Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hair Today, Gone to a Good Cause

Here's a cool video I just saw linked on my fraternity's listserv:

If you don't have time to click the link at the moment, it's a quick story about students at Marshall University participating in the "Hair from the Herd" program, where students get their hair cut off and donate it to Locks of Love, the program that donates hair to cancer victims who have lost theirs during treatment.

Of special note is sophomore Craig Burletic, who hadn't had a haircut since seventh grade (!) but allowed himself to be shorn down to a buzz-cut for the cause. (Special bonus, from where I sit: Craig is a brother in my fraternity and proudly wears a letter shirt in the video.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pick This Week's Oddest News Story

There might be other candidates, but these are pretty weird to me:
  • A criminal defendent in an Idaho courtroom tested the judge's patience with his constant outbursts in court, but they likely stopped when the judge ordered the man's mouth taped shut.

  • South Korean scientists claim to have cloned dogs that glow red under ultraviolet light.

  • The state of Tennessee can lay claim to a lot of interesting things--Graceland, great barbecue, the birthplace of the blues, and so on. But now, it's also the home of America's best bathroom, according to an online poll. (The loo in question, located in a downtown Nashville hotel, includes a two-seat shoe shine station.)

  • Road signs near a Massachusetts lake whose name stretches 45 letters will need to be changed due to spelling errors. (The correctly-spelled name? Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.)
Or is there an even stranger one than that? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Lone Arranger

I have a lot of tales to tell from Colorado, but first, I'm slaving over a hot stove my music notation software to get a few arrangements done; one is for one of my combos at the college (where there's a concert this weekend), and the other is the conclusion of the project that ate my weekend a few weeks back. Once I make a serious dent in those things, I'll get back to regular blogging. Thanks as always for your patience.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Home Again

Just made it back from the long bus trip. I'll have a roundup of all things Greeley tomorrow, and I'll finish up the concert reviews from the festival (each night had something outstanding, in case you're wondering) within the next few days. But for now, sleep beckons, as there's one full day of teaching before the TAKS tests begin, and I still need to cobble together a partial schedule for the rest of the week.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coffee with a View

GREELEY, COLORADO--I love hanging at Starbucks at home, but their patio doesn't have a view like this:

Or you could turn your head the other way:

This Starbucks with the exceptional view is in Estes Park, a mountain resort town that we visited on our last trip here in '04, but this time I had a camera in my phone.

Things are going well so far. Tomorrow is the first of our groups' big performance days, and the concerts start tonight. Reviews will follow...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Travel Advisory

As I noted in last night's post, I'm catching a bus for Greeley, Colorado in a short time here to attend, direct and perform in their annual jazz festival. It'll be a long bus ride, especially for my poor braced-up leg, but there's room for me to have a seat to myself, so I'll be able to stretch a bit.

We're back very late on Sunday night, and if I don't post during the trip, I'll resume posting on Monday.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Record Broken

As I type this, I'm doing something very unusual: Listening to Lab Band Madness on KNTU on the Web, at home. I've listened to the broadcast before, on the way up to the concert (my Tuesday responsibilities at the college almost always end after the nine-band marathon has already begun, so I have a good 45-minute commute before I get there), but never in place of actually attending the concert itself. As a matter of fact, this is the first Kev-less Lab Band Madness since I was in high school!

So why aren't I there? Well, I have a few good reasons:
  • Even though I started driving my own car again today, I'm trying to get back to that in little bits, and a trip to Denton isn't a "little bit" of driving no matter how you slice it.

  • If I went to the concert, I'd get home about midnight or so, possibly later. I also have to meet a bus for Colorado at 6 a.m. tomorrow (yes, it's time for the annual college trip again). Those two things don't sound like a good combination.

  • One of my friends wanted to go, and would have split the driving with me, but he's in the same boat: He catches a bus for work at around 7 a.m. or so; neither of us were really up to a trip that late tonight.
Actually, were it not for my mishap last week, I'd probably buck the odds and have gone up there. just to keep the tradition alive. I still have a good record for the fall concert (save for the 50th anniversary in '97, when my own school's concert conflicted with it and we couldn't reschedule), and I'll start a new streak with Madness next spring.

And thanks to the folks at KNTU, one of my college haunts, for making this available on the Web (or, as Steve Wiest said just a minute ago, "beaming it all the way to Pluto").

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Every time a trombone player gets signed to a label, an angel get its wings."--Wiest, in a "halftime" interview with KNTU Program Manager Mark Lambert.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My New Traveling Companions...

..are a big, honking knee brace and a small blue handicapped parking placard, courtesy of my visit to the orthopedist today. I'll post picture of both at some point.

So what's the word? Well, oddly enough, the torn material in the knee doesn't seem to be as big of a problem as its counterpart in my quadriceps; the latter is what's keeping me from being able to raise my leg very far off the floor. They want a second MRI (which isn't likely to take place before my trip to Colorado in two days) to zero in on that area and see how badly the quad tendon is torn, so they can figure out whether surgery is needed or not.

In the meantime, the brace, which hurt bigtime while I was using it today, actually made me feel quite a bit better upon taking it off just a little bit ago, so I guess it's a matter of short-term pain for long-term gain. And being able to get close-in parking has already come in handy, especially at the college. I've often thought there were too many of those parking spaces, because they never seemed to be full, but when it came down to it, I was glad there was one for me today.

And with the rental car due back tomorrow, I had to take the plunge tonight: Could I really drive my car again? The doctor seemed to think so, with the brace dialed down a bit to let my leg move enough to engage the clutch. A few trips around the block told me that it was doable.

But my participation in the upcoming college jazz trip was never in doubt after talking to the doctor, and I'm thankful for that. I know I'll have to take it easier than usual, but that's small potatoes compared to what would have happened if I had somehow not been allowed to go.

That's all for now; I'm still working on the project that ate my weekend. Can't wait to actually talk about that one...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Life in the Slow Lane

Random things that have occurred to me since I've been partially incapacitated:
  • As I said a few days ago, I usually go through life at 90 miles an hour, if not faster. But now, I'm forced to go slower than usual. I can't say that I'm "stopping and smelling the roses" quite yet, but there is a certain relaxation about not being able to hurry, hurry, hurry all the time.

  • But on the other hand, I also find it frustrating that it takes a lot longer to do what are usually simple tasks. Never mind others having to wait on me; I don't like to wait on me.

  • During the times when walking is more labored than usual, I find myself striving for an extreme economy of movement; all my errands get combined, and I concentrate even more on things; in my current state, it's not fun to go get something and then ADD out and forget what it was that I was going to get in the first place.

  • I'm usually a big snooze-alarm guy; in fact, that habit had gotten pretty bad this year. But with the extra effort that has to be expended to move my bum leg out of bed, I usually get an earful of alarm before I ever reach it to turn it off. So basically, when I'm up, I'm up. I get a lot more done now (despite nearly everything taking longer to do), but not nearly enough sleep.
I'll stop whining about my injury soon enough; there are other things to talk about. But I've been in a reflective mood lately, and this blog is as good of a place as any to let these things out.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Special Project Is Eating My Weekend

It may have been a good thing that I'm mostly staying home this weekend, as I have had a special project thrust upon me sooner than I thought it was going to be. I'm not yet tipping my hand as to the details of this project, but it involves a very old composition of mine and my first real experience with music notation software, along with a looming deadline. This might take a while, so this post will be very short. (And if you're looking for an update on me, the knee is feeling considerably better today.) '

Back tomorrow with more, assuming I'm done or at least close.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Cane in the Rain Is Mainly Quite a Pain

I had my first day of teaching in the schools since the accident, and, for the most part, everything went smoothly. As for people's reactions to the cane itself, they fell under two main categories: Virtually every high school kid thought it was a cool look, and nearly every teacher made some crack about me using it to keep unruly kids in line. (All joking aside, I should point out that it's been quite some time since I've taught a kid whom I would consider unruly, though that's rare in a one-on-one situation in the first place.)

The only non-ideal situation took place at lunchtime, when it was raining like crazy. A real gully-washer, as they might say here in Texas. Raining cats and dogs. A monsoon. You get the idea. And of course, the place I wanted to go for lunch doesn't have any parking right next to the building. (Which reminds me--will I get a handicap placard out of this? Who knows; I don't want it to be that bad, but if I need one, I want one.) So I was balancing my cane in one hand, an umbrella in the other, and my newspaper tucked under one arm. And I had to watch out for puddles; that's all I'd need would be to slip again.

Thankfully, I made it through all that unscathed, and I'm looking forward to my first good rest this weekend. (I'll see an orthopedist on Monday, so wish me luck with that.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Small (I Hope) Setback

First, the bad news: The MRI that I had yesterday does show a couple of torn things--one in the quadriceps and in the body of the knee itself. It means that I'll need to see an orthopedist some time (likely at the beginning of the week) to determine my next move. If I'm lucky, it'll be something that can be fixed by rest and exercise, as I'd sure like to avoid surgery if at all possible.

But there is some good news: I"m able to get around again. I bit the bullet today and rented an automatic-transmission car, so I don't have to depend on others for rides anymore. That made things a lot easier, and it means I'll be able to resume teaching (and thus making money) in the public schools tomorrow.

And I'm also sporting a jaunty cane, thanks to a friend who had one in his trunk (from playing Dr. House at Halloween, of all things). The doctor said I needed reinforcement of some sort, and, though a neighbor loaned me a set of crutches right before I left for the college, they seemed to be a disaster waiting to happen. I really figured that, if I tried to keep using those things, I would simply fall and re-injure myself. So when the chance to use a cane came up, I jumped at it (not literally, of course). It really beats hobbling around, and I'm sure it'll come in handy in the schools tomorrow. Now all I need is a top hat to go with it...

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday Mom! The bulk of our conversation today had to do with my condition (as well as her and Dad's travel plans; they leave for Italy in two days), but it was great to chat for a while. (And I hope that I never again have this same excuse for not being able to send a card...)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day Roundup

Some random thoughts as Tax Day comes to a close:
  • My knee injury kept me from attending any of the "tea parties" in the area, but a lot of them took place around the country, and they were evidently well-attended. The DMN has a report on the ones in Dallas, Austin and Southlake, while a clearinghouse of blog posts about the parties nationwide may be found here. Instapundit has a lot of reports as well, many of which feature pictures.

  • TaxProf Blog has an interesting chart of exactly where our federal taxes go.

  • Think our tax system is too complicated? Check out this collection of Form 1040's from 1913 through 2006.

  • Ari Fleischer thinks that it's bad for our democracy for half the country to be exempt from income taxes.

  • And speaking of people who don't (or at least didn't) pay, many IRS employees are upset at the double standard between how average Joes who don't pay their taxes and Cabinet nominees who don't pay their taxes are treated. (I still can't stomach the idea of admitted tax cheat Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary; it would have been a great symbolic gesture for him, on this day, to resign and offer himself to the authorities to pay for the crimes to which he openly confessed. But I guess taxes truly are for the little people.)

  • This has nothing to do with taxes at all, but it's very cool: The YouTube Symphony, an orchestra made up of professional and amateur musicians from around the world (who auditioned by playing part of a new piece composed for the group, were selected as finalists by a panel representing many of the world's great orchestras and were voted upon by YouTube viewers) was scheduled to meet up in person in New York this week and perform at Carnegie Hall.

  • And in one more piece of non-tax news, Ian Kinsler hit for the cycle in the Rangers game tonight (and he did it by the sixth inning!). I witnessed Mark Teixeira doing that for the Rangers in '04, and I had the good fortune to turn on the radio right when Gary Matthews, Jr. did it during a road game in Detroit.
As for me, April 15 was pretty much an ordinary day for me (save for the whole knee-injury thing, which I'll update momentarily); I sent my return in weeks ago and received my refund last week. It still blows my mind how many people are driving even now to the main post office in their city in order to get that postmark before midnight. Granted, I wait a bit longer when I owe money than when I'm getting a refund, but I still couldn't imagine waiting until the very, very last minute.

Update on me: I finally hobbled in to see the doctor this morning, and I was happy to discover that: The X-ray showed nothing out of sorts; the typical "does it hurt here?" poking around revealed that it only hurt in a few places; and whenever I had to ask my injured leg to do things it didn't want to do (i.e. helping lift it off the ground, which it doesn't really do under its own power quite yet), it started to feel better and my range of motion increased a bit.

I was given an MRI this afternoon to check for the types of little tears and micro-fractures that wouldn't show up on an X-ray (being in that machine is a little weird, but my head was able to stay just outside the chamber, and the special headphones they gave me made the half-hour go pretty quickly), and I'll get the results of that in the morning. If everything's OK there, it'll just be a matter of time, rest, and some pain relievers and muscle relaxants before the thing runs its course. If they find something, I might have to see an orthopaedist, but let's keep our fingers crossed that I can avoid that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Interesting Day

It started off with the best of intentions, as these things often do.

Last night, I was about to visit one of my fraternity chapters to offer my opinion on a big issue that they would be discussing. I had some time to kill before the part of the meeting where I was needed, so I stopped by my favorite used book/CD store on the town square for a little bit. Needing to use the facilities when I arrived, I headed downstairs to the basement where (I thought) they were.

And it was at that point that my legs came out from under me.

I began riding the stairs down on my behind as if going down a slide, and if I'd just kept doing that, I might have stopped halfway down and none the worse for wear. But the unconscious human desire when falling is to make oneself not falling again; a lot of cyclists and skaters break their hands by using them to stop themselves when falling off the bike or the board, and my left leg decided to pull up short and try to regain my footing. But that strategy was not successful; I heard a small "pop," kept sliding for just a bit more, and suddenly felt some excruciating pain.

(I must have yelled "Aaaaaahhh!" as people are prone to do in that situation, because the guy behind the counter--now upstairs from me--said, "Are you all right?" My response was, "Yeah, I'm good," but as I sat there for a while, I realized I wasn't exactly good after all.)

I think I knew even at that point that, unless quite a bit of the pain I was experiencing went away pretty soon, I would not be going home under my own power that night. But still, I continued on my previous mission to find the restrooms, which--D'oh--were not in the basement after all. I'd gone down there for nothing. (Maybe guys should ask directions sometimes.)

The fact that I was still able to stand and walk (if hobblingly so), and that nothing appeared to be protruding out of me a la Joe Theismann, told me that it was highly unlikely I broke something. So as I made it slowly up to the main floor again (leaning on my good leg, the way Dad used his cane after his hip replacement-replacement last fall) and after I did indeed hobble to the restroom (I'll never forget its location again, that's for sure), I sat down at a table up front to ponder my next move. This didn't seem to rise to the level of an expensive ambulance ride or even a trip to the ER. But I was 50 miles from home and likely unable to operate my car (one of the few times that driving a stick proved to be a disadvantage), so I needed to change a few things about that situation.

LIttle by little, everything fell into place: Some friends from near my house, both of whom can drive a stick, agreed to come up and get me, one of them driving my car home. One of the guys left the meeting (which I never did get to attend, of course), and brought me water, Advil and a giant cookie to keep me from taking the latter on an empty stomach. We also talked fraternity business until my friends arrived, taking my mind off the pain I was experiencing.

As I got home and was able to examine things more closely, I was happy to see no discoloration of any kind--just some swelling above the kneecap and intermittent tightness in my thigh (everything below the knee is fine, but I wasn't able to provide enough pressure to operate my clutch because of the stiffness). After some less-than-restful sleep in an odd position, I realized I wouldn't be teaching in the schools this morning.

The next question I've gotten from people after relating the story to this point is, "So have you seen a doctor yet?" And my answer is, nope, that's tomorrow morning. Having to bum rides off friends to get anywhere, my options were limited, and in order to get to the college in time to teach my combo (which is going to an out-of-state festival in eight days), I had to leave several hours early. (By putting my call of duty to teaching above my personal well-being like that, I'm either a real trouper or just plain nuts--not sure which.) But tomorrow is not a college day, so I'll go in the morning and get a professional opinion as to what's going on and what my next move should be.

I'm hoping, of course, not to have to be on crutches (though a jaunty cane would be fine; I might even get a top hat to go with it) and to be able to drive again soon. It seems like some sort of big muscle strain, and I know that these things take time to heal. But if I can't operate my clutch for a while, I might have to rent an automatic car (which would pay for itself in little over an hour of teaching in the schools).

This whole thing is a really weird feeling; I'm so used to doing things for others that it feels odd to have to depend on others doing things for me. I'm used to going at 900 miles per hour during the teaching day, and now it takes me five minutes to get to the parking lot. And for the guy who's never broken a bone (OK, maybe my little toe once, but that hardly counts) and still has his tonsils and appendix, the somewhat "indestructible" feeling I've often had has taken a little hit here. (We make plans, God laughs.)

So wish me the best in the morning; pray for me if you're so inclined. It looks like I'll have a bit more time at home for at least one more day (and that's absolute best-case scenario), so I'll keep everyone posted on my progress and probably blog about some other stuff; it is Tax Day tomorrow, after all.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my Aunt Nora in Indiana--yes, born one day before tax day; her sister, my Mom, would be born the day after tax day the following year. I wonder if my grandparents kept making jokes about their "little deductions" being born...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Can't Let This Go By Unnoticed Again

I almost forgot again this year; the fact that it's April 12 has been completely obscured by the much larger fact that it's also Easter. (Last year, I had an excuse: the MacBook was in the Computer Hospital, and blogging was quite limited in the first place.) I might have let this one slip by as well, but I was over at Althouse, where the hostess was wishing a happy one-year blogiversary to her son, John Althouse Cohen, who's nickname Jac. And then it hit me: It's April 12, and that's my blogiversary too! Number six for me...

When I started blogging in '03, it was a very different thing than it is now--participation in a hobby that several of my friends had started, and it was written for that small audience at first, as if everyone in the audience knew everyone else (I certainly never expected to have a SiteMeter or be read by people across the country). The early posts were so short that they could have fit on Twitter (a bandwagon on which, incidentally, I have yet to jump), and the first few months' worth didn't have titles; I'd go back and add those later as the Blogger software evolved.

And this blog evolved too; it's turned from a personal journal into something closer to the weekly column I used to write for the school paper in college (CD and concert reviews), with a bit of my old radio show thrown in (riffing on weird news stories, etc.). And while all that was a natural transition over time, I never expected, for example, that my review of the Maynard Ferguson tribute concert would get frontpaged on Maynard's website, resulting in hundreds of hits, or that my opinion of the UNT football stadium referendum would evidently be seen by quite a bit of the Mean Green community. And I certainly never imagined that people I would "meet" on here would become real friends in person.

It's been a fun ride so far, and even though I've been rather bad about starting posts on weekdays that don't get finished until the following weekend, I'll keep doing this as long as I feel like I have something to say and people keep stopping over. So thanks to all of you who continue to stop by; I'll do my best to make it worth your time.

Happy Easter; Is Any Bunny Still Reading?

First of all, I'd like to wish a happy Easter to those who so celebrate, and I invite you to remember the Reason for the season, even amidst family gatherings, chocolate bunnies, eggs and so on.

I've been known to get behind at blogging during the week, but this past week was really bad. I'm all caught up for the month now, so I wanted to point out the unfinished posts that have been completed this weekend, so that all my writing doesn't go for naught (if a blog post is written in the forest and nobody reads it, does it make a sound?):
  • The state of Texas is trying to raise the smoking age to 19, and this nonsmoker thinks that's a bad idea.

  • I salute the return of jazz-pop songstress Basia and pay tribute to the long-departed bari player who graced her earliest recordings.

  • The Plano Independent School District may be lowering its standards in certain areas for middle-schoolers.

  • Just a few weeks after the Ryan Moats incident, a previous violent run-in between a police officer and a citizen--a deaf guy, in this case--has resulted in a settlement with the city.

  • That smoke you may have smelled on Thursday night came a long way to get here.

  • Those "convenience charges" that we pay to go to big concerts aren't completely Ticketmaster's fault.
I'll try to do better at posting this week (this post was even done early so that I can have the rest of the day off). Enjoy your day today, in whatever way you might be celebrating.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Big Music's Dirty LIttle Secret

I read something interesting in the Dallas Observer this week--something that pulled the covers off something that the Big Music industry would have probably rather kept under wraps: Some of the "convenience charge" money charged by services like Ticketmaster actually goes to the promoters or the bands themselves:
One of the lesser-reported revelations of late February's Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on the proposed merger of the two corporate behemoths of the concert business, Ticketmaster and LiveNation, came during a conversation with Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff about service fees.

[...]Enduring a stern grilling by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and New York Democrat Charles Schumer, Azoff, seated next to LiveNation kingpin Michael Rapino, uttered a statement only a few outlets, including Nashville industry blog Coolfer, reported: "I would also like to get on the record that when people hear what Ticketmaster's service charge is, Ticketmaster was set up as a system where they took the heat for everybody. Ticketmaster gets a minority percentage of that service charge. In that service charge are the credit-card fees, the rebates to the buildings, rebates sometimes to artists, sometimes rebates to promoters."

This statement reveals a new truth behind the foggy nature of the fees, usually $12 to $15, and suggests that, in addition to providing the service of selling tickets, Ticketmaster also offered itself up to certain clients as a kind of protection service. Worried about being perceived as greedy to your fans and/or customers? Sign on with us, and we'll be the bad guy.
I'll admit that worked for me; I certainly considered the ticket services the bad guy on many occasions, but I've cut back on going to "big" concerts for many reasons: The price of the tickets, the price of parking, the price of concessions, the sometimes thuggish security personnel at the various venues, etc. Thankfully, most of the concerts I attend are jazz concerts in smaller venues, many of which are outside the realm of places like Ticketmaster.

But is the tide turning? It certainly is for Ticketmaster, who's decided not to be the bad guy anymore:
[I]n a mid-January conference call, Ticketmaster chairman Barry Diller for the first time in the company's history declined to take heat for the rising ticket prices (up 400 percent in the past decade): "Ticketmaster does not set prices," Diller said. "LiveNation does not set ticket prices. Artists set ticket prices."
And most people agree that those prices are too high:
"Ticket prices need to come down, like, right this instant," says one L.A. promoter, who declined to be named because of relationships with both Ticketmaster and LiveNation. "And everyone is involved who does business making a dollar off concerts—band, promoter, agent, manager, venue, ticketing company. Everyone involved has to look at it responsibly." The promoter adds that a recent survey indicated that the average American goes to a mere two concerts a year: "That's because it's a bad experience. If it was a better experience, they'd go to 15. The money experience, the parking experience, the cost-of-beer experience—it should be easier to go to shows for people who want to go to more of them. But it has spun out of control.
Again, it would be great if there weren't so many layers of crap between bands and their fans, and I've said on many occasions that if it's possible for a band to thrive without all these layers, that's all for the better. But if the bands themselves are the first link in the chain of greed, that's another problem altogether.

The author of the Observer article, Randall Roberts, does a good job of stating the dilemma:
We love supporting musicians we admire, and want them to be able to quit their day jobs so they can make us happy with music. It's just much easier to pay our money to them when we feel good about the transaction.
Well said. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, especially with the sour economy. Maybe everyone involved will be able to turn down the Greed-O-Meter a bit and make things more enjoyable for the fans, because without the fans, your gig is known as a "rehearsal."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, From a Long Way Away

When I left the college last night, I smelled something burning; I wondered if it was nearby, as the smell was quite strong. (I was hoping it wasn't in the fairly new neighborhood adjacent to campus, or even the cattle farm across the street.) But when I got in the car and turned on the radio, I discovered that what I was smelling was the smoke from the devastating wildfires that hit several counties west of Ft. Worth yesterday. If it was that strong where I was, over 100 miles away, I can only imagine what it was like in the area itself.

My heart goes out to the people who had to evacuate, and especially to the family of the former Channel 8 reporter and his wife who lost their lives in one of the fires.

Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, there was probably more smoke outside in Dallas than there was inside today; a new smoke-free workplace law took effect today in many Dallas establishments, including bars.

I said last week that I'm not a fan of smoking, and laws to control secondhand smoke don't bother me all that much. The new law has a loophole for businesses with enclosed patios, and those which have such amenities may well gain business. I've never had a problem with places that have separate smoking sections, but this has always seemed hard to do in bars (and as I said in the earlier post, it's hard to be an employee at such a place--a bartender, server, or, yes, a musician--and not feel the ill effects of all the smoke).

Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd favors uniform smoking laws for the entire state, so that places like restaurants and bars don't lose business to the competition who's a block away and just happens to be in a neighboring suburb that doesn't have such a law. She also notes that a lot of restaurants spent quite a bit of money a few years ago to install ventilation systems that allowed them to have a separate smoking area, and now a lot of those same places are out all that money, because the new laws have put the kibosh on the smoking area altogether. I agree that it would be good for the laws to be consistent and for them to not change every couple of years, unless the government is planning on reimbursing the businesses for their previous expenses (yeah, and then I woke up).

There's only one unanswered question here, and it comes from my own head: Why is it that I--someone who wants as little government involvement in personal matters as possible--am OK with these smoking bans? Is it simply because I'm so violently allergic to secondhand smoke? Or is it a simple matter of "your right to smoke ends where my nose begins?" I'll have to ponder this one for a while; feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Once Again, No "Protecting and Serving" Went On Here

Just a few weeks after the Ryan Moats flap comes news that a settlement has been reached between the city of Ft. Worth and a citizen who got crosswise with a police officer back in late 2007. This guy got his nose broken by the officer as he was trying to explain that he was deaf and couldn't hear what was being said to him:
On Nov. 30, Christopher Ferrell, 43, was pulled over for speeding, police said. [Ft. Worth police Sgt. Pedro] Criado said Thursday he did not know where the traffic stop occurred.

Ferrell’s attorney said his client reached for his identification to inform the officer he was deaf.

"He was trying to show his identification to the officer so that the officer would know that he was simply unable to communicate with him on a normal basis," said attorney Paul Goetz.

But the dash camera video shows Officer J.A. Miller grabbing Ferrell, swinging him around and slamming his head into the rear windshield.
I'm not one to use an incident like this to paint the entire FWPD with the same brush, and I'm glad the dash-cam caught the officer in the act. I'm also encouraged by the fact that Ft. Worth now has access to interpreters--for either foreign languages or sign language--who can be transported to the scene of traffic stops.

Still, it disturbs me a bit that the officer would get that violent in the first place, and even more so that he only received a two-day unpaid suspension; were I in charge, he'd have been canned on the spot and barred from being a police officer anywhere ever again, and the funds for this week's settlement would have come out of his own pocket. As I've said before, I would hope that the culture would change so that such things do not happen again in the future.

UPDATE: A good comment from a DMN reader:
[T]oo bad nobody wants to address the larger issue at hand, which is how police are trained to treat people (guilty until proven otherwise), and what is acceptable behaviour from a public servant (last time I checked, it was still supposed to be protect and serve, not harass and intimidate).
Well said; that's the kind of "culture change" I'm talking about.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lower Your Educational Standards? That's Plain Ol' Ridiculous

A while back in this blog, I lambasted the Dallas Independent School District (in multiple posts) for allowing students who flunk tests, miss deadlines and neglect to turn in their homework the chance to make up the work without penalty. But I never expected in my wildest dreams (nightmares?) that the same thing might happen in Plano:
Plano school officials are exploring a policy for middle schoolers that would not dock grades for cheating or late assignments. And teachers wouldn't grade some homework at all.

Plano ISD officials had hoped to roll out the new policy next school year, but the changes have been delayed because several teachers raised concerns they wouldn't be able to hold students accountable, according to documents and e-mails obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

But for some parents and teachers, such policies lower expectations and soften consequences for students who don't do work.
That's right, this is happening in Plano, a district whose name has--up until now, I suppose--been almost synonymous with high standards. So much for that...

OK, let's hear them out for a second. Their explanation:
Plano's proposal brings up a question that other districts are asking: How should assessment enhance student learning?

"A lot of the times, our grading practices are things we do just because that's the way we've done them historically," said Jim Wussow, who oversees the district's secondary curriculum. "We've been examining why we do what we do."

Plano administrators hope such a policy would encourage teachers to shift their focus from delivering grades to providing individual feedback to help make sure students are mastering concepts. They also say the rules would also create a uniform grading policy across middle schools.
So on the one hand, you've got this sort of touchy-feely grading system that could work, except that it flies in the face of the No Child Left Behind/standardized testing-intensive model that seems to be foisted on school districts by the federal government. Am I the only one who thinks these two methods don't go together at all?

And of course, the linked story doesn't include a single positive reaction from a parent, and they--along with the teachers themselves--are the ones who will ultimately have to buy into this policy. And I don't see this happening, because the whole thing just looks like a gigantic train wreck:
Some of the proposed policies run counter to how Plano's middle school teachers currently assign grades. For example, students caught cheating receive an automatic zero or failing grade on that assignment. Instead, teachers and school officials would set a different consequence so that student behavior doesn't pull down grades.

Students would be given homework, but teachers wouldn't grade all assignments.

Students who turn in late work wouldn't receive a lower grade under the proposed policies, in an effort to get students to finish the work rather than just take a bad grade and move on.
So much for higher standards. And I have to throw in this one silly quote from an education professor who is far enough away from this as to not really be affected by its outcome:
The philosophy behind Plano's proposal is not aimed at diminishing student accountability or reducing academic rigor, said Jim McMillan, an education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Recent research shows that assigning grades by themselves, without teachers providing consistent and specific feedback, doesn't aid student progress, he said. He supports policies such as the one Plano is considering.

"When you don't turn in your assignment, it's more of a reflection of responsibility than what you know," he said. "It's hard when you try to combine those into a single grade."
Hold on, Prof--isn't responsibility part of the equation as well? We're supposed to be preparing people to be productive as citizens and in the work world; if someone has all the knowledge in the world but is totally irresponsible, that's not exactly being productive.

RIght now, this only is expected to apply to middle schools, but how ready will these kids be for high school if expectations are lowered like that?

And pardon me for harping upon my pet soapbox issue again, but this is obviously a policy that was proposed without input from a single teacher. This is just one more reason to get all the administrators out of their ivory tower for at least one class period a day. Require them to at least partially be teachers again, and you'll see decisions being made that are much more tailored to the needs of teachers and students, rather than those of politicians and bureaucrats. (And if an administrator no longer has the talent for teaching--or never did--then get 'em outta there. I consider that to be a feature, not a bug, of my idea.)

(Portions of the above are paraphrased in a cross-post in the comments section to the linked story at the top.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Basia's Back, and We Remember Her Burnin' Bari Player

When I was in college, I became a fan of the Polish jazz-pop singer Basia, whose music was a fresh alternative to what was going on at the time: Jazz harmonies with strong pop sensibilities, a Jobim-esque sense of melody on many of her tunes, and--a special bonus from where I sit--a bari player who sounded quite a bit like Gerry Mulligan. Since her first recording, Time and Tide, had minimal liner notes (and this being the pre-Google era), I didn't have a name to put with that saxophonist until her second recording, London Warsaw New York, where he was identified as Ronnie Ross; he even broke out the bass sax on one of the tunes on that album!

By the time she released her third recording, The Sweetest Illusion, the pop side of things was starting to take over (though I did have a soft spot for one of the tunes on that CD, "Third Time Lucky," which shared chord changes with one of my own sambas in the first and last four bars of the chorus). I was also disappointed that Ronnie Ross was nowhere to be found on that album; how could she let someone like that go? Eventually, Basia dropped out of sight for a number of years, though I'd pull out the first two CDs on occasion.

Fast forward to 2004, when I noticed a new CD by someone named "Matt Bianco" which proclaimed, "featuring Basia" at the top. It turns out that Matt Bianco is not a someone but a something--the first band she was in after moving to London, before her solo career, and the group that would unite her with her longtime collaborator, pianist Danny White. I didn't pick up that recording, but I looked for it online a time or two.

And while reading about Matt Bianco, I discovered why Ronnie Ross had been conspicuously missing from The Sweetest Illusion: He had passed away three years before it was recorded. Such a shame; that was someone I would have loved to see perform in person. (On the '04 Matt Bianco CD, Matt's Mood, there were evidently some old Ross solos unearthed and spliced into the proceedings; I'll have to check that out at some point.)

And then, a few weeks ago, I read in the paper (yes, I'm old-school that way) that Basia was about to release a new CD under her own name again. It's called It's That Girl Again, and it seems to take up where London Warsaw New York left off, with great singing and writing and the jazz vibe predominating. It could be said that the best music is like an old friend--you can be away from it for a while, and when you get back together, everything takes up where it left off, and this CD does the same thing. The only thing missing, of course, is Ross; it would have been great to hear him blow over these tunes.

But my searching also proved fruitful, as I stumbled upon not only a tribute page to Ross on the Web, but another site featuring documentation of rare recordings and radio broadcasts by Ross, along with free downloads of same. The taste of great bari playing that I've known for so long from the Basia CDs has finally turned into a full-blown meal, and it's just as great as I imagined.

Welcome back, Basia! And thanks for introducing me to Ronnie.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Great Start

Enjoy this statement, because it's a rarity: The Rangers are undefeated in the regular season!

Granted, major league season is all of one day old (and the Rangers actually started the year at home for once), but the Rangers started off in fine fashion by trouncing Cleveland, 9-1 (on a 50-degree day, no less). Even if their record "falls to .500" on Wednesday, we can enjoy this day for what it is (which, among other things, is the first Opening Day victory for the team in five years).

I always do a baseball post on Opening Day, which, as I said, has often been on the road for the Rangers in seasons past (perhaps starting out in The Ballpark, with their former owner--you can call him "Dubya" now--throwing out the first pitch, helped rally the team today, or maybe this year is different). In the early years of this blog, I waxed philosophically about baseball and the good things in America, and I've also compared it to jazz. And just like on every Opening Day, I'll link those two posts and talk optimistically about the upcoming season for a moment (and today's win gave us an extra little jolt of said optimism). I never get to go to the day game, since skipping school doesn't work so well when you're a teacher, but I'll be out there soon, thanks to the free tickets I get every Christmas.

And in a few weeks, when the team finally travels to the West Coast for a late-night (Texas time) start, I'll get to experience one more early-season tradition: I'll turn on the radio and fall asleep to the game, and for a little bit, I'll be a kid again. Baseball's good like that.

Play ball!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

It's No Longer Just Wiestful Thinking

My former classmate, Steve Wiest, has been the Interim Director of the One O'Clock Lab Band this year (and, IMHO, has done a great job at the helm, as I"ve said here a few times). So I was very happy to read the announcement that he has snagged the job on a permanent basis, and I couldn't be happier for him.

But wait...there's more! In the same press release, it was also announced that another former classmate of mine (and occasional Musings reader), John Murphy, who has served this year as interim chair of the Division of Jazz Studies, has been given that job on a permanent basis as well. Congrats, guys!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Travel Advisory

I have a big weekend of travel to fraternity events coming up. Tonight, there's a late-night ceremony in Waco, followed by an early-morning one in Ft. Worth tomorrow. I'll be chillin' in Hillsboro for the interim. Back tomorrow afternoon, hopefully to catch up on a few more unfinished posts from the past few weeks.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Nanny State Butts In Again

Let me start out by saying that I simply can't stand smoking. I'm pretty allergic to the stuff, and I can smell it from a mile away. When I had a weekly gig a few summers ago at a smoky bar, it almost did me in. I'd be happy if nobody ever smoked again.

But all that being said, i still don't like this particular proposed piece of government intervention: A Texas Senate committee has approved a bill that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 19:
Though they are legally considered adults and can serve in the military, 18-year-old Texans would be considered minors when it comes to smoking under a bill passed unanimously through a Senate committee Tuesday.
The measure would increase the legal age for buying tobacco products to 19, and would cut off an estimated $12.5 million in tax revenue for the state over the next two years.

Supporters say raising the legal age will prevent teens from smoking an extra year and keep cigarettes out of high schools, where they can be passed along to younger students.
As often happens with things like this, the bill's sponsor is coming from a good place; I'm sure that many people would prefer that high school students not smoke. (The same thing happened with the drinking age a number of years ago--it was raised from 18 to 19 until the federal government twisted every state's arm out of the socket by threatening to withhold highway funding until it was raised to its current age of 21.)

But the problem here is the exact same one that we talked about last summer, when the Amethyst Initiative was being introduced: Actions like this continue to blur the definition of adulthood. If the smoking age is raised, that means that adutl privileges would go like this: voting, military service and lottery tickets at 18, smoking at 19 and drinking at 21; why not be consistent? As I said in that earlier post, it would be better for all concerned to have a single age of majority, rather than the "graduated steps to adulthood" that will be even more in place if this bill were to pass. I would prefer a consistent age of majority at 18, because going in the complete opposite direction would mean that nearly every college student would be a minor, and I don't think that the colleges are prepared to take on the role of in loco parentis any more than they already do.

A commenter to the Chronicle story has a good idea:
he government has no right to restrict things if you are of legal adult age. If they are worried about younger teens gettign access, then make the punishment for posession of said things more severe.
I couldn't agree more.

What say you? Chime in below with your comments.

And here's where I might look like a hypocrite: I may not be a fan of the law proposed above, but I have no problem with the dramatic increase in federal cigarette taxes that went into effect yesterday. The main difference for me is that, while the tax is likely to be a burden for some smokers, it doesn't actually outlaw the practice for a certain portion of the population. If it nudges someone who might have been on the verge of quitting over the edge, that's all well and good, but at least that person still has a choice in the matter.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Five "Peaces" + 7 Pieces + 3 Hours = Amazing

Looking back, there really was nothing that could have kept me from going to this concert. Let's look at the lineup: Chick Corea (that alone would send me there), John McLaughlin (a legend I'd never gotten to see before), Kenny Garrett (it's been four years since I saw him last), Christian McBride (saw him a year ago, but he's one of my favorite bassists) and Brian Blade (have seen him in multiple settings, always fun to watch). Each one is a leader in his own right, and the prospect of hearing them in the same group seemed exciting. They're performing together as the Five Peace Band, and I was really happy that they decided to come to Dallas, seeing as how I'd pondered a whirlwind trip to the Flynn Center in Vermont before the Texas leg of the tour was announced.

It's easy to be skeptical of the "supergroup" concept; just because certain players are amazing individually doesn't guarantee that they can form a cohesive unit, but it seems like supergroups fall flat more often in rock music (where people tend to be more strongly identified with a specific group) than in jazz (where playing in multiple groups simultaneously is pretty much a way of life). And besides, it's not as if parts of this group haven't played together before: Garrett and McBride joined Corea on the Remembering Bud Powell CD; McBride toured in a trio setting with Corea a few years back (including a Dallas stop that I discussed here, Blade played on Garrett's Triology and Pursuance CDs. And of course, Corea and McLaughlin go back forty years now, all the way back to Miles Davis' legendary In a Silent Way recording. So the various strands of familiarity between the guys were bound to unite them into a true band, and I'm happy to say that such a thing happened very nicely.

Another sign that this was a true band: They didn't play anyone's "hits" tonight; there was no "Spain" or "Sing a Song of Song" to be found. Everything that I heard tonight, save for the encore, was unfamiliar to me (I know McLaughlin much better as a player rather than a composer, and he accounted for nearly half the compositions tonight; also, one of Corea's tunes was brand new), which added to the concept of this being a band and not just a collection of legends. (Since the tunes were new to me, and McLaughlin's British accent and slightly muffled delivery made him hard to understand at times, I didn't catch the names of most of the tunes while I was there. But thankfully, the band posts its set lists on the website once a show is over, so the missing pieces can come together in time for this review.)

The band has been touring since last year, starting in Europe (with Vinnie Colauita holding down the drum chair until a few weeks ago), and that tour has already been chronicled on a CD that was for sale at the gig. Had I known that it was not available in "terrestrial" form except at that booth, I might have picked one up, but it will be released over here on April 28 (it appears to have already come out in Europe). In the meantime, if you can't wait that long, Amazon has it as a download already, and a listen to the sample page will give you a very small idea of what was played last night.

With a collection of talent like this, the tunes run long--very long, in some cases, but it hardly seemed like any time had passed at all during either set. The first set, lasting an hour, consisted of three tunes, which also happened to be the first three on the CD: McLaughlin's "Raju," Corea's "The Disguise" and McLaughlin's "New Blues Old Bruise." After a 30-minute intermission, the band returned with McLaughlin's "Señor CS," followed by what McLaughlin described as a "magnum opus" from Corea, "Hymn to Andromeda." (It was amusing to hear the latter called a magnum opus, because "Señor CS" had itself taken 35 minutes. And due to his quietness on the mic, I thought that McLaughlin was calling it "Hymn to a Drummer.") The band closed the set with Jackie McLean's "Dr. Jackie" (McLaughlin quipped, "Since we're at the House of Blues, we'd better play a blues"), and returned for an encore with an abbreviated version of "In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time."

But I must reiterate that, despite the length of the tunes, they never seemed long. These guys have a lot to say on their instruments, and it's all worth hearing. Despite the potential for a meeting like this to degenerate into a complete chops-fest, the band showed quite a bit of versatility; indeed, of the five players, only McLaughlin could occasionally be accused of using technique to the point of overkill, and even that wasn't the case all the time. The dimension of the band changed dramatically when Corea moved to the grand piano and McBride switched to the upright bass (on which, I must say again, he has one of my favorite sounds of anyone alive; I first noted this in a Pat Metheny Trio review from a little over a year ago). Blade is fun to watch, and he seemed even more animated and rubber-limbed than on previous occasions; he also managed to provide a great deal of intensity at even the softest volumes. Garrett--always one of my favorite alto players--brought the whole package: simple figures done in interesting ways (such as his trademark "out" pentatonics), the occasional bleats and squeals, and solos that started softly and whipped the audience into a frenzy by the time he was done. His alto also combined with McLaughlin's guitar for a cool melodic texture on several tunes, seamlessly matching the old master note for note on even the most complicated passages.

It's hard to believe that I actually considered not attending this show for the sole reason that nobody else was able to go with me. As I should have guessed, a pretty significant chunk of the DFW area music community was in attendance, and I was among friends from almost the moment I walked in the door. The meeting of this group of legends sounded like a one-off (I had no idea they'd been touring for so long and already been recorded), so as it drew closer, it turned into a can't-miss occasion. It amazed me that there were still tickets on sale on the day of the show, but I'm glad there were. Check this out if it comes to your town; you won't regret it.

Venue review redux: This was my first trip to the House of Blues since a Tower of Power concert nearly two years ago, and many of my first impressions had not changed. Parking? Convenient and well-lit. Prices? Expensive ($38.50 plus "convenience" fees for the standing-only area). Security? Still wanding everyone on the way in (which seemed like overkill until one of my friends mentioned this guy he knew who was dismayed that he had to return his gun to his car before being allowed in). The main difference was that the standing-room area, which extended all the way to the stage for ToP, was much more limited this time, with the front area being populated by folding chairs and a much higher ticket price. (I'm not sure if they did this because they wanted to make even more money, or if they had opened up the front area at ToP to accommodate dancing. I also realize that the answer to that question could be "Yes.") The view where I stood was just obstructed enough that I couldn't see the entire band; my view of Corea was blocked more than anyone else, but I could see him if I shifted a bit, and even more easily when he played the top keyboard on his rack.

My only complaint had to do more with some of my fellow concertgoers than the venue itself; there were some people who persisted in talking during the most inappropriate times, such as McBride's bass solos and the slow acoustic piano intro to "Hymn to Andromeda." I'm not of the physical build or boldness to confront someone like that, but it was irritating to those of us who didn't pay almost fifty bucks to hear a couple of drunk guys yakking. I'm sure that this problem is less apparent in venues that are completely sit-down in nature, so maybe next time, I'll just have to throw down for an actual seat.