Geeky Bob

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My List of 20 Most Influential Albums

I was recently challenged by two good friends (on the same day, no less) to post a list of the 20 albums that had the greatest impact on me. To be honest, I usually do not go in for that sort of thing. However, seeing as how I've already posted blogs for My Top Ten Favorite Rock Songs, A Few of My Favorite Guitar Solos, and My Thoughts About Rush's Studio Albums, I thought this was the kind of challenge that warranted a response - with one caveat: I'm too impatient to spread my list across 20 days. With that in mind, you get the whole list in one heaping serving of musical goodness.

Before I go any further, I want to establish a few particulars about the way I write my lists that I have used for the other lists that I have posted. First and foremost is that I only allow myself to have a single entry for each band/artist, otherwise I could easily fill an entire list with only two or three of my favorite bands. Second, you might find it interesting that some of the bands/artists who show up in my list of favorite rock songs or favorite guitar solos are not on my list of influential albums; for example: the Who. While "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" are two of my all-time favorite songs, I cannot point to any single album by the Who that I would consider as having had an influence on me. In addition, I would like to point out that several of the bands/artists listed here I haven't listened to in decades; these bands/artists were influential when I was starting out, but I abandoned them later as I progressed as a musician.

With all that being said, let's jump into the list - which is not necessarily in order. (Except #1 - which always belongs there.)

#1

Moving Pictures by Rush

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has known me for any length of time that I am a huge fan of Rush, and I can name no other band that has had as enormous of an impact on my guitar playing. I spent more time trying to learn songs from Rush's albums than from any other band or artist in my lifetime, and my guitar skills improved dramatically as direct result of all that effort. Learning Alex Lifeson's complex chord phrasing and mastering the skills of shaping my sound by playing through dozens of guitar effects profoundly changed me as a guitarist. In addition, Alex's tone on songs like "Limelight" was next to perfect; I spent dozens of hours trying to dial in a sound that was close to his.

In fact, the most difficult part for me was choosing which album from Rush to show on this list, because several of their albums would easily foot the bill for having some of the greatest influence in my life. With that in mind, the following albums easily bubble to the top: 2112, Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, and Moving Pictures. That's not to say that I wasn't influenced or didn't love other albums by Rush; this list simply had the greatest impact. With that in mind, it was tough to choose which album to pick as having the greatest degree of influence on my life, with the two frontrunners being Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. I have played the song "Spirit of Radio" from Permanent Waves more than any other song in my lifetime, but in the end, listening to Moving Pictures and watching Rush perform it live on their subsequent tour had the greatest impact on me.

#2

Fragile by Yes

As with some of these bands/artists, I could name several albums from Yes that have had an impact on me, but Fragile is by far the most influential. When I first heard the opening notes of Roundabout in the early 1970s, I was amazed by both the clarity of the instruments and the adventurous complexity of the ensemble. Here was a band where every member was playing to their utmost ability, yet not competing with each other; instead, they blended into a wall of sound that was greater than the sum of their individual parts. I undoubtedly spent as much time trying to master Steve Howe's guitar parts as I did for Alex Lifeson or Eddie Van Halen. When I first started playing guitar, the music of Yes seemed untouchable; but as I improved as a musician, I eventually began to learn some of Yes' songs.

Howe eventually left Yes for a decade or so, during which time he was replaced by Trevor Rabin (who hates being referred to as "Steve Howe's Replacement"). Nevertheless, Trevor Rabin quickly emerged as one of my favorite members of Yes; there are times when I prefer Trevor Rabin playing some of Steve Howe's parts more than I like Steve Howe's personal interpretation. However, it should remain in everyone's mind that Steve Howe originally wrote all of those amazing parts, and Trevor Rabin just made a few improvements here and there. But at the end of the day, Steve Howe had a great deal of influence on my foundation as a musician, and Trevor Rabin came along many years later.

#3

Van Halen I by Van Halen

Like many guitarists in my day, Van Halen's eponymously-named first album blew me away. Eddie Van Halen's guitar work was unparalleled, and I spent more time than I would care to admit trying to learn how to do the amazing things that he was doing. It is by no stretch of the imagination that I can honestly say that something from Van Halen probably shows up every time I play the guitar, although this is more about how I phrase or arpeggiate chords than mad lead guitar skillz. That being said, I spent dozens of hours trying to learn the various sections of "Eruption" on the guitar; that's still a killer piece to play.

There were several other albums from Van Halen that also impacted my playing, but hands down it's the first album from them for the greatest influence. (See Rick Beato's great lecture called "The Van Halen Effect" for more about that. For that matter, you should simply watch any video from Rick Beato. They're all worth it.)

#4

The Wall by Pink Floyd

While I love several albums by Pink Floyd, there is only one album that had a great deal of influence on me, and that is easily Floyd's Magnum Opus The Wall. Trying to learn David Gilmour's guitar parts were difficult enough, but trying to match his sound was even more difficult. There was a point in my development as a guitarist where a great deal of what I was playing through echo units resembled David Gilmour.

There are songs off The Wall - like "Comfortably Numb" - which remain in multiple lists of my favorites.

#5

Back in Black by AC/DC

Yeah, I know... AC/DC... I've got to be kidding, right? Well, the truth is - when I first started out on the guitar, I was a big fan of AC/DC, and the first album that I owned from them was Back in Black. I spent a lot of time trying to learn the songs off that album, and in so doing I learned how to play barre chords, a lot of solos, integrate arpeggios in chord phrasings, etc. I learned a lot from that album, but then a few years later I sat down and learned everything that AC/DC had ever written in one weekend. Yup... Every. Single. Song. It was all too easy, and I realized that music had to be much harder. So I abandoned AC/DC for good, and I began to focus on Progressive Rock bands like Yes, Rush, Pink Floyd, etc. That being said, to this day I still credit AC/DC as having made me a better guitar player, if for nothing else than to teach me that music can be much, much better what AC/DC writes.

#6

1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) by Leo Kottke

In the early 1980s, the older brother of the keyboard player for one of the bands I was in introduced me to Leo Kottke's "Morning is the Long Way Home," which is the opening track off Leo's 1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) album. I was completely blown away by what I heard; I had seen and heard amazing classical guitarists before, but I had never heard anything like the pyrotechnical fingerstyle prowess of Leo Kottke before.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 40 years trying to learn various pieces by Leo Kottke, and I should be ashamed that I can only count two songs of his in my repertoire. Nevertheless, Leo Kottke's 1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) album had a profound impact on me, and made me want to seriously study fingerstyle guitar.

#7

Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy

Like many young guitarists in 1980, I was hooked on Randy Rhoads' guitar skills from the moment I first heard the song "Crazy Train." Randy was daring, imaginative, skilled, and an amazing song writer. I had the privilege of seeing Randy Rhoads twice in concert with Ozzy before his untimely death, and I have to say that each time was amazing; Randy seemed like he could do just about anything on the guitar. (He reminded me of Ritchie Blackmore in that respect, but I digress.) I learned a lot of techniques from seeing Randy in concert, and I learned a lot about the guitar while learning songs off this album.

To this day I wonder what would have happened to Randy Rhoads if he hadn't died so young. With that in mind, once Randy Rhoads was killed, I stopped listening to Ozzy completely - because the only reason I listened to him at all was because of Randy Rhoads.

#8

Surfing with the Alien by Joe Satriani

This was the first album which - for me - proved that a guitar could own an entire album. No vocals - just guitar. Joe Satriani's songwriting was amazing, but his technical prowess was off the charts. I spent a lot of time struggling to learn a lot of Joe's signature pieces off that album, with varying degrees of success. (Primarily "Satch Boogie" and "Always with Me, Always with You"). But in the end, the entire experience made me a better guitar player.

I love several other shredders like Paul Gilbert, Steve Morse, Tony MacApline, Gary Hoey, Yngwie Malmsteen, Neil Zaza, etc., but Joe Satriani's ground-breaking foray into guitar-oriented instrumentals is the album that had the most impact on me.

#9

Double Live Gonzo! by Ted Nugent

When I was first starting out on the guitar in the 1970s, Ted Nugent was at (or near) the height of his popularity. I played several songs by "Uncle Ted" in my first few rock bands, and it was a struggle for me to learn those parts at the time. This live album was a great compilation of all the Ted Nugent songs that I wanted to learn, so it's the only album of his that I purchased.

That being said, by the early 1980s I didn't really listen to Ted Nugent anymore. (He's far too crude... that was amusing when I was a teenage boy, but now it's just annoying.) That being said, every once in a while I might find myself playing a groove that owes its origin to "Uncle Ted."

#10

Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd by Lynyrd Skynyrd

I learned a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs when I was starting out in the 1970s; for example: "Gimme Three Steps," "Simple Man," "Tuesday's Gone," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Call Me the Breeze," "Saturday Night Special," etc. However, there was one song that every guitarist at my high school had to know before they were taken seriously: "Free Bird." Not just the rhythm parts, you had to know how to play the lead parts, and often you would play those live with another guitarist with whom you were in competition; sort of a "last man standing/trial by fire" contest.

So if I have to pick just one Lynyrd Skynyrd album, I have to pick the album that introduced "Free Bird" to the world.

#11

Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin

Like I mentioned about Lynyrd Skynyrd, I learned a lot of Led Zeppelin's tracks when I was first learning to play the guitar back in the 1970s. And much like Lynyrd Skynyrd's song "Free Bird," the famous/infamous "Stairway to Heaven" was a song that every guitarist at my high school had to know how to play before they could be taken seriously as an up and coming axe slinger. That being said, that album also produced other memorable pieces that I learned back the day: "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," "Going to California," and "When the Levee Breaks."

While I owned several other albums by Led Zeppelin, this album stands out above the rest. That being said, I stopped listening to Led Zeppelin in the mid-1980s, and now I would go so far as to say that I have developed a serious dislike for the band. (For lots of reasons, although their unabashed plagiarism of other people's music is the primary reason.)

#12

October by U2

This may seem a bit out of place for die-hard U2 fans who flock to albums like The Joshua Tree, but U2's second album - October - is when I first learned about the band, and their post-punk, melodic rawness was kind of cool. That being said, like many of my fellow guitarists - I was particularly enamored by the Edge's sound.

"Gloria" was the song that got me hooked at first, and other songs like "I Threw a Brick Through a Window" followed thereafter, but I have to say, if it hadn't been for "Gloria" off the October album, I'm not sure when (or if) I would have decided to like U2. (OK, yeah, sure - I would have loved "Where the Streets Have No Name" when it came out. And who doesn't love that song?)

#13

Boston by Boston

Boston's first two albums - the eponymously-named Boston and Don't Look Back - were both enormous hits. But still, it was their first album that put Boston on the map, spawning such hits as "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind," "Foreplay/Long Time," "Rock & Roll Band," "Smokin'," and "Hitch a Ride." For a young guitarist as I was at the time of its release, Tom Scholz's guitar sound was amazing. His distortion, tone, echo, etc., everything was spot-on perfect. I used to have a setting on the Electro-Harmonix graphic EQ that I used when playing live that would work in combination with my Rat distortion unit to recreate Tom Scholz's guitar sound from that first Boston album.

#14

Leftoverture by Kansas

In my early days as a Prog Rocker, one of the bands that I was in for a few months had a few songs by Kansas in their setlist. I already liked Kansas, and I had seen them in concert a few years earlier, but apart from learning the song "Dust in the Wind" as a fingerpicking exercise, I had never taken the time to learn anything else from them. The songs that I had to learn were: "Portrait," "Point of Know Return," and "Carry On Wayward Son." All three of those songs were a difficult challenge to master; Kerry Livgren's guitar parts were so unlike anything else that I was currently playing. Two of the songs that I learned were from Point of Know Return, with the remaining song from Leftoverture. However, "Dust in the Wind" is the only song that I still play to this day, and that one song had a greater impact on my finger-picking than almost any other song. With that in mind, Leftoverture beats out Point of Know Return for having a greater influence on me.

#15

Abacab by Genesis

I have to admit, Genesis probably wouldn't have made this list if it had not been for an audition that I had in the mid-1980s. Here's the story: there was a band in town that featured a couple of really talented musicians that I knew from another group that had recently disbanded, and they were looking for a new guitarist. Through one way or another, I was given the chance to audition, and the bulk of the songs that they gave me were from the Abacab album by Genesis. I had listened to Genesis before, and I even might have had one or two of their albums, but I hadn't taken the time to learn anything from them, and as such - I had zero appreciation for them. But as I struggled my way through the parts that I had to learn, and by the time that I passed my audition, I had a newfound appreciation for the band, but I also was stretched in a different direction from the other Progressive Rock bands that I had been focusing on.

#16

Ah Via Musicom by Eric Johnson

I have a confession to make: I first heard "Cliffs of Dover" from Eric Johnson's Ah Via Musicom album on the military's AFN radio network when I was driving through Germany in 1990. I was headed into the mountains, where I knew that I was going to lose radio reception, so I pulled my car off the road so I wouldn't miss any of that piece. Like my initial reaction to hearing "Eruption" by Van Halen and "Satch Boogie" by Joe Satriani, I was blown away by Eric Johnson's musicianship. Even more than that, when I began to learn "Cliffs of Dover," I was amazed at how deceptively difficult it was to play. To this day, however, there are a few tricks here and there from Eric Johnson's style that show up in my playing.

#17

Progressions of Power by Triumph

I was a big fan of the Canadian power trio Triumph in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the first album that I bought by them was 1980's Progressions of Power. There were a few things that stand out as having impacted my playing:

  • First of all, Rik Emmett's "Fingertalking" solo was an amazing flamenco/fingerstyle piece that I had mastered at one time or other, but it was quite a struggle for me to do so. In learning that one piece, I perfected my rasgueado picking style, (only to learn a few years that I was doing it backwards when I studied classical guitar).
  • The second piece off this album that got my attention was "I Live For The Weekend," which was a straight-ahead rock piece. That song had little to speak for it - it was actually rather simple, but it was important in my development as a guitarist, because I learned the minor pentatonic scale from all of Rik Emmett's solos on that piece.

I eventually purchased several of Triumph's albums and learned a bunch of their music, but I would have to say that Progressions of Power had the most-lasting impact.

#18

A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band by Rich Mullins

Most people have probably never heard of this album, but it was where I first heard Rich Mullins play the Hammered Dulcimer on the song "Creed." I instantly fell in love with the instrument, which led to my wife buying a dulcimer for me for Christmas, which led to meeting with a whole host of absolutely wonderful dulcimer people throughout the Mid-American and Eastern regions of the United States at various dulcimer festivals. (See HammerOn for some of those folks.) I eventually realized one of my musical bucket list items by playing Rich Mullins's "Creed" live with an orchestra several years ago.

So, yeah - in terms of a single album having a profound effect, I think Rich Mullins' A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band has got to be on my list, because it literally changed the course of my life.

#19

Empire by Queensrÿche

I wasn't quite sure if I would leave this album on my list; I would add it to my list, then bump it off when I added something else. Nevertheless, it managed to survive the cut. I was introduced to Queensrÿche by the same two friends who challenged me to create this list, and Queensrÿche was my initial foray into the heavier world of Progressive Metal. (Which I would also consider King's X a member, but more about them later.)

I would have to say that at one time or other I learned to play nearly all the songs off this album on the guitar, and giving credit where it's due, this album helped shape some of my songwriting for a season. That being said, I haven't really listened to Queensrÿche in decades.

#20

Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix

This was the album where I was first introduced to Jimi Hendrix, whom everyone I knew hailed as the greatest guitar player who ever lived when I was first learning to play the guitar. Depending on whether you had the US or the UK version of this album, you received different songs, but I managed to learn "Purple Haze," "Manic Depression," Foxy Lady," and "Are You Experienced?" from this album, and I spent a lot of time trying to perfect Jimi's tone and his dizzying array of odd guitar sounds. Nevertheless, as I purchased more albums from Hendrix, my interest in his style waned, and I eventually gave away all my albums of his.

To be honest, I almost entered the Woodstock Soundtrack for Jimi Hendrix, although the only reason why I bought the Woodstock Soundtrack was because I wanted to own Jimi Hendrix's amazing performances of the "Star Spangled Banner" and "Purple Haze" from that album. That being said, almost all of the rest of the Woodstock Soundtrack album is crap. Seriously. While I realize that a lot of the musicians were probably drunk or stoned, that doesn't mean that I have to forgive them for some really, really bad performances. (And of course, you can read about what I think of hippies.)

Conspicuously missing from this list are a few bands/artists whom I should honorably mention:

  • King's X - I love most of their albums prior to Tape Head, (which was a bit of clunker in my opinion). Ty Tabor's guitar parts are amazing, and while I have taken the time to learn a few of their songs, I cannot honestly say that any of their albums had any serious impact on me.
  • Queen - I loved Queen, Brian May's guitar work is amazing, and I certainly learned how to play several of their songs. But once again, I cannot point to any of their albums and say that it had any impact on my playing.
  • Aerosmith - I learned several songs of theirs over the years, although I was never a full-fledged fan of theirs. Joe Perry was an amazing guitarist, and I picked up a few things from him, but I can't point to any single album as being influential in my life.
  • Stavesacre - I believe that I have seen Stavesacre more times in concert than any other band. (Well, maybe a couple times less than Rush.) And even though I have learned how to play several of their songs on the guitar, I can't say that they helped me develop as a musician. (Stavesacre came along after I'd already been playing for decades.)
  • The Who - As I mentioned in my introduction, I love the Who; I've seen them in concert, and I've learned a lot of their songs over the years. But still, I cannot say that any single album from them had a profound impact on me. (Although their album Who's Next almost makes the cut.)
  • Gary Moore - As both a solo artist and as a member of bands like Thin Lizzy, I learned several pieces from Gary Moore, and a few of his guitar pyrotechnics used to show up in my live guitar solos. (Just the flashy bits.)
  • And last but not least - Styx, Journey, Zebra, and 38 Special also had small degrees of impact on me as a guitarist.

That wraps it up for this post.


UPDATES

As time goes on, I'll add any glaring omissions from my list of honorable mentions as I think of them.

  • The Police - I wasn't crazy about Sting's voice when I first heard The Police; I couldn't figure out why a former British punk rocker had such a weird accent. But as a guitar player, I was amazed at Andy Summers' tone and chord structures; I still get arthritis just thinking about playing some of Andy Summers' rhythm guitar parts from songs like "Message in a Bottle," "Every Breath You Take," etc.
  • Stephen Bennett - I saw Stephen Bennett in concert at one of the Hammered Dulcimer festivals that I attended, and I was amazed at his fingertyle skill; he played Scott Joplin rags on the guitar, he played harp guitar, he played an amazing/ancient steel guitar, etc. As I attended other festivals, I was able to take workshops with Stephen, and I picked up some great techniques. Some years later I arrived early to one of Stephen's concerts; he recognized me, and stopped by to say "Hi." We began talking about guitar, of course, and as we were discussing some of the Scott Joplin pieces that I was working on, Stephen took me backstage where the two of us had an impromptu 1:1 guitar lesson. (Stephen was the teacher, of course.) Stephen had a lasting impact on my playing, but on top of that - he's a class act.
  • Mark Hanson - I made an amazing discovery one day: a lot of fingerstyle guitar transcriptions that I had been learning from over the years, as well as several of the books about playing fingerstyle guitar that I had working through, were all written by the same guy - Mark Hanson. Then I made another amazing discovery: Mark lived in Portland while I lived in Seattle, and Mark would frequently travel up to Seattle to teach workshops at the Dusty Strings store in Fremont. I was able to attend several workshops with Mark, and I will freely admit - his 1:1 instruction has helped my fingerstyle playing improve dramatically. (And I play several of his arrangements to this day.)
  • Steven Saulls - I cannot possibly overstate the following admission: Steven Saulls impacted my guitar playing more than any other guitarist in my lifetime. Period. Steven was my classical guitar tutor in the early 1980s, but most-importantly - Steven showed me everything that I was doing wrong on the guitar. Until I met Steven I was predominantly self-taught, and as a result - I had formed a lot of bad habits. Steven gave me a whole list of extremely tedious exercises to work with, and challenged me to completely relearn how to play my instrument. I felt like a high school student going back to kindergarten, but I followed Steven's suggestions to the letter, and ultimately I became a much better musician because of it.
Posted: Nov 17 2019, 19:38 by Bob | Comments (0)
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The Beauty of Arizona Deserts

Someone I know was making light of the fact that Californians paint their lawns to compensate for their brown seasons of year, and she wondered if those of us who live in the perpetual state of Arizona's desert browns should emulate our western neighbors' behavior and paint our trees the fall colors of orange and yellow and red.

I countered her suggestion with my observation that every night God paints the entire Arizona landscape with beautiful hues of oranges and yellows and reds, as well as pinks and purples and blues... but during the day we have green-skinned Palo Verde trees with yellow blossoms, and towering Saguaros crowned by delicate white flowers, and Prickly Pears and Chollas decorated with red, yellow, purple, orange, and green cactus blooms. Every day we are greeted by every color of the rainbow waiting just outside our doors, so there's no need to envy those who breathe the foul stench of brown skies and cower in over-priced houses with green-painted lawns - we already have it so much better.

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Posted: Nov 14 2019, 09:50 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Remembering the Fall of the Wall

Today is November 9, 2019, which is exactly 30 years since the opening of the East German border; that event has since become known as "The Fall of the Wall." I was stationed along the East German border when it was opened, and I still have vivid memories of what the world was like at that time.

Tensions in East Germany had been building for some time, and thousands of East Germans had already fled through neighboring Warsaw Pact nations like Hungary and Czechoslovakia. When the border was opened unexpectedly on November 9, 1989, hundreds of thousands of East Germans poured into West Germany, where they were met with open arms by crowds of joyous West German citizens and US military personnel.

Within a few short years, the two Germanys were reunited, and the Soviet Union collapsed - which was the greatest manifestation of Communism's many, many failures. However, as a reminder of what the border was like before it opened, you might want to watch the following video.

Just two short months ago, a small group of my fellow 511th MI Company veterans and I met for a reunion at the former inner-German border. It was great for us to stand in erstwhile enemy territory next to the abandoned guard towers that had once kept the nation of East Germany prisoner. It was somewhat poetic that these relics of a bygone era are reduced to mere tourist attractions. (And by that I meant the guard towers, not us.)

2019-Reunion-Mosaic

Posing by the former border towers.

Not to beat a dead horse on the subject, but this is a chunk of the East German border fence that I have had in my office for the past three decades. I personally cut that section off the fence after the border was opened, and it's a nice little reminder that the plans of evil men everywhere will eventually fail.

Border-Fence-Plaque

The text is a little blurry, but it quotes Psalm 146:7 "The Lord sets the prisoners free,"
with the dates of 13 August, 1961 to 9 November, 1989.

Posted: Nov 09 2019, 23:13 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Sometimes It's Better Not to Chase Your Dreams

A friend of mine recently posted the following quotation from G. K. Chesterton, which caused me to step back for a moment and reflect on some recent discussions about how my life turned out…

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Just a brief bit of honesty - I played guitar for several bands in my younger days, and I was particularly obsessed with "making it" as far as that industry was concerned. I focused on performance, songwriting, technical skill, etc., and I had a STRICT no drugs/alcohol policy; those things ruined musicianship and relationships, and unless you could be totally sold out for music, then you didn't belong. In short, anyone who wasn't as 110% passionate about being a success got booted from my band. I abandoned that form of obsessive pursuit when I became a Christian, and I briefly played in couple Christian bands before I eventually gave it all up and joined the Army.

A lot of time has passed since then, and my wife was recently commenting that it's too bad that I didn't have "my chance" when I was younger, for I am admittedly far too old to be packing up a guitar and headed out on career-starting tour. I countered her condolences with the following self-observation...

No, it's a great thing that I didn't chase my "dream." The entertainment industry ruins people, as Hunter S. Thompson once observed, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

I have no misconceptions that I would have failed miserably as a human being the closer I got to "success" in worldly terms. Sure, I may have continued to avoid drugs and alcohol, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have succumbed to other vices - perhaps something seemingly acceptable as materialism. (e.g. I still own 20+ guitars.)

But the pursuit of success - at least in the way that my brain was wired to pursue it - was a form of idolatry, and I have no misconceptions about that. Even in the Christian music business, most people get destroyed by the industry. So I have no illusions about missing "my chance" when I was younger. I became a husband, and a dad, and more importantly a decent human being; those are far better legacies in my estimation. Don't get me wrong, there are a handful of people who can balance "success" and basic human decency, but tens of thousands of people cannot do so, and I'm one of them.

Posted: Oct 17 2019, 10:18 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Noble Causes Do Not Justify Exploitation

In the wake of Greta Thunberg's recent passionate speech about climate change before the United Nations, someone I know shared the following quote from Lawrence Reed:

"The people who have terrified this child with apocalyptic visions of planetary annihilation should be ashamed. You can see the fear, the hate, and the contemptuousness in her voice and her expressions. She reminds me of the teenage Maoists during China's Cultural Revolution; they too were absolutely certain they were right and were happy to torture you if you thought they weren't. Tragic. Any movement that uses children like this, that expects the rest of us to regard her as some sort of expert, deserves only our everlasting scorn." (Lawrence Reed, 09/23/2019)

greta-thunberg

Reed's comments understandably launched a flurry of differing opinions from both sides of the climate debate; most of their arguments were equally as impassioned as Thunberg's. However, what bothered me the most was that most people completely ignored Reed's main point; the issue is not whether you agree with Thunberg, or whether you believe that climate change is real. The slippery precipice upon which many people who promoted and applauded Thunberg's speech now find themselves is that they are exploiting a child to sell their agenda - and that is a terrible thing to do.

I weighed in on one of the ensuing debates, and I would like to paraphrase some of my thoughts for posterity.

We should all take climate change very seriously. And even if that wasn't an issue, the amount of toxic waste that humanity collectively dumps all over this planet should be taken even more seriously. Nevertheless, regardless of Greta Thunberg's motivations, the statement from Lawrence Reed should also be taken with the utmost of seriousness; any cause that exploits children to garner support for its message is immoral. It does not matter whether Thunberg is well-read and passionate about the subjects that she is discussing; at the end of the day, she is not a scientific expert on these matters, (though I am certain that she will be in the future). But for now, those who stand behind Thunberg are using her passion to promote their agenda, and when any segment of society uses children in that fashion, their message is degraded. Regardless of the morality of the underlying cause, exploiting children to endorse your message is immoral.

In Thunberg's speech, she accused politicians of ignoring long-term climate issues in order to profit from short-term financial gains, and I would agree with that assertion. And lest there be any mistake, greedy politicians aren't just an American problem; they are a global problem. That being said, I think anyone who thinks that climate change isn't real is not paying attention, and anyone who thinks that humanity isn't impacting the environment is burying their head in the sand.

However, science has shown us that our planet is pretty resilient; the climate has swung much further in both the warming and cooling directions over the course of its history; regardless of what happens to the climate now, the planet's ecosystems will recover from our climate stupidity in future centuries. My greater concern is that we're polluting the planet so badly that even if the climate recovers, the planet will be too toxic for anything to live on it. In that respect, climate change is only part of the problem - not the entire problem. (See Arnold Schwarzenegger's epic rant about climate change for more.)

While climate change is very real, I often see the "97% of climate scientists agree" comment thrown about during debates. Unfortunately, that is a made up statistic that everyone keeps quoting, and I really wish people would stop using it. Like many urban legends, the 97% figure is a self-perpetuating fabrication that refuses to die. You can read articles like 97% Of Climate Scientists Agree Is 100% Wrong for just one example on how some people erroneously invented and promoted that mythical number, and there are many more papers that have similarly refuted it. Here's the thing - if we want people to believe that climate change is real, we need to stop repeating garbage statistics, because all that does is reinforce the opposition's mistaken impression that everything else we say about climate change is equally bogus.

Circling back to Lawrence Reed's original point, I do not believe that Thunberg is being "forced" to do anything, but she's being "used." Many of the heinously awful movements throughout history have used children as their spokespersons, because putting a face to your message that can foster sympathy for your cause is a good marketing tactic. But it's still wrong. Thunberg is too young and naive to realize that she is little more than a political human shield in this debate; a sacrificial pawn that allows kings and queens to operate in relative obscurity while she takes the fall if something goes wrong. Climate change is worthy of championing, but not in this fashion; we need not stoop to methods employed by propagandists to promote what is right.

With that in mind, while I do not wish to appear as though I am reinforcing Godwin's Law, I believe the following image accurately portrays how I feel about the opportunistic cowards who are hiding behind Greta Thunberg's passion:

nazi-liberal-child-propaganda

Posted: Sep 26 2019, 23:13 by Bob | Comments (0)
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More 511th Stories: Sometimes You Should Shut Up And Be In The Photo

In my last year at Fulda, I was chosen to be the translator for COL John Abrams, (commander of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment [ACR]), during a ceremony when GEN Boris Vasilievich Snetkov, (commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany [GSFG]), and GEN Alexandrov (commander of the Soviet Military Liaison Mission in Germany [SMLM]) came across the border.

EPSON MFP image

When the 11th ACR's official photographer for the ceremony heard that I was COL Abrams' translator, he asked if I had a top secret clearance; and if so, was he forbidden from taking my photo. Like many people, I hate having my photo taken, so I told him that it was against regulations to take a photograph of me.

Later on, however, COL Abrams followed up with me and said that I had done a great job as his translator, so he had instructed the photographer to make 8x10 copies of any of the photos from the ceremony for me to keep. (I think you can guess where this is going, even though I didn't at the time.)

The photographer called me when the proofs were ready, and when I showed up at his office, I discovered that he had - in fact - taken photos from dozens of angles, and yet he had managed to faithfully keep me out of every shot. The closest he came to having me in an image was during the pass-and-review, where I was walking to the right of GEN Snetkov. On the bottom left of the original photo you can see a sliver of my shadow, which completely disappeared when I scanned it.

EPSON MFP image

I learned an important lesson from this experience: sometimes you should just shut up and let someone take your @#$% photo.

Posted: Aug 28 2019, 06:41 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Always Remember to Shave in the Army

I attended the USAREUR Air Assault School in 1988, and one of the cadets failed to shave one morning.

He was ordered to dry shave while standing on a stump that was placed in front of the entire class, and he was required to loudly lecture everyone on the merits of daily shaving, while the rest of the class stood at parade rest.

At one point, the following conversation took place:

"Roster Number 30!!! Are you bleeding???"

"Yes, Air Assault First Sergeant!!! Blood helps lubricate the blade!!!"

After which the guy's squad leader was order to kneel next to the stump and catch any blood in his cupped hands, lest any blood hit the ground and desecrate the surrounding area.

Posted: Jun 20 2019, 13:13 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Use the Self Checkout Line and Be Happy About It

A friend recently posted the following image to Facebook, which had the following caption appended to it: "Is this how you feel too? My how times have changed. Used to be there were tons of cashiers. Dressed in uniforms."

Use-the-Self-Checkout-Line

This type of toxic sentimentality that pines for "the good old days" is so far out of touch with reality that it boggles the mind. For example:

Let's assume that a particular supermarket has 10 checkout registers, and these days they only staff three of those. (Which has been my observation quite often.) To staff the remaining 7 registers, you would obviously need 7 more employees. At $15 per hour, that comes to around $31,000 per year per employee, and around $218,000 for the entire store. However, that doesn't include benefits per employee like health insurance and such, nor does that include additional overhead like uniforms, bathroom supplies, etc. So let's estimate an even $300,000 per store to staff those additional cashiers. (Which still doesn't include any employees that will bag your groceries for you, by the way.)

In any event, that $300K has to come from somewhere, and so - obviously - it will have to come from increased customer revenue. With that in mind, if the store was to hypothetically raise their prices across the board by an estimated %10, the additional profits earned at your expense means that you could have those additional 7 cashiers. Of course, your monthly food bill will have increased significantly just for you to have your peace of mind, but that might be a small price to pay for your nostalgia. (Both literally and figuratively.)

However, if this hypothetical supermarket chain hired additional cashiers across all of their 1,000 stores nationwide, that would mean they would need to come up with $300,000,000 in order to ensure similar staffing across the country. That would have major positive and negative ramifications across the country:

  • On the positive side, the chain of stores just created hundreds of new jobs.
  • On the negative side, they just increased the cost of living for every single customer, to include every one of their new hires. As a result, most of those cashiers will need raises simply to make ends meet - and guess where that money comes from? (Hint: customer revenue.)

I should also like to add that none of this discussion takes into account the fact that the Food Stamp, WIC, Welfare, and Social Security programs would need to be restructured to match the increased costs, which creates an additional burden on taxpayers.

Truth be told, in many countries across the world you are required to bring your own bags with you to the store and bag your own groceries as you are checking out; no one seems to have a problem with that in those locations. Of course, there are many other countries where shopping means walking to a local meat market where fresh kills are hanging in a vendor's makeshift stand, and in many other countries you actually have to grow your own food or track and kill your own game.

IMG_0296

Personally, I'd rather not have to put up with any of that. Nor would I prefer to endure having to interact with a cashier who clearly cannot stand their job and is questioning every life decision that led to their current station in life. Nor would I like to pay more than what I deem as necessary to buy my prepackaged, ready-to-eat sustenance.

With all of that in mind, it never bothers me when I get to skip the cashier line at a store, swipe my own groceries across a laser scanner, and ultimately pay a lot less for the privilege of living in the most-industrialized society in the history of humanity. I think self-checkout lines and everything that goes along with them are vital parts of a highly efficient system of commerce that our forefathers would have clamored to have had available to them. Waxing nostalgically about "better days gone by" is a useless exercise that fails to accurately appreciate the better days we have in the present.

Posted: Jun 03 2019, 07:33 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Why We Have Memorial Day

Here is a gentle reminder of why we have a Memorial Day:

Memorial Day is not about taking a day off work, burning burgers in backyard BBQs, or picking up additional useless things from one-day sales; Memorial Day is about taking a moment to honor the memory of those we have lost.

Posted: May 27 2019, 09:57 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Minor Debates About the Shroud of Turin

Someone recently posted the following challenge about the Shroud of Turin in a forum that I follow:

"When somebody explains to me without supposition what process produced the image on the cloth with the characteristics that it actually has, I'll consider it conceivable that it was produced by medieval artists. Until that's understood, calling it a medieval forgery is effectively punting; it's an argument from ignorance. Why would anybody produce a forgery manifesting some characteristic with which nobody was familiar? E.g., why would a medieval artist who'd never seen a camera produce a photographic negative? Why would a modern artist produce an image that suggests imprinting by an unknown process? Forgers work by reproducing known characteristics, not unknown ones. The truth is that no MODERN artist could produce those images, nor would any of them try, because nobody understands how they got there. This does not prove that the image is authentic, but 'medieval forgery' isn't even plausible."

I thought that this was a worthwhile challenge/question, and I've actually studied a bit about that over the years. With that in mind, I posted the following two responses:

"There have been several documentaries over the past few decades wherein various scientists and archeologists have demonstrated how to achieve the same results; see How to Fake the Shroud of Turin [from the Smithsonian Channel] for just one such example. One particular documentary that I saw on the shroud many years ago went one step further with the assertion that this technique was commonly-used by medieval sculptors to create facsimiles of statues that they had created. When potential customers would come by their shops, they could look at the facsimile images that were captured on cloth in much the same way that present-day customers might look through a catalog."

"That being said, I make no claims where the Shroud of Turin is concerned. For starters, the shroud is double-sided, which would be atypical for the facsimile theory. In addition, the body depicted on the shroud would be a rather uninspiring statue for a sculptor to have made; the subject is lying on its back and nude, so if this was a facsimile of a sculpture, there would have been a very limited number of places where it could have been displayed. It is plausible that - if this was the facsimile of a statue - then it might have been for an effigy, which would explain the recumbent position, and effigies were quite popular in the Middle Ages. However, Medieval effigies were traditionally clothed, so that would also be a problem with the statue/facsimile theory."

effegies

My response seemed to anger the original poster, and he responded with the following retort:

"Never mind how it's done. Why would a Medieval forger produce a photographic negative, having never imagined, let alone seen, a camera?"

I found his response rather confusing, because his original challenge had been to explain how a medieval artist might have created the shroud, and I had just done so. With that in mind, I responded with the following series of responses:

"Did you not read what I just wrote? Put aside all thoughts of forgeries (which I did not suggest), as well as any present-day thoughts of photography or negatives or whatever. What I mentioned was that some historians have shown that there was a method by which sculptors recorded their works. It had nothing to do with being a 'negative,' it was just a way to record their work during a time when there was no other way to do so. Creating a duplicate of a sculpture would be too costly and take up too much space, and hiring someone to draw/paint a facsimile of a sculpture would be similarly expensive and not resemble the original. Whereas, taking a rubbing of a statue would produce a facsimile of the original, and people continue to employ similar techniques around the world when they make brass rubbings or gravestone rubbings."

"One additional point of note, we tend to think of the shroud as a negative, because when someone photographed it years later, the white-on-black 'negative' of the photo appeared to be a positive (and somewhat 3D-looking) image. However, sculptors used the black-on-white technique to record their work, because the resultant image looked more like their original artwork. So for them, it was never about a negative; to them, the facsimile was exactly what they were going for. Take a look at the following image; we tend to think of the shroud as the face on the right, because it seems 'corrected' to us based on our present-day presuppositions. However, the face on the left looks like a cloth-based representation of a bas-relief sculpture. Sometimes you need to put aside your modern interpretation and look at it from the perspective of someone who lived one or two thousand years ago."

Shroud_of_Turin_Positive_and_Negative

"This brings me back to why I weighed in on this discussion; you had asked for someone to explain a way that medieval artists might have created the shroud. I have pointed out that several scientists and archeologists have done just that; they have positively demonstrated HOW this was possible. What's more, several historians have described the more important question of WHY medieval artists used this technique: to record their work as a means of future advertising. The part that seems the most-difficult for you to grasp is that none of this has anything to do with your modern-day understanding of photography and negative images; the appearance of the shroud as it exists is exactly what medieval artists were trying to create."

"Just to round out the discussion, I never said that I believed the shroud was the work of forgers. Actually, I never weighed in on the veracity of the shroud at all; I was simply answering your questions with several facts that it appears you were unfamiliar with. Which leaves this discussion with the question of whether I believe the shroud is genuine or not. And my answer is - I'm not sure; there is plenty of evidence either way. But that being said, whether the shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus or a medieval artist's record of a statue is immaterial to me. I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus died and rose again, and that's what's most-important here."

Not to beat a dead horse on the subject, but here are my personal thoughts about the Shroud of Turin:

I actually lean in the direction that it might be valid, though it's more like 70/30 split for me. I've studied a lot about it over the past few decades, and I've never been convinced either way. For the longest time I was more like a 50/50 split; I simply wasn't sure at all. When the carbon dating yielded an estimate of sometime around the 13th-century, that made me lean more toward a 20/80 split; but I still wasn't fully convinced either way.

Since then I have watched several documentaries and read several articles about how the carbon dating was done incorrectly, and also about the increasing scientific analysis of chemicals in the shroud that can only be found in Israel. Armed with that knowledge my opinion has shifted more toward the veracity of the shroud than at any other time in my life.

Outside of personal word from God, I am fairly certain that I will never be fully-convinced either way. With that in mind, I have no problems sharing facts that I have learned that either corroborate or negate the shroud; I try to remain open to either possibility. But in the end, the point I made in the discussion thread is still what's most-important: I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus died and rose again, and He is my personal savior.

Or as it is written in the Nicene Creed:

"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father;

By whom all things were made;

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead."

That sums up what I believe quite nicely.

Posted: Apr 08 2019, 21:47 by Bob | Comments (0)
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