Be Careful What You Wish For Santa Anna!

Today is San Jacinto Day in Texas. It is the day Mexico lost Texas. For those of you that aren’t familiar, this is the day that Sam Houston’s irregular militia of Texican’s defeated a strong Mexican Army in a bloody eighteen minute battle at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou near Galveston Bay. The Mexican Army was led by Generalissimo Santa Anna who was also the President of Mexico. The Texican’s were in full rebellion against the Government of Mexico. Now some might say they were ungrateful guests who came to dinner and stole the house. The Texican’s had legitimate grievances caused by a change of the Mexican Constitution, but I will leave you to your own to research to understand the complex situation  For our purposes understand that a wild frontier called Texas had been populated by the Government of Mexico with a large number of U.S. citizens used to rights they had left in the United States. A group of revolutionaries had met at Washington on the Brazos, formed a government and issued a Texas declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. That made Santa Anna mad.

Santa Anna had set off from Mexico before the Declaration was signed and marched the Mexican Army to Texas. In 1836 it was no hike in the forest. Once in Texas the armies were a nightmare for the Texicans. Santa Anna’s armies mopped up on small groups of revolutionaries at the Alamo and Goliad. After those victories Santa Anna set his sights on Sam Houston and his army now retreating across Texas toward the U.S. border. At least that is what it looked like to some Texican’s who wanted to go fight before they were ready. Santa Anna’s fondest wish was to find Sam Houston and finish off the last Texican army.

Find him he did on April 20, 1836 in the last place on earth that military person might pick. The two armies were separated by no more than than a few hundred yards. Each army had a body of water behind them with no way to escape. The Texican’s late afternoon charge into the Mexican camp on April 21st surprised the Mexican Army and they were routed. The end result was a treaty that at least for the moment made Texas independent. This is a long way around to say “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.”

Another question is whether the whole thing was predestined. Was it Texas’ destiny to be freed from Mexican rule or was Santa Anna’s Waterloo the result of a willful man exercising his free will and paying the consequences. The young Jim Ward in my novel “Morgan’s Point” only wished for manhood. The price was steeper than he could have imagined. Santa Anna’a wish changed the world, just not in the way he imagined.

San Jacinto Day was a big deal when I was growing up. I wonder if I took a poll on the streets of Austin this afternoon of random folks if most of them every heard of it. We as Texasans need to do a better job of explaining our history to new folks who are coming in town. Most think the city named Bowie street for the recently departed English singer. Oh, wait a minute I think the city council is considering that now! Come on native Texans get with the program! We love our State and our proud of it. If we work to preserve our heritage we will all be better off. I am proud of Texas and I think the new folks would be too if we educate them about the sacrifices that were made to make the Texas of today. Saturday the 23rd there is suppose to be a reenactment of the Battle. I plan to be there if the creeks quit rising. Hope to see you. Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!

When Austin had more bats than people

Once upon a time there was a beautiful little city that had more Mexican Free Tail Bats than people. The citizens were blissfully living their ideal lives without fear of the furry hoard that dwelt among them. In 1980 the Congress Avenue Bridge that spans Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin needed to be renovated. Crevices created under the bridge by the work set up the perfect environment for the Mexican Free Tail Bat to roost. An alert citizen discovered the city’s plight and raised a call to arms. “Exterminate them!” the populous cried. There were studies commissioned and volunteers sought to rid the city of its curse. Fate however had put the right person at the right time to add some intelligence to the conversation.

Merlin Tuttle brought Bats Conservation International to Austin in the nick of time. He educated us and calmed the fears of the citizens about the bats. Now the bats are a tourist destination. An armada of boats sets out each night when the bats are in residence and provide a great time. Just remember if you are looking up from under to bridge to close your mouth. I had a chance to take Mike Pearce’s
Lone Star Riverboat cruise the other night and it is a blast. If you are in Austin and want a different experience try it out. If you do go,  remember to thank Merlin Tuttle and BCI for their part in keeping Austin weird.

Was God’s Bracket about to be busted?

Maybe its not the right week to post a something with this title, but I always have, “it was predestined” to fall back on. I watched bits and pieces of the NCAA tournament yesterday. There were two games that stood out. The Notre Dame/Stephen F. Austin and the Texas A & M/Northern Iowa games had strange finishes. In both games improbable comebacks put Power Five Conference teams into the Sweet Sixteen.

The Aggies and Northern Iowa game was particularly crazy. The Aggies made up 11 points in 44 seconds to send the game (which they eventually won) to overtime. This game was interesting to me because it was Northern Iowa who sent my Longhorns packing on a 50 foot shot for a last second win on Friday night. Those of you who read yesterday’s post know the Aggie’s coach had commented on the shot as a “Grace of God” thing. Those of us on the other side of the lost didn’t feel like it was so graceful. The Northern Iowa fans were appropriately ecstatic at the end of the Friday night win and I’ll bet there was a feeling that they were on there way to big things because “it was their destiny.” Fast forward to Sunday night and Northern Iowa’s loss of a key player at just the wrong moment with 44 seconds left in the game. I think life is full of these moments. We are on top one minute and in the dumpster the next. Is it a learning experience or just a random walk? Those of you who commented yesterday started a lively discussion. I’m happy if you want to talk Predestination or March Madness.

Oh yeah, the Notre Dame game ended with an improbable put back basket by a Notre Dame player who had been inserted in the lineup for defensive purposes. The winning goal was the only basket he scored. After the game Mike Bray, Notre Dame’s coach addressed his team in the locker room and reminded them of a bitter last second loss last season in the NCAA tourney. He exclaimed something like “after last year’s loss and this game today, I think its our DESTINY to win the championship. Well, maybe so. Notre Dame may have a favored spot in God’s bracket. Can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

“Just pray,” he said. “Pray it doesn’t happen to you because that’s the grace of God when you make a shot like that.”

The title is a quote from Coach Billy Kennedy of the Texas A & M Basketball team that plays in the round of 32 today in the NCAA Basketball Tourney. Austin American Statesman March 20, 2016.

The truth is that it did happen to the Texas Basketball Team and me (a big fan). Those on the winning side celebrate. Those on the losing side might ask if it truly was because of God’s grace. “What did I do to deserve this?” The gospel according to Kennedy is not in the Bible. We are left to look to the Bible itself to determine if a gut-wrenching last second loss on a half-court shot has something to do with God. When I started this blog I said I’m no expert on the Bible, but I sure am interested in the concept of predestination. Predestination is mentioned in several places and ways in the Bible. I wrote the novel Morgan’s Point to explore the meaning of how predestination might change our view of free will. I am working on a sequel called Anahuac that explores coincidence, free will and predestination in the administration of human justice. Truth is I see way to many coincidences in the world to believe that they are “only a coincidence.” I have no answers and that’s where you come in. Tell me what you think and pray. Pray that its not God’s will that a mid-major hits a half-court shot to bust your tournament bracket and send your team home early.

The President visits Weird Town

Last Friday, the President of the United States visited Austin, my town that is struggling to stay “weird.” He made a presentation to the assorted techies in town for the SXSW extravaganza at the Long Center. I’m back from a lengthy winter visit to D.C. and within walking distance of the Long Center. The weather was great and I was curious to see something that is commonplace in D.C. happen in the middle of my little city.

The President in Austin, for those of us of a certain age, is not so unusual. Lyndon Johnson popped up everywhere when he was Vice-President. As President he was still visible albeit mostly at a distance. For a year I served breakfast to President Johnson’s daughter, Linda. Before you get any crazy ideas, understand that I was a lowly server on the food line at Kinsolving Dormitory on the University of Texas campus. Our fleeting visits continued after I left the food service industry to become a librarian in University’s Newspaper Collection in a tiny corner of the basement of the Tower. Each day there were newspapers from all over the world to be sorted and placed in display racks. It was the only place on campus that a wide array of daily newspapers, usually a day old before they reached us could be accessed by students and faculty members. Fortunately for my studies few people even knew it was there. Normally I spent an hour working and three hours in blissful isolation studying my law books.

You can imagine my shock when one afternoon a serious looking man in a suit proceeded through the door with a young woman whom I immediately recognized. Suddenly I was talking to a Secret Service Agent and then to the President’s daughter. “Yes, I can get you copies of the Washington Post, yes the N.Y Times too, Chicago Tribune, yes, Dallas Morning News, check. Please have a seat an I will bring them right to you.” I said with what was probably a slightly trembling voice. After her initial visit it became a much more relaxed setting. I was often amused to hear Ms. Johnson hurling a forceful invective toward some reporter in a distance place who had said something nasty about her father. Age and perspective has given me a better sense of what it was like for her. It was her dad for God’s sake.

Those memories receded and once again I found myself standing behind the rope line along Riverside Drive across from the Long Center. I remembered an amazing coincidence. Before Lady Bird Johnson did wonders to beautify the downtown lake front in Austin there was a large open field behind where I stood. One Sunday morning in 1964 I traveled to the 7-11 to buy a Sunday paper. On the way down Riverside Drive I was surprised as a single black Lincoln Continental roared up from behind and passed me. The solid looking vehicle veered off the road, jumped the curb and raced across the the vacant field where a large helicopter was prepared to take off. Lyndon Johnson jumped out of the Lincoln, climbed in the helicopter and was gone so quickly I was scarcely sure I believed my eyes. My memory of that day was interrupted by a cacophony of police motorcycles roaring to life behind me. Vehicles from across the street at the Long Center were moving. The crowd that included a black man with a microphone decrying the murder of black men and the woman and her companion carrying a huge white cross, whom a moment before had been shouting to “do God’s will” were drown out by the crowd’s shouts and applause. The twin Presidential cars made it hard to make out which car held the President. It did not matter. For a moment we had been part of the pomp and circumstance of the Presidency. I never tire of seeing history unfold. Get out an take a look. It will amaze you.

Witnessing History at The Supreme Court

Those of us who love history are usually only able to experience it through books, movies or television. I had an opportunity to be an eyewitness last night here in Washington, D.C. Early in the day I watched the arrival of the hearse bearing the casket of Justice Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court on television with my wife. She said at the time that being lawyers we should go to the Supreme Court to pay our respects. As with what happens to most of us, our day began to slip away and we had not found time to travel up to Capitol Hill to the Court. Mid-afternoon a dear friend called and asked if we would accompany her to a movie. The movie turned out to be “Race” the new release about Jesse Owens, the great Olympian. The painful history of race relations in the U.S. were contrasted with the ghastly specter of Nazi racism. It is an uplifting movie, but not always easy to watch.

When the movie was over it was dark and quite cold. As we walked back to the house my wife said, “Let’s go to the Court.” It was already 6:30 and since the movie house is only two blocks from our house we hadn’t really dress warmly. There was a momentary urge in me to just bag it. The Supreme Court was scheduled to close at eight o’clock and was 25 minutes away by cab. Better instincts took over we jumped in a cab. When we arrived at the Court we saw that there was still a very long line going up the street beside the Court. We began searching for end of the line and to our dismay it simply went and went and went. We walked at least five long blocks before we found the end of the line. Every instinct in me said, “Wow, too cold and too late. Let’s go home.” But there was great comradery in the line and quickly we lost the will to leave. Two hours later (they extended to hours until 10:00) we were inside the Supreme Court. We made new friends. In two hours of blistering wind and cold our little cadre of line dwellers talked about everything in the world. Now you might think that the conversations would reflect the tone of the rhetoric of today’s political climate, but it did not. The collegial atmosphere among an extremely diverse group of citizens was refreshing. It was clear that there was a wide spectrum of political opinions represented, but we were a group of citizens united in our quest to pay homage to a man who had served his country and to reaffirm the institution that is the Supreme Court. One side note is that there was a pronounced absence of people texting and talking on their cell phones. We were talking to each other as humans. The politicians will battle over replacement of the Justice, but the government will survive. Why do I say that? Because of that line of Americans coming together as we always have in death and tragedy to reaffirm our form of government. Witnessing history gives you the opportunity to understand that concept better than any hour of MSNBC or Fox news. Don’t miss being a part of history. It will change you for the better.

Justice Scalia and the Destiny of Our Country

The passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is not an ancillary footnote to the history of the United States. The confluence of his death, the philosophical bent of the remaining eight justices and the raging political campaigns of the Republican and Democrat candidates for President has cast a spotlight on the process of appointment of Supreme Court Justices and the Office of the President. One of the most long lasting actions a President takes is the appointment FOR LIFE of a Justice to the Supreme Court. Several Presidents have appointed Justices thinking they knew how they would lean in close cases only to be surprised. Earl Warren was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower. The Warren Court became the anathema of many conservative thinking individuals.

I have always wondered about random moments in our lives that seem insignificant at the time, but later lead to a major life change. You turn left by accident and meet the love of your life. You turn right and you are run over by a truck. Did you have free will to turn left or right? I wonder if the United States is at one of those life-altering moments this morning as Justice Scalia lies in state at the Supreme Court building.

After initial outcries by Republican politicians that President Obama should not attempt to appoint Justice Scalia’s successor, a more reasoned rhetoric has surfaced. The terror of the Republican leadership was obviously fueled by fears that the President would appoint an liberal ideologue who would change the Court to an institution led by five “liberal” Justices that legislate our lives from the bench. Subsequently, the tone has softened a bit. The President announcing he would fulfill his duty to reappoint a Justice and the Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee saying the committee might hold hearing on a nominee could make for an interesting 2016.

I wonder about whether our are lives are predestined by a force beyond our ability to comprehend. I also wonder if our Country has a destiny. The spot light is on our political system and how it works. Are we destined to turn right or left or go a different direction altogether. Even if by some miracle the President nominates someone and the Senate confirms, there are no guarantees. Ask President Eisenhower about his appointment of Earl Warren if you see him. Finally, we must all watch this movie to its conclusion to find out how it ends. If there is a force that created this all before the earth was formed as the Bible says or its all just random I can’t say. It will however make this year of political theater one to anticipate.

Ill-Fated

“Palm 90, how do you read?” That was the question the control tower at National Airport in Washington, D.C. asked on the afternoon of January 13, 1982. It would soon be apparent that Palm 90 had crashed. Palm 90 was the call sign for an Air Florida flight bound for Fort Lauderdale. Palm 90’s take off had been delayed because of a driving snow storm. The plane was de-iced during the delay, but falling temperatures and epic snow fall apparently caused the wings of the plane to ice over again. Palm 90 never achieved enough altitude on take-off to clear the 14th Street Bridge across the Potomac River located a short distance from the end of the runway. Cars on the bridge were struck and four people were killed as they sat in traffic simply trying to get home. The flight crashed into the Potomac and sank through the ice. There were heroic bystanders that helped save four of those who had survived the crash.

The early release of Federal workers to escape the 1982 storm had filled the 14th Street Bridge full of cars. Emergency vehicles were hampered by the weather conditions and the traffic on the bridge. In short, it was about as bad as it can get. Some might call the flight of Palm 90 “ill-fated”. As humans we search to find reasons for why things happen. Pilot error and the weather were advanced as potential reasons for the crash. Often though tragedies such as the crash of Palm 90 or the Titanic are referred to as ill-fated. What does it mean to be ill-fated? Does it presuppose that one who is involved in the event is the victim of bad luck or part of some other predestined event mapped out in advance by God? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary refers to it as “having or destined to a hapless fate.” That definition doesn’t answer the question of “why” or “how” those who died happened to be there. When one steps into the cabin of an airplane there is always the knowledge that it may crash, even if the chances are small. A person driving home on the 14th Street Bridge hit by a crashing airplane must be an event as unlikely to occur as one can imagine. Yet, there it is–it happened, but why? Stuff does happen, but that old phrase doesn’t explain why.  The chances of being killed by a falling airplane must be longer than winning the Power Ball Lottery. People do win the lottery. People do die because of crashing airplanes.

Frozen Potomac River

Frozen Potomac River

 

 

I hadn’t thought about this crash for awhile. This week I flew into National and the Potomac was iced over. It jogged my memory as we flew a few hundred feet above the 14th Street Bridge and the icy Potomac. Unlike Palm 90, my flight was not ill-fated. I would love to hear your thoughts about whether this is random luck or part of some bigger plan.

HISTORY AND CHEATING FATE

Interesting concept–cheating your fate. Seems like it would defeat the whole purpose of the system if one could actually “cheat” their fate. In my mind its like being a “little bit pregnant”. Either it was predestined and it happens or its not predestined. I’ve seen arguments and there are places in the Bible that indicate that one thing was predestined and God changed his/her mind. Could cheating your fate happen when God changes the predestined plan? There is an old proverb that presents the question in a different light. “If you were destined to hang, you’ll never drown.” I suppose the idea is that being saved from one disaster doesn’t mean you should gloat because there may be another fate awaiting you that you wouldn’t have picked if you would have had a choice. Free will might have let you choose your own path that avoids drowning or hanging.Of course this is all dependent on whether you buy the concept of predestination.

History is full of turning points that defy easy explanation. The incredibly powerful storm  that descended on Washington, D.C. in August of  1814 devastated the British Army’s plan to destroy the new U.S. Capitol. The rains put out fires set by the British to burn the city and it killed British soldiers who were crushed when building collapsed on them. Amazingly the British, whose vastly superior forces were ready to regain control of the  U.S. packed up and went home after the storm. It is reported that on the way out of town a British Admiral asked a woman resident of D.C.   ” Great God, Madam, is this the kind of storm to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?!”She responded, “No, sir, this is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from the city.”

So there you have it. The Bible is full of stories of divine intervention by a God that chooses sides. If this statement is true one of the following seems to be true. (1) God preordained the storm to save his “elected”. (2) God changed his/her mind about the British and the citizens of the U.S. “cheated their fate” or (3) it was a lucky coincidence. I’m just saying. I am saving. The whole issue of free-will is coming in another post, but what do you think?

DESTINED TO WRITE

If you are reading this then you’re on my website www.williamddarling.com. If you were interested enough to read the About Me (hyperlink to About Me) you have seen that I was bold enough to opine that “I was born to write novels.” Since I only recently published my first novel, Morgan’s Point, (hyperlink to kindle site) you might think me a bit presumptuous. I have never been accused of being a shrinking violet, but even I was startled when I first typed those words. 
Have you lived your whole life doing something that you really love (or maybe hate), and a little voice keeps telling you to change your life and won’t quit nagging?  We all have secret passions that we stuff down for fear of failure or not having enough to eat. If you aren’t Tolstoy or John Grisham it takes some guts to write “I was born to write”. I aspire to be like them. How did I get that way? What drove me to leave my day job behind? My posts have a common theme—predestination or the lack thereof.  I keep asking myself, how did I get here? Like the beer guy, I don’t always write about predestination, but when I do it’s on this website. 
I’ll leave you this thought. If that loud mouth on your back keeps telling you to change the course of your life—stop and listen—it may be destiny calling. Don’t hang up on a call from destiny without saying hello. At least you might shut that little loud mouth up and get him off your back.