Monday, May 31, 2010

Take a Moment to Remember

It's easy for the true meaning of Memorial Day to get lost in all the barbecues and "first day of summer" celebrations (even if the latter's not true anymore here in Texas, thanks to the state-mandated later start to the school year). But we need to remember that we wouldn't have the freedom to chill out today if a whole lot of people hadn't made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

Ironically, some of the people who best understand the solemnity of this day are those who make their living as humorists for most of the rest of the year. Dave Barry links to both a set of instructions as to how to properly celebrate Memorial Day and a good collection of Memorial Day quotes. Let me share a few of the latter:
I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did. — Benjamin Harrison

The patriot’s blood is the seed of Freedom’s tree. — Thomas Campbell

The Flag still floats unblotted with defeat!
But ah the blood that keeps its ripples red,
The starry lives that keep its field alight.
– Rupert Hughes
And James Lileks, who hasn't had any family members who died in service, posts a picture of the closest thing: The man on whose former farm Lileks' house was built (he didn't die right away, but was seriously wounded for a time).

It's still possible to properly observe this day amidst the cookouts, of course. A White House decree from 2000 explains how to participate in a National Moment of Remembrance today:
Encouraging individual department and agency personnel, and
Americans everywhere, to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m.
(local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the
sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.
It's nearly 3:00. Will you stop and remember?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Today's Situation in a Nutshell

I've talked quite a bit here about how many of the problems faced by our country have to do with the fact that the people running things may have plenty of political experience, but little actual time spent in the productive part of society.

I've meant to blog more about this recently, but time has been at a premium. Thankfully, there are others out there who share this opinion, and The Anchoress states it very well:
[T]hat is the problem in a nutshell. Our government is top-heavy with people who have never “done” anything.

The Obama administration is loaded down with academics and lawyers who have spent their lives theorizing about things like economics, markets, social order and crisis management–and criticizing methods with which they disagree–but who have little practical experience in doing.

In fairness to the White House, many members of congress (and their leadership) have never done anything but talk, pose and run for office, too, but perhaps it behooves a president to have a few people in place who know how to (as any successful capitalist would) find the people who have an acquaintance with practical applications and who know how to yell, and how to dig in with both unmanicured hands.

Admittedly, it is difficult to put such people in place. Can-do capitalists are jawboners; they tend to want to lead, rather than fall-in-line. But any administration should have a couple of them discreetly in the background, so that when things hit the fan, there are more than mere theorists on board.
And a commenter to that post, who goes by the handle of "J" lays out a possible solution to this problem:
I’m generally not big on changing the constitution, but I’d support a change that barred anyone who hadn’t spent at least half of their adult life working in the private sector from holding any federal elective office.
Well said. And I'll repeat my own response to "J" here: It’s time to diminish the unproductive class in dramatic fashion and let members of the productive class be in charge. (The only reason this doesn’t happen more often is because those in the productive class are too busy, well, producing things.)

It’s also a good argument for term limits for all in government, legislator and bureaucrat alike. Start out in the productive sector, learn a skill that can be shared with the government for a brief time, and get back to producing things again.

A lot of us out here don't want the amount of government we currently have; few truly need it, and none of us can afford it. It's time to give everyone in government a 15% pay cut across the board, with the potential for more cuts based on productivity and accomplishment (or, more precisely, lack thereof)*. It's time to cut the bureaucracy in half; anyone who receives their salary the public dime needs to be working very, very hard. And the term-limits-for-all idea described above needs to be implemented as soon as possible.

These ideas need to be shared with those who are running for office in November; elections have consequences, and it's time for the unproductive class to be shown the door.

*I realize that raising or lowering pay based on productivity rather than number of years spent on the job would require that the influence of unions be cut to the bone. I consider this a feature, not a bug.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Commence Summer

As of this afternoon, the public-school portion of my academic year has concluded; the college semester having ended two weeks ago, I can officially say that it's summer (which, for someone in academia, does not correspond with the beginning of that season as stated on a calendar). There are a couple (literally, two) of non-exam days next week, but I have jury duty on Tuesday, so it's pretty safe to say that any teaching that goes on next week will be at Casa de Kev and not inside a school.

There were a few challenges this year--most notably during the fall semester, when I was doing some extra teaching in relief of an ailing colleague while undergoing my own recovery from knee surgery--but there were a lot of rewarding moments, and some really good music was made.

It's not a true vacation, of course; summer teaching starts a week from Monday, and the schedule still needs to be finalized. But I'm looking forward to a few days of doing very little, starting now.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Don't Book Me, Dano

I made mention of this on Facebook earlier, but I think it warrants a slightly longer rant: I wish it were possible to opt-out of receiving phone books.

I'm sure they're useful to somebody, but to me, phone books are as outmoded as the rotary-dial phones they used to serve. If I want a phone number, I get it from the Internet--and if I do so on my iPhone, I can usually just click a link on the webpage to make the call; no more writing down or memorizing numbers anymore.

The worst thing about phone books is their bulk, along with the fact that, at least in my city, you can't put them out with regular recycling. Instead, they can only be dropped off at the big recycling center, which is almost never open when I'm not working. There's a grocery store that will take them about twice a year, but I always seem to miss it.

They used to just sit in a messy pile at the edge of my dining room, but I finally realized that there was an unused kitchen cabinet where they could go. Still, that cabinet is almost full, and it's almost as if "out of sight, out of mind" has taken over, because I always forget to take them to the center even if it's a day off.

So I'd be a happy camper to never receive another phone book again. How about you--any use for them, or have they gone the way of the dodo for you as well?

Friday, May 21, 2010

(The) Crossing (of) Jordan

I'm one of those old-school guys who still reads newspapers (even if I almost totally ignore the front section, save for op-eds, letters from readers and lotto numbers; everything else, I read yesterday online), and since our local Dallas Morning News does a good job of high school sports coverage, I tend to read about up-and-coming athletes long before a lot of the rest of the world has heard of them.

Obviously, the DFW area has produced a lot of marquee names in football over the years (think Chase Daniel, Matthew Stafford, Graham Harrell and so on), and their exploits were chronicled in the paper throughout their prep careers. But there's also been a strong tradition of young golfers in the area--think Justin Leonard, the Kuehne siblings, Hunter Mahan and so on. And one of the people I'd been reading quite a lot about for the past few years is a 16-year-old named Jordan Spieth.

And after today, a whole lot more people will have heard of Jordan, because he made the cut at the Byron Nelson today:
Spieth is a high school junior from Dallas who cut class this week to play in the Byron Nelson Championship, becoming the first prep to take on the pros in this event since [Tiger] Woods in 1993. He's handled his nerves and the TPC Four Seasons course quite nicely, shooting a 3-under 137 through two rounds to become the sixth-youngest player to make the cut at a PGA Tour event.
I should point out that even Woods didn't make the cut at the Nelson during his prep days.

Jordan's having an exceptional week--and, so far, an exceptional life. One of his good buddies, whom he met at a pro-am earlier this year (and was in attendance today), is a certain golf-crazy local pro athlete named Tony Romo. And he ended up having a rather ginormous gallery today, as the Jesuit brass evidently sort of winked at the absenteeism of any of Jordan's fellow classmates (as well as a few teachers) who showed up to cheer him on.

Sure, nobody knows what the next few years will bring, but from what we've seen so far, Jordan likely has a bright future. He's playing in another tourney in South Carolina next month on a sponsor's invitation, and he still has another year of high school golf left before likely heading off to the University of Texas.

And while it's not likely that he'll win on Sunday, stranger things can happen. And his attitude is certainly in the right place: "I don't want to think of myself as an amateur out there," he said. "I want to think of myself as a contender." I'm certainly not going to doubt him.

Jordan Spieth--remember the name. We could be witnessing the start of something big.

SATURDAY UPDATE: Jordan continues to contend after today's round, ending up tied for seventh place. Way to go!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Big Seven-Oh to My Brothers

Happy Chapter Day to my brothers in the Gamma Theta Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia--a fine brotherhood of musicians serving the University of North Texas since May 19, 1940.

While the full roster of the chapter since that time includes some people who have made great contributions to the larger world of music (Jimmy Giuffre, Herb Ellis, Bob Dorough, Frank Mantooth), there have been plenty of unsung heroes who have made (or still are making) great contributions in much smaller worlds, but who are still heroes to many. It's a privilege to be an alumnus of such an esteemed group of gentlemen.

May your banner proudly "float for aye" for seventy--no, seven times seventy--more years!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Just a Little Reminder...

...of why I do what I do. And yeah, it might be lame to copy and paste stuff from Facebook, but this pretty much stands on its own, and I wanted a chance to share these sentiments with the part of the blogging world that's not also part of the Facebook world.

This was how my teaching day ended today:
This afternoon, a sixth-grader came in and played his B major scale, which he'd totally learned on his own just by "knowing what scales are supposed to sound like." I then showed him how to add more sharps and assigned F# for next week. If I ever needed a reminder of why I teach music, just watching the metaphorical l...ight bulbs go on like that will always do the trick.
That's what it's all about, folks. May you love your job as much as I love mine.

A Light at the End of the Blog Tunnel?

OK, I've been pretty bad at blogging (or at least being able to finish posts that I've started, before looking at the clock and saying, "Yikes, I have to get to bed now!") for quite some time now. As I looked over my list of posts tonight, I realized that I have more "pending" ones than real ones for the past month or so.

So why is this? Certainly, joining Facebook is (as expected) partially to blame; my online time is still finite during any given day, and I've devoted a lot of that time catching up with people I haven't talked to in years. Some of it can also be attributed to having a new TV and wanting to watch programs as they air in HD, rather than catching them later on a (greatly inferior) VCR rendering (yes, I'm still in my pre-TiVo phase).

But despite all the new distractions, I'm still firmly committed to doing this blog, and I have a solution to the time problem: If I'm going to watch TV during the week, then I can certainly blog during the time on the weekend when I'd normally be watching those taped shows. This weekend looks to be pretty chill, so I should get at least half of the 12 pending posts done in that time, and I'll link to all of them in a giant "catching up" post like I always do.

I've said this a lot, but, to those who haven't given up on The Musings yet: Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


It's really late in the semester to be trying new things, but here goes: Instead of going to bed 'round midnight (hey--that'd be a good song title!) and hitting a bunch of snooze alarms, I'm going to bed 'round eleven and seeing if I can wake up on time. Any bets on whether or not it will work?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Blame It on the Sun?

I did a decent amount of driving this weekend (though nothing like a week ago, when I notched 375 miles between Friday afternoon and Sunday evening), and, while I usually love to drive, one thing got in the way of my enjoyment, and no, it wasn't traffic or weather. (Well, OK, it was sort of weather. But read on...)

The problem? Radio reception. It was just hideously bad all weekend, especially yesterday. I'm used to a lot of static on the iPod converter whenever I go on really tall bridges or get within a few miles of downtown Dallas, but yesterday morning, it started this awful whining sound from the moment I drove south of LBJ. And it wasn't just iPod reception, either; the financial show I always listen to on the radio after church took on an otherworldly aspect this week, as the host sounded like he was talking in a computerized Stephen Hawking voice.

Needless to say, I was curious as to whether I was the only one having these problems, so I did what pretty much any red-blooded American would do nowadays: I posted a query to Facebook. And one of my old college friends gave me what's likely to be the answer: There was heavier-than-usual solar flair activity this weekend. And yes, that meant that radio was likely affected:
On May 5th, a pair of solar flares bathed Earth's upper atmosphere in X-rays and caused a double-wave of ionization to sweep over the Americas. This improved the propagation of low-frequency radio signals, which use the ionosphere as a reflector to skip over the horizon.
(Check out the cool pictures and an oh-so-brief video at the link.)

So there you go. I would've never guessed something like that, but I had the answer within a very short time. Thank you, Tom K., and thank you, Facebook.

The principal got a detention: I've been known to tweak school administrators on this blog when they make goofy professional decisions. But here's a Ft. Worth middle school assistant principal who made two really bad off-campus choices: First, she got busted for public intoxication outside a Dallas nightclub after getting in a scrap with the bouncer. Then it was discovered that, while she was trying to get into the club, she left her two small kids alone in a hotel room (all this while her husband is on active duty in Iraq). But here's the kicker: The reason the club bouncer wouldn't let her in? She wasn't in compliance with the club's dress code! (I wonder how many times she's enforced that rule at her own campus, and how little credibility she'll have in that area if she happens to get her job back.)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

I, Road Warrior

I'm one tired puppy right now, but the long weekend of going everyplace under the sun is finally over. Since Friday afternoon, my travels have taken me to Ft. Worth, Denton, McKinney, Frisco, Plano, Southlake and Bedford. I've driven around 375 miles all told, while still spending each night in my own bed.

More later, but at least you might be able to understand why I haven't blogged much lately.