Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is This Video Controversy Simply Much Badu About Nothing?

I finally got to see the much-talked-about new Erykah Badu video tonight. If you've been living in a cave for the past few days, it's for the song "Window Seat" off her new album, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh, which (not coincidentally, I'm sure) dropped yesterday. For most of the video, she's walking down a city street doing a gradual striptease, completely oblivious to the presence of passersby, including kids. That's the controversial part for most of the nation.

But here in Dallas, it's a double shot of controversy: The street she's walking down is Elm Street, through Dealey Plaza and past the old Texas School Book Depository. That's right--the place where John F. Kennedy got shot. And just in case somebody misses the connection, there's spliced-in audio of a gunshot near the end of the video, and the naked Badu falls to the ground.

Even though it's been nearly fifty years, the collective psyche of Dallas has never quite gotten over being the site of the Kennedy assassination, and, as you can imagine, reactions here are strong in many circles. A lot of people wonder how Badu, who grew up here and graduated from the Booker T. arts magnet, could possibly do such a thing knowing how sensitive some people are to the subject.

So why did she do it? She offers an explanation:
Badu said in an interview Monday that the video for "Window Seat" was a "protest" and "about liberating yourself."

She said she chose Dealey Plaza as the backdrop because "the grassy knoll was the most monumental place in Dallas," and she compared the criticism she expected to receive to Kennedy's murder.

"I tied it in a way that compared that assassination to the character assassination one would go through after showing his or herself completely," she said. "That's exactly the action I wanted to display."
Hmm--sounds kinda fuzzy to me. I wonder if she also just wanted to get nekkid in a busy public place in broad daylight just to say that she could get away with it.

As I said, a lot of people were outraged. Here are a few samples:
"I don't understand how someone who lives here, who is a resident of this city, could do such a thing," said Lindalyn Adams, a longtime civic volunteer who is credited with rescuing Dealey Plaza from neglect and exploitation in the 1980s.

John Crawford, president of the nonprofit Downtown Dallas, added: "It's in poor taste and poor judgment, in my opinion."
But Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, whose district includes Dealey Plaza, called the incident trivial in comparison to the many complex issues facing the city today.

While some people wondered if the video wasn't in fact some sort of videographic trickery--meaning that Badu could have stripped in front of a blue screen indoors and been inserted into the street scene by an editor--she confirmed that it was real, taking place on the afternoon of March 13, a Saturday. She noted that she was petrified the entire time she was doing the shoot.

So far, Badu hasn't been charged with anything, though she did violate several ordinances (being naked in public, doing the filming without a city permit, etc.), and city officials say that she won't be unless one of the bystanders files a complaint. And while my own reaction to the whole thing is pretty much "meh," there is one thing that bugged me--the presence of kids in the background. Here's Badu's response to that:
Asked about the presence of minors, Badu said when she saw them, "I tried to telepathically communicate my good intent to them. That's all I could do, and I hoped they wouldn't be traumatized."
Wow. Makes you wonder what she might have been smokin' beforehand, doesn't it?

If you haven't seen the video yet, a version of it is here. (The nudity has been pixelated, but it's probably still NSFW.)

UPDATE: A few days later, someone did file a complaint, so Badu will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor for disorderly conduct; the charge is so mild that the citation--which carries a $500 fine--will be mailed to her.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In DFW, We're Livin' in the 80s

No, I'm not talking about parachute pants or Flock of Seagulls haircuts or acid-washed clothing, but rather the weather. Everyone knew that it had been a pretty cold winter here in DFW, but only in the past few days did we realize that we were flirting with a record: Most consecutive days where the mercury stayed below 80 degrees.

Alas, the record was not to be ours. This afternoon, we hit 80 degrees at the airport for the first time since October 20 of last year. That's a string of 160 days, five shy of the record set 91 years ago.

I can only speak for myself, but I've been happy with the colder winter. My gas bill has never been ridiculously high, and it's nice to have some slightly better-defined seasons in an area where we usually only have "summer" and "not summer." And the wind today made it feel warm but not hot; no complaints about the day at all, save for the fact that I had to spend quite a bit of it teaching indoors.

How was the weather in your neck of the woods today?

Make breakfast in rapid-fire fashion: Want to liven up your morning meal? Here are the instructions on how to cook bacon with a machine gun.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Un-Bear-able Finish, But a Great Season

As I pointed out earlier today on Twitter, I've been a fan of Duke basketball since a friend turned me onto them in college. I have a lot of respect for Coach K, and the teams are always fun to watch. But I just couldn't root for them today against Baylor.

Call it Texas pride, I guess; the Lone Star State had seven teams invited to the Big Dance this year, even though several bowed out in the first round (including my own alma mater, UNT) and my adopted school (via my sister), Texas A&M, went out in round two. Baylor was the last of the Mohicans, so it was hard not to root for them.

And I had a few other reasons: Baylor is home to one of the fraternity chapters I supervise, and I probably know people in their pep band, even if I couldn't recognize them because nearly everyone had a painted face. And besides that, Baylor hoops is a great story; coach Scott Drew has built the program up from the depths of despair after a series of scandals rocked the team under its previous coaching staff.

For all but the last two minutes, Baylor hung tough. The game was tied when I went to my car to leave for my gig tonight, which is why it was quite shocking to find out that, in the time it took me to get in the car, start it, and find the station that was airing the game, Duke had suddenly gone up by six points. It was pretty much all over by then.

But congrats to the Bears for a great season. And Duke, I guess I'm back in your corner again.

UPDATE: In a weird coincidence, the Baylor and Duke women's teams met the following night (with a Final Four berth also at stake), and this time, Baylor won. (It was the first time in the history of the women's tournament that both the men's and women's tournaments featured the same matchup in a regional final.)

This Was a Great Weekend, No Bones About It

Actually, that headline isn't true at all; Bones was a really big reason that this weekend has been great so far.

It was time for our annual jazz festival at the college, and our guest was Tom "Bones" Malone, best known for his work with the Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Live, and his current gig with the CBS Orchestra on the Letterman show.

As his nickname implies, Malone's main instrument is the trombone, but he plays quite a bit more than that:
A versatile musician, Malone plays piccolo, flute, alto flute, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, piccolo trumpet, trumpet, flügelhorn, bass trumpet, euphonium, trombone, bass trombone, tuba, electric bass, and synthesizer programmer.
And I'm pretty sure that list is incomplete, because Bones himself says that he plays a total of 41 instruments.

On Friday night, Bones joined the college faculty in a re-creation of his 1992 CD Standards of Living (which appears, sadly, to be out-of-print). It's a septet date with unusual, Gil Evans-inspired takes on eight familiar standards that featured lots of room for blowing, and that's how we approached the gig as well. The only things rehearsed were the heads and endings; even solo order was not determined until Bones pointed at someone.

During the big band portion of each evening, Bones did something that was very much expected from someone who plays the number of instruments that he does, but the crowd (especially last night's roomful of middle- and high schoolers) still ate it up: During a blues tune, Bones would alternate soloing with different members of the band, but each time he came back, it would be on another instrument. After opening on trombone, he also soloed on tuba, piccolo, trumpet and baritone sax (I should mention that all but the piccolo and trombone were borrowed, since current airline regulations make flying with multiple instruments very cost-prohibitive; he just brings mouthpieces for the rest). It was fun to watch the crowd's reaction every time he came out with a new horn.

I had gotten to meet Bones a few years back when he was initiated into Sinfonia at UNT, but it was great to spend a good part of the weekend with him, both on- and offstage. He's a really great guy and a fabulous musician.

The weekend isn't over yet; I have one more gig tonight that's completely unrelated to the festival, and after that, I'll be looking forward to a four-day school week and a very unscheduled Easter weekend.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Say It Ain't So, Jack!

This will be a very busy weekend, with Jazz Festival coming up tomorrow and Saturday and yet another gig on Sunday night. But I'm chiming in just long enough to note today's announcement that the current season of 24 will be its last. Here's the announcement, via MySpace:
In a joint decision made by 24’s star and executive producer Kiefer Sutherland, executive producer and showrunner Howard Gordon, Twentieth Century Fox Television, Imagine Entertainment and Fox Broadcasting Company, it was determined that the acclaimed series will end its remarkable eight-season run. Jack Bauer’s last day on FOX will conclude when the final two hours of “Day Eight” air Monday, May 24 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT). As the countdown to the series’ climactic conclusion races on, the final 11 hours will air uninterrupted Mondays (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Multiple award-winning series star Kiefer Sutherland reflected on the show’s run: “This has been the role of a lifetime, and I will never be able to fully express my appreciation to everyone who made it possible. While the end of the series is bittersweet, we always wanted 24 to finish on a high note, so the decision to make the eighth season our last was one we all agreed upon. This feels like the culmination of all our efforts from the writers to the actors to our fantastic crew and everyone at Fox. Looking ahead to the future, Howard Gordon and I are excited about the opportunity to create the feature film version of 24. But when all is said and done, it is the loyal worldwide fan base that made it possible for me to have the experience of playing the role of Jack Bauer, and for that I am eternally grateful.”
I started watching 24 in its fourth season (and I'm sure I'll catch up on the first three via DVD eventually), and I've been hooked ever since. The writing has had its ups and downs over the years, but the action (not to mention the roller coaster-ish pace of the show) has never failed to provide enjoyment. I've taped the show every week (yes, I'm still in my old-school pre-TiVo era over here) and even gotten to watch it as it aired recently, and this news will make me even more vigilant about setting my VCR properly (to catch things such as the two-hour episode set for April 5).

Congrats to Keifer and company on a job well done. I look forward to the conclusion of this seasons and the eventual movie.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Performing for a Less-Than-Perfect Audience?
Perhaps Keith Should Just Grin and Jarrett

The legendary jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is known for a lot of positive things: Dazzling technique, musicality approaching the sublime, the ability to improvise solo for an entire evening and leave the audience enchanted. But he also has a few quirks: The distracting, nasal vocalizing that's often done along with (and sometimes as a major distraction to) his playing, and, especially lately, a rather prickly relationship with his audiences.

You might have already seen his rant against an audience in Italy (often known simply as the "no effing flash photography!" incident), and last week, he railed against a California audience, seemingly because of the high crime of excessive coughing:
Good thing Keith Jarrett had the piano on his side Friday night. Otherwise, things could have gotten really ugly.

The jazz piano legend was at Davies Symphony Hall, performing one of his rare solo concerts, where the conceit is that every improvised piece is an act of pure, spontaneous creation. (Although, judging from Jarrett's comments, he does prime the mental pump a bit in his rehearsal studio.)

The approach often leads to moments of incandescent brilliance, as documented on a growing canon of recordings. Lately, it also tends to bring out the artist's cantankerous side, expressed in free-form kvetches about various unsatisfactory aspects of the performance set-up.

Friday night, it was the audience's turn to take the hits, as Jarrett frequently broke stride to complain about coughing and other seemingly minor distractions. The climax came in the second set, when Jarrett scolded the audience for so long that some members started shouting "Shut up and play," along with a few choicer epithets.
This need for absolute quiet is not peculiar to Jarrett, of course; classical performances generally demand the same silence, as do professional golfers. But few people seem to take it as personally as Jarrett. David Becker of the Bay Area Jazz Examiner, who wrote the story linked and quoted above, noted a few other things:
Fact is, you can't put 3,000 living animals into an acoustically sensitive space and expect absolute silence. Life makes sounds.

And Jarrett's apparent belief in the artist needing needing and deserving absolute control is a romantic fossil, at best. Not to mention a delusion for anything with a price tag attached to it.

Besides, doesn't improvisation at least partly mean working with what's there?
Good point. If you want absolute perfection with regard to your environment, stick to the recording studio. While some of the commenters at the linked story defended Jarrett's demands, others fall in line with my own thinking: If someone is being intentionally disruptive, then yes, go ahead and toss 'em. But for those who paid to see you and happen to have an unfortunate moment of humanity...well, maybe they should be treated a little bit better, or they'll stop coming to see you and tell their friends to do the same.

More thoughts from Becker may be found in this later story.

(Hat tip: Christian McBride, via MySpace; I told you people still use it!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Welcome to Chipotle. Please select your meat, beans, salsa...and energy."

I saw this on MySpace today (yes, some of us still use it!), and I thought it was cool: The Collin Creek location of Chipotle (a legendary haunt in the early days of this blog) is about to have solar panels installed as part of the company's new energy initiative:
The solar panels would reduce the restaurants’ traditional energy consumption during peak hours of energy use – 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The amount of power produced will eliminate more than 41 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a Chipotle news release.

Chipotle has purchased enough solar panels to install in about 75 restaurants, Arnold said, but identifying which Chipotle locations receive them is an ongoing process.

The company is looking at the restaurants’ access to sunlight, the lease terms, as well as neighboring buildings. Considering multiple criteria and parties involved, including municipalities, can make the process tedious, but it’s what the corporation deems right, Arnold said.

The solar power initiative stems from the restaurant chain’s core principle of “food with integrity,” Arnold said. It has been known to serve naturally raised meat from antibiotics- and hormone-free environments and is looking to expand in its use of local produce.
As I said, there was a time when I was at this Chipotle pretty much every week; the personnel knew me and my cohorts so well that they would tell us our orders before we even said anything. (This location, usually referred to as "15th Street" because of the exit off Central Expressway used to access it, was also the site of one of my craziest gastronomic accomplishments: the successful completion of the Two-Burrito Challenge, or 2BC for short.)

With the exception of special visits with the jazz combo (especially during exam week), I don't get to this location quite as often these days (especially since one opened up in my own neighborhood back in '05), but it's great to see the location doing well, and, as a freestanding building, it makes sense that this location is one to receive the solar panels.

And while I may not be a "greenie" or anything (even if I do own a pair of Birkenstocks), it's still nice to see a building become self-sustaining in this manner. So it's cool to think that, while any trip to Chipotle offers the choice of "black or pinto beans?", going to 15th Street will also give the option of "regular or solar power?". My proverbial hat (which is made of foil on Halloween) is off to them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

DId the NFL Brass Work Overtime Thinking Up This Idea?

It's been a busy week already, so I haven't had a lot of time to follow the news, but this sports story caught my eye: The NFL will be change the rules for overtime during playoff games:
Starting next season, if a team wins the coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball. If that next series ends with another field goal, play will continue under the current sudden-death rules.

If the team winning the toss immediately scores a touchdown, however, the game is over.

Team owners voted 28-4 on Tuesday in favor of the proposal at the NFL meetings. Minnesota, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Baltimore opposed the change.
It appears that they're operating on the idea that the coin toss has become too big of a factor in who wins the overtime game, and the new rule change is supposed to provide a more level playing field (pun slightly intended) for the team that loses the toss. It's also expected that, if this change works out well in the playoffs, it will be implemented during the regular season in the future.

I'm inclined to give this rule a chance before deciding whether or not I like it, though my first thought was, "That's wimpy!" (In the linked story, Brandon Stokley--a receiver for the Denver Broncos--seems to agree when he says, "If you're on defense first and you don't have the ball, you've just got to stop them.'') But I certainly like the sudden-death variety of overtime better than the convoluted "start on your opponent's 20-yard-line" process that they use in college, even if my alma mater's seven-overtime thriller in '06 was quite entertaining). I'm sure the first team that wins the toss, kicks a field goal and then loses by a touchdown on the next possession will complain, but we'll just have to see how this works.

What are your thoughts? Good idea, bad idea, or indifferent? Let me know in the comments.

Today's pathway leads to Holland: Today was the release of the long-awaited debut from the Dave Holland Octet, Pathways. It's the traditional quintet of Holland (bass), Chris Potter (tenor/soprano), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Steve Nelson (vibes/marimba) and Nate Smith (drums), with three more horns: Gary Smulyan (bari), Antonio Hart (alto) and Alex Sipiagin (trumpet). All three of the latter are in Holland's big band, and this group appears to be a nice bridge between the smaller and larger ensembles. Thanks to Dave's label Dare2 Records affiliating with eMusic, I was able to download the album over breakfast this morning, and I'll try to have a review of it posted in the weeks to come.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Walking in a Spring Break Wonderland

I knew that it was supposed to get colder this weekend and maybe even rain yesterday, but the idea that there might be snow this weekend was unknown to me until a friend complained that his outdoor gig got postponed yesterday because of the possibility of the white stuff. But it's easy to be a weather skeptic here in North Texas, thanks to years upon years of screaming headlines on the ten o'clock news about the upcoming ARCTIC BLAST! that rarely, if ever, pan out the next morning.

I did see some precipitation that could be called a flurry-raindrop hybrid during yesterday afternoon's errands, and by the time we went to a late dinner last night, there was quite a bit of blowing snow, though the forecast seemed to have the heavier stuff to the north and west of the Metroplex. The roof was covered when I got home last night, but everything was supposed to stop by this morning, when the winter weather advisory was set to expire.

So imagine my surprise when I woke up to this:

(I love how the landscape lights look like giant mushrooms...)

So it turns out that Chicago wasn't my only snow experience in the Winter of '10 after all; I had been bummed when I missed the mini-blizzard here last month while I was away at TMEA, but who knew that winter would make an unauthorized trip across the border of spring (which started yesterday at 12:32 in the afternoon).

And now they're saying that there's a 50/50 shot of more snow throughout the entire day. But it won't quite hit freezing tonight, so there's little if any chance of spring break being extended by an extra day (which would be made up in a few weeks, on The Holiday That Schools Aren't Allowed to Call Good Friday Anymore). And to top that off, tomorrow's high is supposed to be 60. Gotta love our Texas weather...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To Me, The Latest Rangers Controversy Is a Wash; Let's Move On

I couldn't believe it when I read the headline on Twitter yesterday: Ron Washington Tested Positive for Cocaine. Say what?

But sadly, it's true. It happened in the middle of last season, in July of last year. And since then, the local sports outlets have been in a frenzy, to say the least. Here's what we know so far:
  • Washington says it was a one-time thing, an "attempt to dodge personal anxieties and personal issues.'' I have no reason not to take him at his word, for now.

  • He informed the league, along with team president Nolan Ryan and GM Jon Daniels soon after the incident, noting that he would likely fail any drug test that might be given to him shortly thereafter.

  • Such a test did take place, and he did fail it. He has completed the MLB's drug treatment program.

  • He offered his resignation to Ryan and Daniels after the positive test, and that request was declined.
You can read the full statement made by Washington at a press conference yesterday at the link above.

Our local paper, the Dallas Morning News, is all over the story. Among other things, they report that Ft. Worth Star-Telegram columnist Randy Galloway has filed a story that a disgruntled former employee tried to blackmail the team by threatening to expose the results of Washington's test, but Ryan and Daniels have refuted that story. (Still, it makes one wonder how the results, which are supposed to be confidential, were leaked.) The DMN's Tim Cowlishaw thinks that Washington may not be long for the Rangers. as the team can't afford to stand by him for very long. And the newspaper's nattering nabob of negativity, Jean-Jacques Taylor, thinks that thinks Wash should have been fired right away, no questions asked (although JJT later predicts on his blog that the manager is likely to finish the season with the team. Meanwhile, the players seem to have his back. And the key points of the story are summarized here.

One of the underlying themes of this whole thing is the idea of second chances, and the fact that the Rangers are willing to give them can be summed up in two words: Josh Hamilton. I'll agree with Cowlishaw that a manager snorting coke seems to be uncharted territory (whereas far too many players have gotten in trouble for such a thing), but it seems that Washington has done everything properly since the unfortunate incident. I say let him manage, and if the team falls far short of Ryan's projected 92 wins, Wash will be outta here anyway. In the meantime, I wish the best for the man, who obviously had some big problems and chose a very, very bad way to solve them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Erin Go Blog

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my fellow Irish, and anyone else who feels like being Irish for a day (as I noted on Twitter, a "day pass" is free). Not only am i wearing green, but the green in question is a T-shirt that came from Ireland itself, when Mom and Dad went there a few years ago (Mom and Dad went to Ireland, and all I got was a pretty cool T-shirt...and some Guinness, though I would have enjoyed the factory tour they took even more). My T-shirt says Sláinte!, which is an old Irish toast roughly meaning "good health." As I noted a few years ago, it was a popular slogan for the Bennigan's restaurant chain, which lost its good health a few years ago. (UPDATE: Someone at a place where I ate later in the day saw the shirt and immediately asked me if it came from Bennigan's. Heh.)

Once again, it's spring break, so I don't get to see the amusement that takes place when the kids at school who forgot to wear green find creative ways to avoid being pinched (safety-pinning a green ribbon to one's shirt--or even a piece of green construction paper--was a popular avoidance technique). But I imagine that there will be a lot of green to be seen when I'm out and about later in the day.

So what do you plan on doing to celebrate the day today? As I've said before, I'm not a big fan of group identity politics or anything of the sort, but I'm perfectly happy to spend one day a year celebrating the most outward portion of my heritage (I'm only a quarter Irish, with the rest being English and French, but my name is pretty much all Irish, all the time).

Another celebration of Green: Best of luck to the men's basketball team from my alma mater, North Texas, which is playing Kansas State in the first round of the Big Dance tomorrow. It'll even be on TV locally, at the expense of the Baylor game that's slated to tip off around the same time. Kudos to CBS 11 for realizing who the "home" team is between the two.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This Doesn't Make Census to Me

Like many Americans, I received my official census form in the mail yesterday. (For the record, I have no problem filling it out, and--as much as I'd like to move to a true post-racial society, where skin color is about as important as eye color, and national origin is celebrated, but doesn't define anyone--I'll avoid the temptation to be snarky and write "American" under the Race question.) But one thing struck me as bizarre: Despite the fact that the forms were timed to arrive this week, and the accompanying letter gently encourages us (in bold type) to "please complete and mail back the enclosed form today," the entire form is based upon a day that's over two weeks in the future! That's right--the opening statement declares that "The Census must count every person living in the United States on April 1, 2010."

So we're supposed to summon the crystal ball, are we? Granted, the size of my household has remained unchanged since the last time the spare room was rented out (which was around 7 years ago), but who's to say that something might not change in a few weeks? A friend could lose a job, become temporarily estranged from a spouse, have a flood in their apartment--anything could happen.

Obviously, I know that I'm supposed to fill out the form with things as they stand right now, but it still seems odd that they'd ask for a date that's several weeks away. Why not either date it as of March 15, or time them to arrive on April 1? (And the April 1 date itself is kind of funny; I wonder if it tempts anyone to indulge in a little foolery?) And if something were to change in two weeks, am I supposed to contact the Census Bureau and ask for a do-over?

A couple of other random thoughts regarding the census:
  • The process really isn't that bad; I finished the form in one minute and four seconds (yay for the iPhone stopwatch!).

  • The Race questions were unusual; after asking if Person 1 is of Hispanic origin, and then having three subcategories of Hispanic as well as "other," the next question asks "What is Person 1's race?" and then doesn't include Hispanic at all.

  • Confused by this, I look up and discovered that I had glossed over the statement that seems to clarify this: "For this census, Hispanic origins are not races." So why ask for them, then? Or why not count every subcategory? (With St. Patrick's Day coming up tomorrow, I'd be especially proud to document my Irish heritage, although the English and French parts of me might demand equal time.)

  • Despite reading about people who are complaining that the census is too intrusive, I can't find anything in this short form that fits that description. Maybe it might be an issue for two people living together out of wedlock and didn't want certain people to know, but that doesn't seem to carry the stigma that it once did. Asking for your name, birth date and telephone number doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

  • On the other hand, it is good to know that the information won't be shared or sold. Besides the obvious potential problem for people who are here illegally, something jumped out at me: The form has room to list up to 12 people in the same household! In the city where I live, it's illegal to have more than three people in a dwelling who are unrelated to the owner, so it's easy to see why anyone in that situation would not want their census information to be shared with the city.
All in all, it was quick and painless; in fact, it took far longer to write this post than it did to fill out the form. So have you filled out your form yet? And if so, did you beat my time record? Your response is the comments.

Monday, March 15, 2010

This Teacher on Spring Break Says "No" to the Four-Day School Week

I read something over the weekend that appears to be such a bad idea that I can't believe someone actually proposed it: School districts are trying to save money by going to a four-day school week:
A small but growing number of school districts across the country are moving to a four-day week, in a shift they hope will help close gaping budget holes and stave off teacher layoffs, but that critics fear could hurt students' education.

State legislators and local school boards are giving administrators greater flexibility to set their academic calendars, making the four-day slate possible. But education experts say little research exists to show the impact of shortened weeks on learning. The missed hours are typically made up by lengthening remaining school days.

Of the nearly 15,000-plus districts nationwide, more than 100 in at least 17 states currently use the four-day system, according to data culled from the Education Commission of the States. Dozens of other districts are contemplating making the change in the next year—a shift that is apt to create new challenges for working parents as well as thousands of school employees.
And that's the real problem with the idea. What are all these working parents supposed to do? If the kids are too young to leave home alone, how will they manage to set up one-day child care? And if the older kids were home along, wouldn't crime, violence and other such mischief increase?

And it's not just the students and parents who would be affected. How about the teachers? Some of them would be hard-pressed to do things like graduate courses and other enrichment work if the day were nearly an hour and a half longer. (And yes, I have a personal dog in this hunt; I teach lessons in public schools in the morning and teach college in the later afternoon and evening; if my public schools went to a four-day week, I'm not sure that I could make enough money to live on with only four partial days of lessons; I'd have to do a slew of house calls on Fridays. And switching more college teaching to Fridays wouldn't be the answer either, as lots of my students have Fridays off anyway, and those days are used to work.)

But wait...there's more! We haven't even talked about the educational implications yet. Aren't our students underachieving when they're compared with those in other countries? And wouldn't that achievement gap grow even larger if students were in school one less day every week? A few years ago, when year-round school was all the rage in some circles, proponents noted that the longer time off made students more likely to forget what they'd learned; imagine having a little chunk of that "vacation" every week!

Comments at this Wall Street Journal blog post, a companion to the first linked story above, are all over the map; some people are shouting that "schools are not babysitters," but others note that the current setup of schools--which provides for both learning and a safe environment away from home while the parents are at work--has been in place for so long that it's sort of an unwritten compact between the schools and the community, and changing this is somewhat like pulling the rug out from many parents. I also like the analogy made by commenter "AZ Anon," who says, "Another point is the issue of less repetition. When you want to learn a musical instrument, its not the same to pratice 3 hours once a week, vs. 30 min a day for 6 days. Over time we learn more vs. trying to cram in all the knowledge over fewer hours." Well said. And another commenter notes that, if this has to happen, put the off-day on Monday instead of Friday, and suddenly all the Monday holidays can be observed on days when students wouldn't be in school anyway. If the (IMHO) horrible idea of four-day weeks ever got implemented, that would probably be the best way to go.

But there is a solution to this which hasn't been discussed very much: It's time to cut the fat at the administration building. I'm a big fan of requiring administrators to teach one class every day, but there are probably some positions that just need to be cut outright. "Diversity" officers? "Green" specialists? The Deputy Associate Vice Superintendent for Curriculum Development in the Northwest Quadrant? You could get rid of these jobs and many others like them and nobody would miss them, and doing so is the first thing that needs to be considered whenever a district faces a budget crunch.

Would a four-day school week affect you personally in any way, and would you be in favor of such a thing? Chime in by hitting the comment button.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring Has Broken, and Daylight Is No Longer Wasted

Spring break may have started at the close of business on Friday, but I can finally celebrate it today. This past week has been consumed by preparations for the reactivation of a fraternity chapter yesterday (and congrats to the brothers of Sigma Omega!), so today is the "I can finally exhale" day. (In fact, the rest of the week is set to be pretty relaxed, minus practicing and the traditional spring cleaning.)

And with the break comes an extra perk: The first week of Daylight Saving Time. I've noted many times on this blog that I'm a big DST fan, going as far as to refer to Standard Time as Daylight Wasting Time. As I said in that 2003 post,
I think the really depressing part of DWT is that it almost always gets dark before I'm done teaching now. It seems to me that if you don't finish work until after dark, you've worked too long. In a way, I know my days are too long, but at least I can hide behind a little denial if I get home while the sun is still out. DWT blows that all out of the water, and I'm forced to come to terms with my workaholic self. Bleh.
So now, it will be light out at the end of nearly every teaching day (save for Thursdays when I teach a night class until 9:45), and I can enjoy the "saved" hour of daylight, rather than having it at six in the morning when there's pretty much nothing I can do with it. (UPDATE: A bit of the history of DST may be found here.)

With the break, I should be posting regularly and getting caught up on some unfinished entries from the past few weeks.

Enjoy a piece of Pi today: Today is also Pi Day, and if I'd remembered that a little earlier, I would have done this post about an hour ago (3/14 at 1:59).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hey, Nancy: Here's One Artist Who Doesn't Want a Government Subsidy for My "Creative Time"

There have been a lot of crazy things said by people in the debate on health care reform, but this statement, as noted in a Weekly Standard blog post by Mary Katharine Ham that I read yesterday, distressed me more than a little bit. It's from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who already had one whopper quote ("We have to pass the bill, so you can find out what's in it") this week:
"Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance."
Umm, Nancy--in a word, no. While the phenomenon of "starving artists" may be a little too close to the truth for some practitioners, that doesn't mean that they should be allowed to create on the government dole. The unproductive class (along with its lesser sibling, the parasite class) has too many members already without suggesting that creative types become a drain on society as well.

When one chooses to go into the creative arts--music, visual arts, theatre, writing, etc.--it's almost a given that such a person will not be wealthy, at least not right away; if anything, it will be a struggle at times. But that's not necessarily bad; in fact, the struggle may call upon the creative powers of artists even more, as they try to find different angles to get their work out to the world. I might even go as far to say that the struggle can sometimes make for better art; someone who got paid to sit around and create all day without any additional effort on his or her part might well get fat and happy, and the art would likely be compromised in the process, ending up more like G-weasel than Charlie Parker.

And with that choice to go into the creative arts, one needs to come to terms with the fact that a "day job" will be required, at least for a while. For myself and many of my colleagues, that day job is teaching, and it comes with its own set of rewards. But there are plenty of musicians out there who work in music stores (I did that myself for a while, until it led to a teaching job at the same store for double the pay), do computer consulting, or all kinds of other things (I've also known people who worked as repo men or loaded UPS trucks). It's a big sacrifice sometimes, but for those who work in the less-commercialized facets of the arts (i.e. my fellow straight-ahead jazz musicians), it's a better tradeoff than pandering to the masses. (On the other hand, a protege of mine plays in six commercial bands precisely because he doesn't want to have a day job; it may not be as musically rewarding to play "Brick House" four nights a week as it would to play "Giant Steps," but, as he says, it's better than flipping burgers.

Don't get me wrong--it's not as if Pelosi's overly-utopian idea doesn't have some appeal. Sure, it would be great to sit around and practice and write music all day and get paid for it. But with tax dollars? Other people's money? People who didn't choose to pay to support me? Not on your life! Society doesn't owe me, or anyone else, a living. If I want the above situation to happen, I should seek out private grants--which would be awarded in a competitive fashion, based on merit--which obviously come from people who voluntarily donate their money to such a cause. (And let's not forget that, if our tax burden were lower, there would likely be more such donations.)

And there's one more scary thing about Pelosi's idea: If government can finance more artists, it can also control what they do. Never forget that; everything comes with a price.

I'll let Ham have the final word from the linked post:
If liberal Boomers such as Nancy Pelosi insist on creating government incentives for a generation of people to be unemployed artists who nonetheless have their health care paid for by productive members of society, there will be fewer productive members of society.

[...]These are the workers—and I may soon be using that term loosely— upon whom liberal Boomer Pelosi must rely to pay her Social Security through their working years. The ratio of workers to retirees has already shrunk from 41:1 in 1942 to 3.3:1 in the mid-2000s, and is expected to dip into to 2:1 in the next decades. Does Pelosi really want one or more of those young people supporting each worker to be a really keen charcoal sketch artist whose earning potential went as thoroughly unrecognized as his genius?
Good point, but I doubt that Pelosi and her ilk are smart enough to realize it.

As I've said before, it's time to grow the productive class and drastically shrink the unproductive and parasite classes. It's too bad that those in Washington want to do the exact opposite of that, all in the name of increasing their own power and control. We the People need to send them a resounding "NO!" in November of this year.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fry Street Update: Non-Rant Version

Yesterday, a commenter tipped me off that there had been an update in the seemingly ongoing Fry Street saga. When the story had last been discussed here back in late December, it appeared that a massive apartment complex for students would be taking over the block:
The Dinerstein Companies of Houston and Winkelmann & Associates Inc. of Dallas filed a pre-application with Denton city officials on Monday to build 210 student apartments with 586 beds in a four-story complex split by a multistory parking garage.
As bad as the proposed Fry Street Village had been, this seemed even worse, because the former commercial block would have nothing commercial on it at all. And of course, the usual concerns about traffic were raised by those who live in the area.

In my post back in December, I had a suggestion of my own for a possible compromise:
So why not split the difference here: Since New Urbanism is all the rage, how about a mixed-use development with businesses on the ground floor and apartments above it? [Former council member and area resident Mike] Cochran is right--apartments would be a waste of prime commercial land, so that might as well be included in the plan. How about it, folks?
I hadn't read anything else about the proposal since then, but, prompted by the commenter's tip, I found out that a lot has been going on this spring. First, a recap of the original proposal:
City planners and some residents criticized the developer’s initial plans, filed with the city in December, which showed a four-story apartment complex and multistory parking garage but no retail shops, despite the area’s history as a hub for independent shops and restaurants.
Believe it or not, the developers listened:
The latest plans are largely the same as those presented at the last public meeting Feb. 17. They show more than 10,000 square feet of ground-level retail space, an outdoor patio and some wider sidewalks along with the 194-unit apartment complex and 700-space parking garage.

Recent changes include the addition of a new facade on the parking garage facing Oak Street and bay windows and pitched roofs on the apartments facing Welch Street, [Dinerstein Cos. partner Josh] Vasbinder said.
There are still some things to be worked out; the four-story plan is one higher than is allowed in the area by current zoning. But the Council was enthusiastic about the project, even praising the developers for incorporating suggestions from a couple of community meetings held last month. It's also nice to see that other landowners in the area are on board as well:
The meeting also brought news that the developer has the entire block under contract except for the Cool Beans lot, which isn’t part of the project.

“At our last community meeting, we only had the United Equities property under contract,” Vasbinder said, referring to the Houston-area company that bought most of the block several years ago in a failed attempt to redevelop it. “We were in dialogue with both the [Gene] Hartman property as well as the [Joe] Normile. I can tell you today we have all three properties under contract.”
I don't think there's any chance of pleasing everybody here, but this latest idea seems like the best possible compromise (and not just because it's exactly what I suggested back in December, LOL). There's no ugly chain drugstore at the Hickory/Fry corner; the retail mixed in with the residential is a nod to the history of the area; and the patio and wider sidewalks seem like a nice touch. It's better than the United Equities plan, and it's better than the big empty field of mud that's there now.

The developer hopes to get final approval by December, break ground next year and open by the summer of 2012, which would finally bring to a close the sad saga that began when United Equities bought the block in May of 2006.

And I close with a simple, five-word request to Vasbinder and his colleagues: Please invite the Tomato back. (Thank you.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

JJT vs. UNT: Why Be So Mean to the Green?

(I wanted to post this yesterday, on the day it actually happened, but I just couldn't follow a positive post like the birthday salute to Ebby Halliday with a rant, so I saved it for morning.)

I've had issues with some of the things written by the Dallas Morning News sports columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor in the past, the most recent one being his bizarre foray into politics when he lambasted the Vancouver Olympic organizers for not using some of their money to aid the local homeless population. Today's column started off innocently enough: He lambasted SMU and TCU for not playing well enough to be in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Fair enough; we get a lot of that around here, and the teams have frequently underachieved in recent years.

But just a few paragraphs in, the alarm bells start to go off when Taylor writes the following:
Common sense says our two local Division I programs should be pretty good. Who couldn't build a quality program with Dallas-Fort Worth as its main hub?
Umm, JJT, you need to be a little better at math; we have four local Division I programs--UNT and UT-Arlington also hold that status, not just SMU and TCU. (And even if he's trying to pretend that UNT isn't "local," it's hard to discount UTA when you practically have to drive past it to get from SMU to TCU. What gives?)

But then Taylor goes completely off the deep end as, in an attempt to make a point about SMU and TCU's low RPI (Rating Percentage Index), he spews out this ridiculous statement:
Each school is behind such noted basketball powerhouses such as North Texas (120), Stephen F. Austin (163), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (176) and UT-San Antonio (181).
Look, it's not just alumni boosterism to note that UNT has four straight 20-win seasons and hasn't lost a game since January. Where in the world did you pull that statement, JJT? (Umm, don't actually answer that, OK?) And then the Mean Green made an even bigger fool out of Taylor by winning the Sun Belt Conference championship tonight and earning another trip to the Big Dance. Hey, JJT, want some bacon to go with that egg on your face?

Quite a few UNT alums (including myself), not to mention a few from SMU and TCU, take Taylor to task in the comments. As I noted over there, it's not just JJT who seems to forget that UNT is part of the Metroplex; that seems to be a recurring problem among local sports media. But to slam the Green on the very day they earn their way to the NCAAs is a ridiculous gaffe, and not only that, it hurts the brand; say enough bad things about a program, and a lot of people (i.e. those who still trust the media to deliver news without bias) will believe it. Thankfully, the Mean Green's actions on the court tonight outweighed one man's ill-chosen words in today's paper.

Congrats to the Mean Green, and best of luck at the Dance; I'll be watching! And JJT, you should hang your head in shame for this one. There's no reason for you and your colleagues to not want all the local sports teams to do well, not just your seemingly-anointed ones at SMU and TCU. We deserve better journalism than that.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Celebrating the Grande Dame of Dallas

Most people don't get a lot of attention the year before their 100th birthdays, but in the case of iconic Dallas Realtor Ebby Halliday, the hoopla is completely deserved. And despite her desire to "keep things low-key" this year, Ebby's birthday celebration is lasting an entire week:
The festivities kicked off Friday night at American Airlines Center. She met her favorite Dallas Mavericks player, Dirk Nowitzki, who presented her with a team-signed ball at center court before the game.

The team offered to courier the ball home so she wouldn't have to worry with it, but she refused to let it out of her sight the rest of the night. She's ecstatic that it represents the team's 10th win in a row.

On Saturday, her longtime physician, Dr. Hugh McClung, hosted his annual birthday hoedown for some of her closest friends, including Ellen Terry and Ron and Nance Chapman. They dressed up in Western wear and loaded up in a party bus for the trek to and from Terrell.
And that was just the first two days; on Sunday, she had a post-church reception and a Sunday school class party (with belly dancers; seriously!), and her "official" party was last night at the new Winspear Opera House. Today, it's lunch with buddy T. Boone Pickens and a board meeting at her namesake realty headquarters (yes, she still works every day), and it all wraps up tomorrow with a luncheon at City Hall.

And remember, this is "just" for her 99th birthday. I wonder what they'll do next year...

(Be sure and check out the picture of Ebby side-by-side with Dirk Nowitzki at the link above, and you can send her birthday wishes here.)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Get Your Nanny State Out of Our Stadium Implosion

If you're here in the DFW area, you've probably heard about the upcoming demolition of Texas Stadium, set to take place in the early morning hours (yawn) of April 11. And you might have even heard that Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is the official sponsor, and they're having a contest to pick a lucky kid to push the button that will start the whole process.

While there was some (not wholly unexpected) griping about the whole idea of having a kid blow up a stadium, that pales in comparison to the actions of a so-called physicians' group, which is looking to pay the city of Irving the same amount of money to replace the Kraft advertising with its own ad, which would basically say that cheese is making people fat:
Susan Levin with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says they have sent a letter to the mayor suggesting that they remove Kraft as a sponsor of the event and for the same $75,000 allow them to warn children of the dangers cheese poses to their health. Levin says dairy products are the number one source of saturated fat in America.
Thankfully, Irving Mayor Herb Gears isn't taking the bait (Get it? Bait? Like cheese in a mousetrap?), especially when the advertising the group has proposed (which can be viewed at the link above) shows a fat guy eating cheese and wearing an "I [heart] Velveeta" shirt, with a caption reading "Cheese really blows you up."

More on this at the Dallas Morning News Irving blog, where the commenters have already done a lot of the heavy lifting, exposing this "doctors' group" as an radical animal rights group, less than 5% of whose members are actually physicians. And others have pointed out that Kraft is donating $75,000 to local food banks, as well as another $75K in sponsorship fees to the city, which will be donated to local charities. I'd like to see the "doctors" match that one...

When I heard this story on the radio this afternoon, two thoughts came to mind: 1) I'm glad that Mayor Gears said no, because this would have been yet another example of nanny-statism run amok, and 2) This group is probably some sort of wacko "activist" organization. I'm glad to see that my suspicions have been proven. (And I look forward to the day when "activism" no longer pays, and all its practitioners have to actually go out and get real jobs.)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A Barely Passing Grade in Advertising 101

While driving through the High Five this morning, I saw a billboard for the Verizon Droid phone, with the caption describing it as a "BARE-KNUCKLED BUCKET OF DOES" (example here), and the point of the ad completely missed me for a second.

If you've seen other Droid advertising, you may have noticed the shorter catchphrase "DROID DOES," and such ads go on to list all the features of the phone, especially in comparison to their main competition, the iPhone. (Even as an iPhone owner, the description of the latter as the "iCan'ttakepicturesatnight" cracks me up.)

But here's the thing: "Does" (the verb) isn't usually found in buckets, so when I, the casual driver keeping at least one eye on the road (being on a very tall bridge and all), saw the phrase "bucket of does," I didn't immediately think of "does" being a form of the verb "do," but rather as the plural form of a female deer. And for a moment, the thought going through my head was "Why would you want a bucket full of deer?", along with "Wait--deer don't even have knuckles."

So what do you think--does (as in the verb, not the deer) this ad miss its mark? By the time I got what they were talking about, I was well past the billboard and thus lucky to remember who made the phone in the first place. Would this ad work better on TV or radio, where you could hear the word "does" pronounced? Or does everyone else in the world get the context, and I was just way too tired on a Sunday morning. Talk to me in the comments.

UPDATE: It appears that The Language Blog beat me to the punch on this subject a few months ago. Great minds think alike...

Saturday, March 06, 2010

New Urbanism on the Rise in Fairview

When errands took me to the Allen/Fairview area today, I took advantage of the recent opening of The Village at Fairview, a New Urbanist center that's directly across the street from, and a sibling to, The Village at Allen, which is itself a big-box center that opened last fall (and also features a full-service hotel and the new Allen Events Center).

Unlike Firewheel, which opened about two-thirds full, Fairview did what I suppose could be called a "soft opening": the "Coming Soon" signs still vastly outnumber the actual businesses at this point, but with the recent opening of Dillard's at the west end, the three major anchors (J.C. Penney and Macy's being the other ones) are now in place. Besides a wide variety of shops and restaurants, the center will boast a movie theatre and bowling alley by year's end, and the east end of the development will feature a new town hall for the host community of Fairview.

The architecture of Fairview is much more modern in nature than the "classic" designs of Firewheel or Southlake, but it's well-designed and pleasing to the eye. Like Austin's Domain development, Fairview features luxury apartments above several portions of the street-level retail, along with another section just to the north. And since the entire main streetscape is already in place, the area is ripe for walking, even if you have to dodge a construction vehicle here and there.

As I said, there's not a lot there yet, though the directory promises much more to come (the listing of when each store is slated to open is very helpful), but in the meantime, I'm psyched to see that a The Purple Cow has already opened. It may not be any closer to me than the North Dallas or north Plano locations, but the lack of traffic (Dallas) or extra tolls (Plano) is welcome.

As I've said many times before, I'm a big fan of New Urbanism, and it's encouraging to see new projects of this kind open up, especially one that's as well-designed as Fairview. I look forward to more openings here throughout the year.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

This Morning's Fire Burned a Hole in Dallas' Live Jazz Scene

Waking up from a night of insufficient sleep after this weekend's long trip, I didn't want to believe my ears at first when I heard the news on the radio this morning about a fire consuming a block of businesses on Lower Greenville Avenue. My first thought was: Oh, no--I hope it's not the place where I've been playing every month since last fall. And while I was relieved that it wasn't there, the actual news wasn't much better: Among the venues destroyed this morning was the venerable jazz spot Terilli's.

I've been to Terilli's on a number of occasions; many of them in years past were to hear the late, legendary tenorist Marchel Ivery, who was ensconced in the Sunday night slot for eons. I also caught my old schoolmate Wayne Delano out there quite a few times before he moved out of state a year or so ago. While it wasn't exactly cheap, their Italian fare was always tasty, and it was possible for even the average college student to afford it every once in a while. I never got to play there myself (in part because of their tendency to hire trios, whereas my bands tend to be quintets or sextets), but it was always a place I aspired to hit the stage at some point in time. And now that time will have to wait for a while.

The business expanded for a few years, opening a second location (also with live jazz) in Frisco, where I went to see Delano at least once a month for a while. That location had a lot more square footage, as well as ample parking (for me the only downside of the original Terilli's was the necessity to use valet parking, of which I'm not a fan). It shuttered its doors a while back, supposedly "closed for relocation," and I wonder if this morning's events will hasten that move.

According to everything I've read thus far, all four of the affected businesses are planning on reopening somewhere down the road; there's even been talk that the facade of the 1930's-era building might be able to be preserved. I certainly wish them all the best, and I hope the employees can find work in the interim. And as for the musicians who were scheduled to play there this month, I hope another venue will open their stage to them. Maybe the idea would prove so popular that the second venue would keep the jazz going after Terilli's reopens, which would give us another place to play. Would anyone like to step up to the plate?

(Pictures of the way Terilli's used to look before this morning can still be viewed on the restaurant's website, which does not mention the fire as of now.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Off the Road Again

The long bus trip that consumed last night/this morning has come to a close, and I've already had a nice nap in my own bed this afternoon. I knew that this final leg of our jazz tour would be exhausting, and that prediction certainly came true.

We left Elmhurst around six last night, and--with the exception of a few stretch breaks, a gas stop, and two meals--were on the bus nonstop all the way back to Dallas. Bus sleep is never good sleep, but at least I was able to get a little bit of it anyway. (The one thing I forgot to bring on this trip was a pillow for the bus. Thankfully, one of the travel-stop places had little travel pillows--about 3/4 the size of a usual one--on sale for four bucks. That thing paid for itself within an hour as far as I'm concerned.)

The trip itself was great; the bands played well, Elmhurst is a cool little town, and, as I noted earlier, I finally got to see my snow for the year (it was on the ground the entire time we were in the northern half of Illinois). I may elaborate a bit more on this trip later on in the week, but for now, it's time to watch Leno's Tonight Show re-debut and then try to get on a normal sleep schedule again.