Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Vindication… at last!

You may have noted that Bob Dylan has been named a recipient of the US Medal of Freedom, sort of the civilian equivalent of the Medal of Honor. This is like a “turning of a corner” moment of revelation for me, a moment that changes your perspective forever. Not many, typically, come in a life time.

To help define the moments I mean, one such came to me in March, 1968. I was engaged to be married to Sylvia in July, scheduled to graduate with a BS in physics from Texas A&M in May, and high in apprehension about if I was also scheduled to join a lot of my school mates on an all-expense paid trip to Vietnam (some of them had made the return trip already inside a box). President Johnson, LBJ, addressed the nation one evening on network television. On campus, we typically had no TV’s in the dorm rooms, so we gathered “after chow” in the most convenient student lounge, packing it to capacity to stare at the one TV screen available in each lounge (somehow, I remember it being black and white). That night LBJ announced he would not run for re-election; that night the world changed for me, for it meant the social revolution of the 60’s through which we were going was working — the revolution was bearing fruit.

Not that the President or any part of the military-industrial complex was conceding anything that night, but that the first crack in the complex became apparent. And that crack would widen until five years later the anti-war movement showed it had been right all along; about the same time (early 70’s) the civil rights movement emerged triumphant with the stamp of law, and the frontiers of racism finally began to retreat; at the same time the frontiers of sexism began to recede, and women were no longer seen as second class citizens. Despite the blood, despite the hatred, despite the divisive clashes that tore communities and families apart, we began to see ourselves without color, without sectarian creeds, without economic classes, without gender — see ourselves as more “we” than as “other.” We were as close to being the free and equal American citizens visualized by our founding fathers as we had been since the birth of our nation. Power was returning to the people.

The poet that inspired us through all this with his song lyrics was Bob Dylan. The writer (I think) of “Blowing in the Wind,” “Times They are a’Changing,” “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and “I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More” was the de facto poet laureate of the United States from 1960 on, as far as I am concerned. His songs resurrected the same power and influence as Thomas Paine’s words in “Common Sense” back during the American Revolution.

Dylan was a pioneer and trail blazer in American and international music. His influence in the history of music is rivaled only by the Beatles, and no one had more influence on the Beatles than Bob. He was vilified by folk music for “going electric.” Where is folk music today compared to the omnipresent electric guitar?

I walked into a class of mine in the 80’s or 90’s asking me who was that babbling old man out of his head so much he couldn’t accept his award (whatever it was) on TV the night before with any coherent words. It took me aback they did not know who Bob Dylan was or what he stood for. We had to have a little impromptu lesson right then and there; I like to think some of them went on to become Dylan fans.

There was that night during the Reagan administration when “Ronnie” actually said, “Guatemala is closer to El Paso than El Paso is to Washington D.C.,” trying to get the nation to feel threatened by Guatemala so troops could be sent to fight another Republican-inspired war, just as what happened later in Iraq. Then (when Reagan was in office) it did not take, and the propaganda from Reagan was laughed at into oblivion. I wish the same would have happened to the Iraq case. Bob’s influence had no small part in the Guatemala affair; his influence was too much forgotten in the Iraq affair.

We pay dearly if we forget the meaning of Bob Dylan’s songs.

So, well into the 21st century, Obama has recognized what this man has meant to us over the decades. I hope BD accepts it, but don’t be surprised if he does or doesn’t; Bob is Bob, and we are better for it. The world is far from the utopia visualized in the 60’s; Bob is here to remind us to keep visualizing. If we cannot reap the rewards of the kill as yet, at least we can reap the thrills of the chase.

If he speaks at all on the matter, don’t worry if you cannot understand a word he says. In his music he has spoken clearer than any of us.

He doesn’t have to say anything. The gesture of the award of the Medal of Freedom speaks volumes. You see, awarding Bob Dylan the Medal of Freedom is shouting from the rooftops that the social revolutions of the ’60’s have “taken,” like a great national vaccination against prejudice, inequality, injustice, tyranny, violence, and elitism of all ilks. The Medal of Freedom to Bob Dylan symbolizes vindication… vindication for us all who saw and lived the 60’s… vindication, at last!


Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee

As boys growing up in Cisco, Texas, Bill Lee and I spent many an hour sniffing airplane glue……let me rephrase that… professionals who might someday run for some public office, both of us need to join that elite group who maintain “I did not inhale.” That does not sound right, either. What I mean to say is that Bill Lee and I (I shall call him “Lee” or “Dr. Lee” — And God Said, Let There Be Friends [April, 2012]), many years ago saved up Foremost milk bottle tops and carton labels to help us obtain plastic models (mostly Revell brand) of planes, ships, tanks, etc. I can still smell that drying glue and feel the spilled glue drying all over my fingertips, layer after layer, in the back corner den of the Lee household on the highway between Cisco and Lake Cisco.

Both of us are doctors, he an M.D., and I a Ph.D. We are two doctors, a pair of docs, or, maybe, a pair o’ docs or paradox. Maybe it was an airplane glue after-effect, but we still think that kind of stupid humor is funny! And, that in turn, helps to understand why our friendship is anything but a paradox. A stranger would not connect us at all probably, Lee being “born” to be the church leader and community stalwart he is, and I “born” to be… whatever the hell I am (see my list of labels in Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones… [March, 2012]) and think any friendship between us would definitely be paradoxical and surprising. Such a stranger does not know the history of the Baby Boomers who grew up in Cisco.

Lee and I as friends, in fact, makes a lot of sense.

I’ve only known Bob Berry on the “ode” list longer than Lee. By the time the fifth grade rolled around he and I were fast friends, thanks to mutual friends like David Taylor, Clark Odom, John Shelton, and Buddy Nelms. Lee’s dad, Mr. O.L. Lee, owner of Cisco Steam Laundry, taught me how to play tennis and “ping-pong” (The way we played the latter, it would be too sophisticated to call it “table tennis.”), and his son Bill was patient enough with me to help me develop my skills; my goal in these games was to be able to “keep up with Lees.” Lee and I were Little League baseball players, he probably the better, as he was a catcher for the Athletics and I was a benchwarmer for the Braves. Yet, you could not call us athletic, as shown by his HS path going the way of band and mine going by way of athletic manager/trainer. Over the years, he was a Cub Scout, a “regular” at the Cisco Swimming Pool below the spillway of the lake’s dam, and a water skier on the lake; I was none of these.

But there was model railroading as well as plastic model assembly. His electric train was A.C. Gilbert and mine was Lionel, but we spent countless hours talking electric trains and how to make scenery and accessories look like the pictures of professional model train layouts featured in the model railroading magazines to which Lee subscribed. We never had the wherewithal to make the layouts of our dreams, but that did not stop us from dreaming. Then there was the Confederate Club, a creation in my backyard among the hound dogs my dad kept there. Lee, John Shelton, and Buddy Nelms were “original” members, along with Billy Pence; as founder, I was a General and Lee was the next in rank as Master Sergeant; political incorrectness aside — that never existed for us — we never succeeded in seceding from anything, but we sure collected a formidable cache of “weapons” in the form of burned-out light bulbs. We did succeed at building several “snakey” forts in which to bivouac — one of which was across from John Shelton’s house on a vacant lot, and another was atop McKinney hill at my grandparents’. Thanks to the Confederate Club, no one knew more about the US Civil War in our classes than Lee and I, as we celebrated the war’s centennial throughout our years in high school.

The Lees’ place “backed up” to include arms of the system of canyons in which Lake Cisco lies (Permian geology). We called the Lee section of the system simply “The Canyon,” and its importance to our friendship lasted well into our college years and graduate studies. From Lee, Buddy, John, and I going into the canyon during the winter months (We couldn’t go in summer time due to rattlesnakes.) and staging our famous rock fights, to Lee and I taking our brides into the haunts of the canyon to spin yarns for them about our childhood near the canyon’s bottom’s “Sewer Creek,” (like they wanted to know that!). Lee and I probably took all our mutual buddies through the “challenges” of the canyon, most of which lay across a fence line we never let our parents know we crossed — the climbs and jumps of the Gorges and the claustrophobic crawl through the HLH (Hastings-Lee Hideout), to name a couple. Add Hat Rock and caves both water-carved and otherwise, the importance of The Canyon to us is difficult to overemphasize.

Probably because he lived near the edge of The Canyon, Lee was and is as near “country” as Robert Cole and I. He was never apprehensive going to my mom’s and dad’s farms and ranches, and to those of my grandparents. He and Robert were the only ones from the “ode” list willing to go on a coon hunt with my dad’s hounds — a “real” challenge! Lee was always there for our camp-outs — not as “wild” as the rest of us, usually, but he was there. He could get his hands dirty as well as the rest of us.

When we were juniors in Cisco High School Mrs. Edward Lee (no relation) had us write short essays for publication in a high school Anthology. True to our forms, Lee wrote about the view and serenity late in the afternoon from atop Hat Rock in The Canyon. Me, I wrote about the agony of digging a pit with shovel and pick (which I had done for a new septic facility at one of the farms), trying to emulate Edgar Allan Poe. “OMG! WTF! You two were good friends?” I can hear the reader say. Yes we were… you could almost say it was karma-driven, God-inspired, in the cards, written in the stars. Lee and I were meant to affect each other.

Just The Canyon would have been enough for most friendships; but this is Bill Lee we are talking about. With the help of John Shelton’s father, one of our fifth grade teachers in West Ward, Lee was able to be a major catalyst in developing my love of reading — not reading because it was assigned, but reading for its own sake. The one friend most associated with our having to add-on to our house here in Waxahachie about 20 years ago just to house all the books I had collected (and still collect) is Lee. He introduced me to the Cisco Public Library; he and I were librarians both in West Ward and in Cisco Jr. High; at the 2010 high school reunion when he and I had a moment to visit a place special to us both, we stopped by the Cisco Public Library and took each other’s picture standing outside, while talking about how the books inside smelled in our memories. When I see Lee to this day, I usually have the book I’m reading in hand, for reasons many of you already know, or reasons that will soon be clear for those of you who don’t.

Isn’t that enough? Oh, no! He was one-quarter of the Mean Corner in the 8th grade in Jr. High, in Mrs. Schaefer’s class — the only spot in the classroom where four boys sat at two desks together. Lee and I were beside each other, with Bill Adling and Clark Odom sitting behind us. Expanding our political incorrectness, the Confederate flag, on a ruler flagpole atop the cigar box on our desk, with its carved “portholes” for the “cannon” of empty plastic ink cartridges, was joined by a Nazi flag! Like the Civil War, probably no one in the class knew more about WWII than the two of us. While it was not unusual for Lee, Adling, and I to get in trouble, it was unusual to hear Lee utter the word “hell” as he was reading from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” Just for good measure, he and I put together a model airplane with “brakes” using a metal clip, a pencil eraser, and a ruler — had it taken up several times — not to mention a “powered” unicycle made of a circular-shaped eraser-with-brush.

It was with Lee I began playing Avalon Hill games of military strategy, starting with Tactics II, Gettysburg, and Chancellorsville. Lee did not become the “war monger” fanatic many of us became in high school with our all-night war game tournaments at my house, but he made a convincing SS officer in a black-and-white photo session of highly questionable portraits, questionable to this day. (He also was a major subject in a comedy photo session, along with Adling, Earl Carson, and myself, one night at my house when we were supposed to be studying.) He made a great jester in the Alice-in-Wonderland-themed King Lobo Coronation – he was the Walrus (goo-goo-ga-joob!). He could (and still does) make terrible puns and corny jokes that would lay us all in the shade! Along with Adling, he can come up with some of the most sarcastic stuff to say at just the right time (e.g. If someone says to you “Is that right?” or “Is that true?”, just say, “No, I just said that!”, or, add to the words, “A little humor there” the words, “– very little!”).

As pointed out elsewhere, Lee, unlike Adling, Berry, Cole, and Hastings, managed to stay out of serious trouble in high school and college. But he remained a loyal, unfaltering friend to us, even though we did get in trouble; a lesser friend would probably have “dropped us like a hot rock.” Although he knew enough to add to our trouble, he never “squealed;” he never betrayed us. A lesser friend would have felt friendships tarnished when the four of us decided we had to temporarily unguard Lee’s sister’s (Camille’s) wedding presents while all the Lees were away for her college graduation (That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]). Had we not so decided, the Lake Cisco dam would not have been painted, in all probability, for the Cisco High School class of 1964, the class of all five of us. Luckily, nothing happened to the gifts while we were painting, and, though the rest of the Lee family had every right to think less of us, we never got that feeling from Bill Lee.

We were in each other’s weddings (lock-cinch!), he honoring me as his best man. Our brides did not approve of our idea of having one our rock fights at the receptions for old times’ sake.

Now, to “clinch” the friendship for you. Dr. Bill Lee was my family doctor and my wife’s, Sylvia’s. (This is why I had a book when I saw him over many years — to read while I waited in the waiting room of his office.) He lives over in Ennis, just a few miles from Waxahachie — retired now and a member of a Great Books readers club with me here in Waxahachie.  (We still meet books-in-hand.) I have had not one, not two, but three potentially life-threatening medical situations over the years, and in every one Bill Lee either took care of it himself, or he referred me to get checked out. In the latest one, some 12 years ago — the one involving cancer — Dr. Clark Odom (M.D.) (of Mean Corner fame above) also played a pivotal role. Bill Lee has literally saved my life three times; I would not probably be alive today were it not for Bill Lee (and Clark Odom). The guy on the Dos Equis commercials might be “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” but I’ve gotta be in top running for “The Luckiest Man in the World,” with two, count them, two MD BFF’s and childhood classmates who have proven they have my back! I am here today because of half the Mean Corner from the 8th grade!

But, I am alive today especially because of Dr. Bill R. Lee, he who with whom I did not inhale airplane glue so many years ago.


And God Said, “Let There Be Friends”… And It Was Weird!

I had no intention of writing my memoirs when I was in graduate school at Texas A&M; I felt compelled to do so, compelled by strangers (couples, mostly in a church group) who responded in astonishment to my stories of what I did with my friends while in high school in Cisco. Butch and Bernadine (Campbell) Donovan, also at A&M at that time, and a couple from Cisco as were Sylvia and I, started the whole thing by saying things like, “You ought to get Ronnie to tell you about the time he and his buddies……” The audience was astounded and wanted to know if I was making it all up. Sylvia, Butch, and Bernadine, all witnesses to much of which I spoke, assured them it was all true. No one could “top” what I was saying, and the next week-end Butch would suggest I reveal another of our high school “exploits.” It was like a week-end serial! Collectively, the group urged me to write it all down before I forgot details over the years, an idea that made more sense the more I thought about it.

So, before I wrote my 214-page, double-spaced doctoral dissertation in physics, I wrote my 836-page double-spaced memoirs. Had I known the latter was going to be that long, I might not have undertaken the task. But, it was one of the best things I ever did, right up there with the Ph.D. dissertation.

There was never any hesitation about what to write — write about my friends and our school days in Cisco. So rich, so beyond price, so hilarious, so memorable was this content, the writing took on a life of its own and became almost a non-autobiographical listing of events and their colorful detail. Along the way, I had a lot of “help from my friends,” of which the ballad from Sgt. Pepper speaks, especially from copies of selected pages from Bill Adling’s diary from his high school and college days. As I told Bob Berry when I saw him last November as we spoke of the memoirs, “Man, it is just as much your story as it is mine.” And as much Bill Lee’s, and as much Bill Adling’s, and as much Robert Cole’s. Add mine to these four names and the resulting quintet forms the list of “stars” of the 836 pages.

This post is an announcement that I am embarking upon a series of four tribute postings to the other four; it is not appropriate for me to write a tribute to me. Watch for those four names in future on this site. Without even reading the memoirs or even knowing about the events therein, I hope that these four postings will give you a flavor of these four characters — the four that made my memoirs fascinating to strangers. I submit that anyone who is lucky enough to have four friends such as these will, like me, have no trouble at all winning any “guess what we did?” contest for the rest of their life! I will call these tributes “odes,” not because they are epic or poetic, but because I can. After all, the title of my memoirs is “And God Said, ‘Let There Be Friends’…..or The Idiots and the Oddities, a Companion Volume to The Iliad and The Odyssey.”

These four fit one of my favorite definitions of a true, TRUE friend, a definition I will get to shortly.

But first, I want to make it clear why not in the four are true, best friends Dr. Clark Odom, Earl Carson, Stan Livingston, Billy Pence, Joe Woodard, Prince Altom, David Waters, Dwayne Scarlett, Buddy Nelms, John Shelton, Ted Capps, Dr. Jim Burns, Dr. Loyd Rutledge, Dr. Ron Spross, Dr. Butch Donovan, Danny Clack, Larry Nance, Marlin Marcum, Buford Green, Ronnie Rider, Lee Wallace, David Leese, Chip White, Mike Joyner, Robert Mitchell, Billy Wilson, Keith Starr, Larry Johnson, Jerry Parks, J.V. Plumlee, Rodney Harrelson, Darrell Holt, Lynn Hagan, Wayne White, Zack White, Nicky Lopez, Cliff Clary, George Mitchum, Jerry Broom, Anthony Strother, Macon Strother, Gerald Moore, Dr. Gene Byrd, Tommy Williams, Charlie Cole, Jerry Akers, or anyone of this group I have inadvertently left out. These names also appear in the memoirs, but not as often as the first four; none is less worthy than the four.

Not appearing in the memoirs but equally worthy are the countless numbers of friends I have added since I graduated with two degrees from A&M, many of whom became my friends as graduated former students.

Now to that definition: A true friend is someone who will come and bail you out of jail. A true, TRUE friend is in the jail cell with you saying, “Damn, we fucked up!” Ok, Dr. Bill Lee might be outside posting bail, but those other three are sure as hell in there with me, as those of you who don’t know them will see as you read about them. Nonetheless, Dr. Lee deserves an “ode” as much as my “cell mates.”

I suppose the lack of any female names on the above listing needs addressing. Certainly, were I to update that list to the present, there would be listed, I like to think, as many ladies as guys. So, why none from high school (Sylvia was my girlfriend in high school, and Bernadine was Butch’s.)? Due to the lack of a sister or two and due to the social mores of the generations of my childhood, the cultivation of friendships for me happened in a gender-segregated context. For that I am the poorer, I’m sure. On the other hand, don’t know if my life could have handled female counterparts to the honorees of the “odes!” As it is, the only female school mate who, in retrospect, asserts she would have been “in the cell” with us under different “friendship rules of the day” is Danny (Siddall) Barrett, or “Sweetness” as we call her today; those of you who know Danny also know that this assertion of hers indicates only the tip of the iceberg of her courage and fortitude.

I don’t know all the psychology that goes into making true, fast friends for life. But I do know that when it came to the five of us, our friendships seemed transcendent, soaring above all the day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year demands upon our individual lives. Whether it was Bob Berry, who I knew before we even started school, or whether it was Robert Cole, who I knew only from the sophomore year in high school, or the others in between, I got up on school mornings to go to school so I could be with them; they were surrogate brothers, sure, but they were brothers I got to choose, and I hope they chose me back. They collectively brought to me, as they still do to this day, all the reasons it was and is great to be alive — laughter, loyalty, fun, and terrible jokes. Because we had two Bills we called each other by our last names, something that sounded formal, but, in reality, was (and is) the greatest of compliments.

So, here’s to you, Berry, Lee, Adling, and Cole! There is no way I can thank y’all enough, you bunch of sick, crazy bastards!

For the preface material to the memoirs, I happened to pen a couple of lines that, hopefully, also credits this quartet adequately:

Who is the one who walks the second mile?
My friend — he who compels my mind to smile.


Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas

I’m not a country music fan, but I know what Toby Keith is singing about in his song “I Love This Bar.” I love the College Street Pub in Waxahachie, Texas — owned and operated by Wayne and Tammy Strickland since 2003, which I shall call just “The Pub.”

It was a pioneering enterprise for the city of Waxahachie, which had long been dry. Wayne and Tammy are entrepreneurial pioneers. Having to qualify simultaneously as a restaurant, always part of their plans, they brilliantly brought in as their chef Joe Garofano of Joe’s Bestburger, the icon hamburger place that had gone under (Since, the new burger-without-beer icon is Oma’s.). Everyone who grew up and lived in Waxahachie recognized so many of the items on The Pub’s menu already (like the delicious French burger); it was like being at Joe’s again.

But not exactly like the old Bestburger…

The Pub tries admirably to live up to its name by being an English-style “watering hole” with its massive bar of dark wood, its portrait of Winston Churchill on one exposed-brick wall and another of the Queen on the other brick wall, all in tribute to Wayne’s early years in the UK. But don’t let this fool you; you don’t have to be an Anglophile to appreciate this place. It is an enterprise in Texas manned and womaned by Texans.

I have some favorite particulars about The Pub. Atop the center mirror’s shelf of the bar is a “headjug” crafted by C.W. Block, one of the coolest teachers and damnedest artists I know. Out back is a deck whereupon one can sit during the many days of gorgeous weather Waxahachie enjoys and view the creek babbling alongside The Pub. Conveniently, The Pub is two doors down from the Waxahachie Police Department, a fact of much comfort to patrons and visitors, in case riff-raff like myself get out-of-hand. It is also just a block away from Waxahachie’s famous courthouse. Just beyond the police parking lot and the parking lot across College Street where so many of us park is the railroad, with its clock-like schedule of trains. The long trains, especially those loaded with fuel mined in Montana for power plants near Houston, literally shake your pint of libation as they lumber down the rails, and, when the whistle blasts, which it must do frequently within the city limits, conversationalists must either momentarily stop the conversation, or, else, raise their voice inappropriately. (I felt a pang of hypocrisy there, as many times as I’ve been told to tone it down at The Pub.)

Patrons of restaurants and bars everywhere know what the phrase “take care of you” means, in reference to the service rendered by the establishment’s staff. I’ve learned that they “take care of you” at The Pub, and, for me, the phrase has names, Nici — Wayne and Tammy’s daughter (usually behind the bar), Lauren (usually waiting tables or sometimes behind the bar), and Ashley (usually waiting tables). From the friendly greeting when you walk in the door to the friendly farewell when you exit, you are “taken care of.” For regular patrons, Nici usually has their chosen drink sitting in front of them before all the greetings are exchanged. The invitation to order something from the menu is always prompt and welcomed. I’ve learned that Nici has long ago seen through my little game of not ordering the same thing in succession; she knows I like my Dos Equis on tap as my starter; Nici knows I’m not as unpredictable on my drink order as I pretend to be; she knows that when I order a Shiner bock on tap, that is the last one. If I order a salad, either with or without an entrée, she knows I prefer their superb ranch dressing.

I’ve learned the clientele of The Pub is a broad cross-section of Waxahachie, and of present-day society in general. I have taught so long it seems at least half of them are former students of mine! Every Waxahachian seems to be represented: blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, farmers and ranchers, retirees of all types, former pro athletes, lawyers, city officials, bikers (motorcycles, not bicycles), students (who are always ID’ed), and business persons of all types. And, of course, visitors: I remember meeting and toasting a young servicewoman passing through on leave. Not that long ago I was invited to a table of three young businessmen passing through on their way back home, and, after spinning for them my favorite Waxahachie yarns, they bought my French burger and all my drinks, from my Dos Equis to my Shiner! It doesn’t get much better than that! And all because of The Pub.

I will only name two “regulars.” To try to name them all would risk leaving someone out, and I do not want to do that. But no one would begrudge my naming Thomas — a retiree from a municipal career, and one of the nicest, gentlest people you will ever meet. Nor would anyone begrudge me naming Bobby Huskins, a native Waxahachian, a conversation with whom alone is worth the trip to The Pub. With Bobby I love to talk baseball, whether it be the local high school team, college ball, the minor leagues, or the major leagues. But that is only one of many topics, as Bobby is an accomplished musician and a great source on the “true” history of Waxahachie. I will always regret not taking him up on his offer to drive into Dallas with him on a weeknight and hear Joan Baez.

I try to talk with anyone who wants each visit, but am never disappointed if conversation does not emerge. There are only three screens you can see from the bar area, the big flat screen where the sports event of the moment is shown (I’ve watch many an exhilarating and many a heart-breaking game on that thing.), a screen in one corner which usually has national news or the skate-boarding network on, and a screen in another corner anointed by Wayne as the dedicated soccer TV, whereupon one can see the latest from the foreign soccer leagues. Clearly, this is not what one thinks of as a sports bar. One visit might culminate in a deep philosophical discussion on the nature of religion, one might have me getting a lexicon lesson on the origin of the word “honkey,” another might have me overhearing a politically conservative rant on why our electorate should be reduced (how I did not wade into that one is beyond me), and still another might have me joining a gaggle of former students, some of whom might even buy me a round.

Sitting at the bar on the high dark wood stools, I am never far from the sight where I was able to “live the dream” and be the “lead singer” for rock songs played by the Baithouse Stompers (C.W. Block [mentioned above], Neel Brown, Sean Cagle, and Wayne [the owner]), and,therefore, never far from great memories. I’ve learned what it is like to sing “Sympathy for the Devil” in front of a mixed crowd of coaches from Waxahachie and Ennis; I’ve learned that crowds usually prefer me to do “Gloria,” but also on my playlist is a grunge version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” “Honkey Tonk Women,” and “Spider and the Fly” — the last two from the Stones, like “Sympathy.” Great group, the Stompers, despite my guest appearances; thanks, guys! I have a fan base of two, Nici and Lauren; they are sweet and indulge me, letting me call them my “groupies.”

I’ve learned the delights of The Pub’s sound system, connected with a juke box. Today the sound is usually on a CD player controlled at the bar. The selections either on box or player are eclectic, and the only time I get to hear “my” box tunes are the rare moments when I’ve put some money in it, or, even better, the times when Wayne or Nici goes back to the box right outside the restrooms and sets it on a certain number of free plays — you just punch in what you want to hear. You can always tell when Doc Hastings is in the house or Doc has just left because he finished his Shiner when you hear in The Pub, the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” and “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the Stones’ “Sister Morphine,” “Bitch,” and “Wild Horses,” the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” and “Well Respected Man,” or Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Voodoo Child.” (Extra points, boys and girls! What albums had to be on The Pub’s juke box?)

I guess I better say something about the beer. Sorry I cannot say anything about all the libations The Pub serves up, but I don’t do wine, coolers, margaritas, or mixed drinks. I’m told The Pub does a great job on these too, and I’ve learned nothing that contradicts that statement. You may have already gathered that I prefer draft, and The Pub has a small, but excellent array of taps. One or more is usually dedicated to a revolving, seasonal selection, which assures perpetual variety, despite my commitment to Dos Equis and Shiner. I like Guinness and its “mixtures,” like black-and-tans and half-and-halfs; I like hefeweisens and white beers, both Belgian and German. I like most Mexican and German beers, and dislike most American beers. And Chimay, especially Chimay red label — ale brewed by Belgian Trappist monks! I love red label Chimay so much it is the sole reason I’ve found justifying the existence of the Roman Catholic Church! The genres I do not like are porters and double bocks. Mixed I am (Yoda just channeled me there.) on IPA’s. Probably the one I like best I cannot have (Isn’t that always the case?) — Alexander Keith’s IPA, brewed in Nova Scotia and found all over Canada. For reasons I’ve not found, it is not imported from Canada. Yet, Nici is always introducing me to things Wayne decides to try at The Pub, so to her and the Pub I owe thanks for all the brews I have tried and enjoyed. My thanks to the Stricklands!

One Friday evening a while ago I was sitting about the center of The Pub’s bar somewhere between my Dos Equis and Shiner. No one was engaging me in conversation (if you believe that!), and, as I took a sip, three WWII German soldiers, one a Luftwaffe officer, walked behind me and on through past the restrooms out toward the deck! (My first thought was that I need to reduce the number of books in my personal library on Nazi Germany.) I took another sip, and a group of WWII American GI’s, one an officer that looked a lot like Patton, walked behind me in the same direction! (I realized I may have read too many books on WWII.) A third sip was followed by a couple, one looking like Gen. de Gaulle and the other a French resistance woman with a beret! (I began to believe I really had played too many war board games of strategy during high school.) When the fourth sip was followed by a parade of a British WWII soldier and officer, I was trying to decide if I needed to go into immediate therapy or suspect Nici was serving me a lot stronger drink than I ordered! Then, thankfully, I remembered that this was the beginning of the weekend when WWII reenactors gathered at the square around the courthouse in Waxahachie and reenacted a clash of forces in a generic French village, circa 1944. Only at The Pub!

Is it any wonder why each visit to the College Street Pub in Waxahachie, Texas, deserves a reverent moment of silence to the Alps of Europe? For, without them, grapes could be grown all over Europe and wine might have been the only alcoholic drink developed. As it was, grains could stand the cold, and from them came mead, ale, and beer. Here’s to the Alps! And here’s hoping that I will see you at The Pub!


Sorting Out the Apostle Paul

So emotional and knee-jerk do many get concerning what I am about to do, I feel we all need a little historical decorum and perspective before I start.

If you think I really had problems with public education (What is Wrong with Public Education…), they may have been exceeded in church (Southern Baptist) over the years. As I sat in the pews listening to sermons and following along with my personal Bible, as I sat in Sunday School class after Sunday school class, and as I taught Sunday School myself extensively, I began to notice something. The principle text for the sermon or lesson, it seemed to me, was coming more frequently not from the Gospels, but from the letters of the Apostle Paul. That got me to wondering and asking myself questions.

Had I been a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox member of the congregation, that may have been as far as it went, and I might be still asking questions to myself to this day within sanctified walls. But I am a Protestant, a child of the Reformation. Ironically, I do not have the Baptist church to thank for helping me understand the ramifications of being a Protestant. For, along with a growing uneasiness about Paul, was the odd observation that neither the Reformation nor the origins of my particular denomination was ever discussed from a historical perspective. Only lives of inspiring Baptists, from preachers to missionaries were paraded before us as some kind of models. Instead of being inspired, I became increasingly suspicious. My questions, for the most part, were deflected or simply not answered. When I found out how to find the answers to my questions, I began to understand why the church did not want to answer them; the history of Protestantism, beginning with the 95 Theses, unfolded like an expose, an expose of Protestantism, of Christianity in general, and of Christianity’s origins.

So much of what I had been told in church that claimed to go back to the “first century” church went back instead to the Reformation, to the 16th century. For example, the sanctity of the believer, that each man or woman had their own direct link to God. In many ways, the establishment of that idea was a main thrust of the Reformers Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, etc. — about 1500 years after Jesus died!

That is just the tip if the iceberg concerning the Reformation: Basically, I was able to ask my questions and get my answers because of what the revolutionary movement started by the Reformers made possible. Taking advantage of the newly invented printing press, Protestantism encouraged anyone who was literate to read the Scriptures for themselves in their own language! You did not have to know Latin, Greek, or Hebrew! You did not have to have a cleric of any kind, if you knew how to read, read and interpret Scripture for you.

And it was just you, your Bible, and your God, as the pantheon of Saints propped up by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches was swept away, along with the cult of the Virgin, the “Mother of God.” You prayed only to the Trinity. How incredibly simplifying! Moreover, all those orders within Catholicism, as well as celibacy of the priesthood went out the Protestant backdoor, along with the saints and with the cult of Mary, mother of Jesus. Even more simplification! Anyone could understand how to become and live as a Christian. Again, it is just you, your Bible, and your God.

What made all kinds of sense to me is that you do not need clergy at all to be a Christian. This is the origin of my anti-clericism. In fact, as I read the Gospels, it seemed Jesus was teaching the same thing: you don’t need a clergy; you don’t need the Pharisees nor do you need the Sadducees. Jesus, in many ways, seemed to me to be the first Protestant. At the very least, He was a radical reformer of the organized religion of his day; and He paid the price for being so.

Incidentally, there is a price paid by historic Christianity due to the Reformation. The humanist philosopher Erasmus, though agreeing with the Reformers that something had to be done about the corruption of the Roman Church, nonetheless warned that if the Reformation came to blows, which it did (culminating the Thirty Years War 1618-1648), Christianity would shatter into countless shards, like a busted window pane. This is exactly what has happened; the unity of the Church is irrevocably shattered; the number of denominations and sects is legion, and growing. And all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t put the Church together again. I don’t sweat this price, as I am not convinced Jesus was working toward a church anyway; more of what I’ve seen says he was not.

So, what I am about to do regarding Paul and the origins of Christianity is to claim my birth right as a Protestant. I am going to find answers to my questions using my own interpretation of Scripture. I exercise my discretionary rights as a thinking individual and choose to consult all the sources I have read on Christianity for decades, as well as the Bible, including many so-called “lost” Gospels beyond Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all unearthed in modern times (e.g. the “Gnostic Gospels” found at Nag Hammadi).

Wait! — you might say. You are not an expert on Christianity! You did not attend seminary! You are not an expert! You are not qualified! Thanks to the Reformation, every person is qualified to interpret what they read according to the dictates of their heart, according to their individual faith. The Renaissance, going on prior and during the Reformation, reinforced this attitude, emphasizing the sanctity of the individual reader; experts were not necessary.

The great epistemological problem of all religions, including Christianity, is that they are entirely faith-based, based upon the authority of simply believing, specifically believing in the authority of church leaders. This means that any system based upon faith cannot show itself any better than another faith-based system. The reason Protestantism took so well to the scientific and industrial revolutions was that the sovereignty of the individual Bible reader became free of the circular arguments of faith-based positions because of them — there could be an authority outside and independent of faith, the authority of the scientific enterprise — nature itself. History became a forensic science, though still a “soft” one, instead of the mere “story telling” begun by Herodotus; history could be “checked” by archeology, comparative and critical literature, and records kept in all societies. “Truth” became a matter of methodology, not a matter of authority or faith. Adding the influences of the scientific and industrial revolutions, the Enlightenment carried on the revolutionary thrusts fostered by both the Reformation and the Renaissance. Anyone can pursue the truth independent of formal education, degrees, or titles. In forensic history, one does not have to be an expert to be correct.

[Without rationally based forensic history, it would be impossible to show any religion better than, say, that of FSM, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster Faith, a theological system set up to illustrate this very point. FSM is the all-powerful Creator-God; if you need a Saviour or Messiah, insert the hero of your choice, and the Chosen People, the “Jews” of FSM, are pirates. So, if you hate pirates, you are the equivalent of an anti-Semite within FSM.]

So, again, I declare my birth-right as a Protestant and ask my questions independent of clergy or other ecclesiastical authority. Thanks to the American Revolution and the French Revolution (separation of church and state), I shall not be arrested or silenced when doing so, and, thanks to the forensic science of modern historical Biblical criticism, the validity of my findings have nothing to do with expertise, my degrees, my schooling, or my opinions. And, of course, all my findings are open to criticism and free discussion.

Any Protestant, in my opinion, who does not read Scripture cover-to-cover and/or turns over to some member of clergy the right to interpret Scripture in his/her stead, sells their “birth-right” as a Protestant. Any of the Protestant clergy who feels they are in any way special compared to the people in their pews are, in my opinion, no better than the Pharisees, Sadducees, Catholic clergymen, or Orthodox clergymen. Such clergy have put themselves at odds with Jesus’ teaching — Heaven help them! (You can imagine how well these declarations go over with my minister friends!)

With all this justification, I ask “Why was Paul an apostle in the first place?” Usually, the word “apostle” means “one of the 12,” or, better “one who walked with Jesus.” This I have no problems with, as this means Mary Magdalene should also be an apostle, as pointed out in the March 2012 National Geographic, but that same issue has no problem titling Paul as an apostle, too. That bugs me, as I think it should be someone who walked and talked with Jesus daily. That was not Paul (the converted Saul). He is called an apostle based upon a “Damascus road experience” wherein he fell off his ass onto his ass and began to see a vision of Jesus, which no one else saw. I believe he fell off his ass onto his head.

If all it takes is seeing a vision, then any of us could attain apostle status by making outlandish claims that no one could prove or refute. Now, don’t get me wrong; Paul probably did think he saw and heard something, but this could just as easily be attributed to the triggering of guilt feelings (as Saul he persecuted Christians) brought on by the trauma of the fall off his ass as it could to an actual revelation from Jesus. His subsequent zeal fits the pattern of all converts — a perpetual need for the new choice to be shown to be the correct one; no greater fear has a convert than he or she has made the wrong change.

I used to question why Paul’s letters were canonized. They are but letters intended to put out “brush fire” squabbles among the plethora of early Christian churches. (There was no Christian consensus in the first century; such a consensus did not materialize until Constantine over 300 years later! This is why churches claiming to be “throw backs” to the first century are so laughable; there was no ONE first century church; the array of different and differing issues with which Paul’s letters had to deal is evidence of this fact.) I do not now blame Paul for this; canonization came with the days of Constantine by the early church bishops; in fact, I do not believe Paul ever dreamed his letters to the various churches would one day be considered part of the Word of God. It was not his fault his letters were canonized.

Paul’s letters are maddeningly absent of any details about Jesus’ life or His teachings; the letters are anything but supplementary Gospel material. All Paul seems interested in is putting out “congregational brush fires” and interpreting the death of Jesus, or the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, depending upon your individual faith. Paul by this demonstrates the perpetual problem of all Christian apologetics — rationalizing Jesus’ death as a criminal. It is possible all Christian theology stems from this need to rationalize. If you look at what are the consensus words of Jesus from the four Gospel writers (the Evangelists) — The Jefferson Bible is a good source to use for this — there is little or no theology at all. Why is this?

Turns out a great many followers of Jesus in the decades after his Crucifixion, including the convert Paul, believed Jesus would return within their generation, before they died. Hence, there was little motivation or need to write down details of Jesus’ life; you only had time to get ready for His return, or, in Paul’s case, had time to squabble with conflicting Christian congregations of all kinds of ilks and with apostles like Peter, who did not agree with Paul.

Then came the historical bombshell that sealed the direction Christianity was to go: the Jewish Rebellion against the Romans in 62-70 CE (or AD) — you know, the one that ended in the siege at Masada. (Read the histories of Josephus.) Not told to Christians, as a rule, are two profound effects upon Christianity by this bombshell: 1) All the Christian and Jewish/Christian sects around Jerusalem (one was headed by James, brother of Jesus — seems Jesus had 4 brothers, including James, and three unnamed sisters (so much for the “virgin” thing concerning Mary, His mother!)) were wiped out or decimated to near-oblivion, like everything else in the Jewish nation. This means that the form of theology that survived was Paul’s, by default, given apostles like Peter apparently never tried to write anything like what Paul was writing. The “official” version of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (the 40 days) is not Christianity, but “Paulianity,” in my opinion. What other interpretations of the Passion Week were destroyed in the rebellion? [A hint might very well be that to this day a sect survives in Syria/Mesopotamia that believes John the Baptist was the Messiah, not Jesus.] This is why “Paulianity” accepts Gentiles as converts, as well as Jews; Paul operated among Gentiles way away from the rebellion site — remember the missionary journeys of Paul?

2) As the Judaean world began to crumble (the beginning of the Diaspora, or dispersal of the Jews away from the Holy Land), it dawned upon the first century Christians, struggling not to be cultural casualties along with the Pharisee/Sadducee culture, that maybe they better start recording events of Jesus’ life in case they died without writing stuff down, or, Jesus did not return as soon as they had believed, or, both. Thus the Gospels were written; thus were the Gospels (including the Acts), as strange as it may seem, written after Paul’s letters, decades after Jesus died! They are more like evangelical tracts, not like histories. From around 60 CE well into the second century CE, no fewer than 21 Gospels were written, thanks to modern Biblical archeology; for the first 400 years of Christianity, different bishops “sanctified” different collections of the Gospels. All 21, or, what is left of them, have been translated so that anyone may read them. If you have not done so, check them out. This is stuff they don’t tell you in Sunday School or in the pew rows. When the Bible as we know it was finally canonized around 325 CE with the four familiar, evangelical Gospels, the “chosen” four were selected because they correlate better with each other than the other 17 Gospels, which contain sometimes wildly contradictory details of Jesus’ life; even the four do not correlate on certain particulars, as any Bible scholar “worth his/her salt” knows.

So, where does this leave us? As usual, in historical, philosophical, and scholarly queries such as this, it begs more questions than offers answers. As a scientist (physicist) I am very comfortable with unanswered questions, but I’ve seen too many over the years willing to sell their intellectual respectability to some arbitrary authority for an answer, any answer; they sell their Protestant birth-right. I trust none of you readers that have made it this far has prostituted yourself so. I trust many of you have your own view of Paul, a view I hope you are willing to share.

I urge you to be a good Protestant and read your Bible — all of it, and then read the other Gospels. As for this post, I shall leave you with some questions, just to get responses going:

  1. Can all religions be investigated with the same tools as has been Christianity? (My experience says, “yes,” and, so far, all major and minor religions seem to have their version of a “Paul,” and they all today have a form not intended by their founder, in my opinion.)
  2. What is the relation between the age of a religion and the difficulty exposing its origins? (As you might expect, the older the religion, more are the layers of historical obscurity veiling the truths at the beginnings. Not surprisingly, to me, Hinduism and Judaism are the toughest to expose, but even in these cases, progress has been made. This is why “johnny-come-latelys” like Mormonism and Scientology are so easy to expose.)
  3. Some of you may be familiar with the Jewish/Canadian Biblical archeologist Simcha Jacobovici (TV series “The Naked Archeologist”). He is among those who found in 1980 ossuaries (stone chests used to store the bones of loved ones after a year of decomposition in a family crypt — the method of burial in Jesus’ time for those who could afford it) in Jerusalem called the Talpiot Tomb with inscriptions like “Jesus, son of Joseph,” “Mary,” “Mariamene” (Mary Magdalene), and “Yeuda” or “Judah, son of Jesus” scratched on the outside, all dated first century. Nearby is the family tomb of what looks like “Joseph of Arimathea.” These are all common names of the time, but, is this merely a coincidence? Why is Simcha’s team denied close-up access to these crypts and ossuaries? Why isn’t someone being allowed to determine if these are genuine ossuaries or forgeries, like have been found at other sites? Where are the Christian scholarly responses to this work, if any?
  4. Has anyone seen my lost copy of the January, 2001, National Geographic? They are all accounted for in my library, except that one.


Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll! Hell, Hell, Heavy Metal!

Music, like women and beer, is a matter of taste. I have chosen as my music genre for life — rock and roll. My choice occurred when I was a Senior in Cisco High School, when Beatlemania hit, and I think I bought the first Beatle album at the A&P grocery store where my father worked as the head butcher. Almost a different crowd showed up at my house a week after that purchase each and every night to hear that album — “Meet the Beatles” played all the way through. Bill Adling, Bob Berry, and I like to think we were among the first Beatle fans.

Those two convinced me to like the Fab Four, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, for the music, not just for their radical looks and behavior. I began to like their sound, not just their rebelliousnes. By the time Adling, Berry, Robert Cole, and I had formed the M-4, I was a hooked rock and roll fan. I went retrograde to embrace the anti-establishment forms of early rock and roll to add to the Beatles — the music of Chuck (not Bob) Berry, Little Richard, Motown, and doo-woop. Strangely, not of Elvis — by 1964 he was appearing to becoming too establishment; he had deserted the spirit of the genre despite all the pioneering work he had done for rock. As Chuck said “Hail, Hail, rock ‘n’ roll!”

The British invasion, in the wake of the Beatles, brought the Rolling Stones, The Who, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, and the Kinks. The Stones, Mick, Keith, Charlie, Bryan, and Bill (not Adling), did something we thought impossible: almost top the Beatles in our minds. That never happened to me, but it was close. I shall never forget that summer after our freshman year at A&M when Bob Berry and I were hiking on US 183 south of Cisco to one of my parents’ farms to camp out, and we heard on the huge battery-powered radio we were lugging (probably on KLIF out of Dallas) “Turn up your radio, here is the latest from the Rolling Stones!” and we heard Keith’s opening riff to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for the first time.

The US expanded Motown, and the Stones’ popularity made the Blues more widely accepted across the country. James Brown, the Beach Boys, the whole genre of surfing music, and great dance classics like all the versions of twist music (Chubby Checker) quickly added to the mix.

What is it about rock and roll? What gives it its great, broad appeal? I do not believe analyzing music eviscerates its appeal, so I will give it a shot, based upon my own gut feelings about rock: It pisses off parents. Keith Richards of the Stones said that the first thing he and Mick considered about a song or its lyrics is “Will it piss off the parents?” I do not believe it has to be that an older generation must dislike the music of the younger, because that of the younger is chosen for the same reason I chose the Beatles in the first place — it is my music, my choice, something I can call mine even though I am still a teenager; the more the parents hate it the better! Though it started as young people’s music, it is now also old people’s music, music to those of us who never lost that rebellious teenage spirit regardless of our age. At every Stones’ concert I’ve attended, the crowd is at least three generations deep — grandparents in leather jackets with a big red lips and tongue insignia holding the hands of their grandchildren sporting Stones’ regalia.

For, rock ‘n’ roll transcends age and generation nowadays. It always has been the music of protest, of revolution, of teenage rebellion and freedom: the social revolutions of the 60’s, the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement. Rock and roll transcends barriers –social, racial, economic, religious, political. It became apparent to me that Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was correct, “Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix — that’s all you need to know about rock ‘n’ roll!” (or something like that). When I became a parent, I swore I would not battle my children over music. It helped to keep that oath when I caught my younger son Chad swiping my Beatles’ LP’s and playing them in his room on the sly. He “discovered” the Beatles on his own, and then the Stones. That has been repeated in families countless times all over the world. What most of the world does not realize is that that discovery, if you truly love rock, can work the opposite way. My world of rock expanded instead of “circling the wagons.”

I admit I took my two sons to a metal concert early on as a chaperon. But I was open-minded not only because of my earlier oath, but because I had seen Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS interviewed, and I saw behind the make-up two Long Island Jewish boys who had stumbled upon a good thing. It reminded me of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in their first years. The make-up, all the theatrics, was not only to piss the parents off, it was acknowledging that pissing off parents SELLS, and sells big.

My first metal concert was Bon Jovi, preceded by Cinderella, the latter being one of the big glam “hair metal” bands. I was hooked again, not by Bon Jovi, but by Cinderella — not by how they looked, something the girls noted, but how they sounded, something I always listened for; looks do not matter in music, only what comes out of the instruments and vocal chords.

What hooked me was the same thing that hooked me back in 1963-1964. Those opening guitar chords that are the distinct fingerprint of so many great songs; that wailing screaming voice of the front guy or gal. Personally, my singing voice is so bad rock and metal are the only kind of songs I can sing; a good voice is not necessary — listen to the pipes of Bob Dylan and Lemmy Kilmeister of Motorhead; that killer guitar solo somewhere in the middle; that driving, pounding beat laid down by the drummer sweating out 10 pounds through his pores every concert; that bridge into the chorus whose driving beat (not necessarily the words) sticks in your head forever; the ear busting volume. You get the feeling the group on the stage is grabbing you by your shirt, pulling you toward them face-to-face and shouting at you “Listen to this, you son-of-a-bitch!” Now THAT’S music!

I discovered that Cinderella, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, AC/DC, Judas Priest, KISS, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Dio, Metallica, Ozzy, Slayer, Joan Jett, Accept, Pantera, Godsmack, Warlock, the Scorpions, Rob Zombie, WASP, Slipknot, etc., etc. were doing the same thing that the Beatles, the Stones, The Who, and the Kinks did way back, only with bigger amps. I see a continuous thread through time, the continuation of which Led Zepplin played no small part, even though, for whatever reason, I was never a “lead head.”

When my sons and I could afford it, we went to concert after concert, I never as a chaperon anymore. I have gone by myself when I could find no one to go with me. I am a fan. I’ve been soaked while in the crowd by a “fire-hose” water gun manned by Ozzy himself. I went to the Ozzfest in Smirnoff at Fair Park in Dallas in August of 05 by myself and stayed all day, worth it to see (in order) Slayer, Judas Priest, and Ozzy fronting Sabbath on a reunion tour at the end of the night. My son Chad and I saw an Ozzfest in Ohio during a father-son sports orgy trip where the show ended with (in order) Godsmack, Pantera, and Ozzy. There, we were “treated” by the entire hillside of newly sodded turf being ripped up and hurled toward the stage just because it could be done. I was hit in the side of the face by a “brick” of dirt and grass because I did not duck quickly enough; we watched the concert standing up sideways, our hands propped upon our lower thighs, with our heads swiveling as in a tennis match looking for “incoming” from behind and looking to peek at the stage in front. By the time Ozzy took the stage, most of the hillside’s topsoil was piled almost stage high at Ozzy’s feet. Now, THAT”S music!

I have been on the edge of moshes where I was in danger of getting caught up in it; I quickly would find my older son Dan (larger than I) and stand behind him for protection. I learned by direct observation that if a young woman has on only paint, it is not considered public nudity. I learned that young women on the shoulders of their dates at metal concerts often make it a point of showing everyone that she is not wearing a bra. I learned that if you wear an Iron Maiden shirt, you can engage in the most interesting and weirdest conversations ever with a woman, if she is also wearing an Iron Maiden shirt; what do you talk about to get the conversation started? Iron Maiden, of course! (To appreciate this point some of you might need to know that at Iron Maiden concerts, the crowd is usually 80% male — imagine what that 20% female part must be like!) I have hearing damage because I started wearing ear plugs to metal concerts too late to avoid it; tinnitus is probably inevitable. Now, THAT’S music!

Of course, rock ‘n’ roll, classic or metal, is not for everyone; it is just a matter of taste, to repeat myself. Those who take it seriously can kill themselves; rock and roll is a culture of alcohol and drugs, as a rule. Ask Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bryan Jones of the Stones, and Steve Clark of Def Leppard. Courts have proven that heavy metal is not responsible for kids committing suicide; those kids would probably have killed themselves if they heard a refrigerator hum. Congressional hearings have proven that the smut in heavy metal lyrics are in the minds of the listeners; put a censored label on a metal album, and its sale will skyrocket; Chad used to never buy anything unless it had an explicit lyrics warning label on it.

What about all this devil, Satan, horror, over-sexed, anti-Christian, and sadistic stuff you see associated with heavy metal. Metal has learned, much to its delight, that not only stuff that pisses off parents sells, stuff that scares the hell out of parents sells like hotcakes, too! If “proper” society decided little pink unicorns are somehow evil and perversion personified, there would be a metal band on stage somewhere within a month dressed up like pink unicorns spouting lyrics of improper four-letter words. Now, THAT’S music!

Finally, rock and roll or heavy metal has always had a practical use for me personally; this music has probably saved me thousands of dollars in therapy, saved me far more than I have spent on tickets, souvenir programs, and souvenir concert tee-shirts. It is therapeutic and cathartic to my mind; it is my mental and physical outlet. More times than I can count over the years, when things get backed up, out of control, stupid, crazy, and I’ve “had it up to here” I get in my car after my teaching day is over (most of the time it was my beloved ’66 candy-apple red Mustang), drive up and down the drag with the windows up and the radio volume turned up to the proverbial Spinal Tap’s “11” belting out the lyrics of one of my favorite tunes, like the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper,” the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” or Motley Crue’s “Kick Start My Heart.”

In my head, it’s all one big continuous, seamless concert, with a never-ending encore.


What is Wrong With Public Education… Briefly Revisited

Thanks to all for the comments on “What is Wrong With Public Education… and What To Do About It.” (If you have not done so, please read “What To Do…” before you read this.) I apologize if it came across as bitter, or as “sour grapes,” if it came across as rambling or confused, if it came across as some kind of rant, especially near the end. I made the mistake of trying to cover too much in too few words in order the post would not be so long. Trouble is, when taking short-cuts and cramming, the tone, inflection and emphasis only oral communication can convey gets lost in the typed world of words that is cyberspace.

I am not bitter, for to be so would make me no better than the world of Eduway that I slam. I am in a better place now, professionally speaking, and have no axe to grind with those who are bringing, in my opinion, lowered standards and grave problems to our beloved system of public education. It would all be laughable, a joke even, were it not for the fact Eduway is eroding the quality of all student potential in public education, and, as I recently found out to my surprise, in private education also.

I try to stay away from ranting by seeing the humor in all of it. For instance, unionization of teachers was mentioned. It is ironic that if teachers unionize, they are playing into the hands of those in Eduway, confirming they are in effect blue collar workers and not professionals, like lawyers and doctors. States who unionize our public and private school teachers build impediments to achieving the goal of true professionalism, which is, I think, for teachers to be as main stars on soap operas as doctors and lawyers — the “soap opera” test of true professionalism. (Some of my best friends are soap opera fans.)

I know students can be empowered. Former Waxahachie administrator Jerry Colosimo and I were part of the leadership in forming an actual research group in Waxahachie High School that, under the guise of demonstrating what computers can do for schools, affected the functioning of the school by using student-written software to actually schedule the students of the entire school and writing software that analyzed grading patterns in all the classrooms — a genuine stab in studying learning scientifically and mathematically. I shall have more detail on this unusual phenomenon in another post, but, here, suffice it to say the Eduway administrators and Eduway “educational professionals” were appalled, ignoring the implications of our findings and squawking about students having unprecedented access to official grades. We were first treated like innovators, then, when it was seen that the work was done so much by students, we were seen as violators of teachers’ privacy rights. Religious-like, we wound up going from heroes to heretics. (Some of my best friends are heretics.)

Students, such as these pioneering researchers, were not potential problems for the school or community; they were leaders in improving the schools in ways benefitting the students, not Eduway. They were examples of how public (and private) education can be saved from Eduway. (Some of my best friends are these former student researchers.)

Also mentioned was that the business model does contain elements useful in an institution of collegial professionals, like performance-based pay, merit pay, or bonus pay. This is a point well said and well taken, but does not justify one iota the Eduway goal of running entire schools as if they were a business. I think it would be wise to remember the joke I always heard at A&M, “If you flunk out of engineering, you can always go to the college of business!” (Some of my best friends are business entrepreneurs; some of my best friends are engineers.)

Eduway administrators do not want on their faculties true professionals, “good” teachers. They want “good little soldiers,” loyal and unquestioning. They want “yes” men and women. If these administrators were true professionals, they would treat their faculty members like graduate school administrators treated theirs. Delightful, funny, delicious moments came to me in my teaching career when we caught the Waxahachie administration tying to prop up the facade of teacher approval on an issue the administration had already decided upon. Or, when a group of teachers stopped the Waxahachie school district from violating separation of church and state, having to do with the distribution of Gideon Bibles at the high school front door.

Even administrators who are former teachers seem to suffer from the need to have their ass kissed. Ass kissing is the Eduway way. Teachers are expected to be ass kissers, instead of ass kickers. Too many teachers are too willing to kiss ass. (Some of my best friends want their ass kissed.) (Some of my best friends are accomplished ass kissers.)

If you let them, Eduway administrators will treat both teachers and students as mushrooms — kept in the dark and fed bullshit! (Now, that is funny, I don’t care who you are!)


What is Wrong With Public Education… and What To Do About It

If our country is one big room, the elephant in that room is the state of public education. Everybody seems to know there are grave problems, but no one wants to talk about it. Well… almost no one… I am near the end of my teaching career, so I have no reservations in talking about the elephant, and to speak in, I hope, no uncertain terms.

As in most great issues there are “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” If names appear in all this, they are names of “the good;” the names of “the bad and the ugly” are withheld for obvious reasons. If a name does not appear, it does not mean I’m calling the person left out as “bad” or “ugly;” it means I don’t have room to list all the names of the “good” in education.

I am going to list the “mind crimes” committed against all of us when we were students, against our children as students, and against our grandchildren as students at the feet of a villianized group I shall call, for simplicity, Eduway — sort of like Amway, I suppose. Eduway consists of parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and tax payers; it is a group of “bads” and “uglies.” Thank God the “goods” are as equally distributed and widespread!

Who in the hell am I to pontificate about the problems of education? Just because I am a teacher? No, I hope to show, despite the fact I am a teacher, Eduway hamstrings the lofty goals of the lofty idea of public education because the “goods” struggling against Eduway are usually “lifers” in the profession of education or “traditionalists” who think their experience in education is the only one that can be had in education. They have nothing better with which to compare, or they refuse to look for anything better, in the name of “that’s the way it has always been.”

Briefly, I have been a professional teacher for over forty years; six years in higher education (Texas A&M University at College Station and University of Texas at Austin); 32 years in high school (Jrs. & Srs. in Waxahachie High School); three years in a private college-prep church school (Canterbury Episcopal in DeSoto). I chose to teach high schoolers; I did not teach because I could not do something else. The secrets to my longevity are my subjects I teach or have taught: upper level physics, upper level math, astronomy, computer science, history & philosophy of science — my discipline problems are essentially scheduled out. My teaching specialty is college preparation.

Professionally I am a “square peg in a round hole;” I do not fit. On the campuses of Waxahachie and DeSoto I was and am the only Ph.D. in the classroom. (Note: this is crucial — NOT a doctorate in education) My degrees are not in education, but in physics. Before I started teaching in high school, I knew how to teach, without a single hour of education. (I started in Waxahachie on a provisional basis, agreeing to get my “necessary” education hours in two years, thanks to Billy Bates, former football coach at Cisco High School and superintendent at Waxahachie ISD at the time.) How did I know how to teach without a single education hour?

Because I did not listen to Eduway, mostly made of “professional educators” eaten up with the myth of education. Mrs. Edward Lee of the Cisco schools (Ciscoites might remember she lived right across the street from the old 3-story high school building.) told me before I graduated from CHS, “Ronnie, take as few education courses as you can.” (At the time, I did not know I was going to teach — maybe Mrs. Lee knew something about me I did not; I would not put it past her.) I listened to Mrs. Lee — I took zero hours of education in eight years of undergraduate and graduate school at Texas A&M. I taught Jr. High and High School science and math teachers for Extension of UT Austin, and, as I visited with them and asked them what they would have done differently, they consistently said, “Take fewer education courses, and more content courses.”

Eduway says you must have education courses to be able to teach; that is a myth. I am living proof, and the world is filled with others just like me — countless college and university professors who know how to teach and have never had an education course in their life. I suspect they learned the way I did — on-the-job training, employing the “monkey-see, monkey-do” method. Thrown in front of my first lab course I taught, I mimicked my professors, like Dr. Nelson Duller and Dr. John McIntyre of physics and Dr. Manuel Davenport and Rev. Stadleman of philosophy; I mimicked my high school teachers like Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Evelyn Bailey, Mr. Jack Hughes, Mr. Arlin Bint; I mimicked my junior high teachers like Mrs. Hart, Mrs. Schaefer, and Mrs. Pat Owens. In my opinion, the only training needed for teachers is so-called “student teaching” — on-the-job training, and only on-the-job training.

My experience implies there is no science of education. Eduway acts as if there is. If such a science existed, then teaching and learning would be done the same way everywhere. But the truth is, how we learn is as complicated as how our brains work, and we know so very little in both areas. Education courses are propped up as content courses by college and university departments of education, like science and math courses are content courses, only the latter need no such propping. I can think of no more useless courses or of time more wasted than the time spent taking education courses. (Some of my best friends are education professors.) Even the professional “educators” know it: To finish up my required education hours for my teaching certification through Texas Woman’s University (TWU), the education department there allowed me to write papers in lieu of taking the rest of the courses, when one education professor, looking at my folder, said, “Now, let me get this straight — you have a Ph.D. in physics and we are signing you up in a course where you practice turning on projectors and setting up equipment in the classroom?” We both agreed that was pretty silly, to say the least.

Teaching is an art, a skill; I think it is a calling. Despite my anti-clerical philosophy (Some of my best friends are in the clergy.) I understand what it means to be “called” into the ministry. You learn how to teach well by teaching, learning from your mistakes, and constantly adjusting and tweaking.

Two qualities must be possessed by a “good” teacher: competency and compassion. A “good” teacher has both to spare; a “bad” or “ugly” teacher has only one or neither. A lot of teachers teaching today are “bad” and/or “ugly.” Under a rare administrator at Waxahachie High School who did not listen to Eduway, faculty members, led by department heads, did the interviewing of applicants to join the faculty. We interviewed a veteran teacher we knew from the past whose mantra was “I just love kids.” Which was bullshit, because we knew he was a racist. No compassion, and probably not competent. “Good” teachers must know what they are talking about, and they must care deeply and passionately that their students develop a love of learning whatever subject they are teaching. “Good” teachers are not surrogate parents; they are not “friends” of their students (though, after graduation so very many of my former students have become my good friends; one of them is the administrator of this website).

Eduway has brought the profession of teaching to the brink of low-income labor — almost the antithesis of a professional career. Teachers should have the professional respect of lawyers and doctors, a profession self-governed and self-regulated, instead of being reduced to second-class citizens by low-income professional classification. Teachers are considered workers more than professionals. Eduway administrators of all levels get paid more than classroom teachers, as a rule, for doing little or none of the work with the students — the whole purpose of the entire educational enterprise.

Eduway has introduced the “business” model into schools, as opposed to the “institutional” model. (I watched the operation of the “institutional” model for eight years in college.) This has been as a cancer in American education, both in public and private schools. Not too long ago I had a board member of Canterbury hold up the “business model” as the guideline for private schools. I should have seen this coming, as over the years at Waxahachie compiling my list of “things I do not understand about public schools,” teachers stopped leaving the classroom to become principals; rather, they left to become “managers.” (Teachers-become-principals for money are “sell-outs” — they betray students. Now, some non-competent, non-caring teachers that can’t be shed need to be “encouraged” to become administrators, like the Corps of Cadets when I was at Texas A&M, wherein outfits would “push” assholes into the corps staff — promote them — so that the outfit would become much, much better without them.) Admittedly, many faculties would become much better with certain teachers “promoted” to administrators. Phrases like “chain of command” were introduced into faculty-administration relations- a setting where they do not belong.   As I saw in college and university administrations of “true” professionals, there is no need of a chain of command. (Some of my best friends are promoted school administrators.)

Notice how little I’ve said about the students themselves? Congratulations! You see the horror brought on by the self-aggrandizement of Eduway?  The idea of public education is probably the best, certainly one of the best, ideas the US has given the world — the idea that citizens of means and property would make a material sacrifice for the younger generation (pay their school taxes). Eduway has turned public schools into an adult affair, like any other business; Eduway would have schools be about budgets and the wise spending of taxpayer’s money, instead of being of the students, by the students, and for the students. Without students as the main concern there is no school. I remember times in Waxahachie when district policy was guided by the accountants, by the budget! That was no true school, that was a farce, or, better, a tragedy for young minds.

No wonder students don’t like school! The school is not theirs; it is an adult playground ill-concerned about learning wherein adults use the “business” of schools as a means of self-promotion and students are seen as end “products,” products of some kind of K-12 assembly line. Eduway wants students to become consumers, not independent, innovative thinkers; Eduway wants to rubber stamp for the student the same thing stamped for the student’s parents.

Eduway spends time, money, and effort drumming up useless “in-service” programs for teachers, when almost every faculty has an almost endless source of meaningful, applicable “in-service” resources: its “good” teachers. Great in-services are actually the cheapest ones! Money is wasted paying curriculum directors, whose contributions to the classroom are, in my opinion, as useless as a ham sandwich at a Jewish picnic. So-called H-R departments, or human resource centers, become, thanks to Eduway, little more than enforcers of heavy-handed administration; H-R centers should be help centers for teachers, not centers harboring even more administrators.

Too many coaches are teachers, and too many teachers are coaches. In my experience a good coach and a good teacher in one is as rare as that aforementioned picnic sandwich. Coaches should not be allowed to become administrators unless they have morphed into something more than a coach, as did Billy Bates and Lonnie Nichols in Waxahachie. Nothing sadder and weaker than an administrator who can never be more than a coach. (Some of my best friends are coaches.)

Eduway shows its stupidity no better than in the sphere of teacher evaluation. Teachers are evaluated by people removed from the classroom! They should be evaluated by a practicing panel of their peers — pure and simple.

All principles should be required to teach at least one class, and be evaluated like any other teacher.

At the high school level, students should be empowered, given a sense that the school is not the adults’, it is the students’. Student body representatives should be present at all faculty meetings, all principals’ meetings, and all school board meetings; also they should have a say in what teachers are hired or fired. (Eduway would say I am calling for the inmates to run the asylum — idiots!) I lived an actual case when bright students actually wrote the scheduling software for the school; it did not last long; many adults hate to be outshined by students, even on the students’ “turf.” I wrote a short novel years ago entitled Brave New School, describing a school with such an empowered student body; unfortunately, Eduway librarians would file such a publication under “fantasy.”

This can go on and on, but I will truncate this with an appeal to pay teachers like professionals, not like second-class employees. Teachers don’t work for a State, a school district, or a boss; they work for students, just like lawyers work for their clients and doctors work for their patients. We need salary incentives to attract the best minds into teaching instead of desperate minds who cannot function in other capacities. You get what you pay for, and tax-paying parents should be outraged that their most precious children are placed in classrooms for most of their young lives too often with people paid proportionally to their competency and their compassion. It is almost organized child abuse! Meanwhile, look at the high-end salaries given to people who hardly step into the classroom. (Some of my best friends are campus administrators and district administrators.)

Elect school board members who are more teacher supporters than business people; elect school board members more interested in what goes on in the classrooms than on district fields of athletic play; elect school board members more interested in academic achievement than extracurricular contest winners. (Some of my best friends are school board members.)

Again, somebody has to talk about the elephant in the room. Perhaps it is appropriate the talk comes from someone like whom (possessing a Ph.D.) Waxahachie made sure they did not hire again; appropriate from someone who was never assigned as a mentor for an aspiring classroom teacher — maybe, for fear of what would “rub off” on the aspirant?; appropriate the talk comes from someone who, in the end, was drummed out of public schools for doing what he was asked to do when coaxed out of retirement; appropriate from someone who, when given the choice, always sided with the students; appropriate the talk comes from someone who, I think, never “sold out.”

I speak up for the “good” teachers at Canterbury, with whom I share so much in background, as well as lunchtime — teachers with last names like Hoffmann, Reves, Bailey, Polewski, Caulder, and Edwards. I did it for the “good” teachers of Waxahachie High, past and present, C.W. Block, Kathryn Aday, Amy Cote, Mona Choucair, Billy Ray Hancock, Emily Price, Brittney Duvall, Ron Appleton, Lisa Elliot, Sean Cagle, Doris Butler, Carrie White, Wanda Cain, Don Bowman, Ted Harris, Benji Arnold, Tommy Simpson, Dr. Rusty Reeves, John Nickols, Billy Stoffrogen, and Don Henslee. Add to the two Waxahachie administrators mentioned prior, the names Harold Dorsey, Jerry Colosimo, and Don Williams. And, of course, I speak up for those Cisco High School teachers and Texas A&M profs I’ve already listed above.

But most of all, I did it for all the students I have known, inside and outside my classroom, and for students everywhere. May those young minds who are coming after today’s students receive better from public education.


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