Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Year in Blogging

As I've done for the past two years, I now present this list of "posts of note" from each month of this year. A post may have been chosen because I think it bears repeating, or it's my favorite post of that month, or maybe it brought this blog quite a bit of traffic. At any rate, here we go:

JANUARY: A Fitting End to the Saga (and the Beginning of a New One)
FEBRUARY: Do Clothes Make the Professor?
MARCH: The Older I Get, The "Outer" I Like
APRIL: Should I Be Blogging Today? It's Not on the Test...
MAY: My UNT Degrees Came In Handy Tonight*
JUNE: Midday in Middlebury
JULY: Diversity for Diversity's Sake? And If So, What Kind?
AUGUST: Too Good to Play?
SEPTEMBER: The Syndicate Vanguard?
OCTOBER: More Glory to the Green**
NOVEMBER: A Truly Legendary Evening
DECEMBER: Kids Report the Darnedest Things

*This post has been cited in the Wikipedia post on sight-reading.
**This post was linked on a Mean Green sports forum and resulted in a crazy spike in blog traffic for a few days.

And for year-end reviews, go here: Even though I don't do any sort of "year in review" save for the above, there are plenty of people out there who do. Here are some of the best:
  • Dave Barry's Year in Review

  • MSNBC's Most Peculiar Stories of 2008

  • The New York Times Sunday Magazine has a nicely-done musical collage of musicians who have passed away this year. (It's too bad that nobody could go in to splice in a little Freddie Hubbard at the end, and it's pretty crazy that three artists listed in a row on this tribute were all associated with the song "WImoweh," which we know better as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." And there did seem to be a rather disproportional amount of drummers on the list; it was almost like Spinal Tap in that regard.)

  • And finally, Lake Superior State University has released its annual list of words which should be banished from the English language. Would you be considered an iconic maverick if you reduced your carbon footprint from Wall Street to Main Street? Not so much.
Everybody be careful out there tonight; if you celebrate, please celebrate sensibly.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I'm Not Ready for Jazz Without Freddie

First thing this morning, I got an email with a grim headline: "Jazz legend passes." I just had a feeling that it might be a trumpet player, simply because the guy who sent me the email often sends stuff of a trumpet-centric nature, and I was correct: Freddie Hubbard passed away yesterday at the age of 70, of complications from a heart attack suffered at the end of last month. He died at Sherman Oaks Hospital in California, according to his manager, David Weiss, a trumpeter who had worked with Hubbard frequently in recent years (and is also my former schoolmate and fellow KNTU staffer).

Hubbard was an alumnus of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, playing on such notable albums as Mosaic, Caravan and Ugetsu. During the '60s, he played on some of the most important jazz recordings of the decade, including Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage, Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil and Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz. In the '70s, he became a major figure in the jazz-rock movement, recording albums such as Straight Life, Red Clay and First Light, on the CTI label (a later period with Columbia was often panned by critics). In the late '70s, he joined Miles Davis alumni Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams in the acclaimed V.S.O.P. quintet. He also recorded what I consider to be a very fine album, Bolivia, in 1991 with a band that included Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins.

I was lucky enough to see Freddie at a jazz festival while I was in college. Though his famous high chops diminished with age (a problem exacerbated by a split lip that he ignored until it became infected), he still played with energy and feeling.

And this past summer, it was supposed to happen again:

I had pretty much a front-row table to that show, but Freddie had to cancel because of illness. It was a shame not to be able to see him again, and I feel really bad for my friend who was supposed to go with me, as he'd never gotten to see him at all.

Further information is available on the frontpage of Hubbard's website. He will be missed, but his contribution to jazz lives on. R.I.P., Freddie.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Just Give Me That New-Time Religion?

Two church groups have taken their musical projects outside the proverbial box recently:

First, my parents sent me a link to a video of a Norwegian church youth group performing a cool "handmade" light show, done to a modern praise song:

Evidently, it's all done with white-gloved hands and blacklights. And even if you aren't a fan of praise music, you can still marvel at their Mad Shape-Building Skillz (you can call it digital--that's fingers, not numbers--choreography, if you wish).

Meanwhile, from almost the exact opposite end of the spectrum, check out this senior adult church choir singing hip-hop songs:

The video was shot by a student group for use at a youth retreat (under the guise of the choir "auditioning for a talent show"), and evidently, it ended up being a great cross-generational ice-breaker. I love the Nelly send-up at the end. (And I wonder if any of the ladies in the choir are named Nelly. Heh.)

Yes, you can tell I'm on vacation when I'm embedding two videos in a blog post...but at least I'm not in reruns, like almost everything on TV except for news and sports.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Maybe It's Time to Get Back to "Sticks and Stones" Again

It's been a while since political correctness has been made fun of on this blog, so it's high time to do it again. There's always a lot of talk about people who have become the self-appointed Language Police, and Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow nails it in a column from this morning's paper when he says that we've become too quick to judge language as "hate speech"--in this case, using the well-worn term "retarded" to describe someone with a certain type of mental disability:
I was mystified by a billboard in East Dallas. "Erase the R-Word," it says.

The sign features an "R" in a circle. At first I thought someone was trying to wipe out Radio Shack.

Slowly it dawned on me. "Oh! 'Retarded.' "

At, I was informed: "The r-word is hate speech that perpetuates the negative stereotypes that face people with intellectual disabilities every day."

That was kind of a shock. "Hate speech"? Really?

I was certainly aware of other terms in use these days. But I sure never thought "retarded" had become hate speech.

And I still don't buy it.
Nor do I, Steve. And here's his main point:
In fact, in my estimation, the very use of terms like "hate speech" creates a kind of reverse prejudice.

Some people seem to delight in pouncing on the innocent terminology of others. Instead of building good will, they undermine it..
He goes on to relate a conversation he had with the mother of a son with schizophrenia; the mother got so riled up that Blow said her son was schizophrenic rather than that he had schizophrenia ("He's a person, not an illness") that it left him much less enthusiastic about hearing her story.

And that's the thing: There are a lot of us out there who are perfectly willing to meet people with differing views halfway, so long as they don't continually pull the Language Police thing on us. Blow concludes with another excellent observation:
[W]e have to recognize that language changes slowly. And we don't need to accuse anyone of hate speech simply for not using the latest lingo.

For that matter, I don't think we should get worked up about the metaphorical use of disabilities either. "That's retarded." "Are you blind?" "How lame." "He's insane." "I had a heart attack."

That's just how we talk. No ridicule of real infirmities is intended by those expressions.

We're all smart enough to recognize when words are really being used to be hateful or hurtful.
Maybe that's part of the problem: People who should be smart enough to recognize this are letting their righteous indignation get in the way of real communication. (And I should point out that if Blow--himself a survivor of a heart attack--can use the above term in a joking manner, other people in similar situations ought to take a little chill pill as well.)

As I've said many times on this blog, there is no Constitutional right here in America to not have one's feelings hurt. And when the speaker doesn't mean anything by the statement, like in the above examples, it's definitely not time to break someone's bones with sticks and stones for supposedly hurting them with words, which is exactly the opposite of what our moms told so many of us kids in this situation. On this occasion (among many), Mom was right.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Austin City Limits Lights

I'm back from Austin, and, since I always do a DFW area holiday light post each year, I decided to dash off a quick post about some of the better lights in down there as well. This is based on a combination of hearsay (or maybe that should be "readsay," since I found it on the Web) and actual experience, and it's by no means comprehensive:
  • Circle C Ranch: This south Austin neighborhood, near the southern terminus of MOPAC, has a couple of cool houses, including this one on Rigsbee Court, which is quite festooned in holiday brightness; all that's left now to top this off would be to sync everything to music, like all the cool kids are doing. (I'm not invading anyone's privacy here by publishing the address, as I found out about the neighborhood in this forum post, where the Rigsbee guy posted his own address. And as I've said before, I love when I have the chance to use the word "festooned" in a blog post. Heh.) Another street in the area, Savin Hill Court (to the southeast of Rigsbee, off Back Bay Dr.) has a clever theme to it: Where Reindeer Go to Vacation. And a special bonus, if you enter the neighborhood heading southbound on Escarpment from Slaughter, is that all the trees along the road are lit up as well.

  • 37th Street, east of Guadalupe: Not visited on this trip, but recommended by a few people in the city-data post. Some say that it's lost its luster over the years, but others say it's on the way back up. (Some pictures here (scroll down to the post from "twange.")

  • Trail of LIghts in Zilker Park: I visited this myself three years ago. Although some people say it's gotten over-commercialized (and indeed, most of the displays did have named sponsors), it's something that's worth seeing at least once.

  • Cedar Park: I didn't get to visit this yet, but I've read about a display synced to (what else?) the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on Sharon Drive, off Sunchase Blvd. near Millburn Park, as well as another cool display (with complete participation) on a cul-de-sac called Chinati St. (that's not a typo; it's not named after a variety of wine, or if it is, the planners goofed and it stuck). And finally, the city features a giant illuminated live oak tree in the appropriately-named Heritage Oak Park (875 Quest Parkway).
I don't know how many Austin-area readers The Musings might have, but since my Christmas was in that neck of the woods this year, it seemed appropriate to add this to my posts about Dallas and Houston lights. Locals may of course feel free to chime in, especially if your view differs from what others have posted.

UPDATE: After re-reading the post about the Rigsbee house, it appears that the owner was letting people park and walk through the entire yard (I thought those people out there were friends or family; d'oh!). I'll have to try that whenever Christmas takes me to Austin again.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Greetings

AUSTIN--Merry Christmas to one and all (to all those so inclined). To paraphrase the old song, if you can't be near your loved ones today, I hope that you love the people you happen to be around, and may this be a day full of joy for all.

I'll be back tomorrow and resume regular posting at that time. Continued safe travels for those who are doing the same. In the meantime, if you got something especially cool for Christmas, feel free to brag about it in the comments.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Travel Advisory

I'm off to my sister's in Austin for a few days, spending Christmas at somewhere besides Mom and Dad's for the first time since I was in kindergarten (I think). A lot of people have asked me if this is a "changing of the guard," but I'm pretty sure that this is a temporary relocation and that I'll be celebrating at Mom and Dad's again next year (though a repeat of this is certainly possible down the road).

At any rate, the trip should be much easier than last year's, thanks to the new car. I'm sure I'll do a blog post on Christmas morning, possibly even from the iPhone if the app is easy to use. Safe travels to you if you're doing the same thing today.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Holiday Cornucopia

As often happens at this time of year, here's a collection of odd Christmas-themed stories from across the realm of cyberspace:
  • Looking for a weird gift that will make the recipient say, "Oh, you shouldn't have! No, really"? Take a look at Dave Barry's 2008 Holiday Gift Guide.

  • Chuck Norris (yes, that one) discusses the disturbing recent phenomenon of people stealing Baby Jesus figures from Natviity scenes.

  • Looking for an unusual Christmas gift? Try the Darth Vader Toaster, which not only is shaped like Darth's helmet, but also burns an image of the Dark Lord into the toast.

  • Mona Charen talks about another much more positive recent phenomenon, Hanukkah Lights.

  • A man in Utah was arrested for stealing a fire truck. Why did he do it? So he could drive several states away to visit family for Christmas.

  • Read a profile of Jean Shepherd, author (and film narrator) of A Christmas Story, by Donald Fagen (yes, the cofounder of Steely Dan).

  • Need to melt some ice off your back porch? It's probably not a good idea to use a blowtorch, because you might set your house on fire.

  • And finally, a few years ago, I mentioned the annual construction of a giant snowman in Alaska known as Snowzilla. Well, local government officials have stopped the fun, as he's been branded a nuisance and a safety hazard by code enforcement. (UPDATE: Or maybe not. Someone built him anyway this week, though the homeowner in whose yard he resides isn't taking credit [or blame, in the city's eyes], for doing so.)

  • And finally, I should once again post a link to the twisted Christmas song known as O Holy Crap, which I first discussed at this time last year.
If I find any more unusual holiday stories, I'll add them to the end of this post.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Putting the Brakes on One Red-Light Camera Scenario, and Another One That Needs to Be Stopped

I've already expressed my disdain for red-light cameras in many posts on this blog (click the tag with that title at the bottom of this post to see more), so I was happy last week to see that a judge reaffirmed a ruling that would appear to help ensure that the companies running the cameras are totally above-board:
A state district judge reaffirmed his ruling today that the company providing red-light cameras to the city of Dallas is required by the Texas Occupations Code to have an investigations license.

While the ruling could eventually affect the millions of dollars in fines collected from motorists for running red lights in Texas, the judge as well as attorneys for both sides of a civil lawsuit said there is no immediate impact.

“The city has outsourced some of its responsibilities,” said State District Judge Craig Smith, adding that his ruling “has no legal impact until we get a final judgment.”

The ruling, originally made by Judge Smith in November, is part of a lawsuit filed against ACS State and Local Solutions by Dallas attorney Lloyd Ward after his wife, Amanda Ward, received a citation in 2007.

Mr. Ward also has filed class-action lawsuits against two other companies that operate red-light cameras for dozens of Texas cities.
Good for him, and good for Judge Smith. If you really want to catch the most egregious red-light runners, put more officers on the street. While the cameras may have prevented a few more T-bone collisions, they've been shown in various locations to increase rear-end collisions for people who stop on yellow to avoid a ticket, and no driver should ever be put into the position of having to choose between what is legal and what is safe. And besides, if this really were all about safety and not revenue, cities wouldn't be taking down some of the cameras that weren't making money.

And while we're on the subject, Instapundit links to a report of some Maryland teenagers using speed cameras (perhaps an even more odious cousin of the red-light cams) to play a very expensive prank on other people:
As a prank, students from local high schools have been taking advantage of the county's Speed Camera Program in order to exact revenge on people who they believe have wronged them in the past, including other students and even teachers.
Students from Richard Montgomery High School dubbed the prank the Speed Camera "Pimping" game, according to a parent of a student enrolled at one of the high schools.
Originating from Wootton High School, the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.
Students are even obtaining vehicles from their friends that are similar or identical to the make and model of the car owned by the targeted victim, according to the parent.
"This game is very disturbing," the parent said. "Especially since unsuspecting parents will also be victimized through receipt of unwarranted photo speed tickets.
The parent said that "our civil rights are exploited," and the entire premise behind the Speed Camera Program is called into question as a result of the growing this fad among students.
You almost have to give these kids some very minor props for their cleverness, even while hoping that their creativity and energy will be used for a higher purpose in the future. But if their actions draw attention to the negative aspects of the camera program, perhaps there's a sliver lining after all.

All caught up: I've taken advantage of the holiday to catch up on some unfinished posts from the last few days; here are the links to them, both to save you the scrolling time and so that all my work isn't for naught:With any luck, I'll be posting in a timely fashion for at least the duration of the holiday.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Warm Glow of Lights on a Cold Night

It's about time for my annual review of holiday lights; once again, there's not a lot to add this year, but talking about one of my favorite holiday traditions has itself become a tradition at The Musings, so here goes:
  • Deerfield in Plano: For my money (which pretty much involves only the gas to get there), this is the best all-around neighborhood in the area for lights. It has a wide variety of streets that are easy to traverse once you've done it a few times, most of the neighborhood participates (though there were more "Scrooge" houses this year than before), and now it features the Zephries house on Old Pond Drive, which now has 104,000 lights synchronized to music. There's also the Gordon Lights on Quincy at the north end of the subdivision that has a very synchronized display as well. (Both the aforementioned houses also serve as drop-off points for various charities, so, if the spirit moves you, bring a new unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots or a non-perishable food item for the North Texas Food Bank to the Zephries display, or cash/gift cards for Operation Homefront to the Gordon display.) The carriage and limo rides make this area an even bigger attraction, and I've always thought it would be cool to park nearby and do a walking tour like many of the neighbors do (though it would have been a very chilly walk tonight).

  • Frisco Square: Although it's a newcomer in comparison to the other sites mentioned here, Frisco has become one of the top attractions in the area, with even more lights to its amazing display from last year (among the highlights for me are the lights that go across the two main buildings, which totally surrounds the viewer with light). As before, everything is synchronized to music, which can be heard either from a low-powered FM radio broadcast or from speakers near the buildings. (For some pictures of last year's display, go here and click the thumbnails in the Photo Gallery section.)

    And if you make it to Frisco, be sure and drive a few miles east to see the Trykoski house, where the designer of the Frisco Square lights calls home. This year, they have 65,000 lights in their display, which is also synchronized to music. (And I probably don't need to point out that nearly all of the displays with synced music include the song that's become the unofficial theme of such displays: "Wizards in Winter" from this CD by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I think the entire genre started with Carson Williams in Ohio, whose display became the subject of a beer commercial a few years ago.) Incidentally, the Trykoskis are collecting canned goods for Frisco Family Services.

  • SpringPark in Garland/Richardson: The classic neighborhood of mostly cul-de-sacs, each with a different theme. Among my favorites are the displays on Silver Maple and Buckethorn, as well as the continuous train motif along Lake Shore Drive. (Conspicuous by its absence this year is the collection of giant Santa heads on Becky Court, and quite a few of the streets were more sparsely lit than in years past. This year's visit was a couple of weeks ago, so it's possible that the display started slowly and is now at full strength.)

  • Interlochen in Arlington: I haven't been here in a few years (and may miss it again, as it only runs through Christmas day), but this neighborhood is unique in that several streets back up to a large canal, so the backyards as well as the fronts are decorated. This area is not too far from Six Flags, and, like the amusement park, there are signs along Randol Mill Road listing estimated times until you get to the lights. I need to make this one again soon.

  • There are also two houses in Rowlett worth seeing: One on Dogwood Trail that's all done up in neon (evidently, the homeowner also owns a neon sign company) and the Belcher house on Faulkner Drive; there's also a perennial favorite in Carrollton on Timberline at High Sierra that always goes all out, even decorating the garage as a Santa's Workshop.
As always, if I've missed anything, please let me know in the comment section. I'm a big fan of Christmas lights, so I'd always be interested in seeing something new. And if you're not in the DFW area--or can't make it out to these places for whatever reason--some of them have a presence on YouTube:But, as you can imagine, these videos only scratch the surface of what these displays do. Go see them in person if at all possible.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Farewell to the Hole in the Roof

After 38 seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will play their final game at Texas Stadium tonight, and there's a whole lotta reminiscin' goin' on. I'll add briefly to the collection here.

The building is best known, of course, for what isn't there: the famous hole in the roof. Architecture critic David Dillon puts it best when he says, "It's odd to think of negative space as iconic, but that's what the hole in the roof has become – absence as presence." And he also adds,
That probably wasn't what Cowboys owner Clint Murchison Jr. had in mind in 1969, when he chose a half-dome design for his new stadium in Irving. More likely he was calculating all the money he'd save on heating and air conditioning, which even in the days of $15-a-barrel oil was a bunch. Plus this was football, gladiatorial combat; fans were entitled to a bit of shelter, but players belonged out in the elements, regardless of consequences.
It's interesting to see how things have changed in the intervening decades; in the new Cowboys stadium in Arlington, the roof will probably close at the slightest hint of snow.

The Dallas Morning News has put together a special section of Texas Stadium stories, the Web version of which is here. Among other things, the section features reminiscences by the original architect and the longtime general manager of the stadium, as well as lists of some of the top pro, college and high school games played there (it was a highlight of many high schoolers' careers to play under the famous open roof). And one of the best articles in the collection is this one, told from the perspective of the stadium itself, "as told to" writer Brad Townsend.

As for my own memories? I marched there a few times as a member of the UNT Green Brigade marching band (among the things that surprised me the first time I was there: The field is set up in a convex pattern, presumably to aid in drainage during rainy conditions, so it feels like you're marching uphill as you approach the midfield; also, the stars along the sideline are of different sizes, depending on where you are on the field, though they look identical on TV), saw a number of Cowboys games there, including the one that would end up being Tom Landry's final game as head coach, though we didn't know it at the time), and a number of concerts, most notably Pink Floyd (it was weird to see the famous inflatable pig used on the cover of Animals floating in the air juxtaposed against the Ring of Honor in the background). And I also remember the concert I didn't get to see: Billy Joel and Elton John. We made it all the way to the box office, only to find out that the tickets were "cash only," and my friend who drove us only had plastic. D'oh.

It's been said that the two things most people do when they take a stadium tour are look up through the hole in the roof and stand on the star. I don't know if I did that on that first college game day or not, but I'll make it a point to try that at the new place, whatever circumstances might bring me on the field.

I've watched the new stadium go up in Arlington during the past year, and it certainly looks impressive, and in due time, a lot of memories will be made there as well. But for now, it's time to pause and remember a local icon that brought so much enjoyment to so many. With any luck, the "Boys will win the game and send the building out in fine fashion.

UPDATE: Oops. That didn't work so well, did it?

Blowing out the candles: Happy Birthday Dad! As has been the case recently, I don't get to see him on the actual day, but we'll all meet up for Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Very Illuminati(ng) Beethoven Story

On Tuesday, I posted about how I had integrated Beethoven's birthday into my beginner lessons this week, and the next day, an interesting article from Slate was posted to my fraternity's listserv: How the Illuminati Influenced Beethoven. Here's a sample:
If Beethoven had come from anywhere but Bonn he still might have been a genius, but he would not have been the same man and composer. True, he was more self-made than anything else, could see the world only through his own lens. He was a legendarily recalcitrant student and claimed to have learned nothing from any of his teachers. His most celebrated teacher, Joseph Haydn, sardonically dubbed Beethoven die grosse Mogul—in today's terms, the big shot. Yet at the same time, Beethoven was by no means aloof. He soaked up every idea around him, read voluminously in classical and modern literature, studied the music of older masters and modeled what he did on them. His art drew from myriad sources, among them the extravagant humanistic ideals floating around Bonn in his youth. One of the things it all added up to was something like this: music as an esoteric language wielded by a few enlightened men for the benefit of the world. Beethoven was all about duty to the abstraction called humanity. That was what he was taught and what he lived and wrote for, through all the miseries of going deaf and a great deal of physical pain. It was people he didn't much care about. But in taking up Schiller's Ode for the Ninth Symphony, he proposed not just to preach a sermon about the brotherhood of humanity and the dream of Elysium. He wanted the Ninth to help bring those things to pass.
It's an interesting article; read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

College Scholarships 2.0

Someone has come up with a pretty good idea that could revolutionize the way some people pay for college: Human capital contracts. This idea was profiled recently by Boston Globe reporter Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow:
In 1997, David Bowie applied his well-known penchant for experimentation to finance: He offered to sell shares of his albums' future revenues. If you had faith in the enduring popularity of Ziggy Stardust and Space Oddity, you could purchase Bowie Bonds and receive a percentage of the royalties for 10 years. In return, the aging rock star got an immediate infusion of cash.

When Miguel Palacios, a young Colombian financial analyst, heard the news of this arrangement, he had an epiphany. As a college student, he'd witnessed classmates reluctantly drop out of school because they couldn't afford to continue. Had they been able to offer their own version of Bowie Bonds, perhaps they could have earned their degrees.

"If he could do it," Mr. Palacios thought, "why couldn't all those bright, talented students do it as well?"Other thinkers have begun to ask the same basic question. The result is an innovative way to think about paying for higher education. The idea, sometimes called human capital contracts, is that investors agree to cover the costs of college or graduate school in return for a percentage of the students' future earnings over a fixed period of time. Since payments are scaled to wages, the odds of default – and of financial hardship for the graduate – are greatly reduced. This scheme transfers much of the risk from students to investors. But if the students earn handsomely, the investors stand to gain more than they would under a traditional loan.

Over the last few years, several companies have begun brokering these agreements in Europe and Latin America. One of these, Lumni, which Mr. Palacios co-founded, is laying the groundwork for operations in the United States, and its first few clients here plan to sign contracts by the year's end.
Read the whole thing. This seems on the surface to be a great idea for aspiring musicians; many of the ones I've taught in college have an immense amount of talent, but very little in the way of funding for their studies. And since many college musicians have already started work on the professional level while in school, it would be easy for potential investors to see tangible evidence of their abilities. There's still plenty to work on to make this a successful idea in the U.S. (among other things, it works best like an insurance pool; not just future musicians, artists and actors but future doctors and lawyers would need to join in order to keep the program well-funded), but it certainly seems like a good option for people with a lot of talent but not so much cash.

What do you think? Leave your opinions in the comments.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This Guy Did an Unburritably Bad Job of Impersonating an Officer

On KRLD this morning, I heard the story of a guy in Grapevine who was trying to impersonate a cop. According to the story, he was somewhat convincing as far as making his pickup truck look like a police vehicle (it's not common for the police to drive pickups, but here in Texas, it's not out of the realm of possibility). But the "badge" he flashed when he tried to pull someone over? Not very convincing at all.

How bad was it? Well, look here. He made his badge by taking a Chipotle gift card, blacking out most of the surface with a Sharpie or something like that, and keeping an un-blacked out area that spelled the letters POLICE. But the Chipotle logo is very much visible at the top, and it doesn't take an eagle eye to see that the foil from the burrito pictured on the card is visible beneath the POLICE part.

The wannabe cop (can we call him Officer Burrito? Cop-potle?) was caught by the proverbial "alert citizen," and he's now being held on immigration charges. Oops...

Off we go, into the wild moo yonder: Also from KRLD, a British pilot clipped a cow with the wing of his plane while trying to make an emergency landing. The funny thing is that the pilot didn't even seem to notice at first. (The cow was unharmed.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kids Report the Darnedest Things

As I said a week ago, I gave my beginners whom I'd teach today--Beethoven's birthday--a short assignment to find out who he was and tell me a little bit about him. As expected, some of their answers were quite amusing (my questions in italics, their responses below):

So what did you find out about Beethoven?
  • "He was a music writer who played the piano and wrote a lot of songs." (Would he be insulted to have one of his symphonies called a "song"?)

  • "I forgot to look it up, but I know that he wrote a lot of awesome music." (At least the kid was honest.)

  • "He was known for producing a lot of musicals." (I can see it now: BEETHOVEN ON BROADWAY!!)

What was unique about him in the last several years of his life?
  • "He was grumpy."

  • "He was weird-looking."

  • And one kid did nail the part about him being deaf.
Where was he from?
  • "Somewhere in Europe. Not France...Not England, because that's a city." (Me: It is?) No, wait...London is a city, England is a country. Man! And I just came from Social Studies, too."
Happy Beethoven's birthday to you! And I hope you caught today's edition of Peanuts, where Schroeder gets a Beethoven's birthday cake brought to him by Linus and Lucy.

Have an ice day: What crazy weather we're having in North Texas at the moment! Even though school was in, it was hard to get around anywhere, and cocooning ensued for a second straight night. I feel for the folks who had to go on freeways today (I didn't), but the most hazardous place I visited was a Super Target parking lot, where the ice sheets were masquerading as clear concrete. We were all doddering around like old-timers to get anywhere.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cocooning and Catching Up

What a difference 24 hours makes. Yesterday, I was enjoying a beautiful afternoon outdoors in shirtsleeves. By the end of the Cowboys game last night, the temperature had dropped some 20 degrees. This afternoon, there was some light freezing drizzle, but nothing of much consequence on the roads, save for a few bridges. And by dinnertime tonight, bridges were freezing left and right; the one that I crossed--not a big elevated one, just over a creek--was running at about 5 miles an hour and already caused a wreck.

So after a quick trip for dinner with a friend (away from said bridges, mind you), it was time to do what some people call cocooning for the rest of the night. Despite the mess on the bridges, though, I'm not expecting an ice day tomorrow, although I'll turn the radio on at the first alarm tomorrow morning, just in case. But honestly, it's close enough to break that I don't need a day off tomorrow, and the lost wages that would ensue.

Tonight's night in did give me a chance to catch up on almost a week's worth of blog posts, though; I've been pretty bad lately about starting posts and not finishing them until several days later. So that my work doesn't go for naught, I'll call your attention to what I've intended to talk about for the last week:I'll catch up on a few more during the week (I have unfinished posts going back to November!) and link to those as well.

In the meantime, if you're up tonight and reading this right after I post it, cast your vote for tomorrow: Ice day, or not?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Beautiful Afternoon on the Square

Southlake Town Square. A shade after four o'clock in the afternoon. Temperatures in the 70s belie the mid-December date on the calendar. And I'm sitting on a park bench taking pictures like this...

...on my new iPhone. Yep, I took the plunge today.

I'd been debating iPhone vs. BlackBerry a while ago, and, while the keyboard of the latter sounded nice, the iPhone's far superior browser display, access to wi-fi when needed, and overall cool factor made it win out in the end. Plus, I was already with the proper carrier and long past due for an upgrade. Having gotten a little bonus money recently, it was time for a Christmas present to myself this year.

I'm sure it will take me a while to figure out all the different functions of this device. I've already figured out most of what I need to know for texting (although I had some righteous typos while getting used to the touch-screen keyboard), but I haven't set up email yet. The iPod portion will likely be filled with a mix of my favorite tunes and some teaching aids, as I'm now one gadget away (either a Y-cord or a small, durable docking device, respectively) from being able to have access to play-alongs at the college and the schools for the first time since my boom box bit the dust. And I have yet to even visit the App Store; that'll be a fun, productive time-waster, I'm sure.

I wanted to go back to Southlake after my early-evening event to try another picture out there at night, when the area is festooned in Christmas lights, but I'll have to save that for later. (The camera is not anywhere near the quality of my Canon, of course, but from these first few pictures, it appears to be a little better than the ones from the RAZR.)

This is a light teaching week ahead with the college on break, but I have a feeling my new "toy" will consume a bit of my free time for the next few days, as I figure out the ins and outs of it.

Brrrrr: What's with the 30-degree temperature drop during the time of the Cowboys game? I have a feeling that tomorrow won't be anything like today was.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Somebody Call These Folks a Wambulance

From reading the op-ed page of today's paper, it appears that everyone is outraged about something, and I can't quite understand why.

First, Kathleen Parker reports that some feminist groups are outraged at a couple of Obama campaign staffers for their participation in a Facebook mini-scandal:
It always seems like fun at the time. Then the photo surfaces.

Two guys, some beer and a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton have created fresh grief for the young and uninitiated to Washington Rules.

In the latest blog scandal-ette, Jon Favreau, a Holy Cross valedictorian and 27-year-old wunderkind speechwriter for Barack Obama, was captured clutching the prospective secretary of state's, um, pectoral area, while a fellow reveler, wearing an "Obama Staff" T-shirt, nuzzles Mrs. Clinton's ear and holds a beer bottle to her smiling lips.

The photo popped up on Facebook for a couple of hours before being removed ... too late. The moment was captured, and the rest was instant and persistent history. On the Information Highway, alas, road-kill is never really dead.

One day, Mr. Favreau was the golden boy of silken tongue. The next, he was just another dimwitted dude

[...]Feminists groups such as NOW and The New Agenda are outraged that Mrs. Clinton – or at least her image – is being treated disrespectfully by the boys. Conservatives are outraged that there's not enough outrage, as would be the case were the party boys Republicans.

An attorney wrote on the Feminist Law Professors blog that Mr. Favreau should not be excused for "youthful indiscretion" and questioned Mr. Obama's judgment "in continuing to rely professionally on someone so young and irresponsible and offensively sexist.".
But wait--what does Senator Clinton herself have to say about all this?
Only Hillary Clinton has made light of the "incident," hereinafter known as Night of BBB (Boys Being Boys). In an e-mail to The Washington Post's Al Kamen, a Clinton adviser wrote: "Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application."

Hear, hear. Nipping nonsense in the bud is an essential skill for a secretary of state, and Mrs. Clinton used her shears deftly. If anyone recognizes a little harmless male sport, it would be the bride of President "Is." One thing is harmful; another thing isn't.
I agree with Parker here. If something "offensive" doesn't actually offend the person whom it targets, then everyone else should just acknowledge that, simmer down, and maybe get a hobby that doesn't involve sticking their noses quite so far into other people's business.

But of course, that doesn't really happen:
Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton's response has fallen short of what some deem appropriate. CNN's Campbell Brown charged Mrs. Clinton with forfeiting her feminist cred, especially after issuing her own charges of sexism throughout the presidential campaign. Now that Mrs. Clinton's a member of the Obama team, she suddenly has a sense of humor?

All of the above would be nonsense except that almost nothing any longer is. Nonsense is the new standard for controversy, and even party shenanigans qualify.

Puritans and prohibitionists would adore our brave new world of shutterbug infamy. The fact is, no one's having fun anymore, especially in the nation's capital, where one can't afford to let the tongue slip or risk being caught in the cross hairs of a cell camera.
At this point, I'm going to say something that would certainly cause outrage among some of these people: We should go back to Scripture on this one, specifically the verse which reads, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." All these people who are raging over a perceived slight to someone they may not even know personally (because of those pesky group-identity politics again) ought to examine their own lives first. An enterprising blogger could have a field day discovering and posting the idiotic things that the "outraged ones" have said and done themselves. (Sadly, time constraints do not allow me to be that blogger, though I'll admit it would be fun.)

Parker makes another good point in her closing paragraph:
In the meantime, feminists might channel their free-ranging anger toward, say, Iran, where yet another woman recently was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.
An excellent point.

And on the same page, at least locally, Derrick Jackson is all in a huff over the Burger King "Whopper Virgins" commercials:
When European germs wiped out Indians, at least that aspect of conquest was unintentional. Burger King has no such excuse.

The modern colonizers currently have an ad campaign called "Whopper Virgins." Commercials are running during televised sports events, and the company has a nearly eight-minute video on its Web site.

In a bizarre parody of an actual documentary, Burger King sent a crew out to remote Hmong parts of Thailand, Inuit parts of Greenland and a village in Romania – all places where people have never seen a hamburger nor ever heard of one through advertising.

The first part of the video involved plucking some villagers to come to a modern office in native dress to compare Burger King's signature burger with a McDonald's Big Mac. Villagers are shown fumbling with the burger while a patronizing narrator says, "It's been very interesting to see their reaction to the hamburger because they've never seen such a foreign piece of food before, and they didn't even quite know how to pick it up, and they didn't know how to – from what end to eat. ... It was really interesting. We were able to see these people's first bite of a hamburger."

Remarking on the villagers' awkwardness in handling the burger, the narrator added: "It took them awhile to understand the dynamics of it, and so that was fascinating to see because we take it for granted."
OK, so it sounds like Jackson is accusing BK of being culturally insensitive. Good people can agree to disagree on that. But here's where the story really goes off the rails:
urger King defends the ads, saying it worked hard to respect cultural sensitivities. All this, to spread disease to developing peoples. The Westernization of the global diet, led by America's fast-food giants, is helping spread obesity and diabetes as it has never been seen before.

Even if levels of obesity stay what they are now, the number of people around the world with diabetes will explode from the 171 million people of 2000 to 366 million by 2030. The numbers will more than triple in places ranging from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Bangladesh to Guatemala. They will more than double or nearly triple in China, India, Brazil and Mexico. According to World Health Organization researchers, diabetes was already responsible in 2000 for nearly 3 million deaths around the world.

"Given the increasing prevalence of obesity, it is likely that these figures provide an underestimate of future diabetes prevalence," those researchers said. Translated, even more people will die.

The researchers, not surprisingly, say, "Initiatives by the food industry to reduce the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods ... could accelerate health gains worldwide." But no, Burger King wants to colonize the farthest reaches with fat, sugar and salt.
OK, so Jackson is the Food Police now. But isn't he forgetting about a few important things?
  • It's not just diet that controls obesity, diabetes, etc.; it's also exercise and overall activity of lifestyle. It'd be one thing if Burger King came into this remote village and not only forced them to eat, but also required them to watch, say, 6 hours of TV every day. I'm guessing the villagers' more active lifestyle would preclude many of the things that Jackson is worried about.

  • And beyond that--what's the chance that Burger King is going to build an outlet in a location so remote in the first place? I doubt it makes even the slightest bit of economic sense to do that.
I just don't get all the outrage from these folks. There are a lot of problems in the world today, but I find it quite far-fetched that these two things would top any thinking person's list. Granted, Jackson is a columnist who obviously gets paid to write a certain number of columns a week, but still, if this is the thing to get his dander up, it must be a really slow news day.

I realize that I have a really high threshold of being offended--it takes a lot--and I wish this standard were held by others; it would probably cause the sale of blood pressure medicine to decrease dramatically. If anything, the only thing that I'm outraged by right now is that so many people are feeling so much outrage over such trivial matters.

Friday, December 12, 2008

We Need Government Solving the BCS Problem About As Much As We Need Football Coaches Writing Laws...

We've heard about this before, most recently in an interview with President-Elect Obama: Government officials throwing their two cents' worth in about the Bowl Championship Series vs. a possible college football playoff system. It's not the first time this has happened--a Texas state senator filed a bill that would have prohibited Texas colleges from participating in any postseason game that wasn't part of a playoff system, as outlined in this 2005 post--but now a Texan is attempting this nonsense on a national stage:
Taking aim at a BCS system he said "consistently misfires," a member of Congress planned to introduce legislation that would force college football to adopt a playoff to determine the national champion.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, didn't specify what sort of playoff he wants – only that the BCS should go.

He said the bill – being co-sponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, and Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican – "will prohibit the marketing, promotion, and advertising of a postseason game as a 'national championship' football game, unless it is the result of a playoff system."
Congressman Barton, you've done a lot of good things during your tenure, but this is not one of your shining moments. The BCS isn't perfect, but government intervention isn't the way to go, either. I may be in favor of solving this problem on the field (as I said a few weeks ago), but a legislative solution would be just as bad as having it solved in the courts.

Let the coaches, athletic directors and university presidents solve this problem, Rep. Barton; you stick to writing laws. Besides--isn't there some sort of financial crisis going on at the moment? I would think that would be more worthy of your attention.

WIth any luck, this bill will fail as badly as the one in 2005 did here in Texas. I'll keep you updated, of course.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Big Freezy?

"New Orleans was blanketed by snow today" is a phrase that would not likely make anyone's list of typical news headlines. But that's exactly what happened today, and it is indeed a rarity: The last time it happened before today was Christmas, 2004, and the time before that was in 1989. All in all, it's happened just 17 times (not counting barely-measurable "trace" amounts) since 1850, and this is the earliest day that the white stuff and the BIg Easy have been as one.

Check out the linked story for some cool pictures; I especially liked the one with one of the St. Charles streetcars covered in snow. It's nice to see that they're running again, which was not the case when I visited there most recently, in the spring of '06.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Are all the politicians and news anchors who drive drunk going to be able to get to work this morning through the snow?" reader "ignatiuseyes," from the comments to the linked story. Another funny quote: "The Angels need some Head and Shoulders!" from reader "babsjohnson." (This reminds me of the day when it started raining heavily during school in sixth grade, and a kid in beginner band class said, "When it rains, it means that the tubas in heaven are opening up their spit valves." Eww.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Doctors Are Out (of Their Minds)

In catching up on a few days' worth of newspapers at lunch today, I ran across an article that's very timely but contains some odd solutions to the stated problem.

The subject is keeping skin from drying out during the winter months, which resonates with me, because the skin on my hands gets so dry that it's been known to crack open on my knuckles, completely at random. And while Dallas dermatologist Dr. Mary Hurley has some good advice in this area, I'm not sure that I'd be willing to heed the suggestions the National Institutes of Health in a sidebar to the article:

•Keep baths or showers short.

•Use warm, not hot, water.

•Use as little soap as possible. Try mild cleansers such as Aveeno or Cetaphil or mild soaps such as Neutrogena or Dove.

•Dry skin thoroughly but gently. Pat, don't rub.

•Bathe or shower less often.

Say whaaaat? Bathe or shower less often? In a word, no. The public-school part of my job requires me to spend all day in small, stuffy spaces that sometimes have insufficient temperature control. I'm not going to shower less, and I sure hope the kids don't, either.

And the American Academy of Dermatology has some unusual ideas as well:
  • Switch to an oil-based moisturizer and use it frequently. The more oil a moisturizer contains, the more effectively it protects against moisture loss. Ointment moisturizers have a high oil content because, by definition, an ointment consists of 80 percent oil and 20 percent water. This water-in-oil emulsion forms a protective layer on the skin and is more “moisturizing” than creams and lotions.

  • Apply a heavy layer of moisturizing, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Use on the face, hands and other exposed skin. This acts as a barrier against the elements and is especially important if you will be outdoors.
I'm not sure too many people buy sunscreen in the wintertime, unless they spend their entire day outdoors for their jobs. It may be medically sound, but I'm not sure it's practical.

And the other thing that bugs me about this is the insistence on slathering a bunch of oils on your skin. If I did that, I'd break out all over...and probably have to see a dermatologist. (Hmm--the cynic in me wonders if there's not an ulterior motive here.)

But far worse would be the person who went overboard on the sunscreen or oils and then decided to bathe less. I think such a person's coworkers might well protest, and rightfully so.

What do you do to keep your skin from drying out in the winter?

Hap birt t m: Today is my half-birthday--exactly six months to the day between my last birthday and my next one. Granted, nobody appends the "half" to their age once they're older than, say, ten, but it's still funny to tell people on that day. (I'd still like to give someone a "half-birthday card" sometime: They get the front half now and have to wait six months to read the punch line.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Next Thing You Know, I'll Be Assigning Term Papers

I did an unusual thing in my lessons this morning: I assigned the beginners some very mild homework.

Now, I suppose you could say that, as a private music instructor, I'm assigning "homework" all the time: Practice this, practice that. But this morning's assignment involves some actual research.

Among other things, my beginners progress through an elementary method book, passing off a certain number of lines each week. When I give those assignments, I end up writing the date of the next lesson (one week later than the current day, unless I'm on a weird schedule) at the beginning of the assignment. When I did that for this morning's kids, I realized that next Tuesday, December 16, is Beethoven's birthday.

There have been plenty of major composers in the history of music, but Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig von Beethoven would have to be among the most well-known among the general public. Ask someone to name two famous U.S. Presidents, and they're likely to say George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (indeed, when I was really little, I thought they were the first two Presidents). Ask someone to name two famous classical composers, and they're likely to say Bach and Beethoven (the prominence of the latter in Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoons--as an idol of piano-playing Schroeder--certainly added to his fame).

So I couldn't resist turning the date of the next assignment into something more academic. I told each of the beginners in turn about the significance of next Tuesday, and I asked them to find out a little about him, including something noteworthy; this could be anything from his appearance in Peanuts to his blindness to the fact that he composed the famous four-note motif of his Fifth Symphony.

(Speaking of Beethoven's deafness: A few weeks ago, when looking through contest solos with the older kids, one of them was contemplating a Beethoven piece. I asked that kid if he knew who the Beethoven was and what was noteworthy about him, and the kid replied, "He was blind, right?" Umm, no, but that did launch into a discussion of great blind piano players throughout history--Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, et al.)

It will be interesting to see what they come up with (and I think these kids are good enough students that they'll actually do the assignment). I'll post their discoveries here next week.

The white stuff: It was lightly sleeting when I left the college tonight, but nothing will come of it; not yet. I can think of all the time that the forecasters have overdone it on the "impending doom" angle, and even they weren't hyping this much beyond a "please drive carefully" angle tonight.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Economy and the Environment May Find Common "Grounds" Here

For quite some time now, a lot of people have been in search of the perfect alternative fuel, and nobody's come up with the perfect one yet. But if this one works, it could solve a couple of problems at once: The fossil-fuel crisis and the recent economic woes of Starbucks. That's right--someone has found a way to make biodiesel from spent coffee grounds:
[...]They estimate that the coffee ground biodiesel industry could generate as much as $8,000,000 in profits annually using waste from US Starbucks stores alone.

One of the main limits to the acceptance of biodiesel as an alternative fuel is its price premium above regular diesel. To bring the price of biodiesel down, the industry uses as much waste material from other industries as possible to make it — such as used fryer oil and animal fats from poultry processing.
I've heard about fryer-oil biodiesel as well; people who have seen such vehicles in action say that the car gives off the aroma of french fries as it goes by. But back to the coffee angle:
In holding with the idea of cheap biodiesel feedstocks, a team of researchers in the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at the University of Nevada figured that maybe spent coffee grounds would fit the bill too.

And boy do they ever. Not only do spent coffee grounds have a relatively large amount of oil (about 15% — almost all of which can be converted into biodiesel using standard methods), biodiesel made from the grounds has a long shelf life due to the large amount of antioxidants in coffee. Antioxidants slow the process of rancidification.

There’s a bonus too: at the end of the biodiesel extraction and conversion process, the leftover grounds can be turned into fuel pellets for wood stoves and boilers, closing the waste loop (or at least putting most of the carbon and nutrients that had recently been used by the plant to grow back into the atmosphere where they can again be used by plants to grow).
Sounds good to me. Let's do some more work on this, guys (or, as Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds would say, "Faster, please"). And if the fryer-mobile smells like french fries as it passes by, just imagine the pleasant aroma of a car powered on, say, Christmas Blend. And imagine turning in one's own spent filters at the filling station (Starbucks with pumps?) for a fuel credit. I'm intrigued, to say the least.

I'll keep following this story and update it when (hopefully) more progress is reported.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Twelve Days of What?

I'm a big fan of I've gotten plenty of very reasonably-priced (if not downright cheap) CD's and books from them over the years, and I'm a regular patron of the downloads store they launched earlier in the year. So it was quite distressing to see the Instapundit post today that pointed to the name of Amazon Music's seasonal sale, 12 Days of Holiday. May I add my voice to the chorus that says, "Huh?"

Glenn Reynolds nails it when he says, "What does that even mean? Besides someone not wanting to say “Christmas,” that is...'Holiday' is not, in fact, a synonym for 'Christmas.'”

We've discussed this subject here before, when I was lambasting Wal-Mart for having their clerks say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," as well as my two-pronged screed against the people who were offended by the placement of Christmas trees in Sea-Tac Airport in Washington state and those who were offended by choirs singing Christmas carols. You know the only thing that offends me here? All these people getting offended! (Not to mention their trying to dictate the behaviors of others to conform to said offense.)

As I said in one of the earlier posts:
many of the people who are offended by the use of "Merry Christmas" would squeal like a stuck pig if the perks of the holiday were taken away from them. Offended by the word Christmas? OK, then you lose your Christmas bonus. You don't get December 25th as a holiday, either. What's that, you say--that's different? But hang on--can you really have it both ways?

At some point in time, most sane, rational, mature people will have some sort of "tipping point"-type event that will make them say "enough already!" to the PC plague. Me, I got there a long time ago, but then, I was born white and male, so I guess I never had a chance with the PC crowd. But as I've said before, I've read the Constitution, and among those "inalienable rights" listed in the Preamble, "the right to not get one's feelings hurt" is nowhere to be found. So those who waste their lives (and lungs) complaining about things like that should indeed just be ignored, just like little kids throwing temper tantrums...which is really what they are, in adult bodies, most of the time.

And to make matters worse, Mark Steyn reports that, when a reader wrote to Amazon to complain about not using the word "Christmas" in the promotion, they received the wrong canned email in response, getting one that apologized for using the word "Christmas." Steyn provides a nice laugh at the end: "I wonder if it might be time for Amazon to crank up a computer-generated apology sincerely apologizing if you were offended by receiving the incorrect sincere apology."

Also, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg (who's Jewish, by the way) defends the use of "Merry Christmas" with this statement:
"Holiday" isn't a holiday. It's a way of avoiding offense. But who, exactly, is offended? This is what I don't understand. I'm perfectly happy living in a country that is populated mainly by Christians, particularly Christians who show nothing but acceptance for their fellow citizens who happen to follow other religions. So it doesn't sit well with me that Christians now feel constrained to offer the anodyne "Happy Holidays" rather than a greeting that touches directly on the reason for our seasonal merriment.

So, my Christian sisters and brothers, feel absolutely free to greet me with "Merry Christmas," and I'll greet you right back. You can say "Happy Hannukah" as well, or "Happy Kwanzaa." Say, in other words, what you feel. The important thing is to not be afraid.
Well said, sir.

NEXT DAY UPDATE: Also via Instapundit, it appears that Amazon has relented, and the promotion is now being called the 12 Days of Christmas. Perhaps the power of a widely-read blogger (that's Instapundit, not me, LOL) really can make a difference.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my Australian blogger buddy (and groom-to-be) James.

We still remember: Pearl Harbor may have been eclipsed by 9/11 as the defining national disaster of a generation, but there are plenty of people for whom December 7, 1941 still lives in infamy, and we recognize the sacrifice for those who gave all during that time. And if you've never heard or read FDR's "infamy" speech, it can be found here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Blowing Out the Multitude of Candles Again

Once again, this is the day where three old friends of mine, spread out all over the place (Denver, Ft. Worth and "I'm not sure") celebrate their birthdays on the same day. So all the best to Chris C., Wyatt and Andrew D. (the latter two share not only the same birthday, but the same birth year, and Wyatt gets bonus points for getting married on my birthday). I hope to see you all soon. (And in the Celebrity Department, it's also Walt Disney's birthday today; he would have been 107.)

I'm pretty wiped out from a long week, and I have a few posts to catch up on, so I'll hopefully get to some of that tomorrow.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

If You Play It, They Will Dance

One of my combos at the school had a performance today. This in itself was not unusual, as we do such a thing during the week before exams pretty much every semester. But what was unusual was the amount of dancing that took place during our performance.

It wasn't just an isolated thing, either: There was the guy and girl who walked past us several times, stopping to dance for just a moment each time they were nearby. There was also the lady in the craft sale who was really getting into it, and I saw at least one more outbreak of dancing from someone in the back. (I'm surprised that the two little kids didn't start anything up while we were playing; if I recall, at various times in their young lives, all three of my nephews have been good for a little of that.)

And this wasn't a dance gig, either. It was simply a performance in the Atrium area of campus for anyone who wanted to hear, and the dancing was a bonus. Jazz started out as dance music, of course, but bebop, for all the good it did, steered the music on a different path. Some of the most successful modern jazz has reintroduced the element of groove, and I think it's helped get us some audience back.

Whenever I send an email from my home address, there's a quote in the signature box at the bottom: "Jazz will endure as long as people hear it through their feet instead of their brains." The source? John Philip Sousa, of all people. And the March King had it right: While jazz may have been relegated to the concert halls of late, there's still something there that might nudge someone towards the dance floor (even if they have to create said floor from an ordinary area). While it might have been odd for everyone in attendance had done it, I'm glad that we prompted a few people to do so.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Who Says Texas Never Has Any Fall Colors?

I beg to differ:

Downtown Rowlett

I have quite a few posts to catch up on this week, so today, I'll let the picture tell the usual thousand words, and I'll try to get a couple of other shots to add later. There's been some great colors in Plano the past few weeks, but I'm evidently lacking in Mad Phone Cam Skillz right now, because nothing that I took up there has turned out quite right. I'll try again tomorrow...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Did the BCS Computers Give the Horns the Hook?

I should mention from the outset that I'm not a University of Texas football fan; my sister's four years in Aggieland pretty much prevented that from happening (though, as a matter of state pride, I will root for them against Oklahoma every year during the State Fair, which shows that I'm not an OU fan either). So I really don't have a dog in this hunt, as we allegedly say all the time here in Texas. But it sure seems to me that UT got hosed by the BCS computers yesterday when they picked Oklahoma to represent the Big 12 South in the conference championship game (over the Horns, who beat OU back in October).

It was an unusual situation all around: Texas, OU and Texas Tech all finished at 11-1, and each one's only loss came to one of the other two. UT beat OU by ten points, Tech barely beat Texas on a last-minute touchdown, and OU demolished Tech a few weeks later. If you're a UT fan, it will certainly be rough to see OU and Missouri--both of which lost to UT this year--play in the conference championship game. (And while this might beg the question of whether the division of the Big 12 into North and South divisions--when the South is considerably stronger--is the best idea, I'll save that discussion for later.) But do we really want BCS computers breaking ties in the conference standings in the first place? Shouldn't this be decided on the field as much as possible?

Here are several views from across the nation:So what do you think? Does this call for a playoff, or does the Big 12 simply need to come up with a more sensible tiebreaker that places more value on head-to-head competition? (Longtime readers may recall that I offered up my own fix almost five years ago,, and I still think such an idea would work, though I'm also open to an eight-game playoff that incorporates the bowls.)

And in the meantime, I bet a lot of people in Burnt Orange Nation have become Missouri fans for this week...