A Picture Can Wound a Thousand Broken Hearts

I wanted to reshare this photo because it was very personal to me. My wife and I have a bed very similar to this in the bedroom where our four-year-old granddaughter sleeps peacefully when she comes to visit, and I can imagine that the child who owned this bed was sleeping peacefully in it before she was senselessly slaughtered this past weekend. And what had the child done to deserve such a violent and militaristic execution? She was alive, and that was it. For thousands of years people have killed millions of Jews simply because they existed, and many of these genocides have been largely ignored by unsympathetic historians because the victims were Jews and no one seemed to care about their suffering. This is racism at its worst, and it must stop.

Hamas Kills Innocent Babies

Over the past few decades, I have also heard much about the plight of the Palestinians, and if I'm being honest, I have to agree with some of the arguments that I have heard in their favor. I believe that Palestinians should have an independent state where they can live in peace, and if you study your history, you'll see that on multiple occasions Israel offered huge swaths of land with which the Palestinians could have created a free state for themselves. But the Palestinians refused these offers, because the terrorists the Palestinians voted into power, namely Hamas, do not want to peacefully coexist with Israel. Hamas has been very vocal over the years about its intentions to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, which is what lead to Saturday's surprise attack and the deaths of hundreds of innocent Jewish people for the simple crime of not being dead already.

I occasionally see people driving around with the "COEXIST" bumper sticker that is fashioned from the iconography of several major religions. While this is a noble-sounding sentiment, it reveals much about the naiveté of the person who emblazoned their vehicle with such innocent absurdity. The problem with preaching this particular message of coexistence is that it completely ignores the actions and emotions of people who do not share a common sense of right and wrong. Americans had a difficult time understanding this disparity when 9/11 happened; the thousands of innocent lives who died in the Twin Towers and Washington DC hadn't done anything to warrant their tragic deaths at the hands of Al Qaeda terrorists, but the enemy we faced was so blinded by hatred that it could not be reasoned with. Sadly, this is where Israel finds itself today. Hamas cannot be reasoned with. Hamas doesn't want to coexist. Hamas only wants to hate Jews and kidnap families and rape women and kill innocent people - like the child who owned the bed in this photo. Being ex-military, I am angered by this image. I am repulsed by what it depicts. I want vengeance for what Hamas has done. But that's not my place, and if I'm not careful, I may find myself so consumed by hatred for Hamas that I'm no better than they are.

It's Memorial Day - Thank a Veteran

An anonymous person posted a suggestion to social media that everyone should "Thank a Veteran this Memorial Day." I thought that proposal sounded like a good idea, so to all my former uniformed brethren - I say with a grateful heart, "Thank you for your service."

However, no sooner had the anonymous person posted their statement of gratitude, another well-meaning person responded with the following meme:

memorial-day-remember-the-fallen

Giving benefit of the doubt, I believe the second poster's intentions were good, and I agree that wishing someone a "Happy Memorial Day" is culturally insensitive. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor the sacrifices of our nation’s men and women who have fallen in combat. There is nothing that is "happy" about this annual observance, and as such the phrase "Happy Memorial Day" is at best an oxymoron, and at worst it is an insult to those who have lost loved ones during their time in service.

However, while I agree that we should NEVER utter the words "Happy Memorial Day" because they dishonor the meaning of that holiday, we can ALWAYS thank our veterans - whether it's Memorial Day, or Veteran's Day, or Independence Day, or Mother's Day, or Christmas Day, or a Tuesday, or a Friday, or any day that ends in "day."

In one fashion or another, every veteran has sacrificed, which is amply expressed by the following adage: "All gave some, but some gave all."

we-owe-them-all


POSTSCRIPT:

For more information about Memorial Day, see The Tangled Roots of Memorial Day and Why It's Celebrated on the NY Times website.

College Loans and Debt Forgiveness

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

Student-Debt-Crisis-Solved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brittney Griner vs the World

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

Brittney-Griner-PR-Stunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egypt Discarded the Rosetta Stone, Now Egypt Wants It Back

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

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

Rosetta-Stone

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

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

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

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

Unionism, Socialism, Capitalism, and Communism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cover Song No One Asked For (Or Needed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painters and Pretenders

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

TWOMBLY-jumbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Have Plenty of Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Prefer Tina Setkic over Yngwie Malmsteen

On the one hand, you have Yngwie Malmsteen, who is inarguably the most arrogant SOB in modern rock guitar, playing his "Arpeggios from Hell" in the following video while acting like he's some sort of badass:

While on the other hand, you have the teenage Tina S playing the same solo in the following video, and she's playing it arguably better while looking like she's bored to tears:

It's easy to see why I think Tina is far more talented than Yngwie...