Standing Up to Bullies

In 1990, my wife and I were stationed in Germany with our daughters, Becka and Rachel, who were 5 and 3 years old respectively. Our two girls would play in the back yard behind our apartment, but every once in a while, the little boy across the street would come over and yell at Rachel to make her cry. Whenever my wife or I would run outside to see what was happening, the little boy would be trotting gleefully back across the street to his parents, who would pick him up and look at my wife and me with a shrug of their shoulders and a patronizing half-smile as if to say, "Boys will be boys." Their son was an only child, and he was quite clearly a spoiled brat.

I sat Rachel down one day when she was crying after the little boy's last attack, and I explained that the boy was a bully. I told Rachel that when he came over the next time, she needed to jump up and scream in his face as loudly as possible before he had a chance to do anything. Sure enough, a few days later we heard Rachel screaming at the top of her lungs, and we ran outside to see the little boy crying and running home to his parents, who were eyeing Kathleen and me with a look of horror on their faces. I gave them a sarcastic half-smile and shrugged my shoulders as if to say, "Girls will be girls."

But the best part was Rachel's reaction; as she watched that bawling brat run home to safety, her face was aglow with a combination of shocked surprise and total elation. She turned to look at me and said, "I did it! I yelled at him and he ran away!" At that moment, I realized that my daughter would never fall victim to a bully ever again. I may have taught her how to stand up to our neighbor's bratty kid, but she had won this battle entirely on her own. She was empowered.


POSTSCRIPT:

I should add, however, that the spoiled, little brat briefly paused in his withdrawal to look back at Rachel, who made her point undeniably by unleashing another round of high-powered war cries, and the sniveling little coward made good on his retreat and vanished into the safety of his home. He never bothered Rachel again.

Unionism, Socialism, Capitalism, and Communism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communication Is One Thing

Someone I know recently shared the following image on Social Media, and I think I understand the gist of what the writer was trying to say:

Communication-Is-One-Thing
"Communication is one thing
but your tone while communicating
With someone is everything ."

The general thought that is being expressed is fine, I guess - but... holy cow! What's up with the grammar? Let's see, the "W" in "With" on the third line is capitalized, but not the "b" in "But" on the second line, which makes it seem like an entirely different thought. And where's the comma after the first line? And why is there a visible space before the period? Who wrote this? 1,000,000 monkeys with typewriters? Surprised smile

With that in mind, perhaps what this statement could have said was:

"Communication is one thing,
but your tone while communicating
with someone is everything."

Of course, the redundancy for "communication" on the first and second lines is kind of amateurish; perhaps another word would have been better in either the first or second line? But then again, I believe the thought that the writer was trying to express is that "tone" is part of "communication," so it makes no sense to begin the with the word "communication" since it can't be both "part" and "everything" at the same time, though we can infer by context that the writer meant "speaking" when he or she wrote "communication" in the first line. In a like manner, "tone" isn't "everything" because "speaking" is still part of "communication." In other words, "communication" is "everything," of which "tone" and "speaking" are both parts.

Taking all of that into account, perhaps this statement would have been better?

"The spoken word is one thing,
but the tone of your voice when speaking to someone
often says more than your words."

Hmm... have I overthought this enough yet? Winking smile

Not All Marginalization is Misogyny

Every few years, the following photograph of Margaret Hamilton makes the rounds in social media. This particular image's popularity is not surprising; it's a great shot of Hamilton, who was NASA's lead developer for Apollo program, standing next to the stack of computer printouts for the software that told the Apollo Guidance Computer what to do and when to do it, which eventually helped astronauts land on the moon.

Margaret-Hamilton-With-Apollo-Software

A friend recently posted this image to social media, and upon seeing it, someone else responded, "That is incredible. Why haven't I ever heard of her before?"

My friend's reply was simple: "Because men."

I completely understood my friend's point. There are far too many times where women are overlooked in their respective fields. But I was annoyed and frustrated by my friend's two-word reply, because there are times when gender has nothing to do with whether someone's accomplishments are publicly recognized. In this specific instance, Hamilton's relative obscurity wasn't due to misogyny. Developers like Margaret Hamilton, Grace Hopper, Jean E. Sammet, and Frances Allen are pioneers in their respective contributions to computer science and software engineering, but the real reason why people haven't heard of them is because: they're computer scientists, and no one cares about computer scientists, except for other computer scientists.

In some fields, men are easy targets for a good round of bashing where "popularity" or "fame" are concerned, but when an entire career field isn't "popular," then EVERYONE who works in that field remains obscure. As history shows, Hamilton (and Hopper, and Sammet, and Allen) earned a host of accolades, but most people haven't heard of them because we use their work without giving a second thought where it came from. (Which, by the way, is true of all engineering fields, but I digress.) I challenge anyone to name a single engineer - man or woman - who helped to produce the iPhone, which is (for better or worse) one of the most civilization-altering inventions in history. Oh, sure - everyone can name Steve Jobs, because he owned the company. But Steve Jobs never "made" anything; millions of unnamed engineers - both men and women - are responsible for the iPhone, the iMac, Windows, Google, Microsoft Office, etc.

Here's another example: I just watched the new "Thor" movie, and Taika Waititi's name is everywhere during the credits because he co-wrote and directed the movie; but most people probably haven't heard of his co-writer, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, because "men." (Hollywood has always been and continues to remain misogynistic, but once again I digress.) However, did anyone bother to pay attention when the credits listed hundreds of people who worked on SFX/CGI for the movie? Nope - we enjoyed their work, but the computer scientists and digital artists who contributed to every scene in that movie remain unknown to anyone outside of their field.

Looping this back to the original subject of NASA and whether they slighted Margaret Hamilton, can anyone name any of the other members of her software development team? If the entire reason some people haven't heard of her was "because men," then I would assume that people could name some of the men who were on her team because they would have received credit for her work. But no, people can't name any of them, either. And why is that? Because - engineers.

How about any of the men and women who designed the Apollo space capsule? Or the Lunar Rover? Or the space suits? Or the propulsion systems? Or the communication systems? Or anyone involved in Skylab? Or the Space Shuttle? Or the Mars probes? Once again, people can't name a single one of those people. And why is that? Because "engineers."

NASA isn't slighting anyone. On the contrary, NASA hires brilliant minds - both men and women - who remain unknown to the general public because they chose extremely technical career fields that lead to obscurity within the community, and societal anonymity doesn't care about gender when it comes to scientific ignorance...

Boss-Leader-Programmer

King's X Has Not Aged Well

It should come as no surprise to people who know me or follow my blog, but I was a huge fan of King's X throughout the 1990s. The sublime mixture of Ty Tabor's searing guitar work, Doug Pinnick's thunderous bass tone and booming vocals, Jerry Gaskill's solid foundation on percussion, and their combined Beatlesque harmonies yielded a one-of-a-kind sound that quickly gained attention for this trio from Southern Texas. Over the years, I've transcribed a few classic pieces from King's X for my guitar students, and I've shared my transcriptions of the King's X songs Black Flag and Lost in Germany in previous blogs.

It should, therefore, also be of little surprise to anyone who knows me that my interest was piqued when I heard that King's X recently released a new single, which was their first studio offering after a fourteen-year absence. You can listen to their new single at the following URL.

I have to admit - I was far from impressed by this new single. This track sounded like something that King's X could have released years ago; it was as if the band hadn't bothered to improve their songwriting skills during their lengthy hiatus. In hindsight, I don't think that it's enough to say that "I was far from impressed." I think it is a far better statement to say that I was disappointed.

From my perspective, King's X was at their musical peak when Sam Taylor was producing them, and the Billboard chart history for King's X reinforces my sentiments. Taylor, as many King's X fans might recall, also produced Galactic Cowboys, Atomic Opera, and the "Conspiracy No. 5" album for Third Day (which was their second-best album in my opinion). Once Taylor was out of the picture, King's X produced themselves for several albums, where they sounded like they forgot how to function as a band; their playing was worse, their vocals were worse, their lyrics were worse, and each album contained tracks that were literally nothing but noise. In my estimation, King's X is the poster child for why bands should not produce themselves.

If you've ever watched the excellent documentary series from PBS called "Soundbreaking," it does a great job of explaining how it is the role of a producer to push artists out of their comfort zones and challenge them to try new things. That is why after 40 years bands like Rush continued to change producers on each album; Rush wanted new challenges and a fresh perspective. Cycling back to King's X, after several self-produced albums they had the good sense to team up with Michael Wagener as a producer for a couple albums, but King's X didn't change for the better, and this new single sounds like it has nothing original to offer. Unfortunately, this track sounds like the same old drivel that King's X has been churning out for decades.

It's a shame that a fourteen-year absence doesn't appear to have added anything to King's X's talent pool.


POSTSCRIPT:

As a point of trivia, I should mention that I bumped into Sam Taylor at a show back in 1997. Third Day was doing an acoustic set at a store in the Dallas area to support their "Conspiracy No. 5" album, and I was standing off to the side next to a guy who was a few years older than me. We got to talking, and when he offered his name I immediately said, "You mean the Sam Taylor who produced King's X and Galactic Cowboys?" Taylor looked at me and said, "You must be a guitarist." When I asked, "How could you tell?," he responded, "Because no one listens to King's X except guitarists."

Auschwitz and Contemporary Politics

A blogger who publishes his content using the moniker of The Catholic Traveler recently shared his observations on social media about his recent trip to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. I visited the former concentration camp of Dachau when I was stationed in Germany back in the late 1980s, so I read his post with interest. After reading his post, I made an observation that I thought was worth sharing, but first - I have to put things in perspective. To do so, I will repost the full contents of his original blog, with full credit given to Mountain Butorac (aka "The Catholic Traveler") as its author.

I visited Auschwitz for the first time the other day. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's one of the most awful places in the world, yet they sell donuts at the snack bar.

Many people traveling with me posted things like "no words." That's how I felt at first too. It's why I often wait a while before commenting on things - to be sure I have the right words, rather than just emotions.

During our visit the sky was grey and there was a steady cold rain. We trudged through thick mud to get from barracks to gas chambers to crematoriums. Everything about the visit was uncomfortable, even the guide.

She spoke English with a heavy German accent and an even heavier lisp. She showed no emotion at all, even when saying...

"These people are being separated from their families. They are told they are going to shower after the long journey, but they are being sent to die. Their family will never see them again."

"Kids and the elderly couldn't work. They were stripped naked and sent to the gas chambers to die. Here's their hair."

"Pregnant women and twins were used in medical experiments. Their screams could be heard across this courtyard."

She was great, I would use her again, but it was all very creepy. As it should be, I suppose.

Two things that struck me...

How often the guide stressed the proof of what happened there. I've heard of Holocaust deniers, but assumed it was a small group of people like those who think Elvis is alive.

I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden.

In interviews with SS guards after the war, they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat.

When asked how they could do such horrid experiments on people, they responded that it was essential for improving their medical system. Doctors and nurses felt it was completely ethical to drown newborn babies and inject all sorts of things into people to further their science.

Just incredible. I'm still processing it.

I think it's a place you must visit. But don't get the donuts.

 

-- Copyright 2022 by The Catholic Traveler.

My personal experiences at Dachau evoked the same emotions that Butorac tried his best to explain, but words failed me as they did for him. When you are standing in a place where unspeakable evil was committed on a daily basis, it is hard to fathom how someone / anyone could allow themselves to torture and kill their fellow human beings without so much as a second thought.

And yet, as I considered recent political events in the United States and re-examined some of Butorac's statements after I removed his references to World War II, I was left with the following excerpt:

"I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden. In interviews ... they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat [to their way of life]."

The remaining verbiage that we are left with is just as incredible - and just as creepy - when compared to the arguments that I hear in sound bites on the daily news. The devaluation of innocent lives whom people regard as an inconvenience, or a burden, or a threat to the way of life to which they have grown accustomed has apparently not been limited to history or geography.

Marcin Patrzalek and Bach's Toccata

As a guitarist, I like Marcin Patrzalek. A lot. In fact, I prefer Marcin far more than Tim Henson of Polyphia; Marcin keeps me endlessly entertained, while Henson starts to sound the same after a while. (I have the same complaint about Yngwie, but I digress.) Nevertheless, a friend recently sent me a video of Marcin performing his version of Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata in D minor, which is a favorite piece of mine (and most people around Halloween), and you can watch the video below.

First things first - I'm not sure why Marcin decided to adopt his new "emo look," but it's not working for him.

Having said that, I should clarify that this is NOT Bach's "Toccata" on "one guitar" as the title suggests, for two primary reasons:

  1. Marcin's piece highlights a few themes from Bach's "Toccata," but it barely follows Bach's original, therefore this video should have been titled "Variations on Bach's Toccata."
  2. There are very clearly several layers that were overdubed, so this isn't on "one guitar" as advertised.

Don't get me wrong - I've seen enough of Marcin's live videos to know that he could play this piece on one guitar - and probably with one hand - but he chose not to, so the piece is mislabeled.

Setting those minor nitpicks aside - this is a great rendition. Marcin's approach to the piece is imaginative and original, and I loved his use of various percussion slaps throughout his variations on the theme.

Once again Marcin hit a home run in my estimation, and I stand by my original statement that I really like Marcin Patrzalek; he is inarguably one of the best percussive guitarists on the planet.

The Fastest Manmade Object

I just read the following article: The Fastest Speed Ever Reached by a Manmade Object?, and I have to disagree with their assessment.

The fastest speed ever reached by a manmade object was the back of my mom's hand, which broke the sound barrier several times over while spinning around from the front seat of a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda when I tried backtalking from the rear seat...

Surprised smile

Minor Surgery on a Ricoh Theta V

I just ran into a weird issue with a somewhat easy resolution that I thought I'd share:

One of my "fun" cameras is a Ricoh Theta V 360 camera, which is what I used to create several 360-degree images that I took at the Grand Canyon recently. However, when I looked at my images from that trip, there was a light shadow in each of the final images.

Upon inspecting the camera, there was a tiny scratch on the surface of the lens. I'm not sure how that happened, but any images in the future would have had similar shadows. A quick scan of eBay yielded a replacement lens for around $40, and the following video provided the instructions for swapping the new lens for the old.

Since the video has all the images you need to see, I didn't bother to take any photos, but I thought that I'd share a few notes about the steps involved:

  1. Remove the base from the camera; probably best with a hobby blade that you can easily slide underneath.
  2. Remove the four screws from the bottom; you need a fine point philips screwdriver for this.
  3. Open the case; I used a guitar pick to open the case, but you should make sure to use something non-metallic so that you don't damage anything inside the camera.
  4. Remove the lens; once again, you need to use something that won't damage the camera.

That's about it. Long story short, after 20 minutes of relatively easy labor, my camera is back up and working.


FYI: If you'd like to see the full 360-degree Grand Canyon image, you can click here.

The Cover Song No One Asked For (Or Needed)

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

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

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

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

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

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