Wednesday, October 31, 2007

LIttle Post of Horrors

Happy Halloween to all! Here's a random collection of stuff for the holiday:
  • Happy 38th birthday to KNTU, where I worked in college. (Legend has it that the first words uttered over the air were expletives, accidentally spouted out by a student worker who didn't know the mic was open when he started the music at the wrong speed.)

  • Not only did KNTU go on the air on Halloween, but it used to be headquartered in an allegedly-haunted house for a number of year. Read my ghost story on the subject.

  • But in the meantime, an investigator has successfully debunked the mystery of the courthouse ghost in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • As I've said before, I only rely on polls for their entertainment value, and this one is entertaining: An AP/Ipsos poll says that nearly one in four Americans believes in ghosts.

  • An Ohio couple who work at a haunted house got married there last week.

  • This house isn't haunted yet, but a Pennsylvania couple have come up with a clever sales incentive: Anyone who buys their house gets their money refunded after the couple dies.

  • A high school in suburban Long Island has banned Halloween costumes after last year's incident where three senior girls showed up dressed as kids' book hero Captain Underpants. (Normally, I'd give school adminstrators a hard time about silly dress-code requirements, but I totally understand this one; letting people wear costumes would totally junk any school's security measures, and making someone wear, say, a school ID badge with his or her costume would pretty much defeat the purpose.)

  • One of the weirdest stories--that's only connected to Halloween by a coincidence of timing: A truck stopped for a routine traffic violation in Royse City (east of Dallas) turned out to contain a load of severed heads (don't worry--they were medical specimens "headed" back to Arkansas from a Ft. Worth training facility).

  • And finally, the state of Iowa decided to tax jack-o'-lanterns after officials decided that they were used more for decoration than for food.
And if you're a Chipotle fan, don't forget to dress like a burrito tonight to get a free one.

UPDATE: How about a quick quiz--How old is too old to trick-or-treat?

Not really a Halloween story, but it fits: Beware of vampire electronics in your house.

All caught up: I've finished all the pending posts again. Enjoy my restaurant review of a new local entry called Cooppie's, and help me celebrate my fifth anniversary as owner of Kevmobile 1.2 this week.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tears for a Texas Tenor

I'm headed off to bed, but I had to pass along some unfortunate news: I just read on a MySpace bulletin that one of Dallas' finest, tenor saxophonist Marchel Ivery, passed away early today. There's nothing about it on the DMN website at the moment, so I'll see if I can find out more in the morning and post an update here.

UPDATE: Here's a post about it from the Dallas Observer blog, Unfair Park. Still nothing at the DMN site yet. I'm pressed for time this morning, but will be back with more later.

LATER: And here's the DMN story, from special contributor Matt Weitz; it was in the GuideLive section of this morning's paper, even though I couldn't find it on that site last night. (It seems like there should be a bit more synergy between those two sites with an item like this, which, IMHO, is news as well as an "entertainment" story.)

Here's a bit of the Unfair Park entry:
Last night, local sax great Shelley Carrol was told he would need to fill in tonight for Marchel Ivery, who was scheduled to play Terilli's on Greenville Avenue for the second time this month. Carrol was told only that Ivery was ill: He'd been checked into Presbyterian Hospital for pneumonia, a rather sudden development. Carrol thought nothing of it: He and Ivery often swapped gigs, almost as often as they performed with each other. Indeed, Carrol and Ivery just finished recording an album together, an homage to the great Texas tenors -- that fat, wide-open sound pioneered by the likes of Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, James Clay and David "Fathead" Newman. Carrol and Ivery were old pals, introduced years ago by pianist Roger Boykin at the Green Parrot, where Ivery was playing with Clay. They were also labelmates on Mark Elliott's late, lamented Leaning House.

Then, early this afternoon, Carrol -- like every other jazz musician around town -- got the phone call: Marchel Ivery, at age 69, died around 5:30 this morning. And just like that, one of Dallas' most beloved and influential musicians -- not to mention one of its most famous, if only outside the city limits -- was gone. "And, man, he was a really great guy -- he was inspiring," Carroll tells Unfair Park today. "He never said a negative word. He'd go around the way to teach you rather than scold you. I loved him. He was a sweetheart. He's gonna be missed. It's a sad day in Dallas."
There's a bit of ugliness in the comment section of that post, where a few people take the Observer to task for its lack of coverage of jazz in its music section (and onetime music editor Robert Wilonsky replies in the tactless way that un-endeared him to many area music fans when he had that job), but read the whole thing anyway, as people like local chanteuse Sandra Kaye and entrepreneur Angus Wynne make appearances in the comments section. Perhaps most telling is the comment from a guy who didn't even know Ivery was a musician; he just knew him as "a nice guy who waved every time I waved when I was in the neighborhood even though he didn’t know me."

I was fortunate to have heard Marchel play on many occasions, at the late and very much lamented Jazz Connection club on Lovers Lane, and of course at his longtime musical home of Terilli's on Lower Greenville. One of the highlights had to be the time that he performed with Joey DeFrancesco at UTD, playing music from a CD that they recorded together on Leaning House a while back. I only wish I'd had a horn (and a little more courage) with me on one of those Sunday nights at Terilli's, where he often allowed people to sit in with him for a tune.

Marchel had been around Dallas so long that it was easy to take him for granted; I'm sorry that I hadn't gone to see him more often in recent years. I'm glad he has a few recordings to his name, and I look forward to the CD that he and Shelley recorded together; it will be people like Shelley, and countless other younger Dallas jazz musicians, that serve as the truest embodiment of Marchel's legacy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Good Week for Metroplex Sports?

I think so. Let's check the headlines:Oh, and the Mavs season starts on Halloween. Will this be the year?

They really stuck their necks out for this one: A zoo in Boston has named its new baby giraffe "Sox" in honor of the World Series winners.

And now for some bad sports: A Nebraska mom driving some cheerleaders to a high school football game let a car full of boys pull alongside her on the highway so that her daughter could grab a beer from them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Building an Empire from Scratch

Tonight's dinnertime brought me to the newest offering in Firewheel Market: Cooppie's. Billing itself as "American scratch cooking," it should make a serious dent in the "food like Mom used to make" market with its offerings, including fried chicken (and its cousins, chicken-fried steak and chicken-fried chicken), meat loaf, homemade cakes and pies, and so on.

Cooppie's is not your typical restaurant. Not only are all the sides served family-style at the table, but they rotate in threes from day to day, and the ones that are available have giant red checkmarks by their names on the giant menu on the wall (regular-sized menus are brought to each customer as well). Today's offerings of green beans, mashed potatoes, and seven-cheese macaroni and cheese were all quite good. If you run out, don't worry--they bring more. (With a table of two, this wasn't an issue.)

But even before the sides arrive, the meal starts out with a generous helping of green salad and a homemade three-cheese sheet bread; both were delicious, and refills on them were unlimited as well. (My friend who was with me tonight likened the constant arrival of food to "a buffet where you don't even have to get up." And while we both noted that perhaps a walk would do a body good after all that food, the restaurant is adjacent to the eminently walkable Firewheel Town Center, just in case that need should arise.)

The entrees were tasty and plentiful; I had the hickory baked chicken, which included a leg, wing, thigh and breast, while my friend had a huge piece of chicken-fried chicken. Service was friendly and fast, and, as I said, the table was never empty of food. We were too full to try the cake or pie, but that will happen on a future trip. The weekend breakfast also looks very good from the menu. Prices are reasonable--our entrees were $9.99 apiece--especially when the sheer amount of food is taken into consideration.

From first impressions, the new little restaurant with the funny name should do really well, as it presents diners with a choice not otherwise found in the Firewheel area. I was surprised to see that this is the first offering under its name; here's hoping that this concept will spread around the Metroplex.

An unusual sense of direction: I was amused by the directions on the map. They're different depending on what point on the (pie-shaped, in their case) compass one is coming from, and, while most of them are pretty accurate, the directions from the north are hilarious: Go 75 south to 635 east (nope, too far south--take the George Bush instead) and "exit Pigbelly Rd. and turn right." As you can imagine, there's no street by that name, and if there were, it would put you in Northeast Dallas, not Firewheel. My guess is either that they used this as a placeholder while they were developing the site and forgot to change it, or it's a little joke--nobody from due north would like Southern cooking anyway. (Also, the directions from the "northwest"--listed as Plano, Allen, and Frisco--are totally correct.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007


It was five years ago today that I bought Kevmobile 1.2, so I have to stop for a moment and ponder that. I probably never expected to still have this car five years later (the idea was--and still is, even though they're not made new anymore--to get an RSX at some point in time), but--save for a few well-chronicled hiccups, she's been a pretty good vehicle. Since I had to buy a car with less than two weeks' notice last time, I have no problem taking my time for the next one, and, as I've said before, I'm enjoying the time of no car payments as I try to save up for the next one.

(The story of the original Kevmobile may be found here, and the day it hit 333,333 miles is commemorated here. Have any stories about a great car? Leave 'em in the comments.)

I meant to post this a few days ago, but I got busy. Do I need to buy a better excuse than that? A company is offeringfake but realstic-looking excuse notes from doctors, fake jury summons, etc., for people who want to skip work or school without facing the consequences.

Friday, October 26, 2007

One High School Student to Another: "What's Your Major?" (Don't Laugh--It's Happening)

I couldn't help but click over when I saw the headline to this article:The Newest Mini-Fad: Majoring in High School. Let's read a bit, shall we?
Except for the college-crazed achievers, most students drift through high school without seeing the connection between Lord of the Flies, the X axis, the Homestead Act and any sort of future they might want. It’s stuff adults make you do.
To persuade teens that school matters, some states and districts are requiring them to choose a high school “major” that will lead toward a college major or a career.

The trend is big in the South: Florida requires majors and Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Arkansas are piloting programs that require students to choose a career path or concentration. Elsewhere, some comprehensive high schools now require students to major.

In Florida, ninth graders must choose one of 443 state-approved majors. The collegebound can specialize in Advanced Placement or an academic subject. Others are encouraged to earn a vocational certificate. The majors list includes fashion design, forestry, culinary arts, fire sprinkler system technology, animating and gaming, welding, child care assistant, commercial fishing and hundreds more. But students who pick a major not offered at a nearby school are out of luck. And how many high schools can train fire sprinkler system technologists?
That's a good point. I'm OK with the idea of offering such a thing in high school, but I think requiring it is going quite overboard. But some school systems are doing just that:
What’s different about mandatory majors is that all students have to choose, whether they have a clue what they want to do or not. All schools have to offer career paths, whether they know how to do that or not.

It takes a lot of work by teachers to design meaningful majors that engage and focus students and actually prepare them for the future. It’s impossible for every school to do it — much less do it well — for more than a few specialties.

At Dwight Morrow High School in New Jersey, students must choose between sports management, fine and performing arts, health sciences, international studies and global commerce, communications and new media and/or liberal arts.
Sports management is the most popular choice — and the least likely to lead to a paying job. In fact, health sciences is the only major with strong job prospects; no major appeals to students interested in technical fields from mechanics to engineering and computer science.
So it sounds like some places are off to a good start, but it doesn't appear that anyone's arrived at the point where this ought to be mandatory. After all, high school has long been considered the place where students get a general education, and most of them pick their future majors when their interest has been sparked by some sort of class, elective or extracurricular activity:
tudents typically take a standard high school curriculum with electives to match their major. “International studies” majors take English in addition to a foreign language. Even Florida students going for a specific vocational certificate will have to pass academic classes.
The problem with the mandatory major idea--besides the fact that many students won't pick their ultimate career choice until after a few years of college, never mind high school--is that their future jobs may not even be the same as they are now by the time the students finish school:
“This is a colossally bad idea,” says Debra Humphreys with The Association of American Colleges and Universities. “Businesses are telling us that the jobs that today’s ninth-graders will eventually have don’t even exist yet and that the specific training needed for technical professions is changing rapidly.”
Read the whole thing. The people behind this idea are certainly coming from a good place--they realize that many students pass through high school aimlessly, without learning good study habits or analytical or communication skills. But pushing someone who has no clue what he or she wants to do into a specific program at too early an age could easily do more harm than good.

I was one of the lucky ones; I pretty much knew that I was going to go into music by the end of eighth grade, when I won the state level of the Reflections Contest with a musical composition and got to direct my school band in that piece at the end of the year. Since I had already grown to love music, and it was the only thing at which I had truly excelled thus far--you should have seen how bad I was at football!--my path was pretty well chosen before I entered high school. But I know many people who didn't figure it out till much later, and I'd hate to see such a choice foisted upon them too soon.

Think back to when you were in high school. Did you know what you were going to do yet? What would your "major" have been if you had been required to choose, and how does it differ from what you're doing now?

This kid might choose music as a major right now: After all, his violin case saved his life when he got hit by a car in a crosswalk.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Low Can I Go...

...before turning the heat on in Casa de Kev? We had this discussion a little over a year ago, and, as I said then, I'm not a big fan of that first night of the heater coming on (what with the bad smell, dryness in the air, etc.), so I try to put it off for as long as possible. I keep my winter thermostat at 68 (a far cry from the 62 as suggested by Ann Althouse at her blog last year), and last night, with lows in the 40s, going au natural yielded only a low of 67 in here in the morning. As I get ready for bed, it's 70 in the house, so I'm tempted not to turn it on quite yet (though i did pause for a moment when I heard the words "frost warning" on the radio tonight). I'll come back in the morning and share the results of this experiment.

NEXT MORNING UPDATE: I went heatless, and I woke up to a 65-degree house--that's exactly the midpoint between the Kev and Althouse standards. Everything felt fine, and it's gone up a degree during breakfast even though the sun hasn't started to come up yet. With highs in the 70s, I can hold off on the heater for a little while longer.

Don't mess with Hizzoner, even the economy-sized version: Matthew Godfrey, the 5'6" mayor of Odgen Utah, awoke recently to a would-be burglar who, unable to break into the house, stole one of the family's bikes and started to ride away. The mayor chased him, tackled him and put him in a headlock until police arrived. (One of the mayor's recent campaign issues was reducing crime, but I bet nobody expected him to do that all by himself.)

Yoda stamp you want? Buy it now you can.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Statement Cookies

I eat a lot of Chinese food during the week (although purists would sneer at my choices, since I usually end up either here or here , as opposed to the "authentic" Mom-and-Pop places that aren't really on my teaching route), so I've gotten more than my share of fortune cookies recently. Over the weekend, DMN writer Matt Wixon noted that one of the major producers of the cookies is about to give some of the fortunes an extreme makeover:
Wonton Food Inc. produces millions of fortune cookies each day. That makes it the fortune cookie king of America, and therefore, “soon to be showered with good luck” and “destined for many exciting adventures!”

[...](S)ome of the classic fortunes might soon get tossed like a Chinese to-go box from deep in the fridge. Wonton has decided to get more contemporary with its cookie messages, including one that says, “Time to get some professional help.”

Wonton’s marketing coordinator explained the new fortunes in a story in The New York Times.

“We wanted our fortune cookies to be a little more value-added,” he said.
Heh--you've gotta love when something as simple as a fortune cookie gets covered up in corporate gobbledygook.

But one thing that I've noticed recently is that what's inside the cookie rarely rises to the level of a fortune; they really should be called Statement Cookies most of the time. Using a random sampling method known as "cleaning out my wallet," I discovered that the statements far outnumbered the fortunes:
  • Love is like war; easy to begin but hard to stop.

  • Good food brings good health and longevity.

  • Getting together with friends brings new adventures.

  • A quiet evening with friends is the best tonic for a long day. (Hmm, I'm starting to sense a theme here.)

  • Keep true to the dreams of your youth.

  • Your example will inspire others.

  • Next week, green will be a lucky color for you.
Of the above, only the last one really seems to qualify as a fortune; the third one, in fact, sounds more like a command. (And if you're wondering why I have so many fortunes in my wallet, it's because I sometimes play the lottery numbers that are on the bottom of the piece of paper. Winning something off that would make even the most statement-oriented cookie worthwhile.)

Your assignment for this week, should you choose to accept it: Bring in the most statement-oriented fortune you can find, and put it in the comments. Also, read the whole article and try to come up with some "value-added" fortunes of your own.

Better late than never: An Ohio couple got their wedding photos in the mail recently, just in time for their 27th anniversary.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Harvest is pwn3d by the Raid

Most fascinating factoid of the week so far: There are now more World of Warcraft players in the United States than there are farmers. (This doesn't mean, of course, that the two groups are mutually exclusive; it's certainly possible for Farmer Brown to come in from plowing the back forty and going on a raid after supper, and it's even more likely that Farmer Brown, Jr. does the all-night raid first and then goes out to help Dad with the chores.)

Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, where a reader writes,
My wife and I both enjoy WoW and we are both employed professionals. Many of the players that I meet are in similar situations as ourselves. Few other post-workday entertainment options offer the same level of human interaction and mental activity. While this has almost reduced TV-time in my house to nil, it certainly hasn't impacted my productivity in general.

As for benefits: The most challenging events in WoW requires the coordination of 25 people working closely as a team. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the same situations that occur in the real-word when organizing 25 people, occur in virtual worlds as well. Problem-solving, politics, leadership, communication, team-building… just to scratch the surface.

Here's a prediction for you – right now there are teen aged kids gaining more practical experience leading and organizing in WoW then they'll ever learn in college. 10-20 years from now someone will cite WoW as the formative experience that they built on to become political or business leaders.
I think he's probably right. (The above was written in response to a commenter in the BoingBoing article who said that gamers were "opting out of life and making room for those who would rather do than consume." The reader mistakenly thought that, by linking to that comment, Reynolds was endorsing its views, but he points out that he has written in support of gaming on several different occasions.)

I've never played WoW myself, but a couple of my friends are hardcore gamers; they're all either gainfully employed or pursuing a degree (in fact, two of them are double-majors, with music being part or all of each of their degree plans). And although I don't game, I do spend a decent amount of time online, talking to friends, listening to music, and, yes, blogging. I don't think it's hampered my productivity very much at all (seeing as how I'm sneaking some work in between all the other diversions). Like the Instapundit reader above, it's eaten into my TV time; I'm pretty much down to two shows and Jay Leno's Headlines, at least until 24 returns in the spring. On occasion, the online things have kept me up a little past "bedtime" (whatever that is), but the increased interactivity and reconnection with old friends is worth the tradeoff.

What's your favorite so-called time-wasting activity? Do you ever have trouble keeping it in check? And do you feel that technology has made for more or less interactivity in your life?

Gamers would say that this airport code really sux0rz: After going through a mediocre list of possible alternatives, Sioux City, Iowa has grudgingly accepted the three-letter code for its airport: SUX.

So-bad-it's-good video of the week: Give it up for Star Wars Trumpet Girl. Evidently, this is from the "talent" (?) portion of some sort of regional beauty pageant. The main problem is not just that she's playing her trumpet solo in C, while the pre-recorded accompaniment is in B (how did that happen?), but that she does is again and again and again without adjusting. (As I was writing this post, I sent its link to a friend on AIM who hadn't heard it yet. Afterwards, he said "She needs to stay in the Cantina Band and not show her face outside again." My reply was that I don't think they serve her kind in there either.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jacket Weather

True autumn came roaring into North Texas overnight (accompanied by rain, as has been par for the course this year). For the first time since April, I had to don this unusual garment called a "jacket," and it felt really bizarre. (It was funny to see people in both the public schools and the college who must not have checked the weather this morning before leaving for school; many of them appeared to be freezing in their T-shirts and shorts.) At least we had last week's intro to autumn to help smooth the transition.

I have to say that I was ready for this; with our cooler summer and warmer early fall pretty much blending together, it was time for a change. And it finally smelled like fall tonight; I can't describe the olfactory sensation to a T or anything, but there was something in the air that made me think about my Christmas decorations, of all things. As I've said before, even though I'm more of a summer sort of person, there's something about cooler weather that makes home seem more inviting.

So again the call goes out: What's it like where you live today?

Live and in living (fall) color: One thing we don't seem to get too much of around here is the spectacular hues of the leaves turning; for that, we head north, where Lileks has posted a great fall-color picture on the site. (He also adds, "Don't remind me of this post in February.")

It was probably too cold to celebrate this here: Today is Kilt Day, but even if I owned one, I don't think touting my Irish heritage would have been worth enduring today's cooler weather (not to mention the stares from students at school; I'm not sure that a kilt makes one look all that "professorial" over here).

A less colorful story: A New York bride is suing the company that did the flowers for her wedding centerpieces because they were the wrong color. (The company did mess up, but is this really worth $400,000?)

There will be a big reward for this lost item: A New Zealand brewer has lost its laptop, and the lucky person who finds it will get a lifetime worth of free beer from the company.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday Smorgasbord

Things I've run across this week that I haven't had time to post until now:Catchin' up: Apologies again for three days' worth of started-but-not-finished posts. Please check them out if you can: On Thursday, the question was, "Is it a good idea to buy condos for college students? Friday night, I did the typical Texas thing and attended a high school football game, and yesterday brought on another discussion about school districts outlawing hugging and things like that.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Hug-Free Zone Is Also the Thinking-Free Zone

Here we go again--yet another story of school administrators making Mt. Everest out of the tiniest of molehills.

Last year, I discussed the case of school administrators at a district in Waco that had suspended a pre-kindergarten student for hugging a teacher's aide, and a few weeks ago, I mentioned in passing an Illinois middle school that had outlawed hugs completely. Well, guess what, boys and girls? This ridiculous line of thinking has now invaded the Metroplex:
A 7-year-old boy in Duncanville gets in trouble for telling a classmate to wear a darker shirt because he can see her bra strap. The school suspends him and labels the incident as sexual harassment.

In Keller ISD, school officials catch an eighth-grade girl holding hands with a friend and tell her to stop.

From bans on hugging to labeling comments as sexual harassment, schools are cracking down on anything that smacks of sex. Critics say teachers and administrators have become too fearful of lawsuits and have stopped letting kids be kids.
Yep, you can count me among those critics.

And I understand that Those in Charge can't just let these things go addressed, and they may well feel that the law has them in between a rock and a hard place, but all I'm asking is that they'll think a little bit before making these decisions:
Recent precedent-setting lawsuits have made it clear that school officials must respond to complaints of student-on-student sexual harassment or face possible court action.

"I think it's the kind of world we live in today, but you would hope that common sense would prevail," said Jeff Horner, a Houston attorney who represents school districts.

[...]Archie McAfee, executive director of the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, said school principals and administrators are caught in the middle.

If a school district punishes a student for what parents say is a minor offense, it faces scrutiny. But if a district doesn't take a complaint seriously, it could be held responsible.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that school districts can be held liable for ignoring complaints of student-on-student harassment or failing to protect students.
But experts have also noted that it's possible to respond to this problem in a well-thought-out manner:
Nan Stein, a senior research scientist at the Center for Research on Women at the Wellesley Centers for Women, urges school districts not to rush to judgment in sexual harassment cases.

"Part of it is they have a rather loose, flexible concept of what's sexual harassment," she said. "I applaud their attention to the problem, but they need to do something proactively, not in response to."

To help, Ms. Stein has developed a curriculum for teachers that deals with harassment as well as bullying.

"I believe you can do this in the classroom in a nonpanicked, age-appropriate way," she said. "There are ways to make this a fun and interesting subject in schools."
As I've said before, the real problem lies with the districts having a one-size-fits-all approach to problems that are rarely "one size." Where I think things go astray is when adminstrators try to hide behind rules rather than judging each case on its merits--yes, even if it means making a decision that might make someone angry. If you don't have the courage to make such a decision, you don't belong in the business. Period. (And yes, I have to plug my solution to the problem of out-of-touch administrators somewhere in this post; you knew I would.)

I believe that something I said a few weeks ago bears repeating:
I would think that anyone with half a brain would know that it's virtually impossible, even in our Britney-ized society, for a 4-year-old to be a sexual being. (Show me the study that proves this beyond a reasonable doubt and I'll shut up....*crickets*...yeah, that's what I thought.) Did the student hug the teacher inappropriately? If it made the teacher uncomfortable, the answer would have to be yes. But chances are, he was only replicating something he had done with Mommy at home. The teacher is not Mommy (though she should take it as a compliment if he felt that comfortable around her), so the lesson that should be taught here is, perhaps, that hugging people that way is only reserved for Mommy and not for other people; the lesson should not be that the kid did something so bad that he needs to be isolated from the rest of the school for a day or two. The kid's only going to end up confused, and the adults in charge have overreacted in a big way.

If an adult thinks that the innocent hug of a four-year-old, no matter much it may have hit the wrong target, was done with anything at all sexual in mind, the bigger problem lies with that adult, not with the kid.
Read the whole thing. I was quite relieved to read where a principal said that zero-tolerance policies can go too far and that good judgement needed to go hand-in-hand with enforcement in these cases. It's also good to know that state law gives more flexibility when punishment does have to be meted out (considering the previous history of the student, among other things).

And I'd love to hear others chime in on this, espeically my fellow educators (feel free to post anonymously if you feel the need). Does an elementary-school hug ever constitute sexual harassment? Is a brief episode of hand-holding an unacceptable public display of affection? And were the punishments discussed above excessive in your opinion? Fire away in the comments.

Here's another punishment that doesn't fit the crime: The parents of a six-year old girl who doodled on the sidewalk in New York City were threatened with a $300 graffiti fine by the city.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Night (Under the) Lights

Tonight was my annual trek to a high school football game, where I tend to go see my two largest schools play each other (all in the name of efficiency, of course; I get to see the majority of my high-schoolers march in a single trip). While trying not to repeat my observations from last year, here's a primer on the game from my viewpoint:
  • The weather was really weird tonight; I can't remember the last game that I attended that had both a nice chill in the air and crickets flying around everywhere. The attire in the stands ranged from shorts and flip-flops to hoodies and jackets. I got by just fine with rarely-used long sleeves on the shirt underneath my polo (in nice neutral colors, since I spent part of the game on each side).

  • Both of my schools' bands did well at halftime; I think they'll be fine at their big competition next week. It was a little hard to hear, especially during the visiting band; if some of the non-musicially inclined football fans realized how much work went into perfecting a marching show, I wonder if they'd show the band some courtesy by, if not actually listening, at least keeping the loud talking down for the benefit of those who do want to listen.

  • That being said, the football itself this time was...meh. I found myself talking to directors, students, alumni and parents most of the time instead of paying much attention to the game. I remarked to one of the directors that, if football were a huge factor, I'd try to teach somewhere like Southlake Carroll. And I'd definitely go to more than one game a year, if that were the case.

  • Actually, the most exciting thing about the game was seeing not one, not two, but five players get ejected in the closing minutes of the game (though the last one would subsequently be unejected moments later). The crosstown rivalry between the two schools was surely a factor, as the ejections took place on three separate plays. I don't know that I'd ever seen even one player get thrown out of a game before, so seeing that many was rather surreal.

  • I've mentioned before that, while marching band has changed a lot since I was in high school, drill team has changed very little. Tonight, the two squads did use some unusual props, though I have to point out to the one school that used giant pairs of eighth-notes for that purpose that, while the notes made for some clever dancing...umm, they were backwards. (Ask the band directors before you build next time, perhaps?)
I don't know that I'll ever have season tickets until I actually have kids, but it's always nice to experience at least one Friday night high school football game every fall; it's a big part of the social fabric of Texas.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I hate high school football. No matter how many rock 'n' roll songs we play, our team never seems to score any more touchdowns."--One of the directors at the school that lost tonight.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Condos for College Students--Good Idea?

Ann Althouse discusses the idea of parents buying condos for their college-aged kids, pointing to an article from her hometown-on-hiatus of Madison, Wisconsin, where the idea is very popular at the moment.

From what I've read, there seems to be a few positives and negatives associated with this. The positives:
  • If the housing market is doing well, the parents can recoup their investment if they decide to sell after their offspring graduates, and they will avoid paying housing costs as well.

  • The students usually get a considerable break on rent.

  • The condo is often much nicer than the traditional dorm room or roach-infested older college apartment. (As one of the students in the Madison article notes, "It's nicer than the house I grew up in."
And the possible negatives:
  • If the housing market slumps, the parents may have trouble unloading the condo after graduation, or they may take a loss on the deal.

  • Other possible buyers may be turned off by a certain complex if the majority of its tenants are students.

  • It may be difficult for parents to fix maintenance problems if the college town is far away from where they live (but, as others point out, this provides the opportunity for the student to get experience in evaluating and hiring repair professionals and so on.)
Read the entire Althouse post, where the commenters offer a variety of opinions. Most of the people against the idea are speaking from the standpoint of "students need the character-building experience and camaraderie of living communally in the college situation. I do agree with that, but certainly not for all four (five? six?) years of school. I think that the best way to experience college is to live in the dorm for a year or two until you meet the right people with whom to move off-campus; after all, if you have a crappy roommate in the dorm, you can probably move at the semester, but it gets trickier if there's an apartment lease involved. (If only I could have taken my own advice; my first apartment roommate and I ended up not speaking to each other for the last seven months of the lease. D'oh.)

When I was in school, some student-centered condos near campus started to sprout up. I'm not sure whether or not they could exclusively sell them to students or not, but going for that angle at least served as a warning to other possible buyers that students would likely be in the majority there. We never went for that idea in my family (probably because my sister was about to start college herself at the time), but I knew a few people who did, and the places turned out to be pretty decent student housing.

So what do you think--good idea, or bad idea? If you're in college, would you go for an offer like this, and if you have kids, would you consider buying something like this for them?

Speaking of real estate...why are houses so much more expensive in, say, California than they are here in Dallas? Here are two views on the subject.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Excellence in Reporting--Not!--Award for Today

I heard a news conference this morning about a serious story that had an unintended moment of near-humor. The story in question was about a Dallas SWAT officer that was assisting a federal agency in the service of a warrant at a residence, and he was shot by someone inside the house.

Reporters were gathered around as a police spokesman made a statement. As you might imagine, someone asked for details of the warrant; yeah, right, the department isn't going to blab about an undercover investigation to the media, especially when the federal agency is the one in charge. But the ridiculous moment came after the spokesman described the five people in the house as one adult female, three adult males and an infant. After the details-about-the-warrant question, someone piped up with this bit of genius:

REPORTER: Were all five people in the house taken into custody?
(At this point, I'm thinking, umm--one of those people was a baby, so no, probably not.)
SPOKESMAN: They were all detained, but I don't know of their status after that. Obviously, the infant was not charged with anything.

I know that everyone at these conferences wants to get a question in, but I can't imagine a sillier one than that being asked today.

Well, if they can arrest an animal, maybe they can arrest a baby: A cow that has been responsible for two fatal traffic accidents in Cambodia has been taken into custody by the police. (And no, the cow wasn't behind the wheel in either accident; it stood out in the middle of the road and people either crashed into it or veered off the road trying to avoid it.)

Stupid criminal of the day (non-baby or animal division): If you're already on probation for drunk driving, it's probably not a good idea to be caught drinking a 12-pack of beer on the county courthouse lawn.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fall Has (Pretty Much) Fell

As I mentioned at the bottom of one of last week's posts, it's finally starting to feel a bit like autumn here in North Texas. The cool nights and mornings have been really refreshing, and, even though there have still been some air-conditioner moments in the car in the mid-afternoons, there's been that certain something in the air the past couple of nights that makes it feel like cooler weather is here to stay.

That's not to say that we've been without our share of, umm, "interesting" weather events to go along with the cooler temperatures. Yesterday morning's flooding in some places, along with this morning's dense fog, made a lot of people late for school or work. (But when will people learn not to drive into floodwaters? Don't do it, people, or you might end up like the guy in Photo #9 in this gallery from yesterday morning.)

I'm more of a summer guy than a winter guy, but, as I said last week, I'm ready for some kind of autumn to stick around for a while; it beats the alternative of going straight from summer to winter. There's something about colder weather that makes home seem more "homey," even if I'm not there all that often.

So this one goes out to our far-flung readers: What's the weather like where you are today?

Cool technological phenomenon of the day: The wearable computer.

Odd technological phenomenon of the day: Whenver a lady in England turns on her teakettle, the lights in her kitchen go off.

The techological phenomenon that I don't even want to think about: Sex and marriage with robots??

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Playground Isn't Quite So Playful These Days

Yet another education-related theme is on the menu today: Are schools going overboard with restrictions on recess in the name of safety?:
School recess isn't what it used to be. But it may be safer.

The playground games and equipment that many parents fondly remember are disappearing. Some schools have shortened recess in the name of academics and banned activities such as tag, Red Rover and king of the mountain as too dangerous.

Teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds are a thing of the past, too. School officials say they're acting in the interest of safety. But critics say the concerns are overblown – and even damaging to children.
In a nation where people seem to be getting fatter every day, it would seem like a bad idea to have less play during the school day. Experts agree:
Dr. Joe L. Frost, an early childhood education expert at the University of Texas at Austin, said he cares about safety. But he fears children are losing "opportunities to develop physically, cognitively and socially" when recess activities are curtailed.

"There seems to be a dearth of information about the value of play," Dr. Frost said. "Kids need places for make-believe play.

"The best playgrounds are not necessarily the playgrounds that have the biggest, prettiest or most expensive equipment."
As you know, I'd be the first one to blame the administrators for this one, if it was completely their fault. But it's really not. Instead, I blame the lawyers.

Let's face it--our society has gotten way too ligitious lately. People sue each other at the drop of a hat, and many times, they win those lawsuits, even if the injuries they're suing over were the result of their own poor choices (I'm looking at you, McDonald's Coffee Lady). Because of this, we're cultivating a nation of victims and whiners who never take responsibilty for their actions. But it's also caused some people--especially those in charge of schools--to err way too much on the side of caution when it comes to playgrounds. And with changes in society, kids aren't getting that kind of unstructured playtime at home either. (Think about it--parents who said "Go outside and play!" to their young kids and didn't watch them like a hawk the whole time would likely be reported to Child Protective Services these days.)

My sister has three active boys, and there's a pretty substantial play area in their backyard. Seeing the swingset (made of wood, with no exposed bolts or anything), I remarked to my parents that I wondered how my sister and I survived childhood with all the "dangerous" stuff we had around. I'm not knocking some of the safety innovations that have been put in place since we were kids, and I certainly don't want to see kids get serious injuries on the playground, but again, I think that some people have gone too far. Again, experts agree:
Pressure from state officials to pack more instruction into a school day has whittled away the minutes that children have that chance to flirt with danger on the playground. New requirements for structured physical education also have chipped away at playtime.

"The historical pattern of children playing in nature or natural areas has shifted dramatically," Dr. Frost said. "The introduction ... of high-tech play equipment has led children to want to be where the electric outlets are.

"They have lost much of their ability to create and problem-solve."
There is one more thing in play here: Some of those quoted in the article note that high-stakes standardized testing (boo!) is to blame for the reduction in unstructured playtime during the school day, and one school district spokesman laments the fact that the only way to get more playtime would be to add more hours to the school day. (My response to that would be that we need to ditch--or at least deemphasize--the standardized testing, but that's another post for another day.)

Again, I'm not wanting anyone to get seriously hurt, but I think we've taken a bit of childhood away if we're trying to sanitize the experience so much that kids can't even get rambunctious or sustain the little playground scrapes that used to be a big part of growing up.

Did you have recess as a kid? If you have kids, do they have it now? Is there a way to have playground safety without totally sanitizing the experience? Chime in over at the comment section.

This wouldn't be an issue if the school had more recess: Parents were rightfully upset after a Denver school district sent home health reports, which included height, weight, and body mass index, even stating whether or not the district consdiered the kids to be overweight. The problem was, the notices were sent home with the kids, and some of them read the notices. (Imagine coming home and saying, "Mom, the school district thinks I'm fat.") Maybe they should mail them out next time...

Getting the jump on driver's ed: A 3-year old Wisconsin boy took his toy car on a joyride on a busy stretch of highway. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt, and he even obeyed the traffic signal that he encountered.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

There Are Plenty More "Fish" in the Sea

I knew that Diana Krall had appeared in Dallas this past weekend with the Symphony. I couldn't afford to go, but I was looking forward to reading the review that I knew would be in the paper the next day. While reading, I was surprised to learn that John Clayton played bass on the gig! (As I've noted before, I really enjoyed getting to watch him run the festival band in Port Townsend a few years ago and see his performance with the Clayton Brothers Band at IAJE in January.)

But the review had one curious paragraph:
Longtime associate and bass player John Clayton was also marvelous, the perfect match for the jazzy set. It was a pleasure to see a guy still able to handle the upright bass.
Huh? He hasn't seen any good upright players recently? What kind of shows does this guy usually go to?

I'm tempted to give him at least a partial benefit of the doubt, however, because the reviewer who wrote that sentence usually covers the local politics beat. Still, there are plenty of great upright bassists in jazz today, so I hope he gets to see some more of them soon. Here's a partial list: Dave Holland, Christian McBride, Eddie Gomez, Larry Grenadier, Avishai Cohen, Curtis Lundy...and those are just the living guys I could come up with right now, off the top of my head. And there are lots of great local guys playing at restaurants and clubs right here in the Metroplex.

So here's hoping that our reviewer gets to experience some of these folks. And I really wish I could have heard John Clayton again...

(If you're wondering about the title of this post, it has to do with the fact that "bass" the instrument often gets mispronounced like "bass" the fish, so some bassists have been known to refer to their instrument that way; one of my favorite examples is a dazzling solo piece by Jimmy "Flim" Johnson called "Fish Magic." It can be previewed here.)

Speaking of singers...a Russian choir answers the musical question, "How low can you go?"

Taking a bite of the Appleton: A burglar who struck a house in Appleton, Wisconsin left the valuables alone and stole the food. Key quote: "The burglar apparently entered the unlocked apartment and walked away with a pizza, six eggs, a can of beef ravioli, a can of peaches and one chicken-and-broccoli Hot Pocket, authorities said." ( catch this guy, just question the person who bought the big economy-sized bottle of Pepto that night.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Firewheel, Two Years Later

Mom and Dad were in town this weekend, and last night, we went to Gloria's in Firewheel, my favorite Salvadoran place (OK, it's the only Salvadoran place I've ever been to, but it's really, really good.) Seeing as how it's been two years now since Firewheel opened, it was a good time to assess the development's positive impact on the area.

As I said two years ago,
[L]et me reiterate: I'm not a "mall guy." I'll probably never go in half the stores there. But this development (an open-air "lifestyle center" patterned after a small town) is different, because it's going to transform Garland; I could see it happening before my very eyes today. Even the picture in today's paper didn't totally do it justice, because the one thing missing was people. But in real life, there were lots of them, strolling down both sides of the "Main Street" setup, where parking is also allowed, and the streets bustled with car traffic as well. It's definitely not your daddy's mall in that respect.

[...]Walking through the central park, with its fountain and a little stream running through it, I just kept thinking to myself, "I can't believe this is actually in Garland...and less than five minutes from my house." Granted, there were a lot of special things going on--live music, giveaways, etc.--but I don't expect the novelty to wear off anytime soon.
And indeed it hasn't; the dinner crowd was lively last night (we got there around 6:45), and the place was hopping during the obligatory post-dinner walk. It's become quite the gathering place.

I've said before that I'm a big fan of New Urbanism; these developments are both more attractive and infinitely more walkable than the traditional mall setup, and the integration of office space and living space (yes, the Parkside at Firewheel apartments opened recently) makes for a really nice mix of amenities in a single space. (And some might point out that these same things are available all over the place in Old Urbanism areas, but I prefer the environment without the "grit," thank you.)

Any downsides? Well, the place fills up with kids a lot on weekends, which is sure to be a challenge to the Segway-riding security guys on occasion (though as Dad noted last night, the kids are more spread out than at a usual mall), but it's still a great place to take the family. Parking can be a challenge for those who try to drive into the center part on weekends (and the Fourth of July parking plan--or at least the exit from it--still needs major tweaking), but there are enough entrances and exits to the complex that it's usually easy to get in and out. And while the unpredictable Texas weather may keep me from taking The Walk™ on occasion, it's never actually stopped me from doing business there.

In a recent column in the DMN, Russ Sikes of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism suggests that these developments should be integrated into the fabric of the surrounding area rather than simply being "islands." Sure, it could be said that Firewheel hasn't attained that goal yet, but the open space around it has the potential for some connections. And while some of Sikes' ideas ("calming the nearby arterials") aren't realistic for places that are located right next to freeways, I would be the first one to say that a DART rail spur to Firewheel would be an outstanding idea.

So has Firewheel lived up to its promise? My vote is still an enthusiastic two thumbs up. And as I looked around at the crowds of people on a beautiful evening, walking around or eating, I thought the same thing that I did two years ago: I can't believe that this place is in Garland...but I'm really glad that it is.

Catchin' up: Wow--this has been a really bad week for starting blog posts and being too tired (or otherwise occupied) at the end of the day to finish them. But I'm done with all of them now, so feel free to check them out:Please check these out at your leisure.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Animal Stories

Once again, my old radio-show feature in print form:Back to regular posts tomorrow.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Which Was Violated More--The Dress Code or the First Amendment?

I promise that I'll stop writing posts bashing school administrators about dress code soon as they start making sensible decisions in that area. Until then, we have things like this:
A Waxahachie High School sophomore is at the center of a First Amendment debate after school officials told him he could not wear a T-shirt that supports Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

The parents of 15-year-old Paul T. "Pete" Palmer are asking school officials to reconsider the school district's dress code policy and threatening to sue if no changes are made.

Pete's dad, attorney Paul D. Palmer, said this week that the school district is entitled to a dress code as long as it doesn't violate students' constitutional rights to free political and religious expression.

"This is not about a hippie-dippy idea – 'everyone can wear whatever they want,' " Mr. Palmer said. " 'This is who I support for president.' He has a right to stick that on his shirt."
I've heard of plenty of varieties of prohibited T-shirts--those that contain obscenities or sexual references, glorify drugs or alcohol, or even promote heavy-metal bands--but political candidates?? Yeah, this seems to be going too far.

The school's response, of course, is pure adminispeak:
The school district declined to provide specifics on the case but provided a written statement, which included the following: "The district also values student speech rights. ... Our schools, however, are not unbounded forums for practicing student speech, and our primary focus remains creating and maintaining an environment conducive to learning."
I'm still not seeing how a shirt that generically supports a political candidate is disruptive to learning.

So what is allowed in Waxahachie? Here we go:
The school dress code policy allows T-shirts that promote Waxahachie clubs, organizations and sports or other spirit wear. College and university T-shirts or solid-colored T-shirts are acceptable.

"All polo style [knit] shirts and shirts with colors containing pictures or slogans that are provocative, offensive, sexual or suggestive in nature, vulgar, lewd or obscene are prohibited. Alcohol and tobacco pictures or slogans are also prohibited," according to the school district's dress code policy.
I'm not seeing anything that expressly prohibits promoting political candidates here (I should mention that the shirt in question simply said "John Edwards '08" and listed a Web address). One would think that the school would err on the side of the First Amendment.

But the principal was having none of this:
The school held a grievance hearing on the matter Oct. 3. In a letter to Pete's parents, Waxahachie High School Principal David Nix denied the family's assertion that Pete's First Amendment rights were being violated.

The letter said students "have a number of opportunities to express themselves through the wearing of buttons, jewelry or other symbols, forming a school-sponsored club, and speaking at limited public forum opportunities available during the day."

The principal also wrote that he was available to assist Pete with forming an approved club or organization such as "Waxahachie High School Students for Edwards."

"This would allow Pete the opportunity to express support for the political candidate of his choice through a school-sponsored organization," the letter said.
Ahh, yes--form a club. The bureaucratic answer to everything seems to be to form a committee of some sort, doesn't it?

So is the school going overboard here? I vote yes. (It should be noted that in a recent Supreme Court case, a Vermont school district lost its appeal of a ruling that they had censored a student who was wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt. The Edwards shirt worn by Pete was much "milder" by comparison.) Once again, an administrator has made a decision that seems to be based more on the expansion of his own power rather than anything that really has to do with the good of the educational process. I think you know my solution for this problem...)

And here's one more: Meanwhile, a middle school in Illinois has outlawed hugs.

Jeers to the bus driver, part 1: A 10-year-old Arkansas boy stole a school bus and led police on a 44-mile chase down rural roads.

Jeers to the bus driver, part 2; A Minnesota bus driver was fired after a student recorded him swearing at the kids on the bus.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Weeknight Jazz Primer of Sorts

Some friends and I decided to go hear a group led by an old friend of mine from college. (The name and place matters not, because this type of thing was probably replicated all over the country in lots of other major cities not named "New York.") The music was outstanding, but there was only one problem: The three of us at our table seemed to be the only people paying attention to it in the entire place.

I've talked about wallpaper gigs before--things like corporate banquets, house parties, and the like, where the music is supposed to be an unobtrusive backdrop for whatever festivities are going on. But this was a place that specializes in live jazz and touts itself as such. Sure, nobody's required to listen to the music, but it always amazes me that so few people do.

One of the problems with the Dallas jazz scene (and again, with many other non-New York cities) is that most of the best jazz venues double as restaurants. The upside of this is that the music doesn't have to tailor itself (i.e. commercialize or "sell out") to keeping the venue in business; the food and beverages do a fine job of that. But the downside is that there will be plenty of people at such venues who are not there for the music at all, so they don't realize what a distraction their conversation, business deals, selling stocks over their cell phone can be for those of us who are there to listen.

I've mentioned the wine-and-cheese crowd a few times in this space, and I think my feelings on the subject can best be summed up by this paragraph from the latter post:
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.
Thankfully, this wasn't too much of an issue tonight, though one of my friends had the music drowned out a bit by a woman behind him. Still, as we listened to these three accomplished artists taking familiar standards and deconstructing them every which way, playing their hearts out, and we wondered, how could someone not be moved by this? It may have been wallpaper to them, but it was quite lovely wallpaper.

Still, the situation provided for a certain amount of freedom in the gig; they could play pretty much what they wanted to because most people weren't listening, and those of us who were listening thought that the deconstructions were extremely cool. When you're playing mostly for yourselves, and a table of enthusiastic fellow musicians, it's possbile to be very creative even in what would otherwise be the most mundane circumstances.

So this is not a rant, really. It's just a snapshot of how the jazz scene can look when we share our performance space with food and drink. Since I'm trying to get my various groups revived in the near future, it's also a glimpse into what is to be expected when I'm the one up there on stage.

My friend the bandleader came up afterwards and told us that some nights were amazing--most of the people very into the music, triple digits in tips--and some nights were more like tonight, though he said it elevated the mood when our table showed up. (I also overheard him refer to me as "a great saxophone player" to one of his colleagues onstage after he spotted me out front; I'll have to practice nonstop for an entire month just to live up to that compliment.)

I'm betting that most readers of this blog are jazz fans. If you're not, and you find yourself in a place like we were in tonight, be sure and give at least a cursory listen to what's going on up there; perhaps it might touch you like it touched us.

Autumn leaves? No, it's not leaving, it's arriving: This morning and tonight felt great outside. It's about time that the cooler weather got here, after a summer where it really never got hot and an early fall that never really stopped being summer. Highs in the upper 70's and lows in the upper 50's--i.e. Vermont weather in early June--would be just perfect for me.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Emptying the Nest...with Cash Incentives

There was an interesting article the other day about kids who take a long time to leave home: The Italian government is paying young people to move out of their parents' houses. Perhaps not surprisingly, 67 percent of the homebodies are guys:
Up until last month, Fernando, who is 33, lived with his parents. When there were no temporary job openings (which is usually the case in his small town in southern Spain), his days were devoid of any activity more strenuous than playing video games. Around noon, he’d roll out of the same bunk bed he used to share with his younger brother and plop down in front of the computer monitor. There he’d remain until called to lunch by his mother. Most often Fernando would skip Spain’s greatest invention —the midday siesta— because, well, there are only so many hours in the day to play “Doom.”

[...]Italy’s government will offer young Italians money to leave home. Most of that cash will be going to men, as they make up 67 percent of those staying alla casa. Close-knit family takes on a whole new meaning when you consider that eight out of 10 Italians under 30 still live at home, and the average age for moving out is 36.
The article goes on to quote a TV quiz-show host who still hasn't moved out of his parents' house at the age of 42 (and yes, he has a girlfriend). His reason for staying? “I have never felt the need to move. The reason is not because of money, it is because I love them." Sure, a lot of twentysomethings in America seem to be putting off adulthood, but this is taking things to extremes, isn't it? (Some people must think so, as a derogatory phrase, mammoni--mama's boys--has been coined to describe the stay-at-home types.)

There are plenty of reasons to leave home upon reaching adulthood, but perhaps the main one is that this independence helps one become an adult. Sure, the parents can provide a variety of safety nets, but never staying at home into one's twenties can severely retard the developmental process. And, as an Italian politician notes, leaving the nest hurts the whole nation because it provides for “little movement either geographically, socially, or professionally and little propensity to risk.” Others contend that low Italian wages and a high cost of living are to blame; the young people simply can't afford a place of their own.

And here's one more interesting observation: According to an article in the (U.K.) Daily Telegraph, “Many other Italians happily send their laundry home to their mothers, and 43 percent, when they do finally move out, rent or buy homes less than a mile from their parents.” Indeed, the article describes some of the parents as "clingy" and suggests that they might be using money to bribe their kids to stay at home longer.

Read the whole thing (including the comments.)

Do these punishments really fit the crime? The fine for a bus driver who was drunk on the job: $482. The fine for a woman accused of illegally downloading music: $222,000. (Hat tip: Lileks, at

Would you like X with that? There was a toy recall of sorts in Sydney this week, but i has nothing to do with China or lead; someone tried to smuggle Ecstacy tablets from Ireland to Australia by hiding them inside a Mr. Potato Head toy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Band That's Worth Ducking Inn For

"Is this the best five bucks you've ever spent, or what?"

That was the question posed to me by the guy across the table nearly a year ago after my first time to hear The Original Texas Jazz Orchestra at the Duck Inn in Lake Dallas. They've played every month since then (minus a short break for the summer), and it's always been an enjoyable experience. The band, led by one of my former professors, Jim Riggs, is made up of ex-One O'Clock Lab Band members, UNT alumni and local Dallas-area jazz musicians (and some members fall into all three of those categories), and they play a lot of traditional big band charts (Basie, Thad, and so on) that are augmented by outstanding soloing all around.

One of the highlights of the TOTJO gigs has been the presence of Leon Breeden, the retired director who brought the One O'Clock Lab Band to prominence during his tenure at North Texas. He's a fine clarinetist, and he has sat in with the band every month since last fall. (Tonight was a special night for him, as he's celebrating his 86th birthday today. In addition to his usual stint with the band--this time, he played the same arrangement of "Willow Weep for Me" that he recorded with the One O'Clock on his farewell album with them, Lab '81--someone made a huge cake for him and proceeded to pass it out to everyone in attendance.) The presence of Breeden and the rest of the older guys, along with the current faculty, has made the first Sunday night of the month a mandatory hang for alumni and current students alike.

But the scenery is about to change; as I mentioned a while back, the restaurant is closing its doors soon. When the article came out in August, the closing date was going to be around the first of December, but since then, business has dropped off precipitously, so the last day is now October 31. (You'd think it would be the opposite--that more people would come in to get the famous catfish and hushpuppies one more time.) That means that TOTJO is going to be homeless until they can find a new venue in the area.

I hope the gig resumes soon; this band is too good to miss. And happy birthday, Mr. Breeden!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Founders Day

As I do every year on this day, I want to wish a happy Founders Day to my brothers in Sinfonia, a fine brotherhood of musicians. We're 109 today, and we'll be celebrating tomorrow with a concert in the UNT Recital Hall at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow; I'll be conducting a big band as part of the concert. To my brothers, as always, may our banner proudly "float for aye."

Building a better brotherhood: On this fraternal anniversary, it's a good time to point out that, despite the "Animal House" image they've held over the years, many fraternities are cleaning up their act and returning to the emphasis on ideals and service on which the groups were founded in the first place.

Catchin' up: It's been difficult to finish my posts on time during the latter part of the week recently, but please check out the now-completed ones from Thursday and yesterday, where the subjects are saggy pants and dress codes in general (the latter a favorite topic around here, and the former seems to always be in the news lately).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Do Clothes Make the Student?

(I meant to write this post about a month ago, but things got busy; fortuntately, it goes quite well with the outlawing-saggy-pants stories that have been floating around for the past week.)

I've done quite a few posts about overzealous enforcement of dress codes in public schools; surely those who feel oppressed by such things are quite happy to get to college, where such things are rarely a concern. But now comes news that the interim president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas has instituted a dress code at his school. Sorrell wrote the following in a September 4 op-ed column in the Dallas Morning News:
Aristotle once wrote that "education is the best provision for old age." This provision requires not just classroom tutelage, but the type of instruction that leads the pupil to achieve "Renaissance person" status.

It's easy to lose sight of this obligation in the face of the realities and pressures of modern academia. Today's college presidents, especially small-college presidents, must balance a myriad of issues as we seek to create enlightened minds. We must satisfy the expectations of parents, students, faculty and a global marketplace that demands nimble, creative talents with the reality of limited fiscal resources. Therefore, we as college administrators must become more innovative, resourceful and comfortable operating outside of the box. It was a combination of this spirit of innovation and a nod to history that led us to implement a business-casual dress code for the students at Paul Quinn College. Beginning this fall, on Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., every student must adhere to business casual wardrobe rules. No jeans. No T-shirts. No sneakers or flip-flops.

We are charged with the responsibility of preparing our students to assume a leadership role in business, and we can no longer pretend that their attire isn't one aspect of that preparation. In order for our students to seamlessly transition into the corporate landscape, they require lessons in business etiquette and practices. At Paul Quinn, those lessons are now occurring daily.
Needless to say, there has been opposition to this, and not just from the students. How are the students supposed to pay for this, some have asked. (Sorrell responded by asking community leaders to sponsor a gently-used clothing drive.): As for the other concerns, Sorrell has answers as well:
I have heard the criticisms from a small segment of our students and their parents that (1) the students are adults and thus don't need to be told how to dress and (2) how you dress doesn't affect your academic performance.

I respectfully, but wholeheartedly, disagree. First, we are an educational institution. Our job is to educate our students completely. Teaching them business etiquette falls within that job description. Second, as I walk the campus and observe young women walking to class in skirts or when I watch the students in my class debate the finer points of their reading assignments while wearing shirts and ties, I look at the smiles on their faces and I listen to the confidence in their voices. They don't just look different or act different, they are different. This will absolutely translate into greater academic performance.
Do you agree with this? Do clothes really make the man (or woman), or is this just another example of excessive adminstrative control by a school? Since the original op-ed, Sorrell has had the "interim" tag removed from his presidential title, so this policy is probably going to stay for the foreseeable future. DMN columnist James Ragland likes the idea, though he notes that the code can't dress up the other problems the school is experiencing, including being put on probation by its accrediting agency (for a laundry list of problems) and going through five presidents since 2001.

But let me look at this from another angle for a moment. One of the things that Sorrell said was that "[w]e are charged with the responsibility of preparing our students to assume a leadership role in business." But wait...isn't that operating on the dangerous assumption that every graduate would actually be entering the business world after college? The college's catalog lists sixteen different degree programs, only three of which are really business degrees. (I'm not saying that a lot of the other majors would lead to jobs in places without dress codes, but it seems a stretch to assume that everyone who graduates from this college will be a "leader in business.")

I'll lay all my cards on the table here: As someone in the arts, I'm a little leery of using the business world as a standard to which we should all aspire. After all, in its highest form, art is about searching for truth and beauty in everyday life, whereas business is all about the almighty dollar. I'm not trying to be overly idealistic here; I'm just pointing out that business can't exactly be held up as a paragon of virtue. There's been a lot more corrupt behavior in businss than there has in music. (Perhaps this is why the music business--or at least the commercial part known as Big Music--is so distasteful to me, because the business half has corrupted the music half.) Why should business get to dictate things like this outside of their own little world? (This sentiment was expressed earlier by another Kevin--the now-former Dallas sports columnist Kevin B. Blackistone, who wrote, "This is one quip Mark Twain got wrong. Clothes don't make the man. Some pretty reprehensible folks over the years have dressed like they belong in boardrooms. Come to think of it, some of them have been in boardrooms. And now they're in jail rooms." I tend to agree with that sentiment.)

Several years ago, the DMN ran an article about school dress codes (this is so long ago that I doubt I can still find a link). Included was the usual drivel: Administrators worried about people dressing like gang members and so on (what would happen if gangs started wearing Old Navy?). The one voice of reason came from, of all people, a high-school sophomore, who noted that there was no reason to impose the standards of the business world on everyone, because not everyone was going to graduate and join the business world; a lot of them would become artists, musicians, computer programmers and so on--places that didn't subscribe to the worldview--or uniformity--of business.

The comments have been a little paltry lately (is it just that nobody wants to register with Google?), but please feel free to chime in on this subject, especially if you have a point that hasn't been discussed here yet.

It's spreading: Now there's even a dress code for Malaysian taxi drivers. Tucked-in shirts! No sandals! White shirts and dark pants only! When will it stop?

And this just seems silly: A teenager's yearbook picture has been rejected by her New Hampshire school because she's holding a flower in it. Evidently, it runs afoul of a "no props" clause or something...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Councilman's Logic Gets Even Saggier

A few weeks ago, I discussed the latest effort by a Dallas public official to ban saggy pants in public. And with today's development, it appears that Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway has gone off the deep end:
Combating sagging pants exposing skivvies is as important to Dallas as crime reduction and the Trinity River Corridor Project, says Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.
Huh? Having people hike up their pants is as important as reducing crime?

OK, let's read on:
City attorneys briefed the Dallas City Council in closed session Wednesday on the legalities of such an ordinance. And Mr. Caraway, who's resurrected the issue after the council last year pooh-poohed it, says he'll conduct a news conference today at City Hall to launch a public campaign against pants that slip below waistlines.

"It's just something that's not acceptable. We'll probably seek a fine. We're not seeking jail time," said Mr. Caraway, who quickly added that he didn't expect already overburdened Dallas Police Department officers to be constantly enforcing such an ordinance.
I certainly hope not. As I've said in previous posts on the subject, getting the police involved in such enforcement would be a big waste of their time and resources.

Still, some people close to the situation think that this really does make a difference:
For Michael Davis, Mr. Caraway's appointee to Dallas' City Plan and Zoning Commission, the council must keep an open mind, because sagging pants may very well hinder one of the body's chief priorities: economic development.

"Let's say an executive has agreed to consider southern Dallas to consider sites for supermarkets, well-known national stores, etc. The first thing any retail business executive is going to want to do is tour the area," Mr. Davis said. "If you pick him or her up from the airport, get off the highway and see people showing their underwear and various body parts, you are likely to get 'no' for an answer and watch your business opportunities go down the drain."
So is this much ado about nothing, or is it really a small step toward improving society? And as I asked earlier, is it possible to legislate courtesy?

Tomorrow, I'll have a slightly different framing of the "Do clothes make the man?" question.

Better saggy pants than no pants at all? Meanwhile, an adventurous couple plans to climb 300 mountains completely naked.

Honey, we forgot the kid: A Pennsylvania couple fled their burning trailer, only to realize that they'd forgotten to get their 4-year-old son. (The boy was rescued by a firefighter.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Minnesota's Getting the Picture

Not much blogging time today, but I did want to pass on a bit of good news from Minnesota that I hope will spread elsewhere: The state is giving refunds to people who have appealed their red-light camera cases because their state Supreme Court has ruled that the cameras are unconstitutional; refunds to thousands more people may follow:
n the spring, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the program violated statewide traffic laws. The court found that ticketing the owners of cars that were videotaped without proof of who was actually driving the car violated the rights of the owners. The photos did not show who was driving, but the owners had to go to court if they wanted to challenge the ticket.

"They automatically cited the owner, even if the owner wasn't driving," [an attorney representing several of the ticketed car owners] said.
I've expressed my displeasure with these cameras on manyl, many different occasions. My reasons are as follows: 1) Nobody has yet to convince me that the cameras are about safety and not about revenue, and 2) as someone who's endured a rear-end collision at a signalized intersection in the past, I'm concerned that this type of accident may increase even more than other types may be prevented.

And I'm also quite happy to see that, here in Garland, the city may even be" target="_new">cutting back on the cameras. From where I'm sitting, it's a step in the right direction.

"Are you Mom or Grandma?" "Umm...yes." A woman in Brazil, serving as a surrogate mother for her daughter, has given birth to her own grandchildren.