Welcome to Glenn's Blog!

Here I will periodically post random thoughts and stories about what's going on in my life and the world around me. As if anyone cared. But seriously, you've found your way here, so hopefully you will enjoy at least some of what I have to say, even if you aren't entirely interested in it. At the least, it should be a good way to waste time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stuck in Houston?

Well, tomorrow we leave on our trip to England. I'm certainly looking forward to leaving the 100+ degree temperatures here in Sacramento, and settling for the mid-80's-plus-a-chance-of-rain that they are having in England right now. As it turns out, however, we almost we're looking at being stranded in Houston on the return trip.

I went online this morning to do do our check-in and boarding pass printing, because the email message I received earlier convinced me that it would be a good idea to do. Not that I wouldn't have anyway, because, hey, who doesn't want to save a little time in line at the airport check-in counter? As it turns out, you can't print boarding passes, not just because we have baggage to check but because they need to visually inspect your photo ID. So, the email lied, or perhaps just played a good joke on me.

But it worked out in my favor, because as I was logging in online to not check in and not print my boarding passes, I noticed that the last leg of our return journey was conspicuously missing from our itinerary. So, I called there convenient 1-800 number to find out what the deal was.

Now, several months ago I had received a very serious looking email sporting a vivid red exclamation point, stating that our itinerary had changed, that the world as we knew it was ending, and that our entire trip was certainly doomed. As it turned out then, our initial outgoing flight time had changed from 6:05am to 6:00am. Whew! That was a close call.

This time, what had happened was, our last leg of the return flight had been changed to be 50 minutes later. This was apparently too much stress to place on their automated system, because it didn't even bother to send me a serious looking email. The system just gave up, and decided that the trip was surely doomed this time, and so it just removed us from the flight altogether. And gave our seats away to another couple.

Well, in the end, the kind people at the other end of the phone line scratched their heads for awhile, mumbled to themselves about how they have no idea why this would or could happen, and fixed the problem. Or so I hope.

I now have a new piece of paper that clearly states that I am booked on the return flight. I'll just put it right next to the other piece of paper that clearly states that I was booked on that flight the first time. And hopefully, there will be no more changes that will drive their system to further despair.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Spiral Begins

Well, the votes are in, and Sac State's staff voted 359-69 in favor of furloughs. Statewide the elections showed 82% in favor of this option, which is a pretty clear majority. Now the bargaining team will go to work with the chancellor's office to determine exactly how this will play out.

Of course, reducing all of our pay by 10% means we'll all be tightening our belts - again - just like we do every year when we find out that we're not getting even a decent cost of living adjustment, to say nothing of getting a regular raise. Maybe I should have been an administrator.

And by tightening our belts, obviously, we're going to spend less and less money in the private sector, which means more businesses will lay off workers or fold completely, which means the state will have even less and less tax revenue, which means the problem will continue to worsen. And so the downward spiral begins. Or rather, continues.

As a side note, the elections on our campus were a joke. I've seen better organization with high school prom queen voting than what took place here yesterday. It was a mass of confusion. No signs were posted indicating that folks should be in different lines depending on which unit they were in. No one was really watching to ballot box closely to make sure that those who were putting in votes had actually checked in. And as for checking in - no one even checked ID!

We did get periodically yelled at, to the effect of, "Don't just drop off your ballot without checking in! If you don't check in, your ballot won't count!". Not that the ballots had anyone's name on them. So, really, there's no way to verify if any particular ballots belonged to someone who checked in or not. Or whether they belonged to someone who checked in two or three times as someone else. Or whether they just dropped off a ballot and weren't even a union member.

Gotta love the state system. Sigh.

Monday, June 22, 2009

California is Dying

I don't usually get too worked up in politics, but since today our union is set to vote on whether to voluntarily take a 10% pay cut next year in the form of furloughs, it seems appropriate to take a good hard look at California, and to start thinking about whether it's time to move to Oregon.

The following was sent to me in an email forward, and while I don't devote much time to the dozens of such messages that come across my desk, this one caught my attention. It originally was posted on another person's blog. While I can't independently verify everything here (outside of the ones which are linked to their sources, whether or not they are reputable), if even HALF of this stuff is accurate, well, then one has to wonder how California has gotten itself into such a mess.

California has the 2nd highest state income tax in the nation. 9.55% at $48,000.

By far the highest state sales tax in the nation. 8.25% (not counting local sales taxes)

Highest state car tax in the nation - at least any other state (1.15% per year on value of vehicle).

Corporate income tax rate is the highest in the West. (8.84%)

2009 Business Tax Climate ranks 48th in the nation.

Fourth highest Capital Gains tax (9.55%)

Second highest Gasoline Tax (58.3 cents) in the nation (as of April, 2009). When gas is $3.00+/gallon, we are numero uno - because unlike many states, we charge sales tax on gasoline purchases - it's built into the price).

Fifth highest Unemployment Rate in the nation. (11.0% as of April, 2009)

California 's 2009 "Tax Freedom Day" (the day the average taxpayer stops working for government and start working for oneself) is again the fourth worst date in the nation (up from 28th worst in 1994).

To offset lower state revenues, 29 states are proposing 2009 state tax and fee increases totaling $24 billion. California , with 12% of the nation's population, is proposing 47% of that increase (from CNN 6/5/09).

1 in 5 in L.A. County are receiving public aid.

California prison guards highest paid in the nation.

California teachers easily the highest paid in the nation. (CA has the second lowest student test scores)

California now has the lowest bond ratings of any state, edging out Louisiana .

California ranks 44th worst in "2008 lawsuit climate."

In 2005 (latest figures), for every dollar Californians sent to D.C. in taxes, we got back 78 cents - 43rd worst.

America 's top CEO's rank California "the worst place in which to do business" for the fourth straight year (3/2009). But here's the interesting part - they think California is a great state to live (primarily for the great climate) - they just won't bring their businesses here because of the oppressive tax and regulatory climate. Consider this quote from the survey (a conclusion reflected in the rankings of the characteristics of the state): " California has huge advantages with its size, quality of work force, particularly in high tech, as well as the quality of life and climate advantages of the state. However, it is an absolute regulatory and tax disaster."

California still gives away college education at fire sale prices. Our community college tuition is by far the lowest in the nation. How low? Nationwide, the average community college tuition is 4.5 times higher than California CC's. This ridiculously low tuition devalues education to students - resulting in a 30+% drop rate for class completion. In addition, many California CC students fill out a simple form that exempts them from ANY tuition payment at all. On top of that, California offers thousands of absolutely free adult continuing education classes - a sop to the upper middle class. In San Diego, over 1,400 classes for everything from baking pastries to ballroom dancing are offered totally at taxpayer expense.

California residential electricity costs an average of 28.7% more than the national average. For industrial use, CA electricity is 48.6% higher than the national average (11/08).

It costs 38% more to build solar panels in California than in Tennessee - which is why European corporations have invested $2.3 billion in two Tennessee manufacturing plants to build solar panels for our state.

Consider California 's net domestic migration (migration between states). From April, 2000 through June, 2008 (8 years, 2 months) California has lost a NET 1.4 million people. The departures slowed this past year only because people couldn't sell their homes.

As taxes rise and jobs disappear, we lose our tax base, continuing California 's state and local fiscal death spiral...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Furloughs? Here?

Well, the state of the California economy has finally deteriorated to the point where it's reached my desk. On Monday our university staff votes on whether to start taking two furlough days a month starting in August. And it should be clear - this will not eliminate the need for layoffs. It will only reduce the need for layoffs.

I'm reminded of our annual union meeting in the spring, which was dressed up nicely as a free lunch buffet featuring build-your-own tacos and burritos. The person who was, for lack of a better word, "emcee" of the meeting said, among other things, that we don't expect to have layoffs because our past history suggests that this would not happen. Really. That seemed a rather ignorant statement even then. California was already in a economic crisis that was best described as "unprecedented". So how can you use past history to determine what may or may not happen in an unprecedented time?

But anyway, I find it sad, if not deplorable, that the state of things has declined so much. It seems, really, that this is the culmination of years of irresponsible economic planning. At least, I hope it is a culmination, and now a first step towards worse times.

It almost seems as if we are caught in a horrible circle. The state is having major problems due to, we are told, lack of tax revenue. So we furlough and layoff people, causing them to be more frugal with their dollars, causing - you guessed it - even less tax revenue. When will it end? Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Compositional Insight

Well, since composing music is supposed to be my main thing, or at least the thing I've spent oodles and oodles of time at in order that I can receive pretty pieces of paper which are eventually framed and put up on a wall, it only seems fitting that I ramble on a bit about it.

Writing philosophies are more common, I guess, in literary circles. One mantra suggest that you should write what you know. Another suggests that a writer writes, always. I don't know who came up with those. They don't really apply to music composition, at least not exactly.

Reflecting back on my undergrad days, it seems that I wrote what I didn't know, or at least the idea was to try and write for as many different things as possible, in order to gain experience and knowledge at writing for different instruments and instrumentations. Compositions were thus more akin to exercises than to being 'works of art'. Looking back, I don't think that many of the things I wrote as an undergrad were very good. It was common for me to struggle over this project or that project, only to have it hastily rehearsed and performed, and then promptly tossed aside. Maybe that's all they were worth. Learning experiences.

That was over ten years ago.

Nowadays, I find that I judge the quality of my work by how often it gets put in front of real live people, in front of audiences. To me, having a piece that I slaved over for months performed only once in concert is a failure. Why put so much effort into it if that is the extent of its life?

Not that all of the pieces I've written as a graduate have been played more than once. Many have; but some were still failures as such. Of course, that's okay, one needs failures in order to succeed, I guess. And all of my failures have helped to make me a better composer, just as the successes have. But what is it that really makes a piece "successful"? Obviously that's a rather subjective topic.

For me anyway, I've had the same philosophy, more or less, since my undergraduate days. Each piece I write has two fundamental goals - to be interesting for the performer and to be interesting for the listener. I find that if I'm able to reach both of those lofty goals, the piece tends to be more successful. Of course there's lots of other little tidbits that go into each of those broad goals. I'm still learning some of them. But it's a good place to start.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Drum Corps?

So this past weekend was the opening weekend of the 2009 drum corps season. Apparently. Who knew? It's funny how times change, how priorities in our lives can become so drastically changed over time.

For a lot of last decade, more or less from 2000-2007, I was eating, sleeping, and drinking drum corps. I was one of those folks spending hours in the chat rooms, every day, gossiping and checking on gossip, and generally commenting on and arguing about things which really didn't matter much. Not a day went by that I didn't check scores or schedules, or stats or picture postings or whatnot. It was an all-consuming passion that took up all of my time and most of my money. And part of my soul.

Nowadays - nothing. No passion. It's like that whole world doesn't matter to me anymore. I'm far too busy these days getting paid to play music as opposed to paying to play it (or even paying just to see it).

I haven't made any plans to attend any drum corps show anywhere this year, not even when they broadcast the quarter finals in the Regal theatre which is a 10-minute walk from my house. Granted, how could I with the performance schedule I now maintain? We use to perform at seven shows per season when I was involved with the River City Regiment - the drum corps child I created and helped keep alive for several years with time, sweat, and money.

Now I perform seven shows a week. Who has time for anything else?

Admittedly, from time to time I still check up on the Drum Corps Planet forums, just to see what's going on. Is the great debate over the latest rule change proposal over? Is every corps still begging for members to come join? Are they still all broadcasting with pride over every event their group has planned for the season? Are they still arguing the pros and cons of everybody else's show? Is someone somewhere still grumbling about how someone else referred to drum corps or marching music in general in a derogatory light?

Yes, it's still all there. Just like I never left. Some things never change. But I did, I moved on, and it's time for other adventures.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Money and Musicals

I guess I'm pretty fortunate. Amidst the current recession that's engulfing our economy, with the housing market crashing and unemployment at an all time high, and the state of California a hair's breadth away from bankruptcy, I'm actually doing better financially now than at any other time since 2000. Of course, a lot of financial problems for me personally around the turn of the century had to do with the now defunct drum corps that I had the ridiculous notion - the dream - to create. And since then, a lot of what I've been doing financially has revolved around recuperating from that disaster.

But nowadays, in addition to my full time job at the Department of Music at Sacramento State, I'm also playing full time for the California Musical Theatre production of Forever Plaid. And this is a big thing for me. It's a professional gig - one of not very many - although I've never seen myself as a 'professional' bassist. Still don't. But it's fun, it's do-able, and right now it's helping to pay chunks off of my bills.

It's funny how life can work itself out sometimes. I was never much into musicals going through high school, nor even in college. Sure, I went to a few here and there over the years, and played in one in high school once. But it just never was part of my life.

It was in 2006 - seven years after I graduated from college - that I happened to go see a production of Baby put on by Runaway Stage Productions. One of my friends was in the orchestra. Well, as it turns out, several people whom I knew were in the orchestra. After a random comment following the show to one of those old friends - who happened to be the orchestra contractor as well - to the effect of, "If you ever need a bass player let me know", I was drafted into that world and began playing again. It had been seven years since I had played anything! But there I was, part of a group, playing for fun and making just a little bit of money on the side. Good times.

You meet a lot of people in this type of endeavor, do a lot of networking, whether you realize it or not. Often this unrealized networking appears, in retrospect, to be merely 'coincidences'.

After my seven-year hiatus from playing bass, after getting drawn into musical theater, it was a lot of little random coincidences that eventually brought me to Forever Plaid, to where I am now, financially stronger. And happier.

I had met Chelsea through the drum corps. She just happened to be playing musicals for Garbeau's, another now-defunct company. She happened to meet Chris there, the pianist who also happened to work for the Theatre Department at Sacramento State where she was a student and I was on the staff. Chris happened to hire her to play a musical at Sac State, 42nd Street, and she happened to need a sub, and just happened to call me. I met Chris there, who just happened, sometime later, to get a real good gig at the 'new' Cosmopolitan Cabaret playing Forever Plaid.

Chris had phoned me about doing this gig in the fall of 2008, but with everything I had going on with work and graduate school, I just couldn't commit to it. I later regretted turning down such an awesome opportunity. But as things go, he just happened to bring Chelsea on board, and she subsequently just happened to bring me onboard as her sub. Then in the spring of 2009, for various reasons I won't go into here, Chelsea had to leave the show, and I became the full time player all of the sudden.

Where will it go from here? Who knows. Plaid will be running until September 6, and then a new show that doesn't involve live musicians will be in. So the fall is looking like a break for me, from playing anyway. I guess it will be time for me to hit the books again, and see if I can't get a few steps closer to that Master's degree.

The scuttlebutt is that the Cosmopolitan will be running 14 week shows then, as opposed to open runs. Which means that there would be three shows per year there, basically. I doubt very highly that they will stray away from having live music for too long. So you never know...I could be on stage again.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Double Chocolate Chip Muffins

I've decided that I'm a fan of Double Chocolate Chip Muffins. Not so much that I would add an 'become a fan of' posting to my Facebook Page. I know people who do that, who will 'become a fan' of just about anything - cereal, TV shows, breathing. It seems you can be a fan of anything online, unlike the pre-computer-technology days where you could only be a fan of your local sports teams.

I was at the Cosmopolitan Cabaret yesterday, where I am most days since I'm playing seven shows a week of Forever Plaid, and decided that it was high time to walk across the street to Hana's deli for a snack. Really, I was just a little bored and a lot tired. But the highlight of my day was when I discovered that they were now carrying Otis Spunkmeyer muffins. For only 99 cents! How could I resist that chocolate bliss?

It certainly wasn't my first encounter with double chocolate chip muffins. But recently, I've been reading various novels by Kurt Vonnegut, whom most of you probably know as the author that forced you to read Slaughterhouse Five in high school. He as a unique gift for storytelling, actually, and of combining humor and satire about life as an American and indeed about life as a human being. One of his many philosophical quotes was something to the effect of telling us to notice when life was good. And, really, double chocolate chip muffins are good.

They remind me of Disneyland, really, for it was on one of my trips to the Happiest Place on Earth not so long ago that I decided it was high time to branch out a little and start trying more of the delectable treats that the kingdom has to offer. It used to be theme parks only offered the standard fried fare, hot dogs and hamburgers and french fries and soda, and so on. Not anymore. Now there's a plethora of edibles to suit any taste.

I started off simply, however. On the way out of the park late one evening, we stopped at the Blue Ribbon Bakery on Main Street, just to get a little midnight snack as it were, before stumbling back to our hotel. And there they were - double chocolate chip muffins! So I got one. And it was good. And ever since - it's become a tradition now - when it's time for me to say goodbye to the park each night, I get a muffin on the way out. Talk about heaven! Well, these days we have to take the pleasures we get when we can get them. We have to notice when life is good.