Saturday, June 30, 2007

This Blog Has Now Been Rated

I've often said--tongue halfway in cheek--that I tried to keep this blog "PG-13" because it's linked from my main website, so it's always possible that students and parents could read it. But now, thanks to a tip from Dave Barry's Blog, I've found out the truth:

Online Dating

The rate-my-blog device comes from this site, which will also rate things like MySpace and Facebook profiles, as well as most any other website. (Evidently, the rating has to do with the presence or absence of certain words; the only "controversial" word it lists for this site is "dead.")

And one more reason to keep things G-rated: I found out in an email that my parents have discovered this blog. (Honestly, I'm surprised it's taken this long. And If I were a teenager, this would be the most embarrassing day of my life.) That's actually cool, because now they won't have to wait till they visit me to see my travel pictures, and they can actually see their birthday and anniversary greetings that I've been putting in here all along.

Road rage leaves the road: A man at a fast-food drive-thru window thought the clerk was being impolite when she didn't say "please" and "thank you" after he ordered. So he punched her.

This might explain how some members of Congress got elected: Despite his owner's efforts to remove him from the rolls (after she had registered him in the first place to "make a point"), Duncan the dog is still registered to vote.

Out of the Ashes Comes Good News

In the wake of this week's events on Fry Street, it was high time for some good news, and we just got some: The Tomato will return soon! They just received word that the location on the downtown square (on the east side, next to a coffeehouse called Jupiter House) that they had been looking at will indeed be their new home. According to the MySpace bulletin announcing the news, they're not sure exactly when construction will start, but they're hoping it's as soon as possible. I will of course post updates along the way, and I will do everything in my power to be there on opening day.

For news junkies: Here's one more updated article and a new editorial about the fire and slideshow of the demolition of the block. And the videographer who shot the documentary-length footage makes an appearance in the comments of Thursday night's post that links to his work. And United Equities continues to draw the wrath of the commenters in this Save Fry Street post.

Friday, June 29, 2007

For Some People, Today Is LIke Christmas in June

But not for me. It's not that I don't want a new iPhone; of course I do. But I'm not El Techno Geek Supremo enough to have to have it on the first day (and besides, as someone else said in the comments to the lolcat picture in the first link above, "I has teh poor" this time of year).

Actually, the truth of the matter is this: I have a six-month-old video iPod, a perfectly good RAZR (the pictures from which have been splashed over this blog recently) and thirteen months left on my cellular contract, so (to quote the old movie), Kevin can wait; whether that means wait for the update or at least for the price to come down is unsure at the moment. (Hat tip for the lolcats: Althouse. I think that I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER is one of my favorite new sites of the past few weeks.

James Lileks and Brendan Loy are liveblogging the festivities surrounding the release in Minneapolis and Knoxville, respectively. Brendan even sent some blog posts by the phone. (UPDATE: And Lileks has a movie of the day's events.)

Did any Musings reader succumb to the temptation to pick this thing up on Day One?

Also, it's been said that iPhone sales translate to an avalanche of discarded electronic devices...or maybe people will just leave their old phones in their junk drawers, like I do. I have three old cell phones in there; can anybody here top that?

Politics trump technology: In Philadephia, the mayor left his place in line for an iPhone when he was berated for doing so by a passerby who asked him, "How can you sit here with 200 murders in the city [this year] already?"

This story sounds too good to be true: A guy paid $4.88 for a plasma TV at Wal-Mart. Too bad he was actually committing fraud in the process...

For gamers, it's just what the doctor ordered: The American Medical Association now says that excessive playing of video games does not constitute a formal psychiatric addiction.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"The Burning of Fry Street"

Obviously, last night's events have been all over the news and the Web today. Among the most interesting was this video by Dentonite Christopher Largen; he started filming a few days ago when the buildings were being gutted and prepared for demolition, but it took on a whole new meaning when the Tomato was set ablaze:

The Burning of Fry Street

(This is a MySpace video, and it uses their player, so I can't embed it here like I did the YouTube one from last night. I don't think you have to be a MySpace member to view it.)

Christopher noted in a repost at the Save Fry Street MySpace that he was hoping to make his many hours of footage into a professional documentary. It's long, but worth your time if you're a Tomato fan. (And yes, the rough language alert applies here too--no surprise, considering the emotions involved.)

Also, check out the updated story from the Denton Record-Chronicle, with links to more amateur video. The North Texas Daily (a paper for which I wrote a few articles as a college student) also has quite a few good posts on the subject. And of course, the two most recent posts at the Save Fry Street site have some good pictures, as well as a press release stating the group's dismay at last night's events. (Check out the fourth picture from the top, where the fire melted paint on the bricks and caused the lettering of a long-ago tenant of the spot to reappear.)

Emotions are also running high in the comments to the Save Fry Street post, where a couple of people place the blame for everything on the new owners, United Equities--one going so far as to suspect that the fire was an inside job, done to save demolition money and avoid the long protests that would have ensued had the building been taken down brick-by-brick. As much as I dislike what UE has done to this historical district, I don't know if I can buy into that story or not, but the company definitely deserves some of the blame for failing to secure the area more than it did.

UPDATE: Here's one more DRC story about the demolition that took place in the aftermath of the fire.

It's been quite a week up there. No matter what, my next trip to Denton will take me by the intersection of Hickory and Fry, and the metaphorical hole in my heart will likely be as big as the actual hole that has now been placed at that corner with today's leveling of the rest of the buildings.

Two cool things I found out while surfing the Denton sites today:
1) UNT's tuition is still going up, but not as much as was previously expected. (Yes, I've been out of school for a while now, but there are plenty of alumni of my teaching studio headed to Denton in the fall, so they'll benefit from this.)
2) There's been a new albino squirrel spotted on campus recently. (The previous one was mentioned here.)

Some Not-So-Civil Disobedience

I said on Monday that I doubted I'd be posting much about Fry Street again anytime soon. The buildings were coming down, and there was nothing more that could be done. But nothing prepared me for the events of last night.

There had been protests and candlelight vigils all week. The Save Fry Street site had an admonition to those who would be attending:
We also ask that you refrain from vandalism. These buildings belong to the community more than they do United Equities. Defacing them is wrong and is stealing from the community.
Well, so much for that idea...
(Rough language advisory for those who care.)

Yes, some of the protesters evidently decided to take matters into their own hands:
Before the wrecking crew could push down the walls of The Tomato, the Fry Street icon died by fire Wednesday night at the hands of men seen running from the building just before flames burst out from the windows.

While hundreds of young people milled behind yellow crime scene tape in the rain watching and recording the scene with everything from professional cameras to cellphones, University of North Texas and Denton police detained three young men at the scene but later released them after intensive questioning.

[...]Police saw flames shooting from the roof amid a heavy smoke cloud about 11 p.m. and called for the fire department. Battalion Chief Cort Higgins said the building was fully in flames when firefighters arrived.

“The building was going down anyway,” Higgins said. “But we were worried about extension to some of the adjoining buildings that are going to remain, and we had power lines down and burning.”
I got an IM from a friend in Denton saying that someone had evidently tossed a Molotov cocktail into the building, and people stood around and watched firefighters battle the blaze for several hours--a festive atmosphere, almost, except for those involved in containing the fire.

I can't begin to describe my sense of shock when I heard the news and saw the above video. My friend who was there said that the general mood of the bystanders was that the place "went out in a blaze of glory" instead of falling victim to the developers' wrecking ball, but when civil disobedience crosses the line into criminal activity, there's something wrong. Did the perpetrators think that this act would somehow scare United Equities into not building the development anymore? That's not likely, but even if that were to happen, it's pointless; the historic buildings are gone now.

The only thought that keeps running through my head is, "what a waste." That, and the nagging feeling that something like this only bolsters some people's claims that Fry Street was a rundown area that was badly in need of "sanitizing." So while I appreciate the "poetry" (to quote one bystander in the DRC article) of what happened, it still strikes me as just wrong. In the words of one of the owners in a MySpace bulletin about the fire, "What a waste of taxpayers' money on something that was being torn down anyway. All I can say for now is use your voice and the passion in your heart and you can make a difference."

See a slideshow of the fire (and the gutted buildings a few days beforehand) here. And now we can truly say R.I.P. to the original Tomato; may your soul reemerge in a new body very soon.

Light amongst the darkness: I did get a smile out of the poster being held by one of the peaceful protesters earlier in the week: "Do you want a Culturally Void Society?"--a clever dig at the drugstore company that's likely to be locating on the Tomato's footprint. And visitors to the Tomato's MySpace this morning are greeted by the Bloodhound Gang's song whose chorus goes "The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire..." Just a bit of gallows humor after an unfortunate incident.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

This Pretty Much Says It All

Our current weather forecast:
Now through 11:00 AM CDT June 27, 2007
A flash flood watch is in effect for all of north Texas through Thursday morning... Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms will continue along and southeast of a Goldthwaite line through 11 AM. One hour rainfall amounts will average between one tenth and one quarter inch with isolated one half inch amounts between kaufaman...Bonham...and Paris. All precipitation will move northeast at 25 mph. The remainder of north Texas should remain rain-free through 11 AM. However...many roads...rivers...creeks...and streams will remain flooded due to runoff from earlier storms. Additional showers and thunderstorms are expected across all of north Texas this afternoon.
Rest Of Today
High: 85
A chance of showers and thunderstorms late in the morning...then showers and thunderstorms likely in the afternoon. Some thunderstorms may produce heavy rainfall. Highs in the mid 80s. South winds 10 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation 70 percent.
Low: 68
Showers and thunderstorms likely. Some thunderstorms may produce heavy rainfall. Lows in the upper 60s. Southeast winds 10 to 15 mph becoming south 5 to 10 mph after midnight. Chance of precipitation 70 percent.
High: 85
Mostly cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Some thunderstorms may produce heavy rainfall. Highs in the mid 80s. South winds 5 to 10 mph.
Thursday Night
Low: 70
Mostly cloudy with a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Some thunderstorms may produce heavy rainfall. Lows around 70. Southeast winds 5 to 10 mph.
High: 85
Partly sunny with a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Highs in the mid 80s. Southwest winds 5 to 10 mph.
Friday Night
Low: 72
Mostly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Lows in the lower 70s.
High: 90
Mostly cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Highs around 90.
Saturday Night
Low: 75
Mostly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Lows in the mid 70s.
High: 92
Mostly cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Highs in the lower 90s.
Sunday Night
Low: 72
Mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Lows in the lower 70s.
High: 92
Mostly cloudy. A chance of showers and thunderstorms... Mainly in the afternoon. Highs in the lower 90s. Chance of precipitation 30 percent.
Monday Night and Tuesday
Low: 75 High: 92
Mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Lows in the mid 70s. Highs in the lower 90s.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. After almost two years of a drought, we need the rain--perhaps not all at once like this, but we'll take it.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to the family and friends of the local teen who was swept away in floodwaters last night, which should remind all of us not to drive into water without knowing for sure how deep it is. I'm lucky in that my own driving is kept to a minimum in the summer, so I haven't had to mess with this much.

And it really needs to stop raining by next Wednesday; wet fireworks are just no fun.

Political Engrish: It turns out that many of the presidential candidates' names are difficult to translate into Chinese. Among others, Mitt Romney becomes "Sticky Rice," and Fred Thompson is "Virtue Soup." If you want to translate your own name into Mandarin, go here. Mine came out as Mao Kun Wu or Ma Kuan Fan, among others.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Machine Takes It on the Chin This Time

For years, I've ranted against the Machine--the big recorded music industry, that is--for its heavy-handed tactics during copyright infringement lawsuits. From time to time, I'll chime in whenever either side has some sort of victory of note, and this time, it appears that we can chalk up one for the good guys: A single mother in Oregon, whom the RIAA attempted to sue for hundreds of thousands of dollars, all on the basis of false information, is suing back:
Tanya Andersen, the plaintiff here, is the single mother in Oregon that the RIAA prosecuted for the last couple of years and then "on the eve of summary judgment" dropped the lawsuit with prejudice. Her counterclaims remain and are restated here and supplemented. It will soon be joined into a single case. So, what started as Atlantic v. Andersen has now turned around, and it is now Andersen v. Atlantic and the defendants are the music companies making up the RIAA -- Atlantic, Priority Records, Capitol Records, UMG and BMG -- the RIAA itself, the Settlement Support Center, and SafeNet, formerly known as MediaSentry. She is asserting claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the RICO Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.
Read the whole thing. And here are some other stories on the general subject:UPDATE: Here's more on the RIAA as a defendant.

This cat only has eight lives left: Firefighters in West Virginia used 250 gallons of water to rescue a kitten from a storm drain.

These cats used up one of their lives as well: Meanwhile, Idaho firefighters successfully rescued four cats and an albino rat from a fire-damaged apartment in Pocatello.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I'm Glad I'm Not in Denton Today...

..because this is the day that the historic Fry Street buildings are slated to be demolished. There was an article about it in yesterday's paper. Evidently, it's pretty difficult for local patrons and other area merchants to see the vacant hulks of buildings just sitting there. Here's the key quote, in my opinion:
"When people go to the Campus Barbershop, they're not just getting a haircut, they're visiting with their friends," [Delta Lodge founder Todd] Kaastad said. "When people went to The Tomato, it wasn't because it had the best pizza in town, it was to see their friends. You think people will ever go to a CVS [Pharmacy] for that?"
Some of the people quoted in there are saying things like "it'll be nice if we give United Equities a chance" and all that, but I'm personally not there yet. They've bungled this thing so badly from Day One that it woudn't bother me at all if the project tanked financially and eventually reverted to local ownership.

(The article has an interesting typo in it, by the way; they refer to the venerable college bookstore Voertman's as "Vermin's," which surprises me, since a Denton Record-Chronicle reporter collaborated on the story. And I also hate seeing Mike "Ski" Slusarski referred to as the "former" owner of the Tomato. It's not dead yet; it's just resting.)

For those who might still be in activist mode, there's an interesting post on the Save Fry Street website that suggests writing letters to the Denton City Council urging them to deny CVS a special-use permit for its drive-thru window, since that would detract from the "walkability" of the proposed development. And here's a quote that sums up my feelings pretty well:
We are in no way opposed to positive development that is sensitive to the culture and history of the area but cannot abide the destruction of architecturally sound buildings that are perfect candidates for adaptive reuse. United Equities was given the opportunity to have a professional preservation assessment done by the National Trust for Historic Preservation but they refused. The responsibility for the tragic and wasteful destruction of these buildings rests solely on the shoulders of United Equities.
I couldn't have said it better myself.

This will probably be one of the last Fry Street posts on this blog. I'll of course update when the Tomato finds a new place and opens there, and may have a little something when the new development opens, though I hope to avoid that for as long as possible. Even if it's cool (and remember, I'm a fan of New Urbanism), there was no reason to not incorporate the existing buildings into the new development; the out-of-towners are simply spitting on eighty years worth of history.

There's a ZZ Top song in here somewhere: A driver in Nottingham, England was stopped on suspicion of drunk driving; imagine the officers' surprise when they found out that the man was not only drunk, but blind.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hey, Musician-- Can You Hear Me Now?

I was pleasantly surprised to see a front-page story in today's DMN about musicians and hearing loss, featuring my old schoolmate Kris Chesky, who's now a professor at our alma mater and runs UNT's Center for Music and Medicine. Here's a sample:
Kris Chesky used to press his trumpet to his lips, fill his lungs and cheeks with air and belt out a string of notes that hit like lightning strikes. He started playing in fourth grade. After high school, he attended the renowned Berklee School of Music in Boston. By his 20s, he was a world-class musician.

He toured with some of the country's great jazz trumpeters. But the thunder from those lightning strikes added up. After practicing all day and performing all night, his ears rang until he couldn't do anything but try to sleep.

"That's when I did most of the damage," he says. "I never let my ears rest. It's cumulative. I didn't know what I was doing to my hearing."

Now Dr. Chesky, who has a doctorate in music education, is working to save other top musicians from similar afflictions.
I'll admit that this paragraph surprised me:
As many as 50 percent of music professionals suffer at least some hearing loss, according to a UNT survey. A recent Northwestern University study found that almost all incoming freshman music majors already have a playing-related physical ailment, Dr. Chesky says.
Read the whole thing, and watch a video of Kris teliing his personal story of music-related hearing loss.

I'm really glad to see that this subject is getting front-page exposure in a major newspaper. As I said a while back in my "Your iPod can make you deaf" post, I "took one for the team" a few years back and sustained a bit of hearing loss in the process. It hasn't affected my work yet, but it has made me keenly aware of the need to "rest" my ears when I'm not playing or teaching. Even though I finally got an iPod right after Christmas, I also got a pair of actual outside-the-ear headphones with which to listen to it; they're safer than earbuds, which were uncomfortable to me anyway. (OK, so that means that my next girlfriend and I can't sit side-by-side "sharing" a song, with each of us having one earbud--everybody say "Awwww!"--but I'll just work on getting the girlfriend first.) And I'm not constantly running iTunes or the stereo when I'm home, either. But assuming that my band does start gigging regularly again (that's the plan), I really need to pay my former classmate a visit in Denton and get a pair of those noise-reducing earplugs; anyone who's in the music business should consider doing the same.

A story the insurance adjuster may not have heard before: "My dog drover my car into the river!"

What's in a name? Not a number, in this case: A New Zealand couple has been informed by the government that they can't name their son "4real" because numerals aren't allowed in names. (Even though this is a funny story, it's scary to me that there's a government somewhere that is allowed to meddle that much in people's personal lives.)

The ice-cream truck for adults loses a wheel, in a way: A suburban D.C.-area restaurant is getting grief from the authorities for serving beer-sicles. It's not that they're worried about kids eating them, but rather that the practice runs afoul of a law saying that all alcoholic beverages must be either served in ther original containers or served immediately after being poured. (Now watch someone come up with a pre-packaged beersicle, just to show 'em.)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

TV or Not TV? That's No Longer the Question

Have you ever had the occasion to get some sort of cool accessory for Christmas or your birthday, only to have the object being accessorized suddenly stop working?

This has happened to me twice now.

I had a rather nice visit with my parents this weekend (yeah, I know that the weekend's not over yet, but a Mom and Dad weekend visit encompasses a Thursday and Friday, so they can swing through Austin to see my sister and her family and get back home in time for Sunday morning church). Most of the time was spent assembling this gargantuan entertainment cabinet that they gave me for my birthday. After finshing the big part that holds the TV, we plugged it in, connected the proper cables and got...regular TV channels. Period. (Understand that, up to that point, the cable had worked fine.)

We tried every possible combination: Cable directly into the back of the TV. Going through the VCR, like usual (yes, I'm still in my pre-TiVo "dinosaur period"). Various permutations of the RF modulator box that I had to get when I got my DVD player. But it was still the same old nothing, no matter what.

This morning, after some rest, I decided to experiment. I took the little TV from the kitchen and ran the living-room cable into it; nothing. Then I brought it in here and ran the cable that usually goes to my modem into it; Voilà, I has a bucket o' cable channels.

I try the living room again, on the big(ger) TV (neither of mine qualify as "big" yet); not only does it still not work, but the little pin in the end of the cable staggers and falls to the ground. Greeeeeeat. (And if you're wondering why I can't just replace the cable itself, it's because the thing was set up weirdly from the get-go. It has a coverplate with an outlet, but the cable itself goes under that outlet and disappears into the wall somewhere. So it's not a job I can do myself; the whole outlet needs to be redone.)

So here I am, with a great-looking set of furniture, and no real way to watch TV. I find out from the cable company this afternoon that they can come by and fix my outlet...but not until July 6. That's a really long time, but hopefully I'll get a lot of practicing (and reading, and blogging) done between now and then.

And the other "all dressed up and nowhere to go" incident? My sister got my car detailed and cleaned up nicely while I was out of town on a (pre-kids) trip where we'd traded cars for the weekend. It looked great. And two days afterwards, the clutch blew out on me.

Have a simllar experience? Fire away in the comments (which have been rather quiet lately).

These crooks were in the clutches of stupidity: Two guys who had just stolen a car in Atlanta couldn't do anything with it because neither one of them could drive a manual transmission.

This will be fun at her graduation: A new mother in London has given her daughter 25 middle names. Everybody give it up for Autumn Sullivan Corbett Fitzsimmons Jeffries Hart Burns Johnson Willard Dempsey Tunney Schmeling Sharkey Carnera Baer Braddock Louis Charles Walcott Marciano Patterson Johansson Liston Clay Frazier Foreman Brown.

Friday, June 22, 2007

These People Have Lost "Touch" with Reality

Here's another story of administrative idiocy--one that makes me think that the "let's do away with public schools" idea from yesterday's post isn't half bad: A school in Virginia has instituted a policy that prohibits physical contact of any kind between students. That's not just hugging, but also hand-holding, handshakes and high-fives:
Fairfax County middle school student Hal Beaulieu hopped up from his lunch table one day a few months ago, sat next to his girlfriend and slipped his arm around her shoulder. That landed him a trip to the school office.

Among his crimes: hugging.

All touching -- not only fighting or inappropriate touching -- is against the rules at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna.

[...]School officials say the rule helps keep crowded hallways and lunchrooms safe and orderly, and ensures that all students are comfortable. But Hal, 13, and his parents think the school's hands-off approach goes too far, and they are lobbying for a change.

[...]Hal's parents, Donna and Henri, say that they think Kilmer is a good school and that their son is thriving there. He earns A's and B's and, before this incident, hadn't gotten in any trouble. Still, they say they encourage hugging at home and have taught him to shake hands when he meets someone. They agree that teenagers need to have clear limits but don't want their son to get the message that physical contact is bad.

"How do kids learn what's right and what's wrong?" Henri Beaulieu asked. "They are all smart kids, and they can draw lines. If they cross them, they can get in trouble. But I don't think it would happen too often." Beaulieu has written a letter to the county School Board asking it to review the rule.
Read the whole thing. (Hat tip: Dr. Helen.)

Some of the commenters have compared this situation to that of Antioch College, which became notorious in the '90s for its "Sexual Offense Prevention Policy," which required students to ask permission to have any sort of "sexual" contact, including holding hands (a Saturday Night Live sketch poked fun at this policy). And it's interesting to note that Antioch has run out of money and is about to close its doors.

I can't add much more to the discussion here; most readers already know that I have zero tolerance for "zero tolerance" and all that. I just wish these administrators would realize that their actions are having the opposite effect of what they're probably hoping will happen; by doing this, they're causing students to take them less seriously, not to mention engendering disrespect for the rule of law.

(Read all the comments at Dr. Helen's post; some readers seem to think that, on occasion, private schools aren't exactly all that and a bag of chips either.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Radical Solution for Education?

Longtime readers of this blog already know my idea for improving education: require administrators to remain teachers even after they've accepted their non-teaching duties. But columnist Jonah Goldberg has a much more extreme idea: Do away with public schools altogether. Here's a sample:
[C]hildren are the future. And a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Because we can't leave any child behind.

The problem with all these bromides is that they leave out the simple fact that one of the surest ways to leave a kid "behind" is to hand him over to the government. Americans want universal education, just as they want universally safe food. But nobody believes that the government should run nearly all of the restaurants, farms and supermarkets. Why should it run the vast majority of the schools – particularly when it gets terrible results?

[...]There's a consensus in America that every child should get an education, but as David Gelernter noted recently in The Weekly Standard, there's no such consensus that public schools need to do the educating.

Really, what would be so terrible about government mandating that every kid has to go to school, providing subsidies and oversight when necessary but then getting out of the way?

Milton Friedman noted long ago that the government is bad at providing services – that's why he wanted public schools to be called "government schools" – but that it's good at writing checks.

So why not cut checks to people so they can send their kids to school?

What about the good public schools? Well, the reason good public schools are good has nothing to do with government's special expertise and everything to do with the fact that parents care enough to ensure their kids get a good education. That wouldn't change if the government got out of the school business.

What would change is that fewer kids would get left behind.
Read the whole thing. So is this a good idea, or does it go too far? I've thought about this for part of the week, and I've come up with a list of potential pros and cons of the idea of total school privatization:

  • In all likelihood, my administrators-must-teach policy would be part of the deal, as many private-school administrators do teach. (They seem to have a heightened sense of ownership in the process when their position is not just a meritocratic perk.)

  • It would be much easier to fire a bad teacher in a private school. (I'm reasonably sure that the reach of the teachers' unions doesn't extend to this situation.)

  • I"m also pretty certain that private schools would have more leeway to expel a student who's constantly disruptive, breaking school rules, etc.; a private business pretty much reserves the right to refuse to do business with anyone.

  • As Goldberg's article notes, parents at private schools tend to be much more involved in their kids' education, and that involvement is usually greeted with open arms, not hostility (as is often the case in public schools).

  • The government might actually save money if it wrote tuition vouchers instead of shelling out all the money that currently goes to non-teaching positions in the public schools.
  • If schools were in the business of competition for students, we might see all kinds of unsavory behavior: obnoxious, misleading commercials, athletic recruiting scandals, and so on.

  • I've always said that it's not good for education to run it like a business, because knowledge is not a mere commodity, and neither are the students themselves. What would happen if every school really were a business?

  • Would anyone go to his/her neighborhood school anymore, or would things continue to be even more fragmented? And how about all the gas that would be wasted getting students from place to place?

  • And finally, despite their problems, I just don't know if I'm ready to give up on the public schools quite yet. (But I still would like to see someone have the courage to implement my plan and clean things up at the "top" level.)
Hmm--it looks like most of my "pros" are concrete things, while my "cons" are more like "what if's." So I guess that makes me a fence-sitter so far. I'd love to hear ideas from my fellow teachers on this idea.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Great Slam for Sammy

Way to go, Sammy. I was hoping that you'd save that 600th homer for Friday night, when I'll be at the game...but how sweet it must be to hit that milestone in front of the home crowd of the team who drafted you, with your former team as the opposition.

Sure, there's another, even bigger milestone that's likely to be reached this summer, but at least this one came here, for a team that hasn't had a lot to cheer about, and it happened to a guy who--while no stranger to the steriod controversy--is at least, by many accounts, an eminently more likeable guy. (Anyone wanna bet that Bonds doesn't blow kisses to the audience when he hits his miestone? Sammy did tonight.)

And the best part? The Rangers won the game as well. Could this season be turning around?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Spam? A Lot! Part 2

As I mentioned a while back, spammers have gotten creative with the way they label their emails; I haven't seen one touting V!@GR@ in quite some time now. Whereas last time, it was the weird combinations of words in the subject line, now they're sending them out with "normal" subjects and really unusual word strings in the "name" of the "sender." Here's a list of supposed senders to one of the listservs that I manage:
  • orlandoindelicatedepth

  • agustincookyfleeing

  • sydneyprogrammingporterhouse

  • suezestlying

  • jamescrepedogberry

  • jeverlasting

  • nadiaprovisiondonahue

  • ronfourthdevour

  • roscoeeightiethding

  • lymansmartvillain
(That last one had the only weird subject line--"antonym holiday joaquin.")

I wonder what they'll come up with next. Add your own funny ones in the comments.

Somebody should be flushed with embarrassment over this: Whoever evidently flushed a bra and knickers down the toilet in England probably had no clue that it would cause a burst pipe, a flood and the collapse of the road above.

So much for respecting your elders: A German teenager in the ICU recovering from injuries in a car crash had trouble sleeping, supposedly due to the noise of the life-support machine of the nearby 76-year-old fellow he unplugged the machine. (It was plugged back in by the hospital staff before the older man was harmed.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Going Mobile

After a long wait, I got the car back today. It was nice to get wheels again, and the wait couldn't have realistically been much longer; I can't exactly walk to the college, where a full afternoon of teaching loomed.

So the even-more-bionic Kevmobile 1.2 has a new alternator, a new gasket that's supposed to stop the oil leaks, and yet another distributor; the phantom part from yesterday proved difficult to replace, so they just went ahead and put a completely new unit in. All under warranty from January (*smiles*).

As I told the guy at the garage today, I hope I'm not back again anytime soon for anything more than an oil change.

They're multiplying like rabbits, and they're in the way: Flights at an airport in Milan, Italy have been delayed recently due to mating hares on the runway.

I hope they don't bring this to the State Fair next year: A New York pizzeria has come up with deep-fried pizza.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Salute to Dads

Happy Father's Day, not only to my own Dad, but to all dads and grandfathers who might read this blog.

So what makes a good dad? Author and blogger Tony Woodlief shares some ideas in an online Wall Street Journal column this weekend, and he notes that, in many cases, the true measure of a father is how any sons he might have turn out. Some excerpts:
Maybe the problem isn't that boys are aggressive, but that we've neglected their moral education. As Teddy Roosevelt wrote to one of his sons: "I would rather have a boy of mine stand high in his studies than high in athletics, but I would a great deal rather have him show true manliness of character than show either intellectual or physical prowess." Manliness, then, is not the ability to survive in the wilderness, or wield a rifle. But having such skills increases the odds that one's manly actions--which Roosevelt and others believed flow from a moral quality--will be successful.

The good father, then, needs to nurture his son's moral and spiritual core, and equip him with the skills he'll need to act on the moral impulse that we call courage. A real man, in other words, is someone who doesn't run from an Osama bin Laden. But he may also need the ability to hit a target from three miles out with a .50 caliber M88 if he wants to finish the job.

[...]The trick is not to squash the essence of boys, but to channel their natural wildness into manliness. And this is what keeps me awake at night, because it's going to take a miracle for someone like me, who grew up without meaningful male influence, who would be an embarrassment to Teddy Roosevelt, to raise three men. Along with learning what makes a good father, I face an added dilemma: How do I raise my sons to be better than their father?

What I'm discovering is that as I try to guide these ornery, wild-hearted little boys toward manhood, they are helping me become a better man, too. I love my sons without measure, and I want them to have the father I did not. As I stumble and sometimes fail, as I feign an interest in camping and construction and bugs, I become something better than I was.
Read the whole thing.

The Latest From Fry Street

And now, the update I planned to do yesterday, before car stuff got in the way...

Stories about the venerable Fry Street area of Denton, a large portion of which is soon to fall to an out-of-town developer's wrecking ball, have been few and far between since The Tomato closed last month (with the idea of relocating to the Denton Crossing shopping center fairly soon). But this week has brought on a new round of stories:
  • The Tomato isn't moving to Loop 288 after all. In a story earlier this week in the Denton Record-Chronicle, we find out that the landlord chose another tenant to fill the space next to Popeye's. The search continues, with a local realtor helping them out gratis. The latest rumblings point to a spot on the downtown square, but nothing's set in stone yet.

  • Meanwhile, in a Friday story, the DRC revealed some of the developer's plans for the area, and I for one am not impressed. It looks exactly like Firewheel or The Shops at Legacy or Southlake Town Square. And while those places have been a great addition to their respective areas (longtime readers of this blog could label me as a Firewheel fanboy since before it even opened), they were also built from scratch out of empty fields, not built in place of existing buildings with an 80-year history. Click on the artist's renderings in the article and see if you don't agree. (From where I sit, the most dreadful part of the whole thing is the brick wall and glass-covered awning that scream out "FRY STREET" in big letters. In the soon-to-be-demolished area, nobody would have needed a reminder of where they were.) Sure, the developer is making an attempt to "reach out" to the area by having a walkway with commemorative murals of Fry Street in its heyday, but there would be no reason to commemorate anything if they weren't destroying it in the first place.

  • An editorial in yesterday's DRC (it's big link day for them over here) sums things up pretty well when it calls the plans "A triumph of flash over funk." (See a .pdf of the current plans here; at least the parking garage and drive-through restaurants aren't in the mix anymore.)

  • Finally, in an effort to make lemonade out of the lemon that United Equities has unceremoniously dropped on Denton, volunteers spent part of yesterday helping salvage items from the Fry Street buildings for an auction next Friday that will benefit Habitat for Humanity.
I'll keep posting Tomato updates as soon as they become available; I certainly hope to be there on the first day in the new location.

Exporting the Buzz: I managed to work in a Tomato reference in the comments to this post about what makes the best pizza. (Buzz, if you missed my earlier post, is the new place where James Lileks is blogging, in addition to his usual Bleatage. It's run by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, but it draws Lileks fans from all over, including a fairly large number of Texans.)

And here's the competition: Speaking of buzz, there's a lot of it surrounding the "lifestyle center" concept, and one of them is coming to Denton in a few years. It's called Rayzor Ranch, and it should--through its sheer size and location adjacent to I-35--provide healthy competition for both Fry Street Village and Golden Triangle Mall.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Here We Go Again...and Again

I was going to do an update on the Fry Street situation today (there are quite a few articles out there), but life got in the way.

During the past few years, I've faithfully chronicled the various breakdowns of Kevmobile 1.2 in this blog. For the most part (seeing as how she was already at least six years old when I bought her), she's been a great car, but there have been some moments where it feels like I've paid for an entire new car's worth of repairs. When I had to get a new catalytic converter about a month ago, I knew there were a few more things that needed attention "soon." A few random stutters--where the car seemed to lose power for just a second and then roar back to life--convinced me that today would be a good day to have things looked over at the garage. But their busy-ness kept them from getting to me before I could go see my protege/bandmate Aaron play a gig with his other band, so I got the car back and headed that way, with the knowledge that I would go back to the garage first thing after church tomorrow.

I made it within mere blocks of the gig before the car sputtered to a halt.

The battery and oil lights both came on as it stopped, which was weird; I'd just added a quart of oil yesterday, and the battery was maybe three weeks old at most. At least, unlike the previous time the car died on me, I was on level ground and not an elevated freeway connector ramp. Still, I was blocking most of my lane, and my efforts to will the car another twenty yards to the next cross-street were unsuccessful. If I'd known I was going to miss the gig anyway, I would've just stayed at the garage.

So once again, it was time to call AAA and wait. (And even though this isn't a commercial blog, I have to put in a quick plug for this organization. They saved my butt bigtime when I cracked an axle in Wichita, Kansas on a college band trip ten years ago, and that experience pretty much made me a customer for life. Nothing that's happened during the intervening time has diminished that feeling.) I was able to cross a (thankfully empty) drainage ditch and (literally) chill under a tree for the 45 minutes until the tow truck got there.

I should mention that passersby were very nice today; I had all kinds of people (of various ages and ethnicities, and both genders) stop and offer to help me--a few even pulling over or turning around to ask if I needed assistance. This social experiment couldn't have turned out better if I'd planned it, and it just goes to show that--despite all the negative headlines in the news--there are a lot of good people out their ready to give a fellow man a hand in time of need.

When the truck arrived, the driver gave me a jump with one of those little devices that don't actually require attachment to the other vehicle. When it powered up right away, it appeared that I was good to go. I was told that my new battery was one that required the refilling of water in those little openings; I had no idea they even still made batteries like that, and I really wondered why nobody bothered to tell me that when I'd bought the new one. I was advised to fill it when I got home, which was less than ten minutes away.

Except that, just shy of the last major intersection before my house, the car sputtered to a stop again.

This time, it was right before a railroad track at a stoplight. At least there were enough lanes at this intersection that people could go around me on either side, but still, this was frustrating. I got the wrecker company back on the phone, and they said they'd send the guys out my way again.

They decided to tow me to the garage this time, and when I heard that familiar sputtering noise coming out of yet another nearby vehicle, I turned and realized that it was the tow truck itself. That's right, the vehicle that came to get me when my car died had just died itself.

I had to laugh; there was nothing else one could do in that situation.

The truck eventually recovered, and they got me to the garage, which was closed by then. I managed to snag a ride home for the last half of my walk (after stopping to vote in the mayoral runoff; I was feeling guilty about missing the general election last month), and now all I can do is wait until the morning and hope whatever's wrong is not too expensive.

Being the first used car I've ever bought, Kevmobile 1.2 was never meant to be a long-term thing, but I have lots of things I'd rather be spending my money on at the moment (a new bari tops the list, followed by LASIK, in case you're wondering). I'm still hoping that I can go an entire year without having to make car payments, but we'll have to see.

Previous Kevmobile 1.2 posts:
October, 2003: A Little Civic Discourse
April, 2005: A Street-Level View of the World
October, 2005: Cabin Fever, The Saga Continues, Happy Birthday (You Money Pit You) (Yes, October '05 was one expensive car month.)
January, 2006: Kevmobile 1.2 Dodges a Metaphorical Bullet
January, 2007: Just One of Those Days, The Mystery Continues, Mystery Solved

My favorite headline of the week so far: Bullies foiled by cake. (It's not what you'll expect from reading the headline.)

Scariest headline of the week so far: Toddler Served Margarita in a Sippy Cup. The moral of the story: It's best not to put the margarita mix and the apple juice in identical-looking containers.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Not a Slow News Day At All

So many weird stories, so little time...There's more where that came from, but I'll save the rest until tomorrow.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The bureau pig picks the rice

About a year ago, I linked to this hilarious list of badly-translated items on a Chinese restaurant menu. Today, I went back to revisit that page, and, hidden among the (over 500) comments on that post, I found a link to another menu, this one evidently from a 3-star hotel in China. Some highlights:
  • The chicken hates the soup of

  • Nepoleon fries the idea powder

  • The pig picks the elder brother a cloth

  • The cold cow in the special grade west of the United States picks the meal
You get the idea. Read the whole thing (maybe NSFW because a few menu items get translated as F-bombs, believe it or not).

More weird food, part 1: Anyone for kiwi-flavored sausage? How about maraschino cherry, or maybe aloe vera? You can get this now in Germany. (But how in the world did they figure out what aloe vera tasted like?)

More weird food, part 2: And you can wash down that sausage with a cucumber-flavored soda. (It doesn't contain cucumbers, mind you; it just tastes like them.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gator Hunting with Low Brass

A while back, i posted a story about a high-schooler in South Dakota who managed to attract a moose to his house while he was practiciing his baritone sax. In that same vein, here's a story about a weird science experiment: Male alligators in mating season are attracted to the B-flat on a tuba (at least when played through the wood of a boardwalk). The gators actually echoed the sound after they heard it. (Hat tip: Dave Barry's Blog.)

UPDATE: This site has video!

(This reminds me a bit of my old cat, Tasha--may she rest in peace--who would come into the room if you whistled Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring," but only if it were done in the original key of F. And if you're keeping score, Tasha's quirks are Fun Facts #10 and 11.)

Weird headline of the day: Judge orders man not to have girlfriend. (It actually makes a little more sense when you read the story.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shameless Plug

It's summer*; dress codes are relaxed in some places, nonexistent in others. Lots of people buy T-shirts. Some of those T-shrits have "attitude." If you're in the market for such a thing, you can't go wrong with DespairWear. They have a lot of new designs this year, and they even have kids' clothes now. (FULL DISCLOSURE: Yes, the company is run by a close relative. But I'd think this stuff was cool strictly on its own merits.)

*And yes, I know that the earthly season of summer doesn't begin for another few weeks. But as an academic, my life runs by school calendars, and when the spring semester is over, it's "summer" in my head.

And now for the nudes news: A few years ago, I managed to stumble upon the local celebration of the World Naked Bike Race on my Vermont trip. If you're into such things, you might be disappointed to know that this year's edition has already taken place.

Are you my mother?, or Cow plays sow: In Australia, a pair of supposedly weaned piglets have been "adopted" by a cow on their farm; the concern is that the pigs are so hungry, the cow is losing weight.

This might make your head spin just thinking about it: Here's a site that includes a picture of the world's largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island. (Say that ten times fast.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Simple Solution for Immigration

During the year, I tend to be what I call "too busy to think." But during these past few weeks of pseudo-leisure, I've actually had the time to ponder some of the big issues of the day, and Congress' proposed immigration bill came to mind. There's a reason this bill failed--it's a bad bill. Our elected officials can, and should, do better. I think a lot of them were surprised at the opposition to it from nearly every demographic, but that in itself is not surprising; as I've noted before, most people in Congress are woefully out-of-touch with how real people live their lives.

But rather than just complain, I decided to actually come up with a better plan, one which addresses many of the excuses which have been brought up for either passing a bad bill (like this one) or not doing anything at all. Here goes:

1) First and foremost, it has to be about enforcement, not amnesty. We need to deal with the people who are currently breaking our laws, and they need to be expelled from our country before anything else is done. Then we need to shore up the borders so that we're not in the exact same situation in ten or twenty years.

And we certainly shouldn't be rewarding lawbreakers with a chance at citizenship without going to the back of the line and going through the proper channels first. That's a slap in the face to everyone who has been doing things correctly. As the sign at Six Flags says, "Line jumpers will be removed from park." We're not saying you can't come back, but you have to buy your ticket and wait in line like everyone else.

2) The people who say "There's no way we can just expel the 12 million people who are already here" are wrong. Sure we can--one at a time. Nobody says this has to be done tomorrow. A traffic stop here, a domestic disturbance there...if someone's here illegally, out they go. We shouldn't spend a dime more on them. It's Mexico's problem; let them deal with it. By looking the other way when their citizens sneak in here, we're only being enablers, and they'll never solve their many problems that way.

3) But what about their kids who are born here? You're breaking up families by sending the parents home. Not under my plan. I'd put an end to birthright citizenship for kids whose parents are here illegally. I'm sorry, but this little loophole has caused way too many people to game the system, and it's time for that loophole to be closed; we shouldn't be awarding people who aren't supposed to be here in the first place.

4) No more of this "They're only doing jobs that Americans refuse to do" business. I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating: There are plenty of people who can do these jobs--high school and college students, and those of college age who are not in school. Sure, employers might have to raise the wages a bit, which might mean either a little less corporate profit or a couple fewer employees...but I for one would gladly wait a few extra minutes for my chicken sandwich if I knew that it were being made by someone who's not a criminal.

5) Do you really think that Americans could fill all the jobs that would be open if we expelled all the illegals? Let's try. I would also require any able-bodied person who's currently on welfare to take one of these newly-available jobs, which would solve two problems at once (with provisions made for single mothers, etc.). Once we find that every possible able-bodied American has a job, then and only then can we let in workers--legally-from other places to fill in the gaps.

6) But these people are only trying to feed their families! So are bank robbers, sometimes. It doesn't make what they're doing any more right. As Fred Thompson said last week, "This is our house, and we get to decide who gets to come into our house.”

And there's one more thing that would make a big impact: We need to severely stiffen the penalty for those caught smuggling people into the U.S. Life in prison? The death penalty would never pass muster here, but it would certainly send a message.

This is certainly still a rough draft, but I invite comments. Am I forgetting anything? What wouldn't work? And "special interest groups would whine about it" is not a vaild reason for not doing this. We need statesmanship, not politics as usual. Please feel free to leave me some feedback.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

In Case You Didn't Know, Today...

is mah birfday.

I really didn't know much about lolcats until yesterday; a friend has a few of them on his MySpace, but I wasn't aware that they were part of a recent Internet phenomenon. (The lolcats are cousins of sorts to the O RLY? owl, with which I'm quite familiar.)

(Hat tip to Althouse, whose post yesterday turned me onto the lolcat meme. And how odd that the cat in question was posted just one day before my actual day.)

Hall of fame: I share mah birfday with several famous people, including Prince Philip of Great Britain, Judy Garland, actress Elisabeth Shue, ice skater Tara Lipinski (who hails from Sugar Land, the current residence of my parents), Brazilian singer João Gilberto (who did the classic bossa nova recordings with Stan Getz), and quarterback-turned-sportscaster Dan Fouts.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Here's the Buzz

As I mentioned about a month ago, one of my favorite columnists, James Lileks, lost his column at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. He had to sit on pins and needles for the better part of the past four weeks to find out whether he would still have a job at the paper at all (or, as the running joke went, whether or not he has a bucket), but news came out eariier in the week, and it's good: Lileks has the job of "chief blogger" (or something like that) at a new site called Having read through the first few days of it, it's not by any means just for Minnesotans; think of it as a slightly more family-friendly Dave Barry's Blog where the proprietor contributes a lot more original content. It's the closest thing we'll get to All Lileks, All the Time.

Congrats, James, on your bucket, and I look forward to many hours of great reading.

Fun fact of the day: In the United Kingdom, 855,000 mobile phones are accidentally dropped in the toilet in an average year.

More toilet humor: A Nebraska mom was ticketed recently after she drove seven kids to a teacher's house to toilet-paper it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mostly Caught Up

I've gotten caught up on a few half-finished posts this week:I'm gradually finishing all the pending posts, and I'll alert everyone when new ones go up.

Mr. Carpenter's wild ride: MIchigan resident Ben Carpenter had quite the harrowing journey recently when his wheelchair got stuck in the grille of a semi-trailer and was pushed down the highway for several miles at a high speed.

Mr. Drum's wild ride: A Vermont musician came home from a recent gig to discover that his floor-tom had fallen out of his truck on the way home. Someone else saw it by the side of the highway, and drummer and drum were eventually reunited.

OK, this guy was just channeling Elwood Blues: A Long Island teenager is in big trouble after driving his car through a mall.

The fashion police will work overtime to get this guy: An Australian accountant has admitted that he has worn the same pair of pants to work for more than two-and-a-half years. (I had a music history prof in college do that for an entire semester, and it wasn't just pants--it was an entire suit, socks and all.)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Night "Out" at the Museum

As usually is the case a few times a year, I headed down to the DMA tonight to see one of the free "Jazz Under the Stars" concerts. This week's show had special interest for me, as I'd never seen Bill Frisell in concert before.

Frisell is known for both his interesting use of delays and tape loops, as well as blending elements of rock, folk and country into an unusual casserole that sometimes sits right on the fringe of jazz. In other words, this might well be the most "out" concert to be held outdoors at the DMA in quite some time (previous years have included artists like Branford Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Joe Lovano and Nat Adderley). I also figured, correctly, that--unlike some of the previous outdoor concerts I've seen of late--there wouldn't be much danger of the wine-and-cheese crowd talking over the concert. Most of the people in attendance were there to listen, and the rest probably stared at the stage incredulously, wondering what the heck the band was going to do next.
"When I was 16, I was listening to a lot of surfing music, a lot of English rock. Then I saw Wes Montgomery and somehow that kind of turned me around. Later, Jim Hall made a big impression on me and I took some lessons with him. I suppose I play the kind of harmonic things Jim would play but with a sound that comes from Jimi Hendrix", Frisell, to Wire magazine, from his website.
This was not a typical jazz concert. Not only was it rarely head-solo-head, but it was sometimes difficult to tell when a new tune was beginning, and occasionally, the head was done in an unconventional way that made it not all that obvious that it even was a head. Most of the material was drawn from pop or folk songs (including "What the World Needs Now" and "Moon River," played back-to-back, followed by yet another 3/4 tune, which breaks the "rules" of concert programming...but it worked), as well as some melodies that I recognized but couldn't put a name to. (UPDATE: This DMN review from the next day was able to list a few more titles; I'll admit that, as I delve further into jazz, my pop-music illiteracy has grown.) There was really only one jazz standard, Monk's "Misterioso" at the beginning of the show, and the single twelve-bar blues had an interesting head which was laden with tritones.
1968 Played in the "McDonald's All American High School Band" at the Rose bowl Parade in Los Angeles and the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Went to a Charles Lloyd concert. The band included Keith Jarrett, Ron McClure, and Paul Motian. Heard Gary Burton, Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley, and Dionne Warwick at a jazz festival at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
--from a timeline on Frisell's website. Also of note: He attended high school with several future founding members of Earth, Wind & Fire.
Frisell has been compared to Miles Davis in that both possess a distinctive, instantly-recognizable tone; the guitarist also was Davis-like in that he came within a few degrees of playing with his back to the audience and rarely spoke throughout the gig. His bandmates (UNT alum Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums) proved the perfect partners in this enterprise, always poised and ready to follow the leader in whatever direction he decided to take the music at that moment. The trademark tape-loops were used to good effect, often serving as a buffer between the end of one tune and the beginning of the next. One of the most amusing effects was when Frisell took a little toy music box and had put it up to his guitar, letting its tones resonate through the strings. I'm sure there were some people who were surprised by what they heard tonight, but, having just previewed one of his recent recordings (this group is the "East" part of the East/West designation), I knew exactly what to expect and was perfectly satisfied by what transpired.

This is definitely adventurous music which demands involvement from the listener. I salute the DMA for bringing a performer of this caliber to town; it was an evening well spent.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

While I Was Out...

A random grouping of news articles that I discovered either on the trip or in the week beforehand, but didn't have time to post yet...Tomorrow, I'll catch up on a few recent posts.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

It's a Shame This School Is Losing Its Pride

I read about this on my fraternity listserv last night: Duquesne University is getting rid of its marching band:
Mr. Greg Amodio, the Athletic Director at Duquesne University, has decided to eliminate the marching band in favor of a seated pep band. This message was delivered to the Director of Athletics Bands and Spirit Teams, Mrs. Elisabeth Heath-Charles, on the afternoon/evening of June 1st by a staff member of the Athletic Department. Mr. Amodio was out of the office at the time of notification preventing Mrs. Charles from meeting with him. Mrs. Charles was also informed that the department had been discussing this step for months. It is also interesting that this decision was announced after school was out for the semester. It is distressing that this decision was announced after school let out for the semester, preventing opportunities for students to voice their concerns.
Read the whole story (and sign an online petition if you want) at

Those of you who know me personally are aware that I often credit marching band for the reason that I never became a band director. While this is true, I've also noted before that I have a great deal of respect for the medium even as I realize that I wouldn't be a good teacher of it. And I'm also a huge football fan who believes that football without marching band is like a burger without fries. As odd as it may seem to some that the university across town has a marching band with no football team, doing the exact opposite would be almost unthinkable.

It also surprised me that the marching band was under the control of the athletic director in the first place. Poking around for just a second on Duquesne's website, I noticed that the school does in fact offer an instrumental music education degree. Seeing as how marching band is almost always an integral component of that degree, shouldn't that organization be subsumed by the school of music instead of just eliminated outright?

As a music educator, it distresses me to see any arts organization be eliminated, especially by the axe of budget cuts. Reducing, say, a 150-piece marching band to a 40-piece pep band (I'm just guessing on the numbers, but you get the idea) means that 110 people may not get a chance to participate in a musical activity in college, and to me, that's just not right. Sign the petition and leave some comments with your entry if you agree.

In happier musical news: Joshua Redman is now blogging at his recently-redesigned site.

And some happy local news: Garland is getting its first full-service hotel (there's also been rumblings about a Kinko's and an IHOP in the same area, both of which are badly needed out here).

A music store worker's nightmare: "Smoke on the Water" as played by over 1680 guitarists.

Monday, June 04, 2007


I'm back from the trip and pretty much just chillin' tonight; since summer teaching starts in the morning (keeping in mind that we left on this trip the day after spring teaching ended; no rest for the weary), I'll just make a short post today and finish the one remaining trip report (about yesterday's excursion to Branson) in the next day or two.

I was going to troll for comments, since they've been a little sparse lately, but an email from one of my usual commenters may have explained the drought in that area: Evidently, ever since Blogger switched all its users over to Google accounts a few weeks ago, I'm guessing it rendered my non-blogging commenters' accounts invalid as well. If you don't mind getting a Google account, that should let you continue to comment under your own name, but I also have things set up so that you don't need an account to comment here. Anyway, whichever way you choose to do so, I'd love to hear from you. I've been talking a lot lately; what would you like to talk about?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Trip to the (Family-Friendly) Strip

BRANSON, MISSOURI--The tour is winding down; tomorrow we return to Texas. In the meantime, we had one more stop to make: Branson, the family-friendly Vegas of the Ozarks. I had never been here before, but I remember when my parents came, so I knew all the stereotypes of everyone here being really, really old. (Let's put it this way--Mom and Dad aren't exactly young anymore, and they were making fun of the old people when they got here. Mom told me yesterday to "watch out for the little old ladies in the prune line," but, being on a bus and all, I'm pretty sure I'll be avoiding those prunes.)

But let's back up a second, because I have some cool pictures. On our way down this morning, we stopped off at Meramec Caverns in Stanton. I hadn't been to a cave in a while, but this one had some pretty cool stuff, both natural (the formations themselves) and manmade (the interesting uses of lights). Here are a few random pictures for your enjoyment:

A cool use of lights
The Theatre Room
I'd highly recommend a visit to this place if you're in the area.

Around mid-afternoon, we ended up in Branson. The first thing that struck me was the traffic. I realize that this place has grown explosively in the past few decades, but it's too bad that nobody had the foresight to make the main drag, 76 Country Boulevard, wider than two lanes (with a turn-lane in the middle) a long time ago. (Doing so now would completely obliterate the pools at several of the smaller, older hotels, where these areas practically abut the street.) To their credit, there are a couple of alternate routes (labeled on both the streets themselves and all the local maps by color) that bypass the bulk of the traffic, but I could see how the congestion might get to people after a while.

Branson has been likened to a kindler, gentler Vegas, and there is a fair amount of neon on the Strip. Many performers who are no longer on the pop charts have been able to carve out a good living here; looking at the names on most of the signs (Andy Williams, Glenn Campbell, Mickey Gilley, Paul Revere and the Raiders) is like a trip back through time. There are also more miniature golf courses than you could shake a stick at, and one of them included a three-level go-kart track that I'll have to try the next time I'm in the area.

Our show of choice was Jim Stafford at his eponymous theatre. It's been a while since Stafford was charting with novelty hits like "Spiders and Snakes" and having a weekly variety show on TV, but he's still extremely funny, and his guitar-pickin' (pronounce that first word GIT-tar, of course) has only lost a step or two at the age of 63. The crowd was not all old-timers, as my parents had joked; in fact, most of the row behind us was some very well-behaved preschoolers.

Unlike our previous stops, there were actually open restaurants to be found near our hotel here when we got back from the show, so we didn't have to either eat ridiculously early or order pizza in the room. Tomorrow, we depart for home at a leisurely pace, and, after four hotels in five nights, it'll be great to spend tomorrow night in my own bed.

No rolls were throwed in the making of this post: We intended to stop at the famous Lambert's Restaurant in Ozark (It's the home of "throwed rolls," which means that they really do throw them at you when you want more), but when we arrived, it was after 1:30 and there was still at least an hour wait...on a Sunday afternoon! We ended up eating elsewhere, which allowed us to sample another local treat: Frozen custard, from a great place called Cool Cow Custard. (I recommend the "S'Moores.")

I'm a twenty-percenter: I may not put much stock in polls, but I have no argument with the one that says that one-fifth of all vacationers take their laptops with them. (It's resposnsible for all these posts, after all.)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

You Can't Rain On Our Parade Festival...At Least Not All Day

MARYLAND HEIGHTS--It ended up being a very good day for jazz, though the outcome was in doubt for a little while after our performance.

The Saint Louis Jazz and Heritage Festival is now a one-day event (it evidently used to be longer) in Shaw Park in the charming suburb of Clayton. The main stage is set up on what appears to usually be a pair of baseball fields, and there's also a smaller tent for upcoming local acts in another area of the park. Save for a couple of VIP tents off to each side (one of which we had access to, being performers and all), the seating was generally of the lawn variety. Rain had been in the area all week and was forecast for today, but our soundcheck found conditions very warm onstage (leading to a rather sunburned forehead for yours truly).

It's hard to review one's own concert, but we all felt like things went pretty well. As the opening act of a ten-hour showcase, our crowd was not huge, but nonetheless enthusiastic. Things sounded a little different onstage than in any of our previous venues this week (from my seat, I could hear a lot more trombones than usual, but very little of the trumpets), and a swarm of gnats tested our focus, but all in all, it was a good final performance of the tour.

After we were done, we put our instruments on the bus and went back to the seating area to hear the only other college band that had been invited--Southern Illinois. As we watched them set up, we noticed that the skies, which had become rather black in the background as we finshed our set, looked rather threatening at the moment. All of a sudden, an announcement came over the PA, but not an introduction of SIU. Instead, they said that lightning had been detected in the distance, and the park was being evacuated for at least an hour. We made the quick decision to return to the hotel on the bus and wait things out until later in the afternoon, when, hopefully, the headliners would be allowed to perform.

Thankfully, this was indeed the case, and we returned in time for all three of them. Highlights of the rest of the festival follow:

Poncho Sanchez: We had just missed seeing the master conguero and his energetic band last year in Port Townsend, when a late start to his set meant that we had to leave for our own gig before he began. This time, we were here for the whole thing, and it was well worth the wait.

Sitting under the protection of the VIP tent while the last of the raindrops left the area, it was a little hard to hear the titles of each tune, but Sanchez and company offered a spirited collection of Latin jazz tunes by a group heavy on percussion and horns, the latter of which upheld the jazz end of the Latin-jazz amalgam by offering harmonically interesting lines over sometimes static chord progressions (saxophonist Javier Bergara and trumpeter Ron Blake stood out in this regard). The leader himself, when not vocalizing, was often more than willing to share the spotlight with his fellow percussionists, resulting in a memorable bongo solo by Joey DeLeon.

Near the end of the set, the band played some tunes from their newest CD, Raise Your Hand (which was conspicuous by its absence from the Borders tent in the Marketplace area). The title track, featuring vocals from Sanchez, would not have been out of place on a Tower of Power recording. By the end of this set, the chairs out front of the VIP tent had been dried off, and the sound improved considerably from that vantage point. It was good to finally catch this band live, and I look forward to adding a few more of his recordings to my collection. (

George Benson: The prominent guitarist and silky-voiced crooner probably had the most polarized audience of the day; there were some who came to hear him play tasty licks on his guitar (with liberal doses of his trademark scatting along with his solos), while others came to hear him sing his many hits from the past 30-something years. (Lest you wonder in which camp I'm sitting, let it be known that this is my favorite Benson CD.) It was possible for members of each group to walk away satisfied, though the poppier numbers probably would have "won out" had there been a competition. Many tunes mixed both of these elements, and his polished rhythm section laid down solid grooves no matter the genre. The man still plays a mean guitar, the scatting-and-playing trick is as solid as ever, and the man is in extremely good voice. One could argue that his two keyboardists were no substitute for the fuller ensembles that had backed him on his recordings, but they were more successful replacing fewer instruments (like the flute patches on "Turn Your Love Around" and other songs) than many (like the faux-big band sitting in for the Count Basie Orchestra on "Beyond the Sea").

When Benson left the stage with ten minutes to spare, someone around me asked if it was done. I said no way, he still had to come back out and play "On Broadway" as an encore...which is of course exactly what happened. (I also got a kick out of someone in our group who, upon hearing the first few notes of that song, said, "Oh, now I know who this is!")

Some may refer to Benson as a sellout for going the pop-singer route, but his recordings have never completely strayed from his jazz roots, and can there ever be too much scatting or too many hollow-body guitar solos on pop radio? Methinks not. It was good to finally hear him for an entire set. (

Ramsey Lewis: Up until the final set of the evening, it was quite enjoyable in the VIP tent; there was free food and soft drinks (the frosted Chex mix was superb), and the seats were good (though it was still hard to wrap my mind around there being a fence to keep other people away from me). But just before Ramsey Lewis hit the stage, a whole gaggle of the "talky people" took over the row behind us. We hoped they would stop when the music started, but no such luck; if we were going to hear this piano trio, it would have to be from somewhere else.

[mini-rant] I've spoken before about the delicate nature of the relationship between the wine-and-cheese crowd and jazz: We need their finanical support (of our programs, concerts and recordings), but it's hard to share space with them at outdoor concerts sometimes, because they're not always there for the music, and their constant loud conversation often infringes upon the enjoyment of those of us who are there to listen. We have to treat them nicely, because we need their dollars, but it would be nice if they would give us the same courtesy and not treat the music as background wallpaper. [/mini-rant]

Thankfully, our All Access passes afforded us another listening option: backstage. If anything, the piano sounded much better in its close-to-natural setting (the tinniness of the instrument over the PA was the only true issue with the sound that I had all day), and we could see Lewis and his bandmates through the partitions in the back of the stage, only having to move around to get a better view of one or the other bandmembers or moving out of the way of the festival staff's golf carts that hummed back and forth behind the stage all day.

Lewis' music is beautiful and intricate, melding straight-ahead jazz with elements of both gospel and classical music, and sometimes, as has been the trend over his entire lengthy career, using pop songs of the day as vehicles (among tonight's selections was the '70s soul hit "Betcha By Golly, Wow"). His bandmates supported him with skill and precision: Drummer Leon Joyce offered a variety of timbres in his tasty solos, and bassist Larry Gray was quite impressive with the bow; it's always nice to hear an arco solo that has a pleasing tone quality and is always in tune, and Gray came through in both areas.

A lot of the tunes' titles were not announced, but there was a piece in there from a recent collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet and a closing gospel medley. After watching Lewis garner a number of awards at the recent IAJE convention, it was good to finally hear the trio in action.

Overview: All in all, I was very impressed with this festival. Everything was very well-run (even if a set started late, it still ended on time), and the staff and security personnel were friendly to a fault (I don't know how much the performer's pass played a role in that, but people generally looked like they were enjoying their jobs). I didn't get to explore the city of Clayton like I had hoped to do (the thunderstorm pretty much knocked that out of the schedule for us), but this suburb-with-a-real-downtown looked very cool. I would definitely attend this festival as a paying customer, and it's also a goal of mine to get invited here as a performer apart from the school somewhere down the road.

UPDATE: Read a review of the festival from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.