Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tribute Time

As I mentioned last week during the Maynard Ferguson post, a tribute concert had been slated for sometime this fall in St. Louis. And I'm happy to announce that the organizers wasted little time in getting this together, as there has already been an announcement of the date and location. It's set for Wednesday, September 20, on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Even though it's during the week, I might just be crazy enough to go...

I have several unfinished posts from the past several days, so I'll wait to put up anything else new until those are finished.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Two Anniversaries

I mark the anniversary of two events, one personal and one global:

One year since Katrina. On the eve of the hurricane, I pleaded with Katrina to miss the Big Easy, but it's not like hurricanes listen to people (or read blogs, for that matter). Still, it seemed at first that New Orleans had dodged a bullet by not taking a direct hit...and then the levees broke.

Since then, parts of New Orleans have rebuilt, while other parts remain as devastated as they were a year ago. I felt fortunate to be able to visit there last spring break (a visit which was chronicled in these two posts). And while my friend who went to school at Loyola isn't returning there, I'm sure there will still be plenty of chances to visit in the near future.

Be sure and check out a great retrospective that came out over the weekend: A Day in the Life of Katrina Survivors.

My fifth anniversary as a homeowner. In a way, I can't believe it's been five years since I closed on Casa de Kev...but on the other hand, the days of renting seem like an eternity ago.

It was an unusual time in history, coming just a few weeks before 9/11; the world was suddenly turned upside-down, and I had just taken on a financial responsibility like none other. Thankfully, I had plenty of work to keep my mind off things, since I had but a month to move everything out of my rental house and clean up out there. Pretty much every waking hour that month when I wasnt' teaching was spent on the moving process. (And let there be no doubt that these "problems" paled in comparison to those of the people who actually had a personal connection to 9/11.)

Since then, it's been great to be a homeowner, and, while I can't believe I spent as many years as I did pouring out money on rent, I'm glad I ended up where I did--right in the middle of my teaching route and close to all the cool new stuff they've built out here in the past year. There may come a time when I "upsize" a bit, but for now, this place is pretty much perfect.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I, Coltrane?

There won't be much time for a post today, but I had to show everyone this:

Someone has evidently programmed a robotic device to "play" Giant Steps, including the complete Trane solo. (If the video won't play on your computer, try going here.) I love some of the comments made by visitors to the YouTube posting, especially the one who says that their cat could play Cherokee in 9/4 time in the key of C#. The machine certainly doesn't rise to the level of Coltrane's musicality, but it says something when the solo almost stands alone even without inflection. (Hat tip: The Green Room)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Little Color Blindness Would Be A Lot Less TAKS-ing On Our Schools

Even though I get a lot of my news online these days, another article in the paper has prompted me to post. Today, it's a column by Steve Blow that was prompted by the controversy over a local high school principal's singling out of black students to do better on the TAKS test, in an announcement given over the PA system at school. All the usual things followed: The principal, Kathy Culbertson, apologized; the superintendent denounced her remarks as inappropriate; and some parents want her head on a platter.

Blow asks two interesting questions in his column:

Is it still possible to even talk about race anymore? As I noted in the Farmers Branch post the other day, it's hard for people in the majority to even criticize anyone in a minority group these days without being branded as a racist. Blow ponders this point:
the question that kept coming to my mind was: Is there a way she could have made her point without giving offense? Surely we can agree that her basic message was a good one – a challenge to study harder and bring up test scores.
Is it inherently impolite to publicly single out one group of students, no matter how valid the message might be?
Or is a third factor at work here? Have we reached a point of such sensitivity that any mention of race is doomed?
I don't want to believe it's the latter. Racial understanding really rests on our ability to talk openly and honestly about difficult subjects.
And, yes, to blunder, to apologize, to forgive and move forward.
I really hope that we haven't reached that latter point either, because ultimately, dialogue is stifled and the problem never gets solved. It allows one group of people to use racism as a weapon, one that is wielded even in inapproprate situations like the one in Farmers Branch. And in the meantime, the group of people that is being so accused gets to the point where they hear it so often, in every little situation, that they become immune to it even in times when the charges are legitimate (the "kid who cried wolf" syndrome, if you wish).

Does race have a place in standardized testing at all? I don't think so, and neither does Blow:
As I pondered all this, it suddenly struck me that the real culprit here isn't Ms. Culbertson. The travesty is that she was forced to think in racial terms at all.
But that's exactly what state and federal policies require educators to do. By law, TAKS test results must be broken down by race – white, black and Hispanic. "Economically disadvantaged" students are also divided out.
If students in any of those categories don't do well on the standardized test, the school as a whole is downgraded.
Why inject race into this? Why are we judging children by the very thing we teach them not to judge by?
And with today's booming middle class of educated, prosperous minorities, what do those labels really tell us anyway?
A black child? Is that an attorney's daughter? Or a crack addict's abandoned son?
Hispanic? Is that an immigrant child with no English? Or a business owner's child with no Spanish?
I believe that he's absolutely right here: The only category that needs to be singled out is "economically disadvantaged" students, which Blow classifies as "students from poor, uneducated, limited English or dysfunctional families." They are the ones that need special attention, regardless of skin color. Because Blow is right--the principal used some badly-chosen words, but in a truly effective setup, she--and we--wouldn't be forced to think about race at all in this case.

And I'll save my thoughts about how we need to de-emphasize the TAKS test altogether for another post.

This'll drive you bananas: Remember the animated badgers from a few years ago? Here's the sequel: The Banana Badgerphone. (Don't blame me; I'm only the messenger.)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

This Is Pretty Saggy Logic To Me

I had ignored this story for a few days, because the headlines didn't make it seem all that out-of-the-ordinary: "Dallas goes after saggy pants." No big deal, I thought to myself; the school board can certainly do that if it wants to. Sure, I'm not really a fan of extremely restrictive dress codes (in other words, I don't think an occasional untucked shirt will bring about the unraveling of society), but I'll also admit that I've never seen the appeal of the saggy-pants thing, and I know most schools have outlawed that particular look.

But then I realized that I hadn't been reading the articles too carefully; it wasn't that the school board wanted to ban them in schools--as a matter of fact, they already have--but rather that a Dallas school board trustee, Ron Price, wants the Dallas City Council to pass an ordinance that cites people for wearing their pants "too low."

Can I get a collective "Huh?" from the audience?

But sadly, this isn't a joke:
A proposal to ban saggy pants in Dallas gained steam Wednesday as City Council members discussed how to deal with the popular clothing trend.

Several council members voiced support and asked the city attorney's office to research whether such a rule is enforceable.
Dallas school trustee Ron Price recommended the ban at Wednesday's council meeting, following through on a plan he announced Tuesday. Mr. Price wants the city to create an ordinance to allow police to cite people who wear their pants too low.

"Too low," he said, allows too much underwear to show.
There's no way in the world that this will actually become law, but if it did, what would be next--beachfront cities passing legislation outlawing Speedos on really fat guys? (I'm not saying that's a bad idea in principle, but a law? Let's get real here.)

I really can't believe that Price wasn't laughed out of the meeting for bringing this up, but instead, some people actually took him seriously:
Most of the nine council members who addressed Mr. Price at the meeting said the idea merits discussion. Some said an ordinance was needed, while others felt a public campaign involving the city, schools, parents and the community would be the way to go. Some of the 14 council members said nothing.

Two who spoke – Angela Hunt and Gary Griffith – opposed using police to enforce a ban.
Perhaps the best way to respond to something so ludicrous is by not dignifying it with a response at all.

Is this style of dress annoying? Sure. But do we really need to get the police involved in enforcing it? Surely not. The time when the council should be devoting the city's resources to something like this would be when crime levels are nonexistent, when all the potholes are fixed, there's not a homeless problem downtown, the police and firefighters are paid the same as their suburban other words, not anytime soon. Board member Price may think he's building political capital by doing something like this, but it's only making Dallas a laughingstock, just as was the case a few weeks ago in Arlington, when the school district banned cleavage earlier this month (and if you think I'm kidding about the laughingstock part, you should know that, while searching for a link to the story, I found one in an Australian newspaper under the heading of "World Wide Weird").

And besides, any ordinance like this would be on shaky legal ground:
Kimi King, associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas, said Dallas would have greater justification for creating such an ordinance if it could tie it to a problem of public lewdness or criminal activity.
Dr. King, an expert on civil rights legislation, said the city would have to show that it's not targeting only young males, the group most likely to wear sagging pants. And if challenged on whether such a measure would prevent public lewdness, she said, the city would have to explain why other clothing items weren't also prohibited.
"A judge would say, 'Why not enforce halter tops or shorts that are too short?' " she said. "You're picking on one group and singling them out."
I certainly hope that sanity prevails in this case; I may not like the look myself, but I'm even more offended by a government entity appointing itself the Fashion Police. Why don't we stick to the real problems, OK?

Cool gadget of the week: How about a street-legal, jet-powered VW Beetle?

Runner-up for the cool gadget of the week: This looks like a Swiss Army knife on steroids.

Stupid criminal of the week: When you're going to court to answer to a DUI charge, it's probably not a good idea to show up drunk.

Stormy weather: Yeah, we need some rain here in Texas (as well as the "cold front" that we're supposed to get tomorrow that will drop tempearatures all the way down to the mid 90's), but I think most of America would agree that we don't need any sort of tropical "event" to accomplish that. (I wonder how many people from New Orleans looked at this and thought, "oh no, not again.")

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Remembering Maynard

OK, forget everything else I was going to blog about today; I just found out that Maynard has left the building:
Jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, known for his soaring high notes and for his hit recording of "Gonna Fly Now," which lent the musical muscle to the "Rocky" movie franchise, has died. He was 78.

Ferguson, who lived in nearby Ojai, died Wednesday night at Community Memorial Hospital of kidney and liver failure due to an abdominal infection, friend and manager Steve Schankman said Thursday.

Ferguson's four daughters, Kim, Lisa, Corby and Wilder, and other family members were at his side when he died, he said.

"Someone just said, `Gabriel, move over to second trumpet,"' Schankman said from his St. Louis office. "He was the last of the greats. That era is closed. There is no Kenton, no Basie, no Ellington, and now, no Ferguson."
I'll have more thoughts later.

LATER: It's hard to believe that Maynard is gone. He was one of the first people I listened to when I became acquainted with jazz in high school, and he was one of those giants that just seemed like they were going to be around forever. Sure, there was this little running joke among some of my friends that going to a Maynard concert these days always meant there was the chance that he might die on stage right then and there, but the last time I saw him, this past February, he was in better shape than I'd seen him in years, which is why his passing comes as such a shock.

I was lucky enough to have seen Maynard perform around seven or eight times (at least that many; I'll have to go back and count). Two of them were during the Blog Era, so I have reviews of those shows, from February 2004 and this past February. The format was often the same; indeed, the schtick was often the same ("Ain't No Sunshine Till She's Gone," anyone?), but it never grew old. The wisdom of playing in high-school auditoriums may have been questioned by some, but the results can't be questioned, becuase the man knew his audience: Young jazz musicians and their parents and teachers. Some may say that jazz will never regain the audience that it had in the Swing Era, but in this particular corner of the world, Maynard was like a rock star...and as a jazz educator, I'll always appreciate it, because we need a strong personality like that in our genre of music. Was it loud? Sure. Was it over-the-top? Sometimes. But the auditorium was always packed, and the audience always left screaming for more and totally fired up about playing jazz on their own instruments. What more could someone in my position ask for?

I don't know what Maynard's wishes were in terms of a ghost band, but I think I'd go see the group that played last spring without hesitation, because they were that good. (This next analogy may be a little off-the-wall, but I think you'll get my point.) I always used to compare seeing Maynard to visiting the dentist, in the best possible way: You know how you go to the dentist, and the dental hygienist does the bulk of the work, and then the dentist usually comes out for a lot less time (and gets way more money), but you still know that he's the boss? In the latter years, Maynard let his trumpet section, especially right-hand man Patrick Hession, do a lot of the heavy lifting on some of the tunes in exchange for some of the glory, but he'd also provide just enough pyrotechnics of his own to let you know that he still "had it." I don't thing anyone ever begrudged him that, because he had given so much to the music for so long that he had earned a little lighter workload. And besides, a really good dental hygienist can make the dentist look great, and Maynard always had nothing short of a top-notch, high-energy band, and it's a tribute to his leadership that several of his former bandmembers (like Wayne Bergeron, Steve Wiest, Gregg and Matt Bissonette, and our jazz camp's own Glenn Kostur, just to name several recent ones) have gone on to illustrious careers of their own.

I was hoping to meet Maynard this past summer; he was a member of my fraternity, and he got a prestigious national award called the American Man of Music award, which brought him to Cleveland for our national convention. Unfortunately, that convention and Jazz Camp overlapped, and my professional obligation had to take priority over my volunteer one. By the time I got to convention, I had missed Maynard by a couple of days (though on the night he got his award, I was here sharing the stage with Jimmy Heath; that wasn't a bad tradeoff, mind you, but I sure wish I could have been in two places at the same time that night). The brothers who got to meet him said that it was a great experience.

Maynard may not have died onstage, but he probably went out in the best possible way--surrounded by his family, just a short time after an evidently amazing stint at the Blue Note and a trip into the studio for what will be his final album of new material. I can't wait to hear it, and I would seriously consider attending the upcoming tribute concert in St. Louis if the logistics work out.

So tonight, let's raise a proverbial glass to a man who did so much for music and music education, while those of us who were lucky enough to have seen him perform will no doubt relive the thrills of every jaw-dropping high note and the energy of it all. And I think the guy in the article is right: Gabriel, it's time to start learning that second trumpet book.

MORE STUFF: The official statement from Maynard's management on his website.

And memories of Maynard from his most recent musical director, UNT alumnus Stockton Helbing.

UPDATE: There's now a Maynard Ferguson Memorial on MySpace.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Immig-Rant Revisited

I'm not going to say a whole lot on this subject, since I wrote a very long post about it a few months ago. But I did take note of a big story here in the Dallas area for the past couple of days. It involves the City Council of the north Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, which has a new issue on the table: A set of regulations that would make life a lot less comfortable for illegal immigrants:
City Council members had little to say Monday night about suggestions from two of their colleagues that they adopt measures that would make it harder for illegal immigrants to live and work in the city.
But their constituents had plenty to say in a work session marked by heckling and interruptions by both sides. Many opponents cried "racism," and many supporters said the measures had nothing to do with race and only aimed to make the city less attractive to people who are here illegally.

Several dozen residents crowded into the council chambers to discuss whether the city should restrict illegal immigrants through such measures as making it illegal for landlords to lease property to them; fining businesses that employ them; making English the city's official language; and halting funding for children of illegal immigrants to participate in Summer Funshine and other youth programs.

[...]Mayor Pro Tem Ben Robinson had more ideas. He suggested that the council also consider prohibiting the assembly of day laborers; requiring contractors to abide by all federal laws, including immigration laws; and having police who question the residency papers of people they encounter on traffic stops or accidents make copies of those documents and submit them to immigration officials.
Read the whole thing. As I said, I don't have much to say that wasn't already stated in my earlier post, except for this: The people who cried "racism" just showed that they really didn't have any argument of substance; their only hope was to use an often-powerful word that has, many times in the past, cowed people into not standing up for their beliefs, out of fear of being branded with this word.

I'm sorry, but this is ridiculous. What does refusing to support criminal activity have to do with race? The misguided activists who cry "racism" at every turn still fail to see that it has nothing to do with the ethnicity of the people in question and everything to do with the lawlessness of their acts. As I asked last time, what part of "illegal" don't you understand? The paper may not have said anything about it, but callers to Ernie and Jay today noted that many of the people at the meeting who were in favor of the proposed policies were Hispanic--many of them people who came here legally from Mexico and are just as resentful of the freeloaders as anyone else. But you'll rarely see this in the mainstream media, because, in many cases, the people with the loudest voices, rather than the most reasoned ones, have taken over the debate.

Isn't it time to take that debate back? Sure, Farmers Branch will get sued by the ACLU if these regulations get passed; they've already threatened to do so in the news article. But if any idea deserves its day in court, it's this one...and maybe after a while, more and more people will refuse to be beaten back by those who would call them names just for standing up for the rule of law and the sovereignty of our nation.

This subject won't be going away anytime soon...

Monday, August 21, 2006

First Day Back

I never teach on the first day of school. It's pointless; chaos reigns supreme, and my being there would only add to said chaos. I did go around and post my schedule at a lot of places, in an effort to nudge myself ever-so-gently back into the process, and by the end of the week, I'll have a normal-length day (and hopefully, a close-to-normal-length bank receipt to go with it).

There's always something about the first day of school. So much promise in the new year. It's a tabula rasa, and there's always the chance that, no matter what happened in the past, a student, or a student group, or even an entire club can remake itself in a new image. Everyone's football team is undefeated; everyone's band has a shot at a sweepstakes; not a single student has gone to detention yet (though the cynic in me wonders how long that record stands unbroken at various schools); even the Least Important Stuff That Gets Talked About the Most (i.e. standardized test scores) starts out the year unblemished. Even as I get caught up in the "return to the grind" elements of things (all the driving between schools, wearing long pants in 104-degree weather, thirteen-hour teaching days), I can stop for a moment to reflect in the freshness of it all.

Creative jurisprudence of the week: Speaking of the kids who get detentions on the first day of school, I bet more than a few of them also tend to get a lot of traffic tickets. If so, they'd better hope their cases aren't heard by Julia Jent, a judge in Indiana, who sentences teenage repeat violators to ride the bus--sometimes for up to an entire semester.

This lady should be riding the bus too: A driver in Phoenix has received 70 speeding tickets in the last five months.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Spare the Rod?" Revisited

School starts tomorrow for my middle- and high-schoolers, so an article in this morning's paper seemed rather timely: Has corporal punishment, a.k.a. the "Board of Education," mostly gone the way of the dinosaur for a good reason, or are the few holdouts doing the right thing?
– A sign stuck to the principal's desk outlaws whining. A blue jar on a nearby shelf claims to hold the ashes of problem students.
But it's the custom-made, arm-length pine paddle that delivers the old-school discipline that Anthony Price says has helped turn his junior high school around.
He stands behind a practice headed toward extinction.
Most local students returning to school this month will not face corporal punishment. But in a time when child psychologists, Dr. Phil and even Supernanny tout timeouts and tenderness, a dwindling number of holdout school districts continue to believe in the power of the paddle.
I've discussed this subject in an earlier post,so I won't repeat myself, except to revisit what I though was the central point of that post:
The big difference between many kids now and kids when i was in school is the lack of respect for any sort of authority at all. I think what seems to be missing is that little sense of fear, which may have come about because actions don't seem to have any real consequences anymore. I know that I saw the business end of Mom's Kappa Delta paddle way too many times as a kid (and it was the happiest day of my young life when she somehow lost said paddle...and I had nothing to do with that, honestly!). My parents never hit me in anger, it was never more than a few times, and it only happened when i did something really, really bad. (And of course there was always the spectre of getting "swats" at school too, which sounded even less fun; I was a really good kid at school, if for no other reason than that.) I also think the prospect of having that happen again colored the decisions I made later the extent that, even now, I judge whether or not I decide to do something by whether or not I might "get in trouble" for doing so. Granted, the adult ramifications of being in "trouble" are different, but that little element of fear helped in the formation of my moral compass. I wonder what can replace that healthy fear now that corporal punishment seems to have been put on the taboo list.
Now compare that with a quote from the principal in today's article:
"We, as Americans, have let our school system get a little bit out of control," Mr. Price said. "I love children, but when I see how many are going astray, it's heartbreaking. ... Corporal punishment adds just one small fear factor back into the system."
It sounds like he and I are pretty much on the same page here.

Granted, some educators abuse the practice, just like some parents hit their kids out of anger. The article notes that some districts have paddled kids in the past for infractions as small as untucked shirttails (my thoughts on that subject here), while I believe that the practice should be reserved for much more serious offenses than that.

And I realize that, in a perfect world, a school would never have to seriously discipline a student, because everyone would be receiving the proper amounts of discipline at home. But let's face it--many parents have abdicated their responsibility in that area, some so much so that they actually expect the schools to act as parents. I'm not sure that widespread corporal punishment would be desired, but I also think it might be a decent option for students for whom nothing else works.

There have been a lot of new Musings readers added since two springs ago, so I'm going to close by reprising the questions from that earlier post:

--Were you spanked as a kid? If so, did it ever get out of hand?

--Would/do you spank your own kids?

--Is there a difference between corporal punishment and child abuse? Is it possible to do the former without it leading to the latter?

--If corporal punishment is an idea that's past its time, what else can be done to instill that healthy sense of fear that seems to be missing from many young people today?

--And finally, am I all wet on this topic? Is this [lack of fear] even a major factor in the bad behavior and lack of respect exhibited by many kids today, or is something else a much bigger contributor to the problem?

Chime in using the comments; even if you replied last time, I realize that new situations may have come up, or your thinking may have changed for other reasons. And be sure and read the whole DMN article, which has a lot of interesting background information on corporal punishment through the years.

Better pay up for your cookies, or it'll cost you a (thin) mint: Forget to pay for your Girl Scout cookies? A troop in Akron, Ohio is filing lawsuits against their biggest deadbeat customers (granted, one of them racked up a debt of $3500).

Lost in translation: A road sign in Wales seems simple enough; it instructs cyclists to dismount by reading, "CYCLISTS DISMOUNT." But its Welsh translation seems to have gone awry, as it advises speakers of that language that "bladder disease has returned."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Calendar Says Saturday, But Today Was Fry-day For Me

Ahh, the last few days of summer. Today was actually pretty productive, considering I slept in till almost eleven. The mission for today was to find a particular Aebersold recording (or its generic equivalent; more about genericization of brands in a post I'll probably do tomorrow). The hope was to find said recording at Pender's in Denton, thus having an excuse to make a Tomato run. So even after we found that Pender's didn't have the Aebersold, and we in fact got the generic equivalent locally...well, it was still a good day for a Tomato run.

As always, the pizza was great, and I managed not to do my traditional gaffe of spilling the garlic butter from the breadsticks on my shirt this time. The area wasn't very crowded, but give it just a little time; the dorms at UNT open tomorrow, so this time next week, the area will be absolutely packed with students. But with all the recent developments around this area, it really makes me wonder what the place will look like a year from now. And you'd better believe that I signed the Save Fry Street petition while I was there.

While on the subject--I doubt that anyone gets their Fry Street news exclusively through this site, but this seems like a good time for updates: Despite the fact that the new owner/developer, Buster Freedman of United Equities, had told the affected tenants that they wouldn't have to move until at least after August and September (a boon time for them, thanks to the returning college students) and maybe as long as the end of the year, we have now found out that several businesses (including Mr. Chopsticks and Cool Beans) have already been given eviction notices. According to this article in the Denton Record-Chronicle, the Save Fry Street activist group has issued a formal statement of regret regarding the developer's action.
“We are concerned that this will have a chilling effect on this successful local business and we believe this action does not serve Denton’s business or cultural interests and shows questionable commitment to the community in which they have chosen to set up shop,” said Jon Black in a press release from Save Fry Street. Black, of Austin, is a committee member of Save Fry Street and a University of North Texas alumnus.
So we'll see what happens with the rest of the block. In the meantime, I'll take as many Tomato runs as possible and hope that, whether the Tomato ends up as part of the new development or somewhere nearby, that the downtime won't be too long, if at all. (Read my first Fry Street post here; you may also like this recent article by a current UNT undergrad from the FW Weekly. Oh, and I found out today that the Tomato has a MySpace page. You'd better believe that I asked it to be my friend.)

We've had our pizza; now for dessert: Workers in a California chocolate factory discovered a collection of chocolate drippings that bears a resemblance to the Virgin Mary.

I wonder if he emerged in the shape of a relgious icon as well: A man in a Wisconsin factory had to be rescued after he became trapped in a vat of chocolate for over two hours.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Following Takes Place Between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Six days' worth of students in that one hour, and five days in which to teach them. That's the roadblock against which I'm running up as I try to complete the Dread Sked. There's bound to be a way around it somehow, but, like the completion of an intricate jigsaw puzzle, I haven't found it yet. And even if I do, there's no guarantee that it'll be The Finished Product, as everything sort of hangs in floaty limbo until college classes start. (And "Floaty Limbo" would be a good name for an emo/mall-punk band, wouldn't it?)

I still have three more days to tweak this stuff, and I'm going to enjoy my gig tomorrow night, putting everything else as far from my mind as possible in the process. Today was "meh"--very few lessons spread way apart; a lot of high schoolers have just taken the three weeks of marching band off this year (hope they don't regret it when they find themselves with only a month until Region Jazz) and all the teachers' kids (or at least the ones who don't drive yet) were pretty much out this week as their moms returned to school. No real complaints; I realize that next week, I'll be busy beyond belief, but too much sitting around the computer agonizing over a schedule made the whole of my being start to atrophy. Fortunately, it was cool enough outside to do The Walk™, which managed to get all the molecules moving again. (It'll be nicer when it's about, oh, twenty degrees cooler at that time of day.)

That sinking feeling, part 1: A Missouri man was rather startled when, during a leisurely Sunday morning of reading the paper, a sinkhole swallowed half his house, including his garage and a car parked inside.

That sinking feeling, part 2: When thieves visited a South Carolina church recently, did they steal everything but the kitchen sink? Nope, they stole only the kitchen sink, which had been left outside during a fellowship hall renovation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Say "Uncle." Now Say It Twice More.

Give it up for Nephew #3, MIcah, born this morning at 7:41 a.m. in Austin. My sister called me with the great news late this afternoon. With a house full of boys, she'll have her hands full (as if she didn't already!), but thankfully, another Big Event takes place next week: My oldest nephew, Noah, begins kindergarten on Tuesday.

Mom and baby are doing fine. I'll get to Austin as soon as I can to visit them and see Micah in person. Here's the first picture of the little guy:

Everybody say "awww...."

I know there'll be a day when I'm celebrating the birth of one of my own, but until then, being an uncle is the next best thing.

(I've also done posts about the births of my two other nephews in years past.)

Getting Greedy Over Good Grades?

This is a subject that predates blogging (and probably computers, for that matter): Should parents reward their kids with money for making good grades? Apparently, it happens a lot...
Sure, learning is its own reward. But some kids respond best to cash. Andrew Waller's grades soared when his parents started offering $5 for A's and $4 for B's. Now he pockets about $25 each report card, saving it for video games and summer camp.
"I think I would still be getting good grades, but this does help. I mean, it helps a lot," said Andrew, a 12-year old from Mobile, Ala. "I think it's a great way to motivate me."
So you want your kids to get an A, eh? Are you willing to pay?
As children return to school, many parents are deciding what prize - if any - is appropriate to offer when kids get good grades. The stakes can get pretty high.
Whatever happened to learning being its own reward? And sometimes, things can get pretty ridiculous:
Reagan Hawkins, a high school teacher in Nederland, Texas, has had students tell him they will get a new car for A's. Their parents downgrade the deal to a used car if they get B's.
"It disappoints me, honestly," Hawkins said. "I try to instill a sense of intrinsic reward in the students. I'd rather see a student want to learn for the sake of learning than learn for the sake of a car."
And sure, learning for its own sake won't transport you to school on its own, but I think that it's still a value that parents should at least try to teach in our consumer-driven society.

I never received money for getting good grades, nor was I severely punished for getting bad ones--not that there were too many of the latter, mind you; somehow, I figured out at an early age what my abilities were, so I geared my expectations accordingly. More often than not, my standard for myself was an A, though it would be relaxed a bit for certain classes (music history comes to mind). I wonder if things would have been any different if I had been given the carrot of cash rewards for getting even more A's; I was already 43rd in my high school class of 525, so I was reasonably happy with the outcome. And the one time that I was given a D in public school, Mom went to the teacher to figure out what was going on rather than automatically punishing me. Iit turned out that I had earned a C that six-weeks, but the teacher gave me the even lower grade to "send a message" to me. I don't know if there was a direct relationship or not, but I never did receive a grade that low for the rest of my schooling. I do know that the timing of that D couldn't have been worse; I had just gotten a first division on my very first trip to Solo and Ensemble that day, and I had learned that one of my original compositions had won the district level of the Reflections Contest. We came home from the celebratory steak dinner to find the offending report card in the mailbox.)

Read the whole article; it offers a wide variety of examples of how parents use grades as tools for both motivation and punishment. I'm certainly not going to judge the ones who use money, but I hope the greater lessons are being learned as well.
Adults who promise money, gifts or privileges say their children study harder when incentives are on the table. The lesson they hope to teach is that rewards require work.
The trick is making sure that students develop a natural love of learning along the way. When the gift cards and iPods go away, students had better be able to motivate themselves.
We can only hope that the love of learning is achieved before college; as a professor, I've certainly run into my fair share of students who aren't quite there yet.

So, how about a quick survey?

1) Did you ever receive money for making good grades? If so, do you think it was a positive motivational experience, or did you just go for the quick cash?

2) Were you ever punished for making bad grades? If so, what form did the punishment take?

3) Would you give your (current or future) kids money for making good grades? Punish them for bad grades?

Please respond in the comments.

A half-baked idea? In an effort to work around some new Food Police standards that prohibited the serving of french fries in the school cafeteria--even as a side dish--some schools in Arizona are now serving french bakes...or oven wedges, oven fries, potato sticks, whatever you want to call them. Some kids even like them...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

VIdeo of the Week So Far

This is really amazing:

And from looking through YouTube, I discovered that there are all kinds of variations on the "Mentos and Diet Coke" experiment, with some turning out much better than others. One of the "best of the rest" is this one, where the kids figured out how to turn the Coke bottles into rockets that launched way up in the air; another video even gives instructions. Maybe everyone else had heard of this already, but it was pretty entertaining to me, especially the one above where they make the elaborate fountain.

Shlog this! I just recently found out that my former student Shaun Groves has been blogging for a while. His site is called Shlog, and it's full of thought-provoking stuff about Christianity and music. I've also linked him on the sidebar.

That sinking feeling: I've updated the Remembering Tasha post to include the picture I took of her sleeping in the kitchen sink back in the spring. I'll also alert everyone if and when that picture gets posted on, where I submitted it yesterday.

New gig alert: The Shelley Carrol Big Band doesn't get together all that often, so come to the DMA on Friday night. Once again, I'll have the privilege of manning the bari chair; details are on the sidebar.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Dread Sked Rears Its Ugly Head

This will be a very short post today, because I've put it off starting the Dread Sked for too long. It's one of my least favorite things to do all year, which makes sense when you realize that I'm having to schedule eight public schools, the college, whatever I end up doing with my Brook Mays students, and the people I teach here at the house (a small number, pretty much made up of people who attend schools where I don't teach). It just seems to get worse and worse every year; this year, at least so far, seems to be particularly bad in the scheduling department. I'm just not sure how it's all going to work yet, unless I'm able to defy both physics and the space-time continuum.

Since I'm working off a new computer this year, I had to rebuild my schedule file (I'm not sure why last fall's didn't transfer along with the rest of my Word files, but...meh). The one that was left was from the fall of '98, which means that the sixth-graders on that list are now starting their sophomore years in college. Despite the passage of time, it was cool to note that, of the seventy people on that list, I'm still in touch (at least sporadically) with ten of them. Gotta love the Internet...

Anyway, if I don't post much in the next few days, it just means that I've gotten caught up in Dread Skedding.

Just say no to crack: Dickies, the Ft. Worth-based manufacturer of durable work-type clothing, has come up with a great invention: a line of jeans designed to prevent rear-end exposure by adding inches to the seat and lowering the waistband. Yo, Mr. Plumber, are you listening? I'm talking to you...

I love you; you complete me: Want an exotic pet, but don't have much room in the yard? Try a mini-cow on for size.

Blowing out some belated candles: Happy birthday yesterday to one of my musical heroes, Pat Metheny, who's 52 years young. A longer ode to Pat may be found at the end of this post, the top of which is very amusing, in case you haven't read it before (it involves jazz and cows at the same gig).

Friday, August 11, 2006

You Can Still Hoop It Up in UP

I was happy to read that a really ridiculous government idea got scrapped this week: Officials in the tony Dallas suburb of University Park are backing off on an idea that would have outlawed portable basketball hoops in front of homes:
A week after University Park leaders seemed eager to ban shooting hoops in front yards, the proposal is headed for the bench – permanently.
City officials are pulling it because residents cried foul.
"I don't blame the people one iota for getting upset about it," said Syd Carter, a University Park City Council member. "I think I would have, too. It got out of hand."
Mayor Blackie Holmes said he wants to drop the proposal and plans to ask council members to do the same at their Aug. 22 meeting. He said the sudden change in direction was needed.
"We got a lot of input from residents and thoughts from your paper," Mr. Holmes said. "This was something that we thought could serve a purpose, but evidently they didn't want it, and we'll abide by that. We're only here to serve them."
The idea may have started out in a good place--residents had wanted restrictions on what could go in front yards of homes--but this proposal went too far, and after the Dallas Morning News wrote about it last week, the story spread around the country, generating hundreds of letters to the editor and responses to an online poll, most of which had the same basic premise: This idea is dumb, dumb, dumb.
One reader, Allison Doherty of University Park, e-mailed The News: "The families are the ones that make the schools, neighborhoods, and reputation so great. You are suggesting that this is the visual you want to erase."
. Look, I've been to UP, and I understand that they have, well, a reputation to uphold. Nobody wants cars parked in the front yard or anything. But if they're trying to sell themselves as a haven for old-fashioned Americana--albeit one with a lot of money--then driving kids out of their front yards (and back into their living rooms to get fat playing video games, as one letter-writer noted--is definitely not the way to go.

I'm glad the city officials came to their senses on this one.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum: The mayor of a Kentucky town is attracting attention because he has refused to mow his lawn for over a year.

Cool gadgets of the week: The Levitating Hover Scooter and the Robot Shopping Cart. (Hat tip for the scooter: Dave Barry's Blog)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Other Shoe Drops

It's now official: within a few months, Brook Mays will be no more:
Brook Mays Music Co.'s stores and retail inventory will be liquidated following a $33.4 million asset sale approved Wednesday by a federal bankruptcy judge.
The liquidation, which will result in the closure of 62 stores in eight states, including 12 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, is expected to wipe out hundreds of jobs.
Business will continue as usual for thousands of rental customers, including school bands throughout Texas, said Scott Bernstein, who heads SB Capital Group LLC, which is leading the Brook Mays purchase.
"There's no interruption in the rental business," said Mr. Bernstein, speaking at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Dallas, minutes after Judge Stacey Jernigan approved the sale.
"For those customers who have rented instruments from Brook Mays, there will be no difference in the level of service," he said.
Mr. Bernstein said he hasn't decided if he will still be in the rental market a year from now, but he said, "We think it's a very attractive business."
I'll share my thoughts on this subject a little later.

LATER: It's hard to believe that a company which had been serving Dallas since 1901 will be going away just like that. Sure, I could be accused of bias here, since I've worked for and/or taught at one of their stores for fourteen years now, but it's not like I always agreed with everything they did corporate-wise or anything. Did they gobble up too many other stores in too many other states too quickly? Did doing so force them to get bigger in the front office (they had been in the same family since the early 1950's), and did taking on an "equity partner" (as they did in 2000) make them lose their way? At any rate, it's hard to believe that they were sold to a liquidator instead of someone who would actually buy the company and rescue it from insolvency; an article from not quite a month ago sounded much more optimistic.

Though the CEO blames the glut of entry-level instruments for the company's recent difficulties, it's hard not to believe that the loss of a lawsuit against First Act (the maker of many of those instruments and the subject of an earlier post) must have had something to do with it. I suppose we'll never know why Brook Mays settled instead of appealing that case, but it's dismaying to find out that someone who sells lower-quality stuff has contributed to the demise of a company which at least offered the option of better instruments; sure, they sold some clunkers over the years in the name of saving money, but the Wally World horn shopper only has the choice of entry-level horn or nothing. It would be interesting to survey the parents and students who opt for bargain-bin instruments as beginners and see how many of them make it to high school with that same horn; the ideal situation would be if they could afford to upgrade by then. (Read the earlier post for the rest of my thoughts on the subject.)

So I have maybe a few more months at best of teaching at the store; it's a good thing that my studio there had reached an ebbing point, so I won't have to relocate that many students. And sure, I might find a great bargain at the inevitable going-out-of-business sale that will result from all of this, but the landscape of Texas music retailing will definitely look a lot different when its onetime giant is no more.

(Read a history of the company, including a picture of the actual Mr. Mays, here, for as long as the website is still up. Incidentally, the website still looks as though nothing has happened, though they did add a message from the new owners, reassuring rental customers that at least that aspect of the business will be continuing for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

While I Was Out

Whenever I run across a weird or funny story, I always save it to a specifc bookmark file called "Blogworthy Articles." I've continued to do this through the busy-ness of the past several weeks, but I haven't actually had time to post them until now. Here's a collection of the best stuff I've seen recently:There are a few more, but I'll save 'em for later.

Catchin' up, part 2: My remaining posts about the Washington trip are done: a wrapup of my thoughts from the week, and a rant about Washington's restrictions on hearing live music for people under 21 (it's the sequel to this one from several years ago. All that's left now is the posting of the pictures, and then I'll be totally caught up.

(UPDATE: Pictures have been added to the Flora and Fauna 101 post, from the day when we hit four major places within a few hours of each other. Enjoy!)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

In Case You Missed It...'s a picture from last night's gig.

(Left to right, that's Aaron, me and a shadowy Steven--or would that be a dark Dingus? The rhythm section is pretty much hidden. Photo courtesy Steve Solomon, via phone-cam)

I posted this not just because it looked cool and really highlights the three horns, but also so that I could test the Blogger photo uploading system, which appears to work properly on the MacBook (this was an issue on the Ancient and Venerable iMac).

We didn't have a huge crowd (not a total surprise with just two days' notice), but it went well, and we'll get another date out of it sometime next month, since we filled a hole in their schedule. For the first time in a while, the gig calendar is empty, but I expect that will have some new dates on it soon enough; I need something to keep me sane during the next few weeks as I prepare the Dread Sked (yikes--it's that time already).

Oh, and I figured out that the MacBook also has a program that uploads photos straight from my camera without drivers, so I should have the trip pictures up soon.

Catchin' up, part 1: I finished one of the remaining trip posts tonight, talking about the first day we went to the jazz festival. The post is here, and I'll have other ones finished throughout the week.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Two Nights, Two Gigs

Camp and the trip may be over, but it's suddenly become a rather busy weekend for me, playing-wise:
  • Tonight, it's the debut performance of the EMANON Jazz Orchestra, a new big band for high school and college students of which I'm a founding co-director (in fact, I'll be in front of the band all night this time, as my colleague will be holding down the lead trumpet chair). Aaron is on lead alto and Steven is on lead trombone, so the TD/D horns will all be there in one way, shape or form. It's at 7:30 at Molina High School, 2355 Duncanville Rd. in Dallas.

  • And tomorrow, I'm filling in for a cancelled band at the Broadway Bistro in Carrollton, a place at which I've played several times before, from 7:30-10:30. It looks as though it'll be all the TD/D horns with a different rhythm section, so we're billing it once again as Kevin McNerney and Friends; we hope that a true TD/D gig will materialze sometime within the next month.
I hope you can make it to one of these gigs if you're in the area.

(Cross-posted in slightly different form at Team Demon/Dingus)

Music 2, Blogging 0: Getting back into teaching and setting up these gigs means that I've become quite a slacker at finishing up the blog posts from Washington. With tomorrow morning/afternoon being my first considerable chunk of time off in about three weeks, I promise to get all caught up at that time. Posting the pictures from the trip will follow a bit later, once I learn to use the software that gets them off my camera.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Too Young to Listen?

In the early days of this blog, I wrote a post called Too Young to Jam?, where I vented my frustration with the (in my opinion) lazy owners of live music venues who wouldn't make the extra effort to make their shows available to listeners who had the misfortune of not yet having blown out 21 candles on their birthday cakes. And on the trip we took last week, I found out that some places have it even worse than we do in Texas.

It's really the only gripe I have about anything that went on in Washington (except the fact that the bus line didn't stop in front of our hotel--not an issue for me personally, but it made the band members more dependent on us van drivers than they were on other trips). The reason I found out about this whole thing was that we had a talented high-schooler in our band this summer, and she went on the trip with us; her mother came along, not necessarily as a chaperone per se, but because, hey, it was a chance to take a cool trip and hear her daughter perform in a unique setting. The student was thrilled when she found out that one of her favorite players would be making a club appearance up there, but rather dismayed to find out that he would be performing in one of the venues that was restricted to 21-and-up. But wait, she thought--Mom will be with me. That would work in Texas, but, as it turned out (after some phone calls by Mom), not in Washington.

This didn't make sense to me at first; after all, the performance would take place in a restaurant. Surely they don't keep people under 21 out of restaurants that serve alcohol, do they? You can't take the kids to Chili's? No way! But the answer turned out to be even more frustrating: Minors are only prohibited from places where alcohol is served when there is live music taking place.

No. This is Just. Not. Right.

It took quite a bit of Net searching to find the exact policy once I got back, but sure enough, here it is:

If a licensee wishes to have live music (including Karoake), patron dancing, entertainment, or contests involving physical participation by patrons in a dining area after 10 p.m., the licensee must either:
a) request board approval to reclassify the dining area to a lounge, thus restricting persons under 21 years of age; or
b) notify the Licensing and Regulation Division in writing at least 48 hours in advance that the sale, service, and consumption of liquor will end in the dining room after 10 p.m.

Per WAC 314-02-130, a licensee may prohibit persons under 21 years of age in their dining area earlier than 10 p.m.
(Source: Washington State Liquor Control Board Policy 1-02)
(Hmm, I wonder if anyone in the state legislature has actually been to a "Karoake" bar...)

As I said in the earlier post, there is no substitute for getting to hear live music when you're a musician in training, especially one who's learning jazz. It's hard enough for young players to experience this when so much of it takes place in clubs, but to restrict it from restaurants just because it's after ten o'clock at night, too? I just have to believe that it wasn't jazz performances that brought on this policy; some rock concert must have gotten too rowdy somewhere. I was happy to see that they do have a provision allowing musicians aged 18-20 to perform in clubs that would normally be off-limits to them...but still, that means their peers can't come hear them play.

There has to be a better way. Here in Texas, it's all in the hands of the venue owner; some will go the extra step (wristbands, X's made with Sharpies for underagers, etc.) to allow access to all ages, but this thing in Washington just seems lame to me, because the clubs don't even get the option. Granted, I'm never a fan of too much government to begin with, but this one hits close to the heart. And yes, some would say that it's not my place to visit another state and tell them how to run things, but I feel that access to live music is something that should be granted to all Americans, regardless of the state in which they reside.

As for our trip, our young player was lucky-the "stage" area in the restaurant at which the guy she wanted to see was playing was set up right next to an unused glass the sound wafted out onto the sidewalk, and she could see him clearly as well. But still, I had to rant a bit about the one bit of poor hospitality that was given to us for the entire trip.

I have a feeling this won't be the last time I post on this subject...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Trip in Review

I'm back from Washington and trying to get settled into teaching again (and true to form, the very first student of the day was a no-show). I'll catch up on some incomplete posts pretty soon, but for now, here's a collection of random thoughts from the past week:
  • It's been a long time since I've gone someplace on a trip and thought, "you know, I could live here," but I felt that way about the Pacific Northwest. The weather was amazing (it barely got out of the 60's the whole time we were there), and I was told many times that the winters aren't all that extreme either. It really was beautiful up there; as I said in an earlier post, almost every picture could be a postcard. (OK, we'll wait until I actually get those pictures uploaded to the computer before finalizing that assessment; the thumbnails that can be seen through the viewfinder don't always give an accurate rendering of the picture, and it's possible that my hands were shaky at times.)

  • I found myself feeling very relaxed up there. Nobody ever really seemed in a hurry, and, for the most part, I was right there with them. Maybe it's because, thanks to the winding-ness of so many of the roads, I rarely saw speed limits above 60 mph, or maybe it's because there's just so much to see up here and it'd be a shame to miss it by speeding past it all the time.

  • That being said, there were quite a few times when people just pulled right out in front of us on the road. We weren't sure if that was just a local driving quirk or rather that the locals didn't expect us Texans to be driving so fast, and they thought they'd have more time to get out than they actually did.

  • I've already had a lot of people ask me if it rained all the time we were there (the usual stereotype). It didn't, but it did rain a few times on the day we spent in Seattle, which is what everyone would expect.

  • It was great to be away from Texas during a very hot week. Every morning, I'd get up and check the weather on my computer, and it would usualy say 50-something. I'd then look at the Garland reading, and at the same time (which, granted, was two hours later), it would already be 92 or so down here. I didn't miss that part of home a bit, and the reality hit me the second I walked off the plane and into the jetway; it was like being smacked in the face with a blast from a furnace.
I'll get around to updating those posts from last week pretty soon.