Saturday, December 31, 2005

Farris Hassan's Day(s) Off

You've probably seen this story already: A 16-year-old from Florida sneaks off to Iraq without even telling his parents. Farris Hassan had recently studied the art of "immersion journalism"--living the life of the people about whom he was writing, in order to gain a better understanding of them. Leaving town on December 11 (skipping a week of school in the process) and using money he'd received from his mother (for giving her profitable stock tips), he hopped planes that took him to Kuwait and Lebanon before finally ending up in Baghdad, being allowed to enter because of his parents' Iraqi birth.

After his second night in Baghdad, he contacted the Associated Press, telling them that he had come to do research and humanitarian work. The AP contacted the U.S. Embassy, who sent soldiers to pick him up, and he's on his way home this weekend. Upon his arrival, he plans to "kiss the ground and hug everyone." (Incidentally, the prep school that Farris attends threatened to expel him because of the incident, but his parents convinced school officials to change their minds.)

While on his trip, Farris completed an essay that he'd started while in school, stating the reasons he wanted to volunteer in Iraq:
"There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction," he wrote.

"Those terrorists are not human but pure evil. For their goals to be thwarted, decent individuals must answer justice's call for help. Unfortunately altruism is always in short supply. Not enough are willing to set aside the material ambitions of this transient world, put morality first, and risk their lives for the cause of humanity. So I will."

“I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience everyday, so that I may better empathize with their distress.” (source)
Was it a stupid idea? Sure; all kinds of things could have gone wrong. But you have to admire the kid in a way; what he lacks in good judgement, he makes up for in cojones de acero. I don't think this is the last we'll hear from Farris Hassan, though we may have to wait until he's done being grounded...which may well be until he's 25.

UPDATE: Some interesting comments on a post written by a fellow Althouse reader. There's a variety of opinions here, ranging from the "ground him for the rest of high school and take away his computer" variety to "I would've done the same thing if I were in his shoes." I particularly liked this comment; here's an excerpt:

The only solution to this kind of strong-willed cussedness is to send it out into the world, to get knocked around by reality. And sometimes, not knowing what is impossible, such spirits accomplish the impossible. It's youth's biggest advantage, as well as its biggest weakness.

More generally, this indicates a problem with America's treatment of youth in general. We have infantalized them to the point that we constantly hear people talk about people in their late teens and early twenties as kids. Hey, a man in his twenties driving or commanding a tank in combat IS NOT A CHILD!

And a sixteen year-old is old enough to make his own mistakes, and bear the consequences. He might not be old enough to be considered fully mature, but to treat him like a six year-old is stupid. Mr. Hassan, I salute you!
--"Icepick" (another fellow Althouse reader)
Thunder from down under: It's not quite New Year's Day here, but they've already celebrated in the other half of the world. This story has a cool picture of the annual fireworks display over the Sydney Harbour in Australia; hey, James--do you ever go to this?

Pretty frappin' crazy: I was in a Starbucks mood this afternoon, so I went to the one in Firewheel, and confusion ensued when someone else made a grab for my drink when my name was called. We discovered that it wasn't that either of us had mis-heard the barista, but rather that we were both named Kevin and had each ordered a tall peppermint mocha Frappuccino. (What's the chance of that?) We also figured out that I had gotten there before the other Kevin, so I did get to keep the first one.

The best (three) things in life are free: I know that everyone has mixed opinions on gift cards, but the ones from food establishments are definitely pretty cool in my book. A few nights ago, Coop and I went to Frisco for a Trifecta (for the uninitiated, that's here, here and here in the same trip, and they all have to be within walking distance of each other (for obvious reasons). Thanks to the many gift cards I'd gotten for Christmas, my burrito with a donut-and-mocha chaser cost me a grand total of 87 cents; had my Starbucks card not been almost depleted, the whole thing would have been free.

Friday, December 30, 2005

So It's Definitely Not a Curse...

...that's caused all our favorite live-jazz-hosting neighborhood coffeehouses to shut down. (You may recall that I was wondering just such a thing after the third such venue in which I'd played had gone belly-up in the past year.) Rather, it really is the nature of the beast, as exemplified by this article in Slate, written by a guy who opened such a coffehouse with his wife in New York City. The place lasted six months, and it almost destroyed his marriage in the process. Here's the key quote:
The failure of a small cafe is not a question of competence. It is a sad given. The logistics of a food establishment that seats between 20 and 25 people (which roughly corresponds to the definition of "cozy") are such that the place will stay afloat—barely—as long as its owners spend all of their time on the job. There is a golden rule, long cherished by restaurateurs, for determining whether a business is viable. Rent should take up no more than 25 percent of your revenue, another 25 percent should go toward payroll, and 35 percent should go toward the product. The remaining 15 percent is what you take home. There's an even more elegant version of that rule: Make your rent in four days to be profitable, a week to break even. If you haven't hit the latter mark in a month, close.
Read the whole thing; this sure sounds like what happened to the three places where I used to play. (Hat tip: Althouse, where I also appear in the comments with a mom-and-pop business horror story of my own from college.)

You knew this had to be in California, right? Developers in Hayward, California are complaining that the local street-numbering system is messing with the city's feng shui.

A few days late, but still funny: Neal Boortz sends politically correct holiday wishes.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Blogger Roadtrip, Sort Of

I didn't have time to really conjure up my own post today, because I've been so busy reading other blogs and commenting there (it's a luxury that I don't usually have, except during school holidays). So it only makes sense that I should link to those discussions and use them as today's post:
  • Over at Althouse, one of the topics was music and coffeehouses. (The post title is "Sometimes the music in the café is so bad...that you suspect the barista is playing a CD made by her friend who has a band.") The comments section veers off into a discussion of how jazz and coffeehouses were once very closely intertwined, so of course, I offer up my two cents' dollars' worth.

  • A year ago, Dave Barry went on hiatus from regular column-writing, a break that was to last at least through 2005. This week, he announced that the hiatus will continue indefinitely (among other things, he has a young daughter and doesn't want to miss any crucial "daddy time" with her). Over at his blog (which will continue daily), many of us wish him well.

    KEY QUOTE (from his announcement): "I also tried to get better at the guitar, but I failed. Although I am definitely louder."

  • Also at Dave's blog, he's feeling old, because a DJ hired for party he'll be attending came up with the amazingly ignorant quote, ""The thing is, there were no dance songs in the Sixties. My stuff starts in the Seventies." Many people take issue with this in the comments, and we hear from the son of Tommy James of "Mony Mony" fame.

  • A passenger on a recent troubled Alaska Airlines flight photoblogged the incident and was then inexplicably slammed by many of the commenters to his post (hat tip: Instapundit). But turns out that several of the most offensive commenters were traced to an IP address at the airline. Oops...
How much is that policy in the window? Dog owners in Vienna will now be required to purchase liability insurance for their pooches, starting with those born after January 1. Owners could be fined up to $4000 if Fido is caught uninsured. (So where exactly will the dog carry an insurance card?)

But maybe this should be extended to cats, too: A woman in West Virginia was accidentally locked out of her car by her own cat.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On the Road to Nostalgia [UPDATED WITH PHOTOS]

OK, I'm back and well-rested; I had a good time on my trip, but it was nice to wake up in my own bed for a change. Meeting up with my sister and her family on the far west side yesterday meant that my journey home doubled as a trip down memory lane:
  • It wasn't that far out of my way to go through my old neighborhood. My first stop, right off the tollway, was Town & Country Village. Until sometime this year, there had been a mall on the property, but that had gradually gone belly-up over the years, and they made pretty quick work of tearing it down. (I had always compared T&C to Prestonwood Mall in Dallas; both were the newest, coolest thing in town when they opened, but they both gradually lost anchor tenants over the years and also suffered by being too close to other malls. Both sites are now rubble.) So while a big open field is all that remains of the mall part, the "village" side of the development--which was way older than the mall--has been completely remade (either renovated or totally rebuilt) as an upscale boutique center. My folks and I were laughing about the fact that the pizza parlor we used to go to when I was a kid (which, as I briefly noted at the end of this post, had separate "adult" and "family" sections --i.e. beer for sale vs. beer not for sale--with the kitchen in the middle) was now a Starbucks, and my old optician's place (which I visited frequently; I was rough on glasses as a kid for some reason) was smack in the middle of what's now a Pottery Barn.

  • From there, I headed out to my old neighborhood, passing right by my old junior high (now called a middle school, which is more accurate, since it's always been grades 6-8), taking a slight detour after a gas stop to go by my old elementary school (which has hardly changed at all on the outside, save for the addition of a gym), and ending up in front of the house where I grew up from third grade on.

    I've mentioned before that the biggest change to the neighborhood is always that the trees have gotten taller, and this was even more evident this year. I'm not sure who bought the old house, but it does look occupied, unlike last time. Having a digital camera, I took a picture, which will go up just as soon as I can get my software-incompatibility issue resolved. (Hey, fellow Mac users--anyone know if there's such as thing as Canon download software for OS 9? I'm not holding my breath...)

    UPDATE: Pictures from this trip have been added, now that I'm in OS X. Here's the first one:

    The old house

  • From that spot, it was a five-block drive (not a bad walk, back in my pre-driving days) to my alma mater, Stratford High School. As I noted last year, the school was closed for the entire '04-'05 academic year as it underwent some massive renovations (long story short, the brick façade was pulling away from the rest of the building). This was my first time to drive by since it reopened, and I must say I was quite impressed; it looked great. The lighter-colored brick makes the building appear brand-new, and they've added a couple of things onto the original design, including a competition gym with a windowed lobby on one front corner, and what appears to be a new band hall on the opposite rear corner. I haven't made it back for homecoming in a bazillion years, but I'd love to arrange a tour the next time I'm the area during the school year.

    Stratford High (front)

    Stratford (rear view); I spent many hours marching on this parking lot.

    I don't think I'll ever get tired of these little side-trips, especially since they tend to happen less than once a year. As I noted two years ago,
    They say you can't go home again, but it's always nice to see the place where I spent my formative years. My old house, my schools, the neighborhood...while they don't necessarily represent the greatest of times--and there's no way I'd trade what I have now no matter how deeply I found myself in the throes of nostalgia--they were a part of me for a long time, and the things I experienced then and there helped make me who I am today.

  • On the way back to Dallas, I went the "back way" up Highway 6 through College Station, not rejoining I-45 until just south of Corsicana. I spent quite a few weekends in "Aggieland" when my sister was in school there, so I decided to take a quick spin through the (mostly deserted) campus. They've done an amazing amount of construction, and the end-zone addition to Kyle Field looks just as impressive from the outside as it does on TV from the inside. A friend had tipped me off that there was a Chipotle across from campus--sho'nuff. And, while I was surprised that there didn't appear to be a Starbucks within walking distance (it was way out towards the freeway), there was a Barnes & Noble cafe pretty close by. I hadn't been to College Station since around 1999, when I was an usher in a half-Jewish Aggie wedding (that's a post--or a song title--in itself), so a lot has changed.

    As Coop noted a few months ago, Texas A&M is a very fine university, and if they ever decided to do a full-blown music department (which, with their deep pockets, would be of very high quality), I'd jump at the chance to teach there. (Imagine it--Kev, the King of Aggie Jazz. Heh.)
All in all, it was a very good day for nostalgia.

The Mills brothers, in a way: Our family lunch place of choice was the Rainforest Cafe at Katy Mills (yes, Dallasites, it's the younger, larger sibling of Grapevine Mills.) I'd never been to the Rainforest before, though I'd walked by it plenty of times in Grapevine. It's a fun atmosphere; the whole inside is covered with fake trees, waterfalls, animals (some animatronic, some stationary) and vegetation everywhere. They also have "thunderstorms" about every fifteen minutes where the lights flash on and off (no precipitation, thankfully). My nephews (ages 2 and not-quite-5) seemed to enjoy the unusual atmosphere, though Caleb (the 2-year-old) was a bit unsettled when the person in a monkey suit walked by. A good time, all in all.

The mall itself is bigger than its Grapevine counterpart, possibly in part because the Bass Pro Shop and AMC theatre are actually attached to the mall, rather than across the street and in the parking lot, respectively. It took twenty minutes to walk a "lap" around the whole thing. It's also laid out a little better in that the food court is in the center of everything, so it opens out into both sides. As you know, I'm not a big fan of the enclosed mall, but the Mills concept (outlet versions of major stores in a continuous oval) makes for an enjoyable destination every now and then.

And they say that TV is bad for your mind: The recent survivor of a shark bite in Oregon probably saved his own life by punching the shark in the nose--a technique he said he learned from watching TV shows such as the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Radio and All Not Much of That Jazz

SUGAR LAND--As I was sitting at dinner with my parents tonight, they had some background music going on their (admittedly cool Bose Wave) radio. What they were listening to was the ultimate in background music--the smooth "jazz" station. I've probably griped about the one in Dallas before (you locals know what I'm talking about), but at least they tend to play stuff that someone would describe as jazz, even if I wouldn't do that. This one, however, was all over the map: very late fusion-y Miles (his cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" from Tutu, then some of that generic stuff with the same electronic groove they've been using since the mid-'80s. We also heard Phil Collins and Michael McDonald in there, and I'm wondering how anyone would think that fit on any sort of "jazz" format. Oh, and in the middle was a perfectly good tune--Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." I haven't heard programming that schizophrenic since the last time I heard that free-form "community" radio station in Dallas (which I'm not even sure is on the air anymore). It was almost as if somebody had their entire CD collection on shuffle mode.

The only thing that really bugs me about stations like this is the fact that they use the word "jazz" in their title. When the smooth genre became a separate radio format in the late eighties, it used to be called New Age music, but I think that two things eventually happened: 1) That title started to apply to the Windham Hill-type stuff or strictly synth music, and 2) the masses were scared away by the pseudo-religious undertones (crystals, etc.) of that name. Somehow, a radio programmer somewhere decided to defile the name of jazz with the "smooth" prefix and it stuck. (Granted, my preferred title, Yuppie Hot Tub Wallpaper Music, never caught on either, though it could also be dubbed Modern Easy Listening as well.)

I wouldn't be griping so much about this today were it not for the fact that the last real jazz station in Houston, the one that's housed on the UofH campus, went all-classical quite some time ago. So there really isn't an option--save for satellite radio and one's own CD collection) here in the Houston area at all. I think my parents know that it bugs me to listen to it, but at least we've avoided the G-weasel thus far (thank goodness for several days of all-Christmas music, though I realize that he's muddied that genre as well). There's actually a decent jazz scene down here, but you'd never know it from the radio dial.

I'm not griping so much about the right of this music to exist (even if I'm not gonna do it), but rather the fact that it has the word "jazz" in its name when it bears so little resemblance to jazz, other than the (usual) presence of horns and absence of singing. So what would your suggestion be for a name for this music--one that doesn't contain the word "jazz" at all?

Travel advisory: After a meet-up with my sister and nephews in Katy for lunch, I'll be headed back to Dallas in the afternoon; regular posts (meaning "not necessarily late at night, because I'll have computer access all I want") will resume shortly thereafter.

Dumb driving maneuver of the week: Ever seen someone make a right turn onto a major highway, and they don't exactly stay in the right lane but rather veer into the center one a little (or a lot), nearly sideswiping someone in that lane? I saw that today, and the car that the pickup truck driver (you knew it had to be a pickup, right?) almost sideswiped was a cop! Sure enough, the officer got right behind the truck after that; would he just follow him a bit, to make him think, or actually pull him over for his act of stupidity? The answer: Busted, once they got to the nearest parking lot. For once, there actually was a cop there when you needed one.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Answering the Obvious Question

(Which, on Christmas, is "did you get any cool stuff?")

SUGAR LAND--This was a pretty quiet Christmas around here with just the three of us; we finished our present-opening in about fifteen minutes. We also didn't have the full breakfast until after church, which was quite different; we actually did the present thing while breakfast was cooking.

So anyway, on to the loot: I got a digital camera, which I've needed for a long time. Eventually, that will mean more photos on this blog, though I'll have to work around the fact that my downloading software is only compatible with Mas OS X, while the Ancient and Venerable iMac is permanently stuck in OS 9. I'll figure out a way to work around it, and the whole digital thing definitely helps me avoid a certain weakness: I'm horrible at getting pictures developed. I have little film canisters that must be three years old just sitting around my house, not to mention all the disposable cameras that I've used up since my 35mm gave up the ghost a few Christmases ago.

I got my annual gift of Rangers tickets from my sister and brother-in-law. I also got a generous Target gift card; that will either go towards buying a ton of DVD's or saving up for a new TV--we'll see. And between friends, students and schools, I'd already netted quite a few gift cards from places like Starbucks, Chipotle, Barnes and Noble and so on.

As I think I said yesterday, it's not about the stuff; it's about the people, and I was happy to spend time with my parents and talk to almost all my close friends by phone or AIM. I hope your day was equally enjoyable and relaxing.

Kids say the darnedest things (Christmas version): The sermon at the brief church service this morning was geared toward kids, who were invited to come up and sit on the steps near the altar. The minister was showing them a handcrafted Nativity scene made by one of the church members, and the following dialogue took place:

MINISTER: OK, this king I'm holding up is carrying gold. Now, why would the king bring Jesus a gift of gold?
KID: Because maybe he wanted some!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Greetings

SUGAR LAND--No political correctness here, heh. Besides, even those in this country who don't celebrate the religious aspects of the holiday can easily get caught up in the gift exchanging and overall warm feelings of the season. Oh, and Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends as well; I read yesterday that this is only the fourth time in the past 100 years that Christmas and the first day of Hanukkah fall on the same day.

Speaking of "warm" feelings, what a difference it is from last year, when Houston had its first White Christmas in recent memory (see a picture here). A year ago, there were snow flurries falling during my last shopping errands of the day; today, it was in the 70's, and I could've worn shorts if I'd brought some.

It will be a very different type of Christmas, what with a church service in the morning--when was the last time we had a Christmas Sunday?--and some sort of community gift-giving excursion afterwards. That bumps brunch and "the present thing" until early afternoon, but no complaints. As long as everyone's healthy and happy, family is close by, and friends are as close as a mouse click, we have even more to be thankful if the Reason for the Season weren't enough.

So I hope that, in whatever way you're celebrating, today is enjoyable and meaningful for "you and yours."

Hot-doggin' it: I'll say it again, after my annual excursion...someone really needs to open up a James Coney Island franchise in the Dallas area. There's nothing quite like it up there.

From the archives: Read a brief history of Sugar Land in this 2003 post.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Let There Be Even More Lights

SUGAR LAND--I'm relaxing at my parents' house for the next several days, so I'll blog as much as I can (probably late at night like this, since their Internet has a dial-up connection and I don't want to hog their phone line all day). The trips from home to Austin yesterday, and there to here today, were fine, but there was a lot more traffic than I was expecting; evidently, people are predicted to hit the road in record numbers this holiday season. Oh, and the roads were just swarming with DPS cruisers (that's the highway patrol to you non-Texans). I didn't fall victim to any of them, thankfully, but it did cause people in front of me to slam on their brakes a bit too overzealously, even when the cop in question had already stopped somebody else.

I got to see a very cool display last night at Zilker Park in Austin (yes, the site of the Austin City Limits Festival, reviewed two years ago on this site). It's called the Trail of Lights, and it's been going on for years and years. It's a walking tour of the park; the horseshoe-shaped sidewalk goes around the perimeter, and they've basically gone nuts with lights on pretty much every tree that's nearby. Sometimes the lights go trunk-to-top, while other trees feature interesting swirling patterns. In between the trees are various themed scenes--trains, a Nativity, an ice castle, every cartoon character known to man--sponsored by different corporate or public concerns. My brother-in-law pulled the nephews in a big wagon as my sister and I walked alongside it, and he got several cool pictures that will be added to this post once I get them emailed to me. (I'll also have more links up for the Trail itself and what-not; one of the quirks of my parents' AOL is that I'm unable to copy and paste URL's from one page to the next, so I'm keeping that to a minimum.)

Anyway, it's very cool, even if it was a bit crowded at times (between pedestrians and wagons and strollers and dogs) on what was evidently the first mild night in a while. My sister had seen it from the freeway for several years, but it was the first time to attend for all of us. We've been told that the displays don't change all that much from year to year, but I'd highly recommend it at least once (and maybe in five-year intervals after that) if you're in the Austin area this time of year.

We also went out tonight to see the lights in my parents' neighborhood, which were...meh. I hope to get to visit the really cool subdivision that's about twenty minutes from here, since I missed it a year ago.

Oh yeah...Happy Festivus to all! (he says, tongue firmly planted in cheek)

Lights to the nth degree: You may have seen this on a TV commercial--the coolest Christmas light display ever, set to the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Snopes has the story behind it all , as well as a link to several sites that have the video. (WMP required; warning for dial-up users: the video took about 15 minutes to load over here, but it's worth the wait.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Holiday Travel Advisory

I'm hitting the road for my annual Christmas vacation in a few hours. For the first time in recent memory (this may have happened before when I was, say, three years old, but I have no recollection of it), I'll be doing a two-pronged trip. Today, I'm headed to Austin to visit my sister and her family and see some sort of really cool light display at Zilker Park. After dropping off their presents and replacing them with the ones they're giving to me and my parents (Kev's Couriers, at your service), I'll head off tomorrow to Sugar Land and return here on Tuesday.

Since I'll have the guest room to myself this year, blogging should be plentiful once I get to Sugar Land; in fact, I'll probably finally finish several posts that have been started-but-not-finished in the past few weeks. If you're traveling as well, have a safe and enjoyable trip.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Two Rants and a Rave

Rant #1: I'm really glad I don't live in New York City right now--not just because it's really cold this time of year, but also because of the transit strike that's been plaguing the city for the past two days. Never mind the fact that I'm no fan of unions, but that's immaterial to this discussion when you take into account the fact that it's illegal for public servants (police officers, firefighters, and yes, transit workers) to go on strike. As of late today, there was some hope of a settlement, but a lot of damage has already been done.

Sure, the union members may say that they're "looking out for the little guy," but a whole bunch of other little guys--i.e. the ones who couldn't get to work without the bus or subway, or did so by walking, bicycling or Rollerblading in 24-degree temperatures--have been messed over by the union's selfish actions.

A judge has already imposed a $1 million dollar per day fine on the union itself, and the next step might be to penalize individual union members from their own pockets (though not, in all likelihood, by hauling the defiant union president into court; both sides agree that would just interfere with the ongoing negotiations). Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn't mince words when he expressed his distaste for the union's action:
“It needs to end, and it needs to end right now,” Bloomberg said in a news conference Wednesday, repeatedly lashing out at what he called an “illegal, selfish strike” and questioning how union leaders could claim their walkout would benefit the working class.

“Working people are the ones who are being hurt,” Bloomberg said. “The busboy is getting hurt, the garment industry worker is getting hurt, the owners of mom and pop businesses. ... The ones getting hurt the most are the ones who can least afford it. If they don’t get paid, they don’t eat.”

The strike was responsible for a 40 percent decline in business at restaurants, an 80 percent decline in visitors at museums, and a 90 percent decline in customers at the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, the mayor said. He estimated the city’s lost revenue at $300 million to $400 million a day.
The union members have not been winning friends and influencing people in the general population either:
Isaac Flores, who works at a law firm in midtown, was part of a complicated, four-person car pool.

“They’re too spoiled,” Flores said of the transit workers. “They want to retire at age 55. They’re making more money than a cop.”

Myra Sanoguet, who was with him, said they saw a group of pickets during the drive. Just briefly, “we were thinking about running them over,” she said.
I'm sure she wasn't serious, but I really wonder if the union members have a complete grasp on the trouble they are causing their city right now.

Rant #2: The "headteacher" (the equivalent of a principal, I assume) of a Welsh school has drawn the ire of parents after she banned the filming of school concerts and pageants. Barbara Williams is being denounced as "Scrooge" by many parents, who have blasted her policy as "political correctness gone mad" and noted that the filming ban would force some parents who can't attend the concert to miss it entirely. Williams' deputy, who hid behind a cloak of anonymity, claimed that they were only following borough (district) orders, but others at the borough headquarters said that such a decision was in fact left to the local officials.

The idea behind the ban supposedly has to do with child protection issues, with supporters concerned that "photographs of children....can be published anywhere." But the borough council has already published a 24-page guide to the "safe use of images," and it's understandable why the parents would resent the borough playing nanny in this manner.

I'm with the parents on this one; the world has too many meddling busybodies trying to tell other people what's good for them. If it's fear of a lawsuit that is driving this...well, that's another rant for another time. So what do you think--was the headteacher being excessively paranoid, or should she have trusted the parents of her students to use common sense if they published the pictures in public forums (especially considering the likelihood that most of the videos or stills will only end up being viewed by family and friends)? Feel free to chime in using the comments. (Hat tip: Lileks)

Rave: No, it's not that kind of rave, so put away your pacifier and glowstick. But it is one of the funniest stories I've read in a long time: A stray moose is captured in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after wandering near a neighborhood...evidently attracted by the sounds of a local youth practicing his saxophone with the window open:
Connie Evenson of Sioux Falls was among those who saw the moose. She said she noticed movement in her backyard Monday afternoon as she watched television in her living room.

..."We thought it was kind of funny, but our son, Matt, was practicing his baritone saxophone and had his window open," Evenson said. "We wondered if it was like the call of the wild that attracted the moose to our house."
That one got a big laugh out of me. You see, when I was in high school, my dubious "claim to fame" was that I had once outblown the entire woodwind section on a low B-flat on the bari. When it happened, the director stopped for a second, looked at me and asked, "Kevin, are you hunting moose?" Who knew that it might have actually worked?

Don't try this at home: Blaster vs. saber (Hat tip: Lileks again)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Cool Concert Tour ('06 Edition)

The new year hasn't even started yet, and already I'm looking forward to several cool jazz concerts coming up in various parts of Texas next year:
  • March 3: Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra at UT-Austin. I've really been enjoying the two CD's I bought from her website recently; she's doing some of the best big-band writing out there at the moment, and her band is smokin'. I can't pass up the chance to see the whole band without having to go to New York to do so.

  • April 28: Joshua Redman at the Denton Arts/Jazz Festival. I haven't seen Redman live since 1999, when he played the Denton festival with a busted PA system; the result was intimate and amazing. I'm hoping he'll tour with the "Elastic" band, because I've really been digging their stuff over the past two CD's.

  • September 16: Dave Holland at the Jazz'SAlive festival, San Antonio. This is the same outdoor festival where we saw Wayne Shorter play a few months ago, on what was considered the Best. Roadtrip. Ever. Needless to say, I'm psyched that next year's headliner is equally cool.
So there you have it--three great shows already in the works (not to mention a possible Maynard trip in a few months, but I'm not going to talk too loudly about that one until I make sure he's not sold out yet). It's going to be another great year for live jazz in Texas...

I'm dreaming of a (monde)green Christmas: Snopes has once again updated its annual list of holiday mondegreens, which, as always, is incredibly funny. (For those not in the know, "mondegreens" are the phrases that result from mis-heard lyrics to songs; I still maintain that "Mondegreens" would also be a great name for an upscale drugstore.) I'll pass along the friendly warning not to drink anything while you're reading these, or you're likely to spray the keyboard.

Blowing out the candles: Happy Birthday Dad! I always miss getting to see him in person on his special day by maybe one or two days, but thank goodness for phone calls and e-cards and regular cards and all that.

Monday, December 19, 2005

No Need to Go Postal Today

Yesterday, I was pretty unhappy with the post office. I realized that I'd forgotten to mail Dad a birthday card on Saturday (the big day is tomorrow, and a two days for a card to get to Houston is a good guess), so I drove to another suburb to find the post office with the 7 a.m. Monday pickup, thinking that just maaaaybe I could sneak it in on time. So I was rather dismayed to find out that, like many other area post offices, the first pickup of the day is now at 3:00 in the afternoon. It really made me wonder why the cost of a stamp is about to go up if service is going down. (And, needless to say, it didn't allow me to avoid feeling like an idiot for forgetting to mail the card on time in the first place.)

Today, I was extremely happy with the post office. Having to mail a package on what has been billed as the biggest mail-handling day of the year, I was in and out of there in about five minutes without having to mess with the gargantuan lines for the teller windows. Instead, I tried one of the new Automated Postal Center machines, and it was amazingly fast--weighing my package, calculating its postage, and printing out a label for it within about thirty seconds. I didn't have enough cash on me to mail the package anyway, so using a bank card was no big deal. My only criticism was that it doesn't seem to allow for bundling multiple transactions (I had to buy stamps to use on my Christmas cards as well as mail my package) into a single swipe of the card, but that will probably be tweaked as time goes on. Now, if they could figure out a way to where I'd never actually have to go pick up a package in person (as happened, oddly, with an Amazon parcel I received last week; for some strange reason it required an in-person delivery confirmation). It was an unusual feeling leaving the post office in a good mood, but it showed me that, despite the assumed lack of manpower, they are definitely trying to keep up with the FedEx's and UPS's of the world, and, in this case, succeeding.

When schoolkids go bad: A group of fourth-graders were caught making counterfeit currency and trying to spend it in the school cafeteria.

When Santas go bad: A group of drunk men in Santa suits went on a vandalism spree in Auckland, New Zealand, supposedly in "protest against the commercialization of Christmas."

Meter made: I got my SiteMeter update email today, and I noticed that, in the past week, I'd surpassed both the 10,000 mark in hits and the 20,000 mark in page views:
The Musings of Kev

-- Site Summary ---

Total ....................... 10,251
Average per Day ................. 38
Average Visit Length .......... 2:04
This Week ...................... 269

Page Views

Total ....................... 20,416
Average per Day ................. 60
Average per Visit .............. 1.6
This Week ...................... 420
I've only had the meter for around a year, so I have no idea how many readers I had in the first year and a half of this blog, but it's still a cool little milestone to reach. And whether you're a regular reader, a regular commenter, a first-timer, or a lurker...thanks for stopping by. Hopefully you like what you see here and will come back regularly.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Taking Credit Where Credit Isn't Due?

I stopped for gas tonight at the freestanding station in front of one of the grocery stores where I have a "club card" that gives gas discounts. The card-reader machine was obviously having some issues, as we were required to leave our card with the attendant if we wanted to fill up. Over at the next pump, a guy in a suit and loud Christmas tie, who looked more than a little like a potbellied Lyndon B. Johnson, wasn't too happy with that setup...

LBJ: I get really paranoid when [crap] like this happens...
ME: Ehh, I'm not too worried about it.
LBJ: It'd be so easy for him to steal our numbers.
ME: Yeah, but think about it--we give these cards to servers in restaurants all the time, and they always go in "the back" somewhere. And let's not forget the old days when they had those portable things at the gas station.
LBJ: (grumbles)

I wasn't really sweating this one; the guy was so busy having to ring up everyone's transaction by hand that I doubt he would have even had time to write down anyone's numbers if he'd wanted to do so. I did hear one guy get in a heated discussion about the process and end up leaving; the attendant seemed relaxed through the whole ordeal, telling the guy "I'm not hurting you, and you're not hurting me." It also occurred to me much later--now, as I write this post, to be precise--that anyone who didn't want to leave their card with the attendant could have just prepaid for a certain amount (ten or fifteen dollars, perhaps) and never let the card leave their sight.

Sure, there are lots of opportunities for ID theft, and I think I'm really careful about things--only shopping from secure online sites, shredding any credit-card applications I get in the mail (as well as old bill statements before they get thrown out), and things like that. This situation didn't set off any alarm bells with me; in fact, I might not have thought about it at all if "LBJ" hadn't brought it up. Granted, if money started disappearing from my account, I'd know exactly where to start the investigation. But generally speaking, I'm not going to go through life being quite that paranoid. (And I really, really hope that "LBJ"'s suspicion didn't stem from the fact that he was both white and "of a certain age" and the attendant was black, though I concede that it was possible.)

The lights fantastic, part XVIII: I always try to catch the cool Christmas light displays in my general area, and tonight was my annual trip to SpringPark. The street that won "best block" had a great new concept: the theme was "Christmas Express" or something like that, and every yard featured not only train cars but also two parallel sets of light strips made to look like railroad tracks. Save for the driveways, they made an almost continuous track down the entire street. (My list of favorite D/FW area light displays can be found here.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Life of the Party

The Quote of the Day comes from a guy who attended the same Christmas party I went to last night. I had seen him at his workplace a few months ago, but not since then. I soon found out why:

DUDE: I don't work there anymore. I got fired.
ME: Why's that?
DUDE: Because I took my pants off.

He then went to another room for a second, leaving us hanging with that odd statement. (It turns out that, as he would later tell us, it had gotten hot in the room where he was working, and he was wearing shorts underneath his pants, so he just discarded a layer....but a girl at work misunderstood his intentions and tried to pin some sort of harassment charge on him. Geez...)

War of the 'works: A couple of the guests at the party were rather relieved to find out that there had been a fireworks display (which I attended) outside the new theatre tonight; they had walked out their door and seen all the flashing lights, and it reminded them a lot of the recent remake of War of the Worlds. I reassured them that we were definitely not under alien invasion.

Someone's having "software" issues: Here's an oldie but a goodie: Neal Boortz notes the difficulties of upgrading from Girlfriend 4.0 to Wife 1.0.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Day of Firsts

This was the big day--the day that two of my favorite establishments opened up within a few minutes of my house...and I was there at the beginning for both of them.

I dragged my carcass out of bed at 7:45 this morning, on my first "official" day of the holiday, to catch the grand opening of Starbucks of Firewheel. Zack, who had the same idea independently of me, texted me on my way over to see if in fact I was going to show up. Even though I got there at around 8:28, they had evidently "cheated" and opened early, as there were about four people who had beaten us to the punch.

The Starbucks isn't particularly spacious, but it's probably designed for a lot of in-and-out traffic--those who would grab a quick cup and take it with them as they resumed their shopping. The staff told us that the other one, in Firewheel Market out front, will open in exactly three weeks and will be open much later (the one that debuted today will mirror the hours of the mall, for the most part).

A little over an hour later, we reconvened in the parking lot of the new Chipotle. There was a giant inflatable burrito moored to a truck in the side parking lot (it would later be moved out front to the patio); Zack got a picture of it, which I'll post when he sends it to me. Zack, Betsy, Steven I. and I were numbers 5-6-7-8 in line, and Dingus, Colin and Coop would join us shortly after the doors opened.

We were treated very well; since I've been to pretty much every area Chipotle on multiple occasions, all the bigwig managers (almost all of whom trained at 15th St.) recognized me right away. We got free gift cards for being among the first fifty customers, and T-shirts were also handed out liberally. The burrito tasted especially good today, maybe because everything was fresh and new, and maybe also because it was so close to home.

Oh, and the League of Lunatics had a partial event yesterday, as Dingus renewed his 2BC and Colin joined him for the first time. I opted out of this one (since I've been missing out on the gym for most of the semester), but nobody can take away the fact that I did it once; LoL membership is for life--once a 2BCer, always a 2BCer. (We're also thinking of emailing Joe, the corporate promotions guy for Chipotle, and, along with thanking him for coming to our neighborhood, telling him about the 2BC, in case he wants to start a Wall of Fame or something.)

I've written about Firewheel a lot these past few months, and with the opening of the three remaining most-awaited-places this week, it will become a much sparser topic. Still, it's transformed my part of town in an immensely positive way--not because every city needs a healthy dose of rampant consumerism, but because having amenities like this close by really does raise the quality of life (by keeping car trips shorter, taking some of the tax burden off the local homeowners--Garland had been significantly under-retailed for decades--and raising the value of everyone's home). We've lived in the shadows of our neighboring suburbs for quite some time, and now we're starting to come into our own out here. It's a good thing.

Unfortunate URL's, part 3: I've written before about how some multi-word company names can be misconstrued when the words are combined to make a single-word URL. Today, Dave Barry's Blog points to a site called, whose URL,, could easily be read quite differently.

Blowing out so many candles that the house would catch fire: Happy Beethoven's Birthday! (He was actually christened on the 17th, but most reliable sources list his actual day of birth as today.) I think I first found out about it by reading Peanuts comics, since Schroeder celebrated it every year. One year when I was in high school, I hosted a Beethoven's Birthday party; we didn't actually put 200-whatever candles on the cake, so we just arranged a small number of them to spell out that number.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cause for Alarm?

After weeks of discussion in the papers and on the airwaves, the Dallas City Council approved a new policy on Wednesday called "verified response" for commercial burglar alarm calls.
Your commercial burglar alarm may sound and sound, but don't expect Dallas police to come around.

By an 8-5 vote, the Dallas City Council approved a policy Wednesday that will require private security workers to verify the validity of a commercial alarm before police officers respond.

Police will continue to respond to businesses' 911 calls and human-activated panic-button alarms.

The decision – which came after several months of debate, including heated exchanges Wednesday morning among council members – does not apply to residential burglar alarms.
The original draft of the policy included residential alarms as well, but several council members--not to mention their constituents--went rather ballistic over the idea, so that part of the policy was scrapped.

I can certainly understand both sides of this debate; the police chief notes that 97 percent of all alarm calls turn out to be false, while business owners and alarm company officials have stated that this policy will embolden burglars and make alarm systems' costs go up. One council member also stated that he would not support the policy if it meant that unarmed security guards would be doing the verification, noting that armed ones protected places like City Hall. However, the specific type of guards used for this purpose would be decided upon by the alarm user, and armed responders would almost certainly cost more.

Mayor Laura Miller was quoted as saying that if the verified-response policy works well for commercial users, it might be extended to residential users as well, but I can see the outcry starting all over again if it's proposed anew. Those in opposition to the residential aspect cited fears of elderly or disabled residents (who might not be able to dial 911) being terrorized by burglars. There will be a fine system instituted for habitual (greater than three a year) false alarms at residences.

A caller to a radio show the other day brought up an interesting point--perhaps there would be more police resources to respond to alarms if more officers were "catching real criminals instead of writing traffic tickets. I've written about excessive ticketing before, and I'm inclined to agree with that a little bit. However, if the false-alarm rate really does stand at 97%, that could definitely be considered a waste of police resources.

I guess I'm sitting on the fence on this one. Any thoughts? Chime in using the comments.

Why did the chicken not cross the road? Eric and his fellow traffic reporters would love talking about this one--a truck carrying 7,000 chickens lost its load on the road in Dublin, Ireland, and motorists had to drive (and slide around) on broken eggs. The eggs, no doubt, became rather scrambled...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Movie--and a Venue--Worth Going Ape Over

This will be a short post, because I'm all kinds of tired tonight, but I'll at least answer the questions raised by the discussion of last night's crazy caper: 1) How was King Kong, and 2) how was the Firewheel 18?
The short answer is, both were great. I really liked the movie (no surprise, being a fan of Peter Jackson's work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy); sure, it was really long (clocking in at three hours), but it was a good story with plenty of action. The computer-generated characters were amazingly done, and the movements of Kong (done by Andy Serkis of Gollum fame) were amazing, especially the facial expressions. It was interesting to see Jack Black play a "serious" character, and I loved the car chase scene with vintage automobiles.

As for the theatre, it's 18 screens of all stadium seating, the sound was great (they even kept the volume down for the commercials before the previews; keep that up!), the picture was nice and clear, and the seats were extremely comfortable. Being there for the very first showing in the history of the building was extremely cool; I think a lot of us who drove by the "Future home of AMC Theatres" sign that had been by the side of the road for six or seven years had been long awaiting this day. Everything was very much in "bright and shiny" mode; even the restroom looked previously unused (I'd swear I was the first one to use one particular sink, whose automated soap dispenser and faucet took a while to "awaken"), and it had that "new building smell" all over.

Perhaps the best part was--after getting out of the movie at 3:15 a.m. on a school night--walking out to the parking lot and being back home three minutes later. This is a major addition to my neighborhood, and with any luck, I won't miss as many good movies as I have in the past.

Speaking of cool stuff in the neighborhood: The Friday grand-opening countdown: Starbucks, 8:30 a.m.; Chipotle, 11 a.m. I can't wait...

Can you hear see me now? A teacher in Cyprus suffered major embarrassment when a picture of her in a state of undress was downloaded off her cell phone and sent to hundreds of students. My question is, what were those pictures doing there in the first place? If you're going to do stuff like that (which is questionable enough as it is), keep it as far away from school as possible.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I Think I'm Crazy Enough To Do This

After a very long wait (at least for those of us who live out here), the AMC Firewheel 18 opens on Wednesday. And let's remember the small technicality that "Wednesday" begins at midnight tomorrow night, at which time the theatre will actually have a couple of showings of King Kong. Even though I've never done the weeknight/midnight thing for any movie that didn't have Star Wars in the title, some friends and I are thinking about doing this. It's consistent with my go-on-the-first-day policy with all the other new stuff out here, after all (and it should be much less crowded than it would be on Wednesday night itself).

Do I have teaching the next day? Yes. Am I crazy enough to do it anyway? Yes indeed.

Hopefully this person won't major in advertising: I saw a handwritten flier in the band hall at one of my schools which read as follows:

w/ case and crap

I'm so glad to know that the "case and crap" will be included in the deal. And unless the trumpet was this kind, it would definitely have a "removable mouthpiece." That would be, to ape an old George Carlin routine, like bragging that your luggage "includes handles."

Kicking PC to the curb again: Eric joins the fray concerning the PC-niks' effort (futile in my book, and Eric's as well) to turn the phrase "Merry Christmas" into a bad thing. (My previous thoughts are here.)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Most of the cars parked on my street that don't go to work, don't go to work."--from yet another student. What he really meant was that the cars that were still parked by the time he left for school ended up staying there all day, and he wondered why the owners never used their garages.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Chronicles of McNernia?

(Someone spewed out the above title the other night, and it occurred to me that it would be an interesting title if someone were ever to write a biography of me, or if I ever started a second blog for some reason.)

I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this afternoon, and it definitely lives up to its billing. I haven't read the books yet, (more on that in a moment), but they'll definitely be my next "reading project" after I finish the new Harry Potter book over Christmas (because of my schedule, book-reading for me tends to be limited to Christmas and summer). The four featured kids did a great job (especially Georgie Henley as Lucy and Skandar Keynes as Edmund), and the CG characters were magnificently done, especially Aslan. I'm aware of the Christian overtones in the story, which I can appreciate on a personal level, but I don't think it's beating anybody over the head with it or anything, so when it comes down to it, the movie is a great piece of fantasy and, in all likelihood, "just what the doctor ordered" for a cinematic season that's been sagging since the Star Wars series ended in May.

The people I was with were surprised that I had never read the books. My explanation was that, when I was in middle school, there were probably two really good choices for a fantasy to assign to schoolkids: Narnia and Lord of the Rings. My class read The Hobbit, which led me to the LOTR trilogy; one of the guys I was with was assigned LWW and read the rest of the series after that.

At any rate, this is a really good flick that I'll almost definitely see again and eventually add to my DVD collection. Check it out if you haven't gone yet.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Quick Plug

Our fall jazz concert at the college is tonight at 8:00, please "swing" by (heh) if you're in the area. I'll be onstage for three-fourths of the show, either as director or player. And with the exception of final preparations for college juries for my students, tonight marks the last of the really busy stuff of the semester. Relaxation, as well as catching up on little things that have been placed on the back burner, will ensue afterwards.

Every neighborhood has its Scrooge...but few exhibit such bad taste as this guy in Florida whose yard decorations include a blindfolded Santa hanging from a tree.

Live and on the air: Scientists in Finland have come up with a computerized sound system that responds to users' hand movements, adding actual guitar sounds to one's "air guitar" playing.

Blowing out half-candles: It's my half-birthday today, meaning it's the same day as my birthday but six months either side of it. I've always thought it would be funny to get someone half a card (the front part) on their half-birthday and make them wait the next six months to read the punch line.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Coming Soon, to a Neighborhood Near Me

Back in early October, the "civilizing" of my neighborhood commenced with the opening of Firewheel. And now comes part two: Today, I received confirmation of the openings of two more long-awaited places, which will come closely on the heels of one I already knew about. So here's the rundown:

AMC 18 Theatres
Starbucks in Firewheel Town Center
and...*drum roll* Chipotle in Firewheel Market

That's right, two-thirds of a Trifecta will be practically within walking distance of my house (and, as I told a friend a few minutes ago, if it were possible to have the entire Trifecta that close by, I would indeed have to walk, in order to keep from weighing 400 pounds).

It's also interesting to note that the Starbucks in Firewheel Center (the main "mall") will soon be joined by a sister store in Firewheel Market (the part out front). Just five years ago, I had to drive to Plano to get my java fix; now my own neighborhood is almost in danger of being over-Starbucked.

At any rate, with school being done for me after Thursday, there should be quite a "christening" of the new Chipotle by my friends and myself, and it won't take too much effort to find an excuse to go to the new theatre on Wednesday night (King Kong, anyone?). It'll be great to be on vacation and have so much cool stuff so close to home.

A cool gadget idea: Today at one of my schools, I walked by a fire extinguisher in a glass case where the "F" had been removed. That's right, it had become an IRE EXTINGUISHER. It occurred to me that such a thing would be quite a handy device to have around at times--spray someone with (gentle, non-lethal) chemicals, and they'd suddenly stop being mad at you. Perhaps they could invent a similar compound called Road Rage Repellent that you could keep in your car.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Once again, the QOTD comes from an exchange with a student; this one was jokingly lamenting the fact that I get to go to Subway for lunch and he has to eat in the school cafeteria. I decided to good-naturedly rub it in for a second...

ME: Yeah, I might have the Chicken Parmesan, or maybe the Buffalo Chicken. Mmmmm....
KID: (makes face)
ME: Oh, you don't like those? Which one do you like?
KID: Oh man, I forgot what it's's the one with the meatballs.
ME: That would be called a "meatball sub."
KID: (laughs) That's it!

I also told him about how, on our Colorado trip last year, my friend Ben accidentally said he ordered a "meatlong football" instead of a footlong meatball.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Can I Pick 'Em or What?

I found out today that the jazz Grammy nominations were announced this week. I've noted before that I occasionally have some issues with the whole process, especially in the way that Academy members can vote without having heard all the nominated songs or albums, but I was particularly happy with this year's selections, since they contain several CD's that I not only own but have blogged about and have in a few cases gone to a concert on the tour in support of said CD's:I think it's interesting how the criterion for being selected in an Instrumental category is "51% or more playing time of instrumental tracks." That might be an interesting (or maybe totally boring) job to be the guy who actually has to measure that...

At any rate, it was cool to discover that this year, the choices of the Academy members are reasonably close to what I would have picked if I had been in their position. I'm also quite happy to see the "contemporary jazz" category populated by actual jazz musicians this time, as opposed to other years when this category has been the domain of the G-weasel and his ilk.

Speaking of jazz: There's a new place to discuss all-things jazz-related, courtesy of UNT jazz prof John Murphy (an old schoolmate of mine whose previous foray into blogdom was linked here and discussed often). It's called The Green Room; anyone can read it, and UNT jazz students, faculty and alumni can sign up for an account and post comments.

Snow half-day: I awoke at six a.m. today to discover, as I suspected last night, that I could go right back to bed, as the public schools were closed today. I stayed awake long enough to also confirm that the college would eventually open, which it did at noon. The roads were mostly clear by the time we left for rehearsal, and they were totally clear by the trip home. I'll be happy to get one more teaching day in tomorrow, especially since I won't see the Friday people next week due to finals. It was a pretty nice little half-holiday, even if we'll have to give it back in the spring.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Toy Meets Horn?

If you've walked into a Wal-Mart or Sam's Club in the past couple of years, you may have been surprised to see that they've started selling musical instruments. (I, of course, visit those two stores as seldom as possible, but I did see the same thing in a Hastings in Denton about a year ago.) Although they've been denounced as "toys" and "instrument-shaped objects" in some circles, these products, from a company called First Act, are trying to compete with the Selmers and Yamahas (or at least the Prestinis and Vespros) for the growing beginner market. I wouldn't ever recommend them to any student of mine, and most band directors I know avoid them like the plague, but basically my thought was, "whatever--let them try the market; it's a free country." But I wasn't exactly thrilled to read this story:
First Act Inc., a musical products company, has won a $20.7 million jury verdict against Dallas-based Brook Mays Music Co., which was found liable for making false advertising statements.

First Act, which sells low-priced guitars, musical toys and band instruments such as horns and saxophones to Wal-Mart, Target and other big-box retailers, hailed the decision as a victory for consumers.

"The verdict is a clear win for every potential music student and for the most fundamental principles of providing great value to consumers," Bernard Chiu, chairman of the Boston-based company, said in a prepared statement.

Brook Mays, a 104-year-old music retailer with 63 stores in eight states, including Texas, plans to ask the trial judge to review the verdict before company officials decide whether to appeal, the company said. The verdict was announced Friday in Boston.
Maybe their tactics weren't the best, but I think Brook Mays might have a point here. The question is, are they trying to squash a competitor, or are they simply standing up for at least minimum standards for what constitutes a musical instrument? (FULL DISCLOSURE: I teach a small studio at a Brook Mays-owned store, but I am compensated directly by the parents of the students and not the company itself.)

There have been low-end horns out there for years; I can even remember our sixth-grade band directors warning us not to buy our horns from the Sears catalog (yes, they used to sell them there!). Nobody's saying that a company doesn't have the right to manufacture and sell these lower-end instruments, but the rest of the world doesn't have to acknowledge them as legitimate or allow them to permeate our schools. The story continues:
First Act, which was formed a decade ago and now has 180 employees, has drawn the wrath of traditional musical instrument retailers such as Brook Mays since it started selling band instruments to mass merchants five years ago. The private company's instruments are made in China and are less expensive than those sold at traditional music stores.

First Act sued Brook Mays two years ago, alleging that the retailer engaged in "a calculated smear campaign" that sought to prevent schoolchildren, band directors and others from buying its musical instruments.

The company alleged that in 2003 Brook Mays distributed fliers and 8,000 e-mails to music educators, parents and others warning that First Act's instruments "break and parts are not available." It won a preliminary injunction against Brook Mays in March 2004 to stop additional distribution of the fliers and e-mails.
If experience has shown that the instruments do break a lot and it's difficult to get parts, then this was probably the reason that Brook Mays decided to "get the word out" like they did.

A bandmate of mine who's worked in the major instrument industry cast some light on this subject. The problem is, the major music retailers' repair shops include warranties with their work; if these instruments do break down frequently, despite multiple trips to the repair shop, then the shop's own image takes an undeserved hit, and they lose their shirts on unsuccessful warranty work. In this situation, refusing to repair these instruments seems like a reasonable practice to me. (Indeed, a trip to First Act's site lists only four authorized repair shops for their instruments within fifty miles of my ZIP code...and I live in a major metropolitan area.)

Even if this information being dispersed by a retalier may have been (at least legally) a questionable tactic, it's not like the word hasn't gotten out already. Trust me, my fellow music educators and I make horn recommendations all the time, and we're not afraid to tell a student or parent if a horn is bad, or even if an entire brand of horn is bad. Word-of-mouth, message boards...if something's not good, people will know. (I'll never forget when a student of mine got a "Borg" horn at Sam's Club [supposedly made by the same company] that he was hoping to use as a marching horn; the band director went ballistic and wouldn't allow it on the field. I played the instrument, incidentally, and it was...mediocre at best, but, as always, the durability over the long haul is the biggest factor.)

Perhaps a poster to another message board says it best:
The instruments sold at Sam's and WalMart are affectionately known to band directors as "I.S.O.'s" - Instrument Shaped Objects.

They are made with cheap wood and aluminum and the mechanisms and keys do not work for more than a few months before sticking or bending out of shape with regular use. Beginners are tough on instruments and as hard as we teach them to take good care and be responsible, accidents do happen. Then try to take ti to WalMart for a repair... or better yet... try to take it to a real instrument repair shop.

In order to help your young band student achieve success AND save your wallet a lot of replancement costs, the best choice, in my professional opinion, is an authorized music dealer. Yamaha, King, Conn, LeBlanc, Buffet, Ludwig, Pearl... all are great musical instrument manufacturers with YEARS of proven quality and reliability.
--from a Texas band director
This does beg a larger question, though, to which you can respond in the comments: If the only instrument a student can afford is a "lowest-tier" model like this, is it better than nothing? In other words, would the potential durability and quality issues counteract the joy of getting to play in the first place, or would the school be better off soliciting donations of unused instruments from former band students to meet the needs of disadvantaged kids?

If Brook Mays does decide to appeal, it would be interesting to see them bring forth legions of people who have had bad experiences with these instruments. If they really do fall apart over time, then was the advertising truly false? Stay tuned; I'll post updates on the subject as they arise.

Sittin' in a winter wonderland: All after-school activities were cancelled in my district today, so I was pretty much done teaching by 2:00 (though one brave soul--or at least his mom, since he's in middle school and doesn't drive--did trudge out here for a lesson at the house). And now, the waiting game continues until morning, when we find out the status of school for tomorrow. I'm hoping for at least a partial day, since I have performances and rehearsals at the college, and we have a concert coming up on Saturday.

Blowing out the candles, half a world away: Happy 21st to my Australian blogger buddy James. I had to send him his e-card last night before I went to bed, since it hasn't been Wednesday down there for many hours now.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: J-Guar, talking with me on AIM tonight, lamented the fact that UNT had cancelled classes for tomorrow during the time his jury was supposed to be; he had even picked a perfect mid-morning time. Upon hearing that, I said "the best-laid plans...", to which he replied "of ice and men." Laughter ensued.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Anyone Taking Bets...

...on whether or not tomorrow's wintry mix will cause any school closings?

Sure, it's easy to get cynical in this part of the country; it doesn't snow or ice all that often, so everyone gets all excited when it's predicted, and then, more often than not, it either ends up being only non-sticking flurries, or it doesn't pan out at all.

The really tricky thing about tomorrow's possible event is that it's not supposed to get really bad until afternoon, which means that any closings will take place after the school day has already started and the students and teachers (and office workers everywhere else) will have to rush-but-not-rush to get home before the bad stuff hits.

And if it happens to hit early enough to cause morning problems...well, hey, I could use the nap.

The gig is up...on the sidebar, that is. I've been confirmed for January 6 at the Broadway Bistro. Will it be Kev and Friends or Team Demon/Dingus? I'm not sure yet, but Steven is on board for this one, so it'll be two-thirds of the TD/D horn juggernaut no matter what.

Hey, wait a minute...: Why did gas suddenly go up eight cents this afternoon? I hope it didn't have anything to do with the potential storm...

Peanut butter and jam, in a way: A British company has come up with an unusual food item: The musical sandwich.

SCARY HEADLINE OF THE DAY: "Erectile dysfunction? No needles, please"--from an article in today's paper.

QUOTE OF THE DAY (1): Today's QOTD's came in rapid succession at my first two schools. The first one occurred during an announcement at a middle school during one of my before-school lessons; sometimes, the office workers really abuse their intercom privileges by coming on every two minutes or so for some sort of announcement. One of those interruptions produced this gem:
"Students and teachers, there's been a belt lost this morning in the hallway. It's...(pauses to mumble something to someone in the background)'s brown, with holes in it."

Really? It has holes in it?
And if it didn't, wouldn't it be called a "strap?"

QUOTE OF THE DAY (2): One of my high-schoolers was talking about the new theatre that's opening in Firewheel in just eight! more! days! (No, I'm not excited about it at all. Can you tell?) The following conversation ensued:

KID: That theatre just doesn't look really big; I wonder how many screens it has.
ME: I looked it up on the Web last night, and they said it's an 18-plex.
KID: Oh, that's pretty big then.
ME: Yeah, it's not as big as the AMC 30 in Mesquite, but it's not bad.
KID: How many theatres does the 30 have?
ME: (cracks up, while giving kid the "duhhhh" look)
KID: D'oh!

I told him that I was a blogger and he had just made QotD with that remark, but I didn't give him this URL or anything, so we'll see if he actually finds it.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kev vs. the Cold

A few years ago (on a blog that no longer exists, so I can't link it), one of my friends did a post about how he and cold mornings were not the best of friends. I agreed then, and I agree even more now.

For one thing, I'm not a morning person to begin with; I just get paid to pretend to be one (like many, many other people, no doubt). I don't tend to sleep enough, so I'm inclined to hit a snooze alarm or two (or six) anyway. But on cold mornings, the temptation to rush back underneath the covers after hitting the snooze button is almost irresisitible.

Ever since I moved into Casa de Kev in '01, I've kept the winter thermostat at 70 degrees; my parents have theirs at 68, and it always seems too cold to me (and those who know me personally are aware that it takes a lot for me to feel cold). But after reading the horror stories of natural gas prices rising and winter heating bills anticipated to be double what they were a year ago, I decided to try and acclimate myself to 68, just to save money. I haven't had enough "winter" gas bills to tell a difference yet (and the true difference may be in the fact that I've had a totally new heating/AC system installed since last winter), but those two degrees certainly add to the likelihood of hitting another snooze alarm.

Oh, and the coldness doesn't go away when I hit the shower, either. Like many of the houses in my neighborhood (during the construction of which, I'm pretty sure, the builders were in "experimental mode"), I have a room with a tall ceiling and a skylight. Unfortunately, that room is the bathroom. It was a little weird when I first moved in to look up and see the sky above me as I showered, though we fixed that with a screen. But the tall ceiling means that the bathroom will never get fogged up during a shower (good, at least in the summer). It also means the bathroom will never get warm during a shower either, so I have to step back out into the coldness once again. At least the hot water has been staying hot for the duration so far.

All of the above could pretty much serve as a preface to the fact that we're evidently getting some bitterly cold weather in a few days. They've been talking about a "wintry mix" for Wednesday, for crying out loud (no, I won't be holding my breath waiting for school to get called off). All I know is--lows in the lower 20's? Highs only in the 30's? It's beginning to look feel a lot like Christmas.

Is there anybody out there? I'm not sure when this post will be readable; Blogspot appears to be down, even if Blogger isn't. (UPDATE: Fixed now--yay.)

Blowing out three sets of candles: Happy birthday to my good friends Chris C., Wyatt, and Andrew D., who all lay claim to the same day (the latter two were even born in the same year). It's also a major birthday for each, being the Cheap Auto Insurance Birthday for Wyatt and Andrew, and the Doesn't Matter If I Get Carded Anymore Birthday for Chris. I was going to catch Chris's jazz concert (and happy hour afterwards) in Waco tonight, seeing as how they had Maria Schneider as a guest artist, but the timing was just too crazy right now. Instead, Maria's newest CD arrived in the mail today, so I'll have my own little concert in a minute, and we'll hopefully catch her next semester when she brings her whole big band to Austin.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

While I Was Out

Whenever I go a few days without posting, there's always a lot of stuff to talk about afterwards:
  • Response was underwhelming in last week's poll here, but I'm even more inclined to believe Michael Irvin after reading this.

  • Are old-school video games way better than new ones, never mind the advanced graphics of today's releases? Or are today's games more like "interactive movies" and thus well worth the time and money? Vodkapundit and his commenters weigh in.

  • Even cooler than the potato gun: the potato cannon. This book has directions for building one. (Hat tip: InstaPundit)

  • This would be funny if it weren't true: Boy eats peanut-butter snack, kisses girlfriend. Unfortunately, the kiss proves to be fatal, seeing as how she's allergic to peanuts.

  • Fellow local blogger Eric rants against the Machine (a favorite subject of mine) in a post that also points to this funny Onion story: RIAA Bans Telling Friends About Songs. Heh.

  • For years, many shopkeepers have chased away teens hanging out in front of their property by blasting classical music from their speakers. Now comes word of another form of "teen repellent": A high-pitched tone that's usually only audible by people under the age of 30.
The lights fantastic: As you know, I'm really excited about Firewheel being in Garland. But tonight, since I was already in Grapevine for a holiday dinner, I had to drive the additional five minutes over to Firewheel's older cousin, Southlake Town Square (it's a similar concept to Firewheel, minus the anchor stores or the theatre (just ten more days!) but highlighted by an old-fashioned City Hall). As always, the lighting at this time of year is amazing, and walking around on a cold night like tonight brought on a classic holiday mood of the kind not often found in Texas.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


It's great to be back in blogging mode, and even better that the long Week O' Concerts is over. Generally speaking, everything went really well; my daytime combo, many of whose members hadn't ever performed in a small-group jazz setting before, did a fine job on Wednesday night, and the night combo did well both nights, during its solo sets and its supporting role behind the jazz choir. Each group was also well-received by its respective audiences.

It really did make for a tiring week, seeing as how I left the house at 7 a.m. or so the last three days and didn't get back till around 11:00, but that's the nature of my job sometimes. Still, it was a great time, and, to paraphrase something I once saw on a sign in the Rangers' clubhouse, the worst day of playing music is better than the best day at the office.

I'm off to see my high-schoolers at all-region tryouts, and I'll probably be back with a topical post later.