explains how and why so many political and religious organizations are filled with adherents for whom science, reason and experience are useless in discussions with them. In fact, they seem to be anti-intellectual and anti-science and proud of it. Authority and tenacity are the only means of knowing "truth" that make sense to them -- at least in pragmatic terms that benefit them personally.

In the cases you described, where some of the people closest to Richard Baker [pictured at right above] and Suzuki Roshi [pictured at left] could not or would not detach from personal ambition and/or security long enough to acknowledge the disconnect between the Buddhist ideal and the working reality within the SFZC, such continued obstinacy puts the entire structure of monastic authority at risk in the unrelenting face of the very epistemological methodologies that Buddhism utilizes in order to open the student to enlightenment -- the methods of science, reason and experience. The method of authority has its utility but only when it coexists integrated within the epistemological hierarchy serving to question and support the other methods -- but never in isolation or in opposition, as we see when a social system becomes authoritarian, as seen in our current "democracy," and as seen in the monastic cases you present in your article.

William James, the father of American psychology comes to mind for me. In his book Varieties of Religious Experience, he
devoted the very first lecture to differentiating between religion and spirituality.

The very first promise of the discipline of meditation is the ability to observe in a non-attached manner, followed by the development of insight into that which is observed even to the radical point of non-attachment from the observer status itself -- the absolute ideal of the observing scientist at work in the field. But this idealistic transcendence of object and subject is not the same thing so many Zen students mistake as blind trust for their authoritarian leaders. As we have suffered to learn time and time again, authoritarianism only imitates true authority.

Another point that is crucial here, and as someone apparently having the great fortune and karma associated with long-term recovery, I see ad
diction as something more biologically fundamental than a human "shortcoming" or characterological deficit and therefore more something serious in its consequences all around. More serious as well, are the questions it begs regarding the "enlightened status" of any alcoholic still in his cups. And I don't take up the question in order to denigrate the person in unconsciously Judeo-Christian terms of "righteousness"; but rather, to question his "authority" in the Buddhist context of teaching and its role of presenting personal and collective experience.

Based u
pon my own experience and the experience of so many others, the principle of "letting go" (or even more basically, "non-attachment") is absolutely essential. That is because addiction is not just a character flaw; but also, it is a neurochemical "disorder" of the brain's dopamine centers that presents affectively and cognitively as an obsession with control. Were it not for the component of obsession, quitting drinking would simply be academic, as they say, once the addict is informed that alcoholism/addiction meets all criteria for definition as a physical disease.

In the case of addiction, once an obsession is developed, the use of will-power to control one's drinking (or using) only serves to intensify the obsession. In fact, an over-
amped will-power is exactly how obsessions work. The Second Noble Truth addresses this very reality at its deepest level. It is what we want and/or wish to avoid that is at the root of all our suffering. It is the misapplied use of "will-power" by the ego, a delusion in itself.

As so many people in recovery have attested, by practicing the universal principle of non-attachment, or "surrender" as the 19th century pietists referred to it, one can "let go" the struggle with control over alcohol to the extent that the addiction will dissolve into remission. We're not talking about magic; we're talking about the application of a spiritual principle that is basic to Buddhism -- the practice of non-attachment. The problem is that it is rare that the alcoholic in his cups has the insight to first objectively observe the degenerative course of his condition and then apply the necessary discipline to resolve the problem. By "discipline," I mean the application and practice of spiritual principles necessary for recovery.

As I said, this all begs the question regarding the "authority" of both Maezumi and Trunkpa and it generalizes to a more basic level of inquiry regarding the authority of any "enlightened" teacher. It also fortuitously points at the epistemological advice of the Buddha, himself: "Test my words. Don't take anything I say on a presumption of my authority." [paraphrased of course.]

In your article you shared this piece of information regarding the authority of Robert Aitken [pictured at left]:
"For an outstanding article on Sanbokyodan Zen, a Zen sect important in the West see, Sharf, Robert, "Sanbokyodan, Zen and the Way of New Religions", Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Fall 1995, Vol. 22, no.3-4. Yamada gave Dharma transmission to Robert Aitkin, though Aitkin and his Diamond Sangha later separated from the Sanbokyodan organization after Yamada's death. This was because Aitkin, being a foreigner, was forbidden by the new leader Kubota Roshi, from giving Dharma transmission, while Japanese of equal standing in the organization were permitted this privilege (p.451)."

Not to treat Kubota's decision too dichotomously [after all, he later did grace other non-Japanese with his inka], the irony presents itself nevertheless: How then can Dogen Zenji be trusted? After all, it was Dogen who translated Chan from it's Chinese context into Japanese Zen.

Even deeper questions of authority emerge in Kubota's action: How then can the Sixth Patriarch Bodhidarma [depicted at right] be trusted to have accurately transmitted the Dharma from its Indian context to the Chinese?

What it all comes down to is that Kubota must have the insight and discernment to recognize the light of the Dharma where it resides unobstructed and shining in all its grace. Had he thrown an orange into Aitkin's face and demanded "What is this?!!" it might have helped to explain the application of his "authority." But such a dharma battle apparently never occurred. For that reason alone, Kubota's decisio
n is revealed to be corrupted by an ethnocentric tendentiousness that flies in the face of Dogen Zenji himself. If I were Aitkin, I would have replied to such authoritarianism with the Urgyen-like comment, "I see they do have assholes where Kubota comes from." But then, what would you have but two men bowing over an orange?

Speaking of dharma battles, I was under the impression that much of wh
at "crazy wisdom" is about -- rather than rationalizing one's ignorance -- is intimately related to resources like the Blue Cliff Record and the use of koans in challenging the dualist thinking revealed in the very abuse of "crazy wisdom" to which you refer. Crazy wisdom confronts and reveals all of the limiting dichotomies of Cartesian Dualism from a higher place that reveals the more unified thinking and wisdom of the masters -- a way of thinking that more mindfully "points to the moon" in the moment, if you will. It jumps back and forth in an integrated way between right lobe and left lobe thinking that leads to an "ah-ha experience" greater than the sum of its parts, as Buckminster Fuller was fond of saying. Not just a dog, but "does a cow even have Buddha Nature?" The answer is not "Mooooooooo;" is is "Mu!" -- the kind of nothing and everything that not only claps with one hand, it masturbates! That is, if you remain too long in its grip. ;>)

Robert Altemeyer is onto something that you've known all along, but he states what he has to share with the true authority that proceeds from the integration of authority within the supportive epistemological hierarchy of its higher order sisters -- science, reason and experience. The bedrock of his insight into the psychology of the follower is contained within three factors he discovered in the research:
A. They accept convention without question or regard for the complicated social processes and flux of variables involved in its construction.

B. They render all individual social responsibility into the hands of their authority figures (usually authoritarian personalities themselves), unconsciously assuming the rendered responsibility includes the consequent accountability as well; although, they believe as well questions of accountability will never arise, given the assumed perfection of the authority figure.

C. They will enforce convention, as interpreted to them by their authoritarian leaders, even if enforcement escalates beyond mere peer pressure to the level of violence, such as in the case of hate crimes, one of the hall marks of the authoritarian personality. [cf., The Authoritarians]
Finally, why was Reb Anderson (when he came across a suicide he should have immediately reported but didn't), jogging in a city park in San Francisco notoriously used for cruising and sex? Was the question ever asked? Was homophobia a factor in why he didn't report the suicide immediately? If so, does it not beg the question regarding his "enlightened" status? Just some more fun questions from the peanut gallery where even "authority" seems to come in its very own shell.

Namaste,


-=cliffhammond
It has been said that Shunryu Suzuki understood that for Buddhism to take hold in America, Zen must take on an American face. Therefore, he entrusted his inka to Zentatsu Richard Baker. But who would have thought that the American face of Zen would have included buying a new Mercedes, demanding things be just so, running off or subverting all challengers to his authority and screwing his best friend's wife among a number of other subservient students who worshiped him.

Richard Baker apparently never accomplished (when it mattered the most) the first step in the great journey -- the great departure -- even if he found Zen Buddhism through the peace movement in the 60s: he never completely departed
Amerika.

Thank loving kindness iteself that Zen is bigger than the ill fated illusion presented in the ego known then as Richard Baker. According to the traditions of Soto Zen Buddhism and the Myth of the Zen Roshi, his inka would not chop very much wood or carry much water. Nor should it. But to discount the teachings of accomplished masters in his lineage simply because the "Baker Roshi" link in the chain has been broken fails to understand the power and reality of the triple treasure itself, despite the illusions promoted by religious institutions.

Given the beauty and reality of the dharma itself, there really won't be much need of the creative but ultimately duplicitous attempts at hagiographic revisionism we see throughout history on behalf of religion and the Bakkers of the world. Who knows, perhaps Suzuki Roshi understood the spirit of American individualism and through a trick of fate, with a little help from karma, Richard Baker may have provided just the spark of cynicism and skepticism in the face of "authority" needed to provide Zen with the series of controversies it needed to strip zen of unnecessary mythology and help it to break free of all traditions, finding its place to "just sit" within the Amerikan wasteland where the enlightening grace of Zazen is so needed.

Siddhartha Gautama's Great Departure

I'm waiting breathless for Stewart's response,
but most of all I'm wanting to be a part of the ongoing discussions about authority and its abuse by authoritarians in leading so many not to spiritual growth, but back into the Socratic Cave where the control freaks are back in their element, overseeing the suffering of the multitudes.

~*~

Water Pot

Buddha’s teaching is just like water. Water takes the shapes of its container. When one fills a pot with water, it becomes a water pot. If one pours water into a cup, it becomes a water cup. In the same way, we get Sri Lankan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Thai Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. We need a container to hold water in the same way we need culture to hold a Buddhist way of life.

We can decorate the container with beautiful colors and still it is empty. We do not drink the container, we drink water. We need wisdom to separate the water from the container, but without a solid container we cannot hold water. Culture is flexible; it is always changing with our thoughts. We can shape a culture that supports us to hold dhamma.

Do Not Store Medicine

Buddha said that he is like a doctor who pointed out a medicine for pain and suffering. The foolish store this medicine without using it or even testing it. They prefer to just read the label and marvel at it. Buddha said, “My teaching is not for them. My teaching is for people who test the dhamma.” Also he said, “One who sees me sees the Dhamma. One who sees the Dhamma sees me.”

Drink From Your Cup

Everyone has their own cup, or culture, to drink from. We have to get Dhamma in to that cup. If we borrow a foreign cup to drink the Dhamma, we might be misled. We cannot just follow blindly. We have to be wise enough to get the Dhamma into our own cup and decorate our cup with Dhamma. We should know the purpose of something before we do it. If we follow the traditions without knowing what they are for, we could miss the benefit of that tradition. If we know what we are doing we are not acting blindly. In that way Buddhism is not a tradition, but Buddhist followers can have their own traditions which they may call Buddhist traditions.

Do Not Just Pass the Cup

One does not drink the cup, they drink water. It is our responsibility to fill the container with water.

Buddha’s teaching is here to help us make our lives easier and find inner peace. We have to be smart enough test the Dhamma. Buddha said, “My teaching is a subject for the wise, not the foolish.” (nayam Dhammo pannatassa, nayam duppannassa)

Buddha said, “This Dhamma is like a poisoned snake. If one holds this snake from head he will survive, but if one holds it by the tail it may turn and bite.

~*~


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fort Davis Indians to face Follett Panthers in semifinal state football playoffs Friday [update follows]

LATE UPDATE:
Follett takes Fort Davis down, 64-42.

Fort Davis Indians practice on their home field on Wednesday preparing to face the Follett Panthers tomorrow in Amarillo for a chance to go to state in six-man football

KALP will be streaming the game live [92.7 fm]

The 13-0 Fort Davis Indians have a perfect season going into the semifinal game this Friday night at 7:00 PM in Trent against the 12-2 Follett Panthers. If season scoring statistics for these six-man teams are a predictor of outcome, the final score should favor the Indians, 61-48. The winner will advance to the Division-I finals against the winner of the Strawn-Abbott match-up in Glen Rose.

At least four players on the team play both offense and defense, a fact of life in 6-man football where communities are so small it is sometimes hard to put together a team at all [see video in final section of this article]. Anyone who has played high school football will understand the Herculean physical and mental conditioning required to achieve that level of participation, commitment and team responsibility. And think about this: Fort Davis trains at the altitude of 5050-ft. When they come down out of the mountains to play, they're getting an oxygen charge you couldn't imagine. These guys are tough and they're winners -- each and every one of them -- no matter the outcome of Friday's game or any game. They are West Texas thoroughbreds.

When I was a sophomore safety at Port Neches-Groves High School in Southeast Texas, our coach, the legendary Bum Phillips of Houston Oiler fame, made two guys play both ways against Nederland as punishment because they were caught drinking the weekend prior to the big game, in celebration of the previous Friday night's win. Their tongues were dragging by the second half. Six-man teams do it all. These Indians don't just hang around the fort; they are lean, mean and green!

The Indians are a 1A (6-man) state powerhouse and the Region I, District-8 champions at every level. Most of all, they love the game and maintain a relaxed, confident, fun-loving attitude, thanks to a supportive coaching staff who display the same winning spirit in both sport and in life.

Head coach Lonnie Flippen [pictured at left] is confident going into the semifinal game against Follett but he gives all the credit to the young men, themselves, who have rocketed the team to the top rankings of Texas high school football. It is through their own hard work, love for the game, team spirit, skill and athletic ability that this gifted team has stolen the hearts of West Texans.

Flippen is a bit humble for someone who has put together one of the most explosive offenses in the game, using counter plays, traps, end runs and run-pass option plays that challenge the versatility of six-man defenses. If the safeties play tight, he'll go long. If the defense is aggressive, stunting and bringing linebacker blitzes, he'll throw screens and run draw plays and traps. If the defensive line hangs back and plays a "read defense," he'll spread the field, run right at them and challenge their speed and agility.

He has at least two backs, Adrian Hernandez and Marcus Hartnett who can put together a 350-yard rushing offense on their own. Stacked with stalwart receivers like Jeffrey Alvarado, Joe Ramos, Mark Cauble, Stetson Chandler and the blazing contributions of Hernandez and Hartnett on the fly, the Indians are unstoppable.

Most of all, they have depth. The love of the game among the Indians is evident by the sheer numbers of players waiting in the wings, there to support their compatriots -- "The Twelfth Man," as the Texas Aggies refer to it. In the case of six-man football, it is undoubtedly the spirit of "The Seventh Man" that will insure the legend that is being carried on in Fort Davis today.


If you're going to beat them you're going to have to outscore them. Doing so will have to be done with the permission of linebacker Gerry Aufdengarten. It's not likely you'll get any sympathy from him; even his name strikes fear among every opponent within ten miles of the stadium. He's all over the field and where he ain't, Hernandez, Hartnett, Ramos, Alvarado, Cauble, Chandler and Moore are, carrying tomahawks of their own in the form of interceptions, quarterback sacks, pass break-ups, tackles, assists, recovered fumbles and bad breath. The Indians have one of the stingiest defenses in the league.

Lineman Robert Moore is the bedrock of the entire system. He's there, he's square and you can't move him. His hands are strong and what he can't knock down he grabs. You don't want to date this guy. The match-up between Moore and/or Cauble at center and their Follett rival, the quick and agile noseguard, Jonathan Wells, will be key. If the Indian line can wall-off Wells and keep him from getting to the quarterback, the Indian passing game will go all night. However, if Wells causes problems, the key will be to seal him off and run/pass to the offensive center's back side, something that Moore does with chilling effectiveness.

Of course, they learned it from this guy [pictured at right], defensive coach David Donnell, who played college ball at San Angelo State, a noted defensive powerhouse in it's own right. Donnell jokes that when he puts on his earmuffs he becomes a redneck; but all indications are that he carries the attitude with or without a hat. And his players love him despite it. Bum Phillips used to say that "the best offense is a good defense," and to maintain the proper attitude on the defensive side of the field you have to not shave and wear your shirttail out. It especially helps if you're ugly. Enter Coach Donnell.

David Donnell is the prototypical hypervigilant linebacker in both temperament and intelligence but he hides these assets effectively, masterfully exploiting -- vis-à-vis his devil-may-care persona -- the ancient adage, "never underestimate your opponent." But watch out for "The Shadow." Those who underestimate coach Donnell on the field do so risking their own demise. The man carries the traditions of "The Bum" and he carries them with due diligence and paternal honor, if his players and fellow coaches are to be believed. [Assistant Coach Gerry Gartrell was not available for Wednesday's brief interviews.]

With these winning combinations,
it's hard to predict anything but success for this dedicated and talented team, from its first team senior role models to its youngest freshman walk-on. But the vitality and fortunes of these young people -- the players I met Wednesday on the field in Fort Davis -- will not be limited to a mundane series of football playoff games. These guys carry the spirit of camaraderie and compassion, the spark of health and the love of life. You can see it in their eyes and sense it in their youthful vitality.

______________________________
UPDATE: December 5, 2008 -- For an excellent game day update see Greg Jaklewicz's pre-game analyzes at Amarillo.com. Of course, his reportage is somewhat tendentious, showing favoritism for his region, but so is mine.

Follett has faced tough opponents this season, but perhaps none as challenging as Fort Davis.

The Indians have won all 13 of their games this season and are ranked No. 6 in the sixmanfootball.com poll.

Follett (10-2), ranked No. 10, will try to end that streak tonight on a new, six-man-size artificial turf field in Trent as the teams meet in a Division I semifinal. Strawn, which beat Fort Davis in the 2003 title game, plays unbeaten No. 1 Abbott on the other side of the bracket. Strawn beat Follett, 46-0, in the season opener.

[...snip, snip, snip...]

Coach Lonnie Flippen then provided some levity to the statistically heavy article, making comments about the weather and the treeless high plans upon which they will play this evening. In fact, levity seems to be one of his strengths and he uses it effectively to keep his Indians grounded and relaxed, a team affect that was readily apparent this week on their home playing field.

Jaklewicz continues:
Fort Davis has played at the six-man level since 2002. It did not make the playoffs in 2004 and last year, but made deep runs in 2003 and 2005.

The Indians won their first district championship since 2003. District 8 is a tough one, with No. 7 Garden City a 10-game winner and Rankin finishing at No. 19.

The Indians boast a triple-threat offense in senior Joe Ramos and Adrian Hernandez and junior Marcus Hartnett. All three run the ball and all three pass, said Fort Davis assistant coach Jarime Baethge.

Hernandez has rushed for 2,054 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. He also has the most passing yards (624) and touchdowns (11).

Harnett has 1,218 yards and 20 TDs.

Out of the spread, Stetson Chandler, Jeffrey Alvarado and center Mark Cauble are receiving threats. Alvarado has nine catches for 280 yards and five scores to lead the team.

While Fort Davis can score a lot of points, the Indians have given up little. The Indians allowed more than 35 points once in its first 11 games, while also recording four shutouts and yielding one touchdown in a fifth game, Baethge said.

Vernon Northside fared well before losing to Fort Davis, 64-42, in the quarterfinals. Garden City pushed Fort Davis to the limit in a District 8 game before falling, 63-56.

Hernandez, a linebacker, has 108 tackles and an interception. Gary Aufdengarten, another linebacker, has 104 tackles and two interceptions. In the secondary, Ramos has a team-best five interceptions.

Follet hasn't played poorly on defense. Meadow scored 97 points against Valley but was held to 39 by Follett. Meadow junior Rico Rocha, who had 425 yards against Valley, was held to 115 by Follett.

The Panthers blanked two opponents and gave up one TD in another game. Their other loss was 30-28 to playoff-bound Valley. Follett won three tight games, 55-48 over Northside and 57-46 over Throckmorton, both in the regular season, and 44-39 last week over Meadow.
Game time is at 7:00 PM in Trent (city map), between Sweetwater and Abilene. The winner of tonight's battle will advance to the championship finals against the winner of Abbott vs. Strawn.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, Fort Davis, Texas

Outreach Coordinator Cynthia McAlister with her Butterfly Collection
[click-on the photo of Cynthia, above, to view more photos from the Flickr set]

Whenever I'm in Fort Davis or on the way back from Alpine or Marfa, I usually stop for a breather at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute between Fort Davis and Alpine, out on Highway-118. My dogs love to snoop around in the tall prairie grasses and Honey, my terrier mix, has even learned to pose for the camera while the other three are nose to the ground looking for adventure.

She's such a ham, but she didn't realize today that I had set her up for a prank (pictured at left) so that I could display my snarky sense of humor on the Internet.

The CDRI has lots of acreage, desert life, prairie grasses and rolling landscape for those like me who love the desert environment and crisp dry desert air. At times, it all leaves me breathless -- like today.

Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute -- Visitors Center

On earlier visits, I had been to the botanical gardens, attended an art auction on the grounds, hiked a few trails and checked-out the true-to-scale mining exhibit, but I'd never taken-in the Visitors Center because in the desert heat I didn't want to leave the dogs locked in the car unattended. But today was a beautiful fall day with pleasant temperatures so I decided to check-out the Visitors' Center for the first time, feeling certain that I could safely leave the dogs in the car parked in the shade of a cedar tree with the windows down far enough that they couldn't jump out and terrorize the grounds crew then get me a scolding from the Institute staff.

Far from it. These people were super friendly -- once I convinced them I didn't have a carload of coyotes.

As soon as I walked into the Visitors Center, the artisanship of one of their staff members captured my imagination and I ran back outside, with their permission, to get my camera for a shoot. When I returned, the staff person I had first encountered, witnessing my enthusiasm for the bee and butterfly collections on display, had arranged for the graduate student in entomology who created them, Cynthia McAlister, to give me a tour. Cynthia also happened to be the Outreach Coordinator for the Institute.

Not only did she encourage the photo shoot, but also, she suggested that I could get a better shot of my favorite display if she removed it from the wall and took it outside into the sunlight! [See photo at top.] Then she told me the story of its creation (leaving out the part about stalking butterflies in the Chihuahuan Desert with a net, hiding behind boulders and sneaking through tall grass disguised as a scientist on safari).

She then gave me my own mini-tour of the facility while we discussed geography, entomology, ornathology and UFOlogy. No really! I shared with her my recent experience with the Tethered Aerostat Radar System outside of Marfa, admitting to her that at first I thought it was a UFO (after all, it was "unidentified" to me). She laughed, "You mean the 'Drug Blimp'?" Well that just said it all about my ignorance of the Texas-Mexico border region. [cf. "UFO Sighting Resolved by TARS Blimp," and it's follow-ups on the Hunter RQ-5A and the Preditor-B.]

Cynthia also informed me concerning the Institute's ongoing educational outreach programs and the weekly radio show hosted on Marfa Public Radio, Thursdays, 9:00-10:00 AM. I guess she read me. I'm quite the public radio aficionado.

They also have a Facebook page where you can join in the discussion, become a member of CDRI or just become a fan.

The Institute staff were all very congenial, articulate and professional. I felt honored to have been treated with such deferance by literally every person I encountered (I do not look like a preacher, a banker or a politician; but then, perhaps that's what made the difference...just kidding).

On the way out, looking south (both shots)

~*~
map



Barmorhea Resident Uninjured in Fatal Crash in Idaho This Week

One of our own, 41-year old Michael Barry, a two-year resident of Balmorhea, is apparently safe and uninjured after a head-on collision Monday night in Idaho. Barry was on the job, driving a tractor trailer on Interstate-90 when an automobile suddenly appeared advancing toward him in his lane.

The following report is from KTVZ of eastern Oregon:

Posted: Dec 2, 2008 09:42 PM

A 23-year-old La Pine man driving the wrong way on Interstate 90 in northern Idaho was killed Monday night when his car collided head-on with a semi truck, Idaho State Police reported.

The crash occurred in the eastbound lanes of I-90 around 9 p.m., killing Daniel Duhadway of La Pine, officers said.

Duhadway was at the wheel of a 2005 Toyota Scion heading west in the eastbound lane of I-90 when he collided with an eastbound 2007 Freightliner semi driven by Michael Barry, 41, of Balmorhea, Texas, officers said.

Although both drivers were wearing seatbelts, Duhadway was thrown from the car and died at the scene, officers said.

Roads in the area were wet at the time of the crash, they said, adding that the investigation was continuing.


View Larger Map

According to one comment posted at the KTVZ site under the story above, weather conditions where the accident occurred, as well as dangerous interstate entry and exit ramp lighting and signage, may have played a role in the tragic events.

My heart goes out to his family. I am very familar with that stretch of road and it can be very dangerous, especially when wet. The cadence of the road is off there, as is most of that pass, making the corners bank strangely. The on-off ramps are poorly marked and not lit.
The Balmorhea Progressive will provide updates as they become available.

~*~


Monday, December 1, 2008

Here I sit again at the crossroads...

...looking for a new career,
looking at a new job,
looking for a new way to make things happen.

right here again at the crossroads...
...looking for a new time?

looking for a new place?
looking for a new face that don't know Clapton?

...it's all the same, baby.
you know I ain't jealous.
just let me lay back a while
while you go on and be zealous.

my heart's in my hands here at this crossroads,
...wondering how it just keeps beatin'
wondering whether you think it's cheatin'
and why you seem to just keep laughin'
kickin' back at the crossroads.



In Memory of George Harrison
February 25, 1943 -- November 29, 2001

And to my own rebirth
February 10, 1972