Friday, March 31, 2006

They Shouldn't Be Flushed with Pride Over This

The Comcast Center, a building which will be the city's tallest skyscraper, is under construction in Philadelphia. The developers are also hoping to make it the nation's tallest environmentally-friendly building, and, to that end, they are planning to install 116 waterless, no-flush urinals, which would save 1.6 million gallons of water a year. Sounds great, right? Who could possibly object to that?

Well...the plumbers' union, that's who. After all, fewer pipes could cut into their profit.
The mayor's office has stepped in to try to save the urinals, which use a cartridge at the base to trap odors and sediment as waste passes through.

It is telling the plumbers that the city's building boom will provide plenty of work for them and that even waterless urinal systems need some plumbing connections, said Stephanie Naidoff, city commerce director.

Philadelphia's unions have periodically put the city in a difficult spot.

For years, convention groups were canceling bookings at the Pennsylvania Convention Center because of difficulties working with six unions. New rules were established in 2003 to allow convention groups to deal instead with a middleman, a labor supplier. A few months later, the electricians union temporarily shut off power and picketed the center in a dispute with the supplier.
As you may know from previous posts, I'm no fan of unions. Everything I've ever heard about them seems to indicate that they're all about the greed of the workers, sometimes even at the expense of the company itself, and almost always at the expense of actually helping the customer. Incidents like this don't exactly endear them to the public at large, now, do they?

She was sued for dog-scrimination: A Swedish court fined a woman who refused to sell a puppy to a lesbian.

Weird psychosis of the week (and, as Dave Barry pointed out, a good name for a rock band): Fear of Peas.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I haven't rememberized my B-flat scale yet."--Another sixth-grader in a lesson this morning; kids are saying the darnedest things on a daily basis.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Apple vs. Apple

There's only time for a short post today, but this story has caught my attention during the past few days. It goes like this: Apple (as in Apple Corps, the recording company of the Beatles in their later years) is involved in litigation with Apple (as in the coolest computer company in the world). At issue is the usage of the apple logo of each company and whether or not Apple Computer violated the "field of use" agreement that's been in place since 1991 when it started using the logo on its highly-successful iTunes Music Store.
Apple Corps Ltd., the Beatles' record company and guardian of the band's musical heritage and business interests, is suing Apple Computer Inc., claiming the company violated a 1991 agreement by entering the music business with its iTunes online store.

Geoffrey Vos, a lawyer representing Apple Corps, argued in Britain's High Court that characterizing the download system as an electronic device was a "perversion" of the constraints laid down in the agreement between the two companies.
[...] Apple Computer's argument that it uses the apple mark only in connection with a delivery system was "plainly wrong," Vos said.

"What Apple Computers are not doing (when) using the Apple mark is selling software, delivery systems, or anything of the like. They are selling music," Vos said. "and that is in violation of the agreement."

The computer company's logo is a cartoonish apple with a neat bite out of the side; the record company is represented by a perfect, shiny green Granny Smith apple.
I wonder if the fact that the London judge assigned to the case owns an iPod (as I read here) will have any bearing on the case...

Incidentally, another article I read today (for which I can't find the link) clarified that Apple Corps doesn't actually want Apple Computer to shut down the iTunes Music Store; they just want them to take their apple logo off all its products. I'll post updates to this story, but I'm sure something will get worked out here.

Pillow talk gone bad: You may have heard of the Islamic tradition of men being allowed to divorce their wives simply by saying "I divorce you" three times. Now a guy in New Delhi woke one morning to discover that he'd done this in his sleep.

Wrestling the reefer from Rover: A detective in Boston, while in the process of searching a drug suspect's apartment, had to wrestle a sack containing 108 bags of marijuana from the jaws of a pit bull.

Kids still say the darnedest things: An exchange between me and a sixth-grader in lessons today...
KID: I'm so tired. I woked up at 4 a.m. today.
ME: "Woked" up?
KID: Haha....I mean waked up.
ME: (laughs)
KID: No, woke up!
ME: So why did you wake up at four?
KID: I had a bad dream. I was killed by Chucky.
ME: Oh yeah? You had a bad dream about Chucky?
KID: Yeah, Chucky and Freddie Krueger....and Jason.
ME: Wow...
KID: ...and a duck.

It got weirder from there, as he told me a convoluted story about how Freddie killed Jason and Chucky killed Freddie and the duck ate Chucky...and somehow our protagonist got free by killing the duck while still inside of him. I tell you what--it's never a dull moment in my job.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The TABC Should Be "Barred" From Doing This

Lost in all the uproar over immigration this past week was another story that I wanted to mention, especially since it took place here in Dallas: The recent stepped-up enforcement of public intoxication laws by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). In case you missed the story, they've been sending undercover officers into bars in the area and arresting people whom they determined to be intoxicated, in an alleged effort to keep people from driving drunk or "being a danger to themselves and others." The only problem is, some of the arrests were taking place before the patrons had even left the building, and one poor guy was arrested in the bar of the hotel where he was staying. (That guy later lost his job because of the arrest, by the way.)

Needless to say, this has a lot of people up in arms. The business community is concerned, because this story (which has of course already traveled far and wide via the Internet) has the potential to scare off some of the high-dollar convention business that the city is hoping to attract:
Dallas restaurateur Al Biernat, who gets as much as 20 percent of his business from convention attendees, said he hasn't had any sting operations in his bar, but worries that news about the actions send a message of intolerance to potential visitors.

"There's a perception throughout the country that Dallas has a witch hunt going on," Mr. Biernat said.

And Mr. Biernat is concerned that it could hurt the progress the city has made in attracting conventions.

"Dallas is at a key point where things are starting to turn around," Mr. Biernat said. "I'd hate to see anything slow it down."
Legislators are also hearing an earful from their constituents--so much so that the subject will be discussed right after lawmakers return to Austin next month.

Please understand something: I didn't post this story because I'm the kind of person who likes to go get schnockered in a bar and then hit the road. As a matter of fact, I'm the friend who wrestles car keys away from people and/or makes them spend the night if they've had too much to drink (not that the situation has even come up recently). But I know the mentality of government bureaucrats who are--for lack of a better term--intoxicated with their own power, and I fear that there's just too much potential for abuse here. Besides, it's totally a judgement call on the agents' part, and who's to say that a group of people whom the agents perceive to be drunk and disorderly are in fact engaged only in the typical rowdy camaraderie found in virtually any pub in the world?

I'm also concerned for another reason: Anytime the TABC goes undercover, it creates the potential for club owners to overreact, which makes it even more likely that people under 21 won't get to hear live music. I've written at length on this subject before, and I feel just as strongly about it now as I did then. The last thing that musicians need is one more reason for club owners to make their shows age-restricted.

It'll be interesting to see how the discussion in the Legislature turns out, because, while the TABC's heart (if a bureaucracy can indeed have one) is in the right place, I know of very few people who are in favor of this particular method of achieving the desired outcome.

Updates, get yer updates here: Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on Monday's immigration post (and I would've said that even if you hadn't all agreed with me so far). Evidently, today wasn't quite as crazy in terms of school walkouts, though a few did happen...and I'm happy to see that some school districts are finally cracking down on the protestors by offering in-school suspensions in addition to the slap-on-the-wrist unexcused absences that had been given out for the first few days.

Also, check out what Ernie Brown had to say on the subject yesterday morning; he sums up the whole thing beautifully in a mere sixty seconds.

Monday, March 27, 2006


I've been meaning to write this post for over a year now, but the events of the past few days have finally prompted me to speak out. The subject is illegal immigration, and it looks like things are finally starting to come to a head in regards to this topic, and I say it's about time, because this is a serious, serious problem for our country. We have millions of people who aren't supposed to be here, and they're not only taking jobs away from American citizens and lawful immigrants, but they're also draining the resources of our schools and our public health-care system while contributing little to our own tax coffers (and in fact sending the bulk of what they earn back to family members in Mexico). I'm happy to see that Congress is finally considering a hard-line solution to this problem.

I could talk about this all day, but let me condense my thoughts down to a few major points:
  • Too many people are overlooking the "illegal" part of illegal immigration. This is the main problem I have with this situation, and one that gets glossed over by those whose hearts bleed far more freely than mine: These people are breaking the law. Being against illegal immigration is not the same thing as being against immigration, period; sure, some may be against both, but that's not the point that I personally am trying to make here. After all, as many people have pointed out, we are a nation of immigrants (and the fact that I'm at least part Irish means that, yes, some of my ancestors likely came here to avoid the potato famine). The only difference is that the immigrants who built this nation came here through legal channels (many of them starting their process towards citizenship when they entered the country at Ellis Island), while the people who are the subject of debate and pending legislation in Congress today came here by sneaking across the border illegally. "But they're just trying to feed their families," some will say. Fine, but that doesn't excuse someone from breaking the law to do so. Would you give them a free pass for shoplifting food from Albertsons if they did so to feed their families? Probably not. Well....crime is crime. I fail to see the difference between the two situations.

    I guess you could say that I see a slippery slope here (and sure, there are some who say that even the term "slippery slope" has jumped the shark already, but I think there really is one in this case). The fact is, by failing to go through the proper channels, these people are breaking the law simply by being on American soil. What's to keep them from thinking, "Well, I got away with breaking that law; I wonder how many others I can break as well?" Sure, the illegal status will make some people extra-cautious, but do you want to bet our country's security that everyone will act that way?

    And I have to comment about the moron who wrote into the paper yesterday and said, "Illegal immigrants aren't criminals." Hel-looooo! What the #$^&^@* do you think "illegal" means, anyway?

  • Let's stop saying "You must be racist or something! You just hate these people!" whenever someone discusses this problem. Puh-leeeze. Just because I'm not in favor of illegal immigration does not mean that I'm prejudiced against people of Hispanic origin; actually, I show disdain for all criminals, regardless of ethnicity. As I said before, I have no problem with people who come here through the proper channels, no matter what country they come from. But when people try to take what isn't theirs yet by cheating the system...sorry, but those aren't the kind of people we need in our country.

    And the actions of the Mexican government are shameful--paying lip service to the problem when talking with U.S. officials while they're printing maps of the easiest places to get into the U.S. and giving them to Mexican citizens. I'm not making this up:
    The government of the Mexican state of Yucatán has published its own 87-page handbook, complete with DVD, for potential migrants to the United States. Publication of the guide added fuel to an international debate over whether such guides encourage illegal border-crossers. Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth sent a letter to colleagues condemning the guide for Mexican migrants, and urging members of Congress to complain to the U.S. State Department.

    [...]The 87-page book tells potential migrants how to apply for U.S. visas and job-training certificates that can help them get legal employment in the United States, but also gives detailed safety advice for migrants who cross the border illegally. The guide includes where to find water in the desert and how to avoid the most dangerous areas. It includes a section specifically about Arizona.

    Yucatán officials say they are trying to save the lives of undocumented immigrants and ease transition for those who enter the United States legally.

    Hayworth's letter cites passages of the book describing routes through the Arizona desert and informing readers that they can enroll in U.S. public schools. (source)
    If Mexico would get its own stuff together economically, its citizens wouldn't need to sneak in here all the time.

  • Too many people have given up already, saying "We can't possibly get rid of the 12 million people who are already here illegally." This question was posed on the Ernie Brown show today: What do we do about the people who are already here? How could we possibly deport all of them? I didn't get a chance to call in, but my answer would have been: One at a time. A traffic stop here, a domestic disturbance call there...nobody's saying we have to solve this problem all in one day, but let's at least start doing something.

    As you can tell, I'm not in favor of any sort of amnesty policy. I think it sends the wrong message if we start rewarding people who break the law. A guest-worker program might be OK, assuming the people involved are either 1) traceable, so they won't overstay their allotted time, or 2) processed into the system and put on a track towards full citizenship...they way they should have done things to begin with.

  • I'm tired of hearing how we need illegals to "do the jobs that Americans won't do." This one really wears on me. "Who will cook your food or mow your lawns?" has been a constant whine from the misguided illegal-sympathizers for a long time. Well, the answer is obvious to me, since I come in contact with such a group every day: High school and college students.

    It's students who are really suffering from this problem. The high school and college job markets have been horrible the past couple of years, and part of the reason is because so many of the jobs that students tend to get have already been taken over by illegals; my favorite example is from a few years ago, when one of my high-schoolers wanted to apply for a job at McDonald's, only to find out that all the applications were in Spanish. (And lest you wonder how I'm so sure that everyone in your average burger joint is illegal and not just an immigrant, period...I asked a friend of mine who manages a fast-food place--neither the friend nor the restaurant will be named here--how many workers their store would have left if immigration came a-knockin'. His reply was three--two guys from India and himself.)

    My first job was at McDonald's, and it was a really crappy job. But it was also a real eye-opener for me, because I got to interact with the managers: People who were way too grey and way too fat for their age; who had a few heart attacks before age 40 and generally seemed to hate their everyday existence; people for whom fast food was their life. I saw these people and thought to myself, "I will not grow up to be like these people," and indeed, I kept my nose to the grindstone and made something of myself. I feel bad that many of today's youth have lost out on this opportunity, as well as the opportunity to simply have a job during high school or college. (I also thought it was ironic that a lot of Dallas-area high-schoolers were cutting class to protest the pending immigration bill today, when the result could easily mean more work for themselves and their classmates.)

    And as for the lawnmowing thing? Same deal; plenty of high-schoolers and collegians will happily do that job (I've bartered with several over the years in the form of lawn-for-lessons or lawn-for-Chipotle burritos). Ditto for construction; a summer job in that field develops a great work ethic and can earn a student righteous bucks. Don't tell me we don't have the resources to do those jobs with American citizens.

  • A solution: I think the best possible answer to this problem was brought up on Ernie's show today: If we want to stop illegal immigration, go after the employers who hire them. Make the penalty so severe; make a big example out of a few companies that suddenly everyone shies away from hiring illegals. Let's at least give it a try, OK?
Well, I feel much better now. This post has been brewing for a long time, as I said. Let the comments fly as they may, but keep it nice, even if you don't agree with what I've said. Remember, I do hold the final delete button here...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

This Shew Definitely Fits

(with apologies to the late Brother Mantooth for slightly borrowing the title of one of his tunes)

Another jazz festival has come and gone, and this one ran more smoothly than any in recent memory, despite the fact that we were running three stages for the first time in several years. The bands played well, and it appeared that everyone enjoyed their clinics; the ones in our room certainly responded well to what we had to say. Sure, we were exhausted by the end of last night's concert, but those of us on stage also felt the energy of the capacity crowd...and besides, giving up most of a weekend in the name of jazz education is always a worthy cause.

It was also a great experience to play in two concerts with the amazing Bobby Shew. He's been at this for a long time--he was gigging six nights a week while still in high school--and his playing is a finely-honed mix of dazzling technique and heartfelt expression that's always satisfying to listen to and thrilling to behold from the bandstand.

We were also joined by the fine local drummer Mike Drake for the Friday night concert, and, as he does every summer at camp, he played with taste and monster chops. His two extended solos were highlights of the evening.

One of the coolest things about Friday night was the music that Bobby picked for us to play. As he noted during the concert, a lot of these guest-artist-with-the-faculty gigs often become little more than impromptu jam sessions, with everyone busting out their Real Books and playing whatever standards they know best. Bobby chose some music that was slightly off the beaten path--tunes that don't get as much attention as they deserve and, in some cases, haven't been played much at all for many years. Ever heard of "Ugetsu" by Cedar Walton? How about "Play Song" by Bill Mays or "As the Camel Rides" by George Cables? Those were the opening three tunes for us on Friday night, and it was a lot of fun to play them. (Incidentally, "Ugetsu" has some changes that are very similar in spots to another Walton composition, "Bolivia," that's a staple of my group's book; they were just close enough to each other that the 12-bar phrases of the former threw me for a bit, as I was used to the latter being sixteen bars.)

Sure, there were a few "unscheduled moments" in Friday's show, but that spontaneity is a part of jazz, and getting past little bumps in the road is one of the challenges faced by a group that plays together once a year; we rolled with it and moved on, and everyone enjoyed the show.

While Bobby was here, I managed to pick up a copy of this CD from among the many he'd brought to sell in the lobby (the inner jacket now sports the obligatory autograph, of course). I've been listening to it in the car today, and it's been really enjoyable.

So all in all, it was a great weekend...which only makes sense, seeing as how I was doing two of the things I love the most: playing and teaching jazz. And with the opportunity to share the stage with someone of the caliber of Bobby Shew, the teachers did some learning as well.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Festive Time of Year

It's Jazz Festival time at the college; as you may know from the sidebar, this year's guests are the esteemed trumpeter Bobby Shew and local drumset hero Mike Drake. Tomorrow's concert, featuring the college faculty combo with our two guests, starts at 8:00 (the school's Jaztet One opens), as does Saturday night's concert, which includes the college big band and the Texas Instruments Jazz Band, both with Bobby Shew. (Saturday is also the awards presentation, as a number of high school--and even a few middle school--jazz bands will be performing during the day; this concert is quite likely to be sold out for that reason, so if you want to see Bobby, I'd encourage you to come tomorrow.)

The festival will "own" me from about tomorrow afternoon through all of Saturday (my first band to judge will play at 8:15 on Saturday morning), so posting will resume after that; I've started the final chapter of the New Orleans trip series, and I'll finish that later as well.

Oh, and thanks to UNT prof John Murphy for turning my shameless plug about the concert on the Green Room forum into a post on the beta version of the new UNT jazz studies website.

That's a lot of excess baggage you're carrying there: Did the airlines lose your luggage last year? You're not alone; a recent study found that they lost over thirty million bags in 2005, and 200,000 of them were never found.

It was for a science experiment, I swear: A Virginia teacher was arrested after he allegedly gave a student some pot.

Dutch treat? Anyone who wishes to immigrate to the Netherlands has to watch a racy movie as part of an extensive testing process to see if the would-be immigrants are "ready to participate" in the Dutch culture.

A Dutch not-so-treat: Speaking of the Netherlands, one family has, for the second straight year, received a bill for the nation's "dog tax." The only problem is, the family doesn't own a dog; they just have a barking doorbell, bought in honor of their German shepherd, which died years ago. (Cool word of the day: the Dutch dog tax is called the "hondenbelasting.")

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Hilarious Saxophone Primer

I'll finish the New Orleans tale tomorrow, but first, I wanted to post this really funny email that I received over the weekend (thanks to Aaron for the forward):

How To Play The Saxophone:

First things first: If you're a white guy, you'll need a stupid hat, the more stupid the better and preferably a beret. Sunglasses are optional, but all the really, really good players wear them,
especially indoors.
You'll also need some "gig shirts"-Hawaiians are good, but in a pinch anything with a loud floral pattern is acceptable, as are T-shirts from various jazz clubs and festivals. The good thing about the latter is that you can get them mail order so you don't have to go to all the trouble of actually seeing and hearing live music. And sandals are an absolute must, even in winter.

Once you've assembled the proper attire you can begin practicing. One of the most important things about playing is being able to convey emotion to the audience. This you do through various facial expressions.

The two emotions you'll need to convey are (1) rapture / ecstasy and (2) soul wrenching pain and sadness (i.e., the blues). You may find it useful in the beginning to borrow a page from the method acting school. So, for example, to convey rapture, try thinking of something nice-like puppy dogs
or getting a rim job from Uma Thurman while Phil Barone feeds you Armour hot dogs with truffle sauce.
To convey the "blues" try thinking of something really appalling-like ulcerative colitis or Alec Baldwin.

You should practice your facial expressions in front of a mirror at least two hours per day. You may feel a tad stupid at first, but you'll never get the chicks if you don't jump around on stage like a monkey-with your face screwed up like there's a rabid wolverine devouring your pancreas. And,
bottom line, getting chicks is really what music's all about.

Next, you'll need the correct ligature.

Some people think that the ligature is just a stupid old piece of metal that holds the reed on the mouthpiece. Well, those people are idiots. Besides your beret, the ligature is the single most important piece of musical equipment you will ever buy. Mine, for example, is 40% platinum and 60% titanium; one screw is rubidium and the other plutonium. It makes me sound exactly like Booker Ervin would if Booker Ervin wasn't (1) dead and/or (2) living on Mars.

You may have to spend years and years and thousands of dollars finding the proper ligature, but in the end it definitely will be worth it.

Now reeds. Optimally, you'll want to move to Cuba, grow and cure your own cane, and carve your own reeds by hand. If you're just a "weekend warrior" however, you can get by with store-bought.

First, buy ten boxes of reeds -100 in all. Next, open all the boxes and throw away 60 reeds. Those were unplayable. Take the remaining reeds and soak them in a mixture of 27.8% rubbing alcohol and 72.2% pituitary gland extract for a period of 17 weeks.

Throw away 20 more reeds. Those were stuffy.

Take the remaining 20 reeds and sand each one for exactly 13 seconds with ..1200 grade 3M sandpaper.

Throw away 14 reeds. Those squeaked.

Take the remaining 6 reeds and soak them for another 17 weeks, this time however in a mixture of 27.8% pituitary gland extract and 72.2% rubbing alcohol. Sun dry the 6 remaining reeds for 3 weeks, optimally at an equatorial latitude, and throw away 3 more just on general principles.

You now have 3 reeds that will last you several months if you play each one only 20 minutes a day in strict rotation.

Now, you say you just bought a horn. Although you didn't say what kind it is I'd sell it immediately and get a different one.

The best one to get would be a Selmer Mark VI made at 4:27 PM on June 14, 1963, serial number 635543. If you can't get that one though, generally speaking the older and more expensive the better.

The following brands are good: Selmer Paris Mark VI. The following brands suck: any other Selmer, Yamaha, Conn, Beuscher, Yanigasawa, Cannonball, LA, Jupiter, Elkhart, King, Martin, Keilworth, Boosey and Hawkes, Couf, Silvertone, and Holton. On no account should you play the horn before you buy it: go strictly on reputation and price.

You will also need some accoutrements: a flight case capable of withstanding atmospheric pressure of dP = - Dg dz where D and g are, respectively, the density of air and the acceleration due to
gravity at the altitude of the air layer and dz is a horizontal layer of air having unit surface area and infinitesimal thickness; a metronome; a tuner; a combination alto-tenor-baritone sax stand with pegs for an oboe, bass clarinet, flute, english horn and bassoon; Band in a Box; every Jamey Aebersold play-along record ever created; a reed cutter; swabs, cleaners, pad savers, pad dope, pad clamps; a Sennheiser Digital 1092 Wireless Microphone; an effects rig with digital delay and parametric EQ; and a 200 watt (per channel, minimum) amplifier and 18" monitor.

It will be helpful if you listen to lots of sax players. Unfortunately, listening solely to players you like is absolutely the worst thing you can do.

To really understand the music and its traditions you have to go back to the beginning and listen to every bit of music ever recorded. I'd start with madrigals and work forward. Once you get to the 20th century, pay particular attention to players like Jimmy Dorsey, Sidney Bechet, and Al Gallodoro who
are the foundations of the modern jazz saxophone.

In no time at all, or by 2034-whichever comes first-you'll be able to understand the unique be-bop stylings of players like Ace Cannon, Boots Randolph, and Sam Butera.

Finally, to play the sax itself, blow in the small end and move your fingers around.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Big Time in the Big Easy, Part 2

The saga from this past weekend continues...

The food
As I've said before, food is one of the really special things about New Orleans, and we were able to sample a decent amount of it for the short time that I was there. Friday night after the concert, we wasted no time heading out to the West Bank and the nearest location of Copeland's that I had found on the Web. I had missed it during my past two attempts--in '04 on the New Orleans Bowl trip, when they closed an hour earlier than we'd been told on the phone, and this past year's birthday, when the Dallas outlet had shut its doors. Since the hurricane, the St. Charles Avenue location has yet to reopen, but the great food was worth the extra drive across the Mississippi to the Harvey outlet.

We had been concerned that perhaps we would just miss them being open, as it was a bit after ten when we arrived, but not a chance--the place was still very much abuzz, and we got a table within five minutes or so. They've combined their seafood and steakhouse menus into one gargantuan offering that's around the size of a coffee-table book, but I was only looking for one thing: Grilled Fish Copeland. It's been my birthday dinner of choice for well over a decade now, so I was happy to at least get it some nine months too late this time. There was a minor panic when I couldn't find it on the menu, but thankfully, it had only been renamed (it's "grilled farm redfish" or something like that now). The famous biscuits (shared with Copeland's corporate cousin, Popeye's) were no longer included, but the "smashed" potatoes and the shrimp-filled Lacombe sauce made it a meal to be savored (and, at twenty bucks a plate, that savoring won't happen all that often--but certainly as often as I visit New Orleans, at any rate). This was the one place we had to visit while I was there, so the first night was already a success.

On Saturday, after the Mintzer concert, we went to a great little Thai place called the Basil Leaf on Carrollton Avenue. I had something called Phat Thai (which is not pronounced like you'd think, yo) and it was absolutely delicious. Evidently it's considered the "national dish of Thailand," and it contains things like shrimp, chicken and bean sprouts on a bed of rice noodles (one recipe may be found here). It was a little pricier than some of the places I go, but, like most Asian food, the portions were quite generous. Everyone at the table got to try some of the desserts as well, and both the traditional (turtle cheesecake) and the exotic (mangoes and sticky rice) were amazing. This is definitely a place I'll visit again when I'm down there.

And yes, this was the place where one of my fellow diners included Bob Mintzer. I was talking with him a bit after the concert, and we were soon joined by the jazz director's wife and eventually Jordan as well. When the director himself was done putting everything away, he asked if Jordan and I would like to join the three of them for dinner, so we jumped at the chance. While I'd gotten to talk with Bob briefly at a Yellowjackets concert in Ft. Worth a while back, it was great to spend a good deal of time in his company. He's definitely a down-to-earth guy--nice as can be, doing work that he loves which just happens to take him all over the world in the process (his itinerary between now and the Addison festival in a few weeks is almost dizzying). Sure, he had some great stories, but the coolest thing was just discovering that one of the people in jazz whom I really look up to is equally admirable as a human being.

OK--back to food. Of course, we topped off Saturday night with a trip to the Cafe du Monde for some of their excellent coffee and famous beignets. The French Quarter was quite crowded, and we had to park quite a ways away from the French Market area, but it was worth the walk, and it was good to know that the most famous part of down is definitely "open for business" again after Katrina. The food was great, and, as usual, the people were sometimes pretty colorful in there (at one point, a shouting match broke out across the patio, and I think it was an employee doing most of the shouting). In other words, things are just as they're meant to be.

Wow, this post is becoming gargantuan; I'll save the music portion for Part 3.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Big Time in the Big Easy, Part I

OK--I'm rested now, despite the fact that booming thunderstorms came through during my nap, knocking out the power for a while and the Internet/cable for slightly longer than that. I'm not exactly looking forward to starting back to the regular work schedule tomorrow, I can definitely say that this trip was totally worth it.

I went down there for three reasons: To hang with a friend, see Bob Mintzer in concert, and get a first-hand look at how the post-Katrina rebuilding and revitalization of New Orleans is coming along. As I said right before the hurricane, the Big Easy is one of my favorite vacation spots, and perhaps my favorite part of town is not the French Quarter (although I certainly love a lot of food places out there), but rather the Garden District, where Loyola is located. I knew that this area hadn't taken the brunt of the storm, but I was interested in seeing just how "back to normal" everything was getting nearly nine months later.

First impressions
As we were landing at the airport, I noticed a whole lot of water still around. It wasn't covering buildings anymore, of course, but it did seem like the drainage canals were pretty full (I would get this same impression while driving into town on I-10). It was obvious that the area had been experiencing very different conditions than our drought-plagued DFW area.

When I went downstairs to the rental-car counter at the airport, it struck me how empty the place was. This was, after all, a little after 6 p.m. on a Friday night, and St. Patrick's Day to boot. There had been very few other planes at the gates when we taxied up, and the baggage claim was nearly deserted. I knew that maybe half the city's population hadn't returned, and, if the airport was any indication, they were definitely missed.

Driving in on I-10, there were a few cars on the freeway, but not nearly as many as I was used to. There seemed to be more traffic going the opposite way, which was almost expected on an early Friday evening. Then, all of a sudden, I rounded the corner and was greeted with a sea of brake lights. I guess people were headed downtown after all.

Not wanting to sit in stop-and-go traffic, and realizing that I wouldn't be able to check into my hotel before the concert, I decided to go straight to Loyola via the scenic route, connecting to St. Charles Avenue from Carrollton Avenue. This gave me a chance to see the dichotomy that is post-Katrina New Orleans. A lot of the area made it look like nothing had happened, but there were a few telltale signs, most notably the number of fast-food places that hadn't reopened yet. Evidently, that industry was hit particularly hard, as their workers tended to be a part of the demographic that had evacuated and not yet returned. Indeed, places like McDonald's and Wendy's were hiring new workers for $8.50 to $9.00 an hour, enticing them further with monthly bonuses of up to $250. The places that were still closed were often not boarded up or anything; they were just dark--tables in place, promotional posters lining the windows, waiting only for their crew members to return.

Throughout my trip, I would see the contrast: Most of the buildings were intact, but, here and there, someplace would be in the process of being demolished or perhaps already be a pile of rubble. There's always a certain amount of urban renewal going on in New Orleans, but at least there was a lot of work being done at this point. Going down Carrollton as it hung a left and became St. Charles, I saw the things that I like the most about this part of town: the houses (I've always been an architecture fan, and I really like the old-school designs with their big porches, more than a few of which still had Christmas lights hanging from them), the funky little neighborhood restaurants crowded with people, and just the general air about the place--something that says "this is where people are always having a good time." It was unusual to not see the famous St. Charles streetcars running, but it did make for an easier time of crossing the street. (In the meantime, the bus lines run for free in that area. I'm not sure how they make money doing that--just like I'm not sure how McDonald's can afford to pay people nine bucks an hour--but I guess it's just what has to be done to make the city grow again.)

There's still a lot of work to be done, of course; some of the streets had some Geo-eating potholes, a few stoplights were still out, and some of the the hotels were in bad repair (one of the guests at the festival said his particular room had a hole in the ceiling, and his night of sleep was punctuated by noise from other guests, who may well have been some remaining evacuees). Some of the famous blue tarps could be seen on the roofs of various buildings, and a boarded window or two was evident here and there. Many of the locals are still working with contractors to get things done to their houses, but, all in all, the city is putting itself back together bit by bit.

The hotel
Because I waited around a little too long, and because I wanted to go cheap, I went slightly off the beaten path for my choice of lodging this time. I stayed at St. Vincent's Guest House, just a few blocks off St. Charles on Magazine Street. The building, dating to 1861, was originally an orphanage, and it had been renovated as sort of an uber-bed and breakfast. The reviews I'd read online (on sites like this) were devoid of any gray areas; people either loved it or hated it. I decided to be adventurous and try it; besides, at $79 a night, it was the least expensive thing I could find that still had rooms left.

Once I found the place (the street grid is a bit confusing at first), I could tell that it had a lot of character. There was a decent amount of fenced-in parking, and the staff was available later than I had expected (by the time I checked in, it was around 9:30 at night) and was much more pleasant and helpful than many reviewers had said before. The old staircase was ornate (and steep), and it wasn't too much trouble finding the room despite multiple wings of the buliding. The room was no-frills, but it was a decent size, and everything was clean. Sure, there wasn't soap or shampoo or mints on the pillow, but this is a B&B, not a five-star hotel (and besides, I bring all that stuff, with the exception of the mints). I really don't need to be pampered in situations like this, so the room worked out just fine. I almost had an issue with parking on the first morning when an insenstive jerk with a trailer almost blocked off an entire row of cars; it took a 27-point turn to work around him...but otherwise, my stay was pleasant. I didn't spend much time in my room anyway (save for a CD burn-a-thon that Jordan and I had last night), so if you're looking for a little character and want to experience New Orleans on the cheap, I have nothing but good things to say about this place. (Maybe I should go on one of those travel sites and contribute a positive review, just to counteract all the bad ones.)

TOMORROW: The saga continues, looking at the music and the food.

...And We're Back

My weekend sojourn has come to a close. I had an incredible time, enjoying two of the best things New Orleans has to offer--music and food. Oh, and among the people with whom I shared a dinner table last night was one Bob Mintzer; how cool is that? I'll chronicle the whole weekend in a little bit, but right now, it's time for a rather righteous nap.

Friday, March 17, 2006

In the Big Easy, Wearing Green

I'm off for a quick weekend trip to New Orleans; as I mentioned a while back, I'm going to see Bob Mintzer at the Loyola Jazz Festival and hang with my friend Jordan for a while. It's my chance to get away for a little bit and also take an up-close look at how the "new New Orleans" is progressing after last fall's hurricane. I'll have an update from there if there's time, but I'll be back by lunchtime on Sunday.

Erin go blog: Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my fellow Irish (and the Irish-at-heart). I had my corned beef and cabbage the other day on a Reuben after racquetball, and you can bet there'll be the wearin' o' the green by yours truly (which is easy to do when you went to a university whose school colors--and team names--are dominated by green).

The mowin' o' the green: This was the first day of the new year where I had to get up and do yardwork (yecch). The grass hasn't totally come back after our recent drought period, but the weeds were starting to grow with a vengeance (of course). I'm definitely thinking about farming out (heh) the yardwork this summer to a student who wants to swap it for lessons, or a college-age friend who will do it for Chipotle burritos.

Speaking of maintenance: You may not see this post before I leave town; Blogger has been working with a bad server (their status page said the other day that the offending machine would be "replaced and then shot"), and my blog was one of those on said server. All the posts are there, and if it's not fixed by the time I leave for the airport, I'll call it up and hit "publish" later on in the day.

Marsupial madness: A kangaroo led police on a chase through the snow this week on a country road in Austria. And no, that's not a typo...not Australia, but Austria. Who knew? (The article also notes that tourists to alpine areas can buy T-shirts that say "There are no kangaroos in Austria" because the two countries' names get confused so frequently.)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Band by Any Other Name...

There was an interesting article in yesterday's paper about some of the weird names of bands that are in Austin this week for the annual South by Southwest Music Conference. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Triumph of Gnomes
Things That Go Pop!
King Straggler
Nine Black Alps
Jedi Mind Tricks
Love of Diagrams
Decoder Rings
The Crack Pipes
Drunk Horse

...and my personal favorite:
Lesbians on Ecstasy. (Out of bizarre curiosity, I checked to see if they had some sort of music site; they do. The music is as weird as the name, too.)

Granted, it could be said that someone who fronts a band named Team Demon/Dingus doesn't have much room to make fun of anyone else's band name...but the ones above made me laugh.

Taking a bite out is crime: I thought it was weird that these two stories came in practically at the same time...

EXHIBIT A: A middle school teacher in Louisville, Kentucky was fired this week for allegedly biting a student who refused to spit out a piece of candy when asked.

EXHIBIT B: An associate dean at an Indiana university had a car accident in Evansville; a man stopped to help him and was promptly bitten on the calf by the dean.

And is it just a coincidence that both of these things happened in cities that are rather close to each other?

One more bite: Here's a short but hilarious column from James Lileks about an apple a day keeping the doctor away.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Sore Loser (and Winner)

I played two games of racquetball with Andrew today; it was the first time that I'd played in about two months, and I'm really starting to feel it at the moment. It's not a bad kind of sore, but it definitely reminds me that I need to play more often. It's not so much a matter of getting my two regular r-ball buddies to play more often, but rather getting even more of my friends in on the game. I hope to do that during the slightly-more-chill pace of this coming summer.

Oh, and if you're wondering, we split a two-game series, with Andrew taking the first one, 21-19, while I prevailed in the second one, 22-20 (if you end up tied at "game point"--which is 20--you have to win by two). We've always been matched really well, so the games get pretty intense at times.

I've noted before that racquetball is the perfect musician's workout, because it covers so many different muscle groups, and you don't have to do it every day for it to be beneficial. True, there is that thing about being careful to not break anything, but beyond that slight risk, it's quite a bit of fun.

A wild trip home from Chili's: Right before we played today, Andrew told me a crazy story of an encounter with a drunk, belligerent (and, for a moment, wrong-way) driver that he, his girlfriend and a friend of theirs had last night. His girfriend, a.k.a. fellow music teacher/blogger Ms. Worley, posted her account today.

Flipping society the bird, in a way: A guy in Pittsburgh goes to court to try and have obscene gestures given free-speech protection.

Weird science: Will someone swim more slowly in syrup than in water? The results may surprise you, and the study earned the researcher an Ig Nobel Award. Other winning topics include Salmonella Excretion in Joy-Riding Pigs, An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep Over Various Surfaces, and The Effect of Country Music on Suicide (my personal favorite).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Moment of Silencing Others?

There was a story in the paper yesterday that I managed to overlook until one of its main characters was on the radio this morning: A guy is suing the Carrollton/Farmers Branch Independent School District because it has a "moment of silence" during the morning announcements, and somehow, he's interpreting this as the students being forced to pray:
An atheist couple whose children attend a Carrollton-Farmers Branch elementary school have filed a complaint in federal district court arguing that the state's mandated moment of silence in public schools is unconstitutional.

David and Shannon Croft named the school district and Gov. Rick Perry in their complaint, filed Friday. In it, they say one of their children was told by a teacher to be quiet because the minute is a "time for prayer."

"I do not believe there is any secular reason for a moment of silence," said Mr. Croft, 37, a computer programmer. "This is just a ruse to get prayer in school without calling it prayer in school. Is there any study showing a moment of silence helps education?"
But wait, not so fast. That one teacher may have erred in his/her statement, but the law definitely does not mandate that prayer--or anything else, for that matter--take place during that silent moment:
Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for the governor, said state law clearly gives children the freedom to do what they wish with the moment of silence.

The law, passed in 2003, allows children to "reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activities" for one minute after the American and Texas pledges at the beginning of each school day.

"If the student wants to review mentally to get ready for a test or pray silently, they can," she said. "The law does not set it up specifically as a moment for prayer. The student can use that moment to collect their thoughts in whatever manner they choose."
Oh, and the legislator who sponsored the moment-of-silence legislation says that teachers have told him that the silent moment helps students calm down and get ready to work...and that's never a bad thing, right?

I heard Croft on the Jay McFarland program this morning, and Jay pretty much tore him to shreds on Constitutional matters; Croft went on and on about how the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment guarantees "separation of church and state," when it actually reads as follows: ""Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." (Yes, some of the Founders did discuss a "wall of separation" in their other writings, but not in the Constitution itself.) Also, upon further research (yes, I did research over spring break!), I have discovered that a moment of silence that is not specifically earmarked for prayer has survived a Supreme Court challenge in Wallace v. Jaffree (whereas variations on that moment of silence that did include the word "prayer" were struck down in that same case).

But anyway, that's enough law for this blog, since many others are infinitely more qualified to comment on this than a humble jazz musician. Still, it's telling to note that Croft cites Michael Newdow (the most recent person who tried to get "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance) as one of his heroes, and this quote pretty much sums up where he's coming from: "I don't want my children exposed to people telling them the supernatural is real," Mr. Croft said. "I completely reject Judeo-Christian monotheism."

It's too bad that some people think that the Establishment Clause, which prohibits a government-sponsored religion, has come to mean that government has to be openly hostile to religion...or that a "moment of silence" somehow automatically mandates that people should pray. (Besides, as a number of wiseguys have noted, go into any school during final exam week, and--trust me--there'll be a lot of praying going on during that moment of silence.

Political correctness run amok, part 257: Students at some English preschools are singing Baa Baa, Rainbow Sheep in an effort that some say is to avoid racial conflicts; the people in charge, of course, say that it's just to expand the students' vocabularies. You be the judge...

Every college student's dream? A lady in Norway turns on her kitchen faucet and beer comes out. (The whole thing came about due to a faulty hookup of some beer hoses; needless to say, the local pub patrons were considerably less happy when water started coming out of the beer taps.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Video Games Can Save Your Life!

Or at least they can if you're in the military. Instapundit links to an article about one of the coolest new gadgets in the military:
The U.S. Army has discovered a remote control gun turret that works, and cannot get enough of them. The army wants over 9,000 CROWS (common remotely operated weapon stations), but is only getting 15 a month. There should be about a thousand CROWS in service by the end of the year...

But there's another reason, not often talked about, for the success of CROWS. The guys operating these systems grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating systems (video games) very similar to the CROWS controls. This was important, because viewing the world around the vehicle via a vidcam is not as enlightening (although a lot safer) than having your head and chest exposed to the elements, and any firepower the enemy sends your way. But experienced video gamers are skilled at whipping that screen view around, and picking up any signs of danger. Iraqis are amazed at how observant CROWS is. Iraqis tend to just wrote this off as another example of American "magic." But the troops know better. Video games can save your life.
So you see, parents, if Junior sits in front of the Xbox all day, he might not just be slacking off--he could be building skills that will help him keep America safe later on in life!

He's part of the "in" crowd now: Congratulations to Shawn, who got his acceptance letter from the UNT College of Music today. Way to go, man!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lazy Day

It's been the first weekend of spring break, and I haven't really done squat the whole time.

To quote the Mickey D's commercial, I'm lovin' it.

I do have a few things to accomplish this week, and I also found a cool site with a bunch of transcribed sax solos and jazz exercises on it, so stuff will get done, and soon. But I really needed a day like today where I did little besides watch TV, nap and eat from the time I got home from church until just now. If anything, I started to get a little bit bored, so, like so many things in life, I'll be striving for a balance between accomplishment and relaxation. But just the mere fact that I don't have to get up at 6 a.m. during the week is, in a way, enough of a vacation for me.

Oh, and as I speculated in the Cool Concert Tour Update post of last week, I will be headed to New Orleans this coming weekend to see Mintzer at the Loyola Jazz Festival. (True Mintzerphiles will recognize the title of this post as one of his tunes.) I'm also hoping that perhaps my favorite restaurant will be open by the time I'm there; it doesn't appear on the website anymore, but there is an outlet in the 'burbs that's not too far.

This person had even more time on their hands than I did today: Someone actually made a real-life version of the intro to The Simpsons. I won't quibble too much that they have the live Lisa playing a tenor sax instead of her beloved bari...

This is another fine mess you've gotten yourself into, Bullwinkle:A confused moose managed to get himself tangled up in a swingset.

Salty egg king steams the vegetable sponge: Here's a great list of oddly-translated items from the menu at a Chinese restaurant. (WARNING: Some of the language in the post is a little "salty" as well, but it's really, really funny.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

I'm Giving Them a Dressing-Down for This One

Spring break is upon us; a great sigh of relief is going out all over the area among students and teachers alike. (Some of the parents, however, may be on edge, with the prospect of a house full of kids for a week staring them in the face...but hey, that's part of the gig.) For at least one of my students, the end of school today served as a double emancipation, since he had to spend the whole day in the in-school suspension room. His offense? Forgetting to tuck in his shirt.

I wish I were making this up.

Incidentally, this is the same school that I praised the other day for allowing students to buy their way out of the dress code after spring break, but it turned out to be several days early (and yes, a few dollars short) for our protagonist.

As you know, I've never been a huge fan of either rigid dress codes or mindless educational bureaucracy, and I've said so plenty of times before. So what prompted this post? Not so much the fact that it happened to one of my prize students, but rather what he was told by an administrator when he argued his case (calmly but persistently, I might add).

The assistant principal with whom he spoke said that the reason they had to crack down on untucked shirts on everybody was because, if they really went after what they wanted to avoid, which is the really oversized (translation: gang-like) shirts worn by a certain segment of the population, they might be accused of racism.

Lord help us all.

Look, I know that the only thing that administrators fear more than school violence on their watch or the proverbial "low test scores" is a lawsuit...but c'mon, can't someone have some cojones here? Do they really think that someone would sue them for outlawing gang-related styles of dress? Or make charges of racism if the person so dressed happened to be a minority? Well...OK, yeah, they might. But why run from that? Shouldn't that nutbag idea get its day in court, so that it can lose--which it should, and hopefully would--and then get consigned to the dustbin of history like it deserves to be? And sure, I can understand why an administrator would be reluctant to be the one to use his/her own district's high-powered legal team, but that's why they're there. Actually having a dialogue about this on a grand stage would be better than what's happening now, which is that everyone buries their heads in the sand whenever the subject comes up, with the end result being that nothing gets solved.

I also have a problem with punishing entire student populations for the transgressions of the few. If the baggy-shirt crowd is causing problems by walking around untucked, why not tailor a rule to that particular problem? (And yes, I've heard about the studies that say that it's easy to hide a weapon under an untucked shirt. I also read a study one time that listed the top four places to conceal something bad: 1) Jackets, 2) Baggy pants, 3) Shoes, and 4) Socks. So should we all adopt the Asian remove-your-shoes-at-the-door thing at schools too? [Admittedly, I'd probably like that, except when it was time to use the restroom.] It's one thing to be safe, but can't this go too far?)

A classroom-teaching colleague of mine says that it would be impossible to punish just the bad kids for every little thing without hiring more administrators (do we want that?) or having the ability to kick the truly bad kids out of school more easily (which evidently we can't--another law that should get changed sooner rather than later). So instead, they just clamp down on everyone, good kid or bad.

You can see the problem here: Everything we do in the schools should contain a lot of "teachable moments," correct? What exactly is being taught by punishing the many for the misdeeds of the few? Some would say that "it teaches them that life isn't fair all the time." Maybe so--but don't some of the students get enough of that in their home lives? All that it really teaches is the distrust of authority and a general disdain of rules...and this is among the good kids, who would probably be OK with most of what goes on at school if those in charge actually put some thought into the rules instead of using the rules to keep them from having to think.

OK, I've ranted far longer than I intended to do (though I could easily keep going, trust me). While my student made it through his day in "jail" unscathed, one could also question the wisdom of sending a mostly A-and-B student (whose untucked moment came when he was 1) just leaving the bathroom and 2) headed to the band hall to practice during an advisory period) into a room with the truly bad kids and repeat offenders for an entire school day. I would think there would be a concern over the really-bads corrupting the only-marginally-bads over time.

I'm frustrated with a lot of the things I see going on in schools right now (and I'm really glad that my position allows me to be "in it but not of it" in terms of the edu-cracy). This won't be the last post on the subject, without a doubt.

Broom service: Two hotel maids sparred with a plunger and a mop respectively after an fight over toilet paper.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my friend and fraternity brother Jervis, one of the brotherhood's national treasures (and author of this book). May you have many, many more!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Night (Fed)chock Full of Great Tunes

I only had five hours of sleep last night, but it was totally worth it, because I got to see John Fedchock play with the Two O'Clock at the Syndicate. The former Woody Herman sideman, who now leads his own New York-area big band, is also an amazing trombonist, and last night's show featured generous helpings of both his writing and playing.

Fedchock is a formidable presence on stage; at around 6'5", he's one of the three tallest trombonists I've ever seen (the other two being Conrad Herwig and my friend Dingus). Yet in stark contrast to his height, his sound is deliberate and controlled, with many of his solos starting at a near-whisper volume, drawing the listener in closely in the process. But make no mistake--he has the dazzling mix of technique and high chops that's expected of a top-tier trombonist, but it's all run through a filter of style and taste.

I've been a fan of Fedchock's writing since his Herman days, and the charts he played with the Two delivered as promised every time. My personal favorites were his take on "Ceora" and a brand-new (as in first played two weeks ago) Afro-Cuban rendering of Trane's "Moment's Notice." A big highlight of the evening was when Fedchock did a friendly duel with Two O'Clocker Aric Schneller (a doctoral student who first played in my Six O'Clock band when he was in master's school) on the original "Jay Birds" (a tribute to J.J. Johnson, who took the bebop of Bird and adapted it to the trombone). When the obligatory trading of choruses turned into a collective jam, those of us in the audience could only break out amazed laughter in response to what was going on onstage.

So all in all, it was a great night of music. I had the delusion that I was going to only stay for the first half (thinking of a 14-hour teaching day today, as well as the prospect of severe storms after midnight for the drive home), but I knew after about one chart that this was a concert to see in its entirety. I was also mentally kicking myself for not having enough cash to buy one of his CD's that he had for sale up there (he was also packing a Sharpie for autograph purposes), but I'll get one from here, and you should too. I hope to catch the whole New York band on the inevitable future IAJE trip.

Speak softly, and take away their big stick: This is my nominee for hero of the week: Charlotte Johnson. The single mom from Ft. Worth was taking her daughter to school on Monday when she decided to stop at McDonald's. The place was crowded, and she found herself temporarily blocking the driveway as . Somebody in another car became irate with her and went after her with a baseball bat, and, during the struggle which ensued, she took the guy's bat away and whacked him upside the head with it. Johnson has been playing recreational softball for the past 13 years, so her effort at self defense went out of the park, as it were.

Baby got break: Yesterday morning, for no reason, one of my sixth-graders launched into a parody of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" when the subject of spring break came up: "I love spring break and I can not lie, you otha brothas can't deny...". It was especially funny to hear this particular kid, who doesn't look the least bit like a rap fan, just start freestyling like that in the middle of a lesson.

Commentary: Thanks for all the comments on the previous post; they've hit double digits already (UPDATE: A day later, it's up to 15!). I'm still not sure when the big purchase will take place, but I do appreciate the feedback.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Laptop or Contacts?

I know that tomorrow will be so busy that I won't have a chance to post, so I'll toss out this question and let the comments fly for a day or two:

I'm trying to decide what to do for my next major purchase, which will probably be sometime in the next few months. I think I have it narrowed down to either a laptop to replace the Ancient and Venerable iMac (which is still going strong but can't possibly last forever) or a pair of contacts to replace my glasses that have a decade-old prescription in them. Here are the advantages for each one...

Why the computer would make more sense:
  • My current one doesn't allow me to do things like download photos off my digital camera, burn CD's, or do various other things that are only compatible with OS X.

  • If I had a laptop, I could get work done during the day sometimes (the school district computers block all email access except for their own district mail, which teachers in my area don't have). I could also take it in the living room here at home and do computer stuff while watching TV; right now, those two things are mutually exclusive events.

  • I could keep a lot more music on my iTunes with the greater capacity of a new unit, and I could use a bunch of cool music programs like Transcribe! and the newest version of Finale.
Why contacts would make more sense:
  • I just don't like the way I look in glasses anymore: I've had them since third grade, and it's time for a change. This would also minimize the crooked-ears issue and make warm/wet days less of a problem.

  • I've had several friends in the past few years who ditched the glasses for contacts, and they've all gotten this new infusion of confidence afterwards. If you like how you look, others will also pick up on that. In the cases of these guys, it even helped them get new girlfriends, which is a goal of mine as well.

  • I really do need a new prescription anyway, and I might as well make that big change while the opportunity is there.

  • My corrective lenses are older than the computer, so the oldest thing should get replaced first, right?
Anyway, it's not like I'm going to do either one of these things this week or anything, but I'm just opening up the subject to general commentary from you, my friends and readers. Fire away...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Rebels with a Very Good Cause

I heard an interesting announcement at one of my high schools today: Starting this week, a most unusual fundraiser for the March of Dimes will be held. Not only can teachers buy the chance to wear blue jeans for around three weeks in a row, but students can also buy their way out of various components of the dress code for the week after spring break. It pretty much goes like this:
  • For two dollars, students can buy a sticker that allows them to walk around with their shirts untucked for a day.

  • For another two greenbacks, they can buy a sticker that clears them to wear a cap to school for a day.

  • For another two smackeroos, they can buy a sticker that lets them wear pajama pants to school for a day.

  • For another two bucks, guys can buy a sticker that exempts them from shaving for the day, and for ten bucks, they can buy one that gets them out of that for the entire week. Since spring break starts at the end of school on Friday, that means that a $10 donor could conceivably go unshaven for over two weeks.

  • For an amount which escapes me at the moment (hey, it was Monday morning, so I'm allowed a bit of ADD), teachers could buy the rights to wear blue jeans for a three-week period.
(If I'm understanding this right, combinations are allowed, so someone could plunk down $16 and, on one given day, go around unshaven, with an untucked shirt, wearing pajama pants and a cap. In other words, they'd look students.)

I think this is a really creative idea, and I'm sure it'll be quite effective at raising funds for a great cause. As you know, I'm no big fan of strict dress codes as it is (I've posted about this on several previous occasions), so maybe they could even expand this idea: Pick a new charity every week and replicate this campaign on a regular basis. The school's charitable giving would go through the roof, and maybe, just maybe, they'd find out in the process that the school didn't go to hell in a handbasket when some of these specific rules got relaxed.

A little too many shrimp on the barbie, perhaps: Australian toilet manufacturers are having to reinforce the seats on their newest models because, evidently, Australians are getting too fat, just like over here. I'd like to hear feedback from James on this one. (Oh, and James, I promise to do a new AAF post or two over my spring break next week.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Not-So-Hooked on Classics

I think I've posted on this subject before, but it's still an amusing story whenever it happens: Residents of a Hartford, Connecticut neighborhood are using classical music to drive drug dealers out of a neighborhood park:
Activists propose playing recordings of classical music in Barnard Park in hopes of annoying petty criminals so much that they'll leave. They also hope the music will make the park more pleasant for other people once it is cleaned up.

Resident Carol Coburn said she came up with the idea after reading about similar efforts in West Palm Beach, Fla., where she said crime decreased as much as 40 percent in parks where classical music was played. Cities in Canada and Australia have reported success with similar efforts.
Needless to say, that has some musicologists riled up:
But to University of California-Los Angeles musicologist Robert Fink, the plan makes Hartford's crime-fighting efforts look desperate.

"Beethoven is not going to save you," he said. It's ironic that "some of the greatest composers in history are now being viewed as some kind of bug spray or disinfectant."
(Of course, anyone who's taken a music history class knows that it's fairly easy to get a musicologist riled up about any number of things...)

I don't think it's being disrespectful to the music to use it in this way. I mean, come on--is it any worse than using it in TV commercials to sell jewelry or whatever? If a certain demographic shows extreme distaste for a particular genre of music, and that music can be used to repel the criminal element within that demographic, it's no insult to the music being "used" for that purpose. As I learned in Psychology of Music in grad school, music is "used" all the time, whether it be to get people to stay longer or shorter times at restaurants or to get them to buy more stuff in grocery stores (oddly enough, the "mellow middle register" of the bass trombone has been used for this purpose before). If it were the classical musicians who were dealing drugs in the park, I'm sure that country music could be used in the same way (jazz musicians, of course, would be similarly repelled by the G-weasel or other such "smooth" dreck). They say that music can be used to soothe the savage beast, but I guess this is one case where it keeps said beast away as well.

Wreck redux, part deux: Today is the second anniversary of my wreck. I'm happy to say that Kevmobile 1.2 is still going strong, but less happy to note that I never did get a single penny out of the uninsured soccer mom who rear-ended me that day.

Everybody was Kung Fu scrubbing: I saw someone holding a sign advertising a TAEKWONDO CAR WASH in front of a gas station out in Euless today. I'm sure that they meant that the car wash was raising funds for their taekwondo team, but how funny would it be if they were to incorporate the moves into the washing process? Hands, feet and suds would be flying everywhere...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Cool Concert Tour Update

I guess you could call this three steps forward and one step back: There have been a few changes to the annual Cool Concert Tour, originally announced on this site back in December.

The deletion:
I didn't get to make the Maria Schneider concert last night because my friend I would have been going with (and staying with, for that matter) had to cancel, so I'll just have to save my pennies and catch them the next time IAJE is in New York, I guess.

The additions:
March 18: Bob Mintzer at the Loyola Jazz Festival, New Orleans. I'm planning on heading to the rebuilding Big Easy on the last weekend of my spring break to hang with my good buddy Jordan and catch his band with one of my favorite tenor players. (More info here.)

April 1: Roy Hargrove/The Yellowjackets at the North Texas Jazz Festival in Addison. This festival has been bringing in some great artists since its inception, and this year's double bill should be amazing. After all--mo' Mintzer, mo' Mintzer. (Mo' info here.)

May 20: Kevin Mahogany with the Texas Instruments Jazz Band in the John Anthony Theatre. As hinted by regular commenter Gary P. back in December, the other (and infinitely more famous) Kevin M. of jazz will be gracing the halls of my school for the third time. Is it bad to hope that someone in the band can't make the gig so that I can sub with them? (More info here.)

I'm sure there'll be more Cool Concerts added as the year goes along.

De-fictionalization, part 3: The blogosphere and the real world once again collided in friendly fashion last night. Since I didn't go to the Schneider concert, I had the opportunity to do a completely different cool thing: meet up with Shawn in person for the first time (he was in Denton for his UNT audition this weekend). Just like with J-Guar and Eric previously, I'm happy to say that I'm batting a thousand in terms of having people I've met through blogging turn out to be as cool in real life as they are online. We had a great time getting together, and he said his audition went well today. I know that the mileage of others has varied, but my experience thus far (J-Guar refers to this bloggers-meeting-up process as "de-fictionalization") has been nothing but good; it's proof that, despite the laments of legions of Luddites (heh, alliteration) the world over, this Internet thingy really can be used to bring people together.

"I'm not dead yet!": A Cleveland man is having trouble with his insurance company: they won't pay his hospital bill because Social Security says that he died last September. So far, all his efforts to prove that he's still alive haven't been successful.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Road by Any Other Name

There was a contest held recently by Mitsubishi Motors to determine the wackiest street name in the nation, and the winner was: Psycho Path, in Traverse City, Michigan. Taking the silver and bronze were Divorce Court (Heather Highlands, PA) and Farfrompoopen Road, which the only road leading to a place called "Constipation Ridge" in Story, Arkansas. (I got a big kick out of that one, because I remember the "Farfrompoopen" T-shirts that spoofed the popular Volkswagen "Fahrfurgnugen" ad campaign of a while back.) More finalists are listed here.

There were also some weird intersection names submitted, such as the corner of Nixon and Bluett (Ann Arbor, MI) and the corner of Clinton and Fidelity (Houston). I especially liked the corner of Count and Basie (no location specified). I wonder if anyone submitted some of the ones from here in Garland, such as the corner of Star Trek and Apollo in my old neighborhood, or the corner of Cartman and Mackey in a neighborhood where all the streets are named after South Park characters (the subject of a previous post).

He'll fix the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth: A Georgia prison inmate complained that he was suffering from gum disease, so prison officials transferred him to a cell with an inmate who's also a dentist. Incidentally, the inmate with the gum problem is being held under accusation of an unusual crime: Stealing a plane in Florida and flying it to the Atlanta area.

A hunk'a hunk'a fallin' love: A couple checked into a British inn and got in the shower together; this caused the ceiling of the pub below collapsed because the two of them were too fat.

Cool gadget of the week: Liven up your next pool party with a remote-controlled robotic shark.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Right to Bare Arms

It's been a beautiful past few days out here; today even broke a 107-year-old record when the temperature at the airport hit 94 degrees. It's been nice to be able to bust out things like short-sleeve shirts (hence the title of this post) and leave the jackets in the car all day. It's not supposed to last, of course--slightly cooler temperatures and a little rain is on the way--but it's days like today that reinforce the notion of just how glad I am to live in Texas. Sure, a little authentic winter would be nice every once in a while (does a week ago Sunday count?), but I'll take the extended spring now, while some of our northern neighbors are still freezing.

This is a long, long week, so the next few posts are likely to be short like this one, but today's weather also reminded me of something: Spring break is but a week and a half away! It's going to be well-needed...

Stupid criminal of the week: A guy decides to impress his girlfriend by showing her his new OnStar service. His car stereo is so loud that he can't hear the operator answer. He also doesn't realize that, when the system is activated and the customer doesn't respond, the operator calls police...who arrive and bust him for the cocaine that's clearly visible in his car.

He really got their goat: A Sudanese man was caught having, umm, relations with his neighbor's goat. The local council of elders then required the man to, for all intents and purposes, marry the animal.

I don't know if she had a fat bottom, but she probably did make the rockin' world go 'round: Last summer in Vermont, some friends and I witnessed a naked bicycle race. Over on the campus of Arizona State, a woman decided to try it as a solo act.