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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

WTF? Shut up Wesley!

Wil Wesley Wheaton Crusher has shown up playing “Mushy Shorts” on the Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show . This defies explanation, so you’ll need to see it for yourself. I am very impressed with Wesley’s beard. It seems every year he grows to more and more resemble Commander Riker.

Anyway, here’s the Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show. If you understand this, please explain it to me.

My pathetic situation of blogging about Wil Weaton has not escaped unnoticed. This must be a muffled cry for help. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Day in Reform School

My recorder consort, Sine Nomine, visited a reform school in Marysville, a small and impoverished city about 50miles north of Sacramento. It is notable that the Chamber of Commerce chose to present only historical photos on their website. That says it all. Houses in Marysville tend to go for Midwestern prices or lower, however, the community offers almost no jobs.

The small reform school we visited teaches the Waldorf program. All students in Waldorf schools do art and music in the afternoon. Each week ends with a short afternoon concert, where the students’ music groups perform. The school requires all the kids learn music by playing recorder in small groups. That’s the cheapest effective way to teach music, and it’s well entrenched in the modern German culture from which Waldorf arises. The teachers asked us to play a concert near the end of the year. Although the students did a great job of listening, I suspect I learned more than most of them in our afternoon together.

The school has about 60 students, all high school aged. The students come to the school through either the County’s juvenile justice system, or disciplinary expulsion from the public schools. Extreme discipline is the underlying principle of the school’s operation. Of all the students, only one consistently avoids detentions. Of course, when they raffled off a pass to get out of 30 minutes of detention, that kid won the raffle. It did raise the question in my mind that, “If this kid can follow rules so well, what’s he doing in this school?”. It’s probably best not to know.

The teachers told us that almost all the students are involved in gang activity, and I have to admit the kids looked pretty tough to me. The schools mandatory uniform is blue jeans and white t-shirts, which made the kids look even tougher. I was surprised that several of the older boys sported goatees. We and the teachers were all pleased that it turns out the best and most enthusiastic recorder player in the school is also reputed to be the toughest kid. This kid was over 6 feet tall, stocky and muscular. I was tempted to ask him to borrow his baggy jeans so I could use them as a four-person camping tent. I somehow managed to resist that temptation. The teachers said his enthusiasm has been a big help, since every boy new to the school would initially object to playing a “gay flute”, until the tough guy gave them a look. I enjoyed spending time with the students, however I probably would not have enjoyed meeting them at 1 AM, unless I was looking to score meth or “whatever the kids are calling it these days”.

We played two 20 minute sets of 16th and 17th Century music. We played tow galliards by John Dowland ,and two strange sounding galliards by Carlo_Gesualdo , whose music sounds like what you’d get if Miles Davis wrote strange harmonic incidental music for Shakespeare’s plays. Gueswaldo, the Prince of Venosa, was well known in his time for a murder so brutal even 16th Century Europe was scandalized. And better yet, he had a servant whose job was to periodically whip his master. Of course, with all this to recommend him, Gueswaldo has of late become a favorite composer in Sine Nomine’s repertoire.

Between our sets, the student’s groups played. I was very impressed with the silence and attention the students gave us when we played. If my tutoring students gave me the same degree of attention, I bet they’d get better grades. Unfortunately, the students were not as polite to their peers as they were to us. Several more detentions were assigned. One of the teachers took some pictures, which he will hopefully remember to email to me. I will share them as soon as I get them (if I get them).

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to Spend Your Tax Rebate

Every American needs to see this important informational video from the Federal Government. Your family's happiness will depend on following these instructions.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Covert Operations of My Al Gebra Sleeper Cell

Today’s Pearls Before Swine comic strip sums up what’s wrong with Algebra in our schools.

Here in California, the educational bureaucracy has more or less legislated that Algebra proficiency is a big deal. Students are subject to two batteries of testing.

The State requires STAR Testing (Stupid Tests Are Required) as its effort in complying with the Federal No Child Left Behind excuse for education policy. Every State has to do something like this. STAR tests are used to evaluate school-wide performance, as well as to cull students into three broad categories; below proficiency, proficiency, and above proficiency. Students’ individual results are used to place them in remedial, standard, or accelerated classes. Anyone remember “tracking’ from the 1960s? The Star testing process takes two to three weeks out of the instruction schedule. The actual tests take less than a week to administer, but the schools spend a couple of weeks before the tests reinforcing test-taking skills (an orgy of drill-and-kill instruction), rather than moving forward in the course syllabus. Schools feel pressure to cram their students for the STAR tests because disappointing school-wide performance will result in funding reductions and the threat of school closure.

As if STAR testing isn’t enough, students must pass another test to demonstrate the rather modest level of Algebra and English proficiency required to get a High School Diploma in California, thanks to the infinite wisdom of our legislature. Perhaps if the legislature required math proficiency from themselves, we could get a reasonable budget some day. This introduces another battery of tests called the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) . The first lines of the first two tables in the incredibly long and boring report in this link tells the story; about 25% percent of students fail this test in their sophomore years, but only 5% to 10% fail when tested again in their senior year. Schools get their failing sophomores into intensive test-taking drill programs to get them through the test. That takes kids who aren’t learning as well as average out of their instruction. Brilliant, I say. After all, I can’t tell you how many employers have told me that they need kids with advanced multiple choice test-taking skills. As an aside, note the scores for “economically disadvantaged students”. In addition to all the other great virtues of this graduation requirement, it also helps assure that 25% of poor children will grow up to be poor adults. Hip Hip Hooray. Certainly, the best way to solve any social problem is by punishing the poor (see the recent California Budget May Revise).

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

An Afternoon at the Opera

I found this image of the original poster for Tosca in Wikipedia.

We saw Tosca produced by the Sacramento Opera. It was a good performance. The orchestra and the singers were great.

On the way home, I reflected on the many valuable lessons I have learned from opera;

Never declare your undying love. Although your love may be eternal, you and your lover are certain to be dead with the next hour. Just bottle it up and live.

Sexual predators are well advised to not leave daggers within the reach of their victim. Pay particular attention to this if the victim is Italian.

The human body is capable of singing arias for at least fifteen minutes after a violent death. This fascinating phenomenon is known as Rigaletto Mortis.

If you support a liberating army while simultaneously in love with a Woman who sings all the time, your army will be victorious, most likely within an hour after your death.

Boring people who don’t sing live forever.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I Was a Shill for Public Radio

A fellow member of the Sacramento Recorder Society talked about eight of us into staffing the phones for the most recent of Capitol Public Radio’s (CPR’s)far too often on-air fundraisings. We covered all the phones for about two hours on Saturday afternoon. I came with Recorder Society promotional talking points in hand. The on-air personalities took the notes and read them on their shows.

That’s step one in my secret plan for world domination, control the media and the American public will slavishly cater to my every whim. I wish I had thought of this diabolical scheme before General Electricput it into action.

We arrived early and were given a tour of the facilities. The furnishings looked spacious and pricey, and the electronic equipment looked costly. No wonder why they need to beg for money so often. Answering the phones was easy, and everyone we met at the station was nice, and there was good food from Jealousy Catering in the room where we worked, plus a freezer stocked with ice cream bars in the attached kitchen.

We took just over 70 or 80 calls in total. Capital Public Radio operates two radio stations in the Sacramento area. I learned something from the programming that ran while we answered phones.

KXJZ, The NPR talk and Jazz station featured Mick Martin’s Blues party. Mick is a well loved character in the Sacramento community, as well as among musicians, and the Blues Party kicks ass. His selections lean more toward rocking and rolling R&B type arrangements than the more down-home Southern style of Bob Johnson and other early Delta Bluesmen. Several callers (none with southern accents) called us to whine that Mick was not playing enough “real blues”. We also had a call from a guy in jail who wanted to hear the Allman Brothers. Mick said he isn’t even sure if he wants to call the Allmans blues or rock. He didn’t seem too concerned. He didn’t have any Allman brothers in his collections, so I hope the prisoner was happy with whatever Mick played. Just goes to show you can’t please everyone. This show brought us our share of drunk callers. Was it Aesop, or was it Donald Trump, who wrote, “A drunk with a valid credit card is a friend indeed”.

KXPR,the Classical Station, featured two hour-long shows, Sound and Spirit,and Harmonia. Sound and spirit is a new age music show with an announcer who, like so many other flakes, never shuts up. Harmonia is an early music show produced by the University of Indiana in Bloomington, which is an international early music powerhouse. It really is, no kidding. We targeted our volunteering hours to coincide with Harmonia, so any suspects for new members would hear our plug read over the air.

At the end of our hours, the tally showed that 100% of our callers were listening to the Blues party. The other shows did not produce a single call! I am still pondering the meaning of this.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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