Log in

Top Stories        News         Sports


Of a Golden Girl and a crusading crime writer

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive


By Chris Edwards

A tough guy crime novelist with an eyepatch and a thick Noo Yawk accent and a spunky, universally beloved comedic actress were among the last celebrated people the year 2021 claimed.

On an ostensible level, Andrew Vachss and Betty White could not have been more different. Vachss was a literary genius whose work in novels, comics and other forms of writing was a sideline to his true passion of advocating for abused/exploited children. White was an eternal ball of sunshine. A television pioneer whose very presence made viewers feel better about themselves.

Both of them changed the world for the better, however. 

White’s legacy could best be summed up in the brilliant lyrics (by Andrew Gold) of the theme song to the sitcom Golden Girls. In that series White played Rose Nylund, a sweet and kind, if somewhat dim-witted, character, for seven seasons. That role, more than anything, cemented White’s place in popular culture. 

By the time Golden Girls hit, White had already been active in television for several decades, and even had her own show in the 1950s. 

White was a pioneer in television, but also had a strong presence outside the entertainment industry in volunteering her time to causes and just being a friend, to paraphrase those lyrics.

In addition to being the first woman to produce a TV show, she was a fierce advocate for animal welfare, and also a supporter of LGBTQ rights. Betty White cared and remained active and relevant well into her 90s. 

There are some icons who seem like they’ll never die. Kirk Douglas, Les Paul and Nelson Mandela were universally admired and part of that club. So was White. She died just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday, and her status as a universally loved figure had the event heralded as a cultural milestone celebration. 

Vachss was a couple of decades younger than White, at age 79, but came across as a proverbial “old soul” even in his earliest writings. 

Aside from a slew of hard-boiled crime novels and works in comics, Vachss was an attorney and exclusively represented children. His contributions to child protection were invaluable. 

Vachss cared for humanity, and was a great friend and advocate to animals, as well. To humans of a beasty persuasion, however, he was their enemy. Aside from the evil lurking within those who would abuse children, bigotry and indifference were anathema to Vachss. 

His books included differently abled characters, as well as neurodivergent ones, LGBTQ characters and people of all colors. He also wrote one of the best Batman stories I ever read, titled “The Ultimate Evil,” which I cannot recommend enough.

Vachss was also a sterling example of ethical behavior. His avowed boycott of anything from Thailand (due to the country’s problem with child sex tourism) was not embraced by some publishers he’d worked with, and likely cost him some traction in some places. He stood by his stance and included essays on “Don’t Buy Thai” in every issue of his Hard Looks comics series. 

Vachss also refused to allow anyone who had ever been accused of sexual misconduct to touch his work for film adaptation purposes.

Underneath his tough, take-no-guff persona, Vachss seemed to care more about children being able to grow up with protection, love and support, than any degree of success his writings might bring.

I never met Betty White or Andrew Vachss, but enjoyed the entertaining fruits of their labors for many years. I almost feel like I knew the latter, however, as I have heard so much about him from his close friend and East Texan counterpart Joe R. Lansdale.

What these two late icons might be remembered for in headlines as a “beloved senior citizen actress” and a “crime novelist,” but they were so much more. 

Both took and honed God-given talents and drive to better our species through service and entertainment. Now that’s a legacy. 

  • Hits: 763

COVID drove wedge between parents and schools, Texas must pull them back together

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Kid with backpackBy Margaret Spellings

A good education has always required a partnership between parents, teachers and policymakers. That’s never been more apparent than in the era of COVID-19, and it should guide Texas as we determine the best way to educate future generations.

When the pandemic shuttered schools, parents rallied alongside teachers. Then, as education pivoted to online teaching, parents with broadband turned homes into classrooms. Despite these adjustments, learning during the pandemic was frustrating and often unproductive, leading to a significant drop in student reading and math skills.

 Meanwhile, in many places, the partnership between elected officials, educators and parents grew strained. In Virginia, for instance, parents were shocked to hear a gubernatorial candidate say, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

 In Texas and beyond, school board meetings have turned heated over conflicting concerns about curriculum, books and pandemic-related directions — often overtaking concerns about student achievement, mental health and broadband access.

 In August, Texas 2036 polled Texas voters on numerous issues and found they shared an overwhelming concern about the state’s future. Such concern was particularly pronounced among parents: 54% of mothers with school-age children thought schools didn’t handle the pandemic well, and nearly twice as many parents described online learning as a “disappointment” or “failure” (50%) than a success (26%).

 Worst of all, 52% of Texas voters polled said the state is in worse shape than it was this time last year; only 13% said the state is headed in a better direction.

 If left unaddressed, growing frustrations will continue to drive headlines, elections and school board meetings. And perhaps more important, these forces threaten to distract us from what should be our single-minded purpose: student achievement. Given that more than 60% of Texas fourth graders cannot read or perform math at grade level, it’s time to get back to basics. It’s time to empower those who know the students best: parents. 

Core to parents’ ability to engage in constructive conversations about their children is standardized assessment testing that can objectively show whether a school is meeting its obligations to children and helping them reach their full potential. 

Parents need — and want — actionable and timely data on how their child is progressing; that empowers parents to have transparent conversations with educators. We can’t break the feedback loop by reducing or eliminating assessments. And when we get that data, we must be prepared to act on it.

Our polling shows that Texans want data about student learning and decisive action to follow when needed. Almost every parent polled (96%) thinks it’s essential to have standardized testing data so resources can be targeted to children needing support.

 In addition, most parents we polled (84%) support quicker state interventions when a school fails to meet accountability standards. More than half think the state should intervene within two years rather than waiting the current standard, five. Finally, 82% of parents support allowing the parents of a child at a failing school, or a school that fails to adequately meet the child’s needs, to choose another school.

 In a post-pandemic Texas, parents need a transparent accountability system with an honest depiction of how their child’s school is performing. At the same time, they also support systems that quickly force improvements or find more appropriate options to meet their child’s needs.

Parents want to help shape their child’s education. It’s time we listen and empower them to do so.

Margaret Spellings is chief executive of Texas 2036 and former U.S. secretary of education. This op ed first ran in the Dallas Morning News.

  • Hits: 687

That’s the result of too large of a bite

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

FromEditorsDesk TonyLast week, we discussed the efficacy of New Year’s resolutions, and maybe trying to change something useful (although at my girth, changing my weight would be very useful).

Seems that a perfect example of that occurred just last week, given that President Biden gave a federal version of “no mas” to the country’s governors regarding the efforts against the coronavirus.

Biden told the governors there was “no federal solution” to the spread of COVID, and that it was essentially up to them to solve the problem. This was a complete 180 from his campaign promises, where he told voters he’s got this.

That, to many of us, was an example of federal overreach, one which we were pretty much sure he couldn’t pull off. I say that because the government couldn’t — and shouldn’t — be involved in health care. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be involved in things like mobilizing people and items, and fast-tracking drugs and such; it doesn’t create anything, and really only serves to make things more expensive.

The national media, of course, opened up the memory hole, and reversed their position on the federal role. (When Trump was in charge, he was a dictator bent on domination. Biden was just helping.)

So what is the upshot here? Has the pandemic become that much less of a problem? Depends on who you ask, but it’s still out there.

Biden, of course, realizes this, because he still hasn’t stopped issuing mandate after edict for vaccinations and masks and whatnot — despite losing ground in the courts and with the national populace.

But to the original point, perhaps instead of pushing ridiculous non-working “remedies” and demanding that people follow the government’s orders, he should have been inspiring cities, counties, states, and the country as a whole to come together.

This has worked before.

Think about World War II. President Roosevelt inspired a nation to come together to fight a common foe, and the people dealt with privation, shortages, even safety mandates (remember the Civil Defense?) that included curfews, bomb shelters, lights-out drills, etc., all designed to win.

Those mandates even flew in the face of the social constructs of the time, what with women headed to the factory floors to produce the items needed for the war effort.

How about the space program? JFK exhorted us to win the space race, and we did, so even if Russia managed to put Gagarin up in space first, we took over and made wonderful things happen.

It also is like all those old adages about honey and vinegar, carrots and sticks and the like. Instead of threatening people with fines, vaccination passports and forced quarantines, appeal to their patriotism, or at least what’s left of it, and give us the reins. As was in the past, people will surprise you, come together, and put a solution together that will appeal to everyone, not just party faithful.

When we come together, we can accomplish great things. If we continue with the current political climate of us and them, we end up nowhere.

Tony Farkas is editor of the Trinity County News-Standard. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Hits: 585

The wrong things are being deemed important

1 Comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

FromEditorsDesk TonyNow that we’ve successfully navigated Whamaggeddon and the Christmas season, were in the all-important New Year’s season (which incidentally coincides with the all-important birthday season, but that’s a different story).

The most renowned thing that accompanies New Year’s is not hangovers, or fireworks and gunfire, or the plethora of different things that must be eaten to ensure good luck throughout the coming year (the last few years have put lie to that little wives’ tale, I’m thinking), but is resolutions.

You know, those promises we make on Jan. 1 that are immediately broken on Jan 1 ½. We’re going to lose weight, or stop drinking so much, or quite whining, or embrace some adventure — none of that lasts the first month, and possibly will be taken up the next Lenten season, but more often than not will be the subject of regret come Valentine’s Day.

I believe the reason for this is hidden in our own beliefs that we’ve progressed as a society. Wokeism, as it were. The problem with that as I see it is that wokeism is rooted in selfishness, or at least a grand sense of self-importance.

Bear with me on this.

I came to this conclusion watching, as I always do, those old movies that talk about Christmas spirit, the joy of giving, care for your fellow man and the like. (I’m also a big fan of “The Good Witch,” but that’s another tale.)

If you watch them closely, you’ll notice that people observe certain proprieties in dealing with each other. They have manners. They are generous, deferential, and genuinely interested in listening, helping, and even just being connected.

Nowadays, folks might say that since the people of that time held different views that those of today, and judge the people of bygone eras by today’s standards, that the courtesies and niceties are to be dismissed.

If you watch what passes for social interactions these days, you’ll see what wokeism has wrought in the name of values. The dialogue in current movies is rife with insults and invectives and full of expletives. It reeks of self-centered idealism, and the people involved tend to be followers instead of leaders. Further, any manner of behavior is acceptable and approved, as long as it is done in service of whatever deep-seated belief is being challenged or discussed.

Children behave horribly and are blessed for their passion; adults can scream, or berated, or even breastfeed cats because they are serving their own beliefs and that of whatever central pillar of “understanding” is being upheld.

The latest example of the downfall of civility can be seen in the video of a woman viciously berating a fellow passenger on a plane for not wearing a mask (done, of course, while her own mask is below her chin). Her profanity-laden, holier-than-thou attack, complete with physical assault and expectoration, was born of her belief that she was more important than the man, who was committing the egregious sin of eating a meal.

This was unnecessary, and nothing more than virtue signaling. And there’s the difference: nowadays, it’s more important to look as though you’re principled than actually to be principled.

Several things to consider, here. Just because something is old-fashioned doesn’t make it wrong or unnecessary.

There is nothing wrong with forgiveness and civility. There is nothing wrong with manners and care for your fellow man, as long as it’s done for their sake, and not for yours.

So this year, let’s skip the weight loss and smoking promises that will fade. Let’s instead resolve to become a better society, one that focuses on others and not ourselves.

Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Hits: 635

What more could we ask for than living a life of service?

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

From The Editors Desk Emily WootenEarly Sunday morning, the day after Christmas, when I read online that Archbishop Desmond Tutu had died, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. I’d had the opportunity to meet him one spring day in March of 2004 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate had come to Livingston to visit an inmate on Texas Death Row and to express his opposition to the death penalty in a press conference afterward. The eloquent South African anti-apartheid and social rights activist spoke passionately that day about injustices.

Tutu had just come from the Polunsky Unit where he visited Dominique Green who was serving time for the 1992 robbery and shooting death of a Houston man. Green first learned of Tutu after reading “No Future Without Forgiveness,” the archbishop’s book regarding his experience as chairman of South Africa’s unique experiment, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated past human rights abuses. During the commission’s sessions, perpetrators of political violence were encouraged to tell the truth about what they’d done during the apartheid era and the victims of that violence, and their families, were encouraged to forgive those who repented their violence. According to those that knew Green, he felt his life had been changed for the better by the other inmates on death row and by reading Tutu’s book.

Learning of the 90-year-old’s death, I reflected fondly on the tiny little man who was slight in stature, yet larger than life with his big smile, twinkling eyes and passionate beliefs. What a life of service he had lived.

My thoughts then turned to the family of Yancy Williams who’d just spent their first Christmas without their husband and father. Yancy died Oct. 5 after a lengthy battle with COVID-19. Yancy, too, truly lived a life of service. My friend and former schoolmate had proudly served his country in both the U.S. Marine Corp and the U.S. Army Reserves. He served his community for many years as a line technician with Sam Houston Electric Cooperative and as a firefighter with the Livingston Volunteer Fire Department.

I know that Yancy was human like the rest of us but I don’t know anyone that didn’t like him and I’ve never heard a single negative remark uttered about the man. He was so loved and well-respected in our community that close to 200 units from law enforcement agencies, area fire departments and Sam Houston Electric Cooperative showed their respect for the hometown hero in what was the longest processional I’ve ever witnessed as Yancy’s body was escorted home from a Houston hospital the morning of Oct. 6. I stood there watching as a tear rolled down my cheek.

Just the prior week, our community was devastated by the death of Cole Overstreet, a Livingston High School senior who was killed by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident that occurred following the Homecoming football game. I didn’t know Cole personally, but in the days and weeks that followed, I heard story after story from youth and adults alike about a magnanimous, bright young man who was a good kid, friends with everyone, smart, nice, polite – just the quintessential boy next door. Numerous people shared stories of the impact that Cole had had on them. On the cusp of adulthood, it was clearly evident that although his life was tragically cut short, Cole was already on a path toward living a life of service.

It’s been a rough couple of years. 2020 was unprecedented and 2021—while a little different—was hardly an improvement. As a result of the upheaval, I have lots of questions and concerns and I assume others do too. I find myself trying to live with intention and be present in the moment. But I also think about the big picture too. What’s important? What matters? How do I want to spend my time? What’s best for me and my family? What are my contributions to my community? There’s a sense of urgency to do the right thing and make everything count.

On the evening of Dec. 23, I was in the kitchen cooking supper for my family when I heard my phone “ding” with a text message. It was a friend of mine, apologizing profusely for contacting me during the holiday but inquiring if I knew any place she could get a COVID test first thing the following morning. She was to celebrate Christmas with her great grandchildren the following day at 11 a.m. but had just discovered that someone she had hugged a few days prior had tested positive. I went to the website for the Polk County Office of Emergency Management and saw where the county had contracted with a firm that conducted drive-thru testing daily behind the county annex. I texted this information to my friend and resumed cooking supper.

I heard the familiar “ding” of a text on my phone shortly thereafter. I checked and it was another friend inquiring if there were any overnight accommodations at my brother’s ranch outside of Waco. I texted her that he and my nephews have several Airbnb properties and that I would look up the links and forward them to her. It took a little longer than I expected, but I found them and emailed them to her. I returned to my cooking.

I heard my phone “ding” again with a text. It was a friend of mine asking if I knew the name of a certain attorney in town and if I had the attorney’s phone number. While I knew the attorney’s name and relayed it to my friend, I texted her that I didn’t have the attorney’s phone number. I finished fixing dinner and we sat down to eat. Hubby teased me a little for being so “in demand.”

And no, I’m not comparing myself to Archbishop Tutu, Yancy or Cole. I’m simply illustrating that sometimes it takes very little to help someone or answer them or make them happy or just be there—and that if we can, we should. When I think of the times when others have been there for me, or helped me out of a jam, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. These days, I find that I often feel happiest when doing little things for others. And what could be a better feeling than that?!

  • Hits: 884