Why I Prefer Tina Setkic over Yngwie Malmsteen

On the one hand, you have Yngwie Malmsteen, who is inarguably the most arrogant SOB in modern rock guitar, playing his "Arpeggios from Hell" in the following video while acting like he's some sort of badass:

While on the other hand, you have the teenage Tina S playing the same solo in the following video, and she's playing it arguably better while looking like she's bored to tears:

It's easy to see why I think Tina is far more talented than Yngwie...

Prog Rock Sentiments on Saint Patrick's Day

In honor of St. Patrick's Day and my favorite prog rock band, this is the t-shirt that I'm wearing today...

irush-shamrock-green

In keeping with that theme, here are some possible lyrics that go along with that t-shirt:

An ancient cleric
Humble stride
Today's Saint Patrick
Humble pride

No his snakes are not for rent
Neither viper nor serpent
And I'm glad they finally went
For they all would not repent

Saint Patrick!

My Humble Request to Amend the English Language

I have realized a serious shortcoming within the English language: we have no word to describe someone who speaks sarcasm fluently, which I believe is a serious lapse in linguistic breadth.

In the current iteration of the English language, we have an adverb to say that something was said "sarcastically," or an adjective to describe a particular turn of phrase as being "sarcastic," or a noun to denote "sarcasm" itself as a form of bitter irony, but we have no way to properly identify the person who employs sarcasm to communicate.

On the contrary, someone who is speaking "satirically" is labeled a "satirist," though that word does not adequately describe someone who is speaking sarcastically.

Therefore, I propose that the word "sarcastinator" be added to the English language. I think this simple linguistic addition will do well to recognize the talents of those who are proficient in the fine art of sarcasm, and begin to reconcile the years of oversight and neglect that sarcastinators have endured within conversational circles.

To that end, I welcome your participation in promoting "sarcastinator" to the English speaking nations of the world, because I care about your participation.

Really.

If only you could hear the sincerity with which I am asking for your support.

I-Speak-Fluent-Sarcasm

I Cannot Take Putin's Side in Ukraine

A well-intentioned veteran with whom I served in the military several years ago presented a challenge on social media: he asked everyone to consider information from all sides before deciding how to personally react with regard to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. To that end, he brought up a philosophy that we were taught in military intelligence: if you want to defeat your enemy, you must first understand him. This piece of wisdom can be traced back to the writings of Sun Tzu, and it is solid doctrine. My friend went further to say that listening to false intelligence about your enemy was worse than having no intelligence, because it could lead to fatal decision making. Once again, this is a solid piece of advice when considering world affairs.

Combining these two outlooks, my colleague shared the following video of a speech by Vladimir Putin, in which Putin asserts that his military aggressions over past two decades have been a reaction to NATO's eastward expansion. To paraphrase my former comrade's beliefs about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he felt that Russia has just cause to feel threatened by the West because of NATO's continued expansion; therefore Putin's actions were acceptable - and somewhat inevitable - given the situation described by Putin in his speech.

However, I do not - and cannot - share my former colleague's opinion of this invasion. While my friend made a valid point that everyone should look at any given situation from all sides, that does not mean that every position has equal worth. With that in mind, here are some additional thoughts for everyone to ponder.

I watched Putin's speech in the above video some time ago, and I've heard when Putin expressed similar sentiments at other times. It's wonderful propaganda, to be sure, and Putin has outdone himself as a former member of the KGB with regard to his ability to spin his military aggressions as some sort of defensive posturing. However, his actions do not line up with the lies that he is telling. If you re-watch the above video and listen to Putin's version of events, he claims to be a peace loving individual minding his own business, while the West has been slowly threatening him. But if you ignore all the excess noise about NATO and the USA, what has Putin been doing for decades? He's been rolling his military into neighboring countries and grabbing up land and resources when neither NATO nor the USA have had anything to do with the situation. In other words, if some hypothetical person listened to Putin and believed his warped version of reality, that person is being played. Although to that hypothetical person's credit, they're being played by one of the most-skilled political manipulators to emerge onto the world stage. Putin is the kind of bully that will punch you in the face and then convince you that you need to apologize for it.

Here is something else to consider: does Putin actually care about the reasons that he is citing for his military aggression (like NATO expansion), or has Putin simply been given the opportunity of a lifetime to do as he pleases because he has a somewhat plausible reason for blaming everything he does on someone else? Consider the following PBS documentary from seven years ago, which documents Putin's rise to power from a lowly KGB agent through decades of corruption, embezzlement, and ruthlessness to become President of Russia.

Throughout Putin's ascendency, he formed powerful alliances with other corrupt politicians and oligarchs, from which Putin has personally profited handsomely. In addition, you might recall from recent years that Putin has no qualms about imprisoning or poisoning his political opponents in order to preserve his autocracy.

Like any good Soviet, Putin does a masterful job of committing atrocities and then blaming it on others. Here are a few recent cases in point:

  • Putin accused Ukraine of hurting Russian separatists in the Donbas region, which provided him with his "justification" for attacking Ukraine.
  • Putin has accused Ukraine of using chemical weapons, which - despite a lack of evidence - could provide Putin with his "justification" for using chemical weapons in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces infamously bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, then blamed Ukraine for using the hospital to house neo-Nazis.

Putin is clearly using the same playbook that the Soviet Union used during the Cold War: the Soviets would accuse the West of doing something bad, which provided the Soviets with their "justification" for doing something bad themselves.

Harkening back to one of my opening statements about understanding one's enemy, there is a part of the collective Russian psyche that warrants examination: decades of post-WWII Russian fears about being invaded from the West - as Germany did during WWII - are not easily forgotten. This state of fear provides Putin with an excellent pretext to mobilize public sentiment behind any political or militaristic whim that he might concoct. In other words, Putin can claim, "I need to attack Govnovia because our security is threatened by the West," which he can use to conceal any actual intentions.

If you watch the following documentary, it describes how over the past few decades, Ukraine has continuously threatened Russia's profits from oil and natural gas, and sales of these fuel resources comprise 50% of Russia's GDP. Since Putin has made a career out of skimming billions of dollars from Russia, Ukraine's reduction of Russia's profits hurts Putin's pocketbook. Ergo - the true cause of Putin's actions is profits, and all his rhetoric about NATO and tapping into Russia's history of paranoia where the West is concerned is nothing but a smoke screen.

In summary, there was a grain truth to what my former colleague was saying when he pointed out that NATO has advanced eastward over the years. However, countries that have been recently added to NATO were not invaded militarily by the West. On the contrary, those nations asked to join NATO in order to avoid the exact scenario that is happening with Ukraine right now. However, let's set that aside for a moment, and consider the person who is claiming that NATO expansion is somehow a problem. As I said earlier, does Putin actually care? Or has the West inadvertently given Putin the ammunition that he needs to use military aggression to achieve his personal ambitions?

In the end, my colleague was correct when he said that one must understand his enemy and avoid false intelligence, and yet he has failed in both of those capacities: by accepting Putin's propaganda at face value, my former comrade has chose to base his worldview on false intelligence, and as a result he has failed to understand his enemy.


POSTSCRIPT:

In an ironic twist, Putin has become the same sort of dictator that Russia has feared; all of Putin's speeches about Russia needing to annex Ukraine sound just like Hitler's proclamations of needing "Lebensraum" prior to WWII. From my perspective, history is repeating itself in one of two ways: either Putin is attempting to rebuild the Soviet Union like his Communist predecessors (while personally profiting as a Capitalist), or Putin is making a land grab like the other infamous despot that I just named (and is therefore using the memory of Nazism to behave like a Nazi).

The Inevitable Demise of Dictators

Today is the 69th anniversary of Josef Stalin's long overdue demise, which means it's time to re-watch one of my favorite dark comedies: The Death Of Stalin. However, given recent events in Ukraine, it's nice to have a reminder that Russian dictators - like all dictators - will eventually wither and die and become nothing more than worm food.

The Death of Stalin Movie Poster

Taxation without Realization

If you've read my blog in the past, then I am sure you're aware that I have no problems speaking my mind about any number of disparate subjects. Although, in the interests of full transparency, I have shown far more restraint than most people would assume. Nevertheless, I am occasionally obliged to say something when I think that a particular issue warrants my unsolicited opinion, which leads me to today's topic of discussion: taxes.

Throughout my life, I have seen hundreds of people display a general ignorance when it comes to paying taxes. To be clear, no one wants to pay taxes, and many people tend to complain incessantly about paying taxes. However, most of their arguments demonstrate a complete failure to understand why taxes are a necessary evil. With that in mind, when I saw the following image turn up in my news feed on social media, I couldn't help but think, "What a stupid thing to say."

Why Am I Paying Taxes

Wage taxes - both state and federal - are collected to pay for police services, fire departments, road construction and repairs, traffic lights, national and state parks, public health, military defense, and thousands of other necessary services that keep our society safe and protected. However, I freely admit that there are thousands of useless projects and salaries for useless public servants what we shouldn't be paying for, but I'll come back to that in a minute.

Nevertheless, the taxes to pay for all these public services and infrastructure costs are withheld from every paycheck in order to avoid forcing taxpayers to pay a lump sum in taxes at the end of every year. With that in mind, think of taxation on wages as a type of payment plan. However, if a taxpayer hasn't set up their withholding correctly, then they might wind up paying additional taxes during tax season to make up the difference between what they should have paid and what was withheld, or taxpayers might receive a refund if they have overpaid in their withholding.

Taxes on purchases are a somewhat ingenious/infamous concept that forces wealthier taxpayers to pay far more than those who earn less, because higher wage earners tend to spend more on unnecessary purchases, which increases the amount of taxes that they pay. Sales tax on property purchases follow suit, though there are additional property taxes that residents are required to pay after they've purchased their property, which are ostensibly used to provide services at the community level (e.g. local police, fire, etc.).

To summarize my feedback thus far: everything that is addressed in that meme illustrates the way that governments work around the globe - there are services that are needed to keep people safe and commerce flowing, and taxes provide for those services. If we briefly set aside the concepts of useless projects and useless public servants for a moment, objecting to the basic concept of taxation is akin to claiming that you can provide your own protection from crime, fire, invasion, disease, etc., while also creating your own means of transportation (e.g. building your own roads). At the end of the day, any notion of doing away with taxes is beyond ludicrous. You might as well wish for anarchy, which leads almost immediately to being conquered by another country that developed its superior military forces through... taxes.

All that being said, there are several things about taxes that I find equally ludicrous.

I have already mentioned thousands of useless projects and salaries for useless public servants what we shouldn't be paying for, and better public transparency from our government would help take care of that. However, better public transparency isn't in the best interests of the useless public servants that are wasting money, so the useless public servants tend to hide their useless expenditures from the public, and our only recourse is to vote those people out of office when they are discovered.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, "It is difficult to free people from the chains they revere," and as we have seen in states like California, some useless public servants continue to spend themselves past bankruptcy by continuously adding unnecessary services and appointing unnecessary people to govern them, and yet their gullible constituents continue to vote these useless public servants into office year after year. Although as we have seen recently, residents of California have slowly awakened to the fact that their useless public servants have created an untenable "tax and spend" society, and hundreds of thousands of California's former residents have fled the state. However, as these California expats have begun to settle in states that have historically been more fiscally sound, these domestic political refugees are demonstrating their continued ignorance by voting in the same sorts of useless public servants that they were fleeing in their home states, and thereby destroying the rest of the country with the same level of apathetic stupidity that destroyed their previous locales.

Having said all of that, another form of taxation that I find morally reprehensible is taxes on Social Security. Wage earners have been forced to pay a lifetime's worth of income that has already been taxed into the Social Security program, on which they earn a pittance of interest for their involuntary participation; then insult is added to injury when their meager returns are taxed yet again. This is grossly insulting to everyone who is required to participate in Social Security.

The last form of taxation that I think is brainless beyond measure is paying taxes on military wages. Taxpayers are paying the costs for national defense, so the requirement for military personnel to pay taxes to themselves is just plain stupid. I think it would be a great incentive for military recruitment if military wages were tax free. Many enlisted personnel are earning far below the federal poverty line anyway, and I think that removing taxes from their wages would be extremely beneficial to them.

In closing, any general objections to paying taxes are ridiculous, and they typically do little more than to illustrate that the person who is complaining about taxes doesn't understand how to govern anything more than themselves. (Although I have known more than my fair share of people who objected to taxes that were incapable of balancing their checkbooks, but I digress.) Taxes are essential for the common good, and someone who fails to understand that simple concept should take a few basic economics courses.

At the end of the day, as the old saying goes, "Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes."

Unsolicited Thoughts about Tim Henson's New Guitar

I like the band Polyphia, and their piece "G.O.A.T" is nothing short of brilliant. I was completely blown away by that song when I first heard it a couple years ago. (And I loved Rick Beato's break down on that piece, but then I'm a huge fan of Rick Beato anyway.)

One of Polyphia's guitarists, Tim Henson, does some amazing things technically and musically that I've never heard before and never personally considered when playing the guitar. I have mentioned in other musings that I rate musicians on the TOAD scale, where TOAD is Talent, Originality, Affect, and Durability. Watching Henson play guitar, it's abundantly clear that he has Talent and Originality oozing out of every pore. While his Affect on other players remains to be seen, I think that Durability within the industry is quite likely.

With that in mind, I was interested when some of the musicians that I know posted a video from Henson that was titled "Playing my new guitar." Several people made comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, which I assumed was due to Henson's arsenal of innovative techniques. Without forcing you to suffer through more of my descriptive rhetoric, here is the video in question.

Regardless of my feelings for Polyphia, my final opinion for Henson's "playing my new guitar" video was... yawn. Don't get me wrong - for the first 30 seconds or so I was amazed, as I was the first time that I heard Polyphia. But let's be honest - after the first minute of Henson's "new guitar" video, you've heard pretty much everything you're going to hear. The rest of it is just the same thing, over and over, ad nauseum.

Yes - Henson's technique is amazing. Yes - his chops are off the map. And yes - I'm a guitar player who can't play what he plays, but to be clear - my comments are not coming from a position of "I can't do that so I'm just lashing out." On the contrary, Henson's "new guitar" video is almost nine minutes of unstructured, semi-repetitive guitar ramblings that wears itself out long before the conclusion of video.

In a way, Henson's video reminded me of why I dislike a lot of Yngwie Malmsteen's playing. Oh sure, Yngwie is one of the fastest guitar players alive, but that's precisely his problem - eventually an overabundance of self-aggrandizing displays of technical wizardry begin to devolve into a murky sludgefest of technically proficient ear slime. In that sense, I don't like some people's comparisons of Henson to Hendrix, because Hendrix wasn't just an innovator - he was a songwriter. (Though Hendrix often descended into his own pools of ear slime, too.) Henson's video, on the other hand, falls far short of "songwriting"; after the first few minutes, it starts to sound like... noise.

While I realize that art is always in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, in my opinion there's more to music than nine chaotic minutes of slapping the crap out of a guitar. To be clear, I listen to a lot of music that's all over the place from a structure point of view, but there should be SOME sense of where a piece going. And if there's no direction, then a piece has to evolve. I've seen Eddie Van Halen perform a 12-minute solo, and it was entertaining for every minute of it - because Eddie moved on from idea to idea.

Think of Jazz for a moment. I've heard some phenomenal Jazz soloists take off on tangents of technical brilliance that filled long passages of time, but those soloists are usually backed by something underneath that gives it meaning - and quite often one soloist passes off to another, but the underlying essence is there, however veiled it may be. As an example, consider Al Di Meola's "Mediterranean Sundance"; there are technical chops to spare, plenty of guitars getting slapped around, and no shortage of chaos when necessary. However, there's far more to see and hear than what you'll see in Henson's video.

Taking this discussion closer to Henson's "new guitar" video, I've gone to see some brilliant fingerstyle guitar players, and Leo Kottke initially comes to mind. I often think there's something wrong with the way Kottke thinks, because his pieces are underscored by a tumultuous maelstrom of mismatched time and key signatures with brilliant displays of technical prowess soaring over top. For that matter, I would find Antoine Dufour's "Déjà Vu" from several years ago or Andy McKee's "Drifting" from 15 years ago far more entertaining than Henson's video; both of those guitarists were using a lot of the same skills and ideas that Henson was manifesting, without managing to get on my nerves or bore me to tears.

So my apologies to my friends who posted the link to Henson's "playing my new guitar video" - I certainly didn't mean to rain on their parade. But Henson's video reminds me of what a music critic once said was wrong with Emerson, Lake and Palmer when they entered the studio: they desperately needed someone else to tell them when enough was enough. If Henson trimmed his "my new guitar" down to 60 seconds and dropped an intro & outro on it, I'd have been far more impressed.


PS - My sincere apologies to Tim Henson. If you ever read this, I still think you're great - even though I didn't like your "new guitar" video.

More 511th History: Ghosts of Borders Past

One of the places that the 511th MI CO liked to use for operations was affectionately known as the "Schlossberg," which is German for "Castle Mountain." This location earned its moniker because the decaying ruins of Brandenfels Castle were perched on the end of a ridge facing East Germany, and it earned its popularity with our squad because it was near the border and in a great location for finding Bad Guys. We approached this site from the west, where we'd be hidden from sight to the east, and we drove down a long, muddy road then up the hill to where the castle was located.

Once on site, we'd pitch camp west of the castle, thereby using it to mask our position from the east. The TRQ-32 was parked facing west, with its rear door facing the castle; this arrangement allowed us to throw the vehicle in gear if an emergency arose (like being attacked or overrun). Once the TRQ was situated and leveled, we'd set up the antennae, then we'd wrap bales of concertina wire in a horseshoe around the rear of the TRQ-32, leaving us with security to the rear and a hasty exit to the front.

Once we were set up for operations, we'd go through the rest of the necessary tasks, like setting up the 8‑man tent for sleeping, arranging our other vehicles for duties like radio watch, and setting up camouflage netting when necessary to obscure our equipment. I used a lot of knots that I had learned in the Boy Scouts to secure the camouflage netting, which always seemed to amuse or amaze my colleagues. (One of my favorite knots was the Clove Hitch, which was great for suspending netting or tarps between trees.)

We'd run the TRQ-32 by day, and its loud generators could no doubt be heard in the villages below the Schlossberg. When we shut down the TRQ-32 for the night, the guy on radio watch would take over double duty using the TRQ-30 manpack radio to listen for Bad Guys in the dark. (I occasionally found Bad Guys by night, yet I still wonder if my fellow squad members didn't bother.) Between light discipline, the lack of generator noise, and the abundant foliage, our squad would essentially vanish at night.

The biggest drawback to the Schlossberg site was a single road for entrance and exit; in theory we could have driven down the side of the hill if our situation had taken a turn for the worse, but I'm glad that we never needed to attempt such a feat. Nevertheless, we manned a guard post near the road a couple hundred meters from camp, and we ran commo wire for field telephones that allowed the guy on guard duty to talk to the guy on radio watch. We found a natural depression in the ground that we could use as a shallow foxhole for guard duty, which offered a modicum of protection from the wind, and we piled several dead logs around the rim to create additional shelter. However, there was no overhead cover, so when it rained - you were wet (though you hopefully had a poncho or rainsuit with you).

band-of-geeks

In the above photo, my EW squad is posing at the Schlossberg with Brandenfels Castle behind us. What this photo doesn't show is the amount of tree cover that masked the site from the air, which also made the site darker than the inside of a coffin when the sun retreated beyond the distant horizon. We diligently practiced light discipline within our camp, which - when combined with the absence of natural moonlight or stars - created an environment that was mind‑numbingly black by night.

I have been asked occasionally why we didn't use Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) when we were deployed to the Schlossberg, which warrants a brief explanation. NVGs are wonderful tools, but in real life they don't work like they do in action movies. Hollywood seems to think that NVGs allow people to magically see in the dark, but that's not how they function. NVGs are light amplifiers, which means that there must be some source of light for them to amplify. In many situations, the sparse light provided by stars might be sufficient for NVGs to work their magic. But due to the dense tree cover overhead, there was nothing for them to work with at the Schlossberg, so our NVGs were worthless.

This lack of light made guard duty after sunset at the Schlossberg an especially creepy experience. As I mentioned earlier, our guard post was a couple hundred meters from the rest of our camp. Despite our best efforts to create shelter from the elements, guard duty was frequently a bitterly cold assignment, and shifts were usually doled out in two‑hour blocks. Each man was responsible for getting himself up, getting dressed, and finding his way through the dark to the guard post to relieve the previous guard. If you showed up a few minutes early for your shift, you were a hero; if you showed up a few minutes late, you were a jackass who was worthy of universal contempt.

On a particularly miserable night, I was tired of sitting in the foxhole and freezing. I grabbed my M-16 and leaned against a tree to the side of the road, where I was able to stand opposite the wind, which made me a little warmer - perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally. In any event, as the time neared for my relief to arrive, I heard footsteps walking quietly down the road toward my position. Of course, it was pitch dark, so the next soldier on the rotation, SPC Nadalalicea, had no idea where I was.

At one time or other, we'd all been in that situation, and the only way you could find the guard post was to ask the darkness for assistance. To that end, I heard SPC Nadalalicea starting to whisper my nickname, "Fred...?," as he approached. As he drew near, I continued to stand next to my tree and remained silent. SPC Nadalalicea came to a stop within a foot of me, but he still had no idea where I was. Once again, he quietly whispered into the darkness, "Fred...?" I didn't bother to whisper when I made my response - at full conversational volume I said, "I'm right here, Nada." He screamed, hurled a few obscenities, then told me that I'd just scared the poop out of him. I think if he could have seen me, he probably would have hit me.

There are interesting things about being on guard duty when you can't see anything. As one might imagine, your mind plays tricks on you. The tiniest sound is amplified into something far greater than it is, and everything is perceived as a threat until you can convince yourself otherwise. This situation leads me to an anecdote that I used to tell my children as a ghost story when they were younger.

As I would sit there in the dark, trying to stay warm, and watching for something I couldn't see, I would hear the faint sound of footsteps that sounded like they were approaching. At first, I would do nothing but listen, just to make sure that I wasn't imagining it - and I wasn't. The footsteps wouldn't go away, and they would quietly grow louder as they approached. It wasn't time for my relief to arrive, so my only recourse was to ask the darkness for assistance. I'd quietly whisper, "Hello...?," but there was no answer. However, the footsteps would stop.

For a several minutes I'd continue to sit there, straining my ears to hear... anything. I undoubtedly held my breath as I waited for something to happen, but unrelenting silence was my only reward. Eventually I would begin to relax, thinking perhaps that I had imagined the entire affair. However, with unwavering regularity, as soon as I thought the experience was behind me, I would begin to hear footsteps approaching, and the entire scenario of casting questions into the void with no response would repeat itself. Despite those ghostly footsteps, no one ever arrived at the guard post.

If my experiences on guard duty had been mine alone, you'd have sufficient grounds to think me a little unbalanced or easily agitated. However, I wasn't the only one to hear those inexplicable footsteps, and it made everyone on guard duty more than a little uncomfortable. During my tenure in Fulda, I never found a sufficient explanation for what happened to everyone who sat alone in the dark at that lonely guard post, but some years later I came up with a somewhat plausible theory. My hypothesis, however, is another story for another day.

Facing the Horrors of War

Like many of my colleagues from the 511th MI Company, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp during my tenure in Fulda, and it was a sobering experience. It is difficult for any rational individual to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of horrors that took place in that single camp. On that note, I just read the following article from HistoryNet, which describes the retributory actions of US soldiers during the liberation of Dachau:

I have to admit, I find it difficult to find fault with soldiers who retaliated against the guards that were still defending the camp with the US Army arrived. It is easy during a time of relative peace to passively judge the actions of soldiers who exacted vengeance upon unarmed guards several decades ago, and it is likewise easy during peacetime to believe that any of us might have behaved differently in a similar circumstance. Nevertheless, none of us trod the path those soldiers walked, and I am willing to bet that coming face to face with Dachau's camp guards - whom we now perceive as inhuman monsters - could alter anyone's sense of morality.

 


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES:

More information about the Dachau Concentration Camp and the reprisals that were taken by US soldiers is available in the following WikiPedia articles:

Excuse My French

As a military brat, the scenario depicted in the following image could easily have played itself out in our household when I was growing up. Winking smile

Excuse my French

Although I must admit, in the years since my exit from the Army (where I had been serving as a military linguist), I have found the ability to utter colorful vocabulary in foreign languages extremely beneficial during times of crisis... though I am careful to choose a language that is not likely to be understood by the people around me.

Open-mouthed smile