Sunday, April 27, 2008

Topeka, A City of Contrasts

Topeka was especially pretty when I was there last week. These pictures all come from Gage Park, which is the location of the city zoo. The zoo itself, like most small zoos, is depressing because of how only one or two representatives of a species are caged within a confined space. The humane thing would be closing the zoo down and sending the animals to larger facilities where the animals can interact with more members of their species within an environment resembling their native habitat. Some people were snapping pictures of the animals. Seeing these zoo animals reminds me of that scene in the recent version of King Kong where he, as the last surviving member of his species, sits among the bones of his ancestors and gazes toward the sunset, finding but a few minutes of beauty in a life of loneliness and heartache.

What I found particularly worthy of note in Gage Park were the flowers. Topeka, unlike the capital city in other states I've visited, seems to care about its appearance. Take a look at the following pictures. Clicking on each one will enlarge it.











Soon after leaving this park, I encountered members of the Phelps' church holding a demonstration on one of the street corners, one in which kids, with the adults looking on, were holding up signs proclaiming bigotry and hatred as worthy virtues. No one was harassing them, I noticed. I cannot speak for what transpired during the entire length of the demonstration. When I drove past that street corner about two hours later, no one remained from that demonstration.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Magnolia Blossoms

Photos of the magnolia in my yard appear below. These photos reflect my efforts at capturing individual flowers, using the macro setting on my camera. Not of all of the blossoms have opened up as of yet, so I was limited in taking shots of only a few blossoms. As with the other photos on this blog, clicking on each one will increase its size.





Travis Ford Bites Boone Pickens' Carrot

Travis Ford, the men’s basketball coach at U of Massachusetts, has been hired to coach the men’s team at Oklahoma State. Mike Holder, the athletic director, will make the official announcement on Thursday. Oddly, Travis Ford had told UMass last week that he would be staying after having dangled an offer from Providence as a way of forcing UMass to increase the $400,000 compensation he had been receiving annually. Ford experienced a problem with money when he left Eastern Kentucky for UMass in 2005; he ended up having to repay Eastern Kentucky $150,000, apparently because he had been paid up to 2007, according to news reports. Although it’s doubtful that Ford was offered the $750,000 that Sean Sutton was making per year at Oklahoma State, I suspect that it’s the money that caused him to leave UMass, despite having agreed to remain there. Holder said he wanted to hire a person of integrity, a person who won’t bring shame or controversy to the program. One has to question the kind of person that Travis Ford is, having gone back on his word so quickly when more money was dangled in front of him.

Ever since college when he first enrolled at Missouri as a freshman and then transferred to Kentucky for the remainder of his undergraduate years, Ford has been moving every few years. His coaching career began at Campbellsville University in 1997 before he left for Eastern Kentucky in 2000 and then left for UMass in 2005. It’s doubtful that he will remain at Oklahoma State for more than one or two seasons. He currently has a record of 123-116 in the Division I league (both Eastern Kentucky and UMass) and a 190-146 record overall. I foresee a mediocre season next year at Oklahoma State, with the Cowboys only reaching the NIT yet again.

Addendum: For those of you looking for the amount of money that Ford has been promised for heading the men's basketball program at Oklahoma State, that amount has not yet been released. During his news conference today, Ford says he told his UMass players that he is taking the job at Oklahoma State because he wants to win a national championship and can achieve that goal at OK-State. I'm sure his players felt great hearing that. Why can't he win a national championship at UMass? It's doubtful that the Big XII is any easier than the Atlantic conference, not with Kansas and Texas as part of this conference.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More Odds & Ends

Mike Holder, the athletic director at Oklahoma State, has been discovering how difficult it can be finding someone to coach the men’s basketball program. Both Bill Self of Kansas and Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois have now refused Holder’s offer. I still think that forcing Sean Sutton to resign was a bad decision. It’s fortunate that Holder’s action is slowly coming back to haunt him. Sean, at least, will be getting $20,000 per month as part of his settlement with the university. The university cannot pay him what remains on his contract in one lump sum although it could offer Bill Self a six million dollar signing bonus along with a four million dollar a year contract. A clause to stop paying Sean if he were to get another coaching job was removed from his contract, fortunately.

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Some of you might remember that I mentioned the exorbitant amount of money that Amazon was charging for Marilyn Mazur’s CD Elixir. The cost of that CD has since been reduced significantly. An excellent review of this CD appears at All About Jazz . Not yet owning a copy, I cannot add whether I agree with the critic.

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The character development that I mentioned wanting in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang was present in the novel. I just hadn’t reached that portion of the novel when I added my earlier comment. It’s actually quite a good novel and contains a lengthy climax, one that reveals an intimate awareness of Utah’s landscape.

I am currently reading Edward Abbey’s The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel and enjoying this nonlinear narrative. More comments will follow.

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The magnolia blossoms where I live are slowly opening up. I hope to post photographic evidence sometime soon unless the high winds we’re having and the rain forecasted for Thursday and Friday destroy the blossoms. These blossoms, miraculously, survived the freeze that we had Sunday night/Monday morning.

Something, at least, has managed to escape those "thorns of life" that cause so many of us to apply pressure to our wounds.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sean Sutton and Oklahoma State

Sean Sutton, the basketball coach at Oklahoma State, has been asked to leave after two years of a five year contract. Mike Holder, the athletic director who is essentially controlled by Boone Pickens, apparently had differences with Sean and wanted him replaced. Someone has suggested that Bill Self, the basketball coach at Kansas and an Oklahoma State alumnus, would return to his alma mater for the right amount of money, but that idea won’t go anywhere. Bill Self says he is happy at Kansas and will probably get a substantial pay increase after the NCAA tournament ends.

At $750,000 a year, it seems as though Sean will be leaving Oklahoma State with $2,250,000, the amount of money remaining on his contract. He wouldn’t have to work at all with that kind of money, but he probably will find a more responsive program to his kind of coaching. If Sean had been given a chance, he would have done good things with his team next year. Oklahoma State was one of the few schools to beat Kansas during this past season. Things were looking up for the program.

I wish Sean all the best. It would be great if his players were to go elsewhere next year and let Oklahoma State flounder, just to prove to Mike Holder the folly of his ways. The players have said they will stay, however. It's possible that the Oklahoma State team will encounter Sean Sutton again at some point next year; that pair off would be as enjoyable as seeing Bill Self face Roy Williams on Saturday.

Stalling, aka Odds & Ends

Work has connotations of tedium and repetitiveness. Grading freshman essays certainly fits those connotations, and I sometimes can think of anything I would rather do instead. Writing this entry serves as a way of delaying having to grade evaluations, which usually turns out to be a difficult assignment for students. Establishing criteria and supporting criteria with evidence are not easy tasks for my students.

Like many Americans, I have been finding ways to reduce my spending. Instead of buying new books, I have been going through my shelves to find those books I have not yet read. My wife was shocked when I started reading another novel so soon after having read Kunstler’s World Made by Hand. I’m currently reading Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. Edward Abbey remained unknown to me until a few years ago when I saw his books listed among what some writers consider as environmental classics. Soon after, I picked up a remaindered copy of Desert Solitaire and enjoyed it immensely. Abbey, unlike Barry Lopez, is idiosyncratic and iconoclastic. Abbey articulated a hatred of corporate America and the environmental damage wrought by development before some of us were awakened to those concerns. The Monkey Wrench Gang contains characters who attempt to stop the spread of this environmental damage. My only criticism of the novel, at this point in my reading, is that the characters aren’t fully developed. While it’s true that Seldom Seen Smith, for example, acquired that name because of his absence from his three wives, it would seem as though the narrator would have Smith return to one or more of his wives during the novel. Smith, too, hasn’t taken tourists on a river raft trip since early in the novel. The narrator focuses almost exclusively on the eco-terrorism perpetuated by this gang of four. But it may be too soon for me to comment on the novel, not having completed it as of yet.

Last Christmas, when I was using a gift card for Barnes & Noble, I picked up Dave Holland’s Prime Directive. Dave Holland has such a strong reputation, beginning with his playing bass on such Miles Davis albums as In a Silent Way, Filles de Kilimanjaro, Bitches Brew, and Big Fun, that his albums are sure to satisfy. Featuring Chris Potter on saxophone, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, Billy Kilson on drums, and Dave Holland on bass, and containing about seventy-four minutes of music, Prime Directive is a worthy introduction to the Dave Holland Quintet, which has released about four CDs, including Extended Play, a live recording. Some critics have compared Dave Holland’s quintet to Charles Mingus and his band around the time of Mingus Ah Um and Mingus at Antibes. This comparison applies to a quintet being lead by a bassist. Mingus’ music was often topical as in “Fables of Faubus.” Holland on his CDs shares the writing with his band mates and while it would seem as though songs composed by a particular musician would feature extended solos by that musician, the opposite is true because there is a strong group dynamic within the songs, with each member contributing. Prime Directive is currently in my alarm clock, and, periodically, I change the song that I initially wake to. It’s difficult to oust myself out of bed, however, because I want to continue listening to the music.

When I’m grading, I want music that will keep me on task. Lately, I have been typing up my grading comments while listening to Manu Katche’s Neighborhood and Playground and Stephen Micus’ Twilight Fields and Wings Over Water. These two Micus CDs feature him playing flower pots filled with water among other instruments. Some people discount Micus and place his music under the New Age label. These two particular CDs interest me because of the innovation, that is, his ability to create music from something seemingly so ordinary.

My classmates from high school in their postings at various locations on the Internet, like the Dayroom Years , still seem enamored with the music of the late 1960’s. My thirteen-year-old son loves the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band. Some of those songs are good and bring back memories of that time in my life, but when I want to stretch my imagination, soothe my world weariness, or start up and keep myself motivated to get my work done, I turn to music that I’ve discovered since high school.