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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Remembering Tom Petty(1950-2017)

    Rock and roll legend Tom Petty, renown for his eponymous band and for being a part of super-group the Travelling Wilburys, died Monday evening after going into full cardiac arrest at his Malibu, CA, home. Undoubtedly the hardest-hitting death in all of 2017, and easily rivalling the most famous of those from years past. Petty crafted some of the most defining songs of the 70's, 80's, and 90's, and was in and of himself a singular force in rock and roll music a la Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and Prince. To consider what all we have lost as far as music in the past 2 years is incredible. Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon, Bowie, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Prince, Leon Russell, Gregg Allman, Walter Becker of Steely Dan, and now Tom Petty are all gone. It's the curse of liking older(but quality) music, losing all your favourites.

    Some argue that he and his bands weren't instrumentally proficient and versatile in the same was as, say, Blue Cheer, Moby Grape, Pacific Gas & Electric, Quicksilver, or the Soft Machine. Some even argue that, lacking a 'singing voice,' he's just doing a fobbed off rendition of Bob Dylan. On the first point, I say that whatever talents they did(and they did) or did not have were trumped by the adept, incisive song-writing team of Tom Petty & Mike Campbell. To the second point, I must say this: Bob who? In much the same way as the Eagles, though, Tom Petty's music resonated with me more because of the deeper cuts than the hits. That's not a dig at the wonderful hit songs he did, I'm just saying the songs ignored by radio play-listers were of better quality. Here's a taster of what he was really capable of doing, culled mainly from his late-80's and 1990's releases.

    "Love is a Long Road," from the 1989 "Full Moon Fever" album, is anthemically descriptive not just of two young people passionately in love, but also the 'long road' of being in love(even if by one's self)--As I am apt to call it, the 'rush of the crush.' Lyrics and music both portray the image of a love cratering on a day-to-day basis. When it all gets too much, one has to jump off the 'love train' "To try and save my soul." Real talk from the realest of the rockers.

    "To Find a Friend," from the 1994 "Wildflowers" album, is about as simple and laid back as one can find in Petty's catalogue. At least, the music is laid back(as opposed to its usual rambunctious self). But wait, those lyrics ain't laid back. These are the after-effects of divorce and the process of self-reinvention at play. His songs from this period tend to cover similar ground('self-reinvention' was covered, albeit not as succinctly, in "All the Wrong Reasons" from 1991's "Into the Great Wide Open" album), for a variety of reasons. Petty, by now, is going through the divorce and seeking out his true friends. The song features drums from one of those friends, former Beatle Ringo Starr.

    "Walls(Circus)," from the un-heralded 1996 "She's the One" soundtrack, has Petty making universal statements. Granted, he arguably did it better in songs like "I Won't Back Down" and "Learning to Fly." However, this one, with our current President's talk of 'big walls, beautiful walls,' is especially timely. "I can't hold out forever. Even walls fall down." I'm sure some dismiss this song as flighty bubble-gum, but the simplicity of the lyrics belie the heady, weighty real-life concepts being expounded upon. Petty was, in 1996, breaking down his own decades-old walls. Definitely one of the more fitting, prescient songs he did.

    "A Self Made Man" expounds upon the bitter after-effects of love gone haywire. Discovered this one by laughing chance when I was looking at the back of my then-copy of the "Let Me Up(I've Had Enough)" LP and thought the song title looked interesting enough. I was blown away when I dropped the needle, more than any other time past or future that I've done the LP rounds(the song in the linked video is the product of that dropping of the needle). Saw the movie "Baby Driver" in cinemas a couple of months ago, and I thought of this song when Kevin Spacey's character proclaimed "I was in love once," not long before he got into a life-ending shoot-out. "He's a self made man, he knows how to lose."

    "Too Good to Be True" is Tom Petty at his most foreboding. He doesn't say it, and he doesn't have to. This girl has...lived the life, shall we say. The wayward life of a young girl. This I have seen from several vantage points. Saw from afar a Church girl on whom I had a crush on-again and off-again over the course of five years gradually lose, after she went to College, whatever semblance of the wide-eyed innocence that drew me to her in the first place. Nowadays, I couldn't possibly care less. "You don't know what it means to be free." How true. Most people never get that opportunity, or outright waste it entirely.

    "It's Good to Be King," a lesser hit from the "Wildflowers" album, is one I cottoned to just recently. In fact, the whole "Wildflowers" album got a re-listen from me(initially, I wasn't much of a fan beyond the hits and key deeper songs), and I realised why Petty himself liked it so much. Raw honesty, which reached a new level on this album. Recently put this song to a burned disc, and I can be occasionally heard singing to myself the lyric "Can I help it if I still dream time to time?" 'Everybody wants to rule the world,' and 'you may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.' A universal sentiment borne of life's whole cloth. Also, adapted to today's circumstances, very prescient. It's like Tom Petty was keyed into the American spirit in a way that would make people like Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen look like total shysters by comparison.

    "Room at the Top," from his highly personal 1999 "Echo" album(having been recorded in the midst of the aftermath of his aforementioned divorce and a late-in-life heroin addiction), is the best song he ever did in my estimation. My love of the song stems from the linked video I did for the song, the idea for which sprouted at one of the lowest periods in my life. Was driving down the road the day after one of my magic crushes cratered(sensing a pattern?), more spectacularly than usual. Had the "Echo" album in my CD player, and this song was playing. I thought to myself "Room at the top of the world...Windows on the World...Hey, that's a good idea! Mark that one down somewhere."  The song became one of my favourites ever as a result of that video, which has to be the best one I ever did. "I've got a room at the top of the world tonight, and I ain't coming down" is my own way of looking at life and where I am now.

    I'll end this song set with another "Echo" album track: "Lonesome Sundown," a mournful lamenting of past relationships and the disintegration thereof. Petty wrote a great many of these, almost all of them good, though few could match the mournful energy of this song. I don't know anything about relationships myself, but I do know about crushes that fall apart. Some are far more painful than others, especially when there's another guy in the mix. "Forgiveness is the key," and so few people ever realize the truth of the sentiment. I'd imagine lots of 'lonesome sundowns' gradually give way to even more 'tequila sunrises.'

    Was in Athens, GA, earlier Monday afternoon sifting through several LP Bins, and came across brand new, shrink-wrapped Tom Petty LP's. Not just re-issued studio albums, but also live performances. Gave me a curious chuckle to see that Petty and his band did a live cover of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" Since I am a cheapskate, I didn't give them a serious thought(around $20 a pop). No doubt people are buying them up now. This was all before I got the horrible news, standing in the music section at the Athens Barnes & Noble. Overlooked a great many selections as I bee-lined for the Petty slot to finally get his band's debut release(it's a better album than even I had ever imagined). With the Eagles and the Moody Blues, they were a band I had wanted to see live in concert. However, on his last two swings through Atlanta(with Mudcrutch and the Heartbreakers, respectively), I found ticket prices to be on the high side for me(north of $100 per seat). Again, my cheaper side won out.

    The first memories I ever remember of Petty's music involved my tween-year love and hate relationship with the song "Free Fallin'." In one of the more love-fuelled periods, the band's 'Greatest Hits' compilation became my first ever music CD(when love transitioned back to hate, I kicked myself HARD for passing up Matchbox 20 and Clay Aiken). Later, towards my teen years, I added "I Won't Back Down" to the ranks of songs for which I possessed said 'love/hate relationship.' As my music tastes fell more solidly into place, Tom Petty slowly became a favourite, propelled by the songs "Running Down a Dream" and "Learning to Fly." In no time, those stragglers came on out the other side, and not a moment too soon. When my big crush fell through in 2012, it was "Free Fallin'" that resonated the most, as it summed up everything. As time went on and circumstances unfolded, I would come to find "A Woman in Love(It's Not Me)" appropriate.

    Tom Petty was a giant of music in America and around the world. His loss is absolutely staggering. Music was in a downward-spiralling state the past 15 or so years, and Petty was the only one still doing good albums. That's gone now. What that means for music is at present unclear, but one can guess the end result won't be a good one. More personally, this is not the article I ever thought I'd have to do right now.

RIP Tom Petty

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Jumping on Bandwagons

    The other day, I saw a co-worker of mine walking around the store in a Pink Floyd t-shirt. Now, this came as a surprise--She'd never before struck me as a music fan, and still doesn't. Maybe I'm wrong, though I can usually get a sense of people in not too long a time space, let alone several weeks of the work experience. Pink Floyd shirts are pretty popular with the younger sub-set, as are Beatles shirts. The latter is an even more insincere expression of musical taste. Everyone knows who the Beatles are, and even more like their music. The shirts, not too long ago a true statement of taste, are starting to remind me of the Christian crosses lots of people wear. That is, little more than jewelry that scares off the demons and questioners. Moreover, it's a case of the fickle public jumping on the bandwagon of a marketing campaign from both bands(The Beatles did their re-mastering of the entire catalogue back in 2009, and Pink Floyd did theirs back around 2015).

    When I started liking groups like Pink Floyd and the Beatles, and Rock music in general, I was in Public School and the sentiment wasn't exactly popular the way it seems to be now. One could take a chance on being bullied for musical taste, or be cowed into submission by the whims of the crowds. Same holds true today, and it's even worse with the advent of social media. Rap and modern Pop were the 'in-music' of the mid-2000's, when I was in school. I raised myself on Atlanta's then-Lite FM station, and the Beatles were among many very familiar sounds("Oh, I believe in yesterday") I would hear. Come 2006, I was trying out the new Classic Rock station. Fortunately for me, so were a lot of my fellow students. Many times, I could count on hearing one of the guys singing the lyric "Slow ride, take it easy," without a notion of how ironic that would turn out to be years down the line. My chance to explore the music I was listening to blossomed throughout my teen years in a home school environment, while everyone else's probably atrophied through the years. The classic life stages of a bandwagon jumper in a nutshell: Jump on, take it in, and jump off.

    People can sense someone who's jumping on the bandwagon, doing what's cool. The most common way this is expressed is when a musician dies and you go out to buy one of their albums. I fondly remember my Ten Years After, Ramones, and Jack Bruce musical phases very well and with some fondness. When Glenn Frey of the Eagles died in 2016, I visited several antique store booths in an effort at finding his solo LP's, and I had the best conversations with similarly-minded people on the related subjects. Truth be told, I only thought to consider him as a solo act because of his death, having already thoroughly picked through the Eagles' catalogue. Keith Emerson's death prompted me to buy ELP live albums and round out my collection. There are people who also do this quite a bit in politics. In fact, there are swaths of people, operating in a quasi-group think manner, who are just waiting for THE candidate to whom they can hitch their wagon.

    Political bandwagon-jumping is among the most publicised and disgusting varieties you'll see. Going against basic decency and established fact to support the party's agenda. Choosing friends based on politics, all in defence of ideology. Partisans will support everything espoused by the top of the ticket, no matter how ill-informed or incendiary. Shifting focus to the modern day, you'll see the opportunists who support the Clinton's, John Kerry, and Barack Obama continue their wars of attrition against the supporters of Mike Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and Bernie Sanders. Likewise with Bush and Trump supporters' constant belittling of those like myself who supported John McCain and Mitt Romney. The notion of losing and being on the wrong side now and again is anathema to those who are obsessed with winning.

    I'll never forget seeking out the Facebook profiles of my old cohorts from Middle School towards the latter end of the year 2015, and discovering that many of them had jumped aboard the Trump Wagon. A lot of the same people who bullied me endlessly were now cheering on the bullying demagogy of Donald Trump. Over-grown children. I walked away slightly dismayed. The worst of the lot, however, must be the so-called 'Never Trump' people, who don't actually oppose him for policy's sake or even as a matter of decency. No, they oppose him because they're trying to advance their business interests and personal brands. Think about it, folks. They're money-changers, the people who's tables Jesus famously flipped over at the Temple in his time on Earth. If they and the 'Resistance'(partisan windbags who'd say the same things about McCain, Romney, Paul Ryan, or Marco Rubio if they'd gotten in) are Trump's main opposition, then he's not in the bad shape many say he is.

     I look at bandwagon jumping in any corner of life as a cop-out to the malleable whims of society, and most dishonourable behaviour no matter who is engaging in the act. The sincerity of the bandwagon jumper is also at best dubious. Some are wearing the Pink Floyd/Beatles shirts to avoid predictable conversations about music with older guys with pronounced tastes. Like Newt Gingrich calling himself 'cheerful,' it is their way of telling us all to 'go f--k ourselves.' It muddies the waters, and takes away from those of us who were there longer and put in more of our time and efforts. Should we remember the fighters for freedom who prevailed in their quest for Civil Rights through perseverance, tenacity, and will-power, or should we remember the 'house negroes' who reaped the rewards of freedom after the Emancipation? The answer seems obvious, but these things will be hashed out for some time. I don't doubt that I'll be remembered better than will the insincere sorts who go out of their ways to side with majority opinions--Weather vanes who twist with the prevailing thought of the day.

I just hope the bandwagon jumpers won't try to co-opt Steely Dan, Bojangles, and Books-A-Million.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reflecting on the Eagles and Their Music

    (Editor's note: The above picture features the Eagles with touring drummer Joe Vitale, the best drummer the band ever had)

    The last Eagles post I put to this site was more than a touch hotly worded--I was still working out some bad feelings I was having with a popular Eagles online forum, but the basic sentiment still remains. One of the great bands of the 1970's and early 1980's has become a Vegas tribute act. For a month's salary, you can hear country crapper Vince Gill and his backing band churn out a plastic, lifeless version of "Take it to the Limit." But enough of that. I'm hear to talk about the real band, the reason you're here reading this post.
    To say that the year 2016 was something else is understating things considerably. Right on the heels of the death of Pop/Rock mega-star David Bowie, on January 18, 2016, Glenn Frey, front-man and lynchpin song-writer for the Eagles, died as a result of pneumonia contracted during a hospital stay necessitated by the need for further intestinal surgery. I was sad when Alvin Lee of Ten Years After died in March, 2013. I was very sad when Jack Bruce of Cream died in October, 2014, and when Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon died in September, 2015. Frey's death precipitated a whole new level of sadness for me, as the Eagles have long been one of my favourite bands.

     Admittedly, my introduction to the band initially didn't yield the best results. When I was little, I was put off by the insipid sounds of "The Best of My Love" and "I Can't Tell You Why." My later introductions to "Take it Easy" and the acoustic live version of "Hotel California" from the "Hell Freezes Over" re-union album only added to their dubious reputation. Many others came and went, never impressing me much. The only song I liked was "Already Gone," and listening to that song one early morning in 2008 ignited a musical fire that resulted in my being introduced to the bands and sounds that now foundation my musical tastes.

    This musical transformation also coincided with young me coming to full terms with my attraction to the opposite sex. It was no surprise that, as I was embracing more love-oriented lyrics, I came to take even more of a shine to some of the more delicate songs of the Eagles. Songs like "Peaceful, Easy Feeling" and "New Kid in Town" took on new and better meanings. The latter song served as an inspiration to me, alongside "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd and "Day Tripper" by the Beatles, with regards to my ill-fated daydreams of of pursuing music as a career option. Throughout the remainder of my adolescence, the Eagles would continue to make their out-sized mark and help expand the musical horizons.

    There are some albums you'll always remember buying. If you've bought as many as I have, this says a lot. One such album is the Eagles' "On the Border" album, which I bought in February, 2012. The title track drew me in most of all, but it was songs like "You Never Cry Like a Lover," "My Man," and "Ol' 55" that made the album what it is. For a band that had as many good songs as did the Eagles, to discover even more came as a pleasant surprise. Later in the year, with newfangled Christmas money, I was introduced to the "One of These Nights" LP, which blew even more doors off my mind and served as a pacifier in the beginnings of a very turbulent period in life. The songs "The Hollywood Waltz" and "Journey of the Sorcerer" remain big favourites to this day.

    "King of Hollywood" is a song that says more than most others in the band's catalogue. The song chronicles the pratfalls of fame and seeking out the best talents. For one thing, I've conducted my life as something of that type of guy. In the early days of my College education, when I would see a girl I liked and wanted to learn more about, I would stand back and sponge in information like full names and such, look them up on Facebook, and let the dominoes fall where they may. Private investigating. I'm the reason you hate Facebook--I've fallen a step or two short of being a full-bore stalker. I don't do that any more, as it would make for far too many uncomfortable opportunities. Still, the truth remains. I'm always on the hunt for love, always wanting to know more. A perpetually broken heart looking to make his mark.

"What you get is not quite what you choose."
Eagles, "How Long"

    When a particularly potent crush I had went up in smoke in Spring, 2016, all I listened to that day, before and after, was Eagles albums--Five of their six classic-era studio albums(I did not give "The Long Run" a listen that day). I had just gotten the Rolling Stone commemorative edition magazine for the band, so I was in even more of a mood for the band. Moreover, the music for that moment communicated more to me than an album by the Doors or REM would have. "Tequila Sunrise" and "New Kid in Town" were stand-outs from that day, particularly the latter song. With the lyric "Everybody loves him, and he's holding her, and you're still around," I nearly wrecked my car on the highway with all the tears in my eyes. I knew it was over. 3 1/2 turbulent months culminated in my washing back my sorrows with Eagles music and Diet Coke. Of course, I've learned in life that there are far worse things in the world than angling for a nice young something over dinner and getting Glenn and Don over the speakers instead.

    The local rock radio station has been advertising ticket sales for the new Eagles concert sometime this fall. This stabs me in the heart. Back in 2013, I was really keen on seeing the Eagles in concert. Coming on the heels of the documentary "History of the Eagles," which made a most compelling case for the band, it was something I felt particularly pressed to do. They had tour dates in Louisville, KY, and in Birmingham, AL, and a road trip looked very appealing. When an Atlanta, GA, concert was announced, I was amped. However, a lot of things fell through in the lead-up to the concert, and I missed out. My last opportunity was a 2015 Greenville, SC, concert I wasn't even aware of due to numerous distractions in my life at that time. I shouldn't fret the fleeting, earthly things, but it still grinds me that I missed out on seeing them. This, it should be said, will not compel me to go see the new band.

    The Eagles under-pinned the most formative and memorable experiences of my life, and that's a contribution money just can't buy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Erin Burnett, CNN, and Future Prospects

    With the spectre of a Nuclear War with North Korea and the Kim Dynasty looming large, CNN has found time to criticize Trump's words. In keeping with Presidential traditions, he has vowed a response of “fire and fury” if the North Korean government follows through with their threats. By “Presidential traditions,” I am thinking of how Democratic Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman responded to threats from the Pacific-Asian empire wannabes. Roosevelt proclaimed a “Day which will live in infamy.” Truman dropped not one, but two atomic bombs in an attempt to end the 'big war.' Would CNN have had a problem with their 'words'(to say nothing of, GASP, their 'actions')? Talk about a pointless tangent.

    Erin Burnett, one of the leveller heads on that network, has found herself dragged into the muck and mire of CNN's latest ratings ploy--Coming down hard on the 'Resistance' and becoming their network of choice, essentially the Liberal version of Fox News. This metamorphosis on her part is puzzling, as I don't actually suspect she's that Liberal. As a long-time fan and watcher of her show, I have seen what she's capable of as a news presenter and reporter(long story short, a LOT). I've also seen shades of her true character in the earlier years of the show, and I was impressed. Recent shifts in the nature of her program, particularly over the course of the past year, have perplexed me. Clearly, CNN is not utilizing her for her talents. They're going after the bigger agenda, and using her as just another brick in the wall.

    I'm now of the opinion that Erin Burnett should parachute out of her CNN contract. They're not serving her well having her cover Trump 24/7. Having seen her show from the beginning, I know this isn't the real Erin. That I still see shades of the real her time and again, usually towards the end of the show(her voice cracked a little the other night when she reported on Glen Campbell's death), says it's not her fault. Burnett's beginning style was personable and incisive, and she really did try to get to the bottom of a story. The original purpose of the show was to "Go to the front lines, focus on our reporting, and find the 'OutFront Five'(Five top stories, and I'd be keen to use that as a band name)." CNN now has her echo company brass and pander to the 'Resistance' crowd to win views.

    She might be going along with CNN to help take care of her kids, but I do think there are far better options at hand whereby she can both ensure the livelihood of her family and also make a more positive contribution to reporting. Some place like Bloomberg or an NBC national affiliate would be more accommodating to the middle-of-the-road reporting at which she has historically excelled. MSNBC may veer more towards the left, but they are at least honest about their team colours and they do allow for hard reporting(Holt, Lester and Tur, Katy) and opposing viewpoints(see Scarborough, Joe and Wallace, Nicolle) to hold down time-slots. CNN calls themselves news, but, apart from Jake Tapper's show, are really positioning themselves as the network of Trump's resistance, in much the way Fox is the vehicle for Trump's agenda. Erin Burnett could give Katy Tur a run for her money as the journalistic star of the network(remember the old CNBC battles between 'Money Honey' Maria Bartiromo and 'Street Sweetie' Burnett?), or become the big star at her old stomping grounds over at Bloomberg.

    There are others, I'm sure, who are in similar positions at CNN, but Burnett is the one who most positively factors into my consciousness, so I talk about her. Here's a personal story regarding my awareness of her true character: On a Friday night in January, 2013, my father suffered a seizure, his third so far. While he survived, it was still a fraught experience. As I sat in the hospital waiting room, I saw a clip of her show playing on the TV. I tweeted out to all the world that, much as I disliked hospital television, it was nice to see her again. In the surreal moment of my now-late Grandmother and I watching(and laughing at) an episode of "Family Guy," my phone vibrated. Guess who had tweeted back? Erin had thanked me for watching her show and said she hoped I was doing all right. Thinking the last part may have been inspired by my allusion to hospital television, I responded by thanking her and mentioning my father had a health relapse earlier in the evening. She tweeted again to wish him well. That made my night a whole lot better, and cemented my perception of her as a person. Don't talk about this much because it's a very special memory for me and I don't want to beat it to death. I know she's been going through a difficult time of late with the passing of her mother, and I wish her nothing but the best in the present and going forward.

    Erin Burnett has long been a favourite of mine for myriad reasons. Saw her on CNBC in September, 2008, when the stock markets were starting their free fall--She was an instant eye-catcher. When I first saw her on CNN three years later, I was reeling from the death of a best friend. Seeing her again brought back the best memories from a seemingly distant age, and by itself made me feel better. A lot of those original sentiments still carry over to the present day. She provided the best way in which to view a lady: Not as a sexual object(which isn't to say I don't find her attractive), but as a real person with real life circumstances. At some point, one should give more weight to a person's well being than to whether or not one sees that person on TV every night. Everyone in the media deserves our best considerations in this age of high confusion, even if they're only out to serve corporate brass.

Top Qualities in a Prospective Employee

This came from an assignment I had recently. After some considered thought, I drew these up, which I think are ample foundations for fleshing out a person for an open position within a company.

1. Resume—Must have experience tailorable to the position being applied for. I don't want a "CEO of MYSELF" in charge of managing store accounts and getting product into the store in a timely, efficient manner.
2. Ability to answer questions—Answering questions reveals a person's preparedness for the job being considered, as well as a willingness to learn what is needed for the job at hand.
3. Honesty—If you can't tell the truth in the interview, how can I trust you to manage the trash disposal, let alone managing the sales floor? Honesty may be such a lonely word, but consider it a qualification: A lot of work is lonely.
4. Punctuality—Being on time expresses a respect for both the job and the co-workers and managers who would have to pick up slack if needed. If I'm tired of waiting for you, then you're fired.
5. Flexibility—A willingness to work different shifts if needed shows a commitment to the job that few other qualities can show. Climbing to the top of the company ladder is contingent upon this quality.
Hope they're good. It's weird sometimes sharing in a public forum the things I come up with in educational environments, but I always remind myself of one of life's great philosophies: "Good gas must freely be shared!"

Friday, July 21, 2017

Established Institutions and Values in the Trump Era

    Six months into President Trump's tenure in office, many sectors of political discourse are debating the impact that's been had upon our established institutions and values. Of course, some of the people debating this are unintentionally engaging in high comedy. Comical it is because some of these types didn't care about these 'institutions' and 'values' when their guys were in charge. Matter of fact, they were more than happy to tear these notions down in defence of their own leaders and tribalistic instincts. Having said all that, this does merit discussion, as we are in the midst of an all-out attempt to diminish and discredit some of the very foundations of the American dream as we have known it. I'd like to touch on the big ones as I see them, not ranked in any order of importance.

    Recent polling shows Republican voters, by a margin of 58%-36%, holding an unfavourable opinion of College education, which mirrors the attitude I pick up from my more Republican-minded 'friends' on Facebook--That I'm just some College educated(I go to a Tech School) prick who doesn't love Trump. Put another way, 'Aww, look at the smart person! He thinks he knows something.' Truth be told, at least in the bigger name/higher price colleges, there is some need to take the piss out of these over-vaunted institutions. Take UC Berkeley, for instance, and the high volume of 'special snowflakes' screaming and crying for their 'safe spaces' every time Ben Shapiro and Bill Maher are invited to speak. On College campuses, the over-sensitizing that tenured professors are engaging in could present the Constitution's biggest threat in the long run. I also balk at the notion of places like Georgetown and Harvard, where you might have to shell out the entire nest egg and take out advances on Social Security to get accepted. Back home, the only thing the University of Georgia seems to churn out a lot of is people who shout "GO DAWGS" every day of certain seasons of the year, though I do hear they are a top Horticultural school. Unlike big name, big dollar schools, affordable Tech Schools train for specific career avenues and at least have a high rate of job placement. In more generalised Colleges, one can get a degree in vague, abstract course-work that has nothing to do with what a person really needs to succeed.

    The concept of a "Loyal Opposition" used to mean something positive. Author Pete Hamill, in an interview with Don Imus just before the election, commented that, as a Bobby Kennedy-supportive Liberal, he had respect for the Conservatives who would get up and shout out "Hold on! Hold on! How much is this all going to cost?" The now-grievously ill Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, in his ill-fated 2008 bid for the White House, emphasized his own disagreements with Barack Obama while not only dismissing claims that he was an 'Arab,' but also vouching for him as both a person and a family man. Now, the political poles are represented by Donald Trump, who litigated Obama's birth certificate to no end, and Elizabeth Warren, who compares people who disagree with her to ISIS terrorists. Their bases have fallen in line with the extreme rhetoric. Conservatives have by and large always been asses(I say that as a Conservative-minded person), but what disappoints me the most is that even Mr. Peace & Love Hippie, when you get him started, would be reduced to shouting things like 'I wanna f**king kill ALL of those right wingers for destroying the country,' resorting to the same "the American dream is dead"-like rhetoric that was a hallmark of Trump's campaign.

    I do want to take a brief moment to mention one good thing that's come of Trump's win, and that is the de-construction of the notion that one needs political experience(a most pervasive 'institution') to hold office. The real knowledge that's in the job, whichever elected job one has in politics, is with those who surround any given leader. The information taken in is more important than those taking in the information, and, as such, good advisers are the most important element involved in the execution of one's duties in office. Unlike most, I am not revulsed by the notion of a Senator Kid Rock. The job of being either Senator or Congressman is practically a nothing job, where one reads and votes on a lot of bills, sometimes even standing up and taking the lead in opposing said bills. On occasion, declarations of war will come down the pike. He's no more or less qualified that the woman he'd be seeking to replace, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

    The media presents a quandary for me sometimes. Within my span of political consciousness, they have shown definite favour to all things Obama and an especially negative attitude towards the Tea Party. At the same time, even Obama has received his fair share of hard knocks those times he has richly earned them, and the best investigative reports have been done about both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton(not to mention her family's eponymous foundation). Even with their biases, though, I will still defend the media against the crazy coming from the White House and their defenders on state-run television(Fox News). However, even the alt-Left/Resistance has gotten in on the action, with Islamic activist Linda Sarsour engaging in hysterics with CNN's Jake Tapper, eventually writing him off as being of the "alt-Right." While she might be a more fringe example, I still don't make it a point to trust Liberals when they say they support the media. Now, that said, if I had to choose between media with a slight-to-moderate Liberal bias(status quo, in other words) and no media, I'd opt for the former. If the choice was between Conservative Cheerleading alter-news and no media, I would give a serious thought to the latter. Knowing their biases and adjusting the news reports accordingly is a good mental exercise, but coming to your own conclusions is much better than absorbing cheerleading.

    Music faces its own multi-faceted trials. Modern Country music has proven the unofficial respite for Trump supporters, what with its poignant lyrics about, among other things, beds, beer, flags, sexy girls, and trucks. Go into any Arbys or Bojangles(nothing against either of them), and you will hear evidence of this. The sounds of today are a far cry from the old traditions of the folk songs that rang out in protest of injustices and overreaches. However, the art form is also being diminished by the soulless browbeating about "a leader with no f**king brains" from former Pink Floyd front-man Roger Waters' most recent album. Real protest songs are supposed to fire the imagination, as opposed to scorching its green earth. At least Stephen Stills' recent song "Look Each Other in the Eye" tries to make a person think. No wonder huge sections tune out everything else in favour of Rap sounds--At least they actually say something, even if those words and sounds infuriate a person.

    Christianity, our only true hope, has long been in no need of enemies, both within and without. Rich LGBT activists are now taking to targeting deep red states in an effort not to merely advance their agenda, but as a way of "punishing the wicked." However, the Church is also being corroded from within. As one of faith, it deeply distresses me when I see people like Franklin Graham(of whom I used to regard highly) comparing President Trump to the likes of Biblical figures Moses and King David. One man of faith making ill-considered remarks like this can turn off a multitude. He's not the only one, by far(see Falwell Jr), but still the most disappointing example. When I was young, I would take part in my Church group's Samaritan's Purse-related activities(SP is Graham's charitable foundation, reaching kids around the world). Religious leaders should be about the spreading of the faith, and not about advancement of secular, worldly priorities and gaining clout with political figures. More Christ and less cash.

    For as bad as things may look these next 3 1/2 years as one nation under Trump, I can see how it can be much worse than it is right now. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could have been the GOP nominee and winner of the 2016 race. Unlike Trump, Christie is very focused and bent on dictatorial tendencies. Imagine the secrecy that would shroud his Presidency. With experience as a US Attorney under his (extra wide) belt, he'd certainly conduct himself much better with a Russia-like investigation than Trump is right now. Another fearsome prospect would be Elizabeth Warren running and beating Trump in the biggest landslide since the Reagan era. Now here is someone who, based upon numerous public proclamations, would have no issue with inciting violence in the name of advancing her agenda, much the way Trump has done. Unlike with Trump, though, Warren would have vast sectors of the elite literati behind her and justifying every little thing coming from the first female President, dismissing all from opposition to tepid support as 'extreme sexism.' So, as bad as Trump is, it can and probably will get worse.

Gotta admit that I'm a little bit confused
Sometimes, it seems to me as if I'm just being used.
Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
If I don't stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze? 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Post-Script: Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, a Band for the Ages

    "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman" is one of those hidden treasure songs that grabs you and never lets go. When I first listened to it, trying to figure if anything good had been put on the notoriously underwhelming "Love Beach" LP, it took me aback that something this good could have been done at the band's nadir--Says something excellent about the quality of a band. The instrumental "Canario" wasn't a bad one, either, but by now you should sense that wasn't the ultimate stand-out. I remember hearing 'Memoirs...' once again when it came up on one of my burned CD's in late February of last year, and I marvelled at how they weaved that whole song together, just the three of them. Both the words and music struck incredibly powerful chords, in ways that not many songs can manage. Nobody gives this 20 minute piece the attention that's given to, say, "Tarkus." Curiously, another thought occurred to me, based on the news that had already come out at that early point of the year: It's going to be a really sad occasion when the members of this band start to die. Was almost as if I was keyed into something.

    Just less than two weeks after hearing that song in the car, the most awful news came: Keith Emerson, 71, was dead in an apparent suicide. It stoned me, a man of his copious talents being emotionally reduced to that. 2016 was a notoriously rough year in regards to deaths in entertainment, to say nothing of...other regards. Another thing that didn't help matters was the seeming contemptuous snickering from media and literati figures towards the fans of people like Emerson and Glenn Frey of the Eagles. They didn't want to know we existed, it seemed. Things were much the same when, at the tail end of the year, literally as I was reading an interview he'd done fairly recently, Greg Lake also died. He had cancer, and was 69. Wasn't as surprised over him as I was Emerson, but the duo-blow of Emerson & Lake was simply unfathomable. It dazed me that eternal fate could have worked out in this manner--After some of the events of this year, ELP and Allman Brothers fans can both relate. In the latter band, Butch Trucks committed suicide, brought on by financial difficulties, in January, and Gregg Allman died from liver cancer this past May. Both were 69, same age as Lake.

    Lake's death magnified, in a glaring way, what a horror Emerson's suicide was and is. Knowing he, the most talented and personable of that group, could easily still be living if he perhaps had a better support system and maybe some, erm, differently considered values(music is not, never has been, and never will be the end all, be all to life) is almost an overwhelming thing to consider. Beyond music, he could have still been here and serving as a continued joy to those around him and his fans--I have read about him only the most wonderful stories and recollections from friends and fans. That is truly more important than anything else. A dizzyingly sad reality all around.

    It merits a mention the most awful aspect of the suicide of Emerson, one that is especially common amongst school-age kids: He was reported to have read criticisms of his recent playing in the months leading up to his suicide, and he took these online bullies seriously, internalizing it all. He had issues stemming from various surgical operations over the course of almost a quarter-century on his arm and hand, which impaired his legendary ability to play. There were plans to tour Japan later that Spring, and anxiety over his performing ability was apparently mounting in those final weeks. The self-doubt and internalized hurt ended up making the fatal difference. It is difficult to fathom the darkness that anyone, let alone someone of incredible fame and fortunes would be in to take such desperate measures. This is something I, as a mere fan, still struggle to process over a year later.

    But the music, oh what a sound they made together. From 1970 to 1978, this band was one of the premier album-makers and live performers in the game. Just prior to the band's formation, and after his prior band the Nice had dissolved, Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso in his own right, had been in talks with guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix about being in a band together. The latter died before real progress could be made on furtherance of the idea(could the band have been called HELP?), but the groundwork for an adventurous musical template template had already been laid. While their best album may have been their debut, other albums such as "Trilogy," "Brain Salad Surgery," and the "Works" volumes offered listeners a varied hodgepodge of material representative of the band members' different musical sensibilities.

    It wasn't even just the music that Emerson, Lake, & Palmer made together that was great. There were also the solo albums, mainly from Emerson(Lake's efforts were only slightly better than the 80's average, and Palmer apparently picked up where the band left off on the generally forgettable "Love Beach" album). 1981 had him releasing his "Honky" album(done with reggae musicians during a stay in Jamaica), which proved to be his highest charting solo release and saw him doing promos on the foreign TV circuit. Later on in the decade, he fabulously one-upped Greg "I Believe in Father Christmas" Lake by putting out a full-length, distinctly ELP-flavoured Chirstmas album. The 1990's saw him, when he wasn't flailing away with the reconstituted ELP, releasing the ethereal "Changing States" album, featuring some stripped-down kernels of future ELP arrangements. He was also very active in the making of foreign film soundtracks, recently issuing a 3 CD box set of his film scores.

    One of the very best music purchases I ever made was Keith Emerson's 2003 "Emerson Plays Emerson" CD. If you get the chance, have around $60 to spare(it's quite the rare CD), and are a huge Emersonian, I definitely recommend this. Calming musical soundscapes mixed in with rollicking tunes--A real joy if you're an appreciator of all things Emerson. Might expend around half of a minimum wage pay-check, but well worth the while.

    The boys in the band were all 'meant to be near from the beginning,' and I'll wind down this posting with some words on my favourite ELP song. That song and Ten Years After's "I'd Love to Change the World" came to my attention in early 2009, when I was 14 and very musically impressionable. Both were acquired tastes, the latter being acquired some time before the former. However, there was something that stuck with me about "From the Beginning." Something in it deeply resonated with me at a time when I was madly in love with women on the news--The sentiment that they were meant to be there from the beginning. Love in spite of one's own flaws. No coincidence that when I saw one of my absolute favourites for the first time on CNN some years back, this song was among the first to come to mind. The "Trilogy" album became one of the first additions to my now-almost onerously large LP collection on the singular strength of that song. One of the truly great songs ever? In my opinion, yes.

"Who knows, who cares for me? C'est la vie"
Greg Lake, 1977

Abundances of Caution, Calls for Decency, and Other Comments on News

    Earlier in the year, I had thought myself fit and worthy enough to be an article-writing 'voice' for the blossoming "Resistance" movement. The thought occurred to me that, if they were serious about going places as a movement of some perceivable good, they could put aside their differences with me and accept myself and any comer with open arms. I thought I had a good perspective to add, for some reason. Never got around to making my request, but was still forcefully denied. They're apparently not interested in people who aren't of like mind and also those who would offer constructive criticisms. Indeed, the Pissed Resistance is no better than the Trump Crumpets--In fact, with their special mix of self-aggrandisement and severed fake heads, it may well be worse.

    And it was out of this camp that it happened again--America's second favourite pastime after gambling. Several weeks back, on June 14, a gunman opened fire on Congressional Republicans practising for a baseball tournament in Alexandria, VA. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and 4 others were injured in the shoot-out. The suspect was identified as a supporter of Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 Presidential run. Summertime always seems to bring out the inner criminal in all of us--Within the same week as the Scalise shooting, the first anniversary of the murder of performer Christina Grimmie, the Pulse Night Club shooting, and the Brexit-inspired shooting of British Labour Party MP Jo Cox elapsed. This month, 5 years will have gone by since the theatre shooting in Aurora, CO, the deadliest in American history. Some Liberals could make absurd, tangential associations between Global Warming and Mental Health, much the way they did after an attack in Paris a couple of years back(in fairness, Conservatives never waste an opportunity to dream about 'good guys with guns'). Relax, relax. Take things one at a time, boys...

    For once, the Conservative argument regarding guns(good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns) holds some value. Based upon all reliable sources reporting on the ballpark attack, it was Scalise's security detail(that which he receives for his stature as House Majority Whip) that prevented the occurrence of even greater casualties. For a minute, can you imagine the fallout from an attack of even greater scope than what took place? Elected officials, in a modern era of great unrest and unstable leaders, being gunned down by radical ideologues. President Trump and the 33 Republican Governors possibly activating a police state until the "bad hombres" are found and rooted out, and the President basing his entire re-election campaign on a proposal to "ban all Liberals until we find out what the f**k is going on." That's a dangerous road, not without precedents. All speculative, of course, but eminently possible given the present time and circumstances at play.

    Ever since the seeming lows of last election, discourse in America, political and not, has plunged. The above-cited examples are symptoms of the bigger issue. Ideological extremes have become our biggest problem in politics and society today. Bipartisan Congressional retreats haven't been a done thing in approaching two decades. We have entered into a time where acting like an over-grown infant is not only considered 'normal,' but is often seen as the only acceptable way to act. After all, to be decent means the terrorists(read: the opposite side of the aisle) win. Honestly, it doesn't and shouldn't matter whether you're a Keith, a Laurie, a Mike, or a Sean, a left winger or a right winger, one should at least know how to act in a public setting. One would hope decency and morality could cut across partisan stripes.

    It was asked by one of America's top pastors last year: "Why isn't decency faring better in the 2016 race?" I'll rise and say it's been an issue for much longer than this, though the last couple of years have provided a low-water mark. The notion of good Samaritans in a land full of Judaizers seems lost to the ages at times. In fact, if someone were lying and bleeding to death in the street, one side would walk right by while the other would babble about Trump's Twitter account, all the while the aforementioned person is bleeding to death. Actually, that's the perfect metaphor for the country right now. Both sides are beyond full boil, viewing one another as mortal enemies. It's probably amazing that more of these Scalise-like shootings haven't taken place so far. Personally wishing, and I know that's all it will amount to, that we could just view each other as fellow Americans who simply disagree as opposed to agents of evil who must be destroyed.

    All the talk of forged birth certificates, false flag attacks, and such of the like perfumed the air of discourse like a poison, sowing the seeds of deep seated rage and distrust. In one of his books, former CNN opinion-giver Jack Cafferty wrote that "If these two parties, however 2008 breaks, can't fix what's broken, this way of life as we've known it may vanish into some deep, dark crevasse." On cue as always, President Trump(who was incredibly calling for healing and an end to the violent rhetoric a few weeks ago) in the past week made his own special contributions to the "American crevasse," launching into his usual early morning tweet-storms. Thursday, June 29, saw him tweeting at the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," bringing up bloody face-lifts and, the next day, bragging about his engaging in the extortion of the show's hosts. Sunday, July 2, saw him re-tweeting a fan video of Trump's WWE body-slamming of Vince McMahon, with the CNN logo super-imposed over the latter's head. Both prompted much outcry, but why? Everyone knows Trump's historic inability to see past his own hurt feelings and petty grudges. Why the surprise?

    As a matter of principle, I'll usually take the side of both Erin Burnett's present and former network(CNN and NBC, respectively) over the rageaholic at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The notion of "fake news" charges coming from the man who once pretended to be his own publicist is amusing when it's not jarring. Jarring it is when you consider the threats of violence that have been threatened against members of the "fake media" for simply doing their jobs(granted, news division Presidents don't help themselves when they choose stories like the Russia investigation based upon ratings). If I have to consider something happening to some of my favourite people, I might lose whatever composure and clear-mindedness I've long sought to achieve. I'm probably not alone in regards to a loss of marbles. Looking with dismay at the weak-willed Republican leadership and their caving in the face of Trump, it feels like Richard Nixon has come back from the dead and, at age 104, is bent on finishing the job.

    As a closing note, my own Bible reading has led me through the often infamous book of Revelation. The most polarizing Bible book by far, known exclusively for its sometimes hard to decipher descriptions of how the end times will transpire. In spite of a lot of people's interpretations, I ascribe to the simple explanation of this being a multi-generational re-assurance that this social order will pass away in time. "This, too, shall pass." Americans, and Earthians in general, need this re-assurance badly.

    Not the article I'd hoped for or wanted, but this is how it ultimately turns out. Hope it's...readable.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Eagles No More

    This day of the year aside, this story is no joke. The Eagles, one year after the death of founder/frontman Glenn Frey, are performing for the Classic East and Classic West music festivals this Summer. Ostensibly, this could pave the way for future tour dates with a replacement on hand, which could mean that this band soon goes the way of the Drifters and the Temptations in having NO original members performing the classic songs(one or both of those groups just announced new tour dates). For those in shock, I will give a reminder that this is the same avenue which is being undertaken by such Classic Rock luminaries as Boston, Foreigner, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and REO Speedwagon. Almost no original members comprise those bands' ranks, to the extent that many even survive to this day.

    More will be written on this matter by people more eloquent than myself, but I'll give my own thoughts: What a small, pitiful move by small, pitiful men. All we ever heard for months after Glenn Frey's death was how the Eagles were finished, and now this. Sounds as though Azoff & Henley just want a big, final payoff before they ride away into the sunset. The thought of the band's legacy seems to have not occurred to these men. By this logic, my long-held(prior to last year) desire for an Emerson, Lake, & Palmer re-union can now take place without either Keith Emerson or Greg Lake. Mind blowing, and not in a good way

    To divulge the ridiculousness, let me frame it thusly: Stephen Stills dies, Crosby & Nash get back together and replace him with Bruno Mars, and continue touring as 'Crosby, Stills, & Nash.' Can you just imagine a concert where Crosby plays, say, "Hero" from the 1992 "Thousand Roads" album, only to be interrupted by Mars and his DJ buddy Mark Ronson jumping up onstage and launching into the song "Uptown Funk"? Crosby & Nash mindlessly shake their bums and point awkwardly at the crowd('Croz Daddy's comin' to ya!') as Neil Young lays down some funky, mechanized guitar tones. Or how about this: The Charlie Daniels Band tries getting away with doing "Devil Went Down to Georgia" at the Georgia State Fair down in Hampton without Daniels--Put Marky Mark in his stead. Disturbing enough? That's the basic scope of Eagles, sans Frey.

    Frankly, I cannot respect the surviving Eagles any longer. The music they did as a band and solo from 1971—2016 will always be timeless and a sound that holds a special place in my heart, but they're all pretty much musically dead to me now. Any future music from them as a band or solo will be encased in that corporatistic, greedy sheen that turns me off to so much of modern pop music. Opportunistic money-grabbers, or pretty much the way Don Felder presented them in his book. They're no better than Elvis Impersonators at this point. Then again, at least the impostors do their routine with heart and soul. This is just a charade designed to keep those money-printing presses oiled and operating.
    Furthermore, I don't have any patience for Eagles band partisans who think this is in any way all right, as opposed to those who have simply accepted the reality of this taking place. How do you justify white-outing the founding member from the picture in the name of money? Are you really this hard-up for good music from this band? As good as the Eagles were(and I do mean WERE), you do hopefully know there are other bands out there. Maybe not as good as the Eagles, but they do exist--I listen to the Doors and Neil Young these days. The Drifters/Temptations route will not do wonders for this band's legacy, something which I'd once thought was important to Azoff/Henley.

    I'd hope one of the other members has the fortitude and presence of mind to sue the other members and Irving Azoff for the wrongful usage of the name, in much the same way Doors drummer John Densmore(curious what he'd make of all this) did when Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger tried to re-form that band in the early 2000's under the name “THE DOORS(of the 21st Century).” This was done an attempt to preserve the legacy of Jim Morrison, who had in 1968 gone as far as to veto the usage of the Krieger-penned song "Light My Fire" in a commercial for Buick('Come on, Buick, Light my fire'). I know Schmit and Walsh generally will do as they're told without much fuss, Meisner's probably too ill and taken up in legal matters these days, and Felder might want in on the whole thing, so perhaps Bernie Leadon could emerge as a hero in all this. Don't know, but perhaps hope springs eternal.

    Finishing this article, since I am sure Azoff and Henley will never give the fans consideration over their money and release archival live concerts, as opposed to putting on aniseptic future concerts as 'Eagles,' I do encourage people to buy the stray live CD's you find on Amazon. Suspicious origins, yes, but at least the money you spend is going to average guy eking out a living as opposed to buying the next Lear Jet for some quarter-billionaire financial iconoclast. And the quality of both sound and performance has been surprisingly good on those I've given a listen, or at least as good as one would expect of something billed as a 'radio performance.' Like with most things, though, the product does warrant some close examination before determining whether or not it is worthwhile. As these re-union concerts will no doubt show, not everything with the 'Eagles' name is worthy.

    “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”—1 Timothy 6:10 NIV

     (PS, this print take was brought to you by Golden Flakes, Mello Yello, and "Real Time with Bill Maher.")

Saturday, March 4, 2017

How Should an Individual Determine His Success?

    (Editor's note: Found this essay and several others while digging through my documents folder on my computer. With a few additions and polishings, here it is for your consideration. A few years old, but still relevant.)

    One of the bigger questions in life is how we judge our successes, whether they be in business, in school, or in personal dealings. It is in my personal opinion that the way to determine success would be to consider both everything I have done, the work I've put into doing them, and the impact that those things have had on other people, places, and things.

    Let's say that your work involves advising a team of scientists and mechanics on the inner workings of a medical device they are trying to build for surgical purposes. For me to do the job well, I would need to extensively research and bring to attention the most accurate and fact-based information I can find on the subject(s) at hand. The information accuracy and success of the device being created is pivotal, as there are literally lives which may depend upon this being produced properly. For me to have given the scientists and mechanics the information needed to make a quality, life-saving product would be something which I would consider a great success on my part.

    Some people like to gauge their successes based on how much money they are taking in, which is great if you are being paid to make a quality product which improves peoples' lives. That said, there are many others who are paid to do things that adversely impact people. For instance, mafia hit-men, prostitutes, lobbyists, Congressmen, trial lawyers, and General Motors' management are all paid handsomely for their efforts, while at the same time turning in a product that hurts, to varying degrees, the people for whom it is intended. As the Bible says, money(to say nothing of what the money is spent on) both corrupts and is the top personification of greed, the biggest root of evil in the world. My aim in making a product is to create something which serves people well. It would be disappointing to me if I turned out something that adversely impacted someone in any way.

    In conclusion, while there are many ways for an individual to determine his own success, I have determined that the best way for me to determine my own success is to consider what I have done and how it has affected people. Several years back, when I was writing a paper for a GED test on how I thought I would be remembered, I said that the way I would be best remembered would be for both my YouTube videos and my (dubious)presence on the political blogosphere, and the sentiment still holds true today. Whether or not that is a good thing is up to others to judge. While it is great to make lots of money, I think that it is better to try to turn out a quality product that helps people, even if it should result in my not being paid more for my efforts.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Life and TImes of Benjamin Franklin

    (Editor's Note: I originally published this 7 years ago, in another place and time. Since America finds itself at a perilous crossroads, it would do one good to look back at the lives of the Founders, who themselves were found at a pivotal point in our country's history. Revised and expanded from the original edition.)

    Benjamin Franklin, who would become one of the first great Americans and inventors, was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachussets. He was the 15th out of 17 children. His father, Josiah, was an immigrant from Northamptonshire, England, and a maker of soap and candles. He was married twice, first to Anne Child, with whom he had 7 children, and lastly to Abiah Folger, Ben's mother, with whom Josiah had 10 children.

    Franklin went to school for a short time, but dropped out and became an apprentice printer to his brother James. James cuffed him each time he made a mistake, and whacked him if he thought Ben was impertinent. While working for his brother, he played jokes, writing columns in the newspaper under an assumed name criticizing Harvard boys and other things, all the time using the pen name "Silence Dogood". When his brother found out he had been tricked, he was very displeased. At a young age, Franklin quit his job and ran away. He had a great interest in reading even before he ran away. He would buy any book that he could afford to buy, and he would also borrow as many books as he could, staying up all night reading the books. Franklin learned how to write by reading books like Addison and Steele's "The Spectator". He would take notes on what he had read and try to rewrite the Books like the authors' version. If he had made any mistakes, he would go back and correct them.

     Ben Franklin's careers started when he became a local printer. In this capacity, he set up the first printing press, moulding type from lead forms. He started his own shop where he printed newspapers, books, and magazines. He won a contract to print all official notices and records for the Pennsylvania Assembly. Franklin was also a community organizer and local businessman. He started the first circulating library in America, along with a volunteer fire company, the first hospital, and the first academy in America. His ability made him a marked man among people. He was appointed Secretary of the Pennsylvania Assembly and later Postmaster of Philadelphia. He was able to stop the money loss on unclaimed mail by printing in his newspaper the names of people who had mail waiting for them. When he was 24, he married Mrs. Deborah Read, with whom he had one child, William. After all that, he developed a simple and accurate way of keeping post office accounts.

    Ben Franklin was still very interested in reading, but he was also an inventor and scientist. He wrote and published the book Poor Richards Almanac. He often scorned his own advice about going to bed early because of his perpetual business. He had long hated the discomfort of homes half-heated by the drafty fireplaces; he therefore invented an iron stove. The back of this stove stood in the fireplace, but its grate extended out into the room. The Governor of Pennsylvania urged Ben to get a patent for his inventions, but he didn't. He wanted the stoves to be made cheaply so that many people could buy them. Another one of his scientific interests, along with his friends, was the force of electricity. Not much was then known about it. When a European scientist found a way to store electricity in jars or tubes, Ben ordered some of the tubes and set up a lab in his house. As he experimented, he suddenly realized that lightning could be a discharge from the clouds. In 1752, he sent an account of his idea to scientists in London, England, and Paris, France.

    To test his newfangled theory, Franklin and his son, William, went out into a meadow during a thunderstorm, flew a kite into the air, and brought an electrical charge down the kite's wet string. He then stored the charge into a jar of water and hooked a wire to the jar. Next, he hooked the wire to a bell, making it ring and proving true his idea of electricity from the sky. Because of all that, he was awarded honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard, and the College of William and Mary. He next invented the lightning rod to protect buildings from lightning bolts. In 1753, he was made Deputy Postmaster for all 13 colonies. At once, he began to visit Post Offices and improve the mail service. He put his bookkeeping system into every Post Office, hired more postal workers, and made them feel that carrying mail was important. Instead of delivering letters from town to town only twice during the winter, he had mail delivered every week.

    When the French and Indian War started, Ben Franklin had aroused Pennsylvanians to their danger. He started volunteer companies of soldiers drilling on the green and had guns placed on the Delaware River to deter French vessels. When the British troops landed in Virginia in 1753, Franklin gave them important aid by hiring wagons to carry supplies. All taxpayers in Pennsylvania were helping to pay for the expensive defense work, with the exception of owners of large tracts of land. To persuade the Penn family to pay their share, Franklin was sent to London. He was in London when he heard about the British victory in the French and Indian War. He returned home, only to find that a new quarrel had broken out between Pennsylvania and the Penn family. In 1765, after he landed in England again, Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, resulting in a fury of protests. When Americans refused to buy the stamps, Franklin was called over to the English House of Commons for questioning. He presented the case so clearly and reasonably that he was influential in convincing England to repeal the Stamp Act.

    For ten years, Benjamin Franklin was America's most important representative in England. He teased the British about their ignorance of America by writing funny, exaggerated stories in newspapers. In Germany and France, he was welcomed not only as a scientist, but also as a champion of liberty. In 1775, one year after the death of his wife Deborah and just after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Franklin returned to Philadelphia. He became the Postmaster of the thirteen colonies, a member of the Second Continental Congress, and was appointed to a Committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, of which he was a signer. Before he left for France in 1776, he lent Congress 4,000 pounds of his own money to be used for various projects.

    From the moment he entered the French capital of Paris, "The Doctor Franklin", as he was called there, was swarmed by admiring visitors, and his simple dignity appealed to everyone. He worked very hard, first securing formal recognition for his country, and then persuading the French of the advantages of an alliance. His wisdom and affectionate understanding of the French people made him a successful diplomat. The Treaty of Alliance was signed on February 6, 1778, and Franklin was the outstanding person at the celebration at the royal palace one month later, on March 20, 1778. King Louis XVI told everyone that France was America's friend and would help fight for America's freedom in the Revolutionary War. Five years later, the war was over, and Ben Franklin, among others, signed the Peace treaty. When he came home in 1785, he brought with him tender farewell messages from the French, as well as a gift from the King.

     In Philadelphia, when Benjamin Franklin landed, a tremendous crowd swamped him. Old and frail as he was, he became President of the Pennsylvania State Assembly and a member of the Constitutional Convention. When members of the convention would disagree, a word from Mr. Franklin would calm them down. When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, Franklin was one of the signers. Over the years, people like George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, and other prominent Americans visited Mr. Franklin. They enjoyed his books, the rockers he had made for his armchair, and a chair which would turn into a stepladder for reaching books. Even though he was often too ill to get around, he loved his friends, wrote newspaper articles, and penned his famous autobiography.

    Benjamin Franklin's last public act, as President of the Penn State Society, was to carve his signature onto a memorial to the State Legislature for the 1780 abolition of negro slavery. When he died from pleurisy on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84, the world around knew it had lost one of the first and foremost sons of liberty.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Inaugural Thoughts

    Something is different about this country. Far different than things were even last week. You can feel it in the air wherever you go--The American Summer is out of reach, replaced by decided dread and a new sense of Winter in America unseen since maybe the ascension of 'doughface' James Buchanan to the Presidency in 1857. Buchanan's Presidency was the final mile marker on the road to the Civil War. Given the recent escalations between the United States and such adversaries as North Korea and Russia, a Trump Presidency could prove the final mile marker on the road to a Nuclear Holocaust, if not the outright precipitator of such. The crisis the country faces in the wake of a Trump installment is more than just of a physical nature, though. What we face moreover is an existential crisis. All of this serves to tear asunder America's moral fabric, with the wholesale vindication of Trump's brand of racially and sexually-tinged politicking. Morality, when lost, doesn't easily return, barring a complete return to Christian principle and a turn from the wayward darkness. I had the idea we deserved a Trump Presidency for a while, but I had hoped it could be avoided(in spite of some of my years-ago puffery of him and his prospects). "Heart of Stone," the Rolling Stones song that introduced him at Inauguration Eve festivities, has it completely right in numerous ways.

Better listen little girl, if you going walking down the street
I ain't got no love, I ain't the kind to meet
'Cause you'll never break, never break, never break, never break
This heart of stone, oh no, no, you'll never break this heart of stone darling

    A few thoughts on the style and substance of Venerable Donald's inaugural address. First, brevity, something of which VD is not known, was probably the biggest, most unsung aspect of his inaugural address. His speeches from the campaign generally went on at least 45 minutes, sometimes all the way to an hour-and-a-half. Gracefulness, an even rarer instance for him, is even present, as he thanks all the former Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents for both their help and their presence at this historic moment. To the substance, the allusion drawn of "this American carnage" was the bracing moment everyone says it was, but even within the campaign-esque tome, he drew many parallels and stated as true many pillars of Conservative orthodoxy. There was even a part of this Conservatively-minded person who began to wonder if maybe he'd gotten Trump wrong.

    It was upon even the shallow reflection that precedes anything of depth in thought that I realized I had not. To the contrary, the other comment he made, one that got scant airplay beyond the first run of the address, about bringing the government's power back to the people was more than somewhat chilling--It created the allusion of a mobocracy, mob rule in America. Considering how given his online army of armchair warriors are to rather detailed threats of violence, the image of our country being ruled by them and the children who are taking after them as we speak is an especially horrid, almost sci-fi worthy consideration. A true harbinger of things to come in America's losing fight for decency and morals.

    However, in the spirit of finding good things to say about VD's inaugural address, I have a couple of points I can reasonably add to the discussion: Unlike his previous campaign patter, the beginning and the end of this speech did not boil down to "I will be so great. So great! Believe me, folks. Believe me." His speech also, in sticking tightly to the script of his previous campaign yells, showcases perhaps the most telling thing of all about our new President: That he is more a reflexive one-trick pony than any sort of a calculating and thought-out fascist who wants to bring back the gulags and the rack. He is a real 'threatener-in-chief,' but, as people are oft to say, also perhaps 'all bark, no bite.' He sees a need to make a show--it is intrinsic to his purported 'brand'--of things, yet, as official records of his lawsuits show, he is more than happy to settle things. One could even call it "The Art of the Deal." Trump certainly does--The book of the same name, to say nothing of the very vague and general concept of deal-making, was a cornerstone of his campaign when he wasn't harassing female reporters from his on-stage perch. Russian Premier Vladimir Putin knows this, he is no dummy. It explains why he has taken a special liking to VD. Putin knows he is a big talker and not much of a deliverer in any great way. They can make deals together, much to Russia's potential benefit.

    Also of note, Saturday Afternoon, the Waffling House's Stool Pigeon, Sean Spicer, went into one of his anti-media riffs in full view of television cameras. While rightfully blasting lazy reporting regarding the spat over the statuette of the late Reverend and Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.(reported to the exclusion of the return of the Winston Churchill statuette, sent away on the advent of Obama's first inaugural), he took it more than over the top with his lambasting of reporting of the crowd sizes at the Trump inaugural ceremonies(sizes corroborated by, among other sources, the President's own Secret Service detail). In essence, open warfare has been declared on the press by the new administration. I suppose I should be glad he didn't go full-bore thug and threaten to eject reporters who asked him questions, with the big caveat being that he, in a break from past tradition, didn't stay for any questioning whatsoever. Transparency in government is dead, if these events are even a small fraction of what they seem.

    Personally, in a way, I hope VD DOESN'T retain a travelling press pool over the next four years. I cannot imagine what people who do on-the-ground reports of him have to put themselves through in order to be labelled by large swaths of the population as biased hacks deserving of a sturdy raping. As much as I really like NBC reporter Katy Tur, I could not bear to watch her or her fellow 'Road Warriors' report on this past campaign, for the simple reason that I cannot bear to see people get shoved through a meat grinder on an hour-to-hour, day-to-day basis. And to what outcome is all this ultimately undertaken? VD gets elected in large part to specifically spite the vigilant reporting of these fine people. It's an awful reality, a reality which the odious Stool Pigeon has made clear will continue. Are they still news reporters or are they now fighting as soldiers in a war against a newly-installed Lie Regime? Time is already telling, just one day into the first four year term(his prospective 2020 re-election remains to be seen), and what it's saying should right now be paid proper heed.

    Besides, to the extent that media bias is a real thing, as opposed to merely chasing after dollars and ratings, I should imagine that thinking people wouldn't want the charge of 'media bias' to go the way of 'bigotry' into being a charge that signifies utter nothingness. Bigotry is a real thing, but people will pay it no mind as a result of how Liberals characterize anyone who ever had a not adulatory thing to say about either Obama or Hillary Clinton. Unlike with Obama, though, Trump has neither the personal charm nor popularity to convince people that he and his surrogates have got this one down. Fully 40% of America gives Trump favorable ratings(around 54%, the same percentage who voted against him, do not), according to at least two reputable national polls, and those people will apparently believe anything. Roughly the same number, when polled, said they favoured bombing the fictitious city from the children's-oriented movie "Aladdin." Fake news, to say nothing of at best sub-par education systems, presents a real problem, but not in anywhere close to the way that certain specific paid shills make it out to be.

    So now, the question must be posed: What is to become of the media bias charge, post-Trump? Lots of people believe the concept to be true to some extent, but its true sting is about to be lost with the over-saturation just within the first day. Perhaps a few more gullibles can be conned before the fallout begins, and maybe that's the intention. To be fair, any short term gains in these matters may belie long term disaster, so they should neither be content with the current order of things nor act entitled to things continuing as they are. Entitlement is contented greed, and greed is downfall.

    To the average Trump supporter(I distinguish them from the fanatics), I say this: I hope he's as good as you hope he will be. I hope he achieves good things for the nation, even though I may not share your optimism. As the old adage goes, and it has been said numerous times, "time will tell," and it really will. Seriously, who would have ever thought, even a year ago, that I would pine for the Obama years after his leaving office. Pining for the relative grace and dignity with which he and his family held themselves while occupying the Oval Office, for the comparative, yet still not absolute, decency with which he handled opponents of him, his policies, and his view of the world. A Trump presidency should be treated as a grave threat to the wholly Christian principles of decency and morality that bind us all, the Constitution, and the fabric of the republic to which it stands.