Thursday, March 31, 2005

Checkin' In

It's been a few days since a post has gone up, so I thought I'd do this little quick one so nobody thought I was kidnapped by aliens or anything. There are actually two previous posts in the pipe from earlier in the week, but Blogger was being weird yesterday morning and I didn't get to finish them. Jazz Festival is coming up this weekend, so I may not have much up before Sunday, but I'll get all caught up by then for sure.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

These Guys Are Playing Games...with Our Tax Dollars

Yet another ridiculous story came out of the Texas Legislature today. A state Senator from San Antonio, Jeff Wentworth, has filed a bill prohibiting Texas colleges from participating in postseason play if such games are not part of a national playoff system:
Wentworth's bill would prohibit Texas' NCAA teams from playing in "an intercollegiate post-regular-session competition that is part of a series that includes a national championship game unless that competition is part of a national playoff system."

That system would have to consist of "at least 16 teams competing in successive elimination games resulting in a final game for the national championship of that entire division or level of intercollegiate competition."

If at least four other states enact a similar law before Dec. 1, the law would stay in effect for Texas schools, according to the bill. (source)
Needless to say, I'm not at all in favor of this, since it appears that it would prohibit UNT from going to the New Orleans Bowl, since that bowl isn't even part of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system that Sen. Wentworth is protesting. I've enjoyed going to that bowl the past two years, and it's been a huge boon for UNT athletics and the school in general.

This isn't likely to happen, of course; note the part about four other states being required to pass similar legislation in order to keep Texas' proposed law from expiring on the day that BCS bids go out. (That would still seem to mess up UNT if it won its conference, since their bowl bid has come sometime in November in years past.) There are plenty of people who don't like the BCS, but anyone in power who files a bill like this is just looking to get his name in the paper without considering the ramifications of this legislation for innocent bystanders like my alma mater and its fans.

And besides, as I said a while back when one of Wentworth's colleagues filed the "sexy cheerleading regulation bill," it sure seems like these guys could be making better use of their time in Austin. The Texas Legislature only meets every other year, and if they're filing bills like these, one would think that all the big problems--school finance, tax reform, etc.--have already been solved. One would, of course, be wrong for thinking that. Personally, I'm offended that these guys are wasting my tax money for this showboating nonsense.

I'll rail some more if this actually passes, but I think I have a better chance of winning the lottery than this bill does of actually becoming law.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Scariest Story of the Week So Far

So it turns out that file sharing might not just be bad because the Machine might sic their lawyers on you; you also might find your private information shared with the world. Consider what happened to this guy:
Don Bodiker uses a popular file sharing program to swap music and other information over the internet. He also uses his computer to prepare his taxes.

He never thought the two had anything to do with each other, until he got a call. "I had no idea who he was or what he was. I just thought he was a typical telemarketer," Bodiker said of the call. "And he wanted to inform me that my tax returns were being posted out on the internet. I was very skeptical but he then proceeded to tell me some very specific details about my tax return."

File sharing software allows you to download files stored in certain shared folders on other users' computers. The flipside is they can also download files from your shared folder. There's a folder on their computer the Bodikers use store the music files they wanted to share. What they didn't realize is that their tax return software saved their returns in the very same place.

--from WTOC-11, as quoted in Michelle Malkin, The Perils of P2P (Hat tip: InstaPundit)
Needless to say, Read the whole thing.

Incidentally, it worked out for this guy; he didn't lose any info...but still, it's a constant reminder to be careful when you do sensitive stuff like that on your computer.

Words from the wise: I was starting to get pretty overwhelmed this week with all the things I have to do and the lack of time in which to do them. Halfling gave me some much-needed perspective tonight, and I also found a good quote online about the virtues of taking a break every now and then:
If you ever wish you could have more time to get something done, just remember: if you did have more time, you wouldn't get more done. The extra time would melt away, and you'd be back feeling pressure to get it done in too little time. You might as well enjoy the free time and not moan about the things you didn't achieve. Idle moments at the dining table, talking about this and that, are much more your real life than all those grand accomplishments, achieved and unachieved.
--Ann Althouse, from her Sunday post (hat tip to Insty again)
I couldn't have said it better.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Looks Like I'm Not Alone Here

Yesterday, in the dress code post, I mentioned how some top school administrators tended to make new rules just to look like they're doing something. I've mentioned before that I'm no fan of bureaucracy of any kind, and this really seems to cause problems when school districts spend all kinds of money on high-priced administrators who never even see the inside of a classroom.

Today, there was a column by Scott Parks in the Dallas Morning News that spoke to this; he recently asked educators to email him with ways that school districts could save money, and one response stood out to me:
Teachers seem to believe their school districts have become top-heavy with over-paid administrators who don't contribute to classroom progress.

"For one day, I would like to sit in the administration building and see what these highly paid staffers do," one teacher wrote.
As always, read the whole thing.

Now, I'm not trying to make it open season on administrators here. As I said yesterday, most of them didn't go into teaching thinking they'd end up this way. Unfortunately, moving "up" into the administrative ranks seems to be the only way to make good money in education. But can the tide be turned? Will budgets get so tight that some districts will realize that they don't need the Associate Vice Superintendent for Curriculum Development in the Northeast Quadrant, and then put that person back in the classroom (or--if they don't actually have the talent to teach--let them go, and use their salary to pay five new teachers)? We can only hope...

In case you missed it last year: Happy Dyngus Day! Sounds like a fun tradition...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Not Really Up to Code

I had meant to finally do my post on dress codes on Friday; it seemed to dovetail nicely with the uniform discussion we were having the day before. But seeing as how the general holiday-ness of Friday sent me in other directions, it made sense to post it now, on a day when many people get a little more dressed up than usual.

Even in my church, which is not in any way a coat-and-tie church (save for some attendees of the earliest service, which caters to the older members), a lot more ties than usual made appearances this morning. Since I was playing, I didn't go quite that far, but I did have a nice solid-color button-down shirt (tucked in, even!) and a slightly fancier pair of shoes than I normally wear.

As I said in Thursday's post, I'm not a really big fan of strict dress codes. Sure, part of it has to do with the whole striving-for-individuality attitude that a musician pretty much has to adopt, lest his or her music become boring and bland (as if created by the Machine, perhaps). But another part of it is just because I don't think it's as effective as the People in Charge evidently believe.

Now, please understand something : I'm not against all dress codes; no anarchist lives in this house. We don't need girls coming to school in tank tops, see-thru shirts or really short shorts, or just generally looking like cocktail waitresses (and didja ever notice that it's always the girls who get everyone in trouble in this area?). There's no reason to have obscene T-shirts either, or ones that, say, glorify Satanism or drug use (though I recall being pretty miffed in seventh grade when they changed the rules midyear and I could no longer wear my Budweiser shirt to school). It's the little, petty things that get me. Shorts? So what (after all, I do live in Texas, where it gets pretty dang warm by the end of school, and is even worse at the beginning of the year, and it's not like the air conditioning is great in every room of the school). Facial hair? No big deal to me; sure, there are arguments that not letting students have it can help everyone distinguish the teachers from the students, but there are ways around that (ID badges--something with which, incidentally, I have no problem). And don't even get me started on the nearby district that prohibits teachers from having facial hair. Flip-flops? Again...Texas, hot. And yeah, I know that whole thing about "they're made of rubber, and you might slip in water and fall and sue the school," but that could happen anywhere, and you don't see other public places enacting such a prohibition.

Actually, the flip-flops subject strikes a chord with me--not because I really like to wear them, which I do, but because they were outlawed in my Houston-area school district when I was growing up. One of the school board members was quoted by name in the school paper explaining why: Because guys' hairy toes might sexually excite the girls in the classroom.

While you're picking yourself up off the floor after reading that one, let me just say....huh? What kind of a twisted mind thought that up? (And, may I add, despite all the time I've worn flip-flops, I can attest that having hirsute lower extremities has never yielded me even a single date. Heh.)

Most of these "extreme" elements of dress codes don't have thing one to do with education; they're all about control. Though there are certainly some notable exceptions to this rule, it seems that something happens to educators when they becomes an administrator: when all is said and done, they become a lot less teacher and a lot more bureaucrat. Bureaucrats, by their very nature, need to continually justify their existence to the outside world, which finds much of what they do quite pointless (hmm, wonder why?), so they continually make more and more rules just to appear as though they're Doing Something. They're not really evil people for doing this; they've just gotten caught up in the whirlwind of junk. (The same thing happens to many new legislators; they may go in with the best of intentions, but evidently, it's hard to survive Washington with one's integrity intact.)

I have an example of the possible ineffectiveness of dress codes; I'll say up front that it's not scientific in any way, but it still warrants a bit of pondering: A school district near me (no reason to name names, but it rhymes with a popular drain cleaner) has some of the loosest dress code requirements in the area (i.e. shorts and facial hair are OK), as well as some of the highest test scores. I'm certainly not saying there's a direct causal relationship (and by the way, how many others of you look at the next-to-last word in that phrase and read it as "casual" the first time?), but I believe there is a connection. My explanation goes like this: There are a whole bunch of kids out there who don't mind school as long as they're not subject to pointless regulations. These aren't kids in the top ten, or the bottom ten, but rather in the big, big middle. Rather than trying to emulate the military, providing a relaxed learning environment actually helps these folks learn better. Start up the drill-sergeant thing, and you'll lose some of them.

I realize that some may think I'm all wet here, so as always, I invite comments. (I'd especially like to hear from Jim on this one, since he's an educator, and he attended the Mystery District in question as a student.) It's probably also becoming apparent why I'm the type of teacher that I am and not a traditional classroom teacher...

Gassed (the finale): My cheap gas quest ended as expected today; I held my nose and paid two bucks even at a Tom Thumb in Plano (it would've been three cents more without the card). It could have been much worse, seeeing as how I saw regular unleaded for $2.19 yesterday, also in Plano on the way to the wedding. On average, QT's and RaceTrac's were around $2.04, with many of the "big boys" hovering around $2.09. I'm wondering how long it will be before it dips back below two bucks again.

Yes, if I had a chocolate bunny, I'd eat the ears first too: Last, but certainly not least, Happy Easter to all!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

With This Riff, I Thee Wed

You've probably heard of the traditional New Orleans jazz funeral, but today I attended something rather unique: a jazz wedding. A jazz vocalist friend of mine got married to a jazz pianist, so it certainly made sense that their ceremony revolved around the music they love.

The wedding itself was held in the theatre adjacent to the art gallery where my friend works (as I told her, you always hear about people being married to their job, but it's not so common to see someone get married at their job). It was a little different from a traditional church wedding--a little less pomp and circumstance, but the cool factor was way off the charts. A traditional white archway bedecked with flowers held center stage, while a jazz trio of tenor sax, guitar and bass hid (mostly) behind the curtain and played the wedding party onstage to a ballad. After a brief but meaningful official ceremony, the band played a snippet of the traditional Mendelssohn Wedding March (and, for the first time, in that setting, the thought hit me that the tune does in fact start with a nice minor ii-V-i progression; as an audience member, I don't always analyze classical the way I do jazz) and launched into another ballad as the rest of the wedding party left the stage.

The reception was held in the gallery proper, and it proved the perfect venue for such a gathering: food in the back, tables in the front, band near the tables in a special "caged" area that sounded really good in the high-ceilinged room with exposed ductwork (note to self: future gig venue?). The tunes were mostly bossas, but the upper-level-UNT-people band made them sound very nice, and the vocalist knew the Portuguese quite well. I got to visit with friends and colleagues old and new, and the food was great, the highlight being one of those chocolate fountain things, into which bananas, strawberries, marshmallows, etc. could be dipped.

Though I imagine that my own wedding will take place inside a church, the jazz theme was very cool indeed; I hope to incorporate some elements of what I saw today into that day.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I've never seen a bride who was almost constantly smiling before...and I've never seen a groom sweat quite so much."--the officiator at the wedding, during one of many light moments in the ceremony. (Actually, knowing myself and big occasions/dressing up, I might give today's groom a run for his money in the Sweaty Groom competition when my own joyous day eventually comes.)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

What's That Under Your Pledge Pin...A Uniform???

There has been a lot of talk lately about school uniforms; the Mesquite district voted this week to require them for all middle- and high-school students, and the Dallas ISD, in the midst of debating them, received an endorsement of the idea from the president of the Dallas-area LULAC, though response from parents was mixed.

Actually, the term "uniform" is somewhat of a misnomer in this case; it's not the plaid skirts and shirts-and-ties of some private schools, but rather something known as "standardized dress." Most places that use this idea require khaki or navy pants, shorts or skirts and an un-logoed polo-type shirt in a solid color such as red, white or blue. Proponents say that this policy helps minimize the socioeconomic differences between students, eliminate gang colors in schools, and promote a more disciplined learning environment. Opponents say that it stifles the students' individuality and creativity and note the expense ($3.8 million) that the DISD would have to incur to provide a uniform apiece for 123,000 needy students. (I also thought it was interesting that one article noted that the recommended style of dress might cause overweight students to look "frumpy and unfashionable.")

So this is another one I'm throwing out to the commenters: Good idea? Bad idea? I tend to side with the opposition on this one, just because I'm not even a really big fan of strict dress codes (but that's another post). I teach at one school that does this (and nine that don't), and I can't say that I really see that much difference in the way the kids act. It is a little visually jarring the first day; walking down a hallway where a whole bunch of kids had the red polo/khaki pants combination, I felt like I was awash in a sea of Super Target employees. And if Dallas does this, I really can't imagine it at Booker T., which tends to allow its artist/musician/dancer students to have things like blue hair, Mohawks, and so on; one Booker T. parent said that "uniforms teach our kids not to think."

Anyway, let me know your thoughts in the comments. Oh yeah, and if the title of this post confuses you, please try to watch this at your earliest convenience during this upcoming holiday weekend.

Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail road to insanity: Talk show host Benjamin Dover reports that some malls are bowing to extreme political correctness and referring to the Easter Bunny as the "Spring Bunny." Sure, and we're going to put Spring Eggs in our Spring Baskets too. (Oh yeah, and that reminds me, I still need to take down my Holiday Lights...) OK, you get the idea, but man, can these people lighten up? There is nothing wrong with the word Easter...or Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, what have you. I don't want to have to say this again (but something tells me I will).

UPDATE: It gets worse; a 13-year-old kid assaulted the Easter Bunny at a mall in Michigan and gave him a bloody nose. (via Dave Barry's Blog)

Gassed, part 3: My gas challenge from Monday (trying to pay less than $2 a gallon) may end with my next fill-up; even though I found some for $1.99 (and three cents off that with the club card) at a Tom Thumb yesterday, even the QT stations in the area are above two bucks today. *sigh*

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Another Night of Madness

Last night was the annual "Lab Band Madness" concert featuring all nine UNT lab bands. Though it was even a bit longer than it had been in recent years, it was quite an enjoyable evening and actually seemed to go by rather quickly.

If you're new to this site since a year ago, the concert is set up as follows: The Two O'Clock Lab Band closes the first half, the Three O'Clock opens the second half, and the One O'Clock closes out the entire thing (duhh). The rest of the bands go alphabetically by last name of director, so that people coming in from outside the program won't automatically know which band they're listening to (as Leon Breeden, who brought the program to prominence in the 60's and 70's, used to say, once the auditions were over, the numbers disappeared; in other words, all the bands did well so there was no sense in having outsiders create some preconceived notion of, say, what the Six O'Clock ought to sound like). (A further review of last year's concert is posted here.)

I won't actually give a band-by-band review of the concert this year, as my friend and former lab band director John Murphy (now a member of the UNT jazz faculty) liveblogged the entire concert last night, so his on-the-spot notes do the concert better justice than my day-after recollections would do. I will say that I was very impressed with all the bands this year; there wasn't a weak link in the bunch. The soloing was also at a very high level throughout the night, and that's really something that my alma mater is famous for having happen. Many colleges can put out a well-rehearsed ensemble, but UNT, with its multi-layered improvisation program (which includes five prerequisite classes before you can even set foot in Improv I [Halfling, correct me if I'm wrong on that]), produces a level of improvisation that is rarely found at the college level. They have added a whole bunch of classes since I went there, and it sure seems like they're paying off.

The concert almost hit the four-hour level (it started at seven, and Murphy timed its ending at 10:52), but again, it never seemed like it was long; only a severe lack of dinner made us high-tail it to the Tomato quickly afterwards. Since I have Tuesday nights off this semester, it was also nice to see the whole thing for the first time in a few years. It may well be "madness" to schedule this many big bands in one night, but it's a good kind of madness.

Gassed, part deux: Check out the comments to Monday's post; I was right about gas prices in Australia being way, way worse than they are here. (UPDATE: James has cross-posted on the subject over at his site.)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You want to get up and stretch or something?"--Neil Slater, One O'Clock Lab Band director, as his band hit the stage a little before 10:30 p.m.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Close, But (Thankfully) No Cigar

I have a goal that is not too realistic, but I'm going to try to keep it anyway: to go as long as possible without paying over $2.00 a gallon for gas. Kevmobile 1.2 runs on regular unleaded, so I can at least prolong this a little better than many people (if I ran on premium, I would've been up the proverbial creek several weeks ago).

It was really funny how many stations I passed yesterday that were sitting at $1.99, many of them on the same corner. It's as if nobody wanted to cross that not-so-magic line, and they were daring each other to be the first. I did see a few extremes last night, with $2.09 being the worst. (Why would anyone stop there, short of running on utter fumes?)

I don't know how much longer this will last, seeing as how the Exxon near my house went from $1.99 this morning to $2.03 when I got home for my break, but we'll see. Thank goodness for these two places, which tend to be lower than most anyone else (and yeah, I'm sure my dad, the retired Shell guy, wouldn't agree, but hey, I drive back and forth between 12 teaching venues every week, and I have to think with my wallet first).

So, poll time:
1) What's the cheapest you've seen regular unleaded this week?
2) ...and the most expensive?
3) How long do you think I can go and still pay less than two bucks a gallon?

(James, I definitely want to hear from you on this, because I have a feeling that comparing our gas prices with those in Australia will make all of us up here feel much better.)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Oh Say, Can You Sing?

I had an interesting time this afternoon when my alumni group went to the National Anthem auditions for the Rangers It was definitely an experience; I had heard that a lot of people who try out for these things just...plain...can't...sing. And we heard some of that, but some good ones as well. It was also very well-organized; they had thirty acts scheduled per hour (with a suggested maximum time of no more than a minute and a half apiece), so things actually ran ahead of schedule. Here were some of the high- and lowlights of the day:

--I think I heard each of the twelve possible keys used today...and that was by only one person (not really, of course, but he was one of many who modulated at least five times).

--I wish I'd gotten to hear the tuba quartet; people said they were really good. There weren't that many instrumentalists there (not counting us, since we were singing), but I think I saw a mariachi group walk in.

--If you blow the lyrics, you blow your chance. The best misappropriation we heard today:
Whose broad stripes and bright stars
Through the perilous fight
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still streaming.

The audience was polite for everyone, though you could tell they were all groaning inwardly after hearing that.

--Clothes don't always make the man (or woman). A lady in semi-sloppy C&W attire sounded quite good; it reminded me of the girl who came into the college for scholarship auditions a few years ago wearing a baseball shirt and flip-flops and sang opera like nobody's business.

--Besides the guy early on, there were more than a few people who started out in one key and went to another (or several others); the usual changing point was the "and the rockets' red glare" part for those who realized that they'd started waaaaay too high.

--One of the main things they said before the auditions began was that "traditional" versions of the Anthem would be given preference--in other words, don't jazz it up beyond recognition. Guess what one of the first people to audition actually did...

--Some of the little kids did really well, though not all; this was quite different from a few years ago at the Rangers games when they had people sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with the organ, back when they still had a live organist. At that time, if it was a 9-year-old girl singing, she almost always nailed it; if it was an adult, look out. The organ always played it in C, and I heard a lady sing along in G for the whole Then the next season, I heard another lady sing it in G-flat *shudder*. That almost takes talent. Now, granted, the 9-year old girl would always sound like she was auditioning for Annie (take mmmmmeeeeeeeeeeee out to the baaaaaaall-game...), but she would nail the key way better than the adults.

Oh, and it was also cool to meet a few alumni there who weren't part of our group (a few of us, myself included, had letter shirts on; I did that since the only red shirt I own has them on). We even met one from my own chapter from fifty years ago! So we'll see what happens; results come out in a few weeks.

Oh say, you can remember the words too: There's a new movement underway called the National Anthem Project; its goal is for people to learn the words to the Star Spangled Banner, since a recent study shows that two out of three adults don't know them all. I bet that would be a good subject for Jay Leno's "Jay Walking" segment on the Tonight Show.

(MIS)QUOTE OF THE DAY: This happened while talking with one of the old alums, a member of a barbershop quartet that auditioned. He was mentioning another quartet that was also auditioning...

ALUMNI PRES: So, are those guys your rivals, then?
WHAT THE OLD ALUM ACTUALLY SAID: No, they've already sung.
(Nervous laughter ensued.)

I guess being an instrumentalist does destroy your hearing faster than usual...

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Excuse Me, Can We Borrow Your Band?

March Madness is upon us, and I've caught a lot of the games this weekend--a relief of sorts from this cleaning binge I've been on lately (you can tell I'm bored when I start cleaning the house). Perhaps the funniest story I've read so far about the tournament had to be the fact that Bucknell, a 14th-seeded team who upset 3rd seed Kansas on Friday night, didn't even bring their pep band to the game; they had to "borrow" one from another school. As Dallas Morning News columnist Brad Townsend noted,
Bucknell did not send its pep band to Oklahoma City, but a deal was struck with Northern Iowa's. An alumnus arranged for T-shirts to be printed for the band to wear during the Kansas game.

Unfortunately, Northern Iowa's band went home after the school's loss to Wisconsin and attempts to scrounge another for today have been unsuccessful.

But when Bucknell returned late Friday night to "the Holiday Inn where 14 seeds go," as [Bucknell coach Pat] Flannery called it, the Northern Iowa band had stayed long enough to serenade the Bison with their school song – which someone hastily faxed from Lewisburg. (source)
All I can say is, if I were a Bucknell band member, I would've definitely wanted to make the trip. After all, the team (from a school located in Lewisburg, PA, with an enrollment of 3500 students) is making its first trip to the BIg Dance in sixteen years; this would've been a good time for a wealthy alumnus (perhaps Les Moonves, president of the same CBS network that's televising the tournament) to throw down the money to bring the band. The one time that my alma mater, UNT, got to go, they definitely sent the band (for a really, really short trip to Salt Lake City, since they drew North Carolina in the first round and got summarily stomped), because, for a school that doesn't get invited every year, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the students. So if the Bison manage to survive Wisconsin tomorrow, the alumni should band together (heh) and send the team some homegrown musical accompaniment for the second round.

At any rate, it's a Cinderella story (and what true sports fan doesn't think of Bill Murray when reading that phrase?), just like 13th-seeded Vermont knocking off 2nd-seeded Syracuse the same night, and it's definitely one of the things that makes March Madness so compelling (OK, that and the office pool).

(Incidentally, while surfing the BuckneIl website, I took the Virtual Campus Tour. It takes a while, but the campus seems really nice--very "college-y" looking.)

Whoa....Nellie? I was really surprised to see that Don Nelson stepped down as Mavs coach earlier today, but, as owner Mark Cuban said, he's earned the right to leave on his own terms. Best of luck to new coach Avery Johnson, who's had the reins of the team a few times already this season (he won his official debut tonight, incidentally), and thanks to Nellie for bringing the team back from perennial laughingstock to playoff contender.

Thunder from down under: Over at American Australian Fun, I talk about the typical March Madness office pool (see the comments) in contrast to the "tipping competitions" they have over there for the Rugby League (and no, as James explains, it's not a contest to see how generous you can be to your waitperson).

Friday, March 18, 2005

Gimme a D! Gimme a U! Gimme an M and a B!

The story of the day so far has to be the one that's practically in my backyard: A Texas legislator wants to ban sexy cheerleader routines...
The Friday night lights in Texas could soon be without bumpin' and grindin' cheerleaders. Legislation filed by Rep. Al Edwards would put an end to "sexually suggestive" performances at athletic events and other extracurricular competitions.

"It's just too sexually oriented, you know, the way they're shaking their behinds and going on, breaking it down," said Edwards, a 26-year veteran of the Texas House. "And then we say to them, 'don't get involved in sex unless it's marriage or love, it's dangerous out there' and yet the teachers and directors are helping them go through those kind of gyrations."

Under Edwards' bill, if a school district knowingly permits such a performance, funds from the state would be reduced in an amount to be determined by the education commissioner. (source)
More here, including lots of insightful comments.

All I can say to this is pretty much what I said about Congress yesterday: if the Legislature has enough time on its hands to deal with matters like this (instead of letting the appropriate governing bodies of the sport act first), then that means that they've already solved the rest of the problems facing the state, right? C'mon, folks, your time in Austin is limited. Get to work on the serious stuff already...

UPDATE: Evidently, a few others (from opposite ends of the political spectrum, even) are on the same page with me on this subject.

Besides, can't you just see the stereotypical good ol' boy Texan's response to this one? "You'll take them sexy cheerleaders away from me when you pry 'em outta my cold, dead....uhh, binoculars."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Congress vs. Baseball

A number of baseball players are set to testify before a House panel today regarding the use of steroids, and the panel's chair today chided the sport's leadership for being uncooperative.
"Major League Baseball and the players' association greeted word of our inquiry first as a nuisance, then as a negotiation, replete with misstatements," Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said in his opening statement.

"I understand their desire to avoid the public's prying eye. ... But I think they misjudged our seriousness of purpose," he said. "I think they misjudged the will of an American public who believes that sunshine is the best disinfectant."
There's no doubt that steroids are bad; for one thing, they're illegal without a prescription, and there's no doubt that the long-term effects outweigh any short-term ahtletic advantage that might be attainted. Yet, sadly, some people are so stubbornly blind to the dangers that it will probably take someone in baseball ending up like Lyle Alzado before everyone gets the message that these things are bad. There are a lot of aspects to this issue, but my question today is, shouldn't baseball at least get to try out its new policy before the government gets involved?

There's no denying that some poeple in government would like to micromanage every aspect of our lives. In this instance, the congressmen think that baseball's new steroid policy, which calls for either a ten-day suspension or a $10,000 fine for a first offense, is too lenient. Davis and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Cal., said the following in a letter to Commissioner Bud Selig and players union chief Donald Fehr:
"Even if players are suspended, the public disclosure is limited to the fact of their suspension with no official confirmation that the player tested positive for steroids," they said. "In contrast, the Olympic policy calls for a two-year suspension for a first offense."
Yeah, but that's a little different, isn't it? Olympic athletes are at least nominally amateur; suspend them, and they lose a few endorsements, miss out on their Wheaties box, what have you. In the case of a professional athlete, this is his job. Does anyone want Big Brother making personnel decisions here? Let's at least allow the employers (the league and the owners) the chance to do something first; their policy may not be as stern as that of the Olympics, but it's a start.

My personal take on this is that Congress has way too many things on its plate right now--the budget, the war, and Social Security, just to name a few--to be spending time telling a private business how to conduct its affairs. What do you think?

Sit! Stay! Don't chase the bunny! On my way home from working out today, I took the back way through a small town. I noticed they had a "country store" with an interesting schedule for Saturday morning on its marquee:

I guess the goal is for the dogs to be obedient enough by the end of the hour that they won't eat any of the Easter eggs the kids are trying to find...

The wearin' o' the green: Happy St. Patrick's Day to all! I'm not even trying for a snappy headline for this one, because I doubt I could beat the one I used last year. Since school is out, I don't get to see the comedy of non-green wearing kids getting pinched, but I'm wearing my green UNT shirt nonetheless (being a quarter Irish, with the name to match) and will probably attempt to quaff some sort of green beverage tonight.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wait a Minute...Isn't This Supposed to Be Spring Break?

OK, I've done a lot of long posts recently, so this one is short and fluffy; call it a "rantlet" if you wish.

I checked my computer at 5:00 yesterday afternoon, a few hours before sunset. The average high in this area at this time of year is around 68 degrees; the Weather Channel forecast at the time said that it was 43 degrees, but it "feels like" 36. I'm sorry, but I think the "spring" part of spring break is sadly lacking at the moment. (And one of the reasons that I didn't post this yesterday is that I spent all my time trying to upload the weather box to this site. I know it's possible, because J-Guar did one about a month ago, but I couldn't figure out how.)

After we got "teased" by a beautiful Saturday, the rest of this week has felt downright wintry so far. Spring break is supposed to be shorts and flip-flops time here in Texas (two things I can't enjoy while teaching), and here we are dressing for January. Gah.

And how much you wanna bet that, when school resumes next Monday, it promptly hits 80 again?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m tired of snow. I’m tired of grey skies. I’m tired of coats and long sleeves. I’m tired of hot chocolate. I’m tired of oatmeal. I want short sleeves and sandals and picnics and hot dogs and trips to the beach! I’m TIRED OF WINTER and I WANT TO GO TO ARIZONA!”--James Lileks' daughter, "Gnat," in today's Bleat. It's just a reminder that, no matter how nasty it is here, it's always worse somewhere else. (Lileks is based in Minnesota, and I'm sure that fellow Twin-Citian J-Guar is digging being here in the Metroplex for spring break instead of up there; I just checked the current conditions for his hometown, and it's 28 as we speak. Brrr...)

Monday, March 14, 2005

They've Got It Down Pat

The Cool Concert Tour continued in fine fashion last night, topping off a great week of music with what will almost certainly be the concert of the year: the Pat Metheny Group's The Way Up tour at the Nokia Theatre. This was my sixth time to see the PMG live, but I was blown away as never before (and what a great first show it was for Halfling and Zack, who were with me tonight).

First of all, they opened the concert by playing the new CD, The Way Up. Not some tunes from the CD, but the whole thing. There really is no other way it could have been done, seeing as how the CD is one epic, 68-minute composition by Metheny and longtime collaborator Lyle Mays that serves as a summation of their nearly thirty-year partnership. On his website, Metheny explains the thought process behind creating a work of this scope:
As we have developed over the years, our interests have naturally developed toward longer and more detailed forms. But this time, for Lyle and I as writers, it goes to a couple of stages past everything that we've done before. At the time that we started writing, we saw this as a kind of protest record. It could be seen as our protest against a world where fear has become a cultural and political weapon, a protest against a world where a lack of nuance and detail is considered a good thing, a protest that values that which can be consumed in the smallest bites over the kinds of efforts and achievements that can only come with a lifetime of work and study.
In this humble fan's opinion, they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams (not to mention our own), and now this intricate, mesmerizing and uplifting work is being re-created on stage on a nightly basis. The only word that comes to mind

I find it difficult to describe The Way Up in words, save for three: buy the CD (if you've heard it, I need say no more). It has a lot of the typical PMG hallmarks: the original core Group sound of Pat's hollow-body guitar and Lyle's acoustic piano; Pat's screaming guitar synth (I used to refer to the hollow-body vs.-synth as "Good Pat" vs. "Evil Pat," but even evil is good in this case), this time spelled by Cuong Vu's skronky trumpet effects; the soaring "First Circle"-ish vocals; the powerful orchestral swells, augmented in the live show by Steve Rodby's arco bass; and the energetic Latin percussion that's been a PMG staple since the days of As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. All these things are combined with interesting samples and instrumental effects and a heightened underlying sense of emotional depth.

So after performing a work like that, what could they do next? What they do best, of course: comb the back-catalogue and put new twists on longtime favorites (including "James," "Last Train Home," "Always and Forever," and "Are You Going With Me?") that showcased the talents of the new guys in the band. Cuong Vu was impressive on a variety of instruments (trumpet, percussion, guitar) and the trademark wordless vocals that have long been a PMG mainstay. (I was amazed to find out how much of the new sounds I heard were actually trumpet and not guitar.) Swiss harmonicist (yes, I'm pretty sure that's the right word for a harmonica player) Grégoire Maret added a great new dimension to the group; Lyle has always used a harmonica-sounding patch on his keyboard, and it was quite cool to hear "real harmonica" and "fake harmonica" trading solos on "Are You Going With Me?" Drummer Antonio Sanchez (who was new to me since I missed the last tour) is quite a find: not only can he nail the breezy, cymbalistic figures central to many PMG tunes, but his technique on the kit when "unleashed" is nothing short of startling. He started the second set with a duet with Pat and was also featured on an extended version of "Lone Jack" from the first Group album. The special guest for the evening was Brazlian percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Nando Lauria, who, like Cuong and Grégoire, was kept quite busy for most of the night. The regular set closed with "Minuano," and the Group returned for a playful encore of Pat's "Song for Bilbao," which he recorded with Michael Brecker on Tales from the Hudson. Even though they didn't play my personal favorite "The First Circle" (a tune which destroys me in beautiful ways) this time around, there was no way I could be disappointed (especially since they did play "Minuano," which is basically "The Second Circle"). Indeed, the only downside to this night was that the time they were onstage (nearly three hours) went by so fast.

This was our first time to visit the Nokia Theatre, a midsized venue that was meant as an alternative to--and ultimately became a replacement of sorts for--the late Bronco Bowl. As far as comparisons go, it's a really nice place, good sound, much less of a traffic problem since it's set out in a somewhat isolated area across from the Lone Star Park horse track. It also has the versatility to put on a variety of types of concerts, and indeed, in the next few months, it'll play host to everything from Elvis Costello to the comedian Gallagher; from Mötley Crüe to Riverdance. We felt a little bit fleeced by the parking fees (twelve bucks), but it was well-lighted and not really a long walk. The concession prices looked scary (we didn't partake), but, what can you say? It's corporate. And it goes without saying that we didn't get backstage like the other night (though I saw a friend try this and get rebuffed rather indifferently by a big dude with a flashlight).

I've usually managed to make every other PMG tour ever since I've been a fan. After tonight, none of the three of us plan on missing one again anytime soon.

(UPDATE: Lots more griping about the security personnel and the lack of meet-and-greet opportunities afterwards, on the PMG Listener Network forums.)

The Way Up...and up, and up, and down really fast: We were all struck by one comment that Pat made in the concert: the band spent the afternoon beforehand at Six Flags riding roller coasters! If we had only known, we would've been so there. Imagine riding the Titan with Pat! That'd be the only time I'd pay for that picture they take of you during the ride...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

"Professional Students," or Students Learning a Profession?

Once again, the Texas Legislature has come up with a bill to try and move students through undergraduate school more quickly than many of them are doing nowadays. It's a better effort than their previous attempt, but it still ignores the reality of attending college in this day and age:
Students lollygagging at Texas public universities are costing taxpayers money and taking up space in the state's already crowded flagship universities, lawmakers and university administrators say.

The Senate subcommittee on higher education Monday approved a bill aimed at moving students into a cap and gown more quickly by allowing public universities to adopt a flat-rate tuition to encourage students to take more classes each semester.

"It's doable, but we have to motivate students to want to do it," said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who wrote the bill and earned her first bachelor's degree in 2 ½ years while married and working. "I think it's become acceptable in Texas for students to take five or six years or more to complete degree requirements."
As always, read the whole thing.

Now, first of all, with all due respect to Sen. Zaffirini, two-and-a-half years is a freakishly short time to finish a degree. She may have been a Doogie Howser-type, but the real world can't be held to that sort of standard. Secondly, I doubt that most of the students who have extended their time in college are actually "lollygagging." It's far more likely that they're working, which, granted, is probably a foreign concept to people whose "job" only meets for a few months every other year (i.e. Texas state legislators). If you're working, you don't often have time to take quite as many credits during a semester--at least if you want to excel at both your studies and your job(s). A four-year degree has become pretty much a myth anyway for anyone who is not on a full academic ride (and a four-year music education degree existed only on paper even when I was in undergrad school...but more on that in a minute). Sure, there are people who mindlessly drift through college, changing majors three or four times in the process, but most of the fifth- and sixth-year collegians aren't slacking, they're surviving.

A little later on, the article mentions this:
The board says students who complete their education in four years typically take 130 hours while those who finish in six years take 166 hours.
And that's a problem? I don't have my transcript in front of me, but I'm reasonably sure that my music-ed undergrad was in excess of 130 hours on paper, ignoring for the moment the extra coursework I took to enrich myself and make myself a better musician and teacher. (That same degree is 139 hours at the minimum nowadays.) My best friend Halfling's undergrad jazz studies degree plan is nearly 140 hours on paper, and that doesn't even include things like ensembles and lessons, which are taken every semester.

I think I'm particularly sensitive in this area because of the way musicians learn their craft. While most traditional academic degrees consist of four to six three-credit courses every semester, the bulk of music courses only earn one credit (despite sometimes meeting as often as four hours a week, in the case of many ensembles). The solution would certainly not lie in increasing the credit hours of those classes to match the "contact hours," because that would push most semesters into credit overload: an average schedule would balloon to 21+ hours, which would be cost-prohibitive for most students. But even under the current system, an 18-credit semester would probably consist of ten or eleven classes, as compared to the six taken by "regular" students whose classes are all worth three credits. Sometimes, that's just too much.

Besides, music (and this goes for most of the other arts, I'm sure) is something that isn't necessarily learned on a schedule. Getting the degree doesn't necessarily ensure that one's playing (or singing/acting/painting) is exactly where it needs to be; that extra semester could be the time when everything finally solidifies.

And the Legislature itself hasn't exactly helped matters either, seeing has how they've browbeaten the universities to add a bunch of extra courses to the curriculum, mostly in the area of "multiculturalism" or "diversity." So they're making people take more stuff and then complaining that it takes longer; aren't these the same folks who turn around and complain about the "unfunded mandates" that the federal government foists upon the states at nearly every turn? There's not much of a difference, if you ask me.

I will give the Lege credit for one thing, though; at least this bill is structured as a reward (by making tuition cheaper for taking more hours), rather than a punishment (the last time they tried this, the object was, if I recall correctly, to triple the tuition for students after they'd taken a certain number of credits [still searching for the link to verify that]).

At any rate, this bill, if enacted, may actually help some people finish their degrees a little sooner. I just hope the legislators understand that not everyone who's taking a longer-than-usual time in college (and maybe it's time to redefine "usual") is "lollygagging." Sometimes, they're not "professional students" but simply students learning a profession.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A Loo-ney Idea?

Hey, boys and girls, today our topic is: bathrooms. That's right--the head, the privy, the can, the john, the loo. If you're easily grossed out, you might want to save this post until after you're done eating (thought it's really not all that gross).

There was an interesting discussion on Crescat Sententia last week about unisex bathrooms, which evidently have started to spring up at some universities (even in the dorms, which sounds like a risky proposition at best). Many of the commenters who posted to the sites referred to at Crescat seemed to be in favor of keeping the status quo, mostly either because of concerns for women's safety or out of a strong desire not to have the opposite sex around when they were doing their "bathroom stuff."

One thing that many people pointed out was the existence of single-user unisex bathrooms; these guarantee even more privacy for the user and also deals with another problem that was mentioned, that of not forcing transgendered people to have to make a public choice of which room to use (which never would have occurred to me in a million years, but hey, you can learn a lot via the blogosphere). That got me to wondering why, in some of the schools where I teach, the single-user bathrooms are still segregated.

This situation actually came up a few days ago, when I needed to make a quick "pit stop" between lessons at a middle school. The hallway nearest to where I teach has two seemingly identical single-user faculty restrooms, one for each gender. I reached the men's room only to find the door locked, so I waited in the hallway (taking up lesson time as I did so, since my teaching continues uninterruptedly at most schools). Next door, a woman walked out of the ladies' room. Knowing of the single-occupancy nature of these rooms, the thought occurred to me that, if I actually knew more people here (since I am rarely acquainted with anyone other than the band directors at any given school), I might be daring enough to use the now-open ladies' room, rather than continue to wait for the men's room. After all, it's not as if anyone could walk in on me, unless I was stupid enough to not lock the door. While I was pondering this idea, the men's room door finally opened...

...and out walked a woman. Wait a minute...

This seemed right there to be a good argument in favor of gender-neutralizing these two rooms, because an obvious double standard exists: I would have likely been reprimanded for using the ladies' room, but the lady in question faced no such censure for using the men's. I can understand the possible objections from women who don't want to use the same facilities that guys do (either for safety/privacy concerns or due to the "eww" factor, as Ann Althouse notes here), but is there really any other reason that a single-user facility needs to be gender-labeled? (Incidentally, a similar situation came up that same night at dinner, when I had to wait quite some time for the one-seater "men's" room to be freed up, while its female counterpart sat unused.)

If I've missed any good reasons to keep these rooms as they are, please point this out to me in the comments. Also, do any of my readers think that completely unisex multi-user bathrooms are a good idea, especially in college dorms? I'm still not sure that the world at large is ready for that...

UPDATE: I remembered a post from last year where it appears that I took a guy to task (in the blog, not in person) for using a single-seater women's room, although my main objection seems to be that he was also talking on his cell phone in there--very loudly. I may have warmed to the idea of unisex single-seaters (especially since, evidently, women can already get away with using the "wrong" one), but my stance on cell phones in the bathroom hasn't changed: Eww.

Oh yeah, and I was going to mention before that an activist group cited in the Althouse post linked above is called People In Search of Safe Restrooms. Anyone think they didn't know what the acronym for that would be when they founded the group?

And this could partially solve the problem of under- or unemployed musicians, too: Also from Althouse, a link to an interesting story from India:
The authorities in southern Rajahmundry have hired groups of drummers to play nonstop outside the homes of property tax evaders until they pay up. The city took the action after other incentives, like waiving interest and penalties, failed. After a week of the incessant drumming, 18 percent of the overdue backlog has already been cleared.
I would think this would be especially effective if they had the drummers play something like the "Sing, Sing, Sing" intro (a great work in its time, but way overplayed now) or, even better, "Wipe Out."

Friday, March 11, 2005

This Music Is Headed in the Right Direction

Last night was one of the most highly-anticipated concerts of the year: Directions in Music at Bass Hall in Ft. Worth. The three featured players are the legendary keyboardist/composer Herbie Hancock, tenor titan Michael Brecker and Texas-bred trumpeter Roy Hargrove; rounding out the ensemble this time around were bassist Scott Colley (whom I'd heard on the previous Brecker tour in '02) and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.

The original "Directions" came about because of a concert at Massey Hall in 2001 that was conceived as a tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the occasion of what would have been their seventy-fifth birthdays. Joining the three headliners was the powerhouse support team of bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade (the same tandem behind Wayne Shorter's Footprints Live, a tour I also had the privilege of catching). From that concert came the Live at Massey Hall CD, released in 2002.

We had no idea upon our arrival if there would be any duplication of tunes from the original CD at this concert or if it was a sequel of sorts; the "Directions in Music" moniker always seemed to imply to me that the original was but one of a series, and that thought was borne out by the printed program, which noted that the current tour (which wraps up in Houston tomorrow night) is officially called "Directions in Music: Our Times" and spotlights the music of contemporary composers like Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Jaco Pastorius, Stevie Wonder, and Hancock himself.

The modern-ness was evident from the start, as Hancock began the evening coaxing sounds from his iMac G5 before he ever laid his hands on the piano (or the synth sitting on top of it). An otherworldly swirl of samples came bursting forth, enhanced by a fancy surround-sound setup. Some of the speakers were way up near where we were, in the highest level of Bass Hall, and the whole thing really added to the experience, as Herbie's synths and samples and Brecker's EWI were given added prominence.

In most concert reviews, I'd give you a rundown of the list of tunes, but that would be near-impossible this time. For one thing, they didn't announce a single title (despite the program stating, in true symphony hall fashion, that "[i]n the spirit of spontaneity, all pieces will be announced from the stage") and some tunes ran right into each other. In fact, nobody came to the mic at all until Hancock introduced the band at the end of the two-hour set (a 35-minute encore would follow). Also, Directions tends to specialize in the deconstruction of familiar themes, much as they did with the "So What/Impressions" pairing on the CD, so there were several times when a theme would seem familiar, only to veer off into something completely different.

But don't for a minute assume that the lack of recognizable thematic material made the concert any less enjoyable. From the opener, which seemed to be a reworking of "Dolphin Dance" (though the head was never played in its entirety), all the way to a rousing version of "Chameleon" that rounded out the encore, the soloing was nothing short of amazing. Sure, Directions is not for casual listening, and Breckerphiles like myself could perhaps quibble at the amount of time that the two horns spent offstage (there's no doubt that this was Hancock's show, but his four decades of contributions to the music have earned him the right to sit atop that pedestal), but there was a lot of top-notch musicianship on that stage, and we were reveling in it for the entire two-and-a-half hours.

Brecker did get his personal moment in the sun when the others left the stage for his solo EWI run (despite not knowing the theme of this tour, Halfling nailed the prediction of such a feature on the trip down). As he had done on his magnum-opus reworking of "Original Rays" during an early solo tour, about which I reminisced here, Brecker had fun with the different tonal possibilities and cool tricks like making what he played repeat over a few bars and accompanying himself with rhythm-box tracks (all of his effects came from an iMac that was a virtual twin of Herbie's). He even got in touch with his inner rock star, walking to the front of the stage at one point and playing some rapid-fire "guitar licks." (At the very end of the feature, he played a couple of figures that made me and Halfling both think he was going to segue into "Rays," but it was not to be. The rhythm section rejoined him and launched into what an Amazon reviewer of a previous stop on the tour said was Shorter's "Pinocchio," but I'll have to research that one.)

As far as other highlights: Hargrove's funky wah-pedal enhancements and amazing technique, augmented by high chops that seemed stronger than previous times I'd seen him (which included a stop at the late, lamented Caravan of Dreams down the street from where we were last night, as well as a solo performance--that's right, unaccompanied flugelhorn--at a Borders in Plano); Colley's nice, technical solo lines and solid foundation; Carrington's tasty Afro-Latin rhythmic meanderings and strong time support (changing from rock-solid to floaty, depending on the moment); and of course Herbie himself. Though he's almost as well-known for his electric work, it was great just to hear him play piano, of which there was a generous quantity. He's one of the living masters whom I had not seen live before this, and he was more than worth the wait.

We had originally been set to see this show in Houston tomorrow because tonight's show conflicted with Combo PM, but when a lot of the members also expressed interest, we got to turn it into a field trip of sorts (though we were scattered throughout the hall). Now I'm regretting selling the Houston tickets, because we definitely would have gone to see these guys again. With any luck, a CD will come out of this tour as well.

The aftermath: The evening wasn't done at concert's end--far from it. Halfling and I noticed on our way in that the stage door went right out onto the sidewalk, so we joined a small group of people hoping that the players would come outside. We initially envied the people who had actually congregated inside that door, deciding that they must have been invited there, but when Halfling recognized a few of his classmates in the group, he figured that maybe anybody could walk in, which is exactly what we did. After a decent amount of waiting, we were rewarded, as Brecker came out into the hallway. Though I had always heard he was quite reserved in person, he was actually extremely cool, quite friendly and very conversational; he signed autographs and talked with all of us for a good fifteen minutes. I also used Halfling's camera phone to take a picture of him and Halfling, who then did the same for me; that photo will be posted here as soon as it's uploaded and emailed to me.

Needless to say, that was a great moment, because, despite having seen Brecker four times before, this was my first time to meet him. Halfling and I also reveled in the fact that we had, in the past two semesters, gotten to meet and be photographed with pretty much our two favorite tenor players (the Bob Mintzer encounter is posted here), both in the same town. Ft. Worth has been very, very good to us.

We waited a bit to try and catch Herbie, but he had already gotten onto the bus; nonetheless, we waited out there a bit, having a bit more of a conversation with Brecker and watching one of the college guys actually bum a cigarette off Hargrove before he boarded the bus.

At this point, it was 'round quite a bit after midnight and we still hadn't eaten dinner. Despite Ft. Worth's downtown being much more lively than Dallas's (see below), everywhere we went was closed or in the process of doing so. Even the Taco Cabana in north Ft. Worth that we'd visited on the way back from the Dave Pietro concert was closed, so we hit its counterpart in Denton, which was totally hoppin' at 1:30 a.m. I crashed on Halfling's floor after that, totally agreeing with his contention that I had no business driving back at two in the morning (and reveling in the fact that I didn't have any students until nearly 9:45 today). Even though I had a short teaching day today, last night marked the official beginning of Spring Break '05 for us, and it definitely started off in fine fashion. And only two more days till Pat Metheny...

Cowtown after dark: It's long been known among Metroplexites that Ft. Worth has Dallas beaten by a long shot in the downtown department. Sure, we got done too late to eat, but there were plenty of options had we been there earlier: Chili's, Bennigan's, Razzoo's, Pizzeria Uno, and so on. Everything was clean and well-lighted, parking was plentiful and cheap (we even got a free curbside spot during our food-searching sojourn), bicycle officers were on nearly every block, and a few street musicians plied their craft along the sidewalk. Oh, and we felt totally safe the whole time and didn't get accosted by--or even see, for that matter--a single homeless person. Sure, the whole Sundance Square area was initially financed by money from the local magnates, the Bass family (even if the resources of one of its members couldn't keep Caravan of Dreams afloat *sigh*), but the revival has been going on for more than twenty years and shows no sign of stopping. (It also struck me that putting Bass Hall right in the middle of their revived downtown was a good move; there's nothing wrong on paper about the somewhat segregated Arts District in Dallas, but it's very cool to be able to go right out the front door of the Bass and have restaurants, movie theatres and a bookstore right there in walking distance.) The powers-that-be in Dallas should take a trip west on I-30 (if they can ever stop bickering amongst themselves on every little thing) and figure out what's going on over here, because it works.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A Superstore of Healthy Machines

My last student of the day was on spring break this week, so The Hang™ got to begin a couple of hours early last night. Since my arrival time coincided with Halfling's usual workout time, he invited me to join him. This meant that I got to experience the new Rec Center for the first time.

This place just opened about a year ago, and it's amazing. The tall ceiling, allowing for a second-story running track that overlooks the ground floor, gives the place a certain feeling of grandeur, and the massive climbing wall at one end adds to that feeling. Walking into the main exercise area, it's almost overwhelming--machines, machines, as far as the eye can see. Even more impressive was the fact that, when we were there (~6:00 in the evening), they were almost all full.

My idea was to mirror Halfling's workout, but within the realm of common sense; Halfling is, after all, in training for a big bike ride in a few months, and he had a three-week head start on me on this whole thing. And, despite all my jokes beforehand about him having to carry me up the Bass Hall stairs for tonight's Directions in Music concert, mirror him I did. We did quite a bit of different things with free weights, which was new to me, and fifteen minutes on the elliptical trainer, which was five minutes longer than he lasted the first time. Like the time last year when I started playing racquetball again, I felt much more alive when all was said and done. This morning, I feel a little bit sore in places, but it's a "good sore." Even though I don't have the advantage of having a place like this just two blocks away like Halfling does, there is some stuff at the college that I can use for free, so I plan on doing a lot more of this in the near future.

Another "phat" big band: Halfling got the new CD from the Dave Holland Big Band, and we listened to it last night while driving around Denton. I'll post a review later, but this should tell you how much I like it: I'm ordering it the next time I get to a computer. Now all I have to do is decide what to bundle it with to get free shipping from Amazon...maybe this, which comes out Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Giving Credit Where Credit Isn't Due

A bill that would make it much more difficult for people to forgive their debts by filing bankruptcy has cleared its last hurdle in the Senate. From there, the bill is expected to have a smooth ride the rest of the way.

I know there aren't any high-powered legislators reading this blog, but if anyone is listening, I have a suggestion for a companion bill. My bill would forbid credit-card companies from recruiting new customers on college campuses. Studies have shown that, while the majority of bankruptcy filings are precipitated by some sort of health crisis, a significant number of people have chosen this route because they're in over their heads with credit card debt. And many people start down that rocky road when they're in college.

Walk into the student union at any college, and you'll probably see the table with its brightly-colored banner hawking free T-shirts, contests, and other prizes, all in exchange for your signing up for their credit card. It's usually somewhat harmless at first--mine was a Citibank VISA with a $500 limit--but the slope gets slippery shortly thereafter. What starts out as an "emergency only" card suddenly becomes a fall-back when an expensive dinner comes up or a cool new CD gets released.

The company doesn't help things, of course, raising the limit of its new customers way too soon in the process (even before there's significant income to back up the newly-granted credit). One card gets maxed, but there are five more issuers lining up to offer another one. Before long, someone can amass debts in the tens of thousands of dollars before they even reach their 25th birthday. And it only gets worse if you miss a payment or go over the credit limit; what starts out as an "introductory 2.9% interest rate" can then be raised to as much as thirty percent. The worst part is that a user may never know that he's over the limit, because the card issuer still approves the purchase, and they will then assess an "overlimit fee" that will--guess what--put the user even more over the limit.

There are plenty of things wrong with the bill that's currently in the Senate, especially the lack of a loophole for bankruptcies caused by medical crises. The predatory nature of credit-card banks should be punished, not enabled...but their pockets run deep (I'll save my thoughts on how lobbying should be outlawed for a later post). The best place to start would be to get them off the college campuses, because, just like marijuana is sometimes called a "gateway drug" to the harder stuff, the college student credit card, left unchecked, can be a gateway to financial disaster.

Not too challenging so far: Yesterday's challenge proved to be no problem this morning, and it feels great to have so much done already. Plus, when's the last time I did a morning blog post? I think I'm gonna like this...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A Challenge

For this entire school year, I've been getting worse and worse about dragging my carcass out of bed in the morning. I'd actually gotten really good about it last year, getting up on the first alarm of the second clock almost every day (I'll explain another time why I have more than one clock), but this year has been a struggle.

Last week, one of the presenters at the Sinfonia workshop talked about how using a snooze alarm is "breaking a promise to yourself," because you told yourself, by virtue of setting the alarm for a certain time in the first place, that you were going to get up at a certain time, and delaying that action was defaulting on the deal. I realized I agreed with that, and the seeds of change were planted. Then this afternoon, after reading Halfling's post from yesterday, I realized he had the same idea in mind. Always up for a brotherly challenge, I decided that now's the time (Bird reference only partially intentional). Granted, I only have to do this for three days before spring break, but that'll be a good little "trial period" for the real thing the following week.

Though it could be looked at as getting thirty fewer minutes of sleep a night, snooze-alarm sleep isn't good sleep to begin with, and the combination of not being in a hurry on my way out the door and having gotten a lot done before I even leave the house should leave me more relaxed, not less. And since I'm stating this promise in a public forum, both here and in Halfling's comments, nobody can say it's just talk (gratuitous Metheny reference definitely intentional; I'm pumped about the concert on Sunday). This will happen, starting in the morning.

Spank you very much: More spanking news this week, as a kid in a Baptist school in Chicago was suspended after his mother refused to hit him for misbehaving; read the whole thing. Also, the commenters on last week's spanking post seem to agree with me that corporal punishment and child abuse aren't necessarily the same thing, and several letter-writers in yesterday's DMN said that last week's writer was herself all wet for criticizing Jamie Foxx's grandmother's form of discipline.

Cool concert countdown: Directions in Music, two days. Pat Metheny Group, five days. What a weekend it's gonna be...

Monday, March 07, 2005


It almost happened again. Just barely over a year after I was rear-ended by a soccer mom, I almost had an incident with another one, and this one would have legally been my fault.

I was headed from the college to the store this afternoon, turning left from Spring Creek onto the southbound service road of 75. I could hear the sound of a siren behind me, but I wasn't sure where it was at first. As I went under the freeway overpass, I could see that a fire engine was behind me, but there were several cars between me and it. My goal was to pull over after making the left turn--for which we had a green arrow--just in case the fire truck was turning left also. It seemed like a good enough plan...

...Except for the fact that the SUV in front of me suddenly stopped. That's right, she stopped, partway in the act of making her left turn, right in the middle of the street. I slammed on my brakes, my tires made the appropriate screeching sounds, and my car spun ever so little to the right. (It goes without saying that I screamed the usual obscenities in the process of all this.) What was she thinking? Did she not have a clue that there were cars behind her (thankfully, nobody was that close behind me) or that, if the fire truck had wanted to turn left, that the middle of the intersection was not the appropriate place to "pull over" out of the way, that in fact we would've both quite possibly gotten run over by it?

Thankfully, she realized the error of her ways rather quickly (hmm, perhaps the sound of my screeching tires gave it away) and got on out of there, freeing me up to do the same. I actually felt a bit of tightness in my chest for a second, but it wasn't in the "heart area" and was likely just a by-product of the momentary tensing-up of my muscles. Needless to say, the couple of errands I was going to run before teaching at the store got put on hold; instead, I had a relaxing stop here, just because it was there.

Oh yeah, and the fire truck didn't even turn. It went straight. We wouldn't have been in the way at all...unless the soccer mom had caused me to run into her. I was happy to dodge the bullet on that one, but what's up with this particular time of year lately? Julius Caesar had to beware the Ides of March; evidently, I have to beware the Single Digits of that same month.

A work of art on multiple levels: So you're a young jazzer and you're hoping to build your musical library using iTunes or burned CD's? John Murphy says you should think again, because you're missing out on a lot when you don't have the actual CD package to hold in your hand. This especially pertains to the liner notes and cover art, which often are on a level of expression that is equal to that of the music itself. I totally concur; before they had all those cool jazz history courses at UNT (many of which are taught by John), a lot of my early jazz education came from reading the liner notes during my radio show at KNTU. While I originally did that to have something intelligent to discuss on the show, I realized later on how much it helped me as a student of the music.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: (This is the closest I come to "liveblogging," but the AIM conversation with one of my musician friends while I was typing this post contained some blogworthy moments.)

FRIEND: Hey, did you ever get really frustrated with your "why do I suck so much?"
ME: Every day of my life, dude.
ME: (And no past tense in that, either.)
FRIEND: It's just like the littlest bit of improvement I can see, it opens up a million more things that I see that need work.
ME: But hey, if we didn't keep searching like that every day, our music would grow stale, and 'comfortable,' and worthy for airplay only on the Oasis.

(For those outside of Dallas, the Oasis is one of those "smooth" radio stations...eww.)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

A Bit of Self-Spielbergization

If a movie was made about your life, what would you want it to communicate about who you are?

(This was from the notes in church today, but it seems that it could invite a broad array of responses.)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Times Names They Are A-Changin'

I woke up on Tuesday morning to find that, with the new month, the AT&T Wireless name on my cell phone screen was virtually no more, as it had changed to Cingular on a full-time basis (it had occasionally done that in very limited areas--ones in which I'd previously had no service at all, so that's a good sign if the new network is more far-reaching than the old). With SBC's acquisition of the rest of AT&T, it's possible that the venerable old name will be gone for good before too long, although those in the know have predicted that the combined company may well keep the old name because of its longstanding value as a brand.

And it was also announced this week that Federated Department Stores has purchased the May Company, parent of the Texas icon Foley's, and plans to rebrand most of its stores under the Macy's name sometime next year. Though native Dallasites have already dealt with a name change in this store (when the Houston-based Foley's name usurped that of the local Sanger-Harris in the '80s), it will be a big change for anyone who's spent considerable time in Houston to no longer have Foley's around. Though they dropped their sponsorship of this even a long time ago, I'll always remember going to, and eventually marching in, the Foley's Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Houston, which always ended with the arrival of Santa in his sleigh, atop a tall float which allowed him to climb through a special door into one of the upper floors of Foley's Downtown. I don't recall how many stories tall it was (is?), but it was more that two, so a trip down there was the closest we got to visiting those huge New York department stores we always saw on the movies and TV. When I got a Foley's card in grad school (before I figured out that credit cards are mostly evil), I really thought I'd "made it." I didn't really shop there all that much, but it was nice to know it was there, and the loss of the local brand name is just one more step towards the homogenization of American business.

(UPDATE: It appears that Lileks shops at department stores even less than I do, but he doesn't much care for the name changes either, citing the comfort factor of regionally-based nameplates.)

Gassed: And if you think the stores-buying-each-other is bad in retail, it's even worse for gas stations. Let's see: A couple years ago, Exxon merged with Mobil and Chevron merged with Texaco, but Shell bought the rights to the Texaco name for a few years. Since some of these companies had stations on the same corner, a big game of musical-chairs erupted, so that *draws big breath* most of the Texaco stations became Shell stations, more than a few of the Mobils were bought by Chevron, and now, with ChevronTexaco getting the Texaco name back, the rest of the Mobils seem to have become Texaco's. It's hard to tell the players without a program...

Show me the money? Yeah, right... It's been a year to the day since my wreck, and I still haven't seen dollar one from the uninsured lady who hit me. Anyone think I'll ever see that money?

Friday, March 04, 2005

We're Baaaaack...

It's been way too long, but I can now offically make the announcement that Team Demon/Dingus has a gig booked for next month. We hope that, once the ball starts rolling, it won't stop again anytime soon. More details as it gets closer...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Spare the Rod, Raise a Thug?

Jamie Foxx gave a great acceptance speech at the Oscars last Sunday night. I didn't actually see it live, but I did read it online and in the paper the next morning. One of the most uplifting parts was the tribute to his late grandmother, Estelle Marie Talley, who raised him through most of his childhood, right down the road here in Terrell, Texas:
...[M]y grandmother...was my first acting teacher. She told me, "Stand up straight, shoulders back. Act like you've got some sense." We would go places and I was wild-eyed. She said, "Act like you've been someplace." And when I would act the fool she would whip me. And she could get an Oscar for the way she whipped me because she was great at it. And after she would whip me she would talk to me and tell me why she whipped me, that "I want you to be a Southern gentleman."
Yet in this morning's Dallas Morning News, a reader wrote in with a letter that totally rained on Sunday night's parade...
Where do you draw the line? If Jamie Foxx were a little boy today living in poverty, abandoned by his parents, raised by a grandmother who beat him, as he said, "worthy of an Oscar, herself," would you still be lauding her?

More likely, he would be removed from the home and placed in foster care, and grandma would be arrested on child abuse charges. Apparently, it is true that he who has the gold (Oscar) rules – or at least allows you to rewrite them.
--Jennifer Culbertson

Read the whole thing (scroll down to the headline that says "Don't praise child abuse").

OK, have we gone off the deep end here? It seems as though Foxx turned out more than OK, despite the "whippings," and he didn't feel as though he was being abused. Reading this letter really made me think hard about the whole issue of corporal punishment. Is it always child abuse, no matter what, or only when the parents employ it out of anger? I alluded to this in a post last week (except I accidentally referred to capital punishment at first; thanks to Gary for catching that), and now I'm beginning to wonder if it's possible for the pendulum to swing back...or if we, as a society, want that.

The big difference between many kids now and kids when i was in school is the lack of respect for any sort of authority at all. I think what seems to be missing is that little sense of fear, which may have come about because actions don't seem to have any real consequences anymore. I know that I saw the business end of Mom's Kappa Delta paddle way too many times as a kid (and it was the happiest day of my young life when she somehow lost said paddle...and I had nothing to do with that, honestly!). My parents never hit me in anger, it was never more than a few times, and it only happened when i did something really, really bad. (And of course there was always the spectre of getting "swats" at school too, which sounded even less fun; I was a really good kid at school, if for no other reason than that.) I also think the prospect of having that happen again colored the decisions I made later the extent that, even now, I judge whether or not I decide to do something by whether or not I might "get in trouble" for doing so. Granted, the adult ramifications of being in "trouble" are different, but that little element of fear helped in the formation of my moral compass. I wonder what can replace that healthy fear now that corporal punishment seems to have been put on the taboo list.

There's a balance to be found here; I know there is. What can be done to keep kids in line if spanking has all but been outlawed? I'm glad I'm sitting here thinking this through now, before I even think of having kids. So please, join me in the discussion. Here are my questions at the moment:

--Were you spanked as a kid? If so, did it ever get out of hand?

--Would/do you spank your own kids?

--Is there a difference between corporal punishment and child abuse? Is it possible to do the former without it leading to the latter?

--If corporal punishment is an idea that's past its time, what else can be done to instill that healthy sense of fear that seems to be missing from many young people today?

--And finally, am I all wet on this topic? Is this even a major factor in the bad behavior and lack of respect exhibited by many kids today, or is something else a much bigger contributor to the problem?

Your turn. Fire away...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Buried Treasure at $7.77 a Pop

I love used CD stores. They're especially great for jazz fans, because you can always find some really obscure stuff--sometimes even things that you had no idea were even out on CD yet. It's a fairly recent phenomenon, of course; sure, people have done well with used vinyl stores, but vinyl tends to depreciate much more, and much earlier, than a CD. (Speaking of that, whatever happened to that prediction people were making in the early '90s that CDs would eventually just lose all their digital information? Not so far...) CDs can be bought used--maybe even several times over--and still sound virtually like new.

The best stores for jazz in the Metroplex, at least in my opinion, are CD Source in Old Town, Forever Young Records in Arlington (Grand Prairie? Not sure where the border is...) and Recycled Records in Denton. Halfling and I went to Recycled on Sunday night after the Soul Station concert, and I came up with a few treasures, for the low, low price of $7.77 each:

JOHN COLTRANE: Impressions (Impulse! 314 513 416-2) . I bought a low-budget live version of most of this program during a trip to CD Source last spring, but now I finally own the real thing. What can I say, it's a classic, especially the title track, where Trane takes the chord changes (all two of them!) from the Miles classic "So What," crafts a new head, puts the tempo in hyperdrive, and plays some of the most meaningful stuff you'll ever hear on two chords. Joined by Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet, McCoy Tyner on piano, and either Jimmy Garrison or Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones on drums.

BOB MINTZER/JOHN ABERCROMBIE/MARC JOHNSON/PETER ERSKINE: Hymn (OWL R2 79250). I got to hear most of this group (with John Patitucci replacing Johnson) a few years ago for free at Guitar Center--very cool stuff. On this earlier recording (1990), the quartet goes through a collection of Mintzer originals plus one collective improvisation. The group meshes better than many all-star collectives, and Mintzer is his usual amazing self, both on tenor and a generous helping of bass clarinet, on which he sounds better than nearly anyone else. What can I say--it's Mintzer; gotta have it. If I'd only had $7.77 going in there, this would've been my acquisition for the day.

Needless to say, stores like this can be pretty dangerous for me in the wallet area, so I have to buy in moderation...but they're a real treat for the ears. Anytime I uncover a real gem, I'll usually post about it, and suffice it to say, it'll be playing that week in the Kevmobile.

QUOTE OF THE (YESTER)DAY: "If you don't know the name of that song, ask a neighbor whose hair has been touched by the winds of time."--John Murphy, at last night's Rep Ensemble concert, after the group played "Honeysuckle Rose." It was indeed a varied audience; as the arts council director said in his introduction, it included "people in their twenties, as well as people who remember the Twenties." The group did a fine job of recreating some standards from that era, and guest pianist Steve Harlos was dazzling on "Rhapsody in Blue."

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Theory Proven?

A few days after my unusual encounter at a small-town Subway, I'm even more convinced that rural Texas and suburban Texas are completely different planets, if not completely different universes.

Tonight, on my way to Denton for the Jazz Rep concert, I stopped at a Subway in the Stonebriar area of McKinney--about as suburban as you can get, which meant the attitudes should be the polar opposite of what I ran across in the small town. Sure enough, I was proven right: Nobody even brought up the idea of toasting my Cold Cut Combo, and the dude behind the register agreed that the mere thought of toasting bologna would be disgusting (though he did remember one customer who wanted them to open his bag of potato chips and spread them all over his sandwich). It was about as different as possible from my Saturday experience (and they charged me the same price that was on the menu, too).

If you're a fairly recent reader, last Saturday was not my weird incident with a Subway employee; I've posted about a few others in the past.

Sonic silliness revisited: Speaking of making fun of restaurants, the Sonic whose sign I mentioned so many times a year ago has gotten much, much better at spelling things, but a recent glance at the sign made me laugh when it advertised an EX-LONG CONEY AND TOTS. While I know that the "ex-" part stands for "extra," it also seems like it could be an abbreviation for "formerly," as in "ex-wife." That made me wonder why they would be selling Formerly Long Coneys and how the coney got that way...unless the carhop got hungry on the way to your car. At any rate, it was cool to have a quick laugh at their expense again.