Joe Nick Patoski Slam-Dunks Dallas Cowboys Tome (Houston Press)

William Michael Smith, Houston Press writer and Odessa Permian grad, weighs in on the book here:

Football
Joe Nick Patoski Slam-Dunks Dallas Cowboys Tome
By William Michael Smith Fri., Sep. 21 2012 at 12:30 PM
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Categories: Football

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The dust jacket from Joe Nick Patoski’s new tome on America’s Team
If there is one reason Joe Nick Patoski’s books — biographies of Selena, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Willie Nelson — are so good, it is his ability as a storyteller. Any decent reporter can sift news clippings and videos or interview the participants, but Patoski’s style and organization turn what could have been dry, pedantic history into a page-turner. You can actually picture him whittling on a piece of pecan while, with a knowing huckster twinkle in his eye, he wheedles you into something you didn’t bargain for. It’s the Texas way.

It doesn’t hurt that his subject matter in the thorough-to-a-fault 816 page tome Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America is the self-proclaimed America’s Team, that garish, gauche agglomeration of rich nut jobs, rigid Christian automatons, true-believer underpaid players like Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Lilly, Dave Manders, and Don Perkins, and too-highly-paid thugs like Pac-Man Jones and Michael Irvin known as the Dallas Cowboys.

Ever since the ultra-kooky Dallas zillionaire Clint Murchison founded the franchise with his twisted brain trust of carnival barker Tex Schramm and rigid Jesus-nut coach Tom Landry, the Cowboys have been a three-ring larger-than-life circus.

Federico Fellini couldn’t make this shit up.

For people of a certain age — those of us who still remember the team in its infancy, when Sunday NFL football was changing Sunday viewing habits forever and who have been sucked in by the Cowboys media juggernaut for the past fifty years — the book is the key to forgotten personalities and events, a history closely paralleling our own lives.

“If there is a goal to this book, it’s to trigger memories in readers,” Patoski told me recently. We were discussing short term head coach Chan Gailey, whom I had completely forgotten. “Chan the Man was not that bad a coach, he just had a very tough act to follow, the Cowboys still being in thrall of Jimmy Johnson’s aura.”

While Patoski has gathered a smattering of information firsthand via interviews — mostly from innocent bystanders like center Dave Manders’ wife Betty who add color and validity — he did not interview any of the major principals in the story, although he did request an interview with current owner Jerry Jones three times.

According to Patoski, seeking an interview with Jones was something any good journalist would do, but Jones ignoring his requests didn’t really alter the book in any way.

“The security guy told me he wouldn’t respond, there wasn’t anything he’d gain from that,” says Patoski. “Listen, the written record on this subject is so huge, I didn’t need to talk to him or anyone, really. My goal was figuring out the bigger story.”

And figure out the bigger story he did. Not only does Patoski leave no stone unturned in relation to the Cowboys on- and off-the-field actions, he also masterfully ties in the history, politics, business environment, and culture of Dallas and the DFW area. He even draws a subtle comparison with Houston, using Molly Ivins’ insightful line, “Houston is degenerate, Dallas is perverse.”

The overarching highlight is Patoski’s cinematic Technicolor evocation of the circus the Cowboys are and have always been. Sex, drugs, rock and roll have never looked so salacious, except in Pete Gent’s great fictionalization of the Cowboys, North Dallas Forty.

“That’s the outrageous part,” Patoski explains. “It wasn’t anything I said, it’s what the written record said.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the book is how well the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders come off. In spite of their hyper sexed-up public image, up beside all the macho crazoid stuff going down with the team and its management the cheerleaders come off as one of the few true positives, mainly due to the careful management and civic foresight of the various managers of the organization over its history. Few realize the economic impact the cheerleaders have made; they frequently add more than a $1,000,000 in profits to the Cowboys’ bottom line annually.

Patoski paints dynamic, carefully researched portraits of all the main players in the drama, neither diminishing the accomplishments nor exaggerating the freak-show events. But it is his timely, unblinking portrait of current owner Jerry Jones that stands out.

A megalomaniac of epic proportions, Jones is rightfully portrayed as a marketing genius who took both the Cowboys and the NFL to almost unimaginable financial heights, yet for all his financial success and a brief return to glory during the Jimmy Johnson regime, Jones’s football club has been barely above mediocre on the field over the long haul. Patoski lays the blame for Dallas’s .500 record over the past decade squarely at Jones’s feet.

Patoski makes the case — as have others — that the problem is Jones’ insistence on functioning not only as owner but as general manager, the only owner in the league to do so. For every stroke of genius comes another incident where Jones comes off like a spoiled, redneck brat who puts his celebrity above winning by continually meddling with coaches and football decisions.

Patoski labels the fact that Jones and the Cowboys continue to be thought of by the public — and by ticket buyers — as a great football team in spite of their lackluster record over the past decade as “Jerry’s con.” Never in the history of the NFL has such a mediocre team demanded so much rabid loyalty or had such astronomical television ratings.

The author also makes plain that in spite of all the smoke and mirrors, Jones and his revolving cast of head coaches haven’t come close to matching the success of the original owner and coach. Patoski does offer hope to the faithful that the Cowboys may right themselves when Jones steps down in favor of his son Steve Jones, who has been in the family business since day one and is apparently less of an egomaniac than his flamboyant father.

Don’t be intimidated by this five-pound monster. Because of Patoski’s feel for Texanspeak and Texanthink plus his highly trained reporter’s instincts, the book can be cruised through in a week. Well written, informative, and entertaining, it stands every chance of being a true blockbuster, just like its subject.

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Writing with a Sense of Place

A couple weeks ago, it was my privilege to teach a class for the Writers League of Texas (writersleague.org) at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.


Susan Weeks is not pictured. Susan was flooded in the RV Park where she was staying on Friday morning, and didn’t make it to the last class.

I say it was a privilege because I had a great group of students to kick around the whole idea of writing, communicating, what it all means, and why we do what we do.

One student, Light T. Cummins, was in his last week of being the official State Historian of Texas. (Like I said, this was an exceptionally talented group.)

Light was kind enough to share his blog about his experiences, which I am sharing here.
Here’s the link to his blog, An Historian of Texas (historianoftexas.blogspot.com)

And here’s what he wrote:
Is there a difference between being an author and a writer? Until last week, I would have said yes, because it has long been my contention that authors and writers are not the same literary animal. My opinion was that historians (including myself) are authors only. We are not writers. Academic historians research and write synthetic works of historical analysis. What we say is potentially more important to us than how we say it. Writers, in particular those who deal in non-fiction, were to me a different breed of folk. They have the freedom to write from their feelings, observations, and opinions in ways that academic historians do not. The way a writer says something with their words can be the main event of what they write.

My mind has been changed about this and I now contend there is no difference between a good writer and a good author. Historians are writers, or at least they should attempt to be. This revelation came to me because I recently attended the summer writing workshop sponsored by the Writer’s League of Texas. The League holds this annual event at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. I was one of almost a dozen students in a seminar taught by Joe Nick Patoski, who is one of the most wide-published writers in the southwestern United States. “Writing with Sense of Place” served as the title and frame of reference for this seminar.

Joe Nick Patoski
Joe Nick Patoski has written a shelf-full of books that people read everyday. His forthcoming book on the history of the Dallas Cowboys promises to be a true blockbuster. Joe Nick put all of us attending the seminar through our writing paces while he engaged in a constantly fascinating barrage of animated talk that explained literally everything he knew about how to be a writer. His talk is the equal of his writing. Over the course of the week he extemporaneously spoke a book to us verbally. Its title could have been “How To Be a Good Writer.” It was a magnum opus.

Tom Michael and Rachael Osler Lindley visited the seminar to talk about their radio station, KRTS, 93.5 FM. This PBS station, popularly known as Marfa Public Radio, is one of the smaller public broadcasting stations in the nation. It mounts each day a full schedule of national and local programs, many of which highlight writers and their work. It was fun while in Alpine to tune-in KRTS on my radio dial instead of being an internet listener, my usual means of hearing the station. Historian Lonn Taylor also visited our group to read from his latest book, Rambling Boy, and talk about his very popular writing. Taylor writes a regular column for the Big Sentinel in addition to being heard regularly on Marfa Public Radio. Curator Mary Bones took us on a tour of the Museum of the Big Bend, something that regally highlighted our sense of place about the region.

The fine writing and cogent comments manifested by the other participants in the seminar, many of whom are also published writers, served as powerful reinforcements to Joe Nick’s writing exercises, the class visitors, and our group discussions. I was happy with my participation because I was able to shake the archival dust off some of the things that I wrote in the seminar. In fact, a few things I put on paper actually read as if they had been written by a writer.

For Joe Nick Patoski’s website, Click Here.
For the Writer’s League of Texas website, Click Here.
For Marfa Public Radio, Cllick Here.
For Lonn Taylor’s column, Rambling Boy, Click Here.
For the Museum of the Big Bend, Click Here.

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Water For All? Texas Coop Power’s water issue

Water for All?

Texas Coop Power’s water issue follow the link to download the pdf file.

I’m proud to be a part of the team that put this issue together and especially proud of the journalism done in the name of Texas and its future.

My article on groundwater and surface water in Texas is below and through this link:

photo by Woody Welch

Once deemed too ‘secret, occult and concealed’ to regulate, groundwater remains a vexing subject too deep to capture for today’s lawmakers

By Joe Nick Patoski
August 1, 2012

Water: It’s a deep subject, and veteran journalist Joe Nick Patoski has been trying to get to the bottom of it for years. Spring-fed Jacob’s Well, his favorite swimming hole, sustains the Blanco River and recharges the Edwards Aquifer. But while Wimberley’s Jacob’s Well is threatened by drought and increased pumping of the Trinity Aquifer, some homeowners in nearby Austin have paid to have private wells drilled in the Edwards—not for drinking water, but for water to keep their lawns lush and green.

Water is water, except in Texas.

All of Texas’ freshwater comes from precipitation. Where it goes when it falls makes all the difference in the world.

Surface water, meaning creeks, rivers and lakes, is considered a public resource commonly owned by the people of Texas. Simple enough.

Groundwater, that is all water that you can’t see below the surface of the Earth, is a whole other matter. That water, contained in aquifers and bolsons (Spanish for “bag,” in this case meaning hollowed basins), found tens, hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet below the surface, is regarded like oil or other minerals—a resource owned by the owner of the land above it.

Got that?

In 1904, the Texas Supreme Court determined in the Houston & T.C. Railway Co. v. East case that property owners could pump as much groundwater as they pleased without regard to the effects on neighbors’ wells. Groundwater, the court ruled, was too “secret, occult and concealed” to regulate. No one understood how groundwater worked, so the court applied rule of capture, a remnant of British common law, to the case.

In February 2012, the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in the Day v. Edwards Aquifer Authority case affirmed that the property owner of the ground also owned the water under that ground.

The problem with both decisions is that groundwater does not observe property lines. Some aquifers are so large they span several counties. Some, hydrologists have learned over the past century, are actually moving rivers. Plus, no matter how groundwater moves, what’s clear is more water is being pumped from underground than is being put back in through recharge.

That explains why other states in the American West have developed different laws and strategies regarding management of groundwater. Texas is the only Western state where rule of capture is law. That may work well for property owners wanting to sell their groundwater, or sell their mineral rights, but not so great for most of the rest of the population that relies on water as a life source.

Where water is abundant, rule of capture works fine, because whatever water is pumped out from underground is usually replenished. But in arid, water-short regions, such as all of the state west of the 98th parallel (roughly following U.S. Interstate 35), the devil’s in the details. Consider this: It’s perfectly legal for a single landowner, taking advantage of his or her property rights, to drain so much groundwater that neighbors’ wells go dry or the groundwater underneath their property disappears.

The most notorious case illustrating that point is when Clayton Williams Sr. and other businessmen pumped groundwater below land they owned west of Fort Stockton to create a pecan orchard in the desert. Because of their actions, Comanche Springs, the largest springs in West Texas, went dry, forcing more than 200 truck farms east of town to go under. Williams’ right was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court in 1954.

The Texas court has since reaffirmed property owners’ right to underground water; in 1999, the court upheld the right of Ozarka to mine a spring in East Texas for commercial purposes, even though it caused neighbors’ wells to go dry.

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision in early 2012 affirmed that Texas landowners own the groundwater “in place” beneath their property, and that they may have a valid claim for compensation from the government if regulations go too far in limiting their ability to capitalize on their groundwater.

Still, there are limits to unregulated pumping.

The withdrawal rate of pumping groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer—one of the world’s largest underground aquifer systems that covers most of the Great Plains, including the Texas Panhandle and South Plains—has exceeded recharge of the aquifer through rain and snowmelt over the past century. Parts of the water table in Texas have been drained, while less than half of the underground aquifer’s original ground water supply remains. Pumping costs have increased to the point where many Texas farmers have quit irrigated farming altogether, even if groundwater is available. In other words, pumping without regulation is unsustainable.

In 1993, Federal District Judge Lucius D. Bunton III ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set pumping limits in the Edwards Aquifer—which at the time supplied San Antonio with all its drinking water—to protect endangered species dependent on the Comal and San Marcos springs, the biggest spring systems in Texas.

“Without a fundamental change in the value the region places on freshwater, a major effort to conserve and reuse Aquifer water, and implemented plans to import supplemental supplies of water, the region’s quality of life and economic future are imperiled,” Bunton wrote in his decision.

Bunton’s ruling led to the creation of the Edwards Aquifer Authority by the Texas Legislature. The authority regulates pumping from the Edwards Aquifer.

In 1997, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, establishing statewide water planning for the next 50 years. The bill and subsequent legislation have stated that the best means of local management of groundwater are the 101 groundwater districts established across the state. The rub after the Texas Supreme Court’s 2012 decision is, if a groundwater district or other government entity limits a landowner’s desire to pump, the landowner can sue the district for a “taking” of private property.

“While the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in the Day case makes clear that landowners own the groundwater in place beneath their property, it is much less clear how far a groundwater district may limit pumping before it amounts to a taking of private property,” says attorney Tom Mason, the former general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority who now specializes in water law in Austin.

Which means groundwater districts, regional planning groups and state water authorities, in order to ensure sufficient water supplies 50 years from now, will have a hard time managing groundwater in a way that allows long-term, sustainable use by a variety of landowners/pumpers.

So, groundwater is a property right, and as such requires a whole lot of trust and awareness of the unwritten “law of the biggest pump” when it comes to management of groundwater resources locally, regionally or statewide. Otherwise, if all property owners exercised their right to pump, there wouldn’t be any groundwater left to fight over.

Surface water, on the other hand, is owned by all Texans, even though despite the different laws, really, it’s all the same water.

——————–
Joe Nick Patoski is the author of nine books, including Generations on the Land: A Conservation Legacy (Texas A&M University Press, 2010). Patoski, an avid swimmer and kayaker, lives in Wimberley, in the Hill Country.

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