more cheating stuff

Forgot to link to my story on Saturday’s page 1:

Calling the prevention of cheating “our highest priority,” the Texas Education Agency is tripling its number of investigators and preparing inquiries of the schools where test scores are the most suspicious.

The agency will also create an independent task force to oversee the investigations, which will begin in September. But it’s still unknown how many schools will be investigated.

“The Texas Education Agency is taking this matter very seriously,” Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley wrote in a letter to all district superintendents Friday.

MP3 Monday: July 31, 2006

This week’s MP3 Monday combines two of the most potent forces in nature: teenagers and funk music. And it contains a rare Must Buy Alert. For those unfamiliar, such an alert mandates that you head to your local music establishment and buy yourself the record I require.
Penalties for not making the purchase include hair loss, loss of sexual function, and instant death. As always, songs will stay on the server for one week’s time.
All Praises/Zero Point (Reprise)” (live) by the Kashmere Stage Band. From the album Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974 (2006).
Man, I’ve been waiting for this record for a couple years now. You see, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, band directors at a small number of black high schools decided to embrace the funk and soul music their students were listening to. They started creating stage bands that merged the propulsion of a good marching band, the big-band sound a large ensemble could generate, and the aforementioned black popular music.
There were a number of these stage bands, but far and away the best was the Kashmere Stage Band, at Kashmere High School in north Houston. The director, a genius named Conrad O. Johnson, was an old jazzman himself and decided that a bunch of untrained teenagers could, with work, become the tightest funk band in the world.
The Kashmere Stage Band became a dominant force in the world of band competitions. Between 1969 and 1977, the band took first place in 42 of the 46 contests it entered — despite often being the only black band competing. They toured Europe and Japan multiple times.
They also recorded eight albums, albeit in quantities small enough that the main audience didn’t extend far beyond the friends and families of band members. But enough of those LPs made their way into the used record stores of America that, in the early ’90s, the Kashmere Stage Band became a favorite of cratedigging DJs looking for funk breaks. Kashmere records were going for hundreds of dollars on eBay. (DJs know greatness when they hear it.)
Eventually, commerce and taste intersected, and the excellent folks at Now Again Records (the reissue side project of Stones Throw) have assembled Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974, a two-CD set of Kashmere Stage Band recordings. And oh my lord is it amazing.
Take a listen to the track above, “All Praises” followed by a reprise of their signature track “Zero Point,” recorded live on February 26, 1972 at the Brownswood Stage Band Festival. With no disrespect intended to Soul Brother No. 1, I doubt The JB’s were this tight in 1972. That rhythm section! (Gerald Calhoun on bass, Gerald Curvey on drums.)
Ain’t No Sunshine” (live) by the Kashmere Stage Band. From the album Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974 (2006).
And here, have some more. I linked to Bill Withers’ live version of his song a couple months ago, but imagine your high school band being capable of this. (Recorded live at Sam Houston State University in 1972.)
It’s hard to say just how good the Kashmere Stage Band was, or how amazing its story is. Kashmere High is in a very poor part of Houston; the Houston school district nearly shut it down last year because its performance on state tests was so poor. Luckily, the liner notes of the reissue (by Egon) do an excellent job of shedding light on things. Anyway, you’ll see when you buy it, as you Must.
FYI, Conrad O. Johnson has a foundation to promote jazz in the Houston area and apparently still plays out at age 90.
The Newborn Hippopotamus/Jazz Rock Machine” (live) by the One O’Clock Lab Band. From the album Schoolhouse Funk (2000).
This track is from the album that started my love of the stage band sound. Schoolhouse Funk was assembled by the great DJ Shadow (as was its sequel), and it compiles all sorts of great tracks from (mostly black) high school and college bands.
They’re not all great — a number of tracks are pleasingly amateurish — but a good number of them cook. (There’s a Kashmere track on there, too.) This one’s by the legendary One O’Clock Lab Band, the top jazz band at the University of North Texas in Denton. (For those who don’t know, UNT has one of largest music schools in the nation and one of the top jazz programs. Which is why so many of the rock bands out of Denton are so deliriously weird.)
Longtime readers (and attendees of SXSW Interactive in 2003) may remember this track as the backing music to 20×2 movie that year. (More about that here.)

pitchfork on devendra

Interesting Pitchfork interview with Devendra Banhart, who instinct keeps telling me I should despise, but whose music I actually quite enjoy. Observations:

  • Major bonus points to D.B. for using the word “anthropophagic” — in a context that (a) makes sense and (b) applies to Brazilian ’60s music!
  • A memo from Pitchfork HQ seems to have directed interviewers to push them own personality into the conversation. Witness these words from our questioner, Dennis Cook: “I love the experience of cooking, especially for other people…It’s one of those experiences that places you in the moment. You’re only worried about what’s in the pan. You kind of salivate during the process. How many things in your daily life make you salivate?”; “I think a lot of people think of karma as this quid pro quo– you do this nice or bad thing then nice or bad things happen for you”; “Music, by nature, doesn’t want walls. Music wants to engage with every aspect of itself.” Speak it, Dennis!
  • The Devendra connection to Caetano Veloso makes so much sense. Great quote on that era of Brazilian music: “They were open to all these other cultures and experiences. There’s such a sense of humor. I love that they don’t call it rock ‘n’ roll. They call it ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah.’ You listen to Os Mutantes and they’re making fun of and honoring something that sounds American but it’s so Brazilian at the center. It’s a reinterpretation of things. It’s dealing with all these things that don’t have expiration dates.”
  • Dennis seems to get the definition of “catholic” exactly wrong: “You have really big ears and thoroughly non-Catholic taste,” meaning he listens to a wide variety of musical styles. “Catholic” means “Of broad or liberal scope; comprehensive; including or concerning all humankind; universal.” Methinks Dennis’ feelings for the Pope are subliminally affecting him. (Unless he’s referring to D.B.’s hatred of Gregorian chant.)
  • Obligatory faux-worldly quote from the interviewer: “We live in an age where many things are working hard to conk us out and anesthetize us. Anything we can do to shake us out of that — with no other purpose than to wake us — is valuable.” Only a person who has no knowledge of, say, every other age of humankind could say that the contemporary era — by leagues the most overstimulated in our biological history — is somehow uniquely anesthetizing or coma-inducing.

I don’t mean to diss on Dennis, who actually did a fine job. (And he fulfilled the Freelance Writer’s Pledge — namely, Always Get At Least Two Paychecks For Every Interview.)

gladwell on the media

While we’re talking media, here’s a perceptive Gladwell post on old media vs. blog triumphalism:

Has the level of self-regard in the blogosphere really reached such dizzying heights that it can’t acknowledge the work that traditional media does on behalf of the rest of us? Yes, the newspaper business isn’t as lucrative as it once was (although it’s still pretty lucrative). And it doesn’t seem as exciting and relevant as it once was. But newspapers continue to perform an incredibly important function as informational gatekeepers—a function, as far as I can tell, that grows more important with time, not less. Between them, for instance, the Times and the Post have literally hundreds of trained professionals whose only job it is to sift through the mountains of information that come out of the various levels of government and find what is of value and of importance to the rest of us. Where would we be without them? We’d be lost.

The comments devolve into a lot of silly chest-thumping (e.g. Doug Karr).

that damned media bias

Why you hear so much about “media bias”:

Partisans, it turns out, don’t just arrive at different conclusions; they see entirely different worlds . In one especially telling experiment, researchers showed 144 observers six television news segments about Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon.

Pro-Arab viewers heard 42 references that painted Israel in a positive light and 26 references that painted Israel unfavorably. Pro-Israeli viewers, who watched the very same clips, spotted 16 references that painted Israel positively and 57 references that painted Israel negatively. Both groups were certain they were right and that the other side didn’t know what it was talking about.

The tendency to see bias in the news — now the raison d’etre of much of the blogosphere — is such a reliable indicator of partisan thinking that researchers coined a term, “hostile media effect,” to describe the sincere belief among partisans that news reports are painting them in the worst possible light…

Even more curious, the hostile media effect seems to apply only to news sources that strive for balance. News reports from obviously biased sources usually draw fewer charges of bias. Partisans, it turns out, find it easier to countenance obvious propaganda than news accounts that explore both sides.

And this graf explains 95 percent of my inbox every Monday after my column runs:

People who are deeply invested in one side are quicker to spot and remember aspects of the news that hurt than they are to see aspects that help, said Richard Perloff, a Cleveland State University political communication researcher…

Ross and Perloff both found that what partisans worry about the most is the impact of the news on neutral observers. But the data suggest such worry is misplaced. Neutral observers are better than partisans at seeing flaws and virtues on both sides. Partisans, it turns out, are particularly susceptible to the general human belief that other people are susceptible to propaganda.

fema thugs

When, exactly, will security guards be briefed on the First Amendment? A reporter is trying to write a story on what looks like a spectacular mismanagement of money by FEMA and starts interviewing a hurricane victim in her FEMA trailer:

[Dekotha] Devall described her experience during an interview in her trailer, saying she wanted to get some help and to let others know what it’s like living there.

But during the interview, a security guard knocked on the trailer door and ordered the reporter and photographer to leave “immediately.”

“You are not allowed to be here,” the guard yelled. “Get out right now.”

As they left, the guard refused to let the reporter give Devall a business card so she could contact the newspaper later by phone.

“You will not give her a business card,” the guard said. “She’s not allowed to have that.”

When the reporter persisted, the guard ordered Devall to return to the trailer, saying the reporter was “not allowed” to talk to her.

The guard then called the police.

Later the same day, the reporter and photographer pulled off La. 70 to talk to Pansy Ardeneaux through a chain-link fence surrounding the FEMA park. Ardeneaux said she and her boyfriend had just moved into the park.

“We had to wait about two months from the time he applied for the trailer until he got it,” she said.

As Ardeneaux talked, the same security guard pulled up.

“You are not allowed to talk to these people,” the guard yelled at Ardeneaux. “Return to your trailer now.”

A clearly flustered Ardeneaux returned to her trailer.

Oh, the anger.
More on FEMA’s idiot policy, which has apparently just been reversed.

this month in 20th century history

This Month In 20th-Century History:
1976 (30 years ago): Entebbe, the daring Israeli raid to rescue 100 hostages in Uganda. Later to give Anthony Hopkins some work. Entebbe was perhaps the peak of the badass-Israeli-military vibe contemporary moviegoers caught last year in Munich.
1956 (50 years ago): Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal, which prompts the the Suez crisis — one of the first modern conflicts largely over oil (in this case, their shipping lanes) and one of the last breaths of old-style European colonialism.
1936 (70 years ago): The Spanish Civil War, likely the most important literary war of the modern era, began. A precursor to World War II, it drew enormous attention from the outside world, spurring many thousand volunteers from foreign lands, including the U.S. and Canada.
A surprising number of them were were writers, some of them of the first rank — Hemingway, Auden and Orwell, most prominently. (Go read that last link — it’s interesting.) It inspired For Whom the Bell Tolls, Homage to Catalonia, and (in part) Animal Farm. Most were on the left, as novelists tend to be, so they fought alongside the republicans, but a fair number (Evelyn Waugh, Ezra Pound) supported the Francoists.
I mention all this because I continue to be amazed at how little 20th-century history — in particular anything that didn’t directly involve the United States — gets taught in American schools. There are a ton of interesting stories out there.