Sunday, April 30, 2006

Original Raves

Today, I was able to cross an item off the List of Things I Really Want to Do in My Life: I played an EWI for the very first time.

My buddy Jordan came back for the summer from New Orleans last night, and today his parents surprised him with a one-day-early birthday present of the wind-driven synthesizer coveted by Michael Brecker fans the world over. (I've posted before about the magnum-opus live treatment of Original Rays, the EWI feature from his first solo CD.) He brought it over this afternoon, and he and Aaron and I jammed on it for a good hour or so. It has sixty-something pre-programmed sounds, some of which have really weird names, and it's very much like a saxophone, except not. Some of the auxiliary keys are moved around, and the octaves are controlled by a series of rollers. It will obviously take quite a bit of programming to get something even half as elaborate as what Brecker has done, not to mention a lot of practice to get the special techniques down. Jordan was joking that maybe he could have Rays down by his senior recital, which will be three years from the semester that just ended. It'll be a great diversion for him between now and then, at any rate.

Oh, and needless to say, I want one of my own now...

Just look for the guys with the really big "wings": Thieves in Tennessee made off with a trailer containing nearly 3000 cases of Red Bull.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Redman Refugees Running Rampant

I got the news even before I had finished picking up everybody who was riding to the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival with me: The Friday night portion had been cancelled due to the weather. So much for Joshua Redman (whom I hadn't seen since his previous appearance at this festival in '99, as I may have already mentioned). The rain wasn't that bad out where I was, but I had heard from friends in Denton that it was worse up there (and evidently, just to the north, Gainesville got pelted). I guess they decided to err on the side of caution this time.

So there we were, four musicians in need of a concert. What were we to do? I had suggested that we could go to my house, put five Redman CD's in the disc changer and put the player on shuffle mode...but nah, we'd been bitten by the live-music bug, and nothing else would do.

We eventually decided to go see Wayne Delano, a fellow saxophonist and UNT alum, at Terilli's on Lower Greenville. But that show didn't start till 8:30, and it was not even close to six yet. The plan eventually evolved: We would stop at the first Starbucks we passed, and then we'd spend the remaining time at CD Source on Not-Quite-So-Lower Greenville for the rest of the time. (And who would have imagined that, going to Dallas from Rowlett via Miller/Royal to Greenville, that we actually didn't pass a Starbucks until Greenville and Caruth Haven? Granted, I may have passed one without paying attention...)

There's a reason I only go to CD Source every few months: There's so much good stuff there, and I'd be in the poorhouse if I were a "regular." I might do a roundup review when I've listened to them all, but here was the haul from last night: Bob Mintzer Big Band Camouflage (the only remaining hole in my early Mintzer collection, and I'm pretty sure it's out of print at the moment), Earl Harvin Trio Live at the Gypsy Tea Room (a CD I used to own, but it was stolen from a friend who borrowed it from me, and the label has since gone out of business), Paquito D'Rivera A Taste of Paquito D'Rivera (I'd been wanting this since a friend played it for me over two years ago), Chris Potter Quartet Vertigo (with special guest Joe Lovano on several tracks) and Dave Douglas Strange Liberation (which Colin turned me onto a few months ago). That's a lot of music for around forty bucks...

As we approached Terilli's, I got a call from J-Guar. A rumor was afoot that perhaps they would try to squeeze in Redman in the morning. I left a message at the festival office to call me back with confirmation (or not) of that rumor. In the meantime, it was time for some jazz. After a quick twenty-minute wait that was spent walking up and down Greenville (because by then, the weather--at least down here--was beautiful...arrggh), we got our seats (and hats off to Terilli's for taking down my cell number and using it as a sort of long-range beeper so we could walk around) and listened.

Wayne, a former member of the One O'Clock Lab Band, has always been an amazing player, and tonight his co-headliner was Joe McBride, a longtime fixture of the local scene. Though Joe is usually known for soulful, pop-laden vocals along with his keyboard prowess, tonight was all about the acoustic piano, which was really cool, as I hadn't heard him do a straight-ahead set in a long time. Rounding out the group were Joel Fountain on drums (another former One O'Clocker of more recent vintage) and a bass player whose name I didn't catch, but he sounded great.

The set was almost all standards, but they put different twists on a few of them. Wayne did most of his work on tenor, though he did pick up the alto for a Bird-laced romp on "Oleo." As usual, there were way too many people talking and eating their dinner and generally acting totally oblivious to the fact that there was some outstanding musicianship going on up there, but...meh, that's Dallas for ya. At least we appreciated it, and we subtly tried to educate the rest of the patrons by clapping after each solo, even if we were the lone table doing so.

The night ended with none of us knowing for sure if the "rescheduled Redman in the morning" rumor was true, but a lady at the festival did call me back a little bit ago to confirm what I had already guessed by looking at Redman's website just a few minutes beforehand: He's playing in Miami tonight, so he'd just flown out by the time the lady called me. They've asked him back for next year, so I really hope that works out. In the meantime, we restart the countdown at 364 days...

More animal stories: As I said a while back, I used to do a regular Animal Stories feature on my KNTU show in college, and this week, all the funny stories involve animals. Here's a sampler:

Thursday, April 27, 2006

We Have a Winner...

...or if not, something has at least taken a commanding lead.

About a month and a half ago, in a post called Laptop or Contacts?, I was debating the merits of those two items in terms of one of them becoming my newest "toy" in the near future, and I appreciate all the comments I received. I haven't actually done anything of substance toward procuring either item, but today, my parents (who are visiting for a short time this week) told me out of the blue that I'll be getting a new computer for my birthday in little over a month! Laptop wins! (Unless, that is, I happen to get contacts on my own between now and then. As I said in the earlier post, the wild-card in all this would be getting one of the two as a gift, which might allow me to have both of them before long.)

So, now that I have a probable winner, I throw open the floor for suggestions again. As I told some friends tonight, I'm 99% sure that the computer will be a laptop and not a desktop, and I'm 120% sure that it will be a Mac. So my questions are basically aimed at my fellow Mac users: What model should I get? Does size matter? Any special features I should look for? (Comments from Gates World missionaries trying to "convert" me to the Dark Side of the Force will be welcomed strictly for amusement purposes.)

This is gonna be really, really cool...

Creative Financing 101: Somehow, a lady in Pennsylvania bought a $328,000 home, despite having only 92 cents in her bank account. (Yes, she got caught after the checks bounced higher than a rubber ball.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Keep Your Fingers Crossed...

...if you're in this area and planning on seeing Joshua Redman at the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival on Friday night. The weather forecast is calling for rain, so we're hoping to not have a repeat of the mess from two years ago when Arturo Sandoval got postponed due to a tornado warning, if I recall. There's not a rain site set up for this (I suppose that anything indoors with a capacity of 5000 would prevent the festival from being free), so let's hope for the best.

NEXT DAY UPDATE: Now it's worse; they're calling for "storms." If they can only bypass Denton for a few hours...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's Really Sheep Advertising, But It's Causing Some Baaaad Feelings

A week or so ago, I read a story in Dave Barry's Blog about a hotel website in the Netherlands that put advertisements on the backs of sheep; the campaign started out, appropriately enough, on April Fool's Day. And now it turns out that the mayor of one local town is trying to ban the ad campaign (or would that be "baaaaan"??) because it violates a local ordinance prohibiting advertising along freeways.

The company responded in the appropriate manner:
Hotels.nl Chief Executive Miechel Nagel said the company would respond by increasing the number of sheep it uses in Skarterslan to 60 and changing the statement on their blankets to "Thank You, Mr. Mayor."

"Now it's a freedom of speech issue," said Nagel. He added that farmers were being paid $18-$25 per sheep per month to wear the advertisements.

"Their value as lamb-kebabs is around $75," Nagel said.
The company plans to distribute horse blankets bearing its name to 700 local citizens if it loses the case. (Incidentally, the company that dreamed up the campaign is called "Lease-a-Sheep.")

Personally, I think this is a wool-done campaign, and I hope the company doesn't get fleeced by the mayor, or the top executives might have to go on the lamb. What do ewe think?

The latest nudes headlines: Did you hear about the naked guy who got stuck in a chimney? He was arrested, of course. This came hot on the heels of the story about the naked carpenter, whom Althouse blogged about a few days ago; he was arrested too. (One word: Owwwwww!)

There's still time... to vote in the worst song contest from Sunday's post.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Comment-ary

Thanks, as always, to those of you who post comments to The Musings. For some reason, new comments may not be appearing in the comment counter, so if you've posted one recently and it hasn't shown up yet, don't worry--it's still there; it's just not visible unless you actually go to the step where you would post a new comment. I've notified Blogger about the problem, and hopefully it'll be resolved soon. (It's not just here; I've noticed it on Shawn's blog as well.)

UPDATE: My phantom comments returned as soon as I republished, so maybe that's the secret.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Worst Song Ever?

CNN is holding a contest to name the worst song of all time. The writer of the story, Todd Leopold, reaches back to 1968 to make his nomination, "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro. If that's before your time, or you've never been subjected to oldies radio, here's a sample lyric:
"See the tree, how big it's grown / But friend, it hasn't been too long, it wasn't big ..."
Truly inspired, let me tell ya. But certainly there are plenty of other contenders: "Achy Breaky Heart," "Afternoon Delight;" oh, and how about "I'm Too Sexy" by the one-hit wonders Right Said Fred. Many others have nominated "MacArthur Park," but assumably only the version by Richard Harris with lyrics ("Someone left the cake out in the rain...") and not Maynard Ferguson's far-superior instrumental rendition.

If you'd like to vote in this contest, email your nominations to worstsong@cnn.com, and you can go here to see what others have nominated so far. Also feel free to leave your nominations in the comments right here as well..

(Hat tip: Dave Barry's Blog; Dave held a similar contest in the past.)

Moos you can use: For those with a lot of spare time on their hands, here's pure bovine bliss: MooTube (yes, the world as seen through a series of cow-cams).

But would anyone actually buy this? A TV that freezes the channel during commercials so you can't change it. (But if it keeps you from getting off the couch and going to the kitchen or bathroom, that's going way too far.)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Pause to Remember

I would like to take time out from the usual levity and commentary just to have a virtual "moment of silence" for the five Indiana University music students who lost their lives when their small plane crashed yesterday en route from West Lafayette back to Bloomington. Even though I didn't know any of them, nor were any evidently affiliated with my fraternity (but believe me, my heart was in my throat when I read the list of names, since I do know one person in grad school up there), the music world is small enough that I think we all feel it whenever one of our own (much less five) are lost. Indiana and my alma mater, UNT, have had a healthy rivalry over the years, jockeying back and forth to claim the title of largest non-conservatory music school in the nation, but today we put those rivalries aside as we most certainly feel their loss. My heart goes out to them and their friends and families, and the IU community at large.

Friday, April 21, 2006

These Schools are "Copping" the Wrong Attitude

I wasn't sure what I was going to write about today until I went to the DMN site to pay for my subscription renewal, and this story jumped right out at me:
The track team's towel fight started with the usual pops and taunts of teenage boys in a locker room.

It ended when 15-year-old Colby Long was pulled from his first-period class, handcuffed and taken to jail.

Police say the high school freshman from Frisco committed assault; his parents contend officials overreacted to some boyhood roughhousing. Whether an overreaction or just punishment, one thing is clear: No longer is a locker room scuffle a matter of a scolding or a few extra laps.
That's right, the same schoolyard scuffles that would once earn the participants a trip to the office and maybe a detention or suspension is now throwing them right into the maw of the criminal justice system. The Long case isn't an isolated incident, either:
As of late: A hair-pulling, scratching fight in McKinney left 13 girls facing charges for "inciting a riot." In Irving, swearing in class sparked a $260 ticket. Richardson police were called for teens smoking and disturbing class.
Needless to say, a lot of parents don't like it:
Texas Education Agency officials say they are receiving more complaints from parents about police actions against their students than ever before.

"We hold children to higher standards than we hold adults," said Billy Jacobs, senior director of the safe schools division of the TEA. "We don't leave any room for children to make mistakes."
Precisely. It's yet another form of "zero tolerance," something of which, as I've said before, I have zero tolerance for myself. It all comes down to administrators being too scared to make difficult decisions, so they hide behind rigid regulations, and now they've gone as far as completely abdicating their responsibility to discipline students to the law enforcement community:
Thursday marked the seventh anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. School officials say the perils of ignoring basic discipline problems have become so obvious since then that it's impossible to turn back.

"I don't think we can just write off two kids getting into a fight with the nature of our society today," said Steve Payne, principal of Allen High School. "That could come back on us that we knew about it and didn't do anything about it."
Aha--now the truth comes out: They're running scared of lawyers again. And while that right there implies that there are many, many things we have to change about our society before we can achieve any semblance of normalcy (including a return to the time when someone can't get lots of money from McDonald's because her own carelessness caused her to spill hot coffee on herself), it still bothers me that there are people in charge of our schools who are running so scared of lawsuits that they're virtually paralyzed from the brain down in terms of executing even the most basic requirements of their jobs.

I've seen the police officers in all the schools in which I teach; I believe they call them Student Resource Officers (SRO's for short). And that's exactly what these officers should be most of the time--a resource. Sure, they carry the extra weight of the badge, and they can invoke that privilege when things get really, really bad, or look like they're about to do so. But shouldn't most school problems be solved in-school? After all, administrators are always complaining that way too much of their day is taken up by dealing with discipline problems. If that's being turned over to the police, what's left for the principal to do? (Yes, this is just another reason why administrators must teach.)

Sure, there are times when police must be notified...
School officials are bound by law to contact police about weapons, drugs and other serious offenses, but it is largely up to them whether to tap police for more minor infractions.
...but it's interesting to note how much more often some districts pull that particular trigger than others:
At Irving High School, for example, police responded to 322 calls during an eight-month period, records show. Schools of similar sizes in Garland, Richardson and Arlington saw just one-third of that number.
Read the whole article, as there are way too many incidents to describe in this post.

There is one more angle that needs to be mentioned, though:
Educators and police say parents are more apt to pit blame for bad behavior on administrators or teachers than their own children, making it necessary for districts to take a hard line.

"When I was in high school, I got my butt busted by a teacher in the hallway if I screwed up," said Katy ISD police Lt. Keith Meier, who just got permission from the state to start training school police officers. "Nowadays the parents are so quick to say my child does no wrong."
No argument here; this is something that's really changed since I was a kid. There are way too many parents out there who have that "my little darling can do no wrong" attitude, and they really need to take their heads out of the sand before something big happens. But if they're abdicating their disciplinary responsibilities to the schools, who are likewise passing the buck to the police, then we're likely to see this problem get worse before it gets better.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my friend and colleague Kris, who gets to "celebrate" by being the clinician for an all-region jazz band.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I'm Number One...

...in hits on Google for "kevin mcnerney," as can be found here. I think that's the first time I've ever been ahead of both the corporate exec from Virginia and the brewery guy from Georgia (but hey, don't click their links too many times, or I won't be #1 anymore--heh).

The funny thing is that it's not this blog, into which I put considerable time and energy, that's number one, but rather my website, which hasn't gotten much attention from me at all (but will be undergoing an extensive makeover rather soon). I was also surprised to see that my Green Room profile clocked in at number seven. Maybe that's driving the extra hits to the website, since it's linked there. (I also found this among my searching--cool.)

Oh, and where does The Musings show up, you might ask? Not at all, at least in terms of the top 224 listings...but that made sense once I realized that my full name doesn't actually appear on the main page. At any rate, I thank you all for visiting, no matter what page you found.

The lights fantastic: Did anyone else stay up for (or get awakened by) that amazing lightning show last night? I was just going to bed at the time, thanks to the late-morning-ness of TAKS week, and it kept me up for a bit longer--but what a dazzling display. I'm just glad the rain didn't mess with the cracked outer dome of my skylight, since I haven't had a chance to patch it up yet.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my friend and former student Scott B., serving America somewhere in the great unknown.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

This Day Is Very TAKS-ing to Me

It wouldn't be April without both a tax rant and a TAKS rant, often in the same week. (For those of you non-Texans who read this blog, TAKS is an acronym for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, the local version of those hateful standardized tests that I'm pretty sure students now have to endure in all fifty states.)

Just like the tax rant, there's not much I can say about the TAKS that hasn't already been said in previous posts (and this year, Ms. Worley adds her own rant, bringing up the good point that this is probably way too much stress to place on twelve-year-olds every year).

But I do want to make one more point; Ernie said something like this on his show as well, but I'm totally in agreement: I have no problem with TAKS being used--like the second word of its title implies--as an assessment, a tool to measure whether or not the students are learning the things they're supposed to know by the end of a certain grade level. But the whole thing about tying the test results to graduation is just absurd.

That's right--as rare as this may sound, there's a possibility that a student can go all the way through public school and pass all of his/her classes, but fail a section of the TAKS, and that student still can't graduate. Where's the sense in that? Plus, as Ernie has also pointed out, if that test is the be-all and end-all of public schooling, what's the point of having grades? Or classes for that matter? If someone can pass the test as a high-school freshman...well, congratulations, here's your diploma, have fun in community college.

I wonder if the citizens of Texas will continue to stand for this.

The top item on Kev's birthday list: Panasonic has unveiled a new plasma TV with a 103-inch screen. (Just kidding about the birthday list; not only would this thing not fit in my house, it would pretty much be my house.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Let's Jazz Things Up a Bit

OK, time to talk about jazz for a while:
  • Item the first: Wynton Marsalis is back in his hometown of New Orleans to kick off a weeklong festival that hopes to bring the city's scattered jazz musicians back home:
    "We're going to kill ourselves this week to bring the spirit of jazz (back to New Orleans)," Marsalis said.

    The city hopes to lure musicians with a "Musicians' Village" being built by Habitat for Humanity and the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

    "Musicians are hurting right now. They're spread out all over the country," Mayor Ray Nagin said at a news conference.

    Marsalis said he's been deeply affected by what's happened to his native city. "It's like somebody violated your mamma. You can't really explain that," he said.
    As I said last month when I visited New Orleans for the first time since Katrina, there are a lot of places that are open for business again, but there's no doubt that the musicians' community took as big of a hit as anyone. Even some of the more financially well-off players are still dealing with housing issues...assuming they've come back to town at all yet. I hope that this week's event will be a big catalyst in bringing everyone back again.

  • Item the second: A recent thread on the Green Room (the UNT jazz discussion forum) led me to this site, where jazz musician Steve Coleman talks about why he allows some of his music to be downloaded for free:
    Giving some ideas and music away does not mean that all needs to be given away for free. But there are some people who either cannot pay for the music or would never even listen to it in the first place if they had to pay for it. For this group of people, and for all the others who have purchased and supported the music in the past, there should be an area where they can go to listen to the music at no charge. I envision a situation where maybe one third to one half of the music that I create and make available to the public will be free of charge. The same would apply to other ideas about the music, general information, music theory, philosophy, etc.
    This seems to dovetail with what I've written before (I'll dig up the links eventually) about a common-sense philosophy for music downloading: Allow a few samples (a complete track or two, even) so that new listeners can get familiar with your music, but then have other stuff for sale so that you can pay your bills, feed your family, etc. Yet another reason to DIY and totally bypass the Machine...
Adventures in music, part deux: First, it was playing in a classical ensemble on Easter morning. Next on my list of rarely-done musical events was playing drums, which happened today in afternoon combo. My numbers were down due to a choir trip this week, and the drummer who was in town didn't show. I only hacked my way through one blues tune, but a couple of good things did happen: I didn't lose time on the hi-hat when I put in a (rather easy) little fill between choruses, and I made it through an entire tune without my calves giving out on me. Still, I think I'll stick to saxophone...

Monday, April 17, 2006

An Early Scorcher

One hundred and one degrees--wow. That was the official high at DFW Airport today. Blew the doors off the old record, it did.

Thankfully, it didn't feel that hot, but I did notice that most of the schools where the practice rooms tend to be warm were definitely that way today. There were reports of the power going out all over Plano, including a whole bunch of traffic lights along the George Bush. It even hit the music store while I was teaching there; we went dark for about twenty minutes. There was talk of those "rolling blackouts" being to blame (which was confirmed here), and I'm sure that the demand for air conditioning was a big strain on the power grid. Still, it seems like there should be a way to exempt traffic signals from that procedure...

So if you're here in DFW, did you lose power where you were today? And if you're not, how hot (or not) did it get in your neck of the woods?

Another animal story: A cat travelled all the way from Saskatchewan to North Dakota by riding on the frame of a fertilizer truck.

Yet another one: The cat who had been trapped in a wall in New York City was finally rescued!

And one more: From Russia, it's the Pig Olympics. (I especially got a kick out of the swimming races.)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Today Was Totally Legit

First, let me wish a happy Easter to those who are celebrating, and a happy Passover for those who are so inclined (Dave Barry, who lives in a household that celebrates both, refers to the hybrid holiday as "Eastover"; it reminds me of the Jewish friend I had in college who put Christmas lights on a ficus tree and called it the Electric Hanukkah Bush.)

I played three services at church today. That in itself is not unusual, but the setting was: I was playing classical music (and second trombone parts at that!) on the tenor, and I think it was the first time I'd played in a classical ensemble on tenor in about six years, when I had some sort of gig accompanying a chorus.

Needless to say, it was very different, using my concert mouthpiece, playing only what was on the page, and trying my hardest to sound like a second trombone while blending with instruments that aren't usually in the ensembles in which I play (strings? Double reeds? A harp??). The closing tune we played was a gospel/funk sort of thing, and it would have really been tempting to just bust out with a wailing solo over the last chorus...oh, except for the fact that I wasn't mic'ed, that is. All in all, I was really happy; everyone played well with a minimum of rehearsal, the arrangements were actually quite good, and the congregation (oops, I almost typed "audience") really enjoyed it.

Something really cool happened after the last service. My church is known for some elaborate props on occasion, and today there was a big bridge across the front of the stage. People were invited to walk across it after each service (to symbolize the abandonment of our futile efforts to build a bridge to God with our own accomplishments, when God took care of that already with the sacrifice of Christ), and they were still doing so when I ducked back in to take a closer look at how they had achieved the "rippling water" effect. Someone said, "Look up!" and sure enough, there was a guy at the top of the bridge on bended knee, proposing to his girlfriend up there...how ├╝ber-cool was that? It was way more inventive than getting on the big screen at the Rangers game. They'll be telling their grandchildren about that someday.

So I hope you had a great day today, spending it with family or friends or both. (In that vein, check out some brief holiday essays from two of my favorite bloggers, Dave Barry and Instapundit, each featuring a funny picture of the host.)

Happy Eastday; enjoy your cake and eggs: Happy birthday to Mom, whose birthday coincided with the other big holiday today. Someone at church asked her if that had ever happened before, and her (tongue-in-cheek) reply was, "I'm not sure; I've had so many birthdays!" I bet she'll consult one of those online perpetual calendars and figure it out once and for all.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

This Day is Very Taxing to Me

I suppose I couldn't let April 15 go by without doing my almost-annual tax rant...but then again, it's also "Easter Eve" (although hardly anyone ever uses that term) and I'm in a good mood, so I think I'll let my 2003 rant (one of the very first posts on this blog) stand on its own (in a nutshell, I discuss how the self-employed get taken to the cleaners by the current system).

But since it is that day that nearly everyone dreads (even if, technically, it's on Monday this year, since the actual day falls on a weekend), I will toss something out to the readers: It's obvious that something ought to be done about our bloated, confusing (and maybe not fair-to-all) tax code, but what's the answer? I'm not sure that the flat tax would do the trick, but I'm a pretty big fan of a consumption tax...in other words, get rid of the current system completely and just have the government collect all its money by higher taxes on consumable goods.

I haven't crunched the numbers on this idea, but it sure seems like it could bring in a ton o' cash. Some have said that it would be unfair to poorer people, but I would respond...how? If you buy more stuff, you pay more tax. A Lamborghini would take in way more money than a bicycle. (In true fairness, food and medcine could still be exempt from this tax.) There would be a few things to work out, such as how charitable contributions might go into the mix, but it seems as though a consumption-based tax would get rid of a lot of questionable loopholes that people use now, and it would go a long way towards ending the problem of the underground economy that we all know exists already.

Is there anything I'm missing here? Talk to me! (UPDATE: I didn't end up finishing this post until the day after I started it, but everyone should have been enjoying their holiday weekend anyway instead of sitting around reading blogs...so go ahead, comment away; this post ain't stale yet.)

IN THE COMMENTS: A lot of people are pointing out that the government might get less money if a consumption-based tax were to go into effect. I'm not sure I agree with that, but what I do believe is that "starving" (i.e. downsizing) the federal government is not a bad idea at all...

Fun with taxes: Yes, that phrase is usually an oxymoron...except when you visit this page from snopes.com.

Someone's going to be bowled over by this: The winner of an upcoming bowling tournament in North Dakota will be awarded an unusual prize: the bowling alley itself.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Day Off

I'm taking the day off today--pretty much being a total slug. There are things to do this weekend, but they can be done later. RIght now, I'm reveling in the nothing-ness of it all.

So why am I posting? Just to pop on long enough to say two things:
  • Monday's post, which contained an offhand remark about how schools can't (or won't) refer to today as Good Friday anymore, is now up to twelve comments. As I noted the other day, I'm often amazed at what part of a post generates the most attention.

  • Happy birthday to my Aunt Nora in Indiana. As if that weren't enough, she and my Uncle Dan celebrate a really major anniversary tomorrow. Best wishes to the both of you!
I think that's it. Resume relaxation...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Umm, Yeah, I Think Somebody Made a Mistake Here

Blogging has been light this week due to general busy-ness, so I'll be using part of the upcoming three-day weekend to get caught up a bit. One of the weirdest stories I read all week would have to be the guy in Malaysia who opened up his phone bill to find out that the company was charging him 218 trillion dollars:
A Malaysian man said he nearly fainted when he recieved a $218 trillion phone bill and was ordered to pay up within 10 days or face prosecution, a newspaper reported Monday.

Yahaya Wahab said he disconnected his late father's phone line in January after he died and settled the 84 ringgit ($23) bill, the New Straits Times reported.

But Telekom Malaysia later sent him a 806,400,000,000,000.01 ringgit ($218 trillion) bill for recent telephone calls along with orders to settle within 10 days or face legal proceedings, the newspaper reported.

It wasn't clear whether the bill was a mistake, or if Yahaya's father's phone line was used illegally after after his death.

"If the company wants to seek legal action as mentioned in the letter, I'm ready to face it," the paper quoted Yahaya as saying. "In fact, I can't wait to face it," he said.
In most other situations, it would be amazing to me that someone at the company had actually thought the outlandish charges might be correct...except that something similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) happened to me in college.

One year during grad school, two friends and I rented a great two-story townhouse in Denton. One of the guys had his mom come down and help him move in, and she said she would help us get the utilities hooked up through the city. Since the power, etc. was on when we got there, we assumed she had done so. We were curious as to why we didn't get any bills during the fall semester, but since I was used to living in a place where all the bills were paid, I didn't think much of it until we got a notice hung on our door in December that said we had to sign up for service within a few days or the power would be cut off (evidently, the one guy's mom never did hook us up, and the townhouse was listed as vacant, but the city noticed that utilities were being consumed).

I went down to the city and got us registered, and they said a bill would be forthcoming. I figured that it might be a few hundred bucks, since we'd been in there for four months by then. But nothing could prepare me for that first statement, which said that we owed the city $2554...that's right, two thousand, five hundred and fifty-four dollars. There was no way that could be right--could it?

Thus began my saga at City Hall, which I visited quite a few times over the next several months--my first encounter with big bureaucracy (which might explain my disdain for such things). At one point, they actually were trying to tell me that it was possible that the bill was correct (despite my protestations that, even if we had kept every light on 24/7, ran all the stereo systems and TV's constantly, and turned on every electronic keyboard in the house, there was no way we could have used over $2500 worth of energy in four months).

Eventually, they figured it out--there had been new meters installed during the first semester we were there, so the (incorrect) calculations were made by comparing the number on the new meter from the last number on the old one. Even then, it took a while longer to set up a payment plan; a really helpful customer service lady (the only sane person in the loop) came up with a really good one for us, but it almost got nixed when a too-full-of-himself supervisor said, wait, she's only a customer service rep- a supervisor has to authorize such a plan. I wanted to smack him right then and there, but I think we eventually went over his head and got the original plan approved.

So I hope the Malaysian guy has at least similar luck, if not better luck than I had; sometimes you really can fight City Hall and win.

Animal story #1: I used to do animal stories all the time on my KNTU show in college, and quite a few have come over in the past few days. First--a guy in Illinois couldn't come up with the money to spring his dog out of the pound, so he went in and stole the dog back (he got caught and has been charged with theft).

Animal story #2: Rescuers go to great lengths to save a cat that's stuck in a wall in a Greenwich Village, NY deli. (UPDATE: She's still stuck.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

If This is Madness, I Want to Be Committed

The annual Lab Band Madness concert was last night at UNT, and once again, I was especially impressed with how good the bands sounded across the board. As I said in a Green Room post, it's great when you're an alum and can come back and see that the program is growing and thriving.

If you're not familiar with the program up there, Madness is the annual spring concert of all nine lab bands, from the One O'Clock to the Nine O'Clock, but they have an innovative way to do that instead of just going from "bottom to top." It works like this: The Two O'Clock closes the first half of the program (with the concert, umm, clocking in at three-and-a-half hours, you'd better believe there's an intermission), the Three O'Clock opens the second half, and the One O'Clock closes the whole thing. As the three bands directed by full-time faculty, those are the only ones listed by their "O'Clock" names; the other six bands perform alphabetically, by last name of director only. (As someone who got to direct a band for two years, let me tell you that it's all kinds of cool to have the band listed by your name like that.) The idea is that people who come in from outside the program are not likely to know which band they're listening to, so they won't have any preconceived notion about what a particular band is supposed to sound like. And since their particular system of auditioning (mostly sightreading, unless you're trying out for a solo chair) disperses the good soloists throughout the system as it is, the numbers really don't matter on a night like this.

I won't go through the whole concert band-by-band like I did a few years ago, but it was all good. I didn't get to see every band in person (since my last rehearsal let out at 7:30), but they broadcast the concert live on KNTU now, so I heard everything up through the Two O'Clock's first tune that way. The reception was a little cruddy in Plano, but it obviously got way better as I approached Denton. (My only regret was that I didn't get in the car soon enough to hear J-Guar's band, since they did one of his arrangements, and he had a solo on the other tune. Thankfully, he recorded it all.)

Oh, and I also added to my Lab Band CD collection, picking up Lab 2001 and 2002. The administrative assistant who runs the CD booth (who's had her job since I was in grad school) couldn't believe that I didn't have those two yet, but I pleaded poverty at the time (since '01 was the year I bought a house and all). Only about seven more to go and I'll have a complete set...

At any rate...a great time, and totally worth the lost sleep last night.

Blogiversary

The Musings of Kev is three years old today. When I started this thing back in '03, it was simply a place for me to express some ideas that were floating around in my head at the time and a way to occasionally blow off some steam. I had no idea at the time that this, and the blogosphere in general, would grow into a genuine community, and I definitely would never have guessed that I'd actually meet some great people through blogging. Despite my crazy schedule, this is always an endeavor that's been worth the time. And to all my readers, I thank you for being here as well; I hope I'll continue to write some things that make it worth your while to stop by on a regular basis.

If you haven't already, check out the comments to Monday's post. I'm always amazed at how many times that a sentence or item that I barely considered significant ends up being the one that generates all the comments on a certain post (not to mention when one of the "news" items at the bottom is discussed more heavily than the main post itself). In this particular case, a brief question posed by Eric leads to an epic response by Ms. Worley, who comes up with all kinds of interesting information (and sets the stage for next week's TAKS rant on this site). The interactive thing has definitely been a pleasant surprise.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Short Week #1

I'm still tired from the trip, having pretty much dragged through the entire day today. I was going to do a follow-up to Immig-Rant after the big rally in Dallas yesterday, but I think I'll save that for later. Tonight has been the night to do nothing, and it's working well so far; I got to see 24 at its actual time, and I haven't done jack (Bauer?) squat since then. Thankfully, this is a short week, since we get the day off on The Holiday That I Can Still Call Good Friday But The Schools Won't, and most of next week's teaching is decimated by TAKS testing (I'll gripe about that as it's happening; it's due for a fresh rant). So as long as I can hang in there till Thursday night, it's all good, and I'll have more coherent stuff to talk about.

Oh, and tomorrow is Lab Band Madness. You can bet I'll be there.

Police department, Miss Cleo speaking: An Australian police investigator has been suspended after he consulted a psychic to help him with an investigation.

Who's your daaaaaady? A woman in Indiana has become embroiled in a paternity suit...involving an alpaca. (Yes, that's a type of llama. No, nobody thinks she gave birth to the animal herself, but she says that, without proof of the animal's father, she can't sell it.)

She can't blame the dog for this one: A British teacher has lost a lawsuit against her school over their failure to replace a chair which made a farting noise whenever someone sat in it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Smelling the Roses

I'm back; the weekend was both relaxing and tiring at the same time, which makes sense when a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old are involved. At any rate, it was great to see everyone; the kids really do "grow up so fast," and I feel like I'm missing out on a lot if I go over three months in between visits like I did this time.

One thought that hit me on my way down on Friday was that I always seem to be in a hurry on that trip. I'd really like to, at least on occasion, be able to stop and smell the proverbial roses here and there--go down a U.S. or state highway instead of "all I-35, all the time" or stop and eat at one of the homegrown places along the road. Anyone who's done Dallas-to-Austin will recognize Up in Smoke BBQ, the Heitmiller Family Steakhouse, or the Elite Circle Grille; I'd like to actually try these places...which would take multiple trips--or a whole lot of gluttony--since they're all within thirty minutes of each other. (I did, however, get to snag some most excellent kolaches from the Czech Stop in West, which has been a regular stop for as long as I can remember.) I just always seem to be so crunched for time--and my trips never start when they're supposed to--that I don't get to enjoy the actual trip part all that often.

I did get to have both homegrown food and a nice, scenic drive on Saturday, though; one of my schools was playing in the Longhorn Jazz Festival at UT, and they invited me to lunch with them at a place called the Salt Lick BBQ in a little town called Driftwood, which happens to be both out in the middle of nowhere and fifteen minutes from my sister's house. It was really good stuff (which I'd had before, since the post-dedication lunch for my nephews a few years ago was catered from there), served family-style; trust me when I say that the two tables of students went through an overwhelming number of plates of meat, whereas we at the chaperones' table waved the white napkin of surrender after only around two. (I also got to see them play a few hours later, but I didn't go back for the evening concert, so I don't know that it "counts" as being at a jazz festival for a fourth week in a row. Oh, and parking at UT was an adventure, as they had the Texas Relays, an honors program graduation and some sort of soccer thing going on as well as the jazz festival. I got a remarkably close parking place, but it took forty minutes to get there.)

I realized this morning that this weekend was the third Saturday out of four where I had awakened somewhere else besides my own bed. I love the activities that I've been doing, but I'll be very happy to have a three-day weekend coming up this week, along with no travel to speak of for a while.

Cool new words of the weekend: My oldest nephew, Noah, who's five, is almost to the point where he pronounces all of his words correctly, but two of the ones he doesn't will stick with me for a while: He refers to the famous Japanese monster as "Gonzilla" and the stuff you put on your skin before you go outdoors as "sunscream." Heh.

Fun fact #53? With gas getting more and more expensive, I was cheap on my way home and didn't run the air conditioner in the car. Because the sun came in on my left side almost the whole time, my left arm is already much darker than my right (since I do lots of driving and am rarely a passenger). This often happens by midsummer, but rarely this soon; maybe I should have borrowed some "sunscream" when the boys were putting it on this afternoon.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Travel Advisory

In just a little bit, I'm going out of town for the weekend; I'm headed to Austin to see my sister and her family. I haven't seen them since Christmas, since our usual post-TMEA visit was overridden by my all-state sponsorship duties this year. It's been a very tiring three weeks since spring break, and I'm looking forward to doing next to nothing for a few days (though, of course, the nephews will run me ragged as always...but they do go to bed early). Posting will resume on Sunday when I get back, though I'm sure I'll duck in to check comments and what-not. Everybody have a great weekend; I know I will.

Hello, teeth: A beaver in Washington state who lost its four front teeth after a run-in with a car has gotten some new ones, courtesy of a local university veterinary hospital.

Goodbye, teeth: The FBI wants to seize the gold dental work known as "grillz" from a couple of drug suspects.

Hello, doggie (part 1): An Indiana couple is celebrating the return of the family's Lhasa Apso, which had been lost for five years.

Hello, doggie (part 2): Animal control officers in Virginia found a bulldog that had escaped from a kennel by scaling a seven-foot-high wall.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'm Feeling Mysterious Today...

Something really cool may have happened today, although I'm going to wait until I have a little bit more confirmation before I actually reveal what it is. In the meantime, you're welcome to use the comments to speculate about what it might be, although I'm not likely to respond even if you're right; it should be interesting to see what people might come up with between now and then.

The lion lies down with the lamb: Apple has unveiled software that lets users run Windows XP on Macs.

His hobby blew up in his face...literally: In case you missed it, here's the story of the teacher in California who was using a 40mm shell as a paperweight on his desk at school; it blew up and severed part of his hand when he used it to squash a bug. (Hat tip: Shawn)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I really miss using my thumb; I feel like such a primate!"--Yet another funny student this morning; this one had his thumb stepped on while playing soccer over the weekend, and he's sporting a cast that keeps the digit immobilized. He also lamented that he wished the cast had been made "more handi-capable," which spawned a quick discussion of how that term was invented by the PC crowd as an alternative to using the world "handicapped," although I don't know of any handicapped person, ever, who has used that term to describe him/herself.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tomorrow's Tantalizing Temporal Trivia

If you happen to be up pretty late tonight, you could celebrate a really unusual occurrence. At exactly two minutes and three seconds past one in the morning (no matter what time zone you're in. although it's already passed in Australia--sorry, James), the time and date will line up like this:

01:02:03 04/05/06

Don't wake me up if you decide to celebrate, but it's still pretty cool. Some people even have a name for the event: Consecutive Numbers Day. I wonder if Hallmark made a card for it...

(Incidentally, some would consider this "tonight's tantalizing temporal trivia" rather than tomorrow's, assuming that they subscribe to my theory that it's still "today" until you go to bed. To avoid confusion, I refer to today-before-bed as "fiscal today" and what the clock says as "actual today." Obviously, I've thought about this waaaay too much...)

UPDATE: I was wrong about James missing out on this day, because it hasn't happened in Australia yet! It's not that I was backwards on my time zones, but rather that they write their dates differently Down Under (and in most of the rest of the world) than they do here: day/month/year. So they'll get to have this same day at two minutes and three seconds past one in the morning on May 4.

He wasn't privy to the particulars of this gag: A guy in a Maryland Denny's became stuck to a toilet seat with glue over the weekend, but, unlike the similar victim at a Home Depot a while back, authorities think this poor guy was the victim of an April Fool's prank.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Back in Season

The baseball season began today for the Rangers, so it was appropriate that a happy series of accidents put me in the car with the radio on for the very first pitch of the game. (I didn't even think about actually attending the game, mind you, since it started a little after one o'clock in the afternoon; there are way too many other distractions this month--band trips, UIL contests, TAKS testing and The Holiday That School Districts Are Too Chicken to Call Good Friday Anymore--that will result in missed lessons, so this was by no means the day to "play hooky.")

I've been a fan of baseball ever since I can remember, and I've gotten a mini-plan or voucher packet as a Christmas gift from my sister and brother-in-law for quite some time now. Despite the steroid scandals mercenary free agents and so on, I still believe that baseball truly is the national pastime, embodying many of the things that are also good about America and bearing more than a few similarities to jazz (I've spoken at length about these things in some previous posts).

Sure, today's game ended with the Rangers on the short end, 7-3...which might prompt some cynics to say "here we go again." But hey, it's only the first day; there are 161 games left to go. I'll admit that, so far, I'm impressed with the moves made by the new wunderkind GM, Jon Daniels, so if this club can stay healthy, who knows what could happen. Besides, Opening Day is a day when everyone, no matter what team they follow, is allowed to be an optimist. And no matter what, I'll have a great time at the games. Play ball!

Cool or scary? The Virtual Teacher. I doubt this could ever take over the music education realm, for obvious reasons...but if so, maybe I should get a piece of that. Imagine Virtual Kev directing your jazz ensemble from afar...

It's a dog's life, part 2: In a recent post, I mentioned the fact that there's a "dog tax" in the Netherlands. And in Vienna, you can now get a driver's license for your dog. No, Rover can't actually take the wheel; it's actually more of an education course for the owner (avoiding aggressive behavior by the animal, cleaning up waste, etc.). They also have a cool name for their licensing process: Hundefuehrerschein.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Festivities Continue

The great weekends of jazz continued last night with a trip to the North Texas Jazz Festival in Addison, where the headliners were the Roy Hargrove Quintet and the Yellowjackets (featuring Bob Mintzer). As expected, the music was amazing.

Hargrove's group opening the evening (after performances from the selected college vocal jazz, combo and big bands of the day, which we didn't get to hear, save for a snippet of the big band). Although he's been doing a lot of work with his R&B/hip-hop group, the RH Factor, lately, he's by no means abandoning his straight-ahead work, as this performance proved beyond a doubt. Though his sidemen (especially altoist Justin Robinson and pianist Gerald Clayton) were given a lot of the spotlight, Hargrove shone as brightly as he did a year ago when I saw him with Directions in Music.

The group played cohesively throughout the hourlong-plus set, as they careened between various styles, sometimes within the same tune. Highlights included "Camaraderie" from their upcoming CD (which drops next month), the gospel-tinged "Trust" and a rollicking version of Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning." The group also did a heartfelt tribute to the great Jackie McLean (who, I was saddened to find out, died the day before) with a reworking of his composition "Melody for Melonae." The nearly-full house gave the group a well-deserved standing ovation at the end; the pride of Dallas' Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet had a magnificent homecoming this weekend. I'm definitely getting that CD when it comes out in May.

After a brief intermission, the Yellowjackets took the stage. As I've said before, they may be known as a fusion group, but I call it "fusion with integrity" (i.e. not over-relying on electronics, and having a strong underpinning of improvisation and interplay). Of course, for me, the presence of Mintzer alone is enough to get me to the show, and there's no doubt that he has taken the group in a more straight-ahead direction since he joined them in 1990. But his cohorts (Russ Ferrante on piano and keyboards, Jimmy Haslip on bass, and Marcus Baylor on drums) are also very fine musicians who play well together, making for one of the most enjoyable experiences in the fusion realm today.

Haslip wasn't on the tour for this show, and they scored a real coup by getting Jimmy Johnson to sub for him. No, I'm not talking about the former Cowboys' coach--this Jimmy has a beard and a ponytail, for one thing--but rather the five-string bass master also known as "Flim" who was part of the first jazz group to appear on a compact disc. I have some of those recordings, so it was thrilling to hear those monster chops in person.

The group played quite a few of its favorites, including Mintzer's "Runferyerlife," the collaborative "Evening News" and the obligatory closer, "Revelation," a tuneful gospel shuffle penned by Ferrante. It's too bad that a lot of the crowd didn't stay for the whole set (granted, there were a lot of school kids in attendance, and the show ended close to midnight), but those of us who did were treated to some exemplary musicianship. The band turns 25 years old this year (to be celebrated with a live CD/DVD set in May, as I learned in New Orleans a few weeks ago), and Mintzer noted that "we're just getting started."

For three Saturdays in a row now, I've been at some sort of jazz festival. How cool is that?