Dropout Rates

Something else that needs fixing in the school system… dropout rates. They need to be higher to reflect reality. Trouble is, if they were figures that reflected reality, most schools would be in deep trouble with the No Child Left Behind requirements. That explains why the numbers for dropouts get cooked.

If a student transfers from a standard high school and enrolls in a charter school that has a dropout waiver, then that student does not count as a dropout, even if the student quits the charter after enrolling there. This explains why schools everywhere have larger freshman classes than senior classes by a significant margin, yet their dropout rates remain within NCLB bounds. These fudges are legal, but highly deceptive.

About That Moment of Silence in Texas Schools…

I heard a political ad yesterday. When the ad proudly proclaimed that this politician was responsible for getting a moment of silence into school, I cried out, “HE’S THE GUY!” Now, I don’t bear him any malice. I forgive him because he knows not what he done did do.

I knew when the moment of silence hit the agenda that it was an attempt to shoehorn state-sponsored prayer in schools. What it became was a joke. Kids would always try to text, talk, goof off, fidget, and do anything but pray. I don’t recall a single student of mine ever actually conscientiously using the moment of silence to offer supplications to the almighty – except for a few times when I asked that the students observe the moment of silence in recognition of a significant disaster. Otherwise, it created a disruption at worst and an annoyance at best.

It’s not like students can’t pray in schools. They can and they do. Thing is, we happen to have a horde of godless heathurns running wild in our schools that don’t give two cares about gettin’ religion once a day after ignoring the Pledge of Allegiance. A moment of silence isn’t going to get them to come to Jesus. In fact, there’s quite a few interpretations on that theme, as I understand them, and there are a number of faiths that don’t even subscribe to the notion of there being anything particularly special about Jesus.

As a teacher, I’ve accommodated the pious of all faiths. I’ve made exceptions in daily routines to allow for Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims (Sunni, Shi’a, and otherwise), Buddhists (Theravada and Mahayana), and even a Zoroastrian to practice their faiths according to the dictates of their beliefs. It’s not hard: it’s just a matter of exercising the same common courtesy normally extended only to Christians and Jews by our legislatures. (By the way… a note to certain high-minded Christians: Jews are *not* just waiting around to hear about Jesus, and then they’ll suddenly flip and become Baptists.)

The people that are most ardent about prayer in schools seem to me to be most ardent about *their* prayer in schools, and not someone else’s. I remember a time back in 1990 when I had an incident in an in-school suspension class.

For the unfamiliar, in-school suspension is a mild form of house arrest at school, typically assigned to students that have made some affront to decency like fighting, cursing at teachers, or getting too many tardies. This day, there was one student in ISS, and I had to cover the class at lunch time. When his lunch arrived from the cafeteria, he refused to eat it. The cafeteria lady took it back and I asked him why he refused it. He said, “I’m Muslim, and Ramadan started yesterday.”

Immediately, I knew it was his month of fasting from dawn until dusk, and knew that this habitually tardy lad had at least some sense of timing, even if it operated across months instead of hours. Be that as it was, I thought nothing of it and carried on supervising his working quietly on homework.

A few minutes later, a principal entered the room and confronted the boy about his refusal to eat lunch. She wanted to know if it was some kind of act of rebellion. He said, “It’s Ramadan, Miss. It’s a month of fasting.”

“What’s that? A ram-a-what? Are you making this up?”

I about had my jaw hit the floor after bouncing off the desk. This kind of stuff got taught in 10th-grade Social Studies in Texas. How could this person have a doctorate in anything from a for-reals university and not know that Muslims observe Ramadan, a month of fasting. But this lady had no clue and was really giving this kid grief. He insisted he was telling the truth and she kept asking him to come clean and admit he was fibbing. I interrupted and said, “Muslims do observe a month of fasting called Ramadan. He’s not trying to cause a disruption. It’s his faith.”

“Well, can he prove he’s Muslim or whatever?”

The kid looked at me, confused as to how to go about proving he was a Muslim. It’s not like they brand their yearlings or the EPA tags them to follow their migratory patterns. I suggested, “Why not recite from the Quran?”

He said, “Bismillah al-Rahman, al-”

She said, “OK, I believe he’s a Muslim. We just don’t want his mom trying to sue us for not letting him eat lunch or anything.”

Now, this was a woman that also professed a desire to have prayer in school. Yet, she had no respect or understanding of faiths other than her own. If I hadn’t been there to speak on behalf of the young man, he would have gotten in deeper trouble, to be compounded by a possible parent protest to the administration. That kind of spectacle was absolutely unnecessary, and completely avoidable to anyone truly interested in understanding and respecting religious pluralism, which is more to the heart of our Founding Fathers’ principles than mandatory state-sponsored prayer.

Which brings me back to this politician… his ad speaks glowingly of his support of the second amendment and uses equally glowing language to support his desecration of the first. What, does he want the right to hold a gun to my head and force me to pray? OK, so I exaggerate there (I hope), but there’s something in there that needs addressing. That is, we don’t fix our schools with prayer in them. We simply do not. Put another way, that moment of silence, along with the mandatory pledge, breaks the schools. They rob the school day of instructional time. They teach that conformity to minimum standards are more important than striving to make choices at one’s own pace.

As a teacher, that moment of silence and daily pledge really grated on my nerves. Schools were better before so-called conservatives took a page out of the totalitarian playbook and decided to force religion and patriotism on us all. I got along much better in my classroom without that moment of silence. So, if you’re a politician in Texas that cares about education, one thing you need to do is junk that moment of silence. If you need someone to give the guys behind it a lesson they’ll not like to forget, I’m your man.


The fruit, that is. It’s been said that if you’re hungry enough to eat an apple, eat one. If not, don’t. The coolest thing is that there are so many varieties of apples, one can buy a few each week and enjoy different flavors through the year. One of the best decisions I’ve made lately is to replace certain snack foods with apples. I’m not smug about it or telling everyone else that’s what needs to be done, but it’s a decision I’m happy with, and I’m happy to encourage others to get more into apples.

In short, I get what Johnny Appleseed was all about. Apples, dude.

The Ending of an Era

At no point in history does any body of authorities declare that an era has begun, and then the era suddenly begins. Nor does any body of authority declare an end to an era, after which said era dutifully halts. Instead, people look about and around to discover if things are pretty much the same as they used to be or if things are becoming pretty much changed from what they used to be. If things are the same, whatever era one happens to be in is continuing. If things are not the same, then that era is drawing to a close and a new one is beginning. It’s a long process, the change of an era, but it is a noticeable thing, even when one is in the middle of it.

The decline of Rome was absolutely noticeable. Authors of the day recorded how things were changing and how the world of Rome was giving way to something other than the world of Rome: they did not know what to expect. The Aztecs certainly noticed the end of their kingdom and the imposition of Spanish rule as their language and religion were suppressed over time in favor of their conquerors’ ways. The advent of industrialism became noticeable as the cities swelled in size, the factories choked up the air, and people actually began to have aspirations that their own lives would be better in some way than the lives of their parents and that their own children would have material improvements in their lives to make them better than their own.

But now we notice that such things are no longer the case. World population growth is leveling off, and predicted to go into decline before long. No diseases or famines will claim those lives: we’ve simply gotten to where we have access to enough calories per day to support the population we have. Any more is excess. Yes, this does mean that life 300 years ago was a wretched affair as far as access to proper food went, and, yes, it does mean that we can’t really improve upon what we have available today as far as food productivity. There’s still dire hunger in the world, but once addressed, providing food security to the entire world will not be boosting the population any more.

That alone is a massive change from what things used to be like. Global population stability means that global economic growth will also level off. Industrialization and computerization have brought massive increases in productivity per worker, but they have also peaked. A set number of workers times a set level of productivity means a set level of production. No change means no growth, simple as that. Should we experience another boost in productivity, it will be because of robotics providing us with the equivalent of a slave class to do work for us all. Humans themselves are not going to be making much more stuff than they already make.

As for the robotics business, I don’t see that as a panacea for growth because of the decline in availability of cheap fuels and metals. There’s a finite amount of these resources in the world, and we’ve about run out of the easily extractable stuff. I remember the pit in my stomach the first time I saw $3 per gallon gas in 2005. Now, it’s pretty much expected – low, really, when I think about it. Fossil fuels and metals are not renewable, so what we’ve used isn’t coming back. Replacement fuels are on the horizon, but replacement metals depend upon us finding a way to devour the asteroid belt with the question if such an effort will produce enough to justify the cost that went into such an effort.

But no matter if the problems of energy and metal are solved or not, couple them with the maxing-out of human population and productivity and one has a world that is not like the world of the past 250 years, that saw steadily increasing human populations and productivities coupled with access to cheap fuels and metals. There were some horribly exploitative work arrangements for the slaves and near-slaves of the world during that time, but the world built on their muscle, bone, and blood did result in what we have today. The massive jump in birthrates gave us a huge supply of cheap labor that could be exploited, come to think of it.

And where the labor could not be exploited, the jobs for that labor vanished. I remember when all the jobs were getting shipped over to China. Now China is desperately choking to death on its own lack of regulation. It’s starting to starve, as well, which means those factories simply have to stop polluting – which means they will have to go elsewhere that does not yet have laws against poisoning the air, land, and water. Once those areas are exhausted, the world will then be empty of places where labor can be exploited as cheaply as it currently is in China. That then means overall higher prices for things. And if fuel and metal also rise in cost, those finished goods will be higher still in their prices.

Which brings me to the standard of living. It’s not just recently on the decline, it’s been on the decline after a period of leveling-off. For all the innovation we have in electronic goods, we still haven’t found a way to make homes truly more affordable. For all the access to college we now provide, we still haven’t found a way to properly employ people in their chosen fields. For all of the social progress we’ve made, we still haven’t found out how to end wealth disparity and the problems that creates in a society. The standard of living for all but the very rich is in decline – globally – and this is something very different from the last 250 years.

Now, the decline itself will not proceed relentlessly. It comes to an end, and we have a new stability in that area. Should we have access to more cheap metals and fuels, then we face a relatively comfortable future, but a static one. Entertainments will dazzle us forevermore, I’m sure. Life spans could increase greatly, with great strides in health so that we enjoy those days greatly, but neither entertainment nor long, healthy life will provide a fundamental change in the way things are to bring us back to days of ever-increasing population and productivity. It’s just a different sort of stability from what existed prior to industrialization.

And what of the future in which we do not have cheap metals or fuels? What if the advances in longevity and health are for the very rich and the poor are left with what they currently have, as far as days on the earth go? Then we will see a stability, but it will be quite a bit more brutish than anyone really cares to imagine. But it’s the alternative if we do not find a way to address the issues of fuel, metal, and wealth disparity. There’s a very good chance we can master the first two tasks and fail in the third, since that always seems to be a failure of humanity.

Even when humans rise up to smash the rich and distribute their goods to one and all, a new class of rich emerges from that supposed utopia and the reality of wealth disparity returns. Barring some massive event that wipes out every evil-minded person, we are stuck with economic apex predators – sociopaths that gladly create exploitative arrangements in order to enrich themselves. Murder to get gain, if you want the blunter version.

A static population with a set level of productivity and a ruling elite that maintains a style of living far greater than the mass of human peasantry seems to me like the next era of humanity, possibly with or without cheap fuels and metals. Such an era has been gradually arriving, and may be fully invested by the middle of this century, certainly by this century’s end.

And should we manage to find a cure for evil, then we’re still faced with the stable population with a stable level of productivity. We may be more equal in what we have, but we will have what we have, and that will be that. No more growth, really, with or without the fat-cat bankers. So what, then?

We’re heading for an era where we no longer consider material growth to be a good thing, or even a thing. The materialism of this age will give way. Generational expectations of something better cannot exist when generations repeat the experiences of previous generations. With materialism no longer offering itself as an answer for what ails a person, spiritualism and traditions will have more meaning in peoples’ lives.

I say that China may be the future of the world, but I don’t mean it the way stock traders or manufacturers mean it. I mean it in a historical sense, with an imperial dynasty served by technocrats, watching over a large, stable population that pretty much does what it’s always done, year in, year out. I don’t mean that the ruling class will be made up of Chinese people. I mean that whatever rulers we have will have more in common with the mandarins than they will with the top men of the West during the past 250 years.

The goodness or badness of such a system will depend largely upon the people running it. It would likely be mostly bad, given the track record of extremely wealthy rulers. But, such is our coming lot. Freedom to choose one’s course in life is vanishing for anyone not in the very wealthiest of families. The replacement is a fork in the road: either choose to do something that the wealthy find to be of value, in order to enjoy some of the benefits of the lives of the wealthy, or be part of an urban mob that toils away at supporting itself after paying out, one way or another, to support the parasites at the top.

That last part I see as being already firmly in place. This has enormous implications for one and all. The world of the past 250 years may not yet be entirely gone, but it’s fading fast. Kids can still grow up to do whatever they want to do, but there’s no guarantee they can make a living at it anymore. Better to realize that they need a valuable skill to be a valued person so that they can enjoy a life that affords them the free time they’d like to have in order to pursue a dream. Those valuable skills are not attained easily, so those that want to do the hard work will enjoy a measure of reward. Those that shy away from the difficult things – math, memorization, languages, science – will later on envy the lives of those that embrace them. As Vaclav Havel said, “We must be tough in the interest of a good thing.”

No Change, Then

When I go to restaurants, I like to leave cash tips. That carries a few implications for me, one of which is that I like to have small bills in my wallet so I can dial in the right tip for the right meal without taking up too much time at the restaurant. I was about to go eat somewhere when I remembered all I had was a $20 bill. I needed some ones and fives for this place, so I pulled into a convenience store to break that $20.

I walked in, found where they sold some gum, picked up a pack that looked appealing, and proceeded to the counter.

The young lady at the cash register looked like she had a real sad life story, even at this early age, but I didn’t want to pry. I just said, “Nice weather today, ain’t it?” and put the gum on the counter.

She ran it over her scanner and after her register beeped, she said, “That’ll be a dollar thirty-six.”

I produced my $20 and her expression went from bored coping to a hateful sneer. “Don’t you got anything smaller than that?”

“That’s the only bill I got.”

“Well, don’t you got a credit card or somethin’?”

“I’d like to pay in cash, if you don’t mind.”

“Well, I *do* mind.” She looked at me with some kind of deep malevolence in her eyes.

Pretty strong emotions over a $20, I figured. I had to ask why it made such a big deal to her. “Why?”

“I don’t like makin’ change.”

“The register tells you the amount, don’t it?”

“All the same, I don’t like it. I ain’t makin’ no change.”

“What do you do with other people that pay in cash?”

“Well, it ain’t no problem if they’s close to the right amount. I don’t mind that none. *You*, though… you ain’t got even close to what this costs. Besides, you’re just buyin’ it to make me give you change, and that’s against store policy. We don’t break no large bills.”

“Well, as a matter of fact, I *do* want this here gum. I’m not just buyin’ it, as you say.”

“If you want it so bad, then pay with a credit card.”

“I want to pay cash, please.”

“Then take it for free. I don’t care.”

“But I want the change, as well!”

“Then buy some more stuff. Get it up over $10 and then I’ll break your $20.”

“I’m not doing that! I need more than ten bucks in change.”

“Well, I ain’t no ATM.”

“I’d like to speak to the manager on duty, please.”

She smiled, which I took immediately as an ill omen. “We got the owner here, if you’d like.”

“OK, please have him up here.”

“Sure thing.” She turned to yell at the back room. “Honey! We got us an idjit here!”

Honey? Well, honey turned out to be a big ol’ feller, about twice the age of the cashier, and in no kinda mood. “What seems to be the problem, sir?”

“I’d like to buy this pack of gum and she won’t accept my $20 for it. I’d like the change, all the same.”

“If she don’t wanna have to do no math, that’s her business. Did she offer it to you for free?”

“Yes, but-”

“But nothing. You take it and get on outta here. We don’t need your business, if you ain’t civil enough to use the right bill for the purchase.”

“I don’t mean to cause no trouble.”

“Don’t wanna cause no trouble? You asked for a manager, didn’t you? That’s always what people do when they want to cause trouble. And you’re planning trouble for my sweetheart here? I ain’t got no allegiance to that plan. You best get on outta here while I’m yet in control of my temper.”

“Well, I’m not taking the gum, then.”

“What, it’s not good enough for you?”

I turned and walked out of there. I had gotten half-way to my car when I felt something small strike me in the back. I turned to see what it was. Honey stood in the doorway of his store. “It’s your gum, yuh moron yuh!”

I almost refused to pick it up, but then a part of me envisioned a future in which Honey charged out to grab up that gum and get it into my possession, even if it meant totalling my vehicle in order to do so. I picked it up without any further comment and walked on to my car.

Honey went back inside and I resolved never to get gas or anything there ever again.

I next decided that I had to go eat somewhere where the bill would come out to $16.67, exactly, so that $20 would cover the cost of the meal and provide a 20% gratuity and then hope and pray that the waitress wouldn’t be someone that was allergic to getting change in a tip.

Games vs. Movies

Family of four, going to the movies: do the math. The cheapest is buying everyone a ticket for $6 at a matinee show and not having anything to eat there. That’s $24 for 2-3 hours of escape. If the movie’s good, there’s a chance you’ll drop $20 on it again when it’s released on home media, just so you’ll always have access to it. That’s $44 for the movie experience, now, and if you add in popcorn and a few drinks, you’ll easily hit $60.

Contrast that with a modern board game. Not Risk or Sorry or (shudder!) Monopoly, but something like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. For around the same cost as all the tickets plus either popcorn or the DVD, you can get the same 2-3 hours of escape. True, there’s more storage space required for the game, but otherwise, they’re pretty much equal in cost.

Therefore, the argument about where to put down one’s money for maximum value has to be answered in the quality of the movie or game being considered. Honestly, I’m not impressed with the level of work coming out of Hollywood. I think the last movie I saw in a theater – and liked without reservation – was Despicable Me 2. Most everything else leaves me cold when I see the promos. PG-13 usually means my ears will be a toilet for a few hours and R means that I’ll probably have to watch something I don’t want to see if I want to see the rest of the movie. The worst code for me, though, is 3D. I absolutely cannot watch 3D movies, full stop. I see “3D” and I imagine myself to be the lame little boy that couldn’t keep up with the crowd that chased after the Pied Piper of Hamelin. So that leaves me with less and less of a connection to the movies.

And then there’s the whole thing about lazy studios making decisions that CGI and other effects are proper substitutes for decent plot and characters. They’re not, and I see through that junk in an instant.

Given that my movie choices are pretty much now limited to well-thought-out G and PG ventures, my pickin’s is slim at the box office. That’s why my movie dollars are now going towards highly-rated board games. I get the same great enjoyment and common experience with my family as I do at the movies, and I can know what I’m getting into with what the box promises. If we don’t want to swear or have sex scenes in our entertainment, we won’t have them. And while the box office only offers me a film I want to see once in a great while, the game companies have made a wide range of family-friendly offerings for me to choose from.

I love movies, but they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Thankfully, the board game companies make ‘em like they do right now. Game on!

Lockhart BBQ

Giant Rib

Lockhart, Texas is the BBQ capital of Texas. It’s a town of 12,000 with four BBQ joints that are packed, even at 2PM. That’s some good BBQ, across the board. If you love BBQ, you need to go to Lockhart and sample the wares there. If you don’t know what BBQ is, then you will discover it in Lockhart.

First of all, let’s get something straight: BBQ is not merely grilling meats. It is an art form executed in meat, wood, and smoke that requires participatory involvement among its intended audience. When you see the Mona Lisa, it would be a crime to bite into it and savor its flavors. When you see a plate of Lockhart BBQ, it would be a crime to not bite into it. That is the key difference between most other art and BBQ.

Now for the breakdown: Lockhart’s barbeque restaurants number four: Chisolm Trail, Smitty’s, Black’s, and Kreuz. This past Thursday and Friday, my wife and I went to all four for a scientific research expedition that was much yummier than trying to find the North Pole, I assure you. If you want to know which one is best, my answer is, “Yes.”

By that, I mean that they all have an aspect that I found to be truly excellent. All four served up meats that made me pause to savor, even at the expense of enduring discomfort as my throat yearned for water. Taste took precedence over comfort, and that is a true mark of an excellent plate.

A few general comments before I deal with the restaurants individually: these are not polished dining establishments, nor should they be. Each has its own ritual of waiting in line and selecting one’s food. Follow the lead of the natives in front of you in each of these places. They all have strong ambient aromas of the BBQ pit: best not to expect smelling like something other than a smoke pit after paying them a visit. Plastic table covers, metal chairs, and a lack of utensils is the rule at these places, with Smitty’s and Kreuz not even offering forks: your fingers will do just fine. If the thought of your hands smelling like meat for the rest of the day makes you recoil, you are reading the wrong article and you should always give Texas wide berth, on account you won’t be pleased with what goes on here. We-all barbeque here, I tell you what.

Chisolm Trail had the lowest prices, the most sides, and the best sausage – nice and spicy, and I enjoyed that. The other places had great sausage – Black’s being most reminiscent of Gerik’s sausage up in West, which I am mad about – but if I go back to Lockhart in a sausagey mood, I’ll poke my nose into Chisolm Trail and get my fix there.

Smitty’s had it a great pork rib and a fine brisket. Smitty’s sauce was not entirely to my liking, but the good news there is that the pork rib tastes much better without adding sauce. My wife enjoyed their brisket best. I am more of a rib fan, so I’ll defer to her assessment of the brisket here.

Black’s has been a place I’ve gone to many times over the decades, so I really was comparing the other places to it. Its prices were highest and its sauce has an amazing dimension to it that made it the best in town and one of my favorite sauces, right up there with Corky’s in Memphis, Tennessee. The picture above is of the giant beef rib we ordered up at Black’s. That is one of the best things I have ever eaten, and I would gladly do it again. It was brilliant with or without the sauce, but I preferred it with Black’s intricate sauce that complements the meat so very well. Everything was grand at Black’s, and it remains my overall favorite, but that is now an informed judgment on my part.

Kreuz is a place I had always seen but never been inside of. I disagreed with their “no sauce at all” policy, so I took their meat to go and ate it in the car with a small bowl of Black’s sauce, just to see if the sauce made a difference. In the case of their pork rib, as at Smitty’s, the meat was better on its own. I would attribute that to the sauce that had already been applied to the rib in the smoker – there was no need to dress it any more. I consider the pork ribs there to be almost as good as the ribs I hold dearest – Corky’s – and relished my discovery therein. I really enjoyed their brisket as well, with and without sauce, and celebrated the flavors. I thought it had scored big, but my wife called a penalty on that play. Our cut of brisket had not been trimmed, so we had paid for a pretty sizable hunk of inedible stuff. Everywhere else had trimmed the brisket, but not this one.

It was great having a BBQ crawl over two days. We spent the night in Austin and had a lovely trip, all the more enjoyable with our bold research. Any fan of BBQ owes it to himself or herself to see what Lockhart has to offer. All four of these places are great eats, and will give the gourmet some memorable experiences. While I enjoyed my giant rib at Black’s the most, I don’t consider it a winner of the BBQ wars of Lockhart. The real winner is the city itself and those lucky enough to live within smelling distance of four of the finest BBQ joints on the planet.

God Is Love

God is Love. That formula equates two of the most inexplicable and difficult to understand things in the universe. And, while they are certainly in the categories I’ve assigned them, they are also two of the most powerful and wonderful things in the universe. It is on this day that I want to take some time to remember one who, to me, is the Son of God and, therefore, who is also the greatest force of Love the world has yet seen.

When I look into the eyes of my wife, I am amazed and unable to fully comprehend the love she has for me. I know it is there, and I know her love is vast and deep and wide, but I do not know the extent of it if, indeed, there is any extend to that love. I look to my parents and children and see the same issue. I know the love is there, but I do not fully understand how great it is. Even within myself, I know I am capable of love and that it influences my actions, but I do not even know what love I am capable of expressing. I have only my faith and feelings that that love exists in all of us. There is no proof of love to yet be expressed, only the proof of love that has been expressed.

So it is with God, for God is Love.

To all the people of the world, this is a joyful day for me. It is a day I celebrate love and devotion and faithfulness. It is a day I celebrate truth and light and compassion. If you share my faith, then you share that celebration today. If you do not share my faith, then I still hope this day brings to you some of that love which all our brothers and sisters deserve to have in their lives. For, to one and to all, if we choose a day out of the calendar to remember to love one another and to be good people that we might have peace on earth, then it may as well be this day, when we can capture our desire to participate in the great unknown, the delightful, adventurous unknown of Love with these simple words: Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas to one and all from me. May Love be part of your lives and may you never know the full extent of it. May Love in your life always be a frontier that advances as you think you approach its limit. Merry Christmas!

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album

Jethro Tull’s music reaches back to English folk and Renaissance songs for inspiration, so they have produced some amazing Christmas and winter-themed tunes over the years. For this album, they’ve provided both fresh versions of old material and some brand new songs that make for a very immersive and enjoyable holiday disc.

The first song, “Birthday Card at Christmas”, grabbed my attention and did not let go. It let me know that this album was not Ian Anderson and co. resting on any sort of laurels. I loved it, and I loved it all the more when I read Anderson’s comments about the song. He has a daughter whose birthday is near Christmas that gets completely overshadowed by the season. Likewise, Anderson noticed that there’s one birthday for a Mr. J. Christ of Bethlehem that also tends to be overshadowed by all the activities at Christmas. Well played, Ian Anderson. Well played.

The songs themselves invoke either the cold rush of winter or the warmth by the fire – or other appropriate seasonal evocations. It’s not a disc to spin in tropical climes, I assure you. This one is decidedly part of the experience of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and points northward, and it is rich in its local color. I enjoyed it all the way through and it’s yet another example of how gramps with amps can still rock hard and rock well.

Christmas with Buck Owens

When I was a kid, I loved watching “Hee Haw”. I came for the cornball jokes and skits, but I stayed for the music, especially the gospel quartet at the end. (I’m still looking for a decent version of them performing, without a load of studio overdubs, by the way.) Buck Owens and Roy Clark were the centerpieces of the show, so I’ve always had a soft spot for them in my heart. I suppose then, it was only a matter of time before my interest in collecting Christmas music would lead me to a Buck Owens Christmas platter.

I picked this one because it was his first. It did not disappoint. Released in 1965 at the start of the “Bakersfield Sound” style in country-western music, this disc has 12 great tracks, half of them upbeat holiday tunes and the other half tear-in-the-beer lonely heart songs. I loved ‘em all. It opens with “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy”, which is by now a Christmas standard – this is where it got its start. After that, Buck asks, “Pardon me, but do you have any… Bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue Christmas Liiiiiights…” Oh yes, we got us a cryin’ song, and it’s a good one. If you suffer from holiday depression, these are perfect songs for commiseration. Honestly, if you’re feeling the blues, you need to hear someone singing the blues to put your life in perspective, to where you can get back on the right track. As I said, about half the album is for cryin’ and the other half is for smilin’. All the songs have a stripped-down Bakersfield feel, with that ticka-tack drum line and the picked Fender guitars.

The only exception is “Jingle Bells”, which plays properly Bakersfield except for the drummer. The guy sounds like a refugee from a surf music band. I’m telling you, it’s a Stan Freberg send-up just waiting to happen. It’s a fun song, though, so what the heck, right? It doesn’t ruin the tune, and the drumming makes sense on every other track, so I’m fine with it. Overall, this is a great collection and I’m glad I got it.