Friday, September 29, 2006

Being Out of the Loop

I didn't bring my phone to the orchestra concert tonight. Phone rings are the bane of all performance art, and I wasn't expecting to have anyone call me. After all, basically everyone I know is already there! But it turns out to have been a bad idea, at least if I intended to have a social evening.

After the concert, everyone headed out. I determine to which establishment we're going, and step out the door. Ahh, fresh air and cold temperatures. I arrive at the predetermined destination and unpack myself into a chair. It's a nice night (after being under hot lights), so I'm just sitting on the restraurant patio at night, alone, in my desheveled tux. Drinking.

And as pathetic as that image sounds, I was happy as a clam. After all, it was relatively quiet. My sweat was finally starting to evaporate, meaning my body temperature was falling nicely. I had "breadsticks that were tasty" and "beer," thus crossing off the two major food groups. Eventually, I realized that plans must have changed, and that no one would think to come to the restaurant to tell me. Without a phone, there's not really anything I could do about it. So, I packed up my stuff and enjoyed the drive home. Lots of people with their fireplaces going on my route home, and the smell of woodsmoke is everywhere.

Sure enough, as I'm changing in my closet, I find my phone right where I left it. The message light is blinking and people are wondering where I am. Apparently, after I left the concert building, people weren't sure if the place I was headed was actually open, so they changed plans. And for lack of carrying my phone with me, I have to resort to getting myself a glass of juice, putting on comfy clothes, and falling into bed. Hmm. Maybe I am better off..

I'm so used to arriving at getherings early and waiting for the second person to show up, it really didn't cross my mind how much time had elapsed. I'm not quite sure why I often arrive at evenings out in advance of everyone else; perhaps it's because I only have to worry about getting myself ready. Or maybe it has to do with me driving 20 minutes to get anywhere, so I naturally budget more time. Or maybe there's a different concept of what happens when someone says, "Let's meet at 7:30".

Perhaps all that bass trombone playing has dulled my hearing so that I can't hear the high-pitched "second level" of sentence that comes out, when they say, "But I couldn't possibly be there before 8:15."

Besides, there'll be more drinking after the next concert: it's a command performance for rich people. That always puts musicians in a drinking mood.

The Right Thing To Say

Here's something I thought would just be a regular corporate PR program. It may still be that, but it contains a quote that has already made my day.


Basically, Energizer (the battery maker) is known for their Bunny who keeps on going, demonstrating the power of their batteries. They've now created an Energizer "Hall of Fame" that recognizes people who keep going. Initial inductees include Cal Ripkin, Jr., who set the record for consecutive baseball games at 2,632. Also inducted is John O'Leary, who burned 98% of his body as a kid playing with gasoline, but now is husband and father and philanthropist.

"I'm honored to be inducted alongside someone like John O'Leary," said Ripken.

This is what I hoped the nationally famous baseball star would say on such an occasion

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"A riot is an ugly thing...

...and I think that it is just about time that we had one!"
--"Young Frankenstein"

This week is the American Library Association's "Banned Books Week," where they try to raise awareness of books that have been challenged or outright banned by institutions that hold books (i.e. not just public libraries).

Here are some of the more interesting links.

2005's Most Challenged Books
To be fair, this doesn't indicate what sort of institutions challenged these books, but I'd be willing to bet that Catcher in the Rye doesn't see much play in third-grade reading rooms. But darned if it doesn't make me curious about Robie H. Harris' It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, which was challenged for "homosexuality, nudity, sex education, religious viewpoint, abortion and being unsuited to age group." The list does include perennial favorite The Catcher in the Rye, but has finally pushed out others such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Most Challenged Books of 21st Century (2000-2005)
Guess who tops this list? If you said Forever, Judy Blume's intense work about emerging sexuality, you're wrong. It's actually the "Harry Potter" series.

You remember Harry Potter, right? He's the one who goes around advocating how cool witchcraft is. Do you remember that it was the subject of a federal lawsuit in Arkansas in 2004, after the book was restricted because it called authority figures "stupid" and demonstrated "good witches and good magic"? Let's be honest: if calling authority figures "stupid" was a category for banning, we'd lose half our written books and most of the television we watch. So it must really be about the witchcraft. For more on this, consult this page of religious objections.

Do you also remember that copies were burned at Alamogordo, New Mexico in 2002, after being called "a masterpiece of satanic deception"? The Christ Community Church held a bonfire wherein congregants were invited to toss on things that were oppressing them spiritually. Harry Potter, pornographic magazines, a Ouiji board, J.R.R. Tolkein's famous fantasy novels, and a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare were among the offensive articles. This was days after the pastor had preached a sermon alluding to "plagiarism" in Harry Potter. It was Pastor Jerry Brock's contention that Harry Potter's story was stolen from the childhood of Jesus. I'll admit, I'm no religious scholar, but I'm going to have to reread the Bible to catch the parts about the Evil One killing both of Jesus' real parents, attempting to kill him but only disfiguring him thanks to a spell that had been placed on Jesus by his parents, then having Jesus eventually join a shadow culture of magic-users that exists along side the "normal" society.

Come to think about it, I *do* seem to remember that Jesus refers to the Pharisees as "Muggles" in the Gospel of Mark at one point. Uncanny!

The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-–2000

Here's where To Kill a Mockingbird finally gets the mention. I should point out that it's one of my favorite books, so I'm irreconcilably biased. It was challenged in 2006 in Tennesse because of profanity, rape and incest and because the use of racial slurs promoted "racial hatred, racial division, racial separationn, and promotes white supremacy." I have no jibe comments to make about this, other than to say that if this book is taught in a vacuum with no discussion, or if some kids scan the pages for only what the racist characters say, then we have bigger problems.

You know what book isn't on there? The Bible. Has anyone actually read this book? It's filthy! Sure, it started one of the major religions and promotes peace, tolerance, and love. But some of the stories are vile! Won't someone think of the children!

I could name lots of places (I've read the book eager...I mean, disdainfully looking for awful content), but I'll just choose one. After all, choosing the part of the Bible that proves your point and ignoring all the rest is how you make your arguments in today's society, right? Direct your pointers to Ezekiel, chapter 23. Then, after having read those foul words from that foul book, burn it for the cleansing of your soul! Then, as penance, read from the Bible.

Only be careful to choose the holy sections, this time! O Israel, let not thy eye fall upon the naughty bits.

Credit to The Onion for the image.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

These Falsehoods are Totally Not Un-true

Exasperatingly long day. Eager for bed and sleep. Also another weekend, as mine was too short.

I thought I would leave you with this quote from a radio commercial concerning Amendment 2, which is support for theraputic cloning research in Missouri. This is an actual quote from an opponent. I would need to try hard to craft a more convoluted sentence.

"Many would deny that Amendment 2 is not about cloning, but that is not true."

Bonus points to you if you can sort out the actual meaning of this sentence. Drawing pictures or helpful graphs is allowed. Try not to strain the brain.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

That Which Makes Us "Alive"

Many times over the years, I've heard news stories or authors describing the enduring image of the pulse as the symbol of life. Literally, the pulse is the temporary increase in pressure when our heart contracts and pushes a volume of blood through our bodies. Every human being has had a pulse. If you've ever watched a TV medical show, you know that if you don't have a pulse, you're dead. Unless it's a cliffhanger, after which you will be remarkably revived after all hope is lost. Unless your character isn't popular. Sorry.

So, no pulse means no life. Not any more. Now doctors are working on an artificial heart that works on continuous pressure. No ups and downs. Apparently, it allows for a smaller mechanism and more reliable mechanical engineering.

I don't want to make "too big" of a deal about this, but this is incredible. In some ways, it may change human existence. Sure, it's just a small thing. How many times a day do you think about the fact you have a pulse? Probably not many. But this means fundamentally changing not only the material nature of one of our organs (which we've been doing for years and is also amazing), but we're changing the nature of the process itself. Your heart wouldn't beat. It would whir continuously.

Musicologists have done studies on whether or not the distinctly two-beat version of our heart beat has effected the human concept of rhythm and temporal structure. What does it mean when some people don't have it? Yes, I know: it would only be a small number of the already small number of people who need heart transplants.

I can't help thinking about it, though.

In Lieu of an Actual Update...

I'm pleased to bring you content from other people. Since the internet is all about taking other people's cleverness and trying to rebrand it as your own, here are three videos which I, in my infinite wisdom, am bringing to you. The videos are the intellectual property of others.

The first is a clip from the Daily Show from Comedy Central. This is the thing I wish I had cable for. Well, this and "Sex in the City," but that's off the air now. Anyway, I think Jon has a point here.

Via: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The second video is just something the internet does best. It's a video of someone spending a ton of time doing a pointless activity, then condensing it into a short film to share with the geeky world. NOTE: Apparently, it's 1,702 pennies, which took seven hours to sort and six hours to glue down. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Via: VideoSift

This last one is my favorite. It's a song from "Weird Al" Yankovic. The song is titled "White and Nerdy," and it's to my street cred (as a white nerd) that I understand everything that's happening here. Please keep a lookout for Seth Green and Donnie Osmond, doing nerdy and white things.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What is this, Junior High?

You may have heard that the pope said some controversial things. SOURCE

Benedict sparked the controversy when, in a speech Tuesday to university professors during a pilgrimage to his native Germany, he cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's founder, as "evil and inhuman."

The big issue seems to be that he's quoting an old Byzantine emperor. Many people seem to have mentally removed the quotation marks from Benedict's remarks.

I'll give the pope some credit: I bet he knows that even though the Byzantine emperor talked about Islam spreading "by the sword," that Christianity has a lot of that in its own history. With that said, he might want to be more careful about making "sound bites" that run contrary to his purpose.

But I have to fault him for his "apology that isn't." He expressed regret that his remarks caused so much controversy. It's the old "I'm sorry that you feel that way" argument from grade school. The apology that isn't really an apology. "I'm sorry you aren't smart enough to understand what I meant" He needs to reiterate that those views are not the Vatican's view on Islam currently, and apologize for unintentionally conflating the past and present.

On the other hand, if you're trying to refute that your religion is evil and spread by violence, do you know the worst way to countermand that argument? Say it with me: VIOLENCE. Churches have been set on fire in the West Bank, a nun was shot in the back, and people are threatening the Pope and the Vatican.

Meanwhile, some countries are spinning this story so much, it makes me dizzy.

Israeli-U.S. plot behind Pope's Remarks: Iran hardline press

Good old Iran. And here I was thinking, "At least the U.S. and Israel aren't involved in something that a German clerical scholar chose to say." Boy, was I wrong! The statement from Iran's daily Jomhuri Islami says that there are clearly signs of an "American-Zionist connected chain" from the invasion of Lebanon to the pope's remarks.

In somewhat related news, the exhibit of Holocaust cartoons that Iran commisioned in the wake of the Dutch cartoons of Muhammad is interesting. The cartoons are not for the easily offended. See them HERE.

Personal Inventory

Assembled piecemeal from various sources

I am 28 years old. Usually, I fall under the LEO astrological sign, although every once and a while in a newspaper column, I turn out to be a CANCER. Apparently, there's some variation and uncertainty in astrology: Who knew?

I am 6 and 3.75 inches tall. This is based on my own measurement this morning. Margin of error +/- 0.5 inches. This is just tall enough that most push-bars on public doors are not comfortable to use. I cannot extend my arms to open it in front of me without first leaning forward slightly. Most doorknobs are at the level of my hand at my side.

I weigh 240 pounds. A quick visit to a Body/Mass calculator gives me a BMI of 29.4, at the high end of the overweight category. Probably should address this, for continued personal health. The good news that there is plenty of junk to trim from my diet.

I have always considered that I have dark blond hair. However, I was assured by someone who cared much too deeply about the topic that in no way do I have blond hair. I instead have light brown hair. If the veracity of this claim is proved, it may spark a life changing re-evaluation of myself. Or it could just make me say, "Okay."

I have green eyes today. Not intense green, but colored enough to make me surprised. Often, my eyes are a dark amalgam of brown, green, and yellow. I suppose we'd call that "hazel," where many people's eye color is lumped together. Half my family has blue eyes, half brown. I suppose I'm in the middle.

I was recently fitted for a pair of shoes (which took not one but TWO trips to my home trying to be delivered) so I can say that I am currently wearing a size 14 shoe. Friends, rejoice. I finally have a pair of black shoes that is not 1) more-than-slightly green with age, 2) intended for a tuxedo, or 3) actually a pair of bedroom slippers.

I have a cartoonishly large head. My hat size is at least 7 7/8, which on most hat size lists is the end. Of course, I've only ever owned one hat, which was a wool cap I bought in Ireland. The reason I bought it was because I tried it on from the "accidentally oversized" table and it fit. I wore it until it fell to pieces. When I go back, I'll buy another.

I have no tattoos. I dislike needles immensely, so if I actually needed to get a tattoo, I would require some kind of sedation. Part of the ritual is being a man and grunting through the pain while chewing on a piece of rawhide leather, so if I can't do it right, best not do it at all. When I was last in the hospital three or four years ago, I was hooked up to a heart monitor. When they came to take a blood sample, my heartbeat increased audibly (thanks to the beeping monitor). The nurse laughed and commented how I must really not like needles. Since I was trying to be "cool" at the time, I felt offended that my mind was being read by a machine. Darn lie detectors!

I have never broken any bones. I don't feel compelled to knock on wood because of admitting this, because I'm fairly sure it will happen at some point in my lifetime.

I have a false tooth. My front right (from my point of view) maxillary central incisor (#51, for all you dentists out there) is almost totally a ceramic appliance. It is not removable, so I won't be able to intimidate little children with it. If I am cremated, it will be the only substantial piece of me left. So if my ashes are ever scattered to the wind, this tooth will fall straight to the ground, which makes me laugh.

Ten Years Ago -- I was in the first couple of weeks of starting my undergraduate work at DePaul University. My journal entries don't really detail much of it, since I was still focused backwards on things that happened in high school. Being in a new environment with plenty to do during the day, I tended to slip back into reminiscing at night, when it was quiet and I finally slowed down. And what did I reminisce about from high school? The girls I liked, and whether or not they had stupid boyfriends. I'm sure I was the first person to ever commit that to paper.

Note: The spell check tried to correct DePaul to "deafly" and BMI to "BMW," alterations that I think would make a more entertaining entry.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

B.S.-ing at B.S.

People see what they want to see; they see what they expect to see. I played music tonight before a Selichot service at a local temple. As mentioned previously, I got the kippah sorted out. Today I was able to secure it to my head using a hair clip. I'm not sure why I had one; I don't usually use them. Even more strange, I knew I had one and knew where to look for it. It must have been an unintentional acquisition from a woman at some point in time.

Because I wasn't any good at trying to clip it on without looking in the mirror (stupid reversed directions), I put it on before I left home. As I was driving to the temple, it occured to me that my neighbors who saw me would conclude I was Jewish. I know I would make the same conclusion. If I saw someone wearing a yarmulke, I wouldn't say, "I bet that person is a non-Jewish musician, headed to play at a service." In medicine, a strange diagnosis based on typical symptoms is called a "zebra," because if you hear hoofbeats, you should probably think "horse," not zebra.

Anyway, as I contemplated my temporary status as a self-identified Jew, I became slightly self-conscious. What happens if I go to K.C. Masterpiece and order ham? Will the restaurant gasp in shock and horror? What if people are judging my driving? I don't know how Jewish people make left turns! They'll know I'm a phony.

Once I'm actually at the temple, I start to mingle. Shaking hands. Introductions. "Andrew Schwartz," I say. "Schwarz?" they say, with a question mark in their voice. I confirm it. Then they smile, for whatever reason. One fellow said, "What's with all the Gentiles?" pointing to the other musicians. I respond, "we heard there was food."

If I want to push it, I shake hands while saying "Shalom aleicham." Nobody bats an eye. It's like me ordering McDonald's with a British accent; if anyone thinks it is weird, they don't bother to comment on it. In some ways, it's a reaction to feeling like I stick out like a sore thumb. Aren't too many tall blond guys here. But you know what? I'm probably not noticible. The people who think they stand out the most are the people who don't think they belong. In reality, everyone's probably thinking, "Why does his trombone have all those extra pipes?" It's a question I get asked a lot.

In the personal opinion column, I have to note that (to my preference) the "attractive woman about my age" demographic was sorely under-represented. It makes it difficult to pass the time when I'm not playing on some movements. Perhaps that proportion was filled by the "what are they thinking" group. A man and his wife, both leathery from too much sun. The man's hair is dyed blond; I know because his eyebrows aren't. His wife is plastic. When they speak to me, I notice they seem to have big teeth, but then I realize that it's because the gums are small. Dental work. The woman has Chicklet-teeth, where her teeth are so white and smooth they resemble a candy shell. It is eerily unnatural, and also greatly distracting.

I scold myself for thinking about the recent shootings at a Jewish community center in Seattle. "How morbid am I? And how did it even come to mind?" It came to mind when the gathered people sang along with a guitar. Raised in the Presbyterian church, I'm familiar with group music. The more adventurous singers bring counterpoint, harmony, and descant. I close my eyes and let it swim around me. Then it struck me that this is what people are always doing before some lunatic comes in and starts shooting up the place.

It may be a morbid thought, but I'm not the only one thinking it: as I leave, I notice that there is an armed policeman outside the front door, standing off to the side. That is extremely sobering.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I'm not sure what to write about; it has been a very strange day. When I type those words, I'm sure it conjures up images of a day packed with activities, filled with the bizarre. It's not true today. Today was almost entirely inside my own head. I have a headache currently, and I have little doubt that it is a headache brought on by too much thinking. I used to make jokes about that: thinking till it hurts. But the truth is that sometimes it does hurt. So much going through my head it makes me dizzy.

I arrived for rehearsal this evening with some minutes to spare. The choir was working through their portion, and I sat and began leafing through the Torah. A friend sitting behind me said, "How are you enjoying the Torah?" "Very much," I responded. It's true, of course. Much like the Bible and the Koran, I can spend hours reading it. I'll have to remember to find a good copy at the bookstore.

I was reading in Ecclesiastes, which I often do when approaching a new Bible.

For all his days are pains, and his occupation vexation; yea, even in the night his heart taketh not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy pleasure for his labor.
--(Chapter 2:23-24)

Suddenly, the organist is speaking sharply to the conductor. Have you ever noticed that, even if you're not paying attention, confrontation in other people draws consciousness? Suddenly, everyone in the room was paying attention. It wasn't a screaming match; it was a battle of pride. The organist walked out at the break and never returned. A substitute organist was in place before the end of rehearsal.

*** *** ***

When I landed at home, I fixed dinner and watched "Capote." It concerns Truman Capote's acquaintance with a convicted murderer, which he subsequently wrote about in his book In Cold Blood. I was distracted because of my own experience with a murderer.

A man from my hometown murdered his grandparents in the winter of 1996. He was subsequently convicted, and is now on Missouri's death row. I've met and spoken with him before; he used to sing in the church choir with me, way back when. He's only three or four years older than I am. I have not spoken with him since the late 80's. I find myself thinking about him, though. At least once a year, if not more often.

Think how much I have seen and done in 10 years. All the places I've been, the people I've met, the new feelings I've learned about. What if I had been in prison for all that time? Would I read? Draw? Write? How would it change me to know that my death was coming, not in decades, but years. The prison would probably be the last place I would see; consist of the last people I would meet; the cafeteria food would be the nourishment to keep me alive until my sentence.

*** *** ***

Dark and depressing, I know. Thankfully, it's not all I'm thinking about. I also have the wonderful knowledge that some people I know are happy. They're overworked, stressed, and completely exasperated, but they're also bursting at the seams with happiness. And I am lucky I know them, because I draw strength from people like them. The idea that people around me are happy - that gives me determination. Acknowledging their happiness give me joy.

And a little joy dispels a large portion of heartache and headache.

Shalom, Schwartz!

I'm playing in a performance for a Jewish temple this weekend. Despite what having the name "Schwartz" may suggest, I'm not Jewish. Nor is the Schwartz family, at least within the last two generations. It doesn't stop people from thinking I'm fibbing, however. "What? With a name like Schwartz, you must be Jewish." Actually, with a name like Schwartz, I must have some Germanic ancestry on my father's side. Which I do.

So, this performance is a way for me to get in touch with the roots I don't have. The mailing I received in advance made sure to mention that all adult men must wear a kippah when in the sanctuary. I certainly respect that, so I end up waiting outside the sanctuary before the first rehearsal for them to present me one (as mentioned in the letter). No one is there. There are musicians down at the front and they've all got them. Shoot. There are racks of prayer shawls, but no head coverings. Well, there is a pile of something that MIGHT be, but they're lacy and white. And even though I'm late for rehearsal already, I certainly don't want to offend anyone by accidently wearing a coffee doily on my head.

I don't fear that if I enter the sanctuary with uncovered head, I'll be struck dead. I'm not worried about the people pointing at me and hooting scornfully because I can't follow instructions. I may not follow the religion, but I respect it. If I'm instructed that no man enters with head uncovered, then I'm not going in. Of course, as I make this impassioned mental statement, the coordinator comes out and says, "Hi! Go right on in, there's a kippah on your chair." Oh, so it's a little more relaxed that I was prepared to be.

But wouldn't you know, I've got a big head. My yarmulke doesn't fit. One size fits most. It doesn't wander around on my head or fall off, fortunately, but I won't tempt it by running or dancing. It encourages me towards good, still posture. Like any new addition, I'm self-conscious of it, rather like a man who's not used to wearing rings, after his wedding.

"Are there any drafts in the sanctuary? What? Air conditioning is set to 'whirlwind?' Hmm, hair clips are in order."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I'm going to gain a LOT of pounds!

I've had other zero-effort money making posts before, but this one is sure to work. I mean, they sent me an email, for crying out loud! It's not like my email is just free to send things to.

I received a message from a major European lottery. Apparently, they've "extracted" my email address, and attached it to a serial number. Guess what? My serial number was chosen! What are the odds?

No, seriously: what ARE the odds? The email doesn't say. Only that all the entrants were selected randomly from over "100,000 unions, corporate bodies, and associations from America, Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, Middle East, and Oceania." I think that covers everyone who isn't a penguin, and even some entrants who are.

My winnings are 1,110,466 British Pound Sterling. All I have to do is send my personal information and copies of my driver's license AND passport to "Mr. Michael Lexington," address in Albania. Hmm, I'm sure "Albania" is a one of those fine British cities.

I have a good feeling that this is totally not a scam. Why? Because the email tells me just that: "ThIs is totally Not a scaM." Capitalization has been preserved for your entertainment.

I guess this just goes to show how wrong those uptight American lotteries are: we CAN win, even if we don't play!

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's Nice Work If You Can Get It

New Ford Motors CEO Receives Immediate $18.5 Million for Taking the Job

At my last job, I got a free meal after I worked my first day. It was tasty, but the lettuce was a little wilted, so it was probably only worth $17,000,000.

You win this round, Alan Mulally.

Note: The burger in the picture is the $75 hamburger from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. It is topped with foie gras and truffles. Also available in a "value meal," that includes a bottle of wine and a wine glass (yours to keep!) for only $5,000. STORY

All This Commotion!

I left on my commute home at approximately 5:15pm today. I try to avoid driving at this time, simply because the roads are congested and turning left anywhere can be a ridiculous hassle. Today, it was terrible.

On my particular route home, there was a protest. Lots of people, lots of hand-lettered signs. What's it for, was my first thought. Well, they didn't make it easy to figure out. The largest sign simply read, "Was it worth it?" This could apply to many things, from the construction of a new basketball arena in town to the decision to switch car insurance companies.

There was yellow caution tape everywhere, and police closing the roads and redirecting traffic in the opposite direction from my home. Sigh. I knew it would be a long commute. And this is why it's important to have clear signs for your cause. If it was something I support, I wouldn't be nearly as miffed. If it was something I despise, I could spend the extra time in my car cursing them and their idiocy. But as it stands, a generic protest that's in my way only garners frustration. Can't you go to a park, or at least the sidewalk?

That's one of the reasons why I love hanging around a university. A wide swath of the political spectrum is represented, if my brief survey can be trusted. Of course, my survey consists of driving around the parking garage, looking for a spot, and happening to notice bumper stickers, but I stand by the validity of my research. Notable finds:

"W in '08" -- I'm not sure if this is supposed to be ironic or serious, but I prescribe a refresher-course on civics and the 22nd amendment.

A Dinosaur eating a ichthys -- I suppose this is evolution demonstrating dominance over creationism, but I'm not sure. It could also be mainstream Christians vs. the Young Earth Creationists. This demonstrates the cardinal rule of bumper sticker propaganda: if people can't tell what your sticker means, you might need a new sticker.

"Dog is my co-pilot" -- A take-off of the cliche about God, this reminds me too much of the lame joke about the dyslexic atheist, who ponders the existence of a loving dog. Thumbs down.

"Hillary Clinton '08: My Candidate Can Eat Your Candidate" -- Thumbs up for non sequitur provoking a bewildered laugh. Irony Content: Undetermined

A big "Truth" fish eating the smaller "Darwin" fish -- Definitely the most confusing. If the Truth represents Christianity, then it's a criticism of Darwin's theories of evolution. If the Truth fish represents a larger fish eating smaller fish, it's a confirmation of Darwin's hypothesis concerning the survival of the fittest. Recommendation: consult the other parts of the bumper for context. Result: "1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4 Given" Conclusion: Drawn your own.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Troubled Students

I'm doing some heavy-duty thinking about a student who started lessons with me recently. He's sullen, and has confessed that he doesn't really like playing. That's fine. In fact, at a certain point, I'd say that's normal. But it is difficult to listen to him talking, because I feel his oppressive parents in the background.

At the first lesson, his mother asked if she could sit and listen. Actually, she didn't ask, she just sort of said, "I'll be in the corner." The room I teach in isn't very big, so... Then, after about 10 minutes (of the half-hour lesson), she left. This means that I met with her approval. Or possibly that my discussion of mouthpiece buzzing bored her into flight. There's only so many times you can hear the word embouchure before you start to look for the exits.

In that first lesson, the student grudgingly talked about how he doesn't want it (the horn) to interfere with his social life. I might call B.S. on that, except that he doesn't seem like the sort of kid who HAS a social life. It sets off a flag. Then I ask about his name. It says "Tommy" on the sheet (not his real name for the purposes of this story). "So," I say. "Do you want to be Tommy or Tom?"

"Tommy. Why, did my mom say that?" He looked EXTREMELY distrustful. Err...what? He's been there for as much contact that I've had with his mom. I may have unwittingly touched a nerve. I told him that I just didn't know what he wanted to be called, since the store doesn't always get it right. He just sort of shrugged and said, "My mom likes to say things."

When he was telling me he didn't like his instrument, I caught myself. I had started to say, "Well, I don't want to give you advice, but...." And I stopped. I was about to give advice! I know that speech when it comes out of my own mouth. Usually, when people come talking to me and show all these symptoms, they are looking for advice (or at least confirmation). I'm sure that's what he was looking for, but I stopped. This really isn't my place. I just met the kid, and I don't want to give him any ammo against his parents. "Well, the trombone teacher said I could try experimental drugs! So I did!"

With all this in mind, I finished my thought. "I don't want to give you advice, so I won't." He seemed dissastisfied, but I did what I felt I needed to do. But I kept on thinking about it. Where do you draw the line? How do I help him? DO I help him? I realize it's not my job as brass teacher to give them psychological work-ups, but there's something in me that just doesn't sit right. Doing nothing when this kid is not's hard for me to deal with.

Today he came to lesson escorted by both mom and dad, who came into the store with him. I was reminded of the prison guards escorting someone between them, trussed in leg shackles.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

As Much As I Dislike War and Violence...

this is pretty cool. STORY

Essentially, they're developing liquid armor. Researchers have developed something (the article doesn't give much detail, but I think it's a fabric woven with liquid silica) that can be worn that remains flexible until hit by a speedy object, like a knife or bullet. Then the liquid crystalizes around the location of the impact, but only for as long as the length of the impact. So, it's armor that's completely flexible until you need it to stop something fast and sharp. This sort of science makes me happy because: 1) I am always interested in new defensive technology and 2) it's just really cool!

And while we're on the subject of protection...

May I present the "Armor of God" Pajamas. Based on the verse from the Bible Ephesians 6:11. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." They even got the Shield of Faith, but something seems to be missing.... Oh, I know! They seem to have left out the part in verse 17 about the sword of the Spirit. I suppose that a sword, even one made of cardboard, isn't that great of an accessory to go with bed clothes. The last thing you want is little Timmy smiting his sister with the Word of God because they're playing "crusaders and heathens." Whatever happened to the good-old games of "cowboys and the people whose land they took"?

*** *** ***

One of my students asked why my hair was "like that." I responded that it was just genetically "that way," but he said I was wrong, and that I probably didn't comb it. However, he felt I probably didn't need to, since I was going bald.

Naturally, I looked to the Bible on how to deal with such a comment. Probably something about turning the other cheek, or loving thy neighbor. Oh, wait. Here it is.

"[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel: and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and thence he returned to Samaria." -- 2 Kings 2: 23-25

Amen! When I have unleashed the murderous bears of the Lord, I bet he (and forty-one of his friends) will think twice about talking about my bald head.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Weekend BBQ and Other Ramblings

Driving home from the grocery today, there was a large plume of black smoke coming up above the trees. It couldn't have been more than a quarter mile from my place, and I could see it from my living room windows. As I was unpacking my foodstuffs, I could smell the fire. Within a couple of minutes, many fire and emergency vehicles were rushing down the local roads, and a short time later, the smoke from the fire turned white, which either means it's close to being extinguished, or they've decided on a new pope. I can't quite remember.

I also watched a friend do something very foolish. I was going to say "stupid," but that's a little harsh. Often times when we say "foolish," what we mean is that it is a choice we would not make. Before you ask, I try to be as objective as I can. Sometimes it's easy to be so. Others, it verges on impossible, but at those times I am aware of my limitations.

I wanted to castigate them for being so irrational, but I caught myself. How often, in an emotional set of circumstances, did I make decisions based on emotions? Did I listen to "reason?" Of course not! I knew what I was doing, and I felt like I was making the proper choices. So I stepped back. It's a hard thing to let people do things that I think is a bad idea, but how else do we learn, right? If it stays bad, it's a lesson for my friend. And if it turns out good, it's a lesson for me.

I evaluate people constantly, almost without even thinking about it. I'm sure many people do, but I'm not sure how many think about it. I was talking to a friend and I realized I was doing it. Everything she said was being added to a sculpture in my mind. Every way she phrased her sentences to give them subtle meaning, every time she smiled or frowned while making a point: it all contributed to the sculpture of the archtypal "individual" in my mind. It's stupid to think in "plus" or "minus," but I kept thinking about my approval as things were added to the sculpture. "Yes, that's a good change. I like that. Ooops, definitely should have left that out. Bad show."

And I don't have time to go into this now, but I just wanted to express my singular frustration and disgust with "vanity." In particular, the people who are vain and don't think they are. I'm not sure how one can be more misguided about onesself. In the colloquialism of the day, these people are "attention whores," and they unsettle my stomach. More on this when I reach Pride in my sin collection.