Wednesday, February 14, 2018

heartbreaking

Seems the only reason I ever blog at all is because I'm frustrated.  And I'm frustrated today, so here we go again.

17 dead in a Florida high school.  God, have mercy on us all.

In terms of frustration ratio, my more than mildly irked that this has happened again.  AGAIN.  What's worse about this time is that, according to the news accounts, the shooter showed all the warning signs.  A lot of students predicted that this would happen from this guy, and yet-

It.  Just.  Did.

But, getting back to the frustration ratio, my real frustration is with the folks who chime in when these things happen who cannot and will not make suggestions to "fix" this ongoing problem with any kind of suggestion that is based on reality.  They have knee-jerk reactions and suggest things like smaller capacity magazines, a moratorium on gun ownership, more background checks- that list goes on and on and a lot of that has already happened- and yet, the problem persists. 

That frustration is heightened even more because no matter how many of these "suggestions" we put into play, they ignore two immutable facts:


  1. All those "suggestions" do is make it harder for citizens who obey the rules.
  2. Criminals - and would-be criminals - don't obey the rules.  That's why they are called "criminals" in the first place.
What this tells me is that the folks who make these "suggestions" fall into just a couple of camps: those who really don't have anything actionable on their minds and feel they must react (kind of like the guy writing this blog right now.....ahem) and those that have buried their heads so far into the sand that they might as well double for a fracking rig.

As long as we don't deal with reality, this is going to continue to happen.  We can confiscate guns- and then the bad guys will be the only ones with them - again, this is the reality we live in.  I don't make the rules here- but as long as there is someone who is willing to "bend the rules" and sell/give away guns in an illicit manner, folks like this latest shooter will continue to be able to get them.  And, don't fool yourself- it's easy to buy an illegal weapon from someone who obtained one thru illegal means.  Clearly, confiscation will do no good- and like it or not, it's prevented by the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution no matter how you'd like to read it or read into it:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Again- people can read into this all they want to, but the operative words here are the last 4- "shall not be infringed" - and if you actually did read the Bill Of Rights you'll already know that it says nothing about what the government can do- all of the Bill Rights has to do with what the government cannot do, and that's important delineation to note.

So, like it or not, the 2nd Amendment is here to stay, folks.  Confiscation is illegal, and it wouldn't help anyway since there's an awful lot of guns in this country and there's simply no way to get them all.  That's not gonna work.

I've been around firearms all my life, and consider myself to be somewhat of an "arm-chair expert" on them, and I can tell you that there has never been a case of a gun killing anyone when a person isn't attached to it.  That's incontrovertible.  Moreover, there's no such thing as "accidents" when firearms are involved- there is only "negligence".  That is also incontrovertible.  If it isn't an unintended firing it's worse because they meant to do it.  Again- incontrovertible.

The thing no one really wants to sink their teeth into is this - and I hate like hell that I'm about to sound like a GOP guy, but it boils down to mental health.  It just does.  No person in their right mind would do the things that this shooter has done.  In colloquial terms, they are "crazy" but in clinical terms they are mentally ill.  

And, that's really all there is to it.  It's difficult to take a step back on a day like today and dispense with the partisan rig-a-more-roll and just examine the facts dispassionately, but that's what needs to happen if anything is really going to be done about this.  Or, let me try to illuminate this another way:

Florida is well known to be a very liberal leaning state.  That's not a bad thing, mind you.  But, the mindset that seems to suggest sweeping reforms is largely from the liberal mindset- and, again that's perfectly ok - so it follows naturally that the predominance of the folks affected by this latest shooting are probably liberal in their stances on this issue.  (I am NOT saying, trying to say nor infer that there is anything wrong with a liberal stance here)  These same folks who think and understand these things from a common mindset are the ones probably paying the most attention to those things, and yet, when confronted with a known person who many said they predicted would do something like this - those same people didn't do anything about it.  Now why is that?

Because as a society we are plagued with the idea that this kind of thing happens only to others.  And, as a society, we want a "fix" in place that relinquishes all of us of the need to invest in the solution.  If someone had reported this, they would have to go to the police and make a complaint and that takes time.  If someone did go to the police with this, then the police would have to start a case and invest their time.  If the police did start a case and they contacted this person, then that person is going to be inconvenienced and that takes time.  And effort.  And follow-up.  And, also in this society, there is absolutely no tolerance for an undotted "i" or an uncrossed "t" and either of those make the litiphobes go nuts, so they don't even bother to put in either the time or effort.

So, the only real thing to do is bury your head in the sand and hope it doesn't happen, or you bury your head in the sand and hope someone else takes care of it- and let them be litigated when things go wrong.

We have to do something about mental health in this country, and not just because of school shootings.  The population that has mental health problems is so vastly "underlooked" after (note: NOT overlooked, because that would imply that someone is looking but not seeing) and that state of disarray is the single biggest common denominator in things like domestic abuse, homelessness and also wanton violence.  I'm all for mental health checks as part of a background check regimen for gun ownership, but the problem there is that only the lawful will participate.

People who have had diagnosed mental health issues should not own a gun.  I'm onboard with that.  Again, we're talking about just lawful people here- so what to do about the unlawful?  What do we do with the folks that absolutely will get their hands on a weapon and use it like this shooter did?

I have a partial answer to this:
  1. If the perpetrator of an act like this is found to be in illegal possession of a firearm, they immediately and permanently lose their US Citizenship.  Even if they were born here and their entire family is US Citizens.
  2. The perpetrator should be tried as a Terrorist.  Not "domestic" or "extremist" - terrorism is terrorism.
  3. If the perpetrator is found guilty of Terrorism, they should be sentenced to life with no possibility of parole- and by that, I don't mean they get a parole hearing every 7 years as a formality- I mean they don't even get a hearing.
  4. If the perpetrator has their citizenship revoked, they must immediately find - at their own expense - a country that will take them.  They will also be unable to re-enter this country on a work visa or even with a passport from that country.  They are literally pariah as far as this country is concerned.
  5. Failure to relocate as a newly defrocked American citizen earns you a nice long stay in a Federal prison.  Without parole.  Without parole hearings.  You're done.
Now here's the worst part of my idea- culpability.  People who have heard of someone possibly doing these things and don't report it- they should be guilty as accomplices.  Perhaps lower in stature than what constitutes a normal accomplice, but nonetheless- they should be held responsible for their own inactions.  That doesn't stop with mere citizens- if the cops knew that this could happen and no one stepped in, they should be equally responsible as this type of accomplice.

The idea here is simple: this is a problem that we all face, and we all have to get involved if we're going to fix it.  No one is immune, and there should be consequences for those that think they are.

This is a problem that is going to take a lot of time and energy to fix, and it's not going to go away overnight.  If you're idea of fixing this is somehow related to purely gun ownership, then you're as much a part of the problem as those who hear stuff and don't do anything about it.

In the meantime, I'll just be over here, heartbroken.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

clarifications

These days, I find myself in an interesting place in the political spectrum.  Although I've resisted - for quite awhile - writing any of it down and committing it to the halls of my own personal history, I just feel compelled to do so now.

As anyone who knows me knows well, I'm a Christian.  I make no secret of it, but I don't exactly hit people over the head with it, either.  As a Christian, I tend to somewhat "lean to the right" politically, but I am not a Conservative in the classic sense.  My Conservativism pretty much stops and starts at governmental size (I like it to be small and effective) and keeping the government out of business (I am laissez-faire capitalist)- but that's really it.  Darned near everything else in the political spectrum leaves me in kind of a "social liberal no-man's land" - I don't particularly care if LGBTQRSTUVXYZ folks wanna get married; don't like abortion, then don't get one; I don't want religion taught in public schools (the people that would do it can't)- and on more than a few political topics I don't even have an opinion, nor do I want one.

I am not really an Evangelical Christian, either- I definitely used to be up until fairly recently- but I don't want to digress into why the change of heart there- we'll save that for a later time - but the predominance of the people that I associate with on a daily basis are.  And, since I was an Evangelical Christian, I do know what they believe and why they believe it - and I don't really take all that much issue with those why's and how's.  There's much bigger things to be concerned with these days.  And, even though I am an ardent Follower and Believer in Jesus, I'm an almost equal and ardent student of history and I know, full well, that this country is not a Christian country, nor has it ever been- despite what others may think and say.  This country's founding fathers were at best Deists, but they saw the disadvantages of a state run church (which, btw, is where the idea of "separation of church and state" begins and ends) and a lot of them first hand witnessed what a state run religion does to its society.....I'm starting to digress again.

But lately I keep hearing how it's the Evangelicals or just "Christians" who are the ones who are responsible for the trials and travails that come in the form of our current POTUS rants over tweets and such.  I find that troubling for a number of reasons, and I thought I might try to explain something to my more "liberal" readers about what this actually is.  And, when I'm done with that, I'll address some of my more "evangelically minded" readers thoughts and point out a couple of fallacies there, too.  Now, remember- this is my blog and I can say what I want to here- and I'm voicing my thoughts here and I am absolutely guaranteed that I get to have my own opinion on these things.  So, read on if you dare, but if you flame me for this, you better have your stuff together first.

I don't really expect to change anyone's mind, but rather just seek to try to explain a couple of ideas from my own, limited vantage point.


===========================
FOR MY LIBERAL READERS
===========================
I *think* the reason that Mr. Trump might be appealing to some out there is because he doesn't represent the "normal" state of the current Politician Class.  In order to understand this more readily, as a more "liberal" minded individual, you're going to need to dispense with your preconceived notion of how much of an idiot Mr. Trump seems to be (I mean- Good God- there's enough proof provided daily for that, but....) and let's examine this for what it is- I think that the "moral majority" is just tired of politicians who just say and do what all the other politicians are saying and doing and they initially wanted someone to shake things up.  (as in "drain the swamp" )  I don't think that this statement is especially expository, but if you view it within the context of how partisan politics are these days and were before the new administration was here, I think you can probably see why this would have happened.  Was Hillary or Bernie Sanders going to rock the boat- no.  They're both pretty much status-quo political types, even though Bernie is a self-proclaimed Socialist.

The other thing to appreciate here is the fact that most of the mid-west has been completely ignored by D.C. for a long, long time.   When it comes time for elections, candidates show up to only those places that can be "gamed" for their Electoral College votes, but the vast geographic majority of "fly-over" country is ignored by these status-quo politicians for appearances, town halls, etc.  Perhaps the thinking was that a bonafide boat-rocker would be different?  Seems reasonable to think that way, and we all saw first-hand that the Dems lost in places they had never lost in because they just considered those places to be "wrapped up" - which plays right into the hands of that part of the populace who thinks that they're being ignored already.

That "ignored" populace is who voted for Trump, because whether or not you like him there is no debating that he is a boat-rocker.  But, therein lies the crux of the problem: he's an unlistening boat-rocker and if arrogance was people, he'd be China.

Here's the part that my liberal readers really aren't getting about this- a lot of the folks who voted him in are now experiencing what can only be referred to as "buyer's remorse".  Yesterday, I heard a news article about a documentary team that was interviewing people in Roberts County, Texas - a county where 95% of the voters voted for Trump, and every last one of them expressed misgivings around their choice after the first year of office, mainly on the topic of Trump's tweets.  They wish he would shut up, just as we all do.  They had other misgivings, too.

It's difficult for people to admit when they are wrong, even when the predominance of proof is there to do it.  These people are just like all the rest of us- they don't want to admit that, and they certainly don't want to admit to our 4th estate who they believe to have an agenda of bad-mouthing anything the GOP does.  (And make no mistake- they do have that agenda- but then again, the GOP doesn't really do anything to prevent that.  Ahem......)  So they continue to stay their course publicly, while in private they express their misgivings to each other where it is considered safe to do so.

The issue that really chaps my hide here is that you liberal folks just want to lump all Christians into this single bucket of group-thought (or group-non-thought) and just believe that we're all a bunch of Neanderthals who want to go back to 1955 and re-live the Eisenhower years, and that is just not true.  My Christian friends are appalled at where we are right now, just as you are.  No thinking, rational person believes for a second that this climate of abuse is something good.  They don't want things to turn back.  Just like you, they want a better world for their children and yours.  I know that's truly inconvenient to say, because it's so much easier to just cast them all into a bucket of "evil" or "stupid" and be done with the lot of them, but you gotta admit- that sentiment isn't really making anything better.  Is it?

==============================
FOR MY CONSERVATIVE READERS
==============================
First off, if you believe that God is a Republican, I implore you to stop breeding now.  He is not.  In fact, the very idea of God- his omnipresence and omniscience is actually way more Democrat than Republican.  God doesn't want to be and isn't small in size, and He is definitely not a laissez-faire capitalist either.  Omnipresence and omniscience is 100% incompatible with "separation" of things like that.  Truth be told, God is neither Democrat nor Republican, nor is He a Socialist or a Libertarian, Tea Party, SJW or Activist.  God is God.

Second off, if you believe that the US is a Christian nation, I again implore you not to breed.  This country, while founded on some Judeo-Christian principles, does not ascribe to a Biblical view of the world anymore than any other nation does.  Nor are we worse than others.  There is no equivalency here, so stop trying to create some.  The writers of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution merely invoked the idea of "God" in those documents (hence the statement "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights" as a prime example) and only did so to illustrate that the end of the line is that Deity, not modeling said Deity.

Third- while dispensing with any "I Hate Trump" sentiments- do you really think that this particular guy is doing a great job and is the best fit for our country- now, be honest.  His penchant for saying whatever is on his mind hasn't really served anyone well- the mote that has been set around him is only getting deeper by doing that, and while it's great fun to see the others on Capitol Hills writhe in pain from what he says (hey- I admit that I do enjoy that, too) it's only driving more and more dissension.  It makes it more and more difficult for him to get anything done - yes, you could make the case that it shouldn't be this way, but pragmatism has to win the day.  He needs to be way more diplomatic than he has been if he hopes to continue to do much of anything constructive.  No, that doesn't mean that he has to become "one of them", but it does mean that the adage of "you can kill more flies with a flyswatter than with a .50 caliber machine gun" is still very much a real thing.

When Obama was a candidate, I heard many of you question whether or not he was qualified to be in the office.  I questioned that as well, and I still think he wasn't- but I will say that I think he gained that qualification over time.  Trump is a businessman, and having a businessman running this country is something I thought I'd actually like- but we all forgot that Trump has not been a successful businessman.  All of his businesses have failed, and the way that he ran those businesses is somewhat questionable- so again, we didn't really get what we bargained for here.  And, if we add to that some of the things that no one debates that he didn't do - that interview with that schlocky "news" magazine where he said "grab 'em by the pu....." - that definitely speaks to a lack of professionalism and there's just no getting around that.


===========================
FOR ALL MY READERS
===========================
Because I don't seem to fit the molds on either The Right or The Left, let me try to sum up my vantage point.

Q. Do you like Mr. Trump?
A. No, I do not.

Q. Did you like Mr. Obama?
A. I liked him as a person, but I did not like his policies while he was in office.

Q. Who was the last POTUS you liked?
A. As a person, Mr. Obama.  As someone who's policies I agreed with, George H.W. Bush.  (I also liked him as a person)  Before that, we gotta go all the way back to either Harry S. Truman or Woodrow Wilson.

Q. Is Mr. Trump a danger to the US?
A. No.  His office- the Executive Branch - is the weakest 1/3 of the US Government and there are too many checks and balances on him for him to do anything truly bad or long lasting.

Q. Is Mr. Trump a danger to the rest of the world?
A. THAT is a good question.  For some, yes- ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Boko Haram and groups like that as well as countries like NK and Iran should be very afraid.  Nobody else needs to be.

Q. Do you think that Mr. Trump is dangerous in general?
A. Kind of, but not for the reasons you might think.  I think he's dangerous because no one who really matters takes him seriously.

Q. Is Mr. Trump the worst POTUS we've ever had?
A. No.  Not even close.  That dubious award goes to (in this order) US Grant, Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson.  (Look it up, kids)

Q. Should Mr. Trump be impeached?
A. The only reason that Trump should be impeached is if he A) is found to be in collusion with the Russians B) impedes the investigations of Russian Collusion.  His comments on various things are not, and will not, be impeachable offenses.

Q. Do you think that Mr. Trump is unfit for office?
A. No more so than Mr. Obama was.  I do think that Trump is an arrogant ass-hat and Obama was not that.

Q. What the worst thing about Mr. Trump as POTUS?
A. The fact that no one has taken his Twitter account away.  They really should.

Q. Do you think that Mr. Trump colluded with the Russians?
A. Yes.  I think he did so to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.  And I believe that if that can be proven, he should be impeached.

Q. Is Mr. Trump your President?
A. Yes, unfortunately he is.

Q. Since Mr. Trump was elected by The Electoral College and not the people, should the Electoral College be rescinded?
A. Hell, no.  The Electoral College is the prime reason that makes peaceful transitions of power in this country possible and makes us different from the rest of the world.

Q. Do you believe that Mr. Trump is a corrupt individual?
A. Yes.  Absolutely.  Just as all politicians are.  Every, single one of them.

Q. Are you a Republican or a Democrat?
A. I am neither.  I am an American Citizen with a fully working brain that I use on a daily basis.

===================================
I hope that maybe some of the above statements can clear some things up.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

FBO - For Bass Players Only - The "F" Word

I subscribe to a number of groups on Facebook, and many (read:most) are somehow either musical or bass in nature (in the case of slap videos, those terms are mutually exclusive most of the time - ahem) and there's a topic on the bass related ones that crops up from time to time.  I should add that it is a topic that is near and dear to my heart:

"Is a Fender bass worth it as an instrument to own?"

Which, somehow invariably morphs into this:

"Are Fender basses the best basses?"

As a session player, I do have a somewhat different take on this topic.  When I started my career (in the late 70's) there were 3 things that were important:
  1. Show up on time.  Early is better.
  2. Make sure your gear works.
  3. Make sure that you have at least one Fender with you.
I know that sounds trite, but it's 100% true.  If you didn't have a Fender with you, you were gonna have a bad day.  And, it really didn't matter if it was a Precision or a Jazz- it just had to have the name "Fender" on it somewhere, and it needed to sound like a Fender.  Period.

Now, why do you suppose that is?  Well, it might not seem terribly obvious to you, but there really was a reason, and it all boiled down to two things: the gear being used and the people using it.

In 1951, Leo Fender turned the recording industry on it's ear by introducing the electric bass guitar.  It wasn't for the reasons you might be thinking, either- it's because, up until this time, bass playing was being done by bass players playing upright basses.  Playing the upright was (and still is) a pretty demanding thing and is really only taken on by people that want to do it.  The chief problem wasn't the size of the instrument, but rather the fact that uprights don't have frets, which meant that unless you knew what you were doing, everything would sound really, really bad.  When Leo released his first production instruments, he did so to attract guitar players to be able to play bass and play it in tune, hence the name "Precision" bass.  This little marketing ruse actually worked, too- all the session guitarists of the day suddenly found themselves with the ability to double effectively, and that also meant more money for them if they could do it.  Every single bass player in studio bands like The Section, The Wrecking Crew and Muscle Shoals started out life as a guitarist, and migrated to this new instrument.  My old teacher, Carol Kaye, who is known as the ultimate session bassist is, in fact, an absolute terror on the guitar, too.

And, since Leo had "standardized" the idea of the bass guitar, he also inadvertently standardized the parts that went into them, too.  Most notable here was the signal chain that would be needed for a bass guitar to sound as good as an upright bass did.

This meant that pre-amplifier manufacturers were forced to redesign a lot of their wares for this new instrument.  In 1951, recording a bass guitar direct wasn't done, so it really mattered what the miked up amp sounded like.  That meant creating circuitry to accommodate much different voltages than guitar pickups- guitar pickups are generally much higher in output voltage ("hotter") than bass pickups are, and the other problem is that a hotter signal means more distortion, and more distortion means less usable low end- all of which are problems for a bass guitar.

And, since Fender was the only real bass company, all these manufacturers used for designing these circuits was- you guessed it- a Fender bass, and only the Precisions at that.

So, back in 1951, the expense of running a recording studio was enormous, and generally, studio owners and engineers could only afford a few preamps, let alone the idea of something that was of special use, like a bass amplifier.  But they bought them- and when some bass player came in with something like a Gibson EB0 or EB-2, nothing quite worked the way they were used to hearing things.

This problem continued as time went on, because from 1951 to about 1976, Fender virtually ruled the bass world.  Every piece of studio gear out there was based on the voltages and impedance of the Fender bass- a passive, low impedance signal that had to be shaped by either the desk (for a DI) or by the preamp that the mike was plugged into.

All of that changed in 1976-77 when Leo Fender released the new Musicman Stingray on the world.  The Stingray was the very first production model bass guitar to have an active preamp in it.  (Yes, Alembic was doing it in the early 70's, but Alembics were not common, and still aren't)  hat Leo did with the Stringray was pretty ingenious- while the output was hotter and had treble and bass control to it, the impedance to the preamps was largely unaffected and all that Fender based gear still worked pretty well with the active electronics.  Manufacturers did some small tweaking to their input stages (like adding buffers to the input) but all bass amplifier manufacturers pretty much kept on with the Fender based spec.  

To this day, pretty much every bass guitar amplifier out there is still loosely based around the Fender architecture.  People today who have bass heroes all want to sound like those heroes, and all of them are using amplification systems that are still based on the input characteristics of the old Fenders.  

These are just inescapable facts.  But it doesn't answer the question- but to do that, I have to add my personal experience here.
My '62 Precision and my Regenerate Pro 5 -
there's a '65 Reissue Jazz back there, too

I like to think of my Fenders (I currently own 5) as "equalizers".  With the exception of my '62 Precision, none of them is terribly special, but they are absolute war-horses.  You can't kill them, and they sound good no matter what amp, DI, preamp or filter I put them thru.  I know what they're going to do every, single time I plug one in, and it's for that reason that I never put preamps in them and I always have one with me on a gig or session date.  They just work.  

I can and do play other things- my mainstay these days is a Regenerate Guitar Works Regenerate Pro 5 string with Honey Badger Heavy Hitters and a Noll 3-way active preamp- and I absolutely LOVE IT.  It works for about 90% of what I do - but every now and then, it doesn't and that's where the Fender comes in.

There is absolutely no such thing as the perfect bass- a single instrument that can just do it all - that's a myth and I don't care which manufacturer tells you that they have it.  They don't.  But, the bottom line in my mind is that if you do have only a single instrument in your arsenal, it probably ought to be one of the "F" word basses- because no matter how hard you try, you just won't go wrong.  

To sum it up- yeah, I'm a Leo fan.  I think he got it right, and by and large the rest of the bass world - whether they know it or not - actually agrees with me.  Are Fenders perfect? No.  Are they able to bridge every single kind of musical genre out there- absolutely not.  But they do work, and their work can be heard on 90% of everything you've ever listened to, and that is something that just can't be ignored.




Tuesday, October 17, 2017

#IWill #IHave #IWillContinueTo

A long time ago, in a galaxy about 1200 miles south of where I live now, I had a friend- a brother, really- let's call him "Joe"- who was an extremely dear friend.  We were close - REALLY close - we lived next door, we went to church together (played on the same worship team- he was a guitarist) and, well- you get the idea.  I knew this guy- I mean I REALLY knew this guy.  And his wife, "Mona" and my wife were good friends.

About 10 months after the birth of 4th child, Joe's wife let us know that they were having problems.  No details given.  I talked with Joe, and it was one of those "it's just something we all go through" kind of things, and he was pretty sure that they'd get thru it.

Except they didn't.

Within 4 months, they were separated.  2 months after that, Mona filed for divorce.  Again- no reasons given, which was getting weirder and weirder because they knew everything about us (we had recently suffered the loss of our youngest son, Stephen) and we knew darned near everything there was to know about them.  Or so we thought.  Joe was asked to leave the house, and he did (I helped him move to an apartment near by) and my wife and I tried to support them as best we could.

No sooner was Joe out of the house that Mona finally told us what was going on.  Sexual impropriety.  Oh, great.  I approach Joe - "There's two sides to every story, Marc, and I'm just not ready to go into it right now" was all he said.  Mona would not give details.  We were left to jump to conclusions- which was easy to do since Joe had a new girlfriend less than 2 weeks after he moved out, and his girlfriend had a couple of small children.  While it was "bad", we had no idea how bad it really was.

One night, there was yelling from their house.  This was very uncharacteristic, and for awhile, Deb and I didn't do anything, until we heard some crashes in their house.  I went over, and found Joe smashing things in their front room and Mona literally cowering in the corner.  Without qualification or thinking, I literally grabbed Joe and threw him out the front door and slammed it in his face and barred the door with my foot.  The whole time he was yelling at me, telling me that "if you've ever been my friend, you're gonna let me back in and let me settle this".  I responded by locking the front door and calling the cops who showed up immediately and took my friend away, back to his house.  Mona swore out a temporary restraining order on Joe right then and there.

After things calmed down, I asked Mona what the hell was going on.  She broke down and while sobbing, she said, "go look at Sarah's throat".  (Sarah was their 3 year old daughter)  I looked in her throat and saw several large, inflamed blisters in her throat with white heads on them- they looked like big pimples.

"She's a little old to be having thrush" I said.

"It's not thrush.  It's warts" Mona said.

And before I could ask, she said, "Penile warts.  Joe has them, too."

The blood in my veins turned to ice.  I literally felt like I was going to faint, and I did gag visibly.

This is what had been going on FOR YEARS with them.  I lived next door, and I never knew.  There was no way to know, but what I did know was that I was gonna get involved.  And I did, as did my wife.  There was no way in hell we weren't gonna get involved.  I'll save you the rest of the story here, because this isn't about how magnaminous I am/I'm not or how I got on a high horse- suffice it to say however that my relationship with Joe changed *just a bit*.  (VAST UNDERSTATEMENT)

The reason I'm writing this is because with all the #MeToo posts out there, I haven't seen a ton of warning- the warning that there are a lot of people who have stood ground here and whether or not they were trying to appear mighty or not, they weren't gonna put up with this.  In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that in order to stop this absolute bullshit of physical/sexual abuse, warnings should be given from people that let them know that you are not a safe haven for this kind of thing.  While I am a Christian man and I take my faith very seriously, all that "meekness" goes right out the window where things like this are involved.  People who do these things are sick animals who are deserving of nothing but the swift employment of the law, and let the chips fall where they may.  It's not enough to say "#IWill" if when presented with behavior like this we fail to act RAPIDLY. 

At least part of the reason why this behavior continues to exist is because our society seems to be caught up in the reasons why the perpetrator of the act would do such a thing.  I'm not saying that we shouldn't be interested in that, but I am saying that I'm not qualified to do anything with that information, and the vast majority of people are right there where I am.  That is something that is probably best left to mental health professionals and the police.  What I am qualified to do as a human being is to actively steer right into the skid and stop the inevitable accident from happening, by whatever means are necessary- and, yeah- I'll put relationships I hold dear right up to the fire and let them burn.  That isn't happening on my watch, and what's required of all of us as human beings is to take a 0% tolerance view on this sort of thing.  I'll go further and acknowledge that I realize that my actions will not stop the root cause and may force it back into the darkness- but if that means that my 3 year old next door neighbor has no penile warts in her throat from her father, I'm gonna sleep well.

So, for all the guys and gals out there that are posting #IWill right now, I am imploring you to really mean it.  Don't just jump on a bandwagon if you don't have the intention of putting your own skin in this game.  I would ask that you post nothing rather than make what might be an empty promise. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My $.02 on the gun control issue

This afternoon, while browsing Facebook, I happened across a friend's post regarding gun control.  He had posted a video that was shot during a town hall meeting with then President Barack Obama.

Here's that video:

My friend then asked how anyone could disagree with the statements made by Mr. Obama.  That's a really good question, because I honestly think that Mr. Obama made a really good point in his answer.  It's difficult to figure out how any thinking, rational person might disagree with such a brilliantly stated answer.  (and, btw, I really do like Mr. Obama's answer here)

So, why would anyone disagree?  Well, I felt I had to post what I felt was the answer to that question, and here's what I wrote:

Card carrying NRA member here, and I'll take a crack at explaining why anyone would disagree with this, and it's not going to be the explanation you think it is. It is, however, a little long winded.

The reason why auto fatalities were decreased by way of a health issue was that both the right and left were united in the approach. And, because they were, the people were also united in their resolve to do the same thing. The press covered this unilaterally and without bias on either side of the issue because there was no "either side" to take. People realized that this was a complex issue, and since it was a complex issue, they would accept that this was an effort that would take time due to having to weigh all the scientific data that would be required. Car manufacturers initially got in the way of it due to costs on their side, but after seeing the people accept the fact that this just needed to be done, they acquiesced.

Nowadays, we have none of that. We have a 4th estate that regularly takes sides and decries the efforts of the other side, and people who are barely able to participate in the necessary legal proceedings are too busy watching "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" to care about putting in the slightest effort to think these kinds of things thru- especially if the answer is complex and doesn't resolve in 35 seconds or less. They are further shown the inactivity of a government to actually do anything for fear of being unelected. If you tried to solve the auto fatality rate now, it would never get done because of the fear of the special interest group's influence and the fact that one side or the other sees no reason to do anything, unless they can do it all by themselves and take total credit for it.

As an NRA member and a responsible gun owner, I have no issue with background checks. I have no issue with a waiting period. I have no issue with lower capacity magazines or a moratorium on suppressors, silencers or bump-stocks. If that's the law of the land, I'll abide by it, and I can tell you that 99.5% of the NRA membership says the exact same thing as I do, but there are those in society who don't want to hear that- they only want to villify the other side and in actuality, they don't care to actually do anything but beat their breasts and cry "woe is us", because to do anything else is to actually be required to critically think through a problem. And they can't be bothered to do that.

The fact of the matter is that we, as responsible gun owners, we want this problem solved, too- but what we keep hearing is a solution that only curtails the legal issues when followed by people who respect the law and follow it, and by very definition, criminals do not follow the law. We have to look at that problem as part of the solution, because the legal and responsible gun owners (like me) do all the things that are required - and we also pay attention to the things we're not supposed to do (I own nothing automatic, I own no suppressors or bump stocks and I have registered all my weapons with the state even though I am not required in this state to do it) - but the outlaw side of this has yet to be talked about saliently. Until that topic gets talked about with equal time and equal passion, I'm going to continue to keep my guns in my house and on my person (I am licensed to carry) because of the idiot/asshole who thinks he's above the law.

So my suggestion on how to stop this crap from happening starts with all of us telling our representatives to stop bashing the other side on this issue (the guy asking President Obama the question is clearly listening to only one side here) and tell them to stop automatically assuming the worst on the other side of the aisle. They need to get their acts together and get together to start a real, dispassionate dialog on how to solve the problem. We, as a society, need to make our voices heard about the fact that neither side has the answer by themselves and that this kind of behavior from them and the press that covers it in this fashion - from either side - is unacceptable and we want real change and they had ALL better do something about this.
See- the deal here is that we as a society don't want to fix the problem.  We like the chaos.  Individually, we do want to fix the problem, but we as individuals want someone else to do the work.  We, individually, want to just cry about it and have the people that we put in power do the work, or we want someone like the press to cry on our behalf, but the bottom line is that as individuals, we really don't care.

Do I honestly believe that? 

You bet I do. And, I'm looking right at you when I say it.  And, hypocritically, I also think that I fall right into that demographic a bit, too.  And, I don't like to think about that of myself.

Now, I really want to be wrong about this.  I'd like to think that since we all bleed the same color blood that we'd all be united on this, but I just don't see it.  Instead, I see people who want to blame others (like the NRA) for the bloodshed, or I see others who say that any kind of restrictions placed on them as a "civil rights violation" - but either way, they just wanna bitch about it but not actually want to put any skin in the game.

What do we do about this?  How can we change it?  I think the very first part of making that change is to stop accepting that "chest beating" mentality as an acceptable form of discourse.  Folks- if we're gonna fix this, we need to stop yelling and start listening.  We need to think critically (something I'm constantly harping about) about this situation and take some forward steps.  If we don't, this kind of thing is going to continue to happen and that's the really unacceptable thing.

So, I'm wondering how many readers of this little article can put down their Democrat/Republican Dance Card and pick up their Human Being Dance Card and try to make a real difference?  Anyone?  Does anyone care?  Is anyone listening?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dunkirk

So, Dunkirk.  There's a lot to say here.  And before I do, there will be some spoilers here, but if you know your history, you already have the spoilers.  That said, I'll try not to spoil it for you.

First off, if you don't know what leads up to the movie, you might be a little lost- so let's clear that up first.  Here's a super lightweight rundown of what goes on before the movie starts you off:

In 1939, Germany invaded Poland.  At that point, war was basically declared throughout Europe with most countries declaring war on Germany.  Italy, Lithuania and Yugoslavia sided with Germany; Switzerland, Finland and Sweden decided to sit it out.  At first, Germany paid no attention to the west- all eyes were focused east, towards Russia (who Germany had an non-aggression pact with at the time- which ended with Operation Barbarossa in September, 1940) and France decided that they were in peril (which they were) and asked the Brits for help.  Beginning in early 1940, the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) started sending troops to France for her defense.  It started out slowly, and the Brits were mainly staged along the Belgian border where they did.....well, not much at first.  It was all a fairly civil affair, with an occasional skirmish here and there.

But, without much warning, in early May, 1940, the Germans attacked France, Belgium and The Netherlands, and when they did they were met by 10 divisions of BEF and a large number of French forces.  At this point in the war, Germany "had it going on", having much more seasoned and better trained troops for the fight.  (Remember- German troops had been fighting since the Spanish Civil War in 1937)  They were able to (relatively) easily push the BEF and French forces back to the northern coast of France towards Calais.  At the same time that the Germans were pushing these forces back into France, an entire other German army had advanced in the west, captured the ports of Boulougn and Calais and pincered the BEF forces at Dunkirk, just a few miles east of Calais.  A total of 400,000 men were stuck on the beach with nowhere to go and the Germans kept pounding them- literally as they sat like ducks on the open beaches.  The Germans had complete control of the air and a tremendous amount of U-boats (subs) in the area that basically were unopposed in sinking whatever they wanted to.  With the Germans closing in, it looked like all was lost- until German General Ruhnstedt order the advance to be stopped.  To date, no one really knows why he ordered the halt, but Hitler at first agreed with the order and then changed his mind.  During the stop of that advance, the BEF was able to shore up their defenses and start working on an evacuation plan.

And this is where the movie drops you in.  But mind you, the "war movie" aspect of this movie isn't really what it's about- I mean, there is a war going on, but.....well, we'll get to that.  Let's go with the war stuff first.

I'm a HUGE stickler for accurate representation when people do movies about historic things, especially WWII.  I've got a friggin' eagle eye for all kinds of things like whether or not the uniform colors are right, the gear they carry, if they're wearing their uniforms correctly, the trucks, the tanks- I can spot a fake a mile away.  I can also spot a bad process, salute and slang - especially the Germans (because I'm fluent in it) - and if the transgression is bad enough (meaning "not really that bad" or "it doesn't really affect the movie") it'll ruin the whole thing for me, and everyone within earshot of me will know about it.  Yeah.  I suck that way, and I've ruined many a movie for my wife in doing this.  I can't help it, tho....

So, how did Nolan fair on this?  He didn't miss a single, solitary thing.  He even got the squadron tail numbers on the Spitfires right.  The ME-109's (the German fighter planes) had the correct period markings and were the correct variants for that year.  The British destroyers (they were actually old French ones that they doctored) were appointed correctly.  The British AA (anti aricraft) guns were right, and the soldiers were carrying the correct rifles, gear and ammunition.  The sounds of German artillery rounds as they came in were correct.  And here's the best part- the sound made by the German Stuka dive bombers were frighteningly accurate- you see, the German pilots had sirens attached the bomber's wheel fairings to make this awful screeching noise as they dove on their targets- and Nolan got that completely correct.  (BTW- there are no known actual Junkers JU87 Stukas still flying, so whatever they used for them, they did a good job on them.  CGI?  Maybe.  I couldn't tell- it was that good)

In short, Nolan nailed that part of it, and I think that's a great thing, because to do all those things meant that he respected the story enough to make it look and feel correct, right down the most minute of details.

But, here's the deal: even though those things are important to me, the fact is that the overall tone and thrust of this movie makes those things completely unimportant- even to me.

And that brings me to the "not a war movie" thing I mentioned earlier.  This isn't a war movie- it's a disaster movie wrapped up in a war.  And that makes it very different.

In every war movie I've ever seen (and that's A LOT OF THEM) there's always one guy who knows something about what's going on in a larger-than-life kind of way.  I've never been in combat, but I have some very close friends who are decorated combat vets from some recent wars, but also friends and relatives who have fought in Korea, Vietnam and in WWII (and on the German side at that) and the one thing they always tell me is that when you are in combat, there may be someone who knows what's going on, but they're not talking.  Yes, there's a team mentality, but the fact of the matter is that actual combat is so traumatic and brutal that even the most hardened of soldiers stop talking and just start reacting.  As a rule, when you meet a former combat vet, they really don't have a lot to say about the combat- they'll talk about the buddies they lost or how bad the food was and how tired they were, but the actual fighting- nothing.

That's because it defies description.

Most of the guys in the BEF in 1940 were between the ages of 18 and 22.  (Most soldiers are of that age, actually- a guy John Wayne's age did NOT serve in a front line, and if he did, it was because he pissed someone off and got sent there as punishment, not a commanding officer)  In addition to literally just being out of high school, these kids didn't have a ton of experience in combat, either in serving or even hearing about it, since Britain hadn't had a real fight in almost 25 years at that point.  To say these kids were "green" is a vast understatement.  And more than that- they had just been through 3 weeks of constant harassment by artillery bombardment, strafing by fighter planes, dive bombers, snipers, tanks and landmines.

In the movie, Nolan recreates the absolute DREAD from the kids by having almost no dialog.  Short of Hans Zimmer's percussive score and the screaming of overhead Stukas, there's almost no noise and no words.  He heightens this sense of foreboding by using overly long, single shots with no dialog for many, many minutes.  The beach at Dunkirk is full of queued up soldiers, staring at the sea and not saying a word, which adds to the surrealism.  Also to heighten the whole sense of confusion, we don't know many of the soldier's names or backgrounds.  (Cillian Murphy is credited as "Shivering Man")

The story is told from 3 viewpoints- land, sea and air - and at times it's a little confusing as to what you are watching.  That also adds to the overall confusion of trying to figure out how to get 400,000 men home- which is so close they can all see it.

This movie is what I'd like to call "an ant colony" movie- we don't have any larger-than-life characters here.  We have a tremendously large group of very scared little boys who just want to go home alive and have no idea how to do it- and while these nameless, faceless boys scurry around to find a way they look like ants in a colony.  They have a basic hierarchical structure that they obey, but they will throw aside the rules in a hot second if that means that there's even a chance they can get home, which makes the ant colony seem formless and void.  Nolan keeps that pressure on you like a vise, relentlessly throughout the picture; ever tightening to a climax we just can't even imagine.

As a pure war movie, this picture fails epically- but as a picture of society at it's level worst and just trying to function it succeeds wildly.  I was absolutely enthralled throughout the movie, because it has a rich undercurrent of double-entendre mixed up with a sense of dread I've never actually experienced before.  Yes, there is a triumph of human spirit here and that is palpable, but what's very cool about that is that the characters get to see a bit of that themselves and are surprised by it in the end.

To the Brits, the 8 days between May 28 and June 4, 1940, Dunkirk was considered a colossal military failure on a monumental scale, and is still held that way by the British Military to this day.  Nolan doesn't stray far from that notion, but this move is far from a failure, and is without a doubt one of the finest "military focused" movies I've ever seen, and is Nolan's absolute best work to date.  If he doesn't get Academy Awards for this, there is absolutely no justice in this world.

A++



Friday, December 9, 2016

WORSHIP – PART 3: Dispelling The Myth Of Formula

In this installment, I would like to dispel the idea of trying to apply a formulaic approach to worship, and why doing so is actually dangerous.  The reason that this is important might not be immediately obvious, so let me try to explain.

What is a Formula?

Simply put, a formula is a pseudo-mathematic concept that allows the user of the formula to achieve consistent results with a dynamic set of input criteria or stimulus.  Things like “2+2=4” are simplistic approaches that we all know, but things like “if I hit my head really hard against a brick wall, it’s going to hurt” are also considered formulaic- but in a more applicative sense they are really “stimulus and response”. 

The Point of Reduction to Formula

Like I said, the point of formula is to be able to know a particular outcome given a set of mitigating input or stimulus.  There is nothing wrong with trying to approach things in the fashion, because like it or not, human beings embrace the idea of formula approaches all the time, whether they realize it or not.  If we take that to place of a group event like a concert, we know things like “when the lights go down, the show starts and we clap” or “when the band finishes, stay put for the encore” – things like that are actually formula.

While there is nothing wrong with a formulaic approach, there is a serious flaw in trying to always apply formula where the input series is too rich and varied, especially when the user of the approach assumes that it’s more important to just achieve a higher number of like responses that to really consider the formula’s appropriateness in the first place.  When the higher number approach is applied in a worship setting, it’s especially inappropriate- but why is that?  What is so wrong here?

Simple: our response set should always equal 1.  And that 1 is God, not the congregation.

But, there is an undeniable and appropriate metric in looking at your congregation as a response set, albeit a lesser one to be concerned with.  In actuality, the congregation is the only immediately tangible response that anyone is going to see or hear- it’s not like God shouts thru the PA, “Hey- that was GREAT!” – or if He does do that, I’d suggest a CAT scan might be in order…..but I’m starting to digress.

The trouble here is that when a formula is applied by someone who is only considering their thought processes as the “success” measure – or to put it another way – when most of the congregation likes a song that you like and that is “success”, and you measure that “success” at the same time saying things like “well, the rest of them just didn’t get it”, whether you like it or not, the important response set of 1 is actually getting missed.  Worship is exactly like driving a car on a freeway- if you manage to miss all the other cars and only hit a part of your bumper on 1 car, you’ve driven badly and you’ve had an accident.

A Personal Example of Inappropriateness of Formula

Years ago I was part of the orchestra at The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California for a live simulcast Christmas concert.  I was the sole upright bassist in a 20-piece orchestra, and since I was alone, I was placed at the edge of the stage.  At my feet was a television monitor that was showing the simulcast of the live TV broadcast that was happening.  During the service, one of the songs that was on the list was “What A Mighty God We Serve”, which as some may know is kind of a country-ish 2-step song, and an orchestral arrangement was supremely lame.  The conductor and most of the orchestra members had made fun of this song choice during rehearsal.  So, when the tune launched, I rolled my eyes and went into the 2-step, and no, the camera did not catch me rolling my eyes.

The song is really easy, so I didn’t really have to read the music, and I started glancing around at the other orchestral members.  More than a few of them met my gaze with a slightly wry, bored grin and a hunch of the shoulders, and I felt somewhat vindicated- the tune was terrible.  I glanced down at my chart, because I had forgotten which repeat we were in, and that’s when the TV monitor at my feet grabbed my attention.

There, onscreen, was a woman who had to be in her early 80’s.  I couldn’t place where she was in the sanctuary and I didn’t know her.  But she was singing the song exuberantly and clapping her hands out of time.  Joy was all over her face.  She stopped clapping, and raised her hands and shut her eyes and actually kind of danced in place.  And, all the while this was happening, tears were streaming down her face, making a mess out of her carefully applied makeup.  She didn’t care- she was enrapt in the moment, and was singing to her God.  I was met with an immediate thought, and I remember mouthing that thought silently on my lips-

I am an insufferable shithead, and I am wholly unworthy to be on this stage.

This song meant something to this woman, and it wasn’t her that didn’t get it- it was me that didn’t get it.  Moreover, if I were to be measuring my success the right way, then this wasn’t a base-hit – this was a grand slam homerun, because we offered something to someone who clearly needed it, rather than what I mandated that they needed.  This was a watershed moment for me- I had been playing music in church for years and thought I knew what was what, but I learned in that one camera shot that I was suffering a near-fatal case of rectal-cranial inversion, and that, in reality, I knew nothing at all.

Why God is Not Formulaic

This brings me to my uber-point- if the congregation is not the important part of the sought-over response set, then we need to understand how God does not respond to our meager understandings of stimulus/response.

First off, as you know (if you’re reading this far) God is the creator of the universe.  We’ve all heard that before, but if you really believe that, and you can acknowledge that the universe is a somewhat complex thing, then the very nature of God would be at the very least as complex as the universe.  That’s obviously an over-simplistic statement, but you get the drift here.

Second, since God knows all of us personally and better than we know ourselves, and all of us have slightly different stimuli that can bring a myriad of responses, we have to acknowledge that the input set for our formulaic approach to worship has a completely uncontrollable scope, and we cannot possibly hope to understand a response set for success from a “veritable plethora” (thank you, Carl Sagan) of possible responses.

Third, even if God, as the response-prime set were to respond to our stimuli, how arrogant are we to think that God can be controlled in this fashion?

Preparation vs. Manipulation

After spending many, MANY years doing the worship thing (in many, MANY different forms) I’ve come to see the hidden danger in the formulaic approach to worship- and let’s get one thing straight here:

When I use the term “worship” here, I am not necessarily talking about the playing of music.  My use of that word here is the totality of a congregational interaction, from the music to the message, and including all the other trappings- greeting, announcements, small groups, missions- all of that is “worship” – or rather, it should be.

And this is danger- we’ve separated and compartmentalized it, and that is wrong.  We are supposed to do everything in a spirit of worship.  But, what we’ve done in our formulaic approach is to compartmentalize the idea of “worship” as a singular act of singing songs.  With that compartmentalization, we have also compartmentalized the thrust of that action.  While singing songs of worship is supposed to be an act of preparation for the congregation to enter into the presence of God, we use this formula now to manipulate the congregation to “get them ready” – and make no mistake, there is a difference.

There is a fine line between the idea of preparing a group of people for a task and manipulating them to all be in the same frame of mind for a task- let’s be honest - they can and do roughly equate to the same thing.  The issue here is not with that preparation, but rather it’s the spirit with which it is done.  Since most of the worship I’ve seen is pulling tunes that are “popular” in some circles, I would suggest that the preparatory ideas are actually secondary and the manipulation is more for my aforementioned topic of “perceived relevance”.  When it comes to how “worship” (the act of singing songs) and how it relates to the rest of the service – specifically the message – that is almost completely ignored if the music directory can’t find a “popular” song in some radio playlist or can’t find a SongSelect “chart” to play.  They’ll force feed something that has almost no real meaning with regards to the rest of the service – or worse – they don’t realize that the meager lyrical content (that will be repeated over and over like automatons) has as much to do with the message as playing “Love Stinks” at a wedding reception.

If the music isn’t relatable to anything else that is going on in the service, or if it merely chosen because it is “popular”, then simply put the preparatory nature of worship is not there, and the worship team is doing nothing more than attempting a mass congregational manipulation and trying to measure their “success” by how many of their friends say “that was AWESOME”- and by hearing that, they assume success with absolutely no thought to the people who didn’t think that.  If we follow on down this trail, you can see why measuring “success” by the slickness of the new jumbotron, the slickness of the announcement video, the pastor’s penchant for nothing more than sermons that alliterative titles and no substance- all of that is completely hollow.

And in the meantime, our response-prime set – God- is basically being ignored.

What Do We Do About It?

Rather than just gripe about it, I intend to try and fix this and I do have suggestions for this- simple, tangible solutions.  To get there, we need to go back and take a refresher course in the actual meaning of worship.  We’ll do that in the next installment, Part 4: Why Do We Worship?  Who Are We Playing For?