Friday, December 10, 2010

Jazz Recordings

Some of the jazz sites have started to release their selections for the best jazz recordings released in 2010. My own selections will be forthcoming later in December or in early January. I have largely been listening to recordings from previous years, such as these two selections from 2009 and one selection from 2004.

I tend to listen to Matthew Halsall's Colour Yes while driving and find much to like in Halsall's trumpet, Nat Birchall's saxophone, Rachael Gladwin's harp, and Gavin Barras' bass. Even after many listens, I continue to wonder how Gavin Barras keeps time with his bass. He seems to come in after every five beats in "I Have Been Here Before."

Jon Hassell's Last Night the Moon Came Dropping its Clothes in the Street is the music I turn to most often when I type up grading comments for my students' essays. I am now starting to discover his earlier Power Spot but haven't yet listened to Maarifa Street / Magic Realism 2.

Jeff Ballard, the drummer for Fly, is truly amazing. His work on "Fly Mr. Freakjar," the second track on this recording, is mesmerizing and rhythmically brilliant. Larry Grenadier's bass on "JJ", the fourth track, is fascinating as well. An admirer of Fly's sophomore effort (Sky & Country), I only recently discovered their freshman effort.

Hay Bales in December

Traditionally thought of as an early fall activity, cutting hay has extended later into the fall season this year, perhaps because of the prolonged drought that we have been having. I recently found this field when I was out for a walk one afternoon and returned to it yesterday on what may be the last warm and sunny afternoon in these parts for a long time. These pictures continue to show my fascination with shadows. Clicking on any one picture will enlarge it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

James Howard Kunstler's The Witch of Hebron: A Review

James Howard Kunstler revisits Union Grove and Washington County in upstate New York in The Witch of Hebron, his sequel to a World Made by Hand. Set in an America of the future, after Washington, D.C., has been destroyed in a terrorist nuclear explosion because of this country’s protracted involvement in a Holy Land War, and after the economic collapse has ended all oil imports, the novel spans a period of two weeks in late October. The townspeople inhabit a world without electricity, rely on their own feet or horsepower for transportation, and subsist by exchanging their expertise in a field like carpentry or medicine for food and other necessities.

Kunstler provides enough exposition early in the novel to reacquaint readers with his America and to make it possible for a new reader to enjoy this book without having read the previous one. Having that acquaintance with a World Made by Hand makes it possible to fully appreciate his characters and their interactions.

Often violent, this novel reveals a time when order, particularly outside of Union Grove, no longer exists. Bandits like Billy Bones roam the county, looking for food, sex, something of value that can be exchanged later, or the material that will provide another stanza to their ballad of misdeeds.

Religious faith is often cast in doubt. Characters sometimes turn to the comfort of medicinal herbs and attach magical significance to the associations that we Euro-Americans have carried with us regarding the end of October.

Kunstler doesn’t ignore the sexual lives of his characters, proving particularly adept when describing the intimate relations of married couples. To his credit, Kunstler has created two strong female characters, Jane Ann Holder and Barbara Maglie. Young women, however, often have to give freely of their bodies.

In addition to the occasional sexism, one other drawback to the novel is the medical knowledge of an eleven-year-old, who is able to perform a sophisticated medical procedure after only having watched and assisted his father.

Kunstler, at first, splits the narrative by pursuing the actions of several different characters. At the climax of the novel, these characters are brought together in ways not expected. This control of Kunstler’s over his characters and his plot causes the reader to move through the novel quickly and to desire more of what happens in Union Grove, New York after the America we know has changed so drastically.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Shadows at Havens Park

Getting outside for me is both calming and rejuvenating. I recently had the good fortune of getting outside after plowing through a large chunk of grading. Havens Park, one of the parks where I live, is especially pretty in the afternoon because of how the shadows stretch across the grass. It was so quiet that I could hear the acorns dropping through the leaves and plonking on the ground. That sound I have carried with me since.

It's unfortunate that the city has plans to upgrade this particular park. I certainly hope that whatever is planned does not result in any drastic change. The addition of a couple of picnic tables would be great; anything else would be too much. The city needs to maintain the integrity of this park, as it exists now, as much as possible.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Autumn Pictures

Every autumn I manage to visit one of the area farms to take pictures of the various kinds of pumpkins and gourds and to bring back a jar of strawberry rhubarb jam.

One of the farms in Missouri offers quarter shares for those who want a regular supply of fresh produce, and fresh eggs, during the summer. That is something I need to consider investing in. My family doesn't support my preference for giving up meat entirely but would consider eating more fresh produce. Except for packaged ham, we have mostly reduced our meat consumption to buffalo and hamburger from cows that were grass fed and were not injected with growth hormones.

Probably if my yard were less shaded and if I could ensure that the local deer population wouldn't eat the garden, as they do the lilies, I would probably plant my own vegetables, providing that I could find the time to care for them.

One thing I have been looking for is a good spinach recipe as a way of incorporating more fresh produce into my diet. E-mail me if you should happen to know of a good receipe for spinach.

As with the previous pictures on this blog, clicking on each one will enlarge it.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day, 2010

As an online teacher, I cannot say that I get a break from my labor very often unless I choose to take time off and don't go near my computer. As my wife says, all we ever do is stay inside our house and work. The opening weeks of the semester are the least busy because students have not yet started to submit their essays for grading. I still have to check the discussion forums once or twice a day to answer questions and to greet students, but I get to choose when I go online. Last Monday afternoon, when other people were returning from work, I managed to go see a matinee showing of Nanny McPhee, a movie my wife wanted to see. It was our last excursion for the summer. Afterwards, we had our dinner outside on the patio of Chipotle's and enjoyed the open air and the weather. It wasn't until returning home that I got online to check up on my students.

Unlike previous summers, I haven't been making much time to go take pictures. I don't know why exactly. When the summer session ended, I continued to sit in front of my computer to create CD covers, using a CD labeler from Memorex, for some of the music that I had downloaded (legally I might add) over the past year or so. It was a chance to do something different than grade essays during the two weeks that I had off. It was also more relaxing than preparing my classes for the coming semester.

Taking a trip across the state would have probably been enjoyable. Peg at Kansas Prairie described a recent leisurely trip she took to Greensburg with her grandson. I sometimes daydream about flying a kite at Monument Rocks or Coronado Heights. Unfortunately, there aren't many places to fly a kite where I live in eastern Kansas; there are too many trees and too few open spaces. That's one of the things that I find disappointing about eastern Kansas.

Taking walks along the Missouri River is a consolation of sorts. I recently discovered that Parkville, Missouri, about a thirty minute drive, offers a much longer walkway along the river. Compared to where I live farther north, the river in Parkville offers a more industrial landscape, with a view of a power plant and a gas storage container. Nonetheless, the city has spent a lot of money on creating this parklike setting. It had drawn a number of people when I was there recently. That kind of excursion is the extent of my travel this summer.

Despite my complaints, I remain thankful that I have employment. Other people aren't so fortunate. The latest figure, I believe, is one out of ten Americans is unemployed. I am also fortunate that I am able to choose my hours. Not many people have that advantage. In spite of my low wages, the amount of hours that I put in once the semester gets underway, the absence of permanent employment with health insurance, and the time spent without a paycheck during semester breaks, I am apparently one of the lucky Americans.

Pictures of the river at Parkville appear below. Clicking on a picture will enlarge it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No Comments

In the event that someone reading this blog wants to comment on something that I have added, I have to inform you that I have turned off the comments, at least temporarily, because of the amount of spam that I have been getting from China. Initially, I tried requiring that all comments have to be approved first. When that move caused me to receive the same amount of spam, I had no choice but to turn off the comments option entirely. It is possible to contact me by e-mailing me, however.

I contemplated closing this blog or moving everything to a new blog because of this amount of spam. That line of thinking has kept me from posting much of anything new of late.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Missouri River Flooding

Like many previous years, the Missouri River has been running high this spring. Flood warnings have been in effect for several weeks now. Once a week at least, the local newspaper runs the headline, "River Going to Crest on Thursday." Afterwards, the river levels drops a little before more runoff from thunderstorms to the north send the river to a new level and what seems like another crest. One of the clerks in a local store has said that her sewer has been backing up because of the flooding. Judging from the number of teeth that she was missing, she probably doesn't have either sewer back up coverage or flood insurance. Poor lady!

A few of the high school seniors, who were celebrating their freedom last month, having been released from school about a week earlier than the other students, were jumping into the water near the railroad overpass. One of them made the mistake of leaving his mouth open during one of his leaps and said afterwards, "That water tastes awful." His friend replied, "You're not supposed to drink the water, dumb ass." I have often wondered since whether that guy ever suffered any health problems as a result of swallowing the water.


Last month, during the few days I had off before the summer session started, my wife and I tried to see the launching of balloons in Gardner, Kansas for its second annual balloon festival. There were so many other people with the same idea that parking was virtually nonexistant. Once my wife and I decided to drive north and west, we managed to see some of the balloons as they drifted overhead. Clicking on each picture will enlarge it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A review of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

Bill McKibben in Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet argues that the world we once knew no longer exists because of global warming, which currently includes a one-degree Celsius rise in temperature and an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although the atmosphere currently contains 390 ppm of carbon dioxide, McKibben believes that the amount of carbon can brought down to 350 ppm, an amount that scientists see as the upper limits of that safe range. McKibben devotes the first chapter to accounts of how global warming has affected climate by examining not only extreme weather events, particularly stronger and more devastating rainfall, but also disappearing glaciers, losses in sea ice, and permanent shifts in climate patterns. These manifestations of global warming will only become more widespread and more destructive. Countries located in the northern hemisphere can reduce the amount of carbon used, he says, by increasing the cost of both gasoline and coal. Those developing nations will ultimately use fewer amounts of fossil fuels if those nations in the northern hemisphere offer alternatives by providing green energy—e.g., wind turbines. Unfortunately, America is too saddled with debt to make significant changes nationally. McKibben also believes that the American government has grown too large because of large nationwide projects like the construction of the interstate system. Now the federal government needs to shrink in size while individual states learn to create their own energy and their own food. This call for simplicity, while also requiring the end of consumerism and complexity on many levels, can allow people to make changes not only locally but also nationally and globally by communicating via the Internet and by working together to make the new world that we inhabit a somewhat more welcoming kind of place. McKibben has created an important book that makes radical statements and that calls for drastic actions. As Americans, the world’s largest consumers and largest users of fossil fuels, we have no choice but to change how we live on this planet.

At times, particularly in the later chapters, it seems as if McKibben wrote the book in haste, perhaps because of the urgency to get the book into print and to make others aware of the topic. It was difficult at times to discern the direction of his third chapter, which is one of four chapters. Personally, I would have preferred more attribution for some of the quotes because some of them are simply dropped into the prose and accompanied with a footnote when the quote, if it deserves to be used, really should be identified within the prose. Despite these criticisms, the book needs to find a wide audience so that others can learn of the severity of global warming and what we can do as a nation, as a community, and as individuals.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Henry Moore and Kansas City

Recently, I had the chance to tour the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It had been a few years since my last visit. Kansas City is about an hour's drive one-way from where I live, so I don't often make it to the city. One of my favorite displays at the Nelson-Atkins is the assortment of Henry Moore sculptures outside on the lawn. It's a great location to spend a couple of hours or to take someone visiting the area for the first time. I would probably retreat there with my grading if I lived in the city.

Two of Henry Moore's sculptures appear in the following pictures.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Magnolia Blossoms

The demands of teaching both online and in the classroom this semester have prevented me from providing more frequent posts. It has been a constant struggle trying to maintain a semblance of control over the grading.

I will be adding a few pictures occasionally, beginning with these magnolia blossoms. Providing the pictures of these blossoms doesn't fully represent the sensory experience of standing within their scent, as the wind moves the branches away from the camera lens, altering the reflections of the branches against the petals.

These pictures come from two days, one when the blossoms had just started to open and one when the blossoms had survived a night of near freezing temperatures and several days of strong winds. These pictures are the best ones from the 450 shots that I took. I used several different settings and tried different strengths and different combinations of close up lens.

Clicking on each picture will enlarge it in a separate window.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where Are the Warm Days of Years Past

This year is one in which I am looking forward to warmer weather. One weather forecaster in Kansas City is calling for winter to hang around until at least the vernal equinox. Judging from the kind of weather we have been having, this spring (April especially) looks like it will be an active one when I only want clear skies and quiet nights.

My son tells me that he likes winter and doesn't mind having it continue for a while longer. I remember feeling the same way when I was much younger. Winter used to be my favorite season. The winters I knew in Maryland, in Turkey, and in England while I was growing up didn't prepare me for the winters I experienced when I moved to Kansas. My second winter in Kansas I rented a one-bedroom house in Concordia that had drafty windows and doors, no heating except for an old fashioned gas stove in the kitchen, and virtually no insulation. Although I added plastic sheeting to the windows, that preventive measure didn't make the house any warmer. I spent most of my evenings sitting next to that gas stove. Because I had almost no bedding of my own, a friend also gave me a blanket that he had gotten from the hospital where he worked. The year before I had rented a studio apartment that came supplied with bedding.

Probably my coldest winter was the year that I spent living in a basement in Manhattan. The upstairs tenant had control over the thermostat. He used to go away for the weekend and leave the thermostat at what seemed like a low setting. Fortunately, the landlord lived nearby and adjusted the thermostat for me a few times. He also bought a portable baseboard heater that helped in the evenings when I was sitting at the kitchen table and grading essays as a graduate teaching assistant or writing essays for my own classes.

While living in Oklahoma, I left my office window open in the winter so that I could let a fan pull the cigarette smoke outside. I didn't want to expose my wife to my secondhand smoke. Fortunately, I quit smoking during our second winter in Oklahoma. Shutting the window made my office so much more pleasant. The landlord also installed central heating in that house the following year. My 16th year as a nonsmoker went virtually unnoticed on January 22, by the way.