Archive for April, 2006

Kelly Joe Phelps

I went to Kelly Joe Phelps‘ show at Off Broadway. When I took Tom Hall‘s guitar class at the Folk School, several other students raved about him. When a work friend did the same, I decided that I should go. He played fingerstyle guitar songs by himself. The first three or four songs were amazing. I could see why he draws such raves. Then he slipped into a string of ballads that were not as good. I had hoped he might play a few standards, but he did not.

It was a strange show in many respects. There was no mechandise table. He spoke very little between songs. There was no no banter. At the end, he put his guitar on his chair and walked away. He did not say that he had finished. He did not play an encore. He emerged at the end of the bar a few minutes later. I talked to him for a minute with a a few other people. Although he did not seem especially interested in talking to us, he was friendly. I am glad that I went. Although it was an odd show, I would go to another.

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Michael M. on April 30th 2006 in General, Live, Music

Sesame Street videos

Related to my recent post about PBS videos, Waxy Links directed me to this post. It links to many Sesame Street clips available on YouTube. “Capital Icame up a while back. “The Ladybugs’ Picnic” is about as catchy as catch can. What beats Jew’s harps and kazoos? “Letter B” by the Beetles is the best song ever to combine Beatles and Muppets.

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Michael M. on April 23rd 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Metro routing

Since posting about NextBus a while back, I have been following the possibility of having a similar system for Metro. Starting this summer, WashU students can apply for free Metro passes as announced last month. This post at Urban Review links to the new trip planner under testing. It is a good start. As comments below the post point out, however, basic maps and schedules located at bus shelters are a much simpler and more important improvement that should happen soon.

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Michael M. on April 23rd 2006 in General

Digging PBS streaming possibility

This story at digg suggests that PBS might put its shows on the web. It ought to. Barlow brought up the idea here a few days ago in a discussion of Frontline. Many of my favorite programs are PBS shows, and I look forward to great accessibility.

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Michael M. on April 23rd 2006 in General


I went to Babbler State Park last week with friends from work. One posted a gallery of his great photographs from the trip. I was responsible for none of the cool things we found. Every stone and log I picked up revealed only earthworms. I go to Forest Park often, but I ought to get out to other parks more often. Ted Drewes made the day even better.

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Michael M. on April 23rd 2006 in General

Haggard Dylan

A friend contacted me Wednesday to offer an extra ticket to Thursday’s Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan concert at the Fox. I had wanted to go, but I had decided against it. Between the generosity and the opportunity to see two great musicians, I was excited.

Haggard was comfortable. He was friendly. He played Telecaster and fiddle. I counted five, I think, Telecasters at one point with his band. I had just looked up the model earlier in the week thinking about how popular it was among country musicians. He put on a good show. He played some old ones, “Mama Tried” and “Okie from Muskogee” among others. He played good new ones.

Dylan was disappointing. “Dylan, Haggard show 2 sides of celebrity” from the Post-Dispatch is a good review of the concert. His performance was not awful, but it was not spirited. I saw him in Memphis in May in 1994, and it was good. This time, he stood at a keyboard the whole time. He played many of his big songs unexcitedly. My friends left early. I stuck around waiting for it to get good. It did not. I had hoped Haggard and Dylan would play together at the end. They did not. There was no encore.

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Michael M. on April 22nd 2006 in General, Live, Music

Art of medicine

At Some Medical Schools, Humanities Join the Curriculum” in The New York Times covers a new push in many medical schools. The Times article reminded me of an older one previously blogged. I experienced some of this movement. There is a Program for the Humanities in Medicine here that has some good offerings. We had the option of taking small humanities courses. None were required. It is a better approach than forcing everyone. While I enjoy the effort to add more humanities to medical education, I doubt it does much. Professional school seems late to have a big influence. They are pleasant, though, and welcome.

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Michael M. on April 18th 2006 in General

Bubble boy

I continued my PBS kick tonight with a delayed watching of The Boy in the Bubble on American Experience. I had not even realized that I had it recorded until after reading this story in Wired.

I read the Wikipedia entry. It led me to this story in the Houston Press. I lived in Houston when that issue came out although I do not remember reading it. I went to college across the street from the Texas Medical Center without realizing that he had been there. David appeared on television when I was growing up. He was only a few years older than I was, and I remember learning about him and his special suit. I do not recall his death.

This page at Texas Children’s Hospital mentions him and his treatment in a very favorable light. He clearly led a very difficult life, though. There are many lessons from David and what happened to him.

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Michael M. on April 12th 2006 in General, Movies

Frontline new height

I watched Frontline on PBS. It is fantastic. This episode might be the best. It will be available for online viewing Friday. Word on the Street got me ready. The scene of the documentary that got me the most was when students of today were shown the big photograph. They had no idea what they were seeing.

I remember watching television that summer. I remember the peaceful gathering that stretched on and on. I remember the helplessness. I remember the outside inaction against the bully. It is still sad now. We sold them out. I blamed George Bush. I still do although I do not know what he could have done.

I did the image search and compared the special results to the regular results. The difference is about 13700 images. “Don’t be evil“?


Michael M. on April 11th 2006 in General

Condoleezza Rice, pianist

The New York Times has this article about Condoleezza Rice‘s piano hobby. She almost became a concert pianist, and now she plays regularly with a chamber group. The prose is mostly florid without communicating enough .

She is not the only secretary of state to pursue amateur music-making. Thomas Jefferson, the first to hold the office, was an excellent violinist who played chamber music, especially Baroque trio sonatas, throughout his political career. But back then, playing music at home was commonplace.

Not so today, in the era of recording technology, when you can hear almost any piece from the entire history of music by switching on an iPod. The trade-off is that so few people know the personal joy of making music. Whatever else she is to political supporters and opponents, Ms. Rice may be the most prominent amateur musician in the world right now, which is big news for classical music.

Is this version of history true? Did more people make music in the past? If the trend exists, I want to do my part to reverse it.

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Michael M. on April 10th 2006 in General, Music

Afternoon SLSO

I attended the concert I mentioned last fall. It was my plan since borrowing a recording of Steve Reich‘s Triple Quartet and learning that the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra would be playing it. The program was Joie de Vivre. I had a voucher from a concert I missed late last year. The line was long and slow enough that I almost missed the beginning of the first piece.

Triple Quartet was a pleasure. Not exactly in line with the title, the symphony operated as three largely separate small string orchestras. The piece has a constant pulse that spans all three groups that came across very well in the performance. The original piece involves playback of recorded music. It was reworked for live symphonic performance. The version captures many aspects of the recording I have, and the performance was right on. I wish I had sat where I could see all three working with and against one another.

The opening music was Stravinsky‘s Symphonies of Wind Instruments. I knew nothing about it going in. It is harsh in a good way. Parts of it have a driving insistence that made for a fitting choice in a program with the Triple Quartet. Soloist Leonidas Kavakos was a big hit playing a Bartók violin concerto. The crowd erupted into applause after just the first movement. He played a Stradivarius, and I was in a fairly good position to hear it. The high notes were especially clear, and of all things, his ability to draw an even tone from it even when playing very softly stood out to me. The Haydn symphony closer worked well. Concertmaster David Halen soloed excellently, and again, I was right in the path of direct projection.

I almost missed the concert. Friday’s performance was in the morning. I could not go yesterday. Wanting to hear it since the fall, I would have been sad to miss it. It was a good way to spend my Sunday afternoon.

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Michael M. on April 9th 2006 in General, Live, Music

Pianka transcript and updates

I found a few updates on the previously blogged Pianka controversy. The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise has the transcript of the talk Pianka gave at St. Edward’s University on March 31. The post containing the account by Forrest Mims of Pianka’s speech at the Texas Academy of Science (TAS) is dated March 31 at the top and April 7 in the URL. Another article from the paper reveals that Forrest Mims works for it. While Pianka’s St. Edward’s speech is thematically similar to the Texas Academy one, it could have had significant differences. These differences, however, cannot have resulted from the publication of Mims’ report. Coverage in the Houston Chronicle quotes Allan Hook who attended both speeches.

Allan Hook, a St. Edward’s biology professor who heard both speeches, said Pianka “wasn’t so perhaps adamant in his own personal views of what he thinks might happen” in his second lecture.

But Hook declined to elaborate on what Pianka said in the earlier speech, which Pianka delivered while being honored as the academy’s 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist.

The St. Edward’s transcript has some parts with which I disagree, but it lacks the maniacal genocidal rhetoric that Mims claims to have heard in the TAS speech. At St. Edward’s, Pianka said, “Other things on this earth have been here longer than us — much, much longer — and they have a right to this planet too.” I do not know what right he means. Of course, he is free to hold and express his own opinions.

The original article in the paper was written by Jamie Mobley, also known as Jamie Maxfield. She blogged about her possible national heroism for breaking this story. I asked her about the story. She attended Pianka’s talk at St. Edward’s. She did not attend the Texas Academy of Science meeting. Forrest Mims attended the Texas Academy of Science speech, but he was not at Pianka’s St. Edward’s talk. The Pianka quotes she used came from his St. Edward’s talk. The comments from Mims, however, were spurred at the TAS meeting.

The story is tangled. The transcript of Pianka’s talk at St. Edward’s is available. I see no genocidal wishes in it. Forrest Mims claims that Pianka did express such views. He attended a different speech, however, given at the TAS meeting. I have not yet seen a transcript or recording of the event. In fact, Mims claims that recording devices were turned off before Pianka’s TAS talk. 400 people reportedly attended it. Brenna McConnell’s account agreed somewhat with Mims’, but I currently get 404 errors for her blog. The controversy hinges on Mims’ account. I hope more people come forward to help settle this controversy.

Update: The Pearcey Report has this post that includes a partial transcript of the TAS speech. The text provided does not substantiate Mims’ claims well, but he could have made such statements during other parts of the talk.

Update 2: This post at Inside Higher Ed reports

Several people who attended the speech and are familiar with Pianka’s ideas say that he intended no such thing. While he said that overpopulation creates serious environmental problems, he didn’t call for the death of anyone, they say.

It indicates that Mims report is inaccurate, but does not name the people. The same post mentions a petition being circulated in support of Pianka. I would like to see it and read more direct accounts from some of these attendees.

Update 3: Upon closer reading of the Inside Higher Ed post, I found the following:

“I would like to make clear that Mims has dishonestly mischaracterized Dr. Pianka’s statements,” said Kathryn E. Perez, a postdoctoral fellow with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill department of biology, in the petition of support for Pianka. She personally believes that the Texas Academy should consider sanctioning Mims, who is a member of the organization, for what she calls “misleading propaganda.”

Update April 7: This post on The Questionable Authority compares the transcript to the original news story.

Update April 10: Here is post from somebody claiming to have been there. It is a rough post, but I enjoyed the mention of “A Modest Proposal” having heard a lecture last week about Jonathan Swift.

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Michael M. on April 6th 2006 in General

Pitiful Charter

I complained last week about how bad Charter service is. My cable modem started working again for a few days. Now it is failing. Last Thursday, the telephone representative scheduled a service visit for today. Then in the middle of the day Tuesday, I received a call from a repair person who wanted to come by. I was not home, and I had obligations for the afternoon. I was told the appointment was for Thursday, not Tuesday. I told her so when she called me on Tuesday. She was only following her list. Within about an hour of talking to her, my service went down. I called her back and asked her whether she could do anything without my being there. She answered not. It has been up and down since then. Nobody called today. I have been on hold for quite a while now.

Update: Soon after posting, a telephone representative finally answered. My service had started working again although it went down once while we were talking. He scheduled a repair visit for next Tuesday morning although there is no telling whether or when someone will arrive with Charter. I complained about being billed for no service, and he transferred me to the billing department for credit. After more time on hold, I talked to a woman who would not credit my account until the repairs were made. I told her that I have already had a week of poor service and wasted time on the phone. I asked why technical support had told me that billing could credit my account and then transferred my call to her. She put me on hold to check with somebody. She told me Charter could give me a credit now if I insisted. I insisted.

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Michael M. on April 6th 2006 in General

NPR distribution

This /. post links to a story in Wired about how podcasting by NPR might cut into local station fundraising. I thought I would like NPR podcasting. It would allow me to hear all the good shows I normally miss. It turns out that I do not care. I enjoy the shows if I can catch them. If not, I do not miss them. I had a similar experience with NPR syndication feeds. They turned out to be overload. I appreciate the effort, though, and I believe that plenty of other people do enjoy time shifting NPR programming. I simply am not one of them.

I do appreciate being able to find shows and segments recommended by friends. This /. comment outlines a procedure for downloading public radio shows available in Real format and transcoding them to mp3. I did something similar for This American Life. I hope NPR finds a way to remain financially viable while keeping past programming available.

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Michael M. on April 5th 2006 in General

Freaks and Geeks

I watched Freaks and Geeks on DVDs over the past few weekends. I checked them out from the library. It aired 1999-2000 when I was not watching much television. It was set in a time when I was just beginning school, but it was still familiar. I felt for the characters. The plots covered familiar topics, but they were still entertaining. It has good lines throughout the episodes. The music was great. Some ask why the show was canceled after only one season. I wonder how such a good show made it onto regular television.

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Michael M. on April 5th 2006 in General

Sniping in the science world

I read this post on SciScoop this morning about biologist Eric Pianka. According to it, he advocated the deaths of 90% of the human population to save the earth. I initially felt outraged. Then I scrolled down to the comments. This comment that includes links to two posts on liberal blog Daily Kos disputes the contentions and suggests that there is a smear campaign against Pianka backed by the Discovery Institute, intelligent design supporters.

I do not know whether the Discovery Institute has anything to do with these events. This post linked in the SciScoop post includes claims from Forrest Mims. Mims is a fellow of the Discovery Institute. William Dembski, noted intelligent design advocate and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, has jumped into the fray in a big way. He has come up here before.

On his blog, Dembski claimed to have reported Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security in this post. He also posted here about ID related matters. With this one, he went for the predictable move and fulfilled Godwin’s Law, a topic I have addressed before.

The blog Serenity by Brenna McConnell, an undergraduate biology student at Texas Lutheran University, comes into play. She posted about Pianka’s speech. She appears to believe in evolution based on previous posts. I do find it strange that both she and Mims have ties to the same place, Texas Lutheran, but they appear otherwise unconnected. Unlike Mims, she appears to have been favorably impressed by Pianka, yet her account agrees on several points.

What is to be made of all this controversy? What did Pianka say? What does he advocate? I have a hard time telling. I have heard with my own ears at least one extremely famous biologist and plenty more generally unknown ones make shocking statements. If Pianka’s views are only that doom for humans is inevitable, I agree. If he believes that the human population should decrease, I disagree. If he believes that humans should be killed to reduce population, I am disgusted.

Dembski’s reporting to the Department of Homeland Security and his Reductio ad Hitlerum trouble me. I wonder whether there is a backchannel between him and Mims and if so, who else is involved. His actions certainly have influenced my impression of him.

Update April 6: This comment by Kathryn Perez on this post at The Austringer contends that Mims did not report Pianka’s talk accurately.


Michael M. on April 4th 2006 in General

Electronically voted

I voted electronically earlier this evening on the Board of Education and a few local propositions. I prepared by reading STLtoday‘s guide. I am disappointed that the guide did not include a proposition about junior colleges that was on the ballot. It is on the ballot available from the Board of Elections.

My first Diebold experience went fine. I blogged previously about my suspicion of this project. It remains. The machine was easy to use, but I have no idea whether my ballot will be accurately counted. Now there is one more level in the system subject to tampering, and it is much less transparent in operation than the others.

The first part of voting was the same. A poll worker found my name in the rolls, and I signed. She then asked whether I wanted to vote electronically. I chose to, and she directed me to another worker by the Diebold machine. The worker there inserted a plastic card similar to a credit card into an electronic device she had hanging around her neck. Then she put the card into the voting machine. She showed me how to adjust the text and brightness and how to navigate through the ballot. It was simple. I went through the ballot and made my choices. A summary screen showed them all at the end. I clicked on one to see what would happen, and it took me back to that page of the ballot. After a few clicks, I got back to the summary screen again. I touched the box on the screen to cast my ballot. The machine made some noises, and that was that.

I heard a funny quote about the field of candidates. Approximately, someone I overheard said, “Some of them I would not vote to catch my dog.”

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Michael M. on April 4th 2006 in General

Facts schmacts

I saw “The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science” by Robert L. Park on digg. It appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education over two years ago. I wonder what propelled it to digg heights. The article is not perfect. I wonder whether his reporting is accurate. I liked the reminder anyway.

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Michael M. on April 2nd 2006 in General

Jazz and gospel

I saw the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band play the Sheldon Friday. Both were great, and they were even better together.

The Dixie Hummingbirds opened with very smooth gospel. The leader has been in the group since 1938. He just has a way with the music and the audience. Their accompaniment consists of a drummer and a guitarist, both excellent. The Dirty Dozen followed with New Orleans brass band jazz, and they are among the best practitioners. I wondered whether they might add some Modest Mouse to the show since they played on Good News For People Who Love Bad News. They did not, and it was just fine. Straight New Orleans is good to my ears. I have seen the Rebirth Brass Band three times, and I would like to make it a fourth on the 20th at the Broadway Oyster Bar.

The two played classics together including “Just a Closer Walk” and “I’ll Fly Away.” The Hummingbirds sang and the instrumentalists took turns soloing. Everybody seemed on. The place started to empty, and some were gone before the encore. I am glad I did not fall into that trap. The the Dirty Dozen closed perfectly with “St. Louis Blues.”

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Michael M. on April 2nd 2006 in General, Live, Music

36 hours in STL

This story in The New York Times covers 36 hours in Saint Louis. This post at local food blog STL A La Mode and this one on the Ecology of Absence blog have a few comments. Word on the Street noticed, too. The list of STL spots is good. I agree about the places I have been, and I will have to visit some of the ones I have missed.

I still have not eaten at Sweetie Pie’s. This review by Rose Martelli is a rave. It is not far from my place. “Mississippi Style Cookin'” is on the sign in the window. I need to go.

Crown Candy Kitchen is fantastic. I revisited World’s Fair Doughnuts this morning. They were good. My reheated doughnuts a few minutes ago were great. The recommentation of buttermilk doughnuts is right on.

The article should have mentioned Ted Drewes. This post about it has the same lament. Ted Drewes is good for the frozen custard and for the experience. The age range is usually as big as anywhere. A concrete, a treat unknown to me before moving here, always hits the spot.

I also found “Why I Moved To St. Louis” by Rose Martelli. Unlike her, I moved here for education, and I did so from Long Island rather than the City. She makes some good points. Earnestness and friendliness are common finds when meeting people here. She points to bars rather than Ted Drewes, but she also notes the ranges of ages that manage to share space here in the cause of enjoying life.


Michael M. on April 2nd 2006 in General

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.