Archive for November, 2009

At The Top of Their Game

November 14, 2009

In a darkened high school cafeteria, 350  Michigan and Indiana students and a few dozen parents hold their breath and stare at the video screen that holds their fate.  Six months of intense rehearsals have led up to this moment.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars from communities near Detroit and Indianapolis have been privately raised to make possible only nine minutes of choreographed excellence.

Twelve miles away, a stadium is filled with several thousand more people who watch the results live.

We hope to hear those magic words that signal our advancement to the next step.

Families throughout Carmel, Indiana this week opened their homes to 150 marching band members from Walled Lake Central High (not far from Detroit.)

During preliminary competition at the massive new stadium in downtown Indianapolis, an section of students rises and cheers as the Carmel Marching Greyhounds take the field.  The cheering section is the entire entourage from Walled Lake, who performed earlier in the day.  The surprise welcome feels great.  Almost 24 hours later, mutual admiration is returned as an entire stadium erupts in applause to welcome “our neighbors from the north,” as the Carmel band director so appropriately commented.

And while the Carmel band is enormous (nearly 200 students are on the field), the truly impressive statistics come from Walled Lake Central — where their 150-member band includes 10 percent of the student body.
Their show is marvelous — a humorous take on spy movies featuring an impressive all-band tango sequence.

Carmel’s show is equally dramatic, with snippets of Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy and featuring virtuoso players on cello, piano, and flute (with the pianist playing while moving on a giant fulcrum that represents the scales of justice.)  In the crisp fall air, the full force of the band’s powerful performance almost knocks you back in the stands.  All of those days of 7:00AM and late afternoon rehearsals culminate in this performance.  They are ready to give it their all at the annual Bands of America Grand National Championships in downtown Indianapolis — IF they advance.

91 bands compete this year.  Only about one in three will make it to the morning semifinals, and a more select group will compete before tens of thousands of band fans.

The kids sit together, teenagers who share a love of music, fun, pizza, and texting on their cellphones. Until this week, they were strangers.  Now they rally around each other like brothers and sisters.

“We will be cheering you on in the finals,” pledges the Walled Lake band director, uncertain if his band will advance during this first visit to the national competition.

And then the moment is here.

34 bands are being named to semifinalist status.

The disembodied voice on the other end of the Internet connection calls out Carmel High School as a semifinalist, and the room erupts in applause.  The kids from both schools are ecstatic.

More bands are called out, including some familiar from previous contests.

And then he says “Walled Lake Central…” and a silent room of 400 erupts in wild applause.  Parents grab their cell phones and BlackBerries to share the news as tears stream down their faces.

The kids can’t believe it, either.

For this one moment, all is right in the world.

Hugging and cheering, the preparations begin for another competition — this time at the top of their game.

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California Poised to Ban Big-Screen TVs – Data be Damned!

November 13, 2009

In its unquenchable thirst to claim “leadership” on environmental issues, the California Energy Commission is expected by most government watchers to enact new rules that will effectively ban one out of four TV sets currently sold in the Golden State.  Instead, buyers may head to nearby and sales-tax-free Nevada or up to Oregon to satiate their big screen desires.

Lost in the reams of manufactured data conveniently provided by the state’s electricity generating utilities are the facts.  Instead, the very entities that will benefit from a regulation (that would be the utilities with stockholders as well as ratepayers) have suggested sweeping and unnecessary regulations that are like a parlor game of hide and seek.

They claim unmitigated disaster if this crisis of the grid is left unchecked.  They also ignore enormous advances in energy efficiency that TV makers have voluntarily instituted nationwide – with 20 percent year-over-year improvements in energy efficiency.

Consider some of the more specious arguments made by the drama-loving but factually-starved environmentalists who are squawking in this debate:

  • They say that TV sets are responsible for 10% of your electric bill.  Sounds like it might be possible, but it’s also false.  Try three or four percent, as a fact.  Want to know what consumes nearly HALF of your home’s electricity?  Heating and air conditioning.  But that’s not as sexy as the crusade to reign in the boob tube.
  • They claim that bigger TVs are a threat to the state’s electrical grid, with ever bigger screens gobbling more and more electricity.  Ummm, also not true.  Buying an already-efficient flat-screen set (no regulation necessary) and then chucking the 36-inch TV you dragged to the basement will do more to cut your electrical bill than any regulations that have been proposed.  Even the little 25-inch TV in my bedroom, which dates from 1994, is sucking seven times the power of a new TV when turned it’s turned off!  Why not a program to encourage old TV recycling and new TV purchases?  Save energy AND stimulate the economy.  Wait, can’t do that.  It would make sense.
  • But the ultimate fight is being waged in the battle of the Living Room versus the Kitchen, believe it or not.  Listen to the environmental community beat their chests about the almighty refrigerator and how it’s been tamed by the sterling regulators to become a purring paragon of energy efficiency.  Lo, behold the TV behemoth and how it consumes more energy than the frugal fridge.  Gee, that sounds good — but it also is NOT TRUE.  Turns out that a new flat-screen plasma TV only sips a tiny amount of juice, when compared to the icebox.  In fact, a modest 21-cubic foot standard refrigerator will drain 45 percent more energy than a new 42-inch plasma.

So don’t let the facts, and relevant, up-to-date data cloud the issue.

Go ahead California, lead the way — right down the primrose path of feel-good regulations that will only hurt consumers, California-based electronics retailers, and state tax coffers.

After all, what’s a few million in much-needed revenue when you can issue a great press release?