College Loans and Debt Forgiveness

The United States government made it far too easy for students to take loans, and colleges pounced on students' willingness to take loans and jacked up tuition costs disproportionately to the rest of society - knowing full well that students would eventually bear the full financial weight of their poor choices and the government would be forced to make good on those loans one way or other. With that in mind, it doesn't matter whether you label the US government's current meddling in the college tuition debacle "overcharge reimbursement" or "loan forgiveness," because at the end of the day either way you choose to title such a program is little more than playing games with semantics.

Student-Debt-Crisis-Solved

In my opinion, what should be happening is these same colleges should be forced to eat part of the costs; some office of the government should take each college individually and review their tuition costs back to 1970 and compare the rise in tuition with inflation in the rest of society and determine whether each college rose their tuition costs more than inflation, and that's the part of the costs that the colleges should be forced to absorb - WITH NO GOVERNMENT BAILOUTS. If a college has to layoff workers to balance their books, then so be it, because there are ample studies available about colleges hiring an exponential number of non-educators with the increased fees they were charging, so that should take care of itself.

Once the colleges' culpability has been taken care of, the remaining costs are the financial obligations of the students - WITH NO GOVERNMENT BAILOUTS, either. While I realize that colleges were offering easy money to students at a time when most students were too stupid to realize the ill-effects of staggering debt (which is also why credit cards set up shop in student unions across the country), I have zero tolerance for students who claim to be a "victim" when no one was holding a gun to their collective heads. At any time the students could have said no. Instead of a loan for exorbitant tuition, students could have:

  1. Gone to a different colleges (which would have encouraged colleges to be competitive).
  2. Pursued their base courses through a cheaper, two-year college to save costs (which would have also forced four-year colleges to re-examine tuition costs to attract newer students).
  3. Spent more time researching the millions of dollars that are available each year as grants and scholarships (which most students ignored since those involved doing some "work" to discover and apply for, and loans only required a signature).
  4. Taken time off between high school and college to save up for school (which MIGHT have encouraged colleges to create more attractive entry-level pricing).
  5. Join the military to earn money for college (which is what I personally did).

In addition, students could have chosen a different major, or a different school, or a different career path, or refused to go to college, or myriad other options that were available to them. However, most students took the easy route and chose to sign a loan for their education - AND THAT'S TOTALLY ON THEM. Regardless of whether the school was charging too much, at the end of the day each student made a conscious choice to enter into debt unwisely; the same choice that people make when they sign up for a 33% credit card, or take a loan for a vehicular lemon, or pay too much for a property without doing the requisite market research, etc.

As I said earlier, no on held a gun to students' collective heads. If students signed up for massive amounts of debt, that is entirely on them - the rest of the country should not be forced to pay for their collective stupidity through taxation. On the contrary, the colleges themselves should be forced to reset tuition levels to reasonable rates and backdate loan amounts accordingly, and students should be required to pay off the remainder.

PS - If something like this proposal was rolled out, I would also suggest that whichever office of government went through the books to synchronize college tuition rates with inflation over the past several decades should also be able to force schools to adopt realistic tuition rates going forward, too. If a school is caught trying to jack up tuition rates, they should be penalized in some way.

For more things to think about, see Why is College So Expensive?, New Rule: The College Scam, Is College Worth It?, and Game of Loans.

Brittney Griner vs the World

If I might be so bold as to weigh in on the subject, the following illustration hits home with what has been my biggest complaint with the entire media circus that surrounded the entirety of Brittney Griner's arrest and subsequent incarceration: she's nothing but a celebrity, and a minor one at that, so I failed to understand the constant hype around "getting her home."

Brittney-Griner-PR-Stunt

Despite the Vice President's comments about Griner being "wrongfully detained", at the end of the day - Griner broke Russia's laws, and as such she deserved to be punished according to their laws. We might not like those laws, but our nation would do the same if a foreign national broke our laws while on our soil. Do I think Griner's prison sentence was considerably longer than it should have been? Heck yes, and diplomacy should have been used to reduce Griner's sentence to something a little more reasonable.

Of course, in hindsight we see the ulterior purpose behind Griner's sentence - it was a poker move. Putin knew that if the punishment was far too excessive for Griner's minor crime, he could force the United States to do something unreasonable in order to rectify what was clearly an unjust situation - which we did. The United States traded a major criminal, who will undoubtedly return to his prior life of crime, in order to free a celebrity whom most people couldn't pick out of a lineup.

Adding insult to injury, however, is the fact that the United States attempted to free retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan or schoolteacher Marc Fogel as part of this prisoner exchange, and rather than forcing the Russians back to the negotiating table, the US acquiesced to Russia's terms. There are SOOOO many things wrong with what happened here.

First of all, Putin stared down the USA, and the USA blinked. The key takeaway for everyone around the globe who opposes the USA is: the USA is weak and easily manipulated. From a statecraft perspective, the Brittney Griner prisoner exchange was an utter failure from the point of view that matters most; e.g. foreign perceptions of the USA.

What's more, however, is the USA has shown once again how anyone who ISN'T a celebrity doesn't matter. If the USA could have traded for just one prisoner, that ABSOLUTELY SHOULD have been Paul Whelan, who has been held by Russia for four years, or Marc Fogel, whose crime and sentence were nearly identical to Griner's. Instead, the weak-minded and weak-kneed imbeciles who headed up this political debacle threw the non-celebrities to the wolves, and opted to bring home the prisoner who would get them on the 6 o'clock news.

In the end, that's the part that hurts the worst: this administration has demonstrated, once again, that the common man has less worth than canine feces to those who could make a difference. This entire affair has been nothing but a cheap public relations stunt for the Biden administration; let everyone else and the country be damned.

Egypt Discarded the Rosetta Stone, Now Egypt Wants It Back

A pair of articles recently caught my eye: Egyptians call on British Museum to return the Rosetta stone (from PBS) and Act of plunder: Egyptians want the Rosetta Stone back (from Al Jazeera).

As a student of history, I have a difficult time accepting the demands of countries to have treasures like Rosetta Stone "returned" to their country of origin when that country never bothered to take care of these treasures in the past. While the Rosetta Stone was created in Egypt, it was also discarded by Egypt and lost to the world for literally 2,000 years. What's more, the Rosetta Stone's discovery was over two centuries ago, it's purpose was deciphered by archeologists and scholars from central Europe - not Egypt - and it has been on public display for the rest of the world to admire for two centuries.

Rosetta-Stone

The Rosetta Stone's fate thus far - e.g. safely kept in a museum - has been far better than if it had been taken as spoils of war by a military commander, and spent the past two centuries languishing in someone's private collection, which might easily have happened if others had discovered the Rosetta Stone. Or as we have seen with ISIS running rampant throughout the Middle East, the Rosetta Stone might just as easily have been destroyed due to the ignorance of its discoverers.

At what point is an item of antiquity no longer within the realm of "possession" by a country that cared so little for its significance that it was used as building material? Now that 200 years have passed and Egypt has finally realized the Rosetta Stone's worth - if nothing more than museum fodder for tourist money - why should the rest of the world heed the requests of a country that didn't care enough to preserve it in the first place?

Europeans didn't raid an Egyptian museum to steal the Rosetta Stone from it's "rightful owners." On the contrary, French soldiers found the Rosetta Stone discarded in the desert, and realizing its potential significance, the French treated the Rosetta Stone with far greater care than Egypt had demonstrated. Eventually France lost its battles with England, and the British took possession of the Rosetta Stone and placed it in a position of prestige at the British Museum. As I said earlier, the Rosetta Stone has fared far better in the hands of foreigners than it had had in its country of origin.

Enough said. Rant over. Please resume your regularly-scheduled Internet browsing.

Unionism, Socialism, Capitalism, and Communism

A few years ago, Ben Shapiro (like him or hate him) was speaking at a university, and a young Socialist stepped up to the microphone during a Q&A session to promote the related ideas of Unionization, Market Socialism (as opposed to political), and worker-owned businesses. The Socialist kept pressing the point that Capitalism is unfair to workers because workers provide all the labor for lower wages than business owners receive, which is classical Marxism at its best (or worst, as the case may be). The Socialist kept espousing what he thinks is "fair" with regard to wage gaps between the common worker and the CEO. Though to be clear, the young Socialist doesn't use the word "fair." Instead, he obscures that notion through a never-ending barrage of Socialist jargon. Nevertheless, that is his implication: Capitalism is "unfair" because workers do not earn as much as business owners.

However, Shapiro's answer provides one of the best explanations for why there is a logical reason for wage disparity, and I highly suggest that you watch it. There are two versions of this video: a shorter version (≈3:30) with just the highlights at https://youtu.be/3xq-q6a9tCM, and the full version (≈12:50) with the entire conversation at https://youtu.be/NUauABEnTZI. Unions are not a bad thing conceptually; the problem is that they often devolve into a bad thing in reality.

I have seen several situations where unions keep round-tripping back to the negotiating table again and again asking for benefits that are unnecessary (and I can cite examples), and the unions in these situations eventually force their parent businesses to become unprofitable (which is what has led to more robots on factory floors, self-checkout lines in supermarkets, jobs headed overseas, and self-service kiosks at fast-food restaurants). When unions demand higher wages for skills that are easy-to-train and therefore more or less expendable, businesses will do away with expendable laborers. (Either by outsourcing or automation, as I have just mentioned.) In a like manner, when unions demand benefits with significant costs from businesses like paid college tuition for workers' family members, six months of paid maternity leave, etc., these unions may force companies into bankruptcy. Don't get me wrong, paid college tuition and paid maternity leave are wonderful benefits to have, but when labor demands these types of things and profits cannot keep up with the increased expenditures, businesses are doomed to fail and everyone is out of work.

There was a greater need for unions a century ago, when modern labor laws had yet to be written and factories routinely abused their laborers. Times have changed, and everyone in the United States is in the top 1% of the world with regard to health, housing, employment, wages, etc. The quality of life in North America exceeds that of nearly the entire planet, and yet people still find room to complain - because people delude themselves into thinking that life is somehow "unfair" to them, which is typically because someone else has something that they want; either a higher salary, or a better job, a better house, a better car, a better spouse, etc. People want what they don't have, and that's what led to the "99%" riots a few years ago, and also to thousands of misguided Socialists and/or Unionists who decry their elevated global conditions as some form of suffering. Don't get me wrong, nothing is perfect and laborers still need representation to prevent potential abuse, but the irresponsible claims emanating from the mouths of most Unionists sound ludicrous when you take into account just how blessed some of the people doing the complaining really are.

As for Socialism, which typically goes hand in hand with Unionism and eventually devolves into Communism, let me take a moment to briefly editorialize. I have witnessed first-hand the many evils of Communism, which is why I cannot support anyone who is espousing either a Communist or Socialist system of government. While a logical argument can be made for socializing specific programs - such as healthcare - both Communism and Socialism are doomed to failure from their inception, because they seek to forcibly create "equality of outcome" instead of "equality of opportunity."

Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to qualify for the job they desire, and an equal opportunity to seek advancement within their respective places of employment. However, people deserve to be rewarded for their efforts, and if one person chooses to outperform their peers, they should be compensated for their efforts. Likewise, if someone chooses to accept greater responsibility within their company, or to step out as an entrepreneur and found their own company, they should also be compensated for their efforts. In a Capitalist society, they will be. However, in a Communist or Socialist society, everyone is forced into categories - often from which they cannot escape - and the outcome is dictated by the state. If Person A outperforms Person B, that doesn't matter; compensation must be the same for both people, for that is "equality" under Communism and Socialism. Of course, this system is untenable for those who are forced to suffer under it, which is why millions of people have fled Communist or Socialist societies over the past century, and millions more have been put to death or imprisoned when trying to protest their oppressive regimes. This is why most countries that adopt Communism or Socialism are forced to do so at gunpoint.

Most people who deride Capitalism do so because they have a misguided view of "fairness," which is generally an untrustworthy worldview. What is "fair" for Person A seldom seems "fair" to Person B if Person A has more than Person B, and therein lies the problem. In an equality of opportunity scenario, both Person A and Person B have the same chance to make more or less based on their personal participation, which is the ideal way of conducting society. However, in an equality of outcome scenario, if Person A has acquired more than Person B, that is forbidden by the state, and the government must intervene and force both persons to be "equal," which is not an ideal way to conduct a society.

This is what we have seen time and again with Communist or Socialist societies; they actively seek equality of outcome, and millions are forced to suffer as a result. The former Soviet Union, North Korea, China, the Warsaw Pact, and Cuba are just a few examples from the 20th century of what happens in an equality of outcome society. Even though barely a generation has gone by since the demise of the Soviet Union, there are thousands of gullible individuals who would gratefully embrace Communism and Socialism because they think that some part of their lives isn't "fair." These people are - as the Communists called them - "Useful Idiots." Such people hasten their own demise by failing to understand what they are promoting; as the old adage says, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it."

I will now step down off my soapbox and back quietly away.

The Cover Song No One Asked For (Or Needed)

I recently came across the following video, which is an "all star" cover of Boston's classic song "Foreplay/Long Time," which I thought I'd review.

I have to be honest - I disliked this video from the opening notes. As a guitar player, I am always highly critical of keyboard players who have spent far too much time trying to create a keyboard patch that approximates a guitar sound... I always think, "There's already guitarist here - why not leave the guitar parts to him and stick to your own instrument?" (e.g. Play in your own sandbox & keep outta mine...) I feel the same way when keyboardists try to steal the basslines from the bassist; further proof that keyboardists have an overinflated sense of importance that almost parallels lead vocalists (who typically think they're gods). In other words, the keyboardist lost me barely one or two seconds into the video, so this odd excursion wasn't a good start for me.

Once past the faux guitar intro, the keyboardist (Lachy Doley) did a good enough job with the organ part, but then - as others have pointed out - the wrong vocalist (Dino Jelusick) began to belt out the verse in his best Heavy Metal stylings. (Ugh.) My dislike for Jelusick's vocals in this cover version weren't simply because Brad Delp's original vocals are inimitable, but because Jelusick's vocals were totally wrong for this song.

As far as the guitarists were concerned, the slide part (from Justin Johnson) was... well... INTERESTING, but I wouldn't call it "good." It sounded like someone down on the bayou was drunk and playing along with the radio. On the other hand, the guitar solo in the bridge (from Joel Hoekstra) was a hastily-slapped-together montage that consisted of an odd set of completely nonsensical choices, which paled by comparison to Tom Scholtz's brilliantly melodic original; my ears are still bleeding from the resulting maelstrom of cacophony. Much like Jelusick's vocals, Hoekstra's guitar parts were completely out of place for this song.

The only decent parts of the song were the rhythm section of Henrik Linder on bass and Mike Portnoy on Drums. Even with little embellishments here and there, Linder and Portnoy laid down a solid groove that respected the original while putting a bit of themselves into their performances.

Despite those few positive elements, in my final opinion - this entire offering gets a big, fat "no" from me.

Painters and Pretenders

I belong to an online support group for people (like me) who suffer from Essential Tremors, and one of the group members posted a link to some modern art from Cy Twombly together with a humorous remark that several of us in the group could probably create similar works of art because our hands shake so much.

TWOMBLY-jumbo

Personally, I thought his observation was hilarious, and several members of the group who understood that this was meant as humor continued to post similar comments. However, before I continue - and in the interests of full transparency - I have written a few blogs over the years in which I describe my personal feeling that a great deal of "modern art" is produced by frauds who are nothing more than conmen posing as "artists" while accusing their critics of being "uncultured." (At the risk of self-aggrandizement, see The Eye of the Beholder, A Fool and His Money, and Modern Art versus the I Could Do That Mentality for a bit more of what I mean.) In one of my blogs I mention my measuring scale for what constitutes "art" in my estimation: "If I Can Do It, It's Not Art." Based on the comments of my fellow group members, it would appear that several of them agreed with my opinion.

However, not everyone can appreciate a good joke at face value. It didn't take long before some humorless simpleton was offended over what was clearly meant as a farce, and he posted the following commentary:

"Here come the misinformed comments about contemporary art! Cy Twombly is a highly regarded contemporary artist. Artists are used to comments from people who haven't put in [the] time to understand contemporary art before breaking into hysterics and assumptions, but as a group, people with tremors are a highly misunderstood bunch and should know better than to laugh at ignorance of an issue or topic."

Setting aside this pompous windbag's inarguable lack of whimsy, I pointed out that not every statement of dislike is borne out of misinformation or ignorance. On the contrary, my personal dislike for the majority of contemporary art is based on a lifetime of exposure. I have visited hundreds of art museums around the planet, attended lectures with the artists themselves, toured museums with their curators, discussed modern art with private guides, and I have taken dozens of art history courses over the past several decades. Currently the walls of my house are adorned with lithographs and originals from a diverse set of artists; from Picasso to Monet to a host of other artists whom many people have likely never heard of, which includes art from family members who were contemporary artists in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In other words, my opinions on the talents (or lack thereof) that are typically displayed by many contemporary artists are based on more than a half-century of art study.

In every sphere of art - whether oils & canvas, pencil & paper, photography, music, etc., there will be artists who are serious about their craft. However, there will also be charlatans who pass off their lack of talent as creative genius that only the uncultured will fail to appreciate. When this happens, I am continuously amazed at the number of people who defend these charlatans, which I can only assume is a vain attempt by modern art apologists to stave off the discovery that they have been duped. Unfortunately, the category of "modern" art allows a greater number of charlatans to enter the art world, because the very strengths of contemporary art (e.g. the lack of definitive rules) enables these charlatans to submit their crap as artistic creations.

In summary, not every objection to contemporary art can be labeled as "breaking into hysterics;" quite often people's objections to contemporary art is that it holds zero intrinsic value. Much of what is currently en vogue will be largely forgotten as faddish tripe within a few decades, by which time we will have yet another interpretation of what constitutes "modern art" from a new tribe of charlatans. What shall stand the test of time and remain within the art world, however, are those pieces from artists who are truly serious about their craft.

We Have Plenty of Evidence

As I watch the news and listen to politicians discuss the ongoing investigation into the treasonous actions of the people who stormed the Nation's Capital, they begin to repeat the same old story that they have told many times in the past: "we have plenty of evidence, but we won't prosecute."

Like many of you, I've grown weary of this same "we have plenty of evidence, but we won't prosecute" excuse. For the people who want to see someone (like Trump) go down in flames, such a statement is vindication of their existing hatred even though nothing actually happens. But when no one is ever prosecuted, Washington's "we have plenty of evidence" statements mean nothing. As someone I know pointed out: either you prosecute because you have evidence, or you exonerate because you don't.

This continued tendency of politicians to say whatever they want about someone's presumptive guilt without demonstrable evidence to support their claims borders on slander and/or libel from a legal perspective, while from a personal perspective I disregard the entire fetid mass of political anal fissures currently in office as useless appendages of society. In a related matter, I distrust news sources that will print or broadcast anything as publicly and loudly as possible without verifying the facts when it suits their agenda, and then quietly print a retraction when their duplicitousness is discovered, while at the same time demonstrating their hypocrisy when they demand ridiculous levels of authentication for stories that do not fit the message they want to promote. (But I digress...)

This current situation with Trump isn't the first time we've heard Washington troglodytes claim they have plenty of evidence. We heard the same thing about Hillary Clinton's destruction of government equipment that had been subpoenaed; you might recall the FBI saying, "we have enough evidence, but we won't prosecute," so the AG dismissed the investigation. So was she actually guilty of crimes or not? We'll never know. There was "plenty of evidence" that the Obama administration used the IRS to punish political rivals, but no one was prosecuted. On more than one occasion we heard that someone had plenty of evidence on Bill Clinton for one crime or other; but he was never prosecuted and nothing was ever brought to light. Apart from being a serial predator, was Slick Willie guilty of actual crimes? Once again, we'll never know.

Jumping forward to today, the Washington Post presented ample evidence, and the New York Times has begrudgingly verified, that the Bidens appear to be guilty of some truly nefarious money changing prior to Joe's election to office, which isn't surprising given the fact that Joe and his son built both of their careers upon a steaming pile of dishonesty and lies (see Politics, Plagiarism and the Press and Laptop from Hell, among others). But will these undisputed facts ever see the light of day in a court room? I think not, and it will probably be the same situation with Trump and whomever serves in office after the Bidens leave town.

Despite their mutual loathing and hatred for each other, both sides of the political aisle know this to be true: once Washington finally gets around to prosecuting someone who truly deserves it, the gloves will come off, everyone will be fair game for prosecution, and the entire house of cards will come tumbling down. In other words, the Dems and GOP have détente right now... and neither side wants to cause Mutually Assured Political Destruction.

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...

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.