On summer’s end

Summer is over.  Or is it?

This will be a meandering piece about summer, with connections to reading, baseball, the calendar, kids, and the rhythms of life.

Books and baseball
People still have summer reading lists, right?  Maybe not so much anymore.  I spied the quip below on a ne’er-do-well’s Facebook page recently, in the spot where one’s favorite book title is supposed to be:

who reads

I thought, Well, I’m guessing you don’t read much, because you didn’t capitalize that or put a question mark after the question.  (This same person had proudly posted a video of herself drunk while playing video games, so I guess I wasn’t all that surprised.)

My summer reading list, if it really existed at all, was phantom-like.  Recent book grabs include one that presents three views on God’s will and decision making, a Duck Dynasty biography (couldn’t stand much!), and a Stephen Colbert book (I wish he weren’t so caustically one-sided, because he’s genuinely funny).  On my active shelf are a book on the history of words in religion, a history of the Silk Road, and two volumes on the kingship of God.  This summer, I have read some poetry, a little on baseball, and a few pages each from Richard Hughes and Frederick Buechner, plus a few other things.  Oh, and I’ve spent some time reading and studying an ancient, mid-length letter from Paul, including reading two paragraphs in Greek.  Sounds like a lot of reading time, you say?  Nah.  I’m talking about a total of less than 10 hours there.  Pitiful, I know.  And the progress in writing my own next book has been precisely nil this summer.

Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer, a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, is legendary.  My dad’s copy of that one remains where he would have seen it, high on a shelf in his/Mom’s study.  On a lower bookshelf in our home sits Dad’s coffee-table-sized book that chronicles baseball’s summers of ’47-’57 in the lives of the three New York teams—the Dodgers, the Giants, and those dratted Yankees.  The Dodgers and Giants moved to the West Coast in 1957, rendering summer fun permanently shut down for many.

Our family enjoyed seeing the KC Royals with a friend in Kauffman Stadium last Saturday.  It was a sticky, muggy, summer night, but it was not overly hot, especially after the sun was hidden behind the stadium on the third-base side.  This summer is not a good one for the Royals, to say the least.  It was a great game, though:  the last-place Royals, the 2nd-worst team in baseball, beat the even worse Orioles in the 9th.

Usually two or three times a summer, when I was a boy, my dad and I would go to the Vet to see Phillies games.  There was one memorable, July 4th double header, at which a friend sat with Dad and me in the lowest seats, in straightaway center field, just above the outfield wall with the “408” painted on it in yellow.  I’m not sure I’m creating memories like that for our son, but he has been to three Royals games, a Pirates game with cousins, and a Reds game before he could remember.  He has also played baseball three summers in a row.  According to his 2018 baseball season, summer lasted only about 6 weeks (May-June).

For me, despite one serendipitous baseball game I saw on a nice Minnesota afternoon while traveling, this summer has been the worst on record.  It is not over yet?

Summer, school, and children
For children, summer is almost always something to which to look forward.  They often have summer camp experiences.  Manatawny, a Christian camp in Southeastern PA, was the thing that we kids looked forward to most.  My sisters’ kids all go to similar camps now, too, and they seem to feel the same heart-tugs, while experiencing similar growth of all kinds.  Then there is marching band camp, and several of my sisters’ kids are now doing that annually, too.  Summer is certainly not all bad for kids.

For many, summer is over in the middle of August when school starts way too early.  Two private colleges at which I’ve taught hold classes on Labor Day, having started a week or two previously.  School always started the day after Labor Day when I grew up.  According to just about every U.S. school calendar, summer is by now over for everyone.

Jedd has had some great times this summer (for example, a children’s play, baseball, some travel, a lake, cousins, and swimming).  Speaking of swimming … they drained the town pool weeks ago here, which seems pretty ridiculous since summer persists.  The heat and humidity (or just heat, or just humidity, but rarely any relief) have been oppressive and unrelenting for so long, it seems.  We had a cold winter with little snow for playing, an almost nonexistent spring, and then this beastly summer.  We’ve had, what, six or seven nice days since June?

Summer’s entertainment
Remember the TV show “In the Heat of the Night?”  I never watched it, but I think it was based somewhat on the premise that crime heats up when the weather does the same.  (When is it not hot in a Mississippi town?)  I also recall an episode of M*A*S*H in which everyone’s nerves were frayed because of heat.

Last Sunday night, in the summertime cool of a Lutheran church building, I heard the Midwest Chamber Ensemble, and their opening selection was a rare performance of a work by Arthur Honegger titled Pastoral d’Ete (Summer Pastorale).  This piece shimmered and sang, and it led me to think of other summer-oriented art music. . . .

  • I have a CD of summer wind quintet music that includes Barber’s Summer Music, Op. 31, a provocative piece written well for the medium.  I return to this disc often, including a couple times this summer.
  • Barber’s Knoxville:  Summer of 1915 is not a favorite of mine.  (Few and far between are the sopranos I would listen to on purpose.)  Berlioz’s Nuits d’Ete (Summer Nights) is more pleasing, but still, it’s a soprano.  So, no thanks.
  • As Summer Was Just Beginning, a simple, tuneful, elegiac tribute to the late James Dean, enjoyed at least a decade’s worth of appreciation in the wind band world, but the piece’s fame is now approaching its winter.
  • Vivaldi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons is well-known, but “Summer,” the second in the set, strikes me as more interesting.  Actually, this Vivaldi string concerto hints more at fall for me, but maybe that’s because I like the still, sometimes melancholy beauty of fall.  Then there is the tempest of the presto 3rd movement.  (May there be no tempests in life this fall.)
  • Frank Bridge’s tone poem Summer is simply wonderful.  What glorious sounds!  If I could rig some great speakers in a park, and if I could order a 70-degree, mosquito-less, summer night, I would sit out under a tree and listen to it again.

I remember a few summer evenings on the grounds of the Mann Music Center, north of Philadelphia, hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra free or at greatly reduced cost, with good friends.  And all these thoughts of music evoke pleasant, breezy, relaxed feelings.  Was this what Jim Seals & Dash Crofts were singing about?  “Summer Breeze makes me feel fine….”?  My summer of ’18 has not been blessed by many of those feelings.

So goodbye, summer of ’18.  I’m done wid’ ya.  I wish I could be assured that I’ll forget you, but I won’t be surprised if you haunt me.  I wish I had seen and hiked in the Rockies this summer, but, failing that, come on, cooler weather and breezier, more chilled thoughts.  Come on, fall concerts and crisp mornings with coffee on the deck.  Maybe I’ll soon be able to walk 20 yards sans sweat or anxiety.  Come on, Major League Baseball’s “Fall Classic.”  Just come on, fall.

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The benefits you get with H/R

The paragraph below, I assume, was written by an H/R “professional.”  I am pasting this in, so the original remains intact.

Our new colleague will teach in our comprehensive music education program, which includes BME, MME, and Ph.D. students. They will provide leardership in curriculum and program development. They will provide leadership and oversight of the recruitment of undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. music education students. The successful candidate will be a creative, flexible musician, scholar and pedagogue who is an experienced master teacher with substantial K-12 experience as well as college-level teaching experience. They will be responsible for teaching in our comprehensive music education program which includes BME, MME, and Ph.D. students. Our new colleague will provide leadership in curriculum and program development, and will be expected to have a well-developed, active research agenda. They will teach other courses in the music education curriculum as necessary.

Now my observations and reactions.  (You knew there would be some, didn’t you?)

  1. My ambition is to be a learder.  However, I don’t have other learders around to mentor me and showr me what a learder can be.  I even lookerd online for a graduate leardership program.  I can’t finrd a single one.  Maybe if I use fuzzy logic, the search would be more successful?  Can someone out there leard me to the info I neerd?  I will follow if you leard.
  2. In seriousness now … I would like a role in which I could train the world to match plurals with plurals and singulars with singulars.  (Creating a plural of the word “singular” makes me smile . . . and note that it does not have an apostrophe before the “s”! . . . it’s a plural, not a possessive or a contraction.”)  The next-to-last sentence is just fine.  Why not include the last sentence and remove the plural mismatch, like so:  “Our new colleague will provide leadership in curriculum and program development; will be expected to have a well-developed, active research agenda; and will teach other courses in the music education curriculum as necessary.”
  3. I’ll leave the lack of the Oxford comma alone in this phrase:  “will be a creative, flexible musician, scholar and pedagogue.”  Wait.  I didn’t.
  4. On a deeper level:  I find this ad to be a bit ambitious at its core.  Rare would be the person who (1) could legitimately be classed as a “master teacher,” (2) has “substantial” K-12 experience, and (3) also has college-level teaching experience.
  5. I would also think that some “H/R professional” would have read through the posting well enough to know that s/he had repeated almost one-quarter of the material.  If the music department had simply written its own job description, it would have been better.

Layering H/R process on top of process may satisfy regulations and policy without serving the real need.  On the other hand, if there is no process at all, someone or some department will likely need to oversee employment matters, given the litigiousness of our society.  If there is a separate benefits department, there are benefits to be reaped there, although the health insurance benefit is more than it’s cracked up to be.  As I wrote in this post,

Currently, [my wife and I] pay approximately 1/3 of the total cost of our own insurance, and my employer covers the rest of the group-rate premium.  The rates for adding an additional family member [our son] increase dramatically, though—to the point that the deduction from my paycheck to insure three people would be equivalent to half of my take-home (net) pay. 

A very perceptive man once remarked that the “Graduate School” in his institution didn’t add value to the process of getting a graduate degree.  This post from 2016 mentions that right after complaining about the lack of benefit in three food additives, moving to question the value of additions in Christian churches.

And here is a post that briefly mentions three items that I find pretty much without benefit in churches.

(Hucka)been there, done that

Crossposted from my other blog, a bit of a diatribe on something from the typical “conservative Christian” world:  https://subjectsofthekingdomblog.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/huckabeen-there-done-that/

Here are a few excerpts:

“God’s love for the U.S.” is an idea concocted out of thick air—thick with people who not only believe, but also blithely promulgate, the idea that God especially guides the United States.  These people are almost as common as, and even more deluded than, those who think they can play the guitar.

. . .

God is not about geopolitical entities.

. . .

I would assert that God did specially orchestrate some events for the ancient Jews for centuries, but the scenario then changed.  

Sticklerism

We have sticklers in our family.  I wouldn’t have called my dad a stickler, although he had the highest-level language credential in my extended family and could have carried it off without much trouble.  Dad had the personable habit of deliberately Image result for grammar sticklerspeaking incorrectly on occasion—such as when he would oh-so-politely request, “Pass I the butter.”  Perhaps it is Dad’s tradition that leads my small family now to make up verb forms for entertainment purposes:  “Where be my Bible?”  “Oh, I tooked it and putted it over there.”  Jedd participates in this and knows what he’s doing with it.  We are careful, however, to correct him anytime he lapses into regional patterns (that I hear or read almost every day) with respect to past participles:  “I seen him.  He had ran right past me before I knew it.”

Since drafting this post, I received this e-mail message at work:  “I know it got picked up, but havnt saw the _____ yet.”  If noticing these things makes me a stickler or even a vigilante, so be it.  Real sticklers know it’s not about thinking one is right all the time.  We/I make a lot of mistakes, too.  Here’s an indication of the difference between sticklers and normal people:  when I find a typo in an old blogpost that no one will probably ever see again, I actually take the time to correct it.  (I can’t insert “obsessively” before “correct it,” because that would be splitting an infinitive, you know.)

My maternal grandmother, spotlighted with my grandfather here, was something of a stickler, I’d say, and it would have been difficult to catch her in a mistake.  She is known to have corrected the grammar of more than one gracious preacher, including Mike Cope and presumably also the late Jim Woodroof,¹ a giant who moved into the “land of the eternally living”² a few weeks ago.  Grandmother’s known penchant for correcting folks might be what keeps me from doing it as much.  (When I knew her, she would naturally have had the respect that comes with being a senior citizen, and I’m not there yet.)  Even though I keep my vocal corrections to a minimum (and sometimes mutter them so that no one can hear), I often read with pen or pencil in hand.

Has the time for "they" as a singular pronoun come? This grammar stickler says yes.I’ve noticed that a certain parenting e-resource almost always uses the singular “she” in its examples—presumably in an extended fit of over-correction for the years when “he” meant either.  It’s usually easy to avoid the issue by pluralizing everything:  “Every student should do his own work” can become “All students should do their own work” if you don’t like “Every student should do his/her own work.”  I disagree with the “singular ‘they'” image shown here, but no one asked me.  It’s actually serendipitous that I came across that:  a younger friend mentioned on Monday that he knows people who want to be referred to as “they” and not “she” or “he.”  So let us take note that this might not be merely a grammar thing; it’s a gender identity thing.³  Although I would always try to be kind to a person who struggles with identity, I don’t support the related social movement in the slightest, finding it overblown and ironically (perhaps Nazi-istically) intolerant at times.

Since I have a very active “inner stickler,” I am eager (not “anxious,” mind you; the two mean different things) to share some stickler-ish Lynne Truss quotes.  It was with a deep, resounding “Yeah!” that I reread those that appear below.  Does anyone else feel partly like Tarzan, chest-pounding and bellowing, and part-sheepish?  In other words, do you say inside yourself, “Yess!  I feel that way!” immediately before tucking your head as though nothing just happened in there?

In the quotes below, British distinctives such as commas outside quotation marks are the author’s.  All this material was lifted from the web, then later scanned and converted to text.  No errors should be attributed to Lynne Truss.  Enjoy.

~ ~ ~

“…[P]unctuation marks are the traffic signals of language:  they tell us to slow down, notice this, take a detour, and stop.”

“I apologise if you all know this, but the point is many, many people do not.  Why else would they open a large play area for children, hang up a sign saying “Giant Kid’s Playground”, and then wonder why everyone says away from it? (Answer: everyone is scared of the Giant Kid.)”

“Part of one’s despair, of course, is that the world cares nothing for the little shocks endured by the sensitive stickler.  While we look in horror at a badly punctuated sign, the world carries on around us, blind to our plight.  We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation.  Whisper it in petrified little-boy tones:  dead punctuation is invisible to everyone else — yet we see it all the time.  No one understands us seventh-sense people.  They regard us as freaks.  When we point out illiterate mistakes we are often aggressively instructed to “get a life” by people who, interestingly, display no evidence of having lives themselves.  Naturally we become timid about making our insights known, in such inhospitable conditions.  Being burned as a witch is not safely enough off the agenda.”

“As with other paired bracketing devices (such as parentheses, dashes and quotation marks), there is actual mental cruelty involved , incidentally, in opening up a pair of commas and then neglecting to deliver the closing one.  The reader hears the first shoe drop and then strains in agony to hear the second.  In dramatic terms, it’s like putting a gun on the mantelpiece in Act I and then having the heroine drown herself quietly offstage in the bath during the interval.  It’s just not cricket.  Take the example, ‘The Highland Terrier is the cutest, and perhaps the best of all dog species.’  Sensitive people trained to listen for the second comma (after ‘best’) find themselves quite stranded by that kind of thing.  They feel cheated and giddy.  In very bad cases, they fall over.”

“For any true stickler, you see, the sight of the plural word “Book’s” with an apostrophe in it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of bereavement, though greatly accelerated.  First there is shock.  Within seconds, shock gives way to disbelief, disbelief to pain, and pain to anger.  Finally (and this is where the analogy breaks down), anger gives way to a righteous urge to perpetrate an act of criminal damage with the aid of a permanent marker.”

Image result for grammar "we need hyphens"“Yet there will always be a problem about getting rid of the hyphen:  if it’s not extra-marital sex (with a hyphen), it is perhaps extra marital sex, which is quite a different bunch of coconuts.  Phrases abound that cry out for hyphens.  Those much-invoked examples of the little used car, the superfluous hair remover, the pickled herring merchant, the slow moving traffic and the two hundred odd members of the Conservative Party would all be lost without it.”

“We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and elusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places.  Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking.  If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable.”

Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

~ ~ ~

Now, from a review of a review of Truss’s book:

The New Yorker does not encourage letters of rejoinder, but Andrew Franklin, Truss’s editor at her publishers, Profile Books, is happy to answer back.  He is not to be outdone in witheringness by Louis Menand.  The problem is mostly the critic’s humourlessness. “If you have no sense of humour”, Franklin thinks, the success of Truss’s book will be a mystery to you.  Misunderstanding the purpose of her book, which is not a style guide but an entertaining “call to arms”, Menand has pedantically reached for a non-existent rule book. “I think he’s a tosser.  You’re welcome to use that,” Franklin remarked when I quizzed him for his views on Truss’s antagonist. “I’d never want to spend an evening in his company.” Rules in English “are more complicated and sophisticated” than he can dream of, he adds. Good writers can break the rules, provided they have learned them before they break them.

Why should it have so provoked one of the New Yorker’s leading writers?  “A twisted colon” is one of Franklin’s explanations, but he also has a weightier cultural analysis.  The attack is “deeply xenophobic”.  An American critic who is used to his readers having their eyes only on American culture has seen them reach for an idiosyncratic English book for a discussion of grammar.  So far the book has sold 800,00o copies in the US, about as many as it has sold in Britain.  For the arbiter of matters literary and linguistic in the New Yorker chair, it is, Franklin guesses, just too much.

– https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/jul/02/referenceandlanguages.johnmullan


¹ Jim Woodroof’s inspiration is the subject of more than one post on this blog, including this one and this one.  For a generation of Harding students (before my time), at least, he was a legend.  You know how it gets annoying when someone just won’t let an opportunity pass without mentioning his favorite issue?  I decided at some point after having heard a couple of special lectures and having read a couple of his books, that he was the most perfect ample of a single-issue guy I had ever come across.  Here’s the thing:  the “issue,” for Jim Woodroof, was always Jesus.  He always focused attention on Jesus.

² “Land of the eternally living” was the late Cecil Hook’s description of his wife’s soul’s abode after her passing.  For more on Hook and his influence, see this post.

³ I am currently reading God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker.  So far, I judge it to be fair-minded and helpful for Christians.

Past blasts #3: Gerald Casey, basketballer

This year’s March Madness is now history, and it was really the first time I “followed” the NCAA college basketball tournament.  I thought now would be a nice time to share a blast from my late father’s athletic past.  Dad seems to have excelled in almost everything he did athletically; he was a three-sport letterman in high school (basketball, track, and football; my mother tells me there was no Academy baseball then) and had been in the first Arkansas Little League (in Searcy).  An article once appeared in the college newspaper when my dad was a freshman playing on the associated high school basketball team.

They tell me that the hottest thing in trunks is a lanky red-headed Irishman by the name of Gerald Casey.  –Toady Bedford, “One Man’s Opinion,” Harding Bison (school newspaper), date unknown, presumably early 1953¹

Keep in mind that “hottest” didn’t have the same connotations in the 1950s!  My dad, Gerald Casey, #55 in the pic above, appears to have been the tallest on the team and couldn’t have been more than 5’10” at the time.  Bedford later referred to Dad as a “young ace” and noted, surely with a bit of hyperbole, that fans were turning out to eat the principal’s popcorn and to “watch ole’ Case wear out another set of cords every Monday and Thursday night.”  Apparently my dad was leading the area in scoring, averaging 18.6 points per game near the end of the season.

“How does he do it?” continued the complimentary Bedford.  “He hasn’t four arms . . . no four leaf clovers growing out of his ears . . . luck of the Irish you say?”  Then he called attention to my dad’s practice habits:  “[H]e practices . . . not just an hour every other day or a few minutes a day but all the time. . . .

“Second, he knows basketball from top to bottom, left to right, from every angle. . . .

“The beauty of the whole thing is that Casey is only a freshman in high school.  I guess that explains the glint in Hugh Groover’s eye.”

Gerald Casey, Hugh Groover circa 1980s

Groover, then the high school coach, would later coach my dad in college and would also become something of a mentor, not only on the court.  When my dad wrote his autobiographical memoir, he honored Groover, saying that he and Andy T. Ritchie, Jr. “were the top two Christian examples for me.”


¹ I can’t locate this excerpt in the available digital archives, and the date was unfortunately cut off in the paper copy our family had.

 

 

 

 

Past blasts #2

Below is an excerpt from a very nice note, recently unearthed, having been written to my mom and me many years ago.  It pertains to the memorial service for my mom’s friend’s mother.  I think I had met the man who wrote this letter once, but I really had only an arm’s-length connection with him.  I share this here as a blast from the past, yes, but for two other reasons:

  1. To illuminate someone’s general thoughtfulness and courtesy—from a time that almost seems like another era now
  2. To encourage myself to be more mindful of meaningful, personal gestures such as attending funerals

Following the passing of my own father late last fall, I still have in mind to share in more depth some thoughts about death and dying.  For now, maybe this will perk your heart, too.  I myself am encouraged that someone was encouraged by sharing tender moments with people of “like precious faith.”

Past blasts #1

I thought I would post a series of blast from the past.  I have in mind a variety of these, from various aspects of life, but who knows how it will shape up?  This first installment is not from my own experience—for which I am thankful.  Rather, it’s from the past of the town in which I reside.  Can you even imagine finding this in the display window of your office area in the morning?

No date appears on the newspaper clipping I stumbled on, but a few searches indicate it is probably from 1990.  The snake was purportedly placed there in the newspaper’s office as revenge for some news articles that had appeared.  A high school science teacher was called, and the snake was subjected to “summary execution.”  These days, depending on who was nearby, the same measures might not be taken.

About 15 years ago, I recall being in a national preserve and seeing a sign warning the public that it was rattlesnake season, but reminding us that the rattlesnake was a protected species.  I thought to myself, “Hmmph.  Right.  If I were threatened by one and had a garden rake, I wouldn’t care too much about its political status.”

David Zinman, pasta, and player positions

On Saturday, February 24, my wife and I heard the KC Symphony in performances of a Bernstein suite, a Prokofiev violin concerto, and a Schumann symphony.  A Kauffman Center/Helzberg Hall concert is always a treat. 

Image result for helzberg hall

This concert was guest-conducted by David Zinman, whose name I knew from his long tenure with the Baltimore Symphony.  Not that I had seen him conduct before, but the Baltimore Symphony was 65 miles to my southwest when I was in nearby Delaware.  It was a 2nd-tier ensemble, always in the shadow of the Philadelphia Orchestra, 45 miles to my northeast.  Yet the former was an ensemble on the rise, whereas the Philly O has been seen as rather static and staid.Image result for david zinman

Now that I’ve seen Zinman conduct for the first time, I have given him a nickname:  Papa Pasta.  He is aging and a little tottery at 81, needing a stool on the podium and some support on the way out to it.  He’s respectable and old.  Thus “Papa.”  Whence the “pasta” part?  His arms sometimes looked like spaghetti in a centrifuge, especially in faster tempos.  Such visual “noise” is a no-no for a conductor; it might feel good in the moment, but it doesn’t help the ensemble.  Rather than getting caught up in good music and flailing about wildly and passionately, one will usually do better with clear gestures that are in the music, as opposed to gestures that ride along euphorically above or outside the music.  I’ve had many a time of euphoria and over-the-top gesture, so I know what it feels like to watch a video of myself and be embarrassed at being out of control.  Zinman’s arms were not very bad at all in the grand scheme, but his elbows were a bit loose at times.  Overall, he cued with grace and led the music well.

If I’d seen him from the ensemble’s perspective, I imagine I would have seen tremendous facial expression, because his interpretive gifts were apparent.  I particularly liked the 3rd and 4th movements of his Schumann Symphony No. 2 in C.  He seemed to know that music intimately and also seemed to enjoy what he was doing.  I long for higher-level music experiences, and I envied Zinman.  He must’ve had so many wonderful opportunities in music . . . .  Our son is now in a somewhat select school music group and had taken off with his recorder playing recently.  I don’t want to be one of those live-vicariously-through-your offspring kinds of parents as I guideImage result for david zinman or advise Jedd here & there, but I’m happy for him.  I do know, both first-hand and long-term, that music can be a sustained, positive force in a life.  Clearly it has been so for Zinman, and it had also been so for me.  Thinking back to the last post, “I can do that,” I’d like to say that, yes, I can conduct like that (a trifle better in some respects, and not as well in others), but I have no delusions that I could ever be in a position like Zinman’s as a sought-after guest conductor, a once-conductor-laureate, and a resident conductor for European orchestras.  I have neither his experience nor what I sense is a rare charisma.  I also suspect he has a gift for innovation and institution-building.  His stature as a leader far surpasses my own, even in my dreams.  Zinman is in a different league.

KC Symphony 4

Maestro Zinman is not pictured on the podium above, but the KC orchestra is.  This ensemble (I assume always, and not just for specific pieces or conductors) sits in a somewhat Image result for violin f holeuncommon arrangement—”switching” the 2nd violins and the cellos.  This places the 2nd violins at the conductor’s right arm, across from the 1st violins, allowing for good “mirror image” visuals.  The arrangement has the potential to mask the sound of the 2nd part in the audience, since the “f” holes of those instruments are facing back in toward the orchestra just a tad.  This is not a problem for a professional-level 2nd violin section, but rarely can this be a good thing for balance in a high school or small college orchestra.  The primary benefit of this seating arrangement is more cello projection.  In this instance (not always), the double basses are directly behind the cellos, which creates an even stronger low string sound. From the conductor’s position—which is not always optimal for picking up ensemble balance—this positioning would result in a left-heavy string sound.  In other words, the frequently prominent first violins plus all the force of the low instruments on the left would dwarf the 2nd violins and violas on the right, but I suppose I’d get used to it . . . or I’d put the violas next to the first violins and have the basses and cellos shift to the right side of middle.

Thinking of bass sound brings to mind the apt words of an otherwise predictable preacher:  “Everyone loves the bass player.”  There was nothing particularly profound or exemplary about that preacher, so he doesn’t get a nickname.  Nor does this rather meandering blogpost get a real ending.

Ensuring that one can’t be insured

Last month, we dealt up-close-with the broken, ill-conceived system that is supposed to be helping people get health insurance.

N.B.  This is not an advertisement for/against either Democrats or Republicans.  I am philosophically committed to the notion of not being a proponent of any political party or system.  This rather succinct diatribe comes after multiple, personal (non-partisan) experiences of how inept the current health care system can be. 

The Department of Human Services in the state of Arkansas has a seriously disabled ACA-associated arm, we found out.  The end for us came a year after we moved away—and after multiple letters and phone calls over a period of months.  We had moved out of the state, told them so several times, and they repeatedly missed that key fact and were trying to charge us thousands of dollars for insurance for which we could not have qualified if we tried.  Arkansas simply could not get its records straight, and we were eventually told we had a hearing, and we had to retain an attorney who rolled his eyes along with us and shut them up.  One sensical soul at the AR DHS, a foreigner who had a clear head and could communicate realities far better than the native Arkansans we dealt with, finally helped put the matter to rest.  I think Arkansas DHS should pay our legal expenses and have asked for same, so far without response from the appropriate sub-department.

On the other hand, the state of Kansas did its job well, as far as we could tell.  We got a single-coverage medical policy cheaply for a year and a half, but the degree to which Federal red tape and impossible processes were involved was impressive—even to one who starts from a point of skepticism about any government’s or big business’s ability to do much of anything well.

We were informed by letter, smack-dab in the middle of our 2nd year of a policy for our son, that we no longer qualified for that policy.  We had anticipated that we’d have to pay more after a year in order to keep the same plan for our son, but we were renewed, so it came as a shock that were booted out altogether about five months later.  The letter said, and I quote, “You can reapply at any time, but the “anytime” part turned out to be false.  We quickly found that the “Marketplace” (which is fettered, not free) actually prohibited us from applying until after the first policy had expired.  Yes, you read that right.  We had to wait eight more days, on the first day our son would be uninsured, in order to apply.  In other words, it was not possible, within the system provided, to satisfy the requirements of the same system.  This scenario is as illogical as it is frustrating, in case you were wondering.

Upon investigation on the day after the first policy had expired, my wife found that the options available to us began with a policy that (a) cost nine times as much as we had been paying and (b) covered almost nothing.  Specifically, an insured person would have to pay the full price, “out of pocket,” for any service, including prescriptions or doctor visits, until the massive deductible was met.  There were no better options for sale in this marketplace.

Next step:  I went back to my employer’s plans, one of which covers my wife and me.  Currently, we pay approximately 1/3 of the total cost of our own insurance, and my employer covers the rest of the group-rate premium.  The rates for adding an additional family member increase dramatically, though—to the point that the deduction from my paycheck to insure three people would be equivalent to half of my take-home (net) pay.  This is a non-starter for us.  (I do not lay the blame at the feet of the benefits plan devised by the employer.  In general terms, I would tend to blame corporate greed and medical litigation for the now-insane costs of medical insurance and services.)

Next, I made a couple of calls to local insurance agents.  One didn’t answer.  No message left.  Another referred me to yet another who did sell the type of policy we needed.  I was already thinking about having our son go uninsured and paying the penalty, but, in talking to the next agent, we learned that President Trump’s administration had done away with the penalty.  Okay, that’s good, but we’d still rather have our son insured if we can.  We were then faced with choosing from among 36 three-month policies that feature various combinations of high deductibles, out-of-pocket-maximums, and premiums that were relatively affordable but still 2-5x more than we had been paying.  In our case, we will almost certainly never reap any benefits from this medical insurance unless we have a catastrophic need—an event that would surely bankrupt us, anyway.  We now have to reapply every time the three-month policy expires, to boot.

Now, to put this insurance product in perspective with need and perceived worth.  All three of us have been to a physician for sickness precisely zero (0) times in 18 months.  Our son went to the doc for a free children’s checkup last summer, and I “took advantage” of insurance for physical therapy.  The insurance covered about 40% of the total bill.  Not very good insurance, I would say, but we are blessed with the ability to pay the rest, so it was OK.  Yes, 40% is better than nothing.  I only hope that if any of us is ever hospitalized, the insurance will pay more than 40% of that bill.¹

In going through all this in my mind, I do wonder about the potential benefits of socialized medicine.  I’m not interested in moving to Canada or Europe or wherever they have different systems, but if any of us ever need surgery, I imagine we’ll investigate international travel.  In the meantime, until something breaks, it appears that we’re stuck with paying too much for two “major medical” policies that we’ll likely never use.


¹ I also hope the bills come from one place if services are rendered in one place.  In the case of my physical therapy, I saw an orthopedist, had an X-ray, and had the physical therapy itself in the same building, and separate bills came from three or different offices.  There was a separate fee for the outsourced radiologist “reading,” which could have been accomplished just as well by the orthopedist but had to be sent out to another because of some insurance-related agreement.

Technology and instruction (2 of 2)–online conducting??

The notion of skepticism about technology in educational endeavors (see here for part 1) serves as a segue to the sharing of something I’d written two years ago to a fellow ensemble instrumentalist.

A person of multiple talents, my interlocutor is a fine instrumentalist and a devoted father.  He is employed in a computer technology field, and I perceived that he was knowledgeable within that general field.  More to the point, this man was substantially younger than I, and he immediately showed himself to be of a different generational mindset regarding technology.  (I’d say he is something of a GenXer with Millennial leanings whereas I am an older “mutt” who has at least equal affinity with prior generations.)

To set the stage:  we were riding in a carpool, and I had opened a can of worms too late—when we were almost done with our second hour-long ride, after one of the typically frustrating (for me) rehearsals.  I had recently read a job posting for a college conducting/teaching position, and this one Image result for batonemphasized technology-based instruction more explicitly than any I had seen.  It manifest the assumption that the teaching of conducting would be technology-dependent and technology-focused.  No matter the credentials or general intellect of the VP or Dean who made such a determination, I will say unequivocally that the mind that conceives of an entirely online conducting degree is a mind that does not comprehend conducting.  One could say the same thing about online degrees in other physically based vocations.  Conducting education may be well enhanced by technologies, and even entire courses could be based on technology, but a conducting program may not legitimately be borne entirely on technological wings.  The very idea of a distance-learning conducting degree program is flat-out ridiculous.  Here is how the interview for a such a graduate should  go:  “Your master’s in conducting was an online degree?  (Or, you learned how to cut hair or how to be a chef or how to counsel abused women entirely on a computer screen?)  Thank you for your time.  Next candidate, please.”

I would assert that distance learning scenarios will rarely if ever prove more effective than classrooms and other real-life (or should I say counter-virtual these days?) venues.  I suppose some students might do fairly well studying accounting, actuarial science or literature online, but vocations based in physicality are especially dependent on real-life learning. 

Back to my conversation with this trumpet-playing musician-computer-technologist.  I had opened it in an admittedly biased manner, and he reacted as though I needed to be shown the light.  “Technology is the way everything is heading,” he said, instructing me along these lines (I imagine) because I was than a dozen years his senior.  So I reacted back, and I regretted it a bit, and I wrote him a letter a few days later.  My introduction was half a page long, apologizing relationally for the tension I’d created through my timing and manner.  I stand firm on the substance of the disagreement, though.  Here is the non-personal portion of that letter that pertains, both philosophically and practically, to technology and education:

My basic presupposition is that, no matter how the world is heading, there are some areas that should not be given entirely over to technologically based education.  These areas would include cosmetology, surgery, and conducting.  The physicality of the necessary skills demands that the lion’s share of the training be hands-on with the real materials—not behind a screen, a joystick, or a set of headphones.

I also resist fight (a futile fight, I know) the apparently irresistible inclination for those in enterprise-level authority to move quickly, and often with only shallow thought, toward technology as “savior” when they don’t know what else to do.  This syndrome among one institution’s administrators, I would assert, is why that institution is entertaining the idea of an entirely online conducting master’s degree.  It may be cheaper to do certain things online, but that doesn’t make it wiser, and some things may not be viable at all online.

I’ve always been tech-capable and tech-involved.  I like and use many technologies every day.  None of this is about disavowing technology; it’s about being honest about some of its limitations.  Technology can obviously be a great support, but it is not itself the content for most of us, and it does not always represent the best direction for instruction.

The point that certain education gurus and deans of instruction and vice presidents for academic affairs and provosts need to hear, and hear well, is this:  technology is a tool to be used in the service of teaching students.  Technology is a means, not an end; the degree to which it becomes the focus of curricula and disciplines other than technology itself is the degree to which it is being misused.  Technology may be used effectively—or it may be used simply for the sake of using it, which is a futile endeavor, devoid of meaning.  In a remote region (including two in which I’ve taught), there might be no other way to give a student contact with a credentialed private voice or trumpet teacher.  Applied music might in those cases be taught via a Wifi connection and a tablet-sized screen, but not very effectively.  Such methods are not optimal; they are concessions to geography.  And conducting instruction, while it might be enhanced by a few cool technologies available these days, is also better in person.  (Some readers might be interested in this account of the use of Google Glass in conducting.  I have heard this very fine conductor and cutting-edge professor speak and have observed her ensemble leadership.  I’ll attest to the fact that she would acknowledge that Google Glass use wasn’t quite what she’d envisioned in all respects.  Note the limitations mentioned under the YouTube video image.)

Again, the very idea of an online conducting degree is as ludicrous—although obviously not as medically consequential as an online brain surgery credential.  Sure, technological tools can be amazing and should be used, where possible, and where they can enhance education.  Imaging technologies can be revelatory for medical students and veteran physicians, and also for conducting students, but never should those tools be the only platforms from which the skills are deployed and assimilated.  In conducting, as in hair cutting and lawn care, one does the thing in real life with real people, and there are real implications in real air with real sound.  One cannot learn the implications of preparatory gestures or profligate beat-division on a screen or by listening and gesturing and having a laser-based device plot and graph the gestures.  Learning the discipline and skill of conducting must be directly tied to musicians (persons) and the sounds they make.

Currently, in one worker’s non-academic position, she uses a few technologies.  She is limited by a backward computer technology framework and a seriously lacking application that make her a prisoner to embarrassingly outdated visuals, comatose response times, and the lack of basic functionality.  This scenario nearly daily gives her frustrations.  (People care about technology, including when it is bad.)  When technology that should be serving the content or core process does not do what it should, or does it poorly, we should acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes!  An elephant is in the room!  We should also aim to estimate properly the contribution of technology to the thing, i.e., neither overestimating nor underestimating what technology does, and this point ties back to the assertion that technology must be seen as the means, not the end in itself.

I strenuously resist the notion that major, enterprise-wide decisions should be driven by shallow estimations of the worth of certain technologies—or worse, by unilateral or under-informed prognostications about various, ephemeral technologies.  The programmers should be more attentive to function and to the work (and learning) of real people.  The Cram flashcard app helps me learn Greek vocabulary, but its scope is limited.  My GPS screen and a mobile map can be helpful, but the perspective is tiny.  I’m more agile with full-size screens and keyboards, so I will nearly always choose a computer over a mobile app if both are accessible, but there is place for both.  Whatever the technology under consideration, it is important not to remove (inadvertently or otherwise) functionalities that people use effectively, in favor of some cool, cutting-edge glitz that is less functional.²  Do Millennials trust mobile devices and apps and internet-based financial infrastructures more than going to the bank or talking to a financial advisor.  Millennials have my sympathies, and I do love the convenience of my apps for certain things, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily think young programmers or workers possess foresight or wisdom.  Sometimes, technology is neither here nor there.  Sometimes it’s just gadgetry without longevity or improved function.

For my part, I hope the next life begins before banks and traditional colleges fade away.  More and more, colleges and universities, because of financial pressures, are moving toward part-time, adjunct instructors who teach mostly online courses on a part-time basis.  It’s a cheaper way to offer courses of instruction.  As long as there are more and more layers of management and administrivia, that trend will continue.  I’m not a fan of the tenure idea or the process, but I do think there should be fewer managers and program directors and assistant deans, making way for more full-time faculty members who teach students around tables, in classrooms, and in studios and offices.  And I am available to present to academic deans on the ridiculous enterprise of online conducting degrees!  I will do this for the first five institutions who pay my expenses!

It will continue to be important for deans and provosts and academic VPs—and, dare I say it, H/R people and educators and teachers’ unions—to give prominence to education and learning, more than to technology as an end in itself.


¹ I have tended to gloss over H/R-infused boilerplate language, knowing first-hand how H/R folks can sometimes commandeer such communication vehicles as job postings from the academic departments they are supposedly serving.

² I am a witness to reversions or loss of capability in, for example, Google Drive, the editor in WordPress, AirDroid, Microsoft Word (don’t get me started about how WordPerfect was a better word processor that lost our to marketing giant Microsoft), Media Player, sound file conversion software, and even Windows Task Manager.  And that’s just off the top of my head.

Technology and Millennials

Within the context of a finance/banking and technology perspective, a new friend cites industry authorities.  With good statistical reasons, he believes that Millennials

  • prefer phone apps over traditional banking with “tellers”
  • trust “FinTech” companies over banks for most consumer-oriented financial purposes

I’m sure my friend is right, yet I question the wisdom, scope, and longevity of some of the enterprises in which Millennials are apparently placing their trust.  My ruminations have continued about generational technology preferences and general inclinations.  I don’t keep in mind the year-boundaries that are used to delineate between the “Baby Boom” and “GenX” and “GenY”/Millennial generational groupings, so I get foggy, but of this I am sure:  there will always be exceptions within the groups.

Based on age, my friend would be classed as a Millennial, but he is thoughtful and intelligent, a unique set of experiences in the world, so I imagine that he would be somewhat an exception himself, defying any label “Millennial” at points.

As for myself, sometimes, I am kind of an “old soul” who harks back to the values of minds and spirits of the long-ago past.  In some respects, I share the opinions and worldviews of those 5-10 years older than I, or even of my parents’ generation.  In other spheres, I am an impatient whippersnapper who wants desperately to move past silly traditions and pointless machinations.  In all, I long for substance and actual value over form.  Perhaps I am a quasi-postmodernist-1/3-Boomer-1/3-GenXer with a few GenY traits (who experiences deep angst about being labeled at all).

It’s no surprise that Millennials will gravitate to phone apps.  As for me, I see the apps’ shortcomings and inefficiencies, as compared to desktop computers and even in-person banking.  Are all Millennials so oriented?  I must admit that I wonder about those individuals who don’t own printed Bibles and who never see more than a tiny screen’s worth of scripture text at a time.  Yes, I use a Bible phone app, and I greatly appreciate its capabilities.  I like running Bible software on my computer even more, because it allows me to see more and to use it in other dimensions and formats.  It simply must be admitted that seeing only 3-4 verses at a time on a tiny phone screen will have ramifications, including limiting one’s contextual awareness.

I also wonder frequently about the interpersonal connectedness of anyone—Millennial or otherwise—

  • whose neck and hand are permanently locked into the look-at-my phone position
  • whose quick first impulse is to go to the mobile device for answers

Could it be that non-high-tech sources are better for some things in life?

I remember two very fine students who were the only two (that I knew) without their own cell phones.  I remember each of the students as very having very strong character, and as being spiritually sensitive, service-oriented people.  One was particularly focused and engaged as a student, and they were both dedicated to their studies and to people.  I can see each of their faces as if it were yesterday, and it has been five years since I last saw them.

Now, I would strongly suspect each of those students has one or more mobile devices at this point, but my point is that those Millennials were really okay without devices then.  I’d say their whole selves were at the time wonderfully unfettered by phonedom, and they were none the worse for it.  Quite possibly, they were better off, not having all the technologies their peers had.

In the next post I’ll deal with technology in instruction, touching on “distance learning.”

Businesses that deserve praise

I don’t know what it is in my recent experiences, but I’ve been noticing several local businesses that deserve praise.

Photo of Cedar Ridge Catering & Banquet Hall - Atchison, KS, United States. Cool place good foodCedar Ridge is a unique restaurant near Atchison, Kansas.  Offering special buffet fare on Friday and Saturday evenings and on Sundays mid-day, this place is a gem in the rolling hills of eastern Kansas.  The hosts/owners have established the restaurant on their farm in a barn.  From outside, one wouldn’t be able to tell what delights await inside.  Some will enjoy the eclectic, sometimes “shabby chic” decor (or even driving a mile and a half on a dirt road), and all will enjoy the well-prepared food.  We particularly enjoy the brunch fare on Sundays around noon.

 

Los Tucanes is a Mexican restaurant in Kensett, Arkansas.  Apparently family run, the

Photo of Los Tucanes - Kensett, AR, United States. Interior of restaurantprecious children take minor serving roles and do a stellar job—far better, actually, than many older servers at chain restaurants.  The food is good, the salsa is fantastic, the prices are reasonable, and the whole place is a pleasure every time.

 

The final and most extended mention here goes to Powell Funeral Home, west of Searcy, Arkansas.  Although I have sung for and attended dozens of funerals, I had never really been a “customer” before.  From the first time I walked in with my mom to the last visit to finalize a few things a week ago, I’ve continued to feel that there’s no way every funeral home could be as good as this one.  The comments below are abbreviated from an online survey I completed.

     Our experience with each staff member and the facilities has been so positive that it would not seem right not to comment.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of local establishments that I would take the initiative to recommend to others, and Powell is without doubt now on that very short list.  [Since we opted to take care of some things by ourselves as a family, etc.], we did not have as complete an experience of the funeral home as other families, but that does not in any way alter our entirely positive impression of the facility and the way the people go about the business.
     Specifically, we were without exception greeted hospitably and with an obvious willingness to answer any questions.  Members of the family visited Powell approximately six times.  Each staff member, without exception (even where we cannot remember names) was 10patient and helpful.
     The standouts in our minds at this point are Brooks Sawyers, whose absolutely excellent demeanor is combined with rare efficiency and capability in office logistics and processes.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how Brooks could have been better throughout the last six weeks, up to and including our most recent visit to the office regarding additional insurance company needs for documentation.  I’m sure you have heard this before, but it is an exceptionally significant relief to be ushered through the process of assigning a portion of a life insurance policy to pay expenses.  Dale suggested this at just the right time and worked through Brooks on the details while two of us waited with confidence that things were being taken care of.  Dale manifest both knowledge and a strong ability to gauge our needs and personalities.  Again, each staff member has been a credit to the organization, without exception, but Brooks and Dale rise to the top in our memories.
Photo of Powell Funeral Home