Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Once again, a school decides that "Athletics good, Arts bad"...

Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor.

You see, I just read a news story that made me roll my eyes so hard that I fell over backwards.

It seems that a primary school in Elwood, New York, has cancelled a two-day, year-end kindergarten show, citing the need for the kindergarteners to spend the time preparing for "college and career" and "concentrating on preparation for first grade". The school suggested they attend a later "Game Day". While the article (from Today Parents) did not specify what that Game Day will entail, in my experience grammar school game days focus on athletic events.

The cancellation of the kindergarten show, which involves the children singing and performing plays and the required rehearsals beforehand, caused an uproar as both parents and students protested. After the protests, the school's interim principal sent another letter which further justified the decision to cancel the show this way:

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers

Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind

So, the position is that participating in performance arts do not give children "lifelong skills"? What about the discipline and dedication needed to prepare and give such a performance? In the documentary "Shakespeare High", which is about high school students participating in the annual Shakespeare Festival put on by the drama teachers group in Southern California, actor Kevin Spacey (who took part in Festival when he was a student at Chatsworth High School) says that participation in the performing arts is not just good for students planning on going into show business, but gives benefit to students going into non-performance careers by giving them the confidence they need to be successful in whatever field they eventually enter.

Maybe especially, in this case, what about the students who aren't good at or just don't enjoy the athletics required in Game Day activities, but who enjoy and are good at dancing, singing and acting? Don't they count? Why are these athletic events being privileged over performance arts?

Oh, yeah. Now I remember. Athletes are revered in our culture as heroes, while actors and singers and dancers are often viewed as soft, coddled and self-indulgent. Except, you know, that it takes a lot of discipline and dedication to succeed in the ultra-competitive world of the performing arts. Dancing, for example. I've worked with a ballet company before as a props handler, and dancers are the best-conditioned, most disciplined people I've ever seen. I've also participated in theater productions in backstage capacities and I've seen first-hand all the skills that are necessary to put on a production that are applicable to all areas of life. As just one example, a performer in a play has to memorize his or her lines. If those school administrators cannot see that an ability to memorize material will help their students in college and career, they don't know their business very well.

As usual, arts activities are the first to fall while athletics are always among the last things to go.

Don't get me wrong. I love sports, not so much as a participant any more (although I used to compete in both softball and volleyball), but definitely as a spectator. But I get kind of disgusted sometimes at how athletics and athletes are privileged in our culture over the arts.

The only thing that dismays me is that one parent quoted in the article I've linked to above blamed the cancellation of the kindergarten show on Common Core. This dispute is not the fault of any particular teaching system or philosophy. The attitudes behind it have been around since long before Common Core was a gleam in some educator's eye and will be around long after Common Core has gone the way of the New Math and every other educational fad.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

And they call the wind...


The East Wind is blowing today. You have no idea how happy this makes me. Even though it also means it's going to be very hot, I've been waiting for this every since I moved back to Southern California.

I love the wind. I always have. I grew up with it, and I missed it all the years I lived in Central California, where the wind almost never blows. What they call "wind" can be just a slight breeze.

Oh, the San Joaquin Valley gets a breeze sometimes. But a real wind? Once or twice a year, maybe. Which is probably good for them, because a lot of people there (including the weather forecasters) freak out when there's even just a little bit of a breeze.

I've had people criticize me for my affection for the East Wind (which you all might have heard called the Santa Ana Winds, but when I was growing up, we only ever called it the East Wind). I am fully aware that it can create havoc. Really. Trees down. And it comes with low humidity that increases fire danger, especially when the state is in a drought as it is presently. Then, if a fire does start, the wind makes it more difficult to control and extinguish.

I know all that. I lived with it as I grew up.

On the other hand...

This particular sort of wind makes me feel invigorated (even when it comes with excessively high temperatures). I get stuff accomplished. This is all good, although my teachers all through school hated it, because the wind apparently had the same effect on all the kids, making it very difficult to teach anything. But, when I was a kid, I didn't see that as my problem.

You also get views like this:

Although I have to admit that the view is like this a lot more these days than there were when I was growing up and the air quality around here was much worse than it is now. Back when I was growing up, East Wind days were often the only days you could see the mountains. Here in the San Fernando Valley, you can see the mountains nearly every day now.

In any case, I've got wind today. Here's hoping for none of the negative repercussions that can come with the East Wind and lots of the advantages.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Donald Sterling puts both feet in his mouth, chews vigorously...

Welcome to the 19th century.

Wait. What? It's the 21st century? How can you tell, considering what Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is alleged to have said - on tape - to V. Stiviano, his girlfriend/mistress/archivist (that's her claim, anyway)/whatever function she has in his life.

Yes. I know. I've posted here before deploring the depth in which things that the wealthy and famous do and say are reported in the media. But sometimes you've just got to stop and say, "What the hell?" and talk about something stupid that has been done or said. This is one of those times.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up, gossipmongers TMZ reported on Friday that Sterling had been taped making statements that were, to say the least, racist. Along with the report, they released a portion of the tape, in which a voice purported to be Sterling's, said things that you might expect would have come out of the mouth of a plantation owner in the Old South before the Civil War. While requesting that the woman he was talking to not bring African Americans with her to Clippers games and not post pictures of them on her Instagram account Sterling, who has not denied that it is his voice on the tape, said of the players on his team, the majority of whom are African Americans, "I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses." Not that they earn their salaries, but that he supports them and gives them things, apparently out of what he considers the goodness of his heart.

None of this is apparently a surprise to anyone who knows Sterling. The reporting I've been hearing - and I've been hearing a lot of reporting on the story, since it is local to my area - is that it has long been known that Sterling is a bigot.

Sterling (or whoever it is on the tape), who is Jewish, also makes statements on the tape asserting the belief that what he calls "Black Jews" are inferior to "White Jews". I think it is interesting that around this whole discussion, Stiviano makes the very good point that because he is Jewish, he should understand discrimination and not indulge in it. Which also brings up the point that, as the owner of real estate, Sterling is known to have discriminated against minorities and families with children - he settled a civil case for doing those things for nearly $3 million in 2009. He has also been accused of age discrimination in hiring and firing practices, although that suit was not successful.

Clearly, Donald Sterling is not a nice man. The National Basketball Association is investigating his alleged statements, and many people both inside and outside the basketball community have called for his ownership of the team to be stripped from him. I'm not sure that is legally possible, although it may be that the NBA has some sort of contractual obligation on the part of team owners not to do or say things that are embarrassing to the organization - which is what this is, at the very least, considering that the majority of NBA players are African-American.

I'm fine with "ignorant folks" as President Obama put it in a statement regarding the situation, opening their mouths and exposing their own ignorance. It lets me know who to stay away from, and whose products not to buy - and which team's games not to patronize. But, as the political and religious Right are so fond of saying (and this may be the one instance in which I agree with them), free speech is not necessarily free of consequences. And I suspect that Sterling is going to be ostracized for the things he has allegedly said, for the attitudes he has expressed, both within the basketball community and in the larger community.

I think he has no one to blame but himself.

What has fascinated me the most as this story has been reported in the media here in Los Angeles, is all the footage of Sterling, sitting at games with this sort of fake smile on his face, as if it hurts him so much to be in the arena with all the peons, as if he feels himself so superior to the rest of the world. I believe that this attitude has finally come around to bite him in the ass, not the least because one of the photos that Sterling was complaining about Stiviano posting was of her with former basketball player and current part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team Ervin "Magic" Johnson. It isn't going to escape notice when someone (Sterling) says that they don't want someone to "broadcast" or "promote" that the other person (Stiviano, in this case) is associating with him.

Honestly? I don't care what Sterling thinks. People are allowed to have whatever attitudes they want, no matter how politically and socially unacceptable they are. But when someone is so vocally disdainful of people, at some point people who don't hold those attitudes are going to push back. And that's them, exercising their free speech. Like when Magic Johnson posted on Twitter that he will not go to any more Clippers games as long as Sterling owns the team.

Goodness knows, I can't afford to go to basketball games. If I could, though, I certainly wouldn't attend any Clippers games, either, as long as Sterling owns the team.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Music Sunday, the Return: You Like Song Lists? Then This Book is For You

A NOTE: You're going to have to click through to YouTube to watch the videos I've included today. Sorry.

So I found this book at the library yesterday: 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die and 10,001 You Must Download, edited by Robert Dimery (2010, Quintessence Books; 960 pages).

And, no, I'm not going to read the whole thing straight through. It isn't that kind of book, but more the kind you dip into here and there when the spirit moves you. Also, it's a little heavy to hold, to read for very long at a time. But it is an interesting book, with some of the opinions expressed by the contributors a little surprising.

An example: One of the 1,001 songs highlighted in the book is the Paul Revere & The Raiders cover of "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone)", recorded before the more well-known version by The Monkees. I wasn't aware until last year sometime that the band had even recorded the song, which is a little surprising considering that I was a bit Raiders fan back in the day (and still am, to be honest). Now, the Raiders have not gotten a lot of respect, either when they were recording or in the time since then. So I was a little taken aback, in a good way, when the contributor who wrote about this song started his short essay with this: "History has been unkind to one of the great bands of the Sixties", attributing this to the costumes they wore, and then continues a few lines later with this: "Bizarrely, the men in the tricornered hats were the first great punk band."

Really? That had never occurred to me.

Later on in the piece, he also holds that Mark Lindsay's vocals on the song put into doubt "Iggy Pop's claim to the title of 'Godfather of Punk'." Amazing, and again, something I'd never really thought about.

So, you know, there are some surprises in this book. Another surprise is that no Beatles song earlier than "Ticket to Ride" (1965) makes the cut into the 1,001 (the others are "A Day in the Life", "Eleanor Rigby", "Hey Jude", "Strawberry Fields Forever", and "Tomorrow Never Knows"), although a total of 32 Beatles songs make the cut into the 10,001 songs to download. Personally, I would have put "Help" as one of the 1,001, but that's just me.

One thing is clear - the contributors didn't stick to Top 40 songs when compiling these lists. I'm astounded at the number of songs and artists that made the 1,001 that I've never heard of. Some of this I can understand, especially from the Sixties. I had access only to AM radio (I didn't own a radio that received FM broadcasts until I was a teenager) and the music that was played on television. I didn't have the money to go out and buy records on an experimental basis. But there are also songs by artists I know that I just have never heard, or if I've heard them I'm not aware of it.

It's a fascinating book. If you are a fan of popular music anytime between the early 20th century, and especially between the 1950s and 2010, you will probably find something here to interest you, or to argue with. There is a short chapter on songs from before 1950, and then chapters for each decade since up until the book's publication date.

And, yes, they really do have the full 10,001 list of songs to download in an appendix at the end of the book. You might want to bring along a magnifying glass before you tackle those pages, though. While it takes over 50 pages to include all those songs, the print is still a little small.