Higher Learning

Many years ago - more years than I care to admit - I worked in the IT department for a local community college in Tucson, AZ. I worked with a great bunch of people during my time at that institution, and now that I have returned to Tucson, it's fun to get reacquainted with my old colleagues and catch up on what's been happening in everyone's lives.

With that in mind, I recently had the opportunity to meet one of my old coworkers for lunch. Our destination was near the University of Arizona, so I parked my car in one of the university's parking garages and set out across the university campus on foot. As I was walking past the mathematics buildings, I happened to overhear one side of an exasperated conversation that a young twenty-something was having on her cell phone. The main source of her consternation appeared to be: "My class has a test in it every day, and the professor never teaches us what's on the test!"

My immediate thought was: "That's good; you're supposed to study and learn the material, then you'll already know what's on the test." This made me laugh first, but after further analysis of the situation, I don't think that it's all that funny. I think that this twenty-something's expectations are a byproduct of today's standardized testing - she expects to be taught what's on the test instead of actually learning the material.

If that's the case, then it's a pretty bad testimony about the state of education in America today.

If You Listen to Liberals About Education, You Are a Bad Person

Earlier today I saw a link to an article by Allison Benedikt titled If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. With a catchy title like that, I couldn't resist following the link in order to read what the author had to say about parenthood.

Before I continue, I should point out two important facts: 1) my children's formative years were spent in a mixture of both public and private education, and 2) at the time that Ms. Benedikt published her editorial piece, neither of her children were old enough for school, so any of her admittedly-judgmental opinions were made from the relative safety of someone who has never had to face the harsh realities about the topics which she was discussing. Ms. Benedikt's self-admitted ignorance at the hands of public educators provides little evidentiary support for her thesis statement, and unfortunately she is too blinded by her own hubris to realize it. No - it is not the well-meaning parents of children in private school who are bad people, it is self-righteous and judgmental people like her who are bad people.

I vehemently disagree with Ms. Benedikt's overall premise; it is not the parents who have realized that public education is a failing system who are ruining one of our nation's most-essential institutions – our present educational system is ruining itself. Most parents with school-age children are all-too-aware that public education is depriving their children of knowledge that is necessary to succeed academically. A perfect example is when the overly-vocal and seldom-intelligent actor Matt Damon abandoned his idealistic rhetoric demanding public education for everyone else and placed his own children in private schools. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Ms. Benedikt will be faced with the choice of whether to sacrifice her own children for the sake of her principles, or to choose what is best for her children based on her maternal instincts.

I also passionately object to anyone who insists that I should not turn my back on any failing system and subject my children to a negative environment in the hopes that the system will improve for future generations. My children are not a social experiment, nor am I willing to gamble with their lives. I do not care if Ms. Benedikt and her ilk intend to fix the schools of the future if the methods to achieve those goals cheat my children in the present.

By the way, each of my three children started in public school until my wife and I realized how poorly they were being educated. After three failed attempts with public schools, we moved each child into private school for their primary education to give them a better foundation, and then we returned them to public schools for secondary education. This system helped each of our children immensely, all of whom have now graduated college and embarked on successful careers.

Without getting deeper into an unintentional political rant, this private versus public school debate illustrates much of what is wrong with most socialistic policies; many "public" institutions fail because they become so weighed down by unnecessary bureaucracy that they can barely serve their primary purpose. Public education is not failing because parents are pulling their children out; public education is failing because we do not pay our educators enough, and we do not provide adequate resources for our schools. While it is true that our taxpayer dollars are simply not paying enough to take care of all society's educational expenses, we also have a system that is so top-heavy with needless bureaucrats and inundated with policies which occupy entirely too much time. As a result, our nation is not seeing a sufficient return on investment. What's more, the measures that the Department of Education has implemented to standardize education and hold teachers accountable for their results have been complete failures.

But that being said, here are a few of my grievances with the various excuses that I have personally heard from public educators:

  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to teach your children everything; parents need to be involved, too." I whole-heartedly agree with this statement - parents MUST be involved in their children's education; this should always mean that parents are involved in their children's studies at home, and this might mean that parents should volunteer at their children's schools if that is possible. But I have seen this statement used as a cop-out by far too many public school teachers who wasted our children's valuable classroom time with unnecessary endeavors and sent our children home with a mountain of homework after receiving no classroom instruction, thereby leaving the parents as the sole educators. If this is to be the case, then why do we need teachers? Why shouldn't I just homeschool my children and dispense with the transportation to and from school so my children can meet with a disengaged educator?
  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to personalize education for your child." The implication here is that your child is left to fend for himself or herself academically. This is a classic example for one of the primary causes of public education's many failures: people are individuals, and everyone learns differently. In our society we are REQUIRED to accept everyone's individuality – it's what we call DIVERSITY. It doesn't matter what color skin you have, whether you are a man or woman, which religious beliefs you embrace or reject, etc. Everyone is a distinct person, and we must accept their uniqueness – which SHOULD include each child's learning style. But apparently our societal adoption of tolerance and diversity does not extend to public school educators, who appear to have adopted "sink or swim" and "one size fits all" attitudes toward individualism. How barbaric and antiquated can these "teachers" be?

I'll get off my soapbox now, but I'd like to discuss one final point – as I mentioned earlier, Ms. Benedikt's children are not yet old enough to attend school, which prevents me from taking any of her self-righteous drivel seriously. In my opinion, her lack of personal experience in this matter disqualifies her from passing judgment on parents who actually have to decide what is best for their children; close-minded and emotionally detached fools with no personal stake in this debate should be ineligible to weigh in on the issue.

The Road Less Travelled

Perhaps it's because the media is going through yet another season of what seems like a never-ending parade of Hollywood awards programs, but I was thinking the other day about all of the awards that I will never win. For example, I will never win a Golden Globe. I will never win a People's Choice Award. I will never win an Oscar, or a Tony, or an Emmy, or any award that is named after some person who might not be real. And despite a lifetime of playing music, I will never win a Grammy or any other award that the music industry is giving out these days. This may be my reality, but to be perfectly honest, I am never saddened by this, nor do I generally give this concept a second thought.

That being said, the most-recent awards show made me think about the reasons why we even care about those kinds of awards. I can't name who won Best Actor or Actress from any of the awards shows that have taken place in the last several years, and that's really not an issue for me; I'll never meet any of the people who win those awards anyway. What's more, I'm not sure if I would want to meet most of the people who actually win those awards, seeing as how the evening news and morning talk shows are always spinning stories of their latest transgressions. I think the part that gets me the most is how - after throwing their lives away on one selfish pursuit after another - the world eventually calls them "artists," and everyone waxes poetic about how these artists have suffered for their cause; as if they woke up one day and consciously chose to take the road less travelled in Robert Frost's famous poem. When I was younger, I think I bought into that illusion, too. But the older I get, the less I am impressed by their actions - and perhaps I should explain what I mean by that.

If a man whom you knew personally walked out on his wife and family, in most cases you would probably think he was acting like a selfish pig. But if it was a famous actor from Hollywood or a legendary singer from Nashville, you might think to yourself, "Gee, that's too bad...," as if their fame has excused their adverse behavior for some inexplicable reason. You might even go so far as to feel sorry for said person; after all, it's just so sad that their family doesn't understand how hard an artist's life must be.

But why do we feel this way? Why do we put these people on some sort of undeserved pedestal? Is it because they're artists? The more I think about it, I don't believe that they've chosen the road less travelled - I think they've chosen the easy path; they've chosen the path that's all about them. Perhaps that's why they need so many awards shows; they need the constant reassurance that all of the suffering they cause is for a noble purpose. But I just can't bring myself to see it that way.

Let me briefly tell you a true story about my life, and this is difficult for me because it is always dangerous when you open up your life to public scrutiny; you never know what people are going to think. When I was much younger, I faced one of those situations where it seemed like two roads were diverging before me and I had to pick which path I would travel.

I had just celebrated my 19th birthday, and my rock band was starting to do really well. We weren't great by any means, but we were just coming off a series of really great gigs when my fiancé told me that she was pregnant with our child. I had a lot of options before me: we could get married, we could put the baby up for adoption, etc. (My girlfriend had additional concerns: what if I suddenly became some sort of jerk and told her that it was her problem and left her to face this on her own.) Once the news began to work its way through the grapevine to all our friends and family, I heard a lot of advice from a lot well-meaning people - all of whom listed off suggestions that were much like the choices that I just mentioned.

But I didn't take anyone's advice. Instead, against everyone else's counsel, I married my girlfriend. We had a baby girl, who is now almost ten years older than I was when I made my choice to keep her. But this decision on my part didn't come without cost; my days of playing long-haired lead guitar for a rock band were over. In fact, my entire youth ended almost overnight - it was time to put aside my personal ambitions and accept the responsibilities that lay before me. My wife and I spent many years in abject poverty as we fought side-by-side to build a home together and raise our children as best we could. Despite the difficult times, my wife and I recently celebrated our 28th anniversary, and we raised three great kids along the way.

However, my life might not have been this way; I could have chosen the other path when I was given the opportunity to do so. I could have chosen something selfish that I wanted just for me, and I could have left my girlfriend to deal with it on her own. Some years later, I could have written a heart-wrenching song about the hard choices that I had to make. Perhaps that could have become a hit, and I could have sold that song to untold scores of fans. Maybe I could have written a book about my life and my admirers might have said, "That's so sad - look at everything he gave up to become who he is."

Every year people walk out on their responsibilities in the hopes that the scenario which I just described will happen to them; they hope they'll be successful despite the pain that they cause to others. What is worse, however, is that popular culture applauds such actions. Songs like Bruce Springsteen's Hungry Heart attempt to spin public opinion in support of egocentric behavior by unapologetically suggesting that a deadbeat dad was simply "following his heart."

Yet in my personal situation this delusion would have been far from the truth; I would have been a selfish punk who left his unwed 18-year-old girlfriend to face the world alone with a newborn baby girl. Perhaps I might have become a successful 'artist' and sent generous child support payments to take care of my daughter's every need, but that's just not the same. Children need parents; they need both a father and a mother to be there to love and raise them.

There is no way that I can say this so it won't sound overly-judgmental, but I think it makes someone a coward when they choose their own selfish desires over their family and their responsibilities. When I chose to become a father, I gave up everything that I wanted for myself; I gave up my personal hopes, dreams, and desires for my life. I sacrificed everything so my daughter would grow up with both a mom and dad. My choice was much harder to live with than I ever could have imagined, but my daughter's life was worth the cost.

So in the end, when I finally shrug off this mortal coil, I will not have won any awards for what I have accomplished in my life, and I'll have no golden statuettes to adorn the shelves in my study. I am sure that I will never win father of the year, but my three children will have had better lives because I chose to be their father. I did not choose the easy path for my life - I chose the road less travelled, and I pray that for my family it has made all the difference.

Bad Christians

I recently saw this video: http://youtu.be/vnJBW49afzg

Let's put this in perspective - a group of self-professed 'Christians' shows up uninvited to a Muslim Arab Festival, where they are confrontational to the Muslims and insulting to the police, and they are carrying signs with slogans like "Repent - your party will burn in the lake of fire (01:14)," "Islam is a religion of Blood & Murder! (03:26)," "Be not believers in drunkards, whoremongers, idolaters, sodomites, fornicators (04:30)," "I am truth and the life - all others are thieves are robbers (04:30)."

No - this was not an act of random violence by a group of Muslim extremists who were targeting an innocent group of Christians; this was a deliberately-staged set of contentious actions by some very unbalanced people who claim to be Christians in order to provoke the very attack that transpired. These otherwise peaceful Arab-Americans were enjoying a day of celebration of their faith and heritage, and these so-called Christians showed up and behaved in an extremely insulting manner, shouting insults with a megaphone and slandering the Muslim faith - these 'Christians' might just as well have been Nazis based on their behavior. The police were 100% correct is telling these fools that they were the cause of the trouble.

Let's reverse things for a moment - let's say that you were a Christian at a peaceful church gathering when a group of atheists showed up to protest by using a megaphone to hurl insults at your religion and they carried signs that proclaimed that Jesus was a drunkard & whoremonger who was the illegitimate son of unwed slut, you would be more than a little offended. You might not personally react with physical violence, but if you had a few thousand Christians in one place when a publicly-outspoken group of atheists or Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims showed up and behaved as provocatively as these 'Christians' did, I can 100% guarantee that someone would eventually lose their cool and start throwing things.

This video is a perfect example of how Christians should NOT behave, and they are certainly not following Christ's example. This is not a question of exercising freedom of speech or freedom of religion - this is a question of exercising good judgment and Christ's love; this group of 'Christians' exhibited neither.

Self-professed 'Christians' like those in this video should be ashamed of themselves.

What I do not admire...

A friend of mine recently posted the following news link to Facebook:

Atheist teen forces school to remove prayer from wall after 49 years

He accompanied the link with a statement which stated that he admired the young girl for standing up for herself despite all of the misfortune that has come her way. While I strongly object to the hostility that has been directed at her, I do not admire this girl; not because I might disagree with her, but simply because this is yet another symbol of what is so often wrong with this country. While I strongly support standing up for what you believe in - or in this case what you don't believe in - do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.

At sixteen, you are convinced that the world revolves around you. (I have just raised three teenagers, so I am speaking with the voice of recent experience.) The question here is not whether the state is cramming religion down someone's throat - which it clearly is not - but whether an entire community should be inconvenienced for the self-interested attitudes of a single detractor. This solitary malcontent is asking for her community to discontinue a half-century of tradition, and she is demanding that thousands of previous students, parents, and faculty look the other way while she forces the world around her into a mold that is custom-fit for her and no one else; how immature.

There are so many things in contemporary society for which we are asked to look the other way if we have an objection; simply flipping through a magazine or turning on the television will provide ample material for one person or other to raise a protest. You might agree with their objections, or you might disagree, but we live in a free society where you do not have the right to never be offended. In our culture the generally-accepted answer is for the complainant to avoid what offends them; we do not require every publisher to pander to the wishes of every objector. If we managed to remove everything that offended any individual person then we would have nothing left to look at or listen to. (For example, I can't stand country music, but I don't sue Nashville in order to force them to stop cranking out album after album of music that makes me want to hurl.)

But that is not the case in this situation. What is taking place here is that a single student has raised an objection out of self-centered desire; perhaps it is a desire to get her way, perhaps it is a desire for attention, or perhaps she has ulterior ambitions in mind. In the end, it really doesn't matter. If you read the "prayer" in question, there is nothing in it that should be offensive to anyone; it is not forcing religion on anyone - it is simply a call to be a better person:

"Our Heavenly Father,

"Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

"Amen."

Since when is being good offensive to anyone? Is it because she wants to violate the thoughts of goodwill that are expressed within those few words? Does she find it threatening that someone wishes for her to aspire to be better than she is? (Note: You may choose to believe in God, or you may not, that's your choice; but that's actually beside the point in this scenario.)

What is extremely revealing of her attitude is her cause for atheism; when she was ten years old, God didn't do what she wanted, so she decided that there is no God. It's an odd coincidence that the source of her disbelief was a similar situation to her current predicament; when the school voted to keep the prayer banner in question, she lost faith in them. If her parents had opposed her outspoken position, she would have undoubtedly lost faith in them. If the courts rule against her, then she will lose faith in government. This is a bad set of precedents that she is establishing; she wants the world to bow down to her demands, and if they don't comply, then she will simply complain to someone else until she gets her way. Ultimately, it's a bad signal to society when we do so.

This is where she is the most wrong; we live in a tolerant culture, and tolerance means accepting the fact that someone has a right to a conflicting opinion. This is true for religion, politics, sports, entertainment, etc. No one should be allowed to force everyone else to agree with them. So I reiterate my earlier statement: do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time? Not Even Close.

There was a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away where Rolling Stone Magazine (RSM) had an ounce or two of actual journalistic and editorial credibility. Sadly, that time and place is long gone. Each time RSM puts out another list of the "100 Greatest This" or "50 Greatest That," RSM continues to show just how out of date and out of touch its editors really are.

This leads me to my current rant, which is the following article by RSM:

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-guitarists-of-all-time-19691231

I realize that these types of lists are highly subjective, and as such no single person will ever be 100% happy with the results - with the notable exception of the guy that made the list. But just the same, here's how I would measure any guitarist's legacy - I use the TOAD elements to gauge their level of impact:

  • Talent
    (And by this I mean technical prowess on the guitar; songwriting skills and vocal talent do not matter here.)
  • Originality
    (Guitarists that make a career out of sounding like some other guitarist aren't worth much in my book.)
  • Affect on other guitar players
    (What influence does this guitar player have on other guitar players?)
  • Durability in the music industry
    (Even a one-hit wonder can still impact future generations, while other guitar players might have an entire catalog of utterly forgettable music.)

With this in mind, I took a long look at the RSM list, and it's really quite pathetic. Most of the guitarists in their list simply don't belong on anybody's list of guitar greats, while many others are badly slighted or given way more credit than they are due.

Here's a few of my thoughts on the top ten, in the order that they appear on the list:

  1. Jimi Hendix:
    I'd have to agree with RSM, more or less. Whenever you create a list with all of the guitarists who have had significant talent, originality, and influence on other guitar players - Hendrix has to be in the top 10. I may not like everything that he did, and he may have acted like an idiot when he was offstage, but few guitarists have had Jimi's level of direct or indirect influence on future generations of guitarists.
  2. Duane Allman:
    You have got to be kidding me. I like the Allman Brothers, and Duane may certainly belong in the top 100, but he should never he be at #2. Sure, Duane was a skilled guitar player, but few people in the past two decades (1990 through 2010) pay much attention, so Affect and Durability are moot.
  3. BB King:
    Mr. King always belongs in a top 100 list; good call. Maybe not always in the top 10, but certainly in the top 100.
  4. Eric Clapton:
    I would more or less agree with a top 10 rank - for sheer volume of work, guitar skills, influence, etc. Clapton always deserves to be on anyone's top 100 list.
  5. Robert Johnson:
    RJ definitely had chops, but Johnson has influenced more guitar players indirectly than directly; his influence is there, but typically as someone who influenced someone else who influenced someone else, etc. I would put him in a top 100 list, but not in the top 10.
  6. Chuck Berry:
    One of the first real showmen on the guitar, Chuck has all of the TOAD elements, and several of his signature riffs are copied to this day. I would always put Chuck in a top 100 list, but perhaps not in the top 10.
  7. Stevie Ray Vaughn:
    Stevie had all four TOAD elements and plenty to spare. As 80's-era guitarists kept branching off into neo-classical styles, Stevie kept mercilessly stomping everyone into the ground with killer blues chops. I would always put Stevie in a top 100 list, if not in the top 10.
  8. Ry Cooder:
    RC is a lot like Duane Allman - a lot of guitar players from the past twenty years ask, "Who's Roy Cooper?" [sic] Ry definitely has chops and probably deserves to be in anyone's top 100 list, but he just doesn't have the lasting impact to belong in anyone's top 10 list. (With the notable exception of lists that are created by Ry Cooder fans.)
  9. Jimmy Page:
    I'd have to more or less agree. All too often I see Page at #1 on these types of lists, and I would never put him there. But Page always belongs in the top 10 for the sheer variety and volume of work, not to mention his influence on other guitar players. Even though it has long since been proven that Zep ripped off a lot of other artists for many of their most significant works, Page still gets kudos from me for his arrangements of other people's songs.
  10. Keith Richards:
    Three words: No Freaking Way. I'm sorry to all of you Rolling Stones fans out there, but Keith just does not belong in anyone's top 10 list - he doesn't have the chops, or the originality, or the influence on other guitar players. Personally, I wouldn't put Keith in a top 100 list if it meant leaving out the scores of guitar players that didn't make the RSM list.

That wraps up my tirade for the top ten, so here are some assorted thoughts for the rest of the list:

  • Kurt Cobain (#11):
    I live in Seattle where KC is still worshipped as the prophet of angry youth and misplaced rage. That being said, no one can argue the point that Cobain had a tremendous affect on other guitarists in his age group as one of the heralds for the emerging grunge invasion. The trouble is - Kurt was attempting to distance himself from the blazing speed metal guitar gods of the 1980's, so Kurt made his claim to fame by being bad at his instrument, somewhat like members of the punk phase did back in the 1970's. So when you look at the TOAD elements:
    • Talent - Kurt was only a so-so guitarist
    • Originality - Kurt was definitely original (although I would go out of my way to not sound like him; for example - by tuning my guitar)
    • Affect - Kurt definitely influenced other guitarists (for better or for worse)
    • Durability - only time will tell
    So in the end, Kurt might deserve a place in a top 100 list, but certainly not at #11. (Maybe at #100.)
  • Dick Dale (#31):
    Yup - Mr. Dale defined surf guitar back in the 1960's. Good call.
  • John McLaughlin (#49):
    I have no arguments with McLaughlin's inclusion - but if you're going to include one jazz player, then where are the others? Where's Al Di Meola? Pat Metheny? Joe Pass? Allan Holdsworth?
  • Ike Turner (#61):
    No way. Never. Nope. Nada. Ike doesn't belong in a top 100 list. Not for what he did to Tina, but simply because he doesn't really measure on the TOAD scale as a guitarist.
  • Vernon Reid (#61):
    Always an underrated artist, it was good to see Vernon on this list.
  • Eddie Van Halen (#70):
    Like him or hate him - Eddie Van Halen defined rock guitar for the 1980's, inasmuch or to an even greater level than Hendrix did for the 1970's. No guitar player of the 1980's was more copied and no rock group name was more immediately recognizable in the 1980's than Van Halen - period. Even if you didn't listen to rock music you still knew who Van Halen was. Eddie has a solid grasp on all of the TOAD elements (with plenty of room to spare), so to see him at #70 is just plain stupid.
  • Joni Mitchell (#72):
    This launches a weird dilemma - Joni doesn't have any chops where great guitar players are concerned, but she is a very skilled singer/songwriter that has all of the TOAD elements if you are willing to look the other way for her technical chops on the guitar. But if you do so, then you need to add Jim Croce, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, and a whole host of other singer/songwriters that may not have had killer guitar skills but have everything else that it takes to be an original and durable artist with plenty of influence on future generations. Personally, I'd rather drop Joni and everyone else that I just mentioned from any top 100 guitarists list, and I'd drop George Harrison (#21) from the list at the same time.
  • David Gilmour (#82):
    Gilmour definitely needed to be on this list, but #82 is probably too low on the list. David's impact on rock guitar is considerably more valuable than the contributions made by the endless barrage of average guitarists that were placed higher in the list. And the fact that David is lower on the list than Joni Mitchell (#72) is ridiculous.
  • Joan Jett (#87):
    In the Runaways it was Lita Ford doing all the dangerous guitar, and in the Blackhearts it was Eric Ambel or Ricky Byrd on guitar during their heyday back in the 1980's. While Joan's music has something of lasting durability, she just doesn't have it where it counts as a guitar player - she doesn't have the chops, or the originality, or any level of influence on other guitar players.

So who got missed? A lot of truly great guitarists. Here are just a few:

  • Joe Satriani:
    The fact that Joe didn't make this list shows just how out of touch the idiots people that put this list together really are. Anyone that knows anything about guitar knows that Joe belongs on any top 100 guitarists list - and usually in the top 10.
  • Ted Nugent:
    The fact that Uncle Ted didn't make this list is further proof that the people who write for RSM are on drugs. When Ted doesn't make the list and Duane Allman gets a #2 slot even though Ted's guitar could single-handedly track Duane through five Midwestern states in a blizzard, then capture Duane and skin him before his heart stops beating is ample proof that this list's priorities are seriously in question.
  • Steve Vai:
    Steve's music is way too weird for me, but look at his credits: Frank Zappa's band, Alcatrazz (replacing Yngwie Malmsteen), David Lee Roth's band (more or less replacing Eddie Van Halen), Whitesnake (replacing both Vivian Campbell and Adrian Vandenberg), and a recurring slot on the G3 tour. Vai has a solid grasp of all the TOAD elements - dropping Vai from this list is ridiculous.
  • Eric Johnson:
    Eric gets nominated for Grammy awards every few years because - let's face it - he's a really talented guitarist with boatloads of originality. The fact that Eric was dissed on RSM's list is a travesty.
  • Prince:
    Personally, I can't stand Prince. He's a pompous idiot and his music makes me want to hurl. But I cannot argue the fact that he has all of the TOAD elements, even if I don't like him.
  • Yngwie Malmsteen:
    Yngwie is probably the most arrogant son-of-a-gun on the planet, but it's undeniable that he has Talent, Originality, and Affect elements to spare, even if Durability remains to be seen. But it's inescapable that he was one of the biggest heralds of the neo-classical rock guitar genre, for better or worse.
  • Alex Lifeson:
    Since everyone knows that RSM hates Rush, it's easy to understand why Alex didn't make this list. But come on people, whether you like Rush or not is irrelevant here - Alex has put out more music with greater originality than probably 90% of the guitarists that made the list. And he did so by not ripping off other artists like Jimmy Page (#9) and George Harrison (#21) did.
  • Al Di Meola:
    The omission of countless scores of great Jazz guitarists from this list is bad enough, but leaving out Al Di Meola, who is probably one of the greatest fusion guitarists ever, shows that this list's creators just don't get it.
  • Kerry Livgren:
    The music of Kansas has an incredible legacy - and generations of future guitarists will still be trying to master Carry On Wayward Son or Dust In The Wind, even if it's just on the latest version of Guitar Hero. All of that music is thanks to one ingenious and soft-spoken guitarist from Kansas named Kerry Livgren.
  • Steve Morse:
    Besides the fact that Steve Morse is probably one of the most talented guitarists in history, he's also been in the Dixie Dregs, Kansas (replacing Kerry Livgren), and Deep Purple (replacing Ritchie Blackmore).

I am, of course, leaving out the incredible number of great classical, fingerstyle, and country guitar players; people like Chet Atkins, Andres Segovia, Leo Kottke, Julian Bream, Doc Watson, Christopher Parkening, etc. Each of these guitarists have talent, originality, influence, and durability way beyond most of the guitar players that made the list. Leaving them out is just as dim-witted as the omission of the other guitarists that I had already mentioned.

So there you have it - Rolling Stone Magazine put out another worthless list, and once again they demonstrated that their editorial staff is so out of touch with musical reality that their journalistic credibility is probably beyond reconciliation with their readers. Perhaps someone should explain to them what a guitar is and how it's played, and then build on that foundation until these idiots people understand what it means to be a truly great guitarist.

Peace Sells, But Who's Buying?

I saw a video the other day for the song "Crying for John Lennon," which is a truly pathetic piece of hero worship about a boorish, drug addicted, womanizing narcissist. Putting aside the fact that John Lennon is no person to be admired, this video and song are another entry in a long line of juvenile visions of a world where nothing evil ever happens. The trouble with such a naïve approach to life is that it presupposes that everyone agrees with your interpretation of evil. How utterly immature.

Some cultures ignore their neighbors, some cultures fight their neighbors, while other cultures eat their neighbors. There is no common ground - there is no singular interpretation of what constitutes the concept of good or bad, much less a concept of "peace."

But for that matter, many a conquered people in western cultures have believed in peace at all costs. Crowds of angry youths who have been so sheltered by the blanket of freedoms which have been thanklessly provided for them are lulled into adolescent complacency and they form a misguided view of the world that ultimately leads to their destruction. I think that John Stuart Mill put it best when he said:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

For every person who dreams of pacifism no matter the cost, there are a dozen people who are willing to kill them simply for their shoes. I have travelled abroad - and I have met some of these types of people. It is difficult for simple minds to understand that there are some people in the world who hate you just because you exist. It's nothing that you have done, it's nothing that you believe, and there's nothing that you can do about it.

So while the songwriter who inspired me to write this post may be crying for John Lennon, I am weeping for our future - because if people like this songwriter continue to persist in their delusions, we are truly doomed.

Why I love my job...

I had originally written the following for a Facebook note, but I think that it's better as a blog post:

Let's face it, if you have known me for any period of time during the past two decades you would quickly realize that outside of church, family, and music, working with computers is my next biggest passion. Being been hired by Microsoft in late 1995 was one of those moments where I smacked myself on the head and questioned why I hadn’t thought of that before. It’s just great when it turns out that you can actually make a living doing one of your hobbies. (Making a living making music would be great, too, but I work with a large number of people who have all realized that having a normal day job means that you can actually afford your music hobby. Whereas trying to make a living at music often means wondering where your next meal is coming from. But I digress...)

Anyway, I’ve had several different jobs since I joined Microsoft, which always leads to the following question from friends and family: "So, what do you do for Microsoft?"

Over the past few years I have worked on a team with several gifted people that create several technologies that perform a lot of the behind-the-scenes work for the Internet, and these days I spend my time writing about these products and telling people how they can use them. With that in mind, I thought that I’d answer a little bit of the "What do you do for Microsoft?" question by way of illustration.

The following blog post that I wrote recently branches off into several links where I discuss writing a bunch of code to do a variety of things that many people would probably find... well... less than exciting:

MSDN Blog: Merging FTP Extensibility Walkthroughs

As I said, you might not find it exciting - but for me, this why I get up in the morning, and at the end of the day it’s why I still love my job.

;-)

Whatever happened to common decency?

I realize that we live in a stressful time - so many people are concerned about major events such as the war, the spiraling economy and housing market, the erosion of employer loyalty in an ever-changing job environment, etc. But every once in a while you are treated so badly by your fellow person that it's enough to make you sit up and wonder aloud at what's going on. On two separate occasions within the last week I have been witness to some of the rudest actions that I have seen in recent months. Either event was remarkable by itself, but compounded so much more so by the severity of the discourteous behavior that I witnessed in such a short time.

This past week my wife and I took our children to the movies. As we pulled into the theater's parking lot, I chose a space next to a large SUV that had managed to squeeze into a space that was clearly designed and labeled for a compact car. This space was at the end of a row of cars, and I pulled in so close to the sidewalk on the opposite side of the gas-guzzling gargantuan that my tires were grazing the curb as I parked; because of this action I was able to make sure that there was still plenty of room between both vehicles for people to enter or exit safely.

After the movie we walked to the parking lot where I noticed a note attached to my windshield. I read the note aloud which stated, "I have your license information and pictures. I'll call the police if there's any damage." My initial thought was, "Oh no, someone hit my car." For some reason it just didn't register with me at first what was actually being said, so my son and I walked around our car to inspect for damage. We didn't see anything wrong, so I reread the note aloud a couple more times and then it hit me - the author of the note was threatening me not to damage their car.

Never mind the fact that this automotive monster was located in a space too small for its size, the driver of this mammoth on wheels was concerned that I might somehow injure their precious beast. I looked at my son and joked, "If I wasn't such a nice person, I'd kick the door on the other side of their car." We both laughed at the thought, and since I had parked so close to the curb on the opposite side of the behemoth, my son was able to make use of the ample room between the vehicles to open our car door and get in for the short drive home. (Note: Because of my disbelief that the parking lot event actually occurred, I kept the threatening note and it now adorns the bulletin board in my office.)

The fact of the matter is, however, that even though the driver of that SUV didn't really need to write that note, it was up to me to choose how best to react. In some aspects, this could have provided ample opportunity for an angry "Pay It Forward" approach to the rest of my evening or the days ahead. I could have left an equally threatening note, or I could have damaged their vehicle out of spite. Instead, I chose to make a short joke to voice my frustration and drove home peaceably.

But sometimes it's hard to remain so detached.

Recently I needed to catch a flight home on Southwest Airlines, which prides itself for on-time flights and unassigned seating. Since I fly on Southwest Airlines fairly often, I know that I should get to the airport a little earlier to get in line for general boarding. When I arrived at the gate, I found a half-dozen people sitting in line already, and I dropped my carryon luggage at the end of the queue and sat down in the line. Over the next hour, several other travelers showed up and orderly took their places behind each other. Occasionally a person or two would mistake where the line was and walk to the front of the line, and would happily relocate to the end of the line when notified of their mistake by the people ahead of me.

A few minutes before general boarding was to begin, a few of the passengers at the front of the line began to stand up. Right as I got to my feet, a couple walked up to the gate and proceeded to get in line in front of the row of waiting passengers. I pointed to the people that were sitting in line and said, "These people are in line already; the end of the line is back there" and motioned to the back of the queue. The would-be line jumper remarked that none of the passengers that I had just pointed to were actually standing in line, they were sitting, so therefore they weren't really in line. I informed him that all of these people had been there at least an hour already, and that he needed to relocate to the rear of the column. He reluctantly obliged after a brief and curt exchange of words with all of the surrounding passengers, albeit complaining the entire way that he travels 120 flights per year on Southwest Airlines. After taking his place at the end of the line, he loudly exclaimed in my direction, "Yeah, don't even look this way, ---hole!" I turned around and stared at him in disbelief, while the other people in line began to laugh at him for creating such a ruckus over having to board the plane perhaps one or two minutes later. Was any of this really called for?

Once again, however, this left me with the choice on how I was going to react. I could have followed his example and launched into a tirade of expletives, but why stoop to that level? (I must admit, however, that I did take advantage of a situation that happened moments later. A person came running up just as I was about to board the plane, and he was holding a large, boxed painting. He said that he was supposed to pre-board but had trouble getting through security. I could see that he had a pre-boarding stamp on his boarding pass, and I just couldn't resist the situation - I looked at him, then I looked back at the would-be line jumper, then I looked back at the gentleman with the boarding pass and said, "Please - be my guest," and gestured for him to board ahead of me.)

Okay, I must admit - perhaps the last part of that story was a bit over the top on my part, but I just couldn't help myself. But once again, the line jumper was way out of line. He was wrong, but insisted that everyone accept his behavior. When the surrounding crowd forced him to take his rightful place in line, he did so with a never-ending stream of complaints, insults, and expletives. That just isn't right.

So I have to ask the question again; whatever happened to common decency?

Domestic Terrorists Come in Many Forms

As an honorably-discharged veteran, it should come as no surprise that an opinion piece with a title of "Why America needs to be Defeated in Iraq" would catch my attention. When I first read this ludicrous pile of drivel from a gentleman whom I shall henceforth refer to as "Mr. Whit," I was merely offended. His errant ramblings seemed to be another entry in a long line of deranged brain dumps from scores of deranged imbeciles that I seemed to discover whenever I ventured into another dark corner within the vast wastelands of west coast propaganda. I lived in Seattle for a decade or so, and I've seen this type of close-minded lunacy before. To paraphrase the Bard, the author of that particular op-ed, Mr. Whit, has no more intelligence in him than in a stewed prune. (Methinks he doth possess a great deal less.)

After a bit of time had passed, I pondered more about the context of Mr. Whit's article, and I was appalled by the abhorrent vulgarity of what his brief manifesto actually represents: Mr. Whit is a US Citizen who is outspoken and unapologetic about his desire that some form of harm should come to other US citizens. That admission makes him, using today's parlance, a domestic terrorist. Plain and simple. When one American's wish is that other Americans must suffer in order to make a political point, then that American is no better than the abomination that was Timothy McVeigh. After all, the late Mr. McVeigh only wanted to make a political statement when he and his accomplice bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, right?

Mr. McVeigh's vicious manifestation of domestic terrorism was responsible for the deaths of 168 innocent men, women, and children. However, for Mr. McVeigh, those people's fates were secondary to his cause. He believed that his principles were more important than his victims' lives. In the same way, Mr. Whit regards his self-appointed role as an oracle of truth as more beneficial to society than the meager value of average peasants, and therefore he believes that he has the right to condemn other lives to death in order to satisfy his misguided philosophies. The fates of those whom Mr. Whit would send to their graves are secondary to his gargantuan ego, and their lives are worth less than his sanctimonious convictions.

On the one hand, Mr. Whit accuses the US government of believing that "might is right" when it decides who gets to live or die, while on the other hand he freely chooses (from the sanctity of his word-processor) who else gets to live or die. Like Mr. McVeigh before him, Mr. Whit's deplorable appetite for others to suffer for his wretched aberration of morality is fully-vindicated within the boundaries of his twisted, little worldview. I am sure that somewhere inside his hollow, rat-infested cranium, Mr. Whit believes that the "ends justify the means." However, Mr. Whit doesn't have to face the consequences of his brain-dead decrees, whereas the innocent lives that he has condemned to death and their unfortunate families are left to suffer.

History has had more than its fair share of sociopaths who fail to take responsibility for their murderous actions, and Mr. Whit follows their example to the letter when he wishes death upon US troops while skirting away from any personal culpability by laying the blame for their deaths on the government. What Mr. Whit does not realize is that he doesn't get to have it both ways; he cannot pronounce a death sentence on others without being found guilty for his own crimes. He cannot claim that our government is guilty of terrorism, then advocate for the deaths of other US citizens and not be found guilty of his own brand of repugnant and unctuous terrorism. His self-righteous delusions do not grant him the title of judge, jury, or executioner.

It is ironic that short-sighted morons like Mr. Whit are quick to exercise their first amendment right to freedom of speech, while overlooking the sacrifices that were made on his behalf in order to guarantee his right to speak his mind without fear of reprisal. Long before Mr. Whit's feckless mortal coil ventured forth upon the country that he despises and condemns, the same sort of men and women on whom he passes his misguided judgment fought and died so that he might one day have the freedom to spit on their collective memories. Liberals like Mr. Whit never seem to realize that no one can have freedom in this world unless someone is willing to fight for it. It is clear that Mr. Whit will never personally fight for his freedom; he will continue to sit in the shadows and dispatch his putrid, little missives whenever a contrary wind ruffles his delicate feathers.

To be clear, I do not mind when someone exercises their freedom of speech. I do not mind when someone protests the war. (I have my own misgivings about the directions we are taking - or not taking.) I do not mind when someone calls the President a "war-monger." I do not mind when someone wants our troops out of the Middle East, and organizes a "million-man-march" on the capitol to demand that Congress should bring our brave men and women home. When you get right down to it, I do not mind when someone informs me that something I believe to be right or wrong might be true or false.

However, I damn sure mind when some hypocritical, warthog-faced buffoon signs a death warrant for members of our country's armed forces from the safe haven of his computer keyboard, tucked safely away in an office where no harm will come to him. And yet, despite my personal loathing for Mr. Whit, and in deference to my belief that simpletons like Mr. Whit are utterly useless to society, I do not wish that any harm should come to him. I served in our nation's armed forces so that even a miserable, vomitus mass like Mr. Whit has the right to share his pathetic sentiments in a public forum. And to be honest, if push came to shove, I would do so again. And this is the paradox that makes our country great: the strong and the brave will thanklessly sacrifice their personal safety to fight and defend the rights of the weak and ungrateful cowards who condemn them.

I'll get off my soapbox now.


UPDATE: This post is one of several that I had written, which I later discovered had never been set to "public."