Monday, March 31, 2008

Deserved damnation

The only apt phrase for jurassicpork's righteous jeremiad against Chimpy:

Even while the man who is ultimately responsible for bringing about these dictatorial initiatives made no real pretense at reasonableness, joked and sang paeans in praise of some of his foulest crimes, called our most revered document “just a Goddamned piece of paper” and openly speculated about how great things would be if only he was dictator. A self-styled cowboy with the loneliest job on earth who thought he could lasso the world through sheer dint of manliness and God-given righteousness and bend it to suit his will.
Go read it.

Day 54 "In the trenches" (third-wind edition)

Though it's not yet April, you can feel the school year moving into what's basically the third trimester. The morning-sickness is mostly done; the kids are used to the weight they're carrying; the spring break hiatus / forgetfulness / general lack of focus is past and recovered from; and we're getting ready to give birth to another completed year.

OK, that metaphor was overdone, and--coming from a male person--probably uninformed and ill-chosen. But there is an unescapable sense, around about now, that the worst of the crises are gone and that anybody who's still here is likely going to be able to complete the process--even if there are screaming labor pains right at the end.


Day got away from me. Personnel shifts, teaching, a ton of committee-based problem-solving, visits with donors, and an extended response over on Terminal Degree about the psycho-sexual dynamics academia and alcohol. More tomorrow.

Below the jump: warm spring day on campus. The large silver sphere in the foreground is a piece of sculpture commissioned by our uni's large public-art program (hey, 1% of operating budget earmarked for public-art works is a large investment on a Texas public university campus); it's got two internal user-manipulated gongs which are pitched to the overtones of the sun's own resonance. Of course, the typical Meat Science major (gimme cap, pickup truck, t-shirt, incipient potbelly as the leftover-childhood eating patterns of biscuits & gravy, pizza, and several gallons of Lite Beer a week start to catch up with him) tends to say "Waal, that's a damn waste a' time"--these are the same people who have 150% life-size statues of longhorns outside their very posh new lab building--but for we musicians, and especially considering the sculpture stands equidistant between the Music building and the library, it's pretty cool.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Our drunken Nitwit-in-Chief

Don't anybody try to tell me he's still dry:

Bush Gives Out Wrong Phone Number For Homeowner Help Hotline»

Yesterday, President Bush visited Novadebt, a credit counseling service in New Jersey, to promote his Hope Now Alliance, which is intended to help homeowners facing foreclosure. But while there, Bush gave out the wrong toll-free number (despite a large sign with the correct number hanging behind him).

Danny Cerchiaro, a homeowner attending Bush’s speech, “whispered” the correct number “in Bush’s ear” after the speech. Bush then quickly returned to the lectern and recited the correct number:

"There are hundreds of thousands of homeowners like Theresa and Danny who can benefit from calling HOPE NOW. And so one of my purposes is to make it clear there is a place where you can get counseling. And I want my fellow citizens, if you’re worried about your home, to call this number: 188-995-HOPE [sic]. Let me repeat that again: 188-995-HOPE. […]"

"Thank you all very much.

"Danny just told me I’ve got to get the number right — 1-888-995-HOPE."
Not only a war criminal, but a national embarrassment.

Friday, March 28, 2008


You're A People's History of the United States!

by Howard Zinn

After years of listening to other peoples' lies, you decided you've
had enough. Now you're out to tell it like it is, with all the gory details and nothing
left out. Instead of respecting leaders, you want to know what the common people have to
offer. But this revolution still has a long way to go, and you're not against making a
little profit while you wait. Honesty is your best policy.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Day 53 "In the trenches" (crunch-time lazy photo-blogging edition)

May try to return and edit/add later on, but right now, this'll have to do.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day 51 "In the trenches" (head-down in the foxhole edition)

Things change. Joy ends; so does sorrow. Wealth & health go. If you see something horrible, don't cling to it. If you see something beautiful, don't cling to it.

Learn that lesson--the fundamental truth of Buddhism--and you can cope with almost anything life throws at you. Refuse/resist that lesson, and that resistance will make you and the people around you suffer, and things will still change.

Can't say much about it, except to comment that, in a bearish economy and a backward state, every time a respected colleague makes a job change, anybody with any brains still on the faculty will re-evaluate his/her own position. I'm a pessimist by personality but obligated to behave constructively as a result of spiritual strictures. That doesn't mean I don't engage in crystal-ball-gazing, but it does mean that I try to recognize that other persons' professional situations are not my own, that everyone's career path and career moves are different, and that decisions taken in panic, or on the basis of gut intuitions, are generally not sound.

And the reality is that Dharmonia and I still have a remarkably positive situation here: I'm tenured and chair, she's tenure-track, we both have ensembles we run the way we want, we've got colleagues we like and admire, and we work in the same department. This is almost unheard-of in the fine arts academic world, and it's what keeps us here when others look elsewhere: many, many academic couples have to live apart--we don't.

Update to the "retrain after the coffee-break syndrome": every bit as bad as I thought it would be: showing up late, showing up w/out assignments, not showing up at all. It's a fine line to walk: the asses you really want to kick are precisely those same who don't show up, so it doesn't make any sense to yell at the ones who did. The idea instead is to re-focus them: to find a way to get them back in the game, remind them that the semester hasn't ended yet, and that in fact the toughest part of the calendar is coming up.

So we take roll, give the upcoming deadlines and assignments, and then immediately stick them into a "mini-essay" segment: play them a piece from before Spring Break, give them some things to listen for and take notes about, and then by 15 minutes into class have them into a timed-writing exercise they'll have to submit as soon as they're done. It's remarkable how quick you can get them back into school-head by replicating the same activities they'd been doing before the break.

Below the jump: Finnish rock band The Leningrad Cowboys cover Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," joined by the Red Army Chorus, balalaikas and 4-row accordions to the fore. Though it's hilarious, it's also profound--this, this right here, is why communism fell. It had fuck-all to do with Ronnie Reagan and his posturing B-movie sentimental "tear down this wall, Mr Gorbachev," and everything to do with the fact that art is by nature revolutionary. There is no way that even Stalin could stamp out the power of rock 'n' roll or of any other people's music. Reagan and "Star Wars" didn't end communism. Popular expression did.

Want more proof? Ask Vaclav Havel about Frank Zappa.

h/t to Roger Landes for passing along this gem.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day 50 "In the trenches" (retraining-after-the-coffee-break edition)

Back in the saddle after extended Spring Break: with Patrick's Day on the Monday, and Easter on the Sunday, the first half was frenetic (8 gigs in 6 days) and the second half was stupified (12-13 hours of driving, and then a lot of sitting around and eating, at high altitudes).

No classes meeting today, as I've a community-education gig to do during seminar meeting time, but tomorrow/Wednesday is the litmus test anyway: that's when the freshmen/sophomores get back after anywhere between 12-14 days away. The ones in the basketball bands have been gone longer than that: with Bob Knight (thank God!) retired from the program--just in time to guarantee his son and heir-apparent's assumption of the job, and to depth-charge NCAA tournament chances--I don't have any personal bias against 'em, but having 10 to 15 SOM students gone to play band music at the tournament, just prior to Spring Break's extended hiatus, is an absolute pedagogical disaster. They're good kids and they work hard, but no 18-year-old brass players can spend 4 days in an NCAA hotel, and then 12 more in Galveston or Corpus, and remember their names after that much time away. March Madness visibly erodes our ability to teach these kids: part of the Devil's bargain college teaching makes with the big-ticket receipts of college athletics.


Back from the community-education gig. This is the kind of thing that we have to do constantly here--to the extent that, if some organization or other asks you to come do the Dog & Pony Show (what Dharmonia calls "the Petting Zoo"--in her case, showing off the medieval instrumentarium) you pretty much have to do it. This is because, while there is very high receptivity to music here--great tradition of live music reaching all the way back to Eck Robertson in the 1920s--the range of musics that they know about is very limited. West Texans are very very open people; they are not self-conscious about their perspectives, classism, materialism, conservatism, etc, but they are also not self-conscious about wanting to learn new things.

In this case, it was the local Women's Club, an organization which, if you come from my background, can seem like an anecdote out of an Edith Wharton novel more than a reality. They come out of a period in W Texas history when most ladies of means didn't have to work, and whose husbands would in fact have been embarrassed and insulted to have them working. Exceptions are the schoolteachers, because in the 1930s, '40s, '50s, that was a respectable thing for a woman to want to do, as both income and helping impulse. They're mostly very nice ladies, mostly 65 and above, and they meet in a building whose facade, decor, furnishings, cutlery and china seem like a time capsule. And their conception of "cultural luncheons" feels equally anachronistic: these are people who come from a time when middle- and upper-income ladies actually got bored because there was so little functional role for them. So they do things like (announced at today's luncheon) take day trips to Levelland, TX--whose town name pretty much encapsulates both its topography and its scale of intellectual stimulus. Or have the local Celtoid musicologist (kind of scary looking: wearing all black, with long hair, tattoos, and multiple earrings) to come in a week after Patrick's Day and talk about Irish music.

The key here is not to condescend. It is/would be a very easy thing to do, when you walk in, stand in the receiving line, are introduced to all these dressed-up Big 'Ol Haired ladies, and observe that all the tables have green shamrocks, and green-sparkley billycock hats as decorations. And most of the ladies are wearing green, and buttons that read "Irish for a Day". And there's a lady sight-reading through "Danny Boy" and "Tura Loora Lura" at the piano. And the menu features (green) key-lime pie, and green Jello salads with mayonnaise, and (as my old friend and wedding-band comrade Paul Combs described it) "Chicken Clump with B-flat Sauce." It would be very easy to think, internally, "Oh, Jesus, what the fuck am I doing here? There is no way that anything I do in the world of Irish music is going to seem remotely comprehensible to these ladies."

This is a mistake, for both philosophical and practical/logistical reasons. Practically, it's stupid--when isolated in a place five hours from anything (O Brother: "Well, ain't this place a geographical oddity?!? Two weeks from everywhere!")--to alienate those folks in town who do have money and do have the leisure, and the social stature, to spend that money on cultural activities. Philosophically, it's arrogant to presume that, just because people eat lime Jello with mayonnaise, or wear "Irish for a Day" buttons, or take day trips to Levelland, that they can't, won't, or shouldn't assimilate a somewhat deeper, more nuanced comprehension of a cultural expression.

That W Texas un-selfconsciousness cuts both ways: it's tiresome when they want to brag about their houses, or "vee-hickles," or kids, or expensive and tasteless vacations...but it's damned liberating when/if you've got the energy and initiative to undertake some audience education. These folks are willing to learn about something (music, art, even political viewpoints) new, provided you don't act as if, or make them feel as if, you think they're stupid.

They're not.

Fuzzy people 29

More evidence that animals are superior to humans:

At a Zen Buddhist temple in southern Japan, even the dog prays. Mimicking his master, priest Joei Yoshikuni, a 1 1/2-year-old black-and-white Chihuahua named Conan joins in the daily prayers at Naha's Shuri Kannondo temple, sitting up on his hind legs and putting his front paws together before the altar...Yoshikuni said Conan generally goes through his prayer routine at the temple in the capital of Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture (state) without prompting before his morning and evening meals...."Basically, I am just trying to get him to sit still while I meditate," he explained. "It's not like we can make him cross his legs."
Or that we need to. Dogs already know everything anybody needs to know about one-pointed attention:

Day number 181

Day number 182
1:30 pm - ooooooo. bath. bummer.

Thanks to Chipper for the "fuzzy people" appellation.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Day 49 "In the trenches" (Spring Break begins edition)

Spring Break just began: just finished (about an hour ago) the last of 5 Patrick's Day gigs in 5 days. 5 different venues (coffeehouse - restaurant - rock & roll nightclub - "Home Mercantile" - Irish pub) and it was hard work. But it's done now.

Old friends arriving tomorrow. Spring Break, baby!

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Watching the re-broadcast of PBS's The Appalachians. The commentary is, entirely too much, hot-aired bullshit (John O'Brien, where the fuck do you get the right to make stupid sweeping generalizations like "the Scotch-Irish were the best fighters"?!?)--riddled with the stupid implicitly white-supremacist bullshit of Grady McWhinney and the Cracker Culture.

But the music is stunning. And staggering. And eloquent in all the ways that the be-suited talking-heads trying to sound "down-home" are not.

If I stay in this continent, rather than bailing on the greed, ignorance, sloth, and just flat wrongness of so much of this modern American culture, the last tie that will keep me here is a sense of pride in being part of the lineage of American music.

Any more, that's about all.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Day 47 "In the trenches" (sleepwalking edition)

Sloggin' along here, and pretty sleepy after a lot of Jameson's last night and a 6am wakeup today.

Missed the one-a-day rule yesterday because there was too much else going on--and because I knew that the day would stretch long: up at 5am, not to bed until after 12:30am. Second in a run of around six St Patrick's gigs: last night's the first iteration of what we hope will be an annual return fixture (reminds me of the old joke about the accordion band who made such a positive impression on the first-ever New Year's gig that they said "can we just leave our gear set-up until next year?") at a top-notch area restaurant which attracts a very interesting and potentially lucrative clientele--lucrative not just for making musician-money, but even more potentially valuable as a developable resource for long-term fundraising and arts advocacy.

See, in a place like this, whose population (+200K) is that of a medium-sized city, but whose city fathers' espoused governing ethos is aggressively--defensively, self-preservationally--small-town, you basically have to make arts initiatives happen on your own. What dollars can be shook loose from the city are overwhelmingly hogged by the notorious music-booker and dinner-theater owner who's made a career art of conflict of interest: advising the city on programming for arts events in such a way that he, and his cronies in the local public-relations machine, are inevitably selected to receive the fat city contracts.

The best example of this is the way in which old-Lubbock small-town good-old-boy mindsets about "that 'Messkin woman from New York", concomitant greedy convictions of entitlement to any profit accruing from the genius of a native son they ignored and slandered when he was alive, and just plain flat stupidity have combined in a perfect storm which rendered if permanently impossible for the city to do anything constructive with Buddy Holly's legacy. They've chased away two museum directors, numerous city arts officers, and Maria Elena Holly herself. And they do this shit over and over again, perpetually thinking in the greedy, self-protective short term instead of actually committing to anything that would improve quality of life and of the arts in this town.

Likewise the time, at the request of the friends of the local museum, that I wrote a report taking off from Richard Florida's "Creative Class" demographic metrics for looking at cities' arts & culture possibilities. Essentially Florida (who has made a very lucrative brand out of a fairly simple concept) identifies "information workers" (interpreted very broadly as everyone from students to professors to data-processors to lawyers to medical personnel to programmers and so on) as the essential demographic who will spend money on quality of life issues like fine & performing arts, touring artists, good restaurants and interesting shops, revitalizing urban areas, loft space, etc. He measures presence or absence of the demographic by various indicators: obvious ones like # of college degrees per thousand, household income, and so on; but also by less obvious indicators like: # of patents per ten thousand and--crucially for this story--the presence of a visible gay community. His argument, confirmed by my own empirical observation and experience, is that such groups, including specifically GLBT communities, tend to choose communities based upon the possibility for these sorts of positive quality of life attributes--and that they not only choose such attributes, but also can help bring them into being.

So I wrote this report, did the research, provided the footnotes and charts and bar graphs, and turned it in to the chair of the board for her review before submitting it to the city council. I got a call from the chair (a 60-ish "arts lady" who was an amateur painter and whose perspectives and presumptions are the sort that pretty much dominate fine-arts funding here), who told me "well, I'm just about ready to turn in your report to the Council tomorrow at their 7am meeting...but I had to make a few changes."

I said, "Uh...excuse me?"

She said, "Well, of course I had to go through and take out all the references to The Gays."

I said "You what?"

She said, "Oh, don't worry: it's still got your name on it. But I had to take out all the references to The Gays, because if the Council ever saw those, they wouldn't read any further."

I said "If you turn in that report in a bowdlerized form, take my goddamned name off it."

Which she did.

At the next board meeting, I was steaming but trying to let it go by, and would perhaps have succeeded, had she not heaved a big sigh, and told everyone "well, I turned in Dr Coyote's report, but the Council wouldn't even discuss it. I guess it just wasn't the right approach."

At that point, I more-or-less exploded--though at least in slow motion. I said "Mary Ann, you altered my report. How on earth can you know whether the council would have discussed it if it wasn't even the original report?!?"

She said "No, I didn't!"

Dumbstruck, I said "You called me the night before and told me that you were taking out all the references to 'The Gays'!"

She said "No, I didn't call you, I never said that! I have nothing against The Gays!"

I resigned.

The point here is you can make arts initiatives work anywhere, but that typically the "initiative" has to be your own--because those who are in with the power structure have far more of an investment in maintaining their cozy relationship with the power structure than with doing anything new--because "new" implies "change" and "change" threatens the status quo.

And yet this city has been changing all around these bozos in power, and they don't even realize it. Both physical topography, tax-per-square-foot in different and new neighborhoods, new businesses and relocating industry, all point toward these changes--but the good old boys are still operating as if it was 1969 and they had to keep all those raggedy pot-smokin' artists and musicians from muddyin' the waters for all the respectable sorts.

The result is that I don't work with the city anymore, and I counsel others to similarly avoid. There's people on the city staff who I respect, but they are hamstrung and subverted by the network of good ole boys who want to keep channeling the tax dollars for the arts straight into their own feed-troughs. I'll bust my ass for arts initiatives, on- and off-campus, both solo and in collaboration--but I won't sit on a committee with those jerks and I won't let the city have a say in what we do.

The result of that is that we have to be far more self-reliant, and have to constantly develop, tend, and expand our potential network of both audience and donors. There are a hell of a lot of people--now--in this town who fit Florida's metrics, even if the good ole boys at the city haven't figured it out yet. The trick is to cut the city right out of the equation, and find a way to bring the arts initiatives and the donor-opportunities directly to the target. So you have to figure out how to reach those folks, and go there.

Hence to last night's gig. This place is a top-notch restaurant, started by a young married couple who went through the Houston Culinary institute but decided they'd rather own a business in their home town than submit themselves to the 10 or 15 years of peripatetic travel through the world's 5-star kitchens until they could find investors to start a place in New York or Atlanta or Houston or San Fran. She's the chef and he's the baker and their food is stunning. They've been smart as hell in shaping a profile for their business: they're open mornings for coffee & pastry, and for weekday lunches and Sunday brunch--and that is flat it: no dinners, no Saturdays, no late nights. They spent almost nothing on decor or the space (just a storefront in a strip mall), but the ingredients, menus and preparation are first quality. Every meal will have an ethnic entree, a vegetarian option, and--most wisely and acutely for this demographic--a "Blue Plate Special" that's down-the-middle W TX comfort food: chicken & dumplings, chicken-fried steak, pot roast, grits on the side, or something similar--but the best, freshest, most delectable version of that dish you ever had.

So the clientele that has developed over the past 18 months is that clientele who care about excellent, fresh, imaginative, healthy food--but who also want to be able to bring their elderly relatives to the place and say "don't worry, Grandma, they have chicken & dumplings that are almost as good as yours!" and Grandma will be happy and so will they. At any given Sunday brunch, you have the following key arts demographics:

all the Good Methodists and Baptists who've just come from church--who may not trust the artists' personal lives, but can sing their asses off themselves and, being old-school W Texans, respect live music;

all the suits from City Hall, and upper management in the local telecom and high-tech industries, including the progressive Republicans who are fine with The Gays as long as the overall property values continue to trend upward;

all the local electronic media types: weather forecasters, local news anchors, etc, who probably have a better handle on how electronic advertising reveals demographic shifts;

a ton of University faculty and Medical Center staff (lotta professors and doctors);

a sizable representation from both gay and lesbian communities.

In other words (with the region-specific exception of the Good Christians listed first above, who in this area still wield a lot of financial clout), the clientele at this restaurant, for a Sunday brunch or for a one-off "special reservations-only theme dinner" (Valentine's, New Year's, particular...St Patrick's Day), is virtually a carbon copy of Florida's Creative Class.

So you want to sell to them.

So we did. We suggested that perhaps the restaurant would like to do a special St Patrick's dinner, and that perhaps we could play music for it. And it worked: we played for both seatings, sold a bunch of CDs, saw a bunch of the movers & shakers, and made certain, more importantly, that they saw us.

Interesting experience. Most of our playing is either in pubs (where the drunks and smokers may or may not be paying attention), coffeehouses (where the posing high-school children almost certainly are not), festivals (where they're usually paying attention but the sets are usually attenuated, and sidelined by "Celtic Rock" bands (definition of "Celtic Rock"? a bad rock band with a piper, a fiddler, and/or, typically, kilts), or, on some occasions when we play for private functions (where the doctors and lawyers and professors are usually thinking of us as background music).

This was different. Here, where they hadn't ever had music before, we took over the space before the crowd ever came in--which meant that it was a different, charged, magical space when they did. I was remembered of the accounts the old people have shared with me, of the great piper Seamus Ennis walking into Friels's pub in Miltown Malbay in West Clare in the 1950s, and striding for the back kitchen where he would hold court on the pipes, shrugging off his jacket and holding it into the crowd as he passed, knowing that someone would respectfully gather it up and hang it so as not to crease; as his son Christopher told me, "it was like a prince returning to his country."

In the old days--the old old days--the great pipers and harpers didn't deign to play in a pub, unless it was a public house known to be especially attentive and respectful of music. They would rather play in the back rooms of private homes--humble or majestic--for an invited audience who could be counted upon to listen with respectful attention while the master held forth. I don't have much use for aristocracies and, to paraphrase Harry Flashman, "my opinion is that the very best thing you can do with a genealogy is hang it up on the wall in Bedlam," but I can't deny that some of the most positive and respectful experiences I've ever had playing music for pay have been for either (a) the very poorest--Portuguese fishermen's weddings in Gloucester Mass or drunken bachelor farmers in Connemara; or (b) the very wealthiest--among others, the Romanovs, various ambassadors, or, as here, the doctors and lawyers and executives who are this town's version of an aristocracy.

Sitting there drinking Irish whiskey and playing tunes at our own pace, I thought of Seamus Ennis.

Here's the menu:

irish breakfast:
house made lamb sausage, irish blarney cheese, and roasted chive yukons
and fried quail eggs with soda bread

butter poached salmon with fresh sorrel
and a malt vinegar reduction

guinness braised beef short ribs
on colcannon irish potatoes and cabbage

irish coffee bread pudding

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Day 46 "In the trenches" (weather-shifting edition)

Parable: Winds of change blowin' 'round here. People hired, people leaving, upper administration stepping deep in it.

One of the things that is typically misunderstood by outsiders to any bureaucratic culture is the resilience with which such institutional cultures maintain themselves even in the wake of ridiculous "sweeping" top-down change. A lesson I learned from watching Presidential administrations change in D.C. is that, no matter how fiercely or demagogically a new administration trumpets "new brooms" and "the solutions that are all simple if only those lazy long-term workers really wanted to become more efficient", you simply don't change institutional cultures swiftly or from the top-down.

When the greasy little bastard Gingrich went to Washington in '94 on the heels of his "Republican revolution," one of his targets was "all that waste and mismanagement in public broadcasting." This in itself was a cynical lie--public broadcasting represents a microscopic part of the national budget, compared to farm subsidies, corporate bailouts, or, I don't know, failed imperial wars and arms industry corruption--but Gingrich thought he had sussed out that frustration with Clinton amongst the Republican rank-and-file might be usefully unified by victimizing what he perceived to be easy targets. So he and his political surrogates (most notoriously, Pat "the Nazi" Buchanan, who never served in the military, very famously capped a rabble-rousing speech by screeching, in paraphrase of Jeb Stuart, "Mount up and ride to the sound of the guns!") blew out a lot of hot air claiming that "cutting the waste" at NPR (sic!!!!) would be all that was needed to fund Reagan-esque tax breaks. This was insanely bad arithmetic.

Interestingly, it also turned out to be very bad politics.

At the time, Dharmonia and I were working in public radio, eking out 7 bucks an hour while slogging to finish graduate degrees. Understandably, Gingrich's rabble-rousing and hate-filled attempt to victimize public broadcasting made a lot of people very scared--they saw their miniscule federal funds being further cut, and they feared that Gingrich's people would succeed in eroding what little public support for broadcasting might still be out there (Gingrich had intentionally and accurately sussed-out that said support was eroding because anybody with any money and political clout was already watching cable TV--and that thus, the only people who cared about educational broadcast TV were poor folks with no clout).

In the event, the reverse happened: there was a HUGE backlash, and the next annual fund-drive raised more money than they had any time in the past 12 years: people out there in the electorate were angered by the blatant and demagogic targeting of a valued arts resource that wasn't actually at fault. One of the clearest indications of all that the American population still cares about public art is that they do push back against cynical and arrogant attempts to falsely victimize those without political power.

The same thing happened all across D.C.: the ideologues and lunatics who rode on Gingrich's greasy coattails thought that the rabble-rousing bullshit that animated their backwards bases could also be used to browbeat long-term career office-holders and administrative staff.

This is stupid. Any career person has seen political appointees, each with their own thoughtful or ignorant, arrogant or sensitive, essentially uninformed outsider's perspective, come in trumpeting their "new broom" reforms. And if those appointees are dumb enough to browbeat and thus alienate the career people, those career people don't have to explicitly defy the top-down directives. All they have to do is put their heads down in their cubicles, do the minimum work necessary on the boneheaded new initiatives to maintain credibility, and wait for the temporary assholes to crash and burn, as they always do (as Gingrich did, as certain parties quite near here will) when their political browbeating runs headlong into the Shoals of Reality.

The only way to get things done in a bureaucracy in any lasting or meaningful and constructive way is to lead. Not to drive. To inspire people, to demonstrate via real and consistent behavior that you value their competence and are listening to their expertise, and to settle for slow, incremental, and real change. Not the polishing-turds gasbag rabble-rousing approach of "No Child Left Behind" and "Victory in Iraq" [tm].

Any competent administrator knows this. Any "new broom" who fails to recognize this (are you listening, Donald Rumsfeld? Paul Wolfowitz? Newt Gingrich?) is doomed to failure--which of course he (it's still usually a "he") will spin and turd-polish as "success", just before he bails to the private sector with a nice severance package.

Seasons changing, baby. There's storms at this time of year, but NO-ONE: no jumped-up "history" professor (Gingrich), or jumped-up CEO with zero combat experience (Rumsfeld), or oil-and-gas lobbyist, can change what works and what doesn't work in such seasons of change. All they can do is fuck shit up in the short term.

In the long term, springtime is still coming.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

More evidence that animals are superior to humans

Dolphin rescues stranded whales:

A dolphin swam up to two distressed whales that appeared headed for death in a beach stranding in New Zealand and guided them to safety, witnesses said Wednesday.

The actions of the bottlenose dolphin -- named Moko by residents who said it spends much of its time swimming playfully with humans at the beach -- amazed would-be rescuers and an expert who said they were evidence of the species' friendly nature.

The two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and her calf, were found stranded on Mahia Beach, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) northeast of the capital of Wellington, on Monday morning, said Conservation Department worker Malcolm Smith.

Rescuers worked for more than one hour to get the whales back into the water, only to see them strand themselves four times on a sandbar slightly out to sea. It looked likely the whales would have to be euthanized to prevent them suffering a prolonged death, Smith said.

"They kept getting disorientated and stranding again," said Smith, who was among the rescuers. "They obviously couldn't find their way back past (the sandbar) to the sea."

Along came Moko, who approached the whales and led them 200 meters (yards) along the beach and through a channel out to the open sea.

"Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales," Juanita Symes, another rescuer, told The Associated Press. "She got them to head toward the hill, where the channel is. It was an amazing experience. The best day of my life."

... Smith speculated that Moko responded after hearing the whales' distress calls.

"It was looking like it was going to be a bad outcome for the whales ... then Moko just came along and fixed it," he said. "They had arched their backs and were calling to one another, but as soon as the dolphin turned up they submerged into the water and followed her."
We should celebrate and honor all beings' precious beauty.

Not kill them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Day 44 "In the trenches" (countdown edition)

As in: setting 'em up and knocking 'em down. Heading toward spring break, now. Over the next 72 hours or so, the neighborhoods will get quieter and quieter as the kids bail for points south, warm, and lubricious. Not a problem for me: I like it when the campus and the campus neighborhoods get quiet: feels more like a small town and a hell of a lot more peaceful.

At the same time, we're heavily into the "coming up to Patrick's Day" season. St Patrick's day for Irish musicians is like New Year's Eve for any other musician: you get paid a lot of money to play for people who more-or-less don't give a shit about the music. But, we do it, because we can get paid (to quote 'Pac), and because it's about as high-visibility a time for real Irish music as we get in the annual calendar 'round here.

So, having slogged back Sunday from a RT Lubbock-Savannah that was riddled with the incompetence and dishonesty of American Airlines, yesterday brought two schools presentations, both public ISD schools, one in a historically blue-collar Anglo neighborhood and the other in a historically blue-collar African-American neighborhood. Really good reception from the kids in both, though the black school was older, prettier, and way more run-down, while the kids were more hyper but way more into the dancing: nothing like teaching a bunch of African-American adolescents the Irish step-dancing 3's and 7's, having them catch on virtually instantly, and then turn the step-dance into hip-hop within moments (as Dharmonia said, "that's like a W.S. Mount painting coming to life, right there"). There's a lot to be said for raising kids in a culture where dancing, both by boys and girls, is still valued as a great form of personal expression.

Then it was back to meet with grad students who are preparing papers for regional conferences (nothing like building a program which starts to export top-notch grad students to read their excellent papers, and then having the university run out of money to help them get to those conferences). An awful lot of the skills that you need as a graduate student aiming toward the job market are not actually taught in the standard-issue musicology courses: things like classroom teaching approaches, conference presentation approaches, how to prepare a read-aloud text versus a read-by-a-reader text, how to time things, how to render a reading text in such a fashion that it sounds spontaneous, etc, etc. Unfortunately, the courses you take in grad school don't tend to teach this stuff, so here we try to design either in-class exercises or outside-class practica (often through assisting with teaching) that will provide these skills anyway.

So the upper-level history courses, mostly, are assessed via two methods: (1) with essay-format exams, often on a pre-assigned shortlist of topics, which students write in the manner of qualifying or exit exams--this prepares them for taking such exams near the end of the degree program; (2) end-of-semester presentations in the style of a conference paper--this prepares them for going out in the world to do same.

These skills are not hard to learn but they have to be learned: no one knows instinctively how to employ them. And, actually, they mostly have to be learned by trial-and-error: folks mostly don't realize how short 20:00 minutes can be for reading a paper unless they've been through the experience of getting the "2:00 minutes left--please finish!" note when they've still got five pages to go; or of just how quickly a roomful of undergraduates can permanently lose their concentration after 10 or 12 seconds of technology snafus; or how much and how ruthlessly you can cut a 15-page paper to make it fit into 20 minutes and have that cutting actually improve the overall comprehensibility. But they can learn by doing.

So we send them out to the regional conferences to frame ideas, submit abstracts, deliver papers, hassle the technology, and field the inevitable oddball questions asked by people who haven't actually been listening to the content or point of the paper. It's good practice, and good practical professional development, and it shouldn't be left to chance.

So that was the grad students. Then it was quick errands and groceries (always like to make at least two meals per day at home: food cooked at home by people who want to cook it is both cheaper and healthier--and a hell of a lot more satisfying), and then back to campus for an absolutely massive (and excellent) choral/orchestral conducting concert, by one of our grad students who's an interesting guy: with one year off from his bank manager's job, he's cranking out all the coursework in that year for a Master's in choral conducting, before he goes back and builds Ireland's first choral-education program. Great work, mostly unpublished compositions, very well-prepared choir--but damn, it was tiring after a long day.

And then it was to the local student-run FM radio station at 10pm--way after bedtime--to play an hour's worth of tunes and songs and talk to the kiddos who are just beginning to learn how to do live radio. College radio, like college journalism, is supposed to serve a pedagogical goal: ultimately, it's not about objective excellence (in broadcasting or writing), but about learning the skills that'll let you grow toward excellence. BUT, excellence doesn't get learned in a vacuum: contrary to the hands-off negligence of too many "faculty advisers," kids don't get better at broadcasting or journalism by repeatedly doing it badly. Somebody has to show you how to do it right--so that you have some idea about what you're shooting for. That's as true of radio as it is of news-writing.

So it was a question of tactfully leading these youngsters through the process of doing their first live-music-on-air show. And they mostly did pretty good--but we sure did have to show the way through a good deal of it.

Today was African Diaspora seminar, then guest shot ("how do rhythm & meter change when bebop occurs"--try doing that in an hour), plus a couple of private lessons, and more textbook re-writing and a couple more grad student consultations. And tomorrow brings more of the same: grad consultations, writing coachings, a lecture on futurism in the undergrad class, plus more committee work.

Looking toward the Break, that's for sure.

Oh, and by the way: a Black man carried Mississippi. In my lifetime. Revolution's comin', baby.

Below the jump: springtime clouds and buds on the South Plains.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Placeholder edition

Too much stuff again today: schools presentations, meetings with doctoral students, attending master's conducting recital, rewriting textbook material, and on and on. But, the East-side middle school kids who learned the 3's and 7's in about 60 seconds, and turned them into hip-hop within moments, were pretty cool.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Day 42 "In the trenches" (bushed edition)

Too bushed to post anything (papers all day, too little sleep for the past 3 nights, clocks "spring forward" tonight costing another hour), so here are a few photos from Savannah conference. Blew like hell, and cold! here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Day 41 "In the trenches" (shé-shé and ni-hao edition)

4:30am CST, hotel lobby, Dallas.

1:00pm EST, Charlotte.

It could always be a lot worse. Keeping perspective is also a recipe for keeping sanity. Stuck in Charlotte airport this morning, having been made late and thus missing connection from DFW. But, it could be worse:

I had my bags with me, having decided that Mick Moloney/John Doyle probably had the conference concert covered and wouldn't need my help, when I could have checked and lost a bag;

I got a hotel room, when a lot of people were sleeping on cots in the airport;

I got fed, even if it was a $14 Pizza Hut delivery special;

I got a cab to DFW and had *exactly* the right amount of money (like, less than 30 cents extra) to pay the cabbie, though I had to use the torn-in-half $5 I've been carrying in my wallet until I could repair it;

I got to Charlotte, though too late to make the Savannah connection, when I could *still* be stuck at DFW;

I got a followup connection to Savannah leaving at 2:20, when I could have been stonkered overnight again;

And discovered that Charlotte's a really pretty, airy, spacious airport with free wifi, instead of what it could be (like, I don't know, LOGAN for example).

And my paper and panel obligations could have been scheduled for Thursday or today, instead of Saturday, when they are--which means I can still do all the shit I'm supposed to do.

And I've got a laptop and I can still get stuff done--if I couldn't work I'd be losing my marbles.

And I got a lesson in how to say "thank you" in Mandarin from the Chinese fast-food concession folks, thus doubling my existing vocabulary (ni-hao-"hello") in anticipation of May tour to the Mainland.

And Peter Carberry (box) and his daughter Angelina (banjo) play like angel: great sanity there too. As Cooley said "it's music that brings people to their senses, I think." Certainly has done for me.

Now playing: Peter Carberry, Angelina Carberry, John Blake - Jack Coughlan's

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Day 40 "In the trenches" (Cancellation edition)

On the road again, to another gathering of another tribe. I got involved with this one about four year ago, when I decided I wanted to build more of a scholarly presence for the Irish/Celtic side of my research interests, complementing the African-American stuff I'd done in my dissertation (and which I've now revived with the minstrelsy project). I like this conference a lot, because it's cross-disciplinary (literature, history, film, popular culture, music, etc), and so it's a kind of immersion experience in the current state of research on Irish studies....

Began the above at 10:20am. Returning 8:22pm. Between, had 1 50-minute flight, 2 hours sitting at DFW, canceled flight, three hours standing outside in the freezing blizzard while being lied to about a shuttle that was "coming in 15 minutes" (and seeing the suffering old folks and new moms with infants freezing outside waiting for the same mythical shuttle made me homicidal), finally got into a hotel room all the way across the Metroplex from the airport I need, and am now waiting 90 minutes for an overpriced delivery pizza because there is nothing within walking distance. I'll get up in about 6 hours to pay exorbitant cab fees all the way back across town in order to spend at least an hour transiting security in order to make a 7:10am flight that'll put me in Savannah by a little after 12noon...

...20 hours later than I was supposed to be there.

I fuckin' hate American airlines. I shoulda stayed home.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Day 39 "In the trenches" (Peer-Review edition)

Interesting time in the semester's biorhythm right now. The kids are back from the various tours and professional (and recruiting) obligations, but we've got one more week of school before Spring Break, and their focus is--surprisingly--pretty good. Elsewhere on campus, the Greek-system kids are working on their abs, scheduling haircuts, choosing package - and - punani - flaunting swimwear, and blowing off every last bit of schoolwork they think they can get away with. We get bits of that with the music kids, but mostly they're not as spoiled and self-engrossed as the general population. So the focus is relatively good.

May also have been better in sophomore class today because we changed-up the presentational dynamic again. Today was the deadline for Topic Proposals as part of the full-semester research project. We deliver and assess this project in six incremental stages, spread over the full semester. We do this for two reasons: first, because they're much more likely to write the final paper with some attention (as opposed to one Red Bull-fueled burst at 3am the day it's due) if they've had the previous stages chunked-out and deadlined in advance; second, because the course fulfills a legal writing-intensive requirement, which mandates that we employ multiple stages of writing, teaching critique, and re-writing, we're obligated to. For once, assessment requirements jibe with pedagogical efficacy.

So today was deadline day for the topic proposal (full sequence is "Topic idea," "Thesis statement," "Three-item [book-article-dissertation] annotated bibliography," "Topic Proposal," "15-item bibliography," "Background paper [3pp factual summary of relevant hard-data: we assign it so as to get the inevitable cutting/pasting/blatant paraphrasing out of their systems]," "Final paper"). We use WebCT for upload of all stages, mostly because it facilitates reading/commenting, cuts down on dead trees, makes checking for plagiarism dead-easy, and generally opens the print-submit-handwrite-return bottleneck again. In the case of this stage, WebCT upload also facilitates enforcing the "due 10 minutes before class time" deadline--otherwise, we'd have the procrastinators writing through the first 25 or 35 minutes, and then sprinting in to the classroom "in time" to submit hard-copy. This way, they know that, come hell or high water, the damned thing has to be done and turned-in 10 minutes before class.

That's all stuff we've developed over the past several years. This year, we add a new twist, largely enabled by even more expanded use of online technology. Students have been required to maintain a research home page on the course wiki, on which they post not only assignments as staged above ("topic idea", etc), but also notes, links, and raw prose. Students are instructed to maintain this material, and to request reading/feedback from teaching staff when/as they want it. This way, we don't have to read dead-tree material from those kids who are reasonably confident of their direction and pace (what, you're going to put 100 checks on each line of a document that's fundamentally sound?), while we can be responsive, with remarkable facility and swiftness via wiki comments, to those kids who ask for help (acknowledged that there is that third group of kids who both are having problems and don't ask for help--but this is the 4th and final semester in the history sequence, and by spring semester of sophomore year, we're supposed to be able to presume more personal responsibility--if they can't even ask for help, they will completely crash when it comes to their student teaching). With our departmental "email office hours" (e.g., "students: faculty members read and respond to emails during regular departmental business hours: 9am-4pm M-Th, 9am-2pm F, only"), it massively cuts down on needless busy work, it gives us a quick & effective method of checking on any kid or kids' current progress, it enforces personal responsibility from them, and so on. We also set up separate "group response" wiki pages for the weekly Friday discussion groups, where a question or task is posed to each section and, with the TA's facilitation, they formulate and post a group response, including not only prose, but also links, images, and multimedia files.

Today showed another benefit. I've posted before about our "SHMRG worksheets", a system of prompts through which students develop consistent approaches to critical listening, and a notebook full of piece-by-piece comparative listening analyses. Reading various edubloggers has persuaded me to try to adapt writing-oriented peer-review to our music-history purposes, and we've done some of that in class (students bring in a printout, trade papers, are guided through critical responses to one another's work). This time, we thought of merging the worksheet template with the peer-review goal. So I designed "Peer Review worksheet", and we required the kids to note only upload a copy of the Topic Proposal but also to bring in a printout of same, and we used today's class for a "live-review" session.

Inevitably, about a half-dozen of the Usual Suspects had forgotten (or blithely decided to ignore) the instruction to bring hard-copy, and they were hit with "you have to turn in a marked-up printout, and you have to have completed a Peer Review worksheet for a partner, at the end of today's session; you better run for the Print Center!"--which they did. Meanwhile, we had the printout-armed ones partner-up--telling them to "pick your partner carefully, because your partner's work will impact your own grade"--and got them started on the following:

And it was really rather remarkable. We told them "read through the entire Topic Proposal, while following on the worksheet. If/as you establish that an element is present and correct, put a check-mark in the left column. If you can't find the element, or if you see problems with it, mark an X, and write a comment explaining what you see as the problem. As you're working, absolutely question each other, ask for clarifications, explain what you're trying to do or the problems you're having."

They were remarkably animated, and attentive, and engaged with one another, pretty much across the board: Type-A's, Teacher's Pets, Scared & Silent Types, Lazy Criminals, and all. This may have been partly a response to the statement "You'll receive two grades for today's work: the first for your own Topic Proposal, but the second for your work as Peer Reviewer." They really seemed to get it: concentrating, communicating with each, requiring almost no prompting, and scribbling furiously right up until Time-Out.

Then we collected them, in alphabetical chunks by surname, and sent the TA's out to make a quick xerox set of the Peer Reviews (we didn't need to copy the TP's, as they'd already been uploaded). While the TA's were xeroxing, I ran through a quick review of the previous lecture's materials (because a whole week off from the material Monday-to-Monday, without an intervening Wednesday review, is one of the surest ways to invoke the "retrain 'em after the coffee break" syndrome). Then, when the TA's returned with the copies, we could pass the marked-up original TP's and Peer Reviews back to the authors, and they could walk out the door with immediate recollection of the whole set of critical responses, and the paper documentation attached to it, and get right back to work on the project. To say nothing of the fact that the new & improved process largely obviates the necessity of us reading them.

Ordinarily, I'd think that second-last sentence was hopelessly, naively optimistic. What tipped the balance for me, making me think that this new procedure might actually work, not only more efficiently, but actually with more efficacy, is how awake, engaged, conversational and participatory they were in that 10 minutes after we'd finished the TP's. In that short 10 minutes, we got more effective review, more good questions for later followup, and wider participation than we've had maybe the whole semester. A week before Spring Break.

After eight years, we keep learning things. Gotta remember this one.

Below the jump: dawn on a cold morning on the South Plains.