Geeky Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Be sure to check out my technical blog at www.microsoftbob.com.

MonthList

Presidents versus Terrorists

Let me say up front that I think Trump is the least-presidential president that we have had in many years. In fact, I have made it abundantly clear in other blog posts that quite often I think Trump acts like a world class buffoon. But that being said, I recently read a social media post wherein someone who simply hates Trump was spouting off about Trump attempting to act like the King of America and starting wars. This person is one of a growing group of misguided malcontents who are so blinded by their rage against our current president that they are incapable of properly analyzing the situation.

With that in mind, here are a few facts that everyone should consider.

  • First of all, the President is Commander in Chief (CiC) of our Armed Forces; everyone in the military reports to him. For all intents and purposes, Trump outranks every general in the Pentagon. If the military has viable intelligence that they can take out a known terrorist and Trump gives them the go ahead, then that's well within the powers that are granted to his office.

  • Second, our military killed a known enemy militant who was actively engaged in planning additional acts of terrorism outside of his own country. Soleimani was an Iranian general and terrorist who was in Iraq in order to direct the actions of several groups of insurgents who were attempting to overthrow their democratically elected leaders. Soleimani was directly responsible for an indeterminate number of innocent deaths; and if left on his own, it is guaranteed that additional lives would have been lost.

  • Third, in contrast to the killing of an Iranian terrorist on Iraqi soil, when Obama gave his permission to kill Bin Laden, a group of heavily armed American forces crossed into a foreign nation (Pakistan) and killed someone who was hiding out with their permission. As Commander in Chief (CiC), Obama - like Trump - was operating within the powers that were granted to his office.

    • However, in the grander scheme of political diplomacy, Trump killed a positively-identified enemy combatant with a precise drone strike, whereas Obama ordered the slaughter of an entire household of civilians based on unconfirmed intelligence (that thankfully turned out to be true).

    • But make no mistake: when US forces went after Bin Laden, our military violated the borders of a sovereign nation. In no uncertain terms, we invaded Pakistan when we killed Bin Laden. Whereas in Soleimani's situation, our military was already stationed in Iraq as a peacekeeping force, and the Iranian general and his cohorts were the invaders.

    • Think about it this way: when a group of revolutionaries recently attempted to stage a coup in Turkey, they were doing so under the orders of a man who is currently residing in the USA, whom Turkey considers a traitor and terrorist. How would you feel if a heavily armed group from the Turkish military snuck over the borders into the United States and slaughtered every man, woman, and child in that guy's house? Most Americans - including you - would be highly offended; but that's exactly what we did with Pakistan, and no Americans care.

  • Fourth, when you compare the conditions of Obama's and Trump's operations, Obama ran the risk of open hostility with an ally, whereas Trump ran the risk of open hostility with a country that was already openly hostile to us. Remember, Iranian insurgents attempted to overthrow our embassy just a few days ago. With that in mind, let's examine presidential reactions to acts over terror over the past few decades:

    • When a crowd of Iranians overthrew one of our embassies during President Carter's administration, a large number of Americans were held prisoner and psychologically tortured for the next couple years.

    • When a group of terrorists from Libya bombed US forces in Germany, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Muammar Gaddafi's private palace - and we never heard from him again (until his own people overthrew and executed him in 2011).

    • When Sadam Hussein invaded one of our allies in the early 1990s, President Bush Sr. deployed our military in overwhelming force and routed the Iraqi invaders in a brilliantly-executed military campaign.

    • However, when terrorists working for Bin Laden bombed the Twin Towers in New York in 1993, President Clinton did nothing. In fact, President Clinton passed on every opportunity to kill Bin Laden that the military presented during his time in office. What is worse, whenever terrorists would bomb or kill US forces anywhere on the planet, Clinton would withdraw all US forces from the region, thereby giving the terrorists EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANTED ALL ALONG. In the end, the Clinton Presidency was the greatest terrorist training program in world history; President Clinton proved that terrorism works - the US will withdraw its forces, and no one who is responsible for terrorist acts will be punished.

    • When Bin Laden bombed the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, President Bush Jr. invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq, deposed their corrupt governments that sponsored global terrorism, and allowed their people to democratically elect their leaders for the first time in many, many years.

    • However, when a group of insurgents attempted to overthrow our embassy in Libya during President Obama's administration, both Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (SoS) and Obama as Commander in Chief (CiC) ordered our military to stand down. As a direct result - our ambassador to Libya was killed (along with several other people), and our embassy compound was burned to the ground. (And don't even get me started on how Obama gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran, traded a host of known terrorists from Guantanamo prison without the required congressional approval in exchange for a known deserter and traitor, and he made it possible for Iran to create Nuclear weapons.)

    • On the other hand, when a group of insurgents attempted to overthrow one of our embassies under Trump's tenure, he sent in the military to reinforce the embassy and disperse the crowds of insurgents, and then he ordered their ringleader killed with a drone strike.

So, yeah - Trump is a doofus. But what Trump did was perfectly legal, as it was for Obama with Bin Laden. However, there is no comparison when it comes to results:

  • Carter (as CiC), both Clintons (Bill as CiC and Hillary as SoS), and Obama (as CiC) were all miserable failures with regard to foreign policy and terrorism.

  • On the other hand, Reagan (as CiC), Bush Sr. (as CiC), and Bush Jr. (as CiC) were demonstrably better at foreign policy.

The future will tell as to whether Trump will fare as well at foreign policy during his time as CiC. But that being said, just because you cannot stand Trump does not grant you the right to disparage what was well within the realm of his duties as Commander in Chief. In fact, at the moment it appears as though his decision to take out a known terrorist was incredibly well executed; with minimal loss of life to US, Iraqi, and even Iranian personnel.

As I said earlier, these are just some things to consider.

Posted: Jan 09 2020, 22:39 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Ranger Up - A Sad Tale of Customer Service Failures

As a veteran, I love Ranger Up's products. Sometimes their products make me laugh, while at other times their products make me proud of my time in the service. In fact, I wear at least one of Ranger Up's t-shirts every week. But my love for that company was seriously damaged when they completely failed again and again to fulfill a very basic order. To better understand what I mean, here are the details:

I placed an order near the end of November for three products that I wanted to give as Christmas presents to my son-in-law, who is a fellow veteran. Two weeks later, I received only one of the products, even though Ranger Up's website and email notifications claimed that the order had been fulfilled. I understand that mistakes happen, especially around the holidays, and I wasn't concerned because there was still plenty of time to rectify the situation. To that end, I tried using the contact form on Ranger Up's website, then I tried using the web-based chat on their website, then I tried sending emails to their customer service address, and I left a couple voice mail messages at their customer service telephone number. I heard nothing from all of these attempts. Once again, I understand that the holiday season is busier than normal, but still - I heard not the slightest peep from Ranger Up.

After several days of hearing nothing, I followed a friend's suggestion and I reached out to Ranger Up's Facebook account. To my amazement, I heard back in a few hours, whereupon I was informed that I needed to allow 2-3 business days for follow ups from Ranger Up's staff due to the holiday volume. (I had already done that, of course.) But I was assured that someone named "Regina" would follow up with me that day to get everything squared away.

But I heard nothing more that day. Nor the next day.

As I mentioned before, the missing items were meant to be Christmas gifts, and by that time it was already a few days away from Christmas. With that in mind, I reached out to Ranger Up's Facebook account again, and I informed them that I had already waited longer than their requisite 2-3 business days, yet I still had not heard anything from them - despite assurances that I would hear from them on the same day that I had contacted them through Facebook. I pointed out that in order to receive the rest of my order in time for Christmas, Ranger Up would have have to ship my remaining items by 2-day mail. The following day I received an apology for my order "falling through the cracks," and I was assured that Ranger Up would ship the rest of my original order via FedEx, and Ranger Up would cover the additional shipping costs. (Just to be safe, I bought my son-in-law a couple extra gifts.)

A day passed, then two, then three... and eventually Christmas arrived - but still I had received nothing from Ranger Up. On the day after Christmas, I received an email that my order was finally on its way. By this point, I didn't hold my breath.

I'll spare you the additional details and cut to the chase - the remaining items from my order arrived today. FIVE. DAYS. AFTER. CHRISTMAS. More than a week after I was assured that my order would arrive in time for Christmas, more than two weeks after I first contacted Ranger Up to let them know that there was a problem, and more than a month after I placed the original order, which for any other company would have been plenty of time for the holidays.

At the end of the day, I'm a realist; I completely understand that things go wrong. And I'm patient; I do not call companies and scream at people who are trying to do their jobs. And in the grander scheme of life, missing a couple gifts for the holidays is a really small thing; I have my health, I have a wonderful wife, I have great kids, and I have cute grandkids.

But all that being said, Ranger Up failed. Big time. Again. And again. And again.

On Ranger Up's contact page, they proudly proclaim the following:

"From August 26th to 5 January 2016, Ranger Up used a third-party partner for customer service and fulfillment. During that period of time many orders did not get fulfilled and many customers were ignored. Those days are over. We will get back to you within 1-2 business days, and we will remedy all issues to your satisfaction. We learned the valuable lesson that no one cares about our customers as much as we do and we look forward to being us again in 2017."

From my perspective, it seems as if nothing has changed; my order was not fulfilled, I was clearly ignored, I did not hear from Ranger Up within 1-2 business days, and they certainly did not remedy any issues to my satisfaction.

Ranger Up's website also proudly proclaims the following: "Founded by veterans with an ethos forged by service." I'm not sure how things work in the military now, but in my day a soldier who demonstrated that level of failure again and again would have had his butt kicked over and over until he learned how to do his job.

Posted: Dec 30 2019, 21:28 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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The Downside of Kickstarter

Let me be honest right up front - I like Kickstarter. I think the whole concept of crowd-funding new inventions to bring them to market is a great idea, and I have personally funded a dozen or more projects - which have usually been related to emerging technologies. Participation on Kickstarter is simple: you pick a project you think looks appealing, and then you choose the level of your pledge to help bring that project to life. Depending on how much you give, you generally get something in return - which is typically the completed product before it is released to market. After a project has been funded, the company or team that is responsible for the project is obliged to keep its backers up-to-date through the Kickstarter website.

However, for those of you who are unfamiliar with crowd-funding a new product, this is not buying a completed product online; there are usually dozens of hurdles that the manufacturer needs to go through before the product is ready to ship. Quite often a project is barely past the design and prototype stages, so you have to realize that the expected ship date is very likely to change. With that in mind, I send in my pledge, and then I usually do my best to ignore how long the project is taking. (Some people are impatient, though, and they usually fill the comments sections of a project page with inane requests for their money back if it is taking too long.)

One of my favorite projects that I backed was created by the great folks at Plugable: the product was a docking station for my Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet that provided simultaneous charging with port replication, thereby allowing me to plug my tablet into my KVM and use my tablet as a desktop computer when I'm home, and as a conventional tablet everywhere else. The Plugable team did a great job with the finished product, their communication was great, and I can honestly say that I use this device almost every day. (In fact, Plugable did such a great job that they turned me into a loyal customer; I now use dozens of Plugable's devices and I have recommend their docking stations and other devices to my friends and coworkers.)

However, Kickstarter has a dirty little downside to their business plan: they assume zero accountability for all projects that are advertised through their website. The entire responsibility for delivering a product to backers rests with each respective company or team that is bringing a product to market, and Kickstarter abdicates any sense of legal obligation whatsoever. As of today, here is what Kickstarter's Terms of Use currently state on this subject:

"Kickstarter doesn’t offer refunds. Responsibility for finishing a project lies entirely with the project creator. Kickstarter doesn’t hold funds on creators’ behalf, cannot guarantee creators’ work, and does not offer refunds."

This means that - in theory - someone could claim to have invented something and accept money from backers, and never have any intention of delivering. In the meantime, Kickstarter has deflected any liability away from themselves, and they will therefore ignore any requests for assistance when a project appears to evaporate.

Which brings me to today: one of the projects that I backed in April of 2017, (called SuperScreen), just announced that they are ending product development, terminating all employees who were working on the project, and providing absolutely nothing to their backers while keeping all of their money; which was a little over 2.5 million dollars. (See Important Announcement- SuperScreen Project is Closed for the official announcement.)

superscreen_campaign_photo

In case you thought that you read that financial figure incorrectly, your eyes did not deceive you; this company collected $2.5 million from 18,000 backers and delivered nothing, yet the entire escapade was perfectly legal. Don't get me wrong, this situation is unethical beyond comprehension, but it isn't against the law. Kickstarter introduces the possibility for scam artists to get away with large-scale confidence schemes, while providing themselves with a convenient "Get Out of Jail Free" solution to avoid becoming embroiled in any legal entanglements. According to their Terms of Use, Kickstarter charges companies a 5% fee, so for this particular project they may have profited around $125,000 for doing little more than hosting the webpage for this failed venture.

Throughout the life of this particular project there were numerous videos posted of the supposed "prototype" in action, (see http://youtu.be/_spHSw9C9AQ, http://bit.ly/2QL3cy7, http://youtu.be/aUZ8JZKMAZk, http://youtu.be/E2X3Qu9ENuY, http://youtu.be/GsiBqUNdAdk, etc.). There was a mockup posted of what the shipped product would look like, (see below), and even a video that was supposed to show the finished product in manufacturing, (although that appears to have actually been just a standard Android tablet - see http://youtu.be/V96I43UMMYg).

superscreen_packaging

Despite their periodic promises and posts, nothing ever materialized. The inventor for this particular project, Brent Morgan, dropped the first hint that something was catastrophically wrong when he arbitrarily changed the expected ship date from December 2017 (which was used during the Kickstarter campaign) to December 2018 (which was announced after he had collected everyone's money).

I used to be a project manager for a high tech company, and I realize that projects slip from time to time. However, it's one thing to have a project slip by a week or two, and it's another thing to completely rewrite your production schedule after you have secured funding.

As most backers now seem to realize, Mr. Morgan's company, (Transcendent Designs LLC), does not appear to have ever intended to ship an actual product. It would be great if an aspiring lawyer collected the names of all 18,000 backers and brought a class action lawsuit against Mr. Morgan and his company, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.

It is ironic that in one of Mr. Morgan's earliest updates to his backers he waxes poetic about what is great about Kickstarter, because in the end - his project illustrates everything that is wrong with Kickstarter:

"In just 30 days, over 18k people have joined together to raise more than $2.5M for a single vision. It is mind boggling, and it proves that this is real. … While there are plenty of things I would like to say, I will start by thanking those who choose to doubt. At some level, you are proving what is so great about Kickstarter."

There is an old adage - "Buyer Beware" - which extols the virtues of heightened awareness when doing business in a free market society. However, if you are considering whether to back projects on Kickstarter, I would like to suggest a more-modern version of that adage: "Backer Beware." But even more specifically - should prospective backers ever be tempted to invest in a project from either Brent Morgan or Transcendent Designs LLC, I highly advise them to heed King Arthur's counsel in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and "Run Away."

Posted: Oct 11 2018, 16:38 by Bob | Comments (0)
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The Further We Move Away From Peace

A fellow Army veteran from Germany recently posted a photo of the following 1980s-era poster to Facebook:

je-mehr-wir-uns-fur-den-krieg-rusten

The text of that poster reads, "Je mehr wir uns für den Krieg rüsten - um so weiter entfernen wir uns vom Frieden. JETZT ABRÜSTEN!", which roughly translates as, "The more we prepare for the war, the further we move away from peace. DISARM NOW!" This poster was an advertisement for Germany's Green Party, which was advocating disarmament during the time of the Cold War.

I have waxed poetic about this subject before, during which I have illustrated that generations of imbeciles have contributed to their own destruction by promoting the naive belief that laying down their arms will somehow lead to universal peace. However, as an old saying elucidates, "Peace is a fleeting fantasy, embraced by fools, signifying nothing."

That idiom is obviously an allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth, which states in Act 5, Scene 5: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Personally, I think a link between the contemporary idiom and Shakespeare's prose is warranted, for both phrases capture the same sense of ultimate futility.

Please do not misunderstand me, I think that everyone should ardently desire peace instead of war; but as I have pointed out in other blogs, a lack of war does not constitute peace. The callow conviction that everyone longs for peace is rooted in a childlike world of fantasy, which unfortunately bears little resemblance to the actual affairs of humanity.

History is replete with epic and horrific tales of despots, dictators, and destroyers: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Francisco Pizarro, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Napoleon Bonaparte, Josef Stalin, Cyrus The Great, Adolph Hitler, etc., etc. Countless populations were ravaged by these marauding conquerors, who were hell-bent on amassing empires and riches that were far greater than any one human should ever need or desire. And therein lies the great fallacy of those who seek peace at any cost: for every noble aspirer to peace, someone evil is waiting in the shadows to kill, maim, rape, and destroy everything and everyone that these pacifists hold dear.

While we should all strive for peace, we need also be acutely aware of the world we live in, and we should act accordingly. Our planet is inhabited by billions of people, many of whom would do harm to other people in order to take what they have, or simply to prevent others from expressing their worldviews. In short, we share an evil world that is populated by an untold number of evil people; and the only way to prevent destruction is to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

There is a Latin adage that states, "Si vis pacem, para bellum," which translates as, "If you want peace, prepare for war." I could not have summarized that sentiment any better.

Posted: Sep 01 2018, 16:55 by Bob | Comments (0)
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The Walking Dead is a Dead Man Walking

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog titled How The Walking Dead Lost Me As A Fan, wherein I described how AMC's television series The Walking Dead (TWD) lost me forever through their lack of artistic direction and their apathetic and unnecessarily-grotesque methods for killing off major characters. I also pointed out that I was not alone in my opinions: fans and critics alike have lambasted the show, and its ratings have continued to plummet into a near-fatal nosedive. While TWD's average viewership is still garnering numbers that would make some other series proud, the show is at it's lowest point since its second season, and nearly half of what it was at its peak. In short, TWD is driving its fans away for many of the reasons that I wrote about in my blog two years ago - and more.

Having said that, I recently stumbled across the following videos, each of which does a great job of summarizing many of the problems that TWD's production staff has failed to rectify:

If you used to be a fan of TWD, those videos might be worth your time to watch, because they will reinforce your decision to abandon the sinking ship that was once one of television's best series.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I would try to keep up with the series by reading episode synopses, but I have no intention of actually watching the show again. With that in mind, I discovered that The Telegraph provides great recaps for most of TWD's episodes, with just enough detail to help former TWD fans know what's happening to their favorite characters, without having to waste an hour each week suffering through yet another pointless offering from TWD's misguided creative team.

So if you're like me, have fun catching up on the show, and enjoy all the time you're saving by not actually watching it.

Posted: Jun 15 2018, 11:39 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism

The following study of 1,256,407 children conclusively shows that there is no link between vaccinations and autism:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X14006367

There is no other way to put this mildly:

  • ...if you choose to ignore the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that supports vaccines...
    - or -
  • ...if you choose to listen to some ignorant celebrity's rant against vaccines...
    - or -
  • ...if you choose to believe some dim-witted anti-vaxxer's blog...
    - or -
  • ...if you think that you somehow have more information than the thousands of disparate scientists and researchers from around the globe who have repeatedly shown that there is no link between vaccinations and autism...

...then you are an idiot.

Posted: Jun 14 2018, 11:24 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Brian Culbertson Makes Me Want To Hurl

A good friend of mine shared the following video of Brian Culbertson and his band playing a medley of jazz pieces, Back in the Day and So Good; my friend introduced the video as an example of "a band hitting on all cylinders."

I really like jazz, so despite never having heard of Brian Culbertson before, I watched with anticipation. However, I was sorely disappointed, and I responded that I totally loved the band, but I thought that Culbertson was overly tiresome. I really wished that Culbertson hadn't shown up to the gig, which is a really bad thing since it's his band and his gig... and I closed out my comment by stating that this was just my $.02 on the subject.

Someone else accused my observations of being overly jaded, to which I replied that my critique wasn't meant to be a jaded response; I sincerely watched the video 'cause I love jazz, but just as sincerely I felt robbed. The video starts out with Culbertson jumping around his band members like a Jack Russell Terrier, then Culbertson starts acting like he's calling the shots for a band that is obviously so well-rehearsed that they could play their parts in their sleep. (I haven't seen that level of self-aggrandizing pomposity since Yanni fell from grace.)

When Culbertson's piano melody finally comes in around 0:30, it's actually kind of a let-down; it's a poppy, pseudo-jazz hook, but Culbertson's faux attachment to his own amazingness during the first 2:30 of the video literally made me laugh out loud. When the band changes piece to "So Good," Culbertson's piano melody steps it up a notch; it's a much better hook, but Culbertson continues his useless, Yanni-style directing motions. I laughed out loud a second time when Culbertson pulled off his pouty stance and walked away from the piano around 4:15. (Seriously? What purpose did that serve?)

Around 4:25 we finally get to Culbertson's piano solo, which for an entire minute is nothing but smacking the black keys of the piano, which is an old trick used by less-talented pianists; play a song in Db and stick to the black keys and you'll be playing a Db pentatonic scale, which means that you'll never hit a wrong note or a sour note. Seriously - anyone could have played the first minute of his solo; regardless of whether they can actually play keyboards. At around 5:30 Culbertson finally wanders off the black keys, but that's only for a descending line during the last few seconds of his solo, after which he assumes his "menacing look" and struts over to the bass player, where he acts like he's getting in the bass player's face - for no @#$% discernible reason other than being a schmuck. (The bass player has some cool, funky chops, though.)

Around 6:35 I was surprised to see Culbertson switch to the trombone, and as one of my friends pointed out - Culbertson pulls off a pretty good solo for about a minute. However, by this point I was already so annoyed by the previous 6½ minutes of Culbertson's frenetic prancing about that it overshadowed his single-best moment to shine. After Culbertson's solo, the sax player does a great job of eclipsing Culbertson's preceding solo, but that doesn't stop Culbertson from raining on his parade by uselessly gesticulating in the sax player's face for a half-minute or so. After that useless escapade, Culbertson switches back to the trombone for the remainder of the song.

I made a comparison to Yanni earlier, and there are several reasons why Culbertson really reminds me of him; Yanni was one of the most self-absorbed SOBs on the planet, but he managed to surround himself with awesome musicians who made him look and sound great. Yanni's orchestra over-rehearsed everything; there was no improvisation when playing live - every 'solo' was purposefully-written and memorized, yet Yanni still felt the need to gesture like he was some sort of gifted conductor, even though his orchestra could have played with blindfolds. Or as one concert reviewer stated, "Yanni's orchestra was amazing; the only thing that could have made them better would have been for Yanni not to have shown up." In many ways, Culbertson seems like a Yanni reincarnation in a different genre; his band is amazingly-skilled, and they're incredibly tight, but Culbertson's arm-waving, prancing, faux-conducting, strutting, and posturing ruined it for me.


FYI - for an example of my Yanni comparison, watch the following video; you'll see a lot of the reasons why Culbertson's mannerisms reminded me of Yanni, except that Yanni doesn't play any solos to save himself from looking like a useless appendage.

By the way, the great irony of Yanni's flowery statements in the above video about how his musicians "bring great beauty, strength and color to his music" and how they "breathe life to his notes," is that the piece they play in the video isn't even Yanni's!!! It's actually a traditional American fiddle piece called The Old Grey Cat; one of Yanni's musicians introduced it to the orchestra, so Yanni slapped a different name on it, (World Dance), and started claiming that it was his. What a tool.

Posted: May 30 2018, 13:34 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Anti-Vaxxers are Still Idiots

Earlier today, an addlebrained anti-vaxxer posted a link to this bogus article on a social media website: FDA Announced That Vaccines Are Causing Autism. That article was, of course, immediately debunked by other people through a myriad of fact-check articles, such as Debunking False Vaccine Claim, Is Autism Now Disclosed as a DTaP Vaccine Side Effect?, etc. But even if that claim had been true for that single vaccine, that would still not apply to the hundreds of other vaccines for which there is incontrovertible proof that they do not cause autism.

The link between vaccines and autism has long been debunked, and people need to stop repeating this very harmful lie. Here is the scoop straight from the FDA: "Scientific evidence does not support a link between vaccination and autism or other developmental disorders." (See the CDC article Vaccines for Children - A Guide for Parents and Caregivers for more information.)

That being said, another gullible village idiot felt that it was necessary to ignore both scientific research and reasonable discussion and repost the following alarmist image as an attempted response:

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The numbers published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that those affected by Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are less than 15 per 1,000, and any increase between current the numbers and the 1960s is attributed to heightened awareness of the disease, better diagnostic procedures, and the classifications of new ailments within ASD like Asperger Syndrome. (See the CDC pages like Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research, etc.) What is more, research conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) has shown that autism begins in the womb, and is thereby unaffected by childhood vaccinations. (See Autism Spectrum Disorder: Progress Toward Earlier Diagnosis, Autism Risk Unrelated to Total Vaccine Exposure in Early Childhood, etc.)

That being said, the so-called link between autism and vaccines was based on a single research paper that was later unequivocally proved as a fraud, formally retracted from publication, and the doctor who published the paper lost his medical accreditation due to multiple conflicts of interest, unethical behavior, and manufacturing the data in his report. (Basically, this one doctor published a fraudulent study in order to make money. See MMR Doctor 'Planned to Make Millions,' Journal Claims, Antivaccine hero Andrew Wakefield: Scientific fraud?, and hundreds of other articles published about this scandal.)

In the wake of this controversy, the FDA, the CDC and the NIH have spent millions of USA taxpayer dollars on research that has categorically proven that there is no link between vaccines and autism. (See Vaccine Safety: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism, Vaccine Safety & Availability: Thimerosal and Vaccines, and dozens of other pages on both the FDA, CDC, and NIH websites.)

However, this hoax refuses to die because people who are unaware of the actual research keep reposting bogus images and articles like those shown above, and dangerous diseases which we had almost eradicated from the planet are making a comeback. In the USA, this is especially prevalent due to the lack of daily suffering that is seen in underdeveloped countries; this false sense of security was paradoxically caused by the success of our vaccination programs. (See Vaccine Safety Questions and Answers.) As a result, more children in the USA are growing up with a greater risk of contracting an unnecessary disease than they are of autism.


NOTE: Another reliable and respected source of information is the Mayo Clinic, which states the following in its Autism Spectrum Disorder article:

No link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder

One of the greatest controversies in autism spectrum disorder centers on whether a link exists between the disorder and childhood vaccines. Despite extensive research, no reliable study has shown a link between autism spectrum disorder and any vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted due to poor design and questionable research methods.

Avoiding childhood vaccinations can place your child and others in danger of catching and spreading serious diseases, including whooping cough (pertussis), measles or mumps.

In other words - if you are a parent, do not fall victim to the misguided anti-vaxxer paranoia that is infesting social media and other fake news outlets with disinformation; do the world a favor and vaccinate your children. Attempts to demonize our successful and scientifically-verified vaccination programs is ridiculously naïve, and future generations will look back on our present-day anti-vaxxer hysteria with the same level of contempt and disgust that we have for the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s.

Posted: Apr 26 2018, 10:31 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Do you think that the Russians want war?

In response to Vladimir Putin's recent proclamation that Russia now has "Invincible Nuclear Weapons," someone posted a link to Dick Gaughan's 1983 song "Think Again:"

The problem with songs like Gaughan's is that they do a tremendous injustice to what was actually going on in the world when that song was written. At the time, there were a great deal of songs written to protest the Cold War and to encourage everyone to "give peace a chance." The problem with naive statements like "give peace a chance" is that many a conquered nation has wanted peace at all costs, but their desire for peace did not prevent their eventual destruction. Appeasement of Hitler prior to WWII is a perfect example: most of Europe did nothing as Hitler stormed through country after country because everyone else remembered WWI, and the rest of Europe would rather stand by and let a madman conquer the world than upset their personal peace.

Which brings us back to Gaughan's song and it's central question: "Do you think that the Russians want war?" The target of Gaughan's lyrics was the policymakers in the West, who have largely done nothing whenever madmen went to war, because the West typically seeks peace at all costs. The West wanted peace with Hitler, and peace with Stalin, and with Khrushchev, and with Brezhnev. The West may not have approved the actions of these madmen, but the West would much rather have peace than declare war on every psychopath who comes along. But here's the thing: even though the West wanted peace, the Russians - in the form of the Soviets - very clearly wanted war.

15 countries ceased to exist with autonomy in the name of Russian/Soviet war: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and the Ukraine. These countries did not want war, but Russia gave them war anyway. As a result, these conquered territories became the 14 satellite republics of the Soviet Union. But let us not forget that Afghanistan also did not want war, yet the Russians/Soviets invaded anyway. Afghanistan was destined to become the 16th Soviet republic, until clandestine meddling from the United States helped turn that war in favor of the Afghanis, (and thereby bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union, but that's another story).

But it doesn't end there, because the Russians/Soviets also brought war to Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. These countries were conquered by the Russians/Soviets to serve as sacrificial "buffer states" in the event of hypothetical invasion from the West, (rather than becoming formal Soviet republics).

While Gaughan's lyrics pontificate about the 20 million people slaughtered by Nazi invasion, it does nothing to address the 30 million or so of their own countrymen killed by the peace-loving Russians/Soviets, nor does begin to account for all of millions of people slaughtered senselessly during the Russian/Soviet invasions of the countries previously mentioned, nor does it account for the hundreds of thousands of casualties incurred during the brutal suppressions carried out by the Russians/Soviets whenever one of those countries fought for their independence. (Nor do those numbers address the additional tens of millions of people slaughtered by the USSR's allies in the Far East and South/Central America; but let us refrain from digression and stick to Russia, shall we?)

People can claim that the "Average Russian" did not want war, and that all of these atrocities were caused by the actions and ideologies of their leaders. I must admit, there is undoubtedly a grain of truth to that perspective. But then again, you have to realize that millions of "Average Russians" actively participated in conquering of all of the countries that I have mentioned. Those countries wanted peace; Russia brought them war. As a result, those millions of "Average Russians" are no less guilty than the millions of "Average Germans" who brought the Nazi War Machine to peaceful Europe.

I have quoted this poem before in other contexts, so please forgive my repetition here; following WWII, the German pastor Martin Niemöller expressed the folly of "Average Germans" doing nothing about the Nazis when he wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.

Niemöller's sentiments may not be a call to arms, but they certainly condemn the cowardice of those who do nothing while their fellow countrymen commit atrocities.

Gaughan's song attempts to lay the desire for war at the feet of the West's leaders because - as he put it - we didn't "like their political system." To restate what I have said earlier, no one liked Russia's political system. But the Russians/Soviets forced their political system on millions of innocent people through decades of violent bloodshed. Gaughan conveniently ignores all of that.

I have stated many times before that Russia is never more than one madman away from becoming the Soviet Union again, and we're seeing that come to fruition. Under Putin's leadership, Russia has once again annexed the Ukraine, and it has violently suppressed dissension in other former Soviet republics. And once again, the West has done nothing, because despite the flowery rhetoric of naive dreamers like Gaughan, the West still desires peace more than war. But Gaughan ignores all of that, too.

As I have mentioned all along, the West has almost always wanted peace; that much is clear from the staggering amount of reticence that it has shown whenever another madman has come along and started conquering its neighbors. The West attempted to intervene in the Far East, with disastrous results, and we have learned our lesson. As a result, the West typically does nothing now, because most people in the West believe in peace at all costs. But as the saying goes, "Peace is a fleeting fantasy, embraced by fools, signifying nothing." A desire for peace does not prevent war; at best it only delays the inevitable.

With that in mind, to answer Gaughan's question: even though the West wants peace, Russia has always wanted war.

Posted: Mar 01 2018, 03:15 by Bob | Comments (0)
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