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.

I Wonder If History Was Like This

I love studying history, and I must admit that the majority of books I typically read are on that subject. That said, I recently stumbled across the following video from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, which an amusing look at the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia. Even though I know that this video is meant humorously, there are times when I wonder how historically accurate events like this might have been.

Winking smile

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 d├ętente 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...

Prog Rock Sentiments on Saint Patrick's Day

In honor of St. Patrick's Day and my favorite prog rock band, this is the t-shirt that I'm wearing today...

irush-shamrock-green

In keeping with that theme, here are some possible lyrics that go along with that t-shirt:

An ancient cleric
Humble stride
Today's Saint Patrick
Humble pride

No his snakes are not for rent
Neither viper nor serpent
And I'm glad they finally went
For they all would not repent

Saint Patrick!

My Humble Request to Amend the English Language

I have realized a serious shortcoming within the English language: we have no word to describe someone who speaks sarcasm fluently, which I believe is a serious lapse in linguistic breadth.

In the current iteration of the English language, we have an adverb to say that something was said "sarcastically," or an adjective to describe a particular turn of phrase as being "sarcastic," or a noun to denote "sarcasm" itself as a form of bitter irony, but we have no way to properly identify the person who employs sarcasm to communicate.

On the contrary, someone who is speaking "satirically" is labeled a "satirist," though that word does not adequately describe someone who is speaking sarcastically.

Therefore, I propose that the word "sarcastinator" be added to the English language. I think this simple linguistic addition will do well to recognize the talents of those who are proficient in the fine art of sarcasm, and begin to reconcile the years of oversight and neglect that sarcastinators have endured within conversational circles.

To that end, I welcome your participation in promoting "sarcastinator" to the English speaking nations of the world, because I care about your participation.

Really.

If only you could hear the sincerity with which I am asking for your support.

I-Speak-Fluent-Sarcasm

I Cannot Take Putin's Side in Ukraine

A well-intentioned veteran with whom I served in the military several years ago presented a challenge on social media: he asked everyone to consider information from all sides before deciding how to personally react with regard to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. To that end, he brought up a philosophy that we were taught in military intelligence: if you want to defeat your enemy, you must first understand him. This piece of wisdom can be traced back to the writings of Sun Tzu, and it is solid doctrine. My friend went further to say that listening to false intelligence about your enemy was worse than having no intelligence, because it could lead to fatal decision making. Once again, this is a solid piece of advice when considering world affairs.

Combining these two outlooks, my colleague shared the following video of a speech by Vladimir Putin, in which Putin asserts that his military aggressions over past two decades have been a reaction to NATO's eastward expansion. To paraphrase my former comrade's beliefs about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he felt that Russia has just cause to feel threatened by the West because of NATO's continued expansion; therefore Putin's actions were acceptable - and somewhat inevitable - given the situation described by Putin in his speech.

However, I do not - and cannot - share my former colleague's opinion of this invasion. While my friend made a valid point that everyone should look at any given situation from all sides, that does not mean that every position has equal worth. With that in mind, here are some additional thoughts for everyone to ponder.

I watched Putin's speech in the above video some time ago, and I've heard when Putin expressed similar sentiments at other times. It's wonderful propaganda, to be sure, and Putin has outdone himself as a former member of the KGB with regard to his ability to spin his military aggressions as some sort of defensive posturing. However, his actions do not line up with the lies that he is telling. If you re-watch the above video and listen to Putin's version of events, he claims to be a peace loving individual minding his own business, while the West has been slowly threatening him. But if you ignore all the excess noise about NATO and the USA, what has Putin been doing for decades? He's been rolling his military into neighboring countries and grabbing up land and resources when neither NATO nor the USA have had anything to do with the situation. In other words, if some hypothetical person listened to Putin and believed his warped version of reality, that person is being played. Although to that hypothetical person's credit, they're being played by one of the most-skilled political manipulators to emerge onto the world stage. Putin is the kind of bully that will punch you in the face and then convince you that you need to apologize for it.

Here is something else to consider: does Putin actually care about the reasons that he is citing for his military aggression (like NATO expansion), or has Putin simply been given the opportunity of a lifetime to do as he pleases because he has a somewhat plausible reason for blaming everything he does on someone else? Consider the following PBS documentary from seven years ago, which documents Putin's rise to power from a lowly KGB agent through decades of corruption, embezzlement, and ruthlessness to become President of Russia.

Throughout Putin's ascendency, he formed powerful alliances with other corrupt politicians and oligarchs, from which Putin has personally profited handsomely. In addition, you might recall from recent years that Putin has no qualms about imprisoning or poisoning his political opponents in order to preserve his autocracy.

Like any good Soviet, Putin does a masterful job of committing atrocities and then blaming it on others. Here are a few recent cases in point:

  • Putin accused Ukraine of hurting Russian separatists in the Donbas region, which provided him with his "justification" for attacking Ukraine.
  • Putin has accused Ukraine of using chemical weapons, which - despite a lack of evidence - could provide Putin with his "justification" for using chemical weapons in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces infamously bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, then blamed Ukraine for using the hospital to house neo-Nazis.

Putin is clearly using the same playbook that the Soviet Union used during the Cold War: the Soviets would accuse the West of doing something bad, which provided the Soviets with their "justification" for doing something bad themselves.

Harkening back to one of my opening statements about understanding one's enemy, there is a part of the collective Russian psyche that warrants examination: decades of post-WWII Russian fears about being invaded from the West - as Germany did during WWII - are not easily forgotten. This state of fear provides Putin with an excellent pretext to mobilize public sentiment behind any political or militaristic whim that he might concoct. In other words, Putin can claim, "I need to attack Govnovia because our security is threatened by the West," which he can use to conceal any actual intentions.

If you watch the following documentary, it describes how over the past few decades, Ukraine has continuously threatened Russia's profits from oil and natural gas, and sales of these fuel resources comprise 50% of Russia's GDP. Since Putin has made a career out of skimming billions of dollars from Russia, Ukraine's reduction of Russia's profits hurts Putin's pocketbook. Ergo - the true cause of Putin's actions is profits, and all his rhetoric about NATO and tapping into Russia's history of paranoia where the West is concerned is nothing but a smoke screen.

In summary, there was a grain truth to what my former colleague was saying when he pointed out that NATO has advanced eastward over the years. However, countries that have been recently added to NATO were not invaded militarily by the West. On the contrary, those nations asked to join NATO in order to avoid the exact scenario that is happening with Ukraine right now. However, let's set that aside for a moment, and consider the person who is claiming that NATO expansion is somehow a problem. As I said earlier, does Putin actually care? Or has the West inadvertently given Putin the ammunition that he needs to use military aggression to achieve his personal ambitions?

In the end, my colleague was correct when he said that one must understand his enemy and avoid false intelligence, and yet he has failed in both of those capacities: by accepting Putin's propaganda at face value, my former comrade has chose to base his worldview on false intelligence, and as a result he has failed to understand his enemy.


POSTSCRIPT:

In an ironic twist, Putin has become the same sort of dictator that Russia has feared; all of Putin's speeches about Russia needing to annex Ukraine sound just like Hitler's proclamations of needing "Lebensraum" prior to WWII. From my perspective, history is repeating itself in one of two ways: either Putin is attempting to rebuild the Soviet Union like his Communist predecessors (while personally profiting as a Capitalist), or Putin is making a land grab like the other infamous despot that I just named (and is therefore using the memory of Nazism to behave like a Nazi).

The Inevitable Demise of Dictators

Today is the 69th anniversary of Josef Stalin's long overdue demise, which means it's time to re-watch one of my favorite dark comedies: The Death Of Stalin. However, given recent events in Ukraine, it's nice to have a reminder that Russian dictators - like all dictators - will eventually wither and die and become nothing more than worm food.

The Death of Stalin Movie Poster

Taxation without Realization

If you've read my blog in the past, then I am sure you're aware that I have no problems speaking my mind about any number of disparate subjects. Although, in the interests of full transparency, I have shown far more restraint than most people would assume. Nevertheless, I am occasionally obliged to say something when I think that a particular issue warrants my unsolicited opinion, which leads me to today's topic of discussion: taxes.

Throughout my life, I have seen hundreds of people display a general ignorance when it comes to paying taxes. To be clear, no one wants to pay taxes, and many people tend to complain incessantly about paying taxes. However, most of their arguments demonstrate a complete failure to understand why taxes are a necessary evil. With that in mind, when I saw the following image turn up in my news feed on social media, I couldn't help but think, "What a stupid thing to say."

Why Am I Paying Taxes

Wage taxes - both state and federal - are collected to pay for police services, fire departments, road construction and repairs, traffic lights, national and state parks, public health, military defense, and thousands of other necessary services that keep our society safe and protected. However, I freely admit that there are thousands of useless projects and salaries for useless public servants what we shouldn't be paying for, but I'll come back to that in a minute.

Nevertheless, the taxes to pay for all these public services and infrastructure costs are withheld from every paycheck in order to avoid forcing taxpayers to pay a lump sum in taxes at the end of every year. With that in mind, think of taxation on wages as a type of payment plan. However, if a taxpayer hasn't set up their withholding correctly, then they might wind up paying additional taxes during tax season to make up the difference between what they should have paid and what was withheld, or taxpayers might receive a refund if they have overpaid in their withholding.

Taxes on purchases are a somewhat ingenious/infamous concept that forces wealthier taxpayers to pay far more than those who earn less, because higher wage earners tend to spend more on unnecessary purchases, which increases the amount of taxes that they pay. Sales tax on property purchases follow suit, though there are additional property taxes that residents are required to pay after they've purchased their property, which are ostensibly used to provide services at the community level (e.g. local police, fire, etc.).

To summarize my feedback thus far: everything that is addressed in that meme illustrates the way that governments work around the globe - there are services that are needed to keep people safe and commerce flowing, and taxes provide for those services. If we briefly set aside the concepts of useless projects and useless public servants for a moment, objecting to the basic concept of taxation is akin to claiming that you can provide your own protection from crime, fire, invasion, disease, etc., while also creating your own means of transportation (e.g. building your own roads). At the end of the day, any notion of doing away with taxes is beyond ludicrous. You might as well wish for anarchy, which leads almost immediately to being conquered by another country that developed its superior military forces through... taxes.

All that being said, there are several things about taxes that I find equally ludicrous.

I have already mentioned thousands of useless projects and salaries for useless public servants what we shouldn't be paying for, and better public transparency from our government would help take care of that. However, better public transparency isn't in the best interests of the useless public servants that are wasting money, so the useless public servants tend to hide their useless expenditures from the public, and our only recourse is to vote those people out of office when they are discovered.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, "It is difficult to free people from the chains they revere," and as we have seen in states like California, some useless public servants continue to spend themselves past bankruptcy by continuously adding unnecessary services and appointing unnecessary people to govern them, and yet their gullible constituents continue to vote these useless public servants into office year after year. Although as we have seen recently, residents of California have slowly awakened to the fact that their useless public servants have created an untenable "tax and spend" society, and hundreds of thousands of California's former residents have fled the state. However, as these California expats have begun to settle in states that have historically been more fiscally sound, these domestic political refugees are demonstrating their continued ignorance by voting in the same sorts of useless public servants that they were fleeing in their home states, and thereby destroying the rest of the country with the same level of apathetic stupidity that destroyed their previous locales.

Having said all of that, another form of taxation that I find morally reprehensible is taxes on Social Security. Wage earners have been forced to pay a lifetime's worth of income that has already been taxed into the Social Security program, on which they earn a pittance of interest for their involuntary participation; then insult is added to injury when their meager returns are taxed yet again. This is grossly insulting to everyone who is required to participate in Social Security.

The last form of taxation that I think is brainless beyond measure is paying taxes on military wages. Taxpayers are paying the costs for national defense, so the requirement for military personnel to pay taxes to themselves is just plain stupid. I think it would be a great incentive for military recruitment if military wages were tax free. Many enlisted personnel are earning far below the federal poverty line anyway, and I think that removing taxes from their wages would be extremely beneficial to them.

In closing, any general objections to paying taxes are ridiculous, and they typically do little more than to illustrate that the person who is complaining about taxes doesn't understand how to govern anything more than themselves. (Although I have known more than my fair share of people who objected to taxes that were incapable of balancing their checkbooks, but I digress.) Taxes are essential for the common good, and someone who fails to understand that simple concept should take a few basic economics courses.

At the end of the day, as the old saying goes, "Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes."