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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/17/08

Being Multi-faceted in a Two-Dimensional Society, part 2, with R. H. Phillips, Author of "Witness to a Crime"

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Exclusive with Richard Hayes Phillips, Author of “Witness to a Crime”,
part 2: Being Multi-Faceted in a Two-Dimensional Society

In this, the second installment of the story behind the story, you will get a much better sense of who Richard Hayes Phillips is, what makes him tick. He is a philosophical man, who is comfortable in his own skin and who loves what he does, a rarity these days. The tenacity that he has shown in the compiling of Witness to a Crime: A Citizens’ Audit of an American Election was presaged by his earlier one-man campaign against BMI, which, controls the performance rights (along with ASCAP) to virtually all music ever published in America. His principled stance - and his success – then, bode well for the state of our elections, if the public and the press will but open their minds to his findings. You can do your part by spreading the word, talking about the book, contacting your local news outlets. Next installment: "The Broken Contract Lies Upon My Office Floor."

“I make no apologies for being a Renaissance man who does many things well.” I spoke these words to an obnoxious lawyer for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), known to environmental activists, without affection, as “Enemy D.”

The lawyer was attempting to impeach my credibility as an expert geologic witness in a case involving groundwater contamination from a nuclear facility located not fifty miles from another one, in similar terrain, regarding which this very department, NMED, had recognized me as an expert witness eight years earlier.

“House musician, title searcher, trail blazer,” she sneered, as she selectively read out loud from the employment history on my resume. I pointed out, under oath, that she had conveniently ignored page one, which listed the twelve different courses in geology, geography and history I have taught at seven colleges and universities. She later questioned whether I even have my doctorate in geomorphology, deliberately confusing my identity with that of a convicted cocaine trafficker from Kentucky.

I suppose it is standard practice among lawyers to discredit the witness when they cannot discredit the testimony. What is more disturbing is the idea that one must either be a specialist who knows more and more about less and less, or else a jack of all trades and master of none. I am a practitioner of many trades, and a master of them all. Modern society has little or no respect for this. We mean something quite different when we speak of “diversity.”

I did not set out to earn a living as a house musician, title searcher, or trail blazer. It all happened quite naturally, my cobbling together a modest income doing what I love to do. Some might regard this as a measure of success. Most of us work more hours than we want to, at jobs we do not love, to buy things we do not need, with money we do not have, hoping to retire with enough money and in good enough health to enjoy the things we wish we could have done when we were younger. I choose not to live this way.

My well-meaning parents feared that I would starve. I would need a college degree “to fall back on,” they would say. So I earned four of them – in politics, geography, history, and geomorphology (the study of landforms and the processes that create them and destroy them). “To get a good job, get a good education.” I remember hearing those words many times on the television. But it didn’t work out that way. None of my degrees ever led to a full-time job paid on a full-time basis. So I looked for other ways to make a living.

I have been singing and playing folk songs since I was thirteen years old when my mother, a music teacher, taught me how to play a ukulele. She not only taught me chords; she also managed to teach me how to compose natural and beautiful chord progressions. “This chord leads to that one, or that one,” she explained as she showed me how to play them. Within months I was performing traditional folk songs in public. While still in my teens I was performing my own compositions on acoustic guitar, with a gift for lyric poetry the origins of which are a mystery to me.

My first paid performance was at the Sword in the Stone coffee house on Charles Street in Boston, for which I was paid five dollars and a ham and Swiss on rye. For the next four years I played in coffee houses throughout the northeast, but I grew weary of it. Generally speaking, a one-night stand is not worth the hustle required to set it up.

So I spent the next ten years in college, which I would not recommend to anyone, unless for the intrinsic value of the education itself. After the tenth year, while waiting for my committee to actually read my dissertation, I began performing music in restaurants, which offer numerous advantages over coffee houses:

At a minimum they will feed you, so you will not be a starving musician. They have their own clientele, so you are under no pressure to draw a crowd. The audience tends to be more generous, as diners are bigger spenders than coffee drinkers. And best of all, you can land a steady job at a restaurant in a tourist town, because the audience is different every day. Let the tourists be the ones on tour. It is so much easier for the musician.

You do have to leave your ego at the door, because you are not likely to be the center of attention. But I made my living in this way for many years in northern New Mexico and upstate New York, primarily during the summer tourist season.

I did teach college during the off season. But I soon learned that my doctorate had earned me nothing. There is so much competition for college teaching jobs that “publish or perish” now applies not only to the granting of tenure. One is expected to publish professional papers in all the right journals, for no compensation, and to teach on a part-time basis, with no benefits and low pay, for many years, just to earn an entry-level tenure track position. I had learned from Ann Landers that no one can take advantage of you without your permission. And so I revoked my permission.

When one door closes, another one opens, though sometimes it takes a little while. I had been unemployed for three hundred days, exactly, when a realtor named Jane Hardey, my dearest friend on earth, landed me a job at a title and abstract company in Taos, New Mexico. As it happens, Jane was another multi-faceted person, with a master’s degree in dance, and a self-taught knowledge of psychology and theology. When I met her, she owned an art gallery.

I already knew how to search chains of title. I had taught myself to do it in county court houses as a graduate student in Oklahoma, where I investigated large-scale land frauds on the American frontier. Sometimes the government had stolen land from the Indians. Sometimes the railroads and the timber companies had stolen land from the government. The deeds, statutes, and treaties told the tale. A search of the chains of title revealed the present land holders. Chains of title tend to be complete. There are not supposed to be any breaks in the chain. In this way they are almost unique among historical records.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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