Sunday, November 12, 2017

Turning In My Feminist Card

About 9 months ago, I wrote a blog post detailing why I consider myself a feminist. It was a way of explaining a new profile picture I had posted of myself:

I won't repeat the points I made in that post - click the link above if you're curious.

I have not changed my mind about any of the points I made in that post.

Still, I have decided to turn in my feminist card. What I mean by that is that I have decided to stop using the word "feminist" to describe myself and my opinions.

When I first posted that picture in February, I got some blow-back (primarily from male friends), who told me that feminism is not really about equal rights, but rather about wanting to dominate men or blame men for all their problems. I acknowledged that form of feminism and argued that those kinds of feminists represent a loud minority rather than the mainstream of people who believe in equality and women's rights.

Like everything else in that post, I still believe that.

However, at this point in time, those kinds of feminists - let's call them radical feminists - are dominating the conversation. They are the only voices being heard in the mainstream media and on social media. Right now, "the feminist movement" is firmly in their hands (much the same way that the GOP is firmly in the hands of the far right).

All I seem to hear these days is a constant barrage against white males (it's always "white males" or "white men") and how awful they are. They're power hungry, they're racist, they're sexual predators, they're insensitive, they're self-absorbed, they're know-it-alls, they constantly "man-splain" and talk down to women.  

Here are some of the tweets I've read lately:

"I'm ready for the all-female reboot of America." 

"I think a lot of misogyny, homophobia, and racism is related to patriarchy." (In other words, men are to blame not just for misogyny, BUT ALSO homophobia and racism. Women are innocent, or at best have been poisoned by the evil patriarchy.)
t makes them stupid because they don't have all the information necessary."
"Things to leave behind in 2017: Straight white men."

"You can't be sexist towards men. Sexism is based on OPPRESSION. You can be rude/inconsiderate towards men but you cannot be sexist."

"White men haven't voted Democrat in decades. Stop interviewing them, stop stalking their votes."

"Please believe that all cisgender men, no matter their feminist commitments, are capable of harming women. They’ve been socialized into a rape culture predicated on anti-Blackness, white supremacy, heterosexism, and sexism, and have not done the work of unlearning." (FYI: "Cisgender" is a made-up word that means "straight.")

I could go on and on, of course, but that's already more than enough.

As if their views aren't bad enough, it's made even worse by the fact that the instant a white man responds with anything that sounds even remotely defensive, he is immediately branded as a perfect example of precisely what the man-hater in question was talking about to begin with. They create these scenarios where the only possible response is agreement - disagreement automatically means you're poisoned by, or an example of, the patriarchy.

It's reminiscent of people I used to argue with over JFK assassination conspiracies. If you argued against a conspiracy/multiple shooters, no matter how much evidence you presented, you were automatically a dupe. Because after all, the government controls all the evidence, so they only let you see what they want you to see.

I don't want to be associated with those people. I don't want to have anything to do with people who think that there's still one group in the U.S. that it's okay to openly discriminate against. Replace "white men" or "patriarchy" above with, say, "black people," or "Asians," or "Jews" and listen to what it sounds like.

I don't want to be lumped in with people who think that females are perfect just the way they are, while males need to make some major changes - and those changes, of course, basically involve men acting more like women. Notice how no one ever suggests that women need to "get in touch with their masculine side." Masculinity is bad; femininity is good. I believe men are good as men and women are good as women. I believe men and women both need to treat the opposite sex with respect and dignity. Full stop. I also believe in the apparently radical idea that men (white or otherwise) don't deserve to be lumped together and characterized by their worst members.

So for now I'm turning in my feminist card. I still believe in equality and women's rights at all levels of society and government and religion - that won't ever change. But until the feminist movement stops being dominated by man-haters and man-bashing, I don't want to have anything to do with it.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Uncovering Jesus's Radical Message, Part 2: Love for Enemies

Consider this teaching from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5:43-44 and Luke 6:27: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,' but I tell you, 'Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.'"

Let's plug that into modern America: 
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love America and hate terrorists,' but I tell you, 'Love terrorists and pray for ISIS and al-Qaeda.'"

Or how about this:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your country and hate North Korea,' but I tell you, 'Love Kim Jong Un and pray for North Korea.'"

Or plug in your own best friend together with that person at work who you can't stand. Or that guy from high school who was cruel to you. Or that old boss who treated you badly. Or that politician or celebrity you just despise.

I saw a post on Twitter recently that I really liked. It went something like this:

Jesus says there are two kinds of people:

Our neighbors, whom we are to love.
Our enemies, whom we are to love.

It's pretty simple, but radical and even subversive.

And hard to do.

How many Americans, after all, feel love for Kim Jong Un? How many victims feel love for their oppressors?

Being a follower of Christ isn't easy. If it is, I'd argue you're not following Christ. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Some Random Commentary on Beatles Songs

I've been listening, for the first time in a while, to my Beatles collection, and since my brain never stops running, I've thought of numerous things I want to say about some of these songs, but have no one to say them to. So they're going here, on my blog.

Basically, my blog is my only friend.

Please Please Me (1963)

1. I Saw Her Standing There: This is one of my favorite "early" Beatles songs, a great rock n' roll number sung by Paul that holds up well over time. In addition to the original Beatles recording, Elton John did a live duet of this song at Madison Square Garden with John Lennon in 1974 which is pretty good too. (Listen to the Elton John/John Lennon version here.)

2. Boys: Ringo generally sang one song per album, but they're almost always among the best tunes on the record. Like "I Saw Her Standing There," "Boys" is a rollicking, upbeat rock n' roll song that also still holds up really well. Ringo's vocals are perfect.

3. Love Me Do: This was the Beatles' first single (recorded and released several months before the album) and it's only okay, but it's noteworthy because Ringo doesn't play drums on it. When they went into the studio to record this song and "P.S. I Love You," the record company wanted to use one of their session drummers, a guy named Andy White. So Ringo just plays tambourine on the song.

4. Twist and Shout: This is my favorite early Beatles song, edging out several others. I've liked this song since it was featured in its entirety in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. John's famously scratchy vocal track was apparently unplanned, as it was the last song they recorded on the album, and after a week of nonstop rehearsing and recording, he was losing his voice.

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

1. If I Fell: About halfway through this song, there is a noticeable spot where Paul is singing background vocals, and his voice breaks and he cuts off mid-note. I'm not sure if it was always noticeable and they just left it in, or if maybe it only became apparent after the original song was remastered and digitized, thus removing tape hiss and other stuff that may have masked the sound. But if you listen for it, it's pretty funny. It's at about the 1:45 mark on the phrase "was in vain."

Beatles For Sale (1964)

1. No Reply: This song is basically about a guy whose girlfriend has dumped him and made it clear she's not interested, so now he's stalking her.

Help (1965)

1. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away: John Lennon is clearly attempting to channel Bob Dylan in this one. He even sounds like Dylan in the vocals.

Rubber Soul (1965)

1. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown): So let me get this straight: the singer goes home with a girl expecting to get laid. She leads him on and then refuses to put out. After she leaves for work the next morning, he burns her house down. Gotcha.

2. Nowhere Man: One of my all-time favorite Beatles songs. It's also the first song written by the Beatles that did NOT have anything to do with girls or romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.

3. In My Life: Another song in my top 10. This is a great little tune where Ringo's drumming is just perfect and really fills out the song well.

4. Run for Your Life: Literally a song where the narrator threatens to kill his girlfriend if she cheats on him.

Revolver (1966)

1. Doctor Robert: On the surface, this song appears to be about the singer's favorite doctor. Apparently it's actually about a drug dealer. In any case, it's literally one of the dumbest songs in the Beatles' catalogue.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

1. Within You Without You: This is one of several songs written by George Harrison with heavy Indian influence, and I've always thought it stuck out like a sore thumb on this otherwise masterpiece of an album. It's not that the song isn't good - it's fine, although a bit boring, in my opinion - but it just doesn't fit on this album. It would have made better thematic sense on either Revolver or the White Album.

2. A Day in the Life: The Best Beatles' Song of All Time. In my opinion. In the remastered version, you can hear one of the engineers counting off measures at the end during the big orchestral finale.

The Beatles (the White Album) (1968)

1. Wild Honey Pie: This double album has several songs on it that qualify as "dumb bullshit" and this is one of them.

2. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill: Yoko Ono has a solo on this song, and her voice sounds like the voice of a little girl who can't sing.

3. Happiness is a Warm Gun: So much greatness and awfulness side by side on this album. Absolutely love this song.

4. Piggies: George Harrison at his worst, by far.

5. Rocky Raccoon: Paul McCartney at his worst.

6. Julia: John Lennon at the top of his game. This is a beautiful ballad to John's mother, who died when he was a teenager. I love the vulnerability of the opening line: "Half of what I say is meaningless. But I say it just to reach you, Julia."

7. Yer Blues: Another of my absolute favorites. The Beatles were so diverse in the styles they could play. This song is straight-up hard rock blues and for a band that did very little of this style of music, they pull it off amazingly.

8. Savoy Truffle: Another really bad George Harrison effort. How does the guy who wrote "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - on the SAME ALBUM, no less - also write and record "Savoy Truffle" and "Piggies"? I just don't get it.

9. Revolution 9: This isn't a song. It's 8 minutes of noise and recorded nonsense. The worst "song" in the Beatles' catalogue. By far.

Abbey Road (1969)

1. Maxwell's Silver Hammer: I really wish I could've been a fly on the wall when Paul brought this one in for the band to hear. It's literally about a serial killer who murders people (including the judge who's sentencing him to prison) by bashing them over the head with a silver hammer. It comes complete with hammer-on-nail sound effects during the chorus. They were definitely straining for material by this point. Still a fun little song.

2. Octopus's Garden: Oh Ringo. The only song he wrote that the Beatles' recorded and it sounds like a Wiggles song. Still, like all songs Ringo sings, it's a good one.

3. I Want You (She's So Heavy): Like a lot of the songs on this album, this is only half a song. But because they needed to fill the space on the A side of the record, they extended it out by repeating the coda over and over and over again. It would be a great song at 3:45. At 7:47 it's a bit much.

4. Mean Mr. Mustard: At one point, the lyrics of this song reference the Queen of England. Isn't it weird to think the same exact monarch referenced in this song is STILL on the throne? It always gives me a strange sense of continuity with the past. Queen Elizabeth is the constant.

5. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End: The Beatles at their best. This medley runs a close second to "A Day in the Life" for best Beatles' tune.

Past Masters (a compilation of all Beatles' songs released as singles and not found on albums)

1. Long Tall Sally: This is another in the same group with "Twist and Shout" and "I Saw Her Standing There." Just a great classic rock n' roll tune.

2. Don't Let Me Down: I love this song. It's the best one from their "Let It Be" sessions, but was left off the album and released only as a single. It was one of the songs they performed during their famous "roof top" performance in 1969 - their last public performance together.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Uncovering Jesus's Radical Message: The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector

It's been a while since I've written about Christianity, but I'm reading a book right now by a Jewish scholar about understanding the Jewish context in which Jesus lived and worked, and I've been inspired. This might be the first in a series of posts about uncovering the radical message of Jesus, or it may be a one-off thing. We'll see. 

The Gospel of Luke preserves a parable of Jesus known as the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. It goes like this: 
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.
To modern Christian ears, this parable is both familiar and totally not radical. We know pharisees, after all, were self-righteous hypocrites that Jesus was constantly bickering with, while tax collectors were common symbols of "sinners" who received the gift of forgiveness from Jesus (in addition to this parable, recall the story of the tax collector Zaccheus [the "wee little man" of children's song] and the tax collector Levi who became the disciple Matthew). So it comes as no surprise that the pharisee in this story is a hypocrite who extols his own virtues while the humble tax collector admits his sin and receives Jesus's grace.

The 21st century moral of the story is this: don't be a condescending hypocrite; humble yourself, confess your sins, and be forgiven. Full stop.

That was the 1st century moral of the story too, except for the "full stop" part. We've lost today the radical and even potentially offensive edge of the story that would have been fully appreciated by 1st century Jewish listeners.

In Jesus's day, pharisees weren't bad guys. They weren't regarded as self-righteous hypocrites. They were, in fact, well-respected and highly regarded religious leaders and scholars who represented the largest and most mainstream Jewish religious group. Think of them today like Roman Catholics in the northeast or Southern Baptists in the south.

But even that analogy isn't good enough, because today we are so accustomed to religious leaders who are corrupt or evil or perverts or whatever. We've all heard numerous accounts of pastors and priests and televangelists getting caught with strippers or prostitutes, putting hits out on people, laundering money, or molesting children. A bad priest? Big deal. A corrupt televangelist? Duh.

But in the 1st century, Jews wouldn't have had that sort of cynical view of their religious leaders. They didn't, after all, have 24-hour news stations, social media, whistle-blowers, or investigative reporters. Like Americans of an earlier, more innocent generation, Jews of the 1st century would have put their religious leaders on a special, almost untouchable pedestal at the pinnacle of society.

So in this parable, think of the pharisee not so much as an average religious leader, but think of him as someone like Mother Theresa or Billy Graham - a virtually universally-respected religious leader that no one would dream of criticizing. 

As for tax collectors, they weren't just guys who collected taxes and so therefore were looked down upon by society - they weren't, in other words, just agents of the IRS doing their unpleasant, but necessary, jobs. And they weren't looked down upon because they sometimes stole from people by taking more taxes than they should have, as is commonly assumed (I have an old "study Bible" which makes this argument in the accompanying commentary). Instead, they were looked down on because they were local Jews collaborating with a foreign power (Rome) that occupied and oppressed the Jews, taking hard-earned Jewish money and sending it to support the Roman emperor and his regime - and getting rich in the process, while everyone else suffered.

In 21st century America, it's hard to find a modern parallel for this. We aren't occupied by a foreign power, after all. Instead, imagine that Germany won World War II and took over and occupied the United States. In that scenario, imagine an English-speaking American - perhaps your neighbor - born and raised under Old Glory, now working with the Nazis collecting a huge war reparation tax from people, taking a cut of it, then sending the rest to Berlin to support Hitler and his regime of world domination.

You'd probably hate the guy, right? He's not only robbing you for the benefit of the Nazis - which is bad enough - but he's also a traitor and a betrayer and a collaborator with an evil foreign oppressor. Screw that guy!

Now you may be a little closer to understanding how Jesus's 1st century listeners would have responded to a story about a native Jewish tax collector working for Rome.

So let's plug our two analogies into the parable and read it again:
Two people went up to the church to pray, one was Mother Theresa and the other an American-born tax collector for the Nazi overlords. Mother Theresa, standing in front of the cross, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, drunks, cheaters, or even like this tax collector. I've won thousands of souls to Christ; I give millions of dollars to the poor.’ But the tax collector, standing at the back of the church, would not even look up at the cross, but fell to his knees with his face in his hands, crying ‘God, please forgive me for the terrible things I've done!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than Mother Theresa.
How does the parable strike you now? There may be a number of reactions. You might think it's preposterous to describe Mother Theresa this way. You might even find it offensive. Mother Theresa wasn't a self-righteous jerk! She was a humble servant of Christ who brought people together and served the poor with humility! How dare you! Further, while you might grudgingly appreciate the tax collector's apology, you won't soon forget the thousands of dollars he took from you, which helped him build that huge house in the fancy neighborhood, bought him that Ferrari, and otherwise went to Hitler's treasury in Berlin so that the Nazis could continue their conquest of the civilized world. Meanwhile, you couldn't pay your bills because of the heavy tax burden, the bank subsequently foreclosed on your house, and you're now living with your family of 5 in a 1-bedroom apartment. Maybe if he sells everything he owns and personally repays you, THEN you might feel a little better. Otherwise, screw him!

This is how that parable would have sounded to and struck a 1st century Jewish listener. Preposterous. Offensive. Outrageous. But also challenging in the extreme. Challenging because it asks you to take a totally different perspective, to completely change your way of thinking. In the kingdom of heaven, well-respected religious leaders are not necessarily the winners, and people like Nazi collaborators are not necessarily the losers. Instead, it's the humble and repentant that inherit the kingdom of God, regardless of their past or their background or what good they think they've done.

Jesus's rural and largely uneducated Galilean listeners would have likely found the parable preposterous because it turned the world on its head, but they would also have undoubtedly liked it's message. Many Galileans, after all, tended to look down on the urban Jerusalem ruling elite - represented by the pharisee in the parable. Think of how many people in modern rural America look down on suburbanites and "the big city."

Still, it's not hard to see why Jesus made enemies and pissed people off - especially in Jerusalem, which is where he was eventually arrested and executed. A lot of people loved his subversive message, but some - especially those who stood to lose by his vision of the world - didn't care for it at all. It's no wonder they thought he was a rabble-rouser and wanted to get rid of him. He threatened the status quo by giving the oppressed Jewish people hope and by undermining the powers that be - both the political and religious powers that be, represented by Rome, its governors, and its legions, and by Jewish religious leaders who were seen as traitorous collaborators with those Roman overlords.

And before you condemn all those "Jews" who rejected Jesus, it's important to keep in mind that if Jesus were to come around today, preaching a challenging and subversive message like the one above, most Christians would reject him too. (I would argue most Christians HAVE rejected him, accepting in his place a watered-down, domesticated shadow that they find comforting and not at all subversive... but that's for another blog.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Notes from the Cave - Current Events Edition

In this edition of Notes from the Cave, I'm going to be expressing strong opinions on current events. I'm also going to be using some cuss words and doing some name-calling. Read on at your own peril. 

The NFL:

I hate football. I particularly despise the NFL. I think it is a bloated, money-ruined organization that appeals to the lowest common denominator in humanity. That doesn't mean I think every NFL fan is a scumbag - my Mom is a huge NFL fan, after all, and I think my Mom is pretty awesome. But I still hate the NFL. 

I don't give a damn whether an NFL player kneels during the National Anthem. I don't give a damn what anyone does during the National Anthem, whether they stand, sit, kneel, or fall to the floor and convulse. I also don't care what their reason is for whatever they choose to do - whether they are sitting because they're too butt-ass lazy to get up, or because they hate America, or because they're deaf and don't realize the National Anthem is playing. I can't for the life of me understand why so many people DO, in fact, care what other people do during the National Anthem. 

A co-worker this week roped me into a conversation about this, expressing the opinion that if NFL players can't be bothered to stand, they should move to another country. I told her I thought that was a stupid opinion and she didn't like that very much. It's stupid because you're suggesting someone should literally immigrate to another country if they won't stand at attention in front of a colorful piece of cloth while a song is played. Honestly, that's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

Whether you approve of kneeling during the anthem or not, and whether you agree that there is racial injustice in this country or not, these guys believe their IS racial injustice in this country, and they are using their platform in the NFL to highlight that injustice by not standing during the National Anthem. Maybe you think they should do it a different way. What way would be appropriate, I wonder? When they march in the streets, you call them thugs and gangs of hoodlums, after all. The reality is, you'd rather they just shut right up.  

History shows that mainstream society virtually never supports protests, regardless of subject or form. Majority opinion is always that protesters are basically in the wrong. In time, however, majority opinion frequently changes. A Gallup poll in 1966 showed that something like 63% of Americans had a negative view of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his protests. Today, that number is now 4%.  A majority of Americans in the '60s also disapproved of sit-ins and freedom riders. Now those people are regarded as heroes. 

I'm not saying Colin Kaepernick (sp?) or anyone else in the NFL is going to be regarded as a hero in the future. I'm just saying that protests are always unpopular ... until they aren't. And yes, BLACK protests are typically even more unpopular than most. White society doesn't like being reminded that black people don't have the same opportunities or advantages as white people.

The Pledge of Allegiance:

This isn't, specifically, in the news right now, but I did see a report that KISS recently stopped their concert to lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance - which is clearly intended to be a political statement about patriotism and whatever. 

I think the Pledge of Allegiance is sinister in the extreme. It's straight out of some Orwellian nightmare: the sort of thing they'd do in North Korea. I realize most Americans don't think much of it and consider it no more than an act of benign patriotism. But if you actually think about what the Pledge of Allegiance is, and what it stands for, it's pretty disturbing. 

In the past, there has been controversy over the pledge because of the words "under God." I couldn't care less about that part of it - although it's worth noting that "under God" wasn't even IN the pledge until added by presidential proclamation in the 1950s, during the Red Scare over atheistic communism. 

In any case, I think standing at attention before a colorful piece of cloth, with your hand over your heart, chanting a pledge of allegiance to a government and a nation state, is positively ridiculous. Again, it's like something out of an Orwell novel. Whatever happened to rugged American individualism? I don't know about you, but I believe in being a good citizen of the world and of my country, being a good steward of the earth, and treating others with love and respect, but I don't pledge loyalty to anything but my family and myself. I certainly don't pledge loyalty to a broken country that does more things wrong than it does right. Even if it did EVERYTHING right, I wouldn't be comfortable standing and ritually chanting a pledge of allegiance to it. Most adults aren't often in situations where they are expected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but anytime I do find myself in such a situation, I don't participate.


I believe that this whole controversy over the NFL and the National Anthem is an example of widespread American idolatry.

Idolatry is typically a term we expect to hear at church when reading the Old Testament. The Hebrews building a golden calf and worshipping it and all that crap. 

In this country, the way we treat the flag is nothing short of idolatry, in every sense of the Biblical term. The earliest generations of Christians, in fact, would be HORRIFIED at our traditions in regards to the flag. They literally went to their deaths rather than do the equivalent of pledging allegiance to the flag or standing with their hats off and hands over their heart during the National Anthem. 

In their society, it consisted of showing proper respect for the emperor, who, like the flag, was the embodiment of the state, its laws, and its ideals. They refused to do that and were subsequently persecuted, tortured, and sometimes executed. Why did they refuse to do it? Because it represented idolatry. To them, no one and nothing deserved that sort of obedience other than God. 

Today's equivalent is the flag and the National Anthem - representing the state, its laws, and its ideals. Standing at attention before the flag and chanting a pledge of allegiance to the state, or listening to the National Anthem, is literally like a religious ritual - a secular rite that everyone is expected to take part in. 

You may not agree that there is anything idolatrous in showing respect for the flag or chanting a pledge of allegiance to the state with your hand over your heart. But the earliest Christians would disagree with you. You, in fact, are on the side of the people who persecuted the early Christians for being "bad Romans." I'm sure those people also wondered aloud why Christians "didn't just leave if they hate it so much." 

Gun Control:

Every few years, the record for the largest mass shooting in U.S. history is broken. Previously, it was Virginia Tech, in 2007. Then it was Orlando, in 2016. Now it's Las Vegas, in 2017. The record has literally been broken 3 times in 10 years. 6 of the 10 largest mass shooting in U.S. history have occurred in that same time frame. 

If you think we don't need more laws to address this, you are an asshole. In fact, you're not just an asshole, you are a 10 out of 10 on the asshole range. Yes, I mean you. 

Las Vegas is not going to change anything. And the reason why is because so many people - assholes - are profoundly emotionally connected to their belief in the "right to bear arms." They have gulped down the NRA kool-aid and they have been suckered into believing the gun lobby's interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. And they've elected leaders who agree with them. 

I read a report saying that a country music guitarist, who performed shortly before the shooting in Las Vegas, has come out saying that while he used to be a big 2nd Amendment guy, Las Vegas has changed his mind. You know what? Glad you changed your mind, but you're still an asshole. Know why? Because if it takes experiencing a mass shooting in real life before you have enough empathy and basic human decency to support sensible gun control legislation, you might be an asshole! 

I'm glad he's changed his mind, and I'm glad he's using his platform to advertise his change of mind, but he's still an asshole. Instead of being a 10 on the asshole scale, he's maybe moved up to an 8. Short of becoming a full-fledged gun control advocate, however, he will remain an asshole in my book. 

As far as I'm concerned, you had a free pass on your views on gun control ... right up until Sandy Hook in 2012. That was the mass shooting where 20 school children were slaughtered at school by a previously law-abiding citizen with legally-obtained guns. If 20 dead school children didn't change your mind, guess what? You're a fucking asshole

Skyline Chili:

The black bean and rice 3-way at Skyline is significantly better than the original Skyline 3-way. The reason why is because the original Skyline 3-way is just spaghetti with cheese and a funny-tasting, cinnamon-flavored, diarrhea-colored and -textured meat sauce that Skyline mistakenly believes is "chili." 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

An Honest Question

This is something that is probably better suited to Facebook, but I hate Facebook and don't want to talk politics with 95% of the people I'm friends with there, so I'm putting this on my blog instead, even though that means I'm likely to get far fewer responses.

Here's my honest question, for which I'd like honest answers:

If I were to suggest that Trump is intentionally trying to start a war with North Korea because he thinks it will help his popularity at home, would you tend to agree with that, or would you think that was just a ridiculous partisan conspiracy theory?

If it's a ridiculous partisan conspiracy theory, then what do you suppose is driving him in this matter? He's an asshole and just can't help himself? He's an aggressive, militaristic bully and wants to flex his muscles? He really just wants to keep America safe and he bizarrely thinks this is the best way to do it?

As a follow-up to this, are you concerned about the potential for a full blown nuclear war? Is it realistic to assume we can get in an neutralize the nuclear threat to our country BEFORE North Korea has a chance to unleash a weapon on us? What would you do if we ended up in a full blown nuclear war? Would you leave the country?

Sorry, I guess this is more than one honest question, but any honest answers you have would be appreciated.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Total Eclipse: A Bad Omen

As any student of history, particularly medieval or ancient history, should know, total eclipses are a bad omen. The Assyrians were defeated by the Greeks 11 days after a total eclipse. The Medes and the Lydians literally were in the midst of a battle when a total eclipse overtook the field, scattering the armies. Henry I of England died right after a total eclipse, and a 20-year civil war followed his death.

Eclipses have presaged major events in U.S. history as well. A total eclipse in the U.S. in 1869 was followed by a financial crisis later that year that saw numerous bank closings, a major stock market crash, and an almost 10-year economic recession. A New Year's Day solar eclipse in 1889 was followed by the infamous Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania, which killed more than 2,000 people, and a near war with Germany over the shelling of warships in the Pacific Ocean (war was only avoided because a hurricane blew through and sunk all the German AND American ships there). A U.S. total eclipse in 1900 was followed a year later by the assassination of president William McKinley.

In fact, presidents who have presided over a total eclipse in the U.S. have generally not fared well. Woodrow Wilson (1918 eclipse) had to contend with World War I and was incapacitated by a stroke for the last 18 months of his term. Warren G. Harding died in office in the year of a U.S. total eclipse (1923). Herbert Hoover presided over two total eclipses and saw the advent of the Great Depression. Like Harding, Franklin Roosevelt died in office during a total eclipse year. A total eclipse was visible in John F. Kennedy's home region of New England just a few months before he was assassinated. Nixon presided over a solar eclipse shortly before the Watergate break-in and his subsequent resignation. And the Iran-Hostage Crisis started in a total eclipse year in 1979, derailing Jimmy Carter's re-election bid the following year.

If you count total eclipses occurring outside the U.S., both Abraham Lincoln and Zachary Taylor died in office the same month as a total eclipse. There were no total solar eclipses in 1841, the year William Henry Harrison died in office, but there were 4 partial solar eclipses that year and 2 total eclipses of the moon, both visible throughout the U.S.

There have, of course, been a few total eclipses in the U.S. that have not, apparently, presaged bad tidings for the country or the president. 1925, for instance, seems to have been rather tame, as was an 1878 total eclipse and a 1954 eclipse.

In any case, a total eclipse, covering the entire United States, during a year when a tyrant has gained control of the White House, the far right is building momentum and prominence, and we are in a nuclear stand-off with North Korea ... it can't possibly be a good omen.

(FYI: I don't REALLY think total eclipses have some sort of predictive power. But it's fun to speculate.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

A Year With the Piano

It was one year ago today that the piano came back into my life.
At my mother's insistence, I started taking piano lessons in, I think, 2nd grade. I continued them until 5th grade, when I finally convinced my mother to let me quit.

It wasn't that I didn't like playing the piano. What I didn't like was having to play the crap the teachers wanted me to play. I wanted to play what *I* wanted to play. This continued to be a problem for me well into college. I wish I could go back now and change that.

In any case, I continued playing the piano on my own time, finally restarting lessons in the 12th grade, before going to college to major in music. My music major eventually became a minor and once I graduated from college, I didn't play the piano much anymore, primarily because I didn't have a piano

A year ago today, I finally got a digital console piano. Hopefully it's just a first step towards eventually getting an actual acoustic piano (maybe I should start a Go Fund Me?).

I am absolutely thrilled with the progress I've made in the last year. Despite hardly playing at all for 20 years, I very quickly got back into the swing of playing and at this point - a year later - I can say I'm a better pianist now than I ever was at my peak in the old days.

To give you an idea of my progress, he's a short clip with my very first recording last August, picking out the opening of Beethoven's "Für Elise," compared to the same piece today:

In any case, when I think back to what started me on the path to a serious love of the piano, it has to be the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. This was one of only two songs my Dad could still remember how to play when I was a kid (actually, he could only remember part of it), and at some point - maybe late middle school or early high school - I started learning it myself.

I eventually learned all three movements, including the quite advanced third movement. This became sort of my "signature song" that I would pull out to impress people.

I recently completed re-learning the first movement, and I am a day or two away from having the second movement down as well. I started working on the third movement last week. So in honor of a year with the piano back in my life, here is the piece that started it all: the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata:

Friday, July 28, 2017

Some New Piano Pieces

Here are my two most recent piano performances. Both of these are my own arrangements. The first is America the Beautiful and the second is My Old Kentucky Home. My performance on America the Beautiful is not my favorite, but it's the best I could capture on video.

(Turning on the camera is like stepping onto a stage for me - even in the privacy of my own studio, when I know the camera's rolling, I'm a basketcase.  Both these performances required video editing when they were done, as you'll undoubtedly notice.) 

Hope you enjoy. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nothing to See Here

Opinions are like butts: everybody's got one and nobody wants to hear yours (yes, that's a modified form of the expression, which I did for the benefit of my spouse who thinks I'm gross white trash for initially writing it the original way).

But not everyone has a blog and since this is my blog, I'm going to share my unfiltered opinion on several issues.

Transgender Peeps in the Military: Transgenders in the military is the new gays in the military. In the 1990s, conservatives didn't want gays in the military, either. "They'll be using the same bathrooms as people they are sexually attracted to!" was one of the typical scary scenarios touted by the millions of Republicans opposed to it.  One would envision thousands of unsuspecting American Heroes being anally assaulted in the shower by devious homosexual girly men. Democrats compromised and instituted Don't Ask Don't Tell, which effectively allowed gays to serve, as long as they stayed in the closet.

Now Trump is planning on reversing the Obama-era policy of allowing transgender people to serve openly. An opinion piece I read on USAToday (written by a gay, conservative, evangelical Christian - yes, apparently they do exist) argues that this is the right policy, because transgenderism is an emotional issue that the military doesn't need to be distracted by. The author also brought up the obligatory bathroom issue. In other words, he used the exact same argument conservatives used 20 years ago about gays.

Look, if you think transgender people are the only ones with emotional issues, YOU have an emotional issue that needs to be treated by a therapist. The simple fact is, emotional issues aren't unique to transgenders. Believe me, I know quite a few people who have served in the military and not a few of them have had some major emotional problems. Fact is, EVERYONE has emotional baggage to one degree or another. And let's not even mention the emotional problems the military CREATES.

As for the bathroom issue, punishing transgenders because some people are uncomfortable showering with them is like suggesting people who like pizza shouldn't be allowed to eat in the cafeteria with people who are grossed out by pizza.

The simple fact is, this comes down to one thing and one thing only: some people, mainly conservatives, find it distasteful. They don't like it, they don't like that it exists, and it bothers them. And so they want to do everything they can to make it go away. Like with the gay marriage issue, religion often plays a central role in driving these opinions.

Donald Trump: Trump is, quite simply, the worst president the United States has ever had. That's only this blogger's opinion, but keep in mind I've studied American presidential and political history and even written a book about it. So I have at least some level of expertise on the subject. He's not a president at all, but a CEO attempting to run the country like a company. I've written before why this will certainly fail, so I won't go into it here.

He is treating the Oval Office like the headquarters of a corporation. That's not even the worst part of it though. Personally, he's a monster. He is petty, vengeful, narcissistic, and literally represents the dictionary definition of greed. He worships himself in a very open, public, and unapologetic way. The fact that evangelical Christians support him in such wide numbers proves what I've said for years - that most evangelical Christians aren't Christian at all and don't understand the first damn thing about Christianity, Jesus, or what it means to be a follower of Christ. Trump supporters are, by and large, narrow, twisted, angry white people who have finally gotten to experience one of their own in the White House, and they are positively gleeful. Spend just a little bit of time on their Twitter pages and you can see how the worst kinds of Americans really live, think, and feel.

The Republican Party: The Republican Party has been taken over by their own right wing and the whole party is a mess. They created Donald Trump by refusing to unite behind any of their other candidates during the campaign, and now they are simply trying to balance not openly supporting the most unpopular president in U.S. history while attempting to not let him reflect badly on the Republican Party. It's a balancing act that is doomed to fail. They're like an amateur trying to spin plates and you know, eventually, everything is going to crash.

Their interactions with Trump aside, what the Republican-controlled Congress has done over the last few years is nothing short of unprecedented. Denying Obama the right to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court is one of the great historical injustices of U.S. history. When the Democrats retaliated by refusing to let the Senate vote on Trump's candidate, the Republicans literally changed the rules of the Senate in order to confirm him. I've always said the Republicans don't play by the rules. Now they've turned that expression from metaphor into literal fact.

Their actions on healthcare are positively abominable. Drafting bills in secret with just a few senators, no input from Democrats at all, gutting Medicaid and kicking millions off of their insurance plans, a complete disregard for recommendations from their own Congressional Budget Office. The list goes on and on.

Congress has become a useless morass of partisanship and refusal to work across party lines. This is reflected at the state level as well. Compromise has become a dirty word. A word for losers and weaklings. This is America under Donald Trump.

The Democratic Party:

The Democratic Party is too nice and they play too often by the rules. They have never learned from Republicans how to take the country by the throat and throttle it until they get their way. And they never will. And the reason why is because Democrats care too much about others. The Republican Party is now a party of right wing politics. People don't just randomly become right wingers. They become right wingers because they are basically mean. They care about themselves and those that matter to them and they don't really care about anyone else. They are insular, narrow, and driven by fear of the unknown, fear of outsiders, and fear of change. They are typically poorly educated. Their leaders are driven by money and greed and power.

Democrats, on the other hand, tend to become Democrats because they care about others, have more open world views, and are driven by a desire to make the world a better place.  They are typically well-educated. Their leaders are driven by altruism and helping the little guy.

Neither of these descriptions apply to ALL Republicans or ALL Democrats, of course, but I think they explain why Democrats can't compete with Republicans. They are, quite simply, too damn nice and aren't willing to stoop to the level of the Republicans.

Can you imagine, for instance, what would be happening in America right now if the Democrats had won two elections in the last 17 years by losing the popular vote but winning the electoral vote? Do you think there would be a Republican anywhere who wouldn't have abolishing the electoral college as their central platform? Do you think the Republican Party wouldn't be spending hundreds of millions to push for a direct-election of the president? It would, literally, be the number one legislative agenda of the Republican Party.

Yet, that's exactly what has happened to the Democrats in the last 17 years. Two popular votes won by Democrats, but Republicans took the White House anyway. And I haven't heard A WORD about abolishing the electoral college from anyone in office, Democrat, Republican, or otherwise. And you won't, because Democrats don't have any power right now and even when they do get the power, they'll have other things on their mind, like making the world a better place. Furthermore, having benefited twice in 17 years from the electoral college, you don't think the Republicans are just going to merrily go along with any Democratic proposal to abolish it, do you? That's why it's a non-starter even for Democrats.

Speaking of Democrats getting back in power, will they ever? With Republican gerrymandering at the state level, and with Trump's "election commission" that is pretending to fight a battle against a fake enemy under the widely-discredited guise of voter fraud, how will Democrats ever get back into power again? Trump can't stand that Hillary beat him by 3 million votes, so he's made up a fight against voter fraud, suggesting that 3-5 million votes were cast illegally - just enough to mean he would have won the election outright (because it's not like any of those illegal votes were for him!). This has been thoroughly discredited, but he's pushing forward anyway. What he wants to do is disenfranchise people who tend to vote Democratic.  This is Donald Trump planning for his re-election. Keep millions of likely Democratic voters from voting in 2020 so he can be assured of a second term.

Combine that with Republican gerrymandering - where Republican-controlled state legislatures change around congressional districts to ensure that they don't lose seats in the House of Representatives. Since the majority of states have Republican legislatures, this means that it is highly unlikely that the Democrats will be able to win a majority in the House of Representatives any time in the foreseeable future. This doesn't affect the Senate, because Senators don't have districts that can be altered. Which of course is why the Senate is much closer to 50-50 than the House is, even though it's the same people voting for both chambers.

If you've read this far, you must really like me. I think I'm done for now.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

A Project 30 Years in the Making

Today I completed a project I first began thirty years ago.

On June 12, 1987, around 12:30 on a Friday afternoon, I sat down with a tape recorder and started making a tape for my children.

I was 12 years old.

On it, I recorded my grandfather singing old hymns that he loved (as well as a rendition of the Jimmy Rodgers yodeling classic "T For Texas" which has been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Lynyrd Skynyrd), and telling a few stories from his childhood. I also recorded my grandmother singing a silly kid's song from the 1920s and telling her own childhood story.

This was all designed to be "for my children" and in it I address my future children and tell them that these are their great-grandparents.

I go on to do a walk-through of their house, describing each room, including a priceless description of a "microwave oven" and instructions on how to microwave a hot dog ("Assuming you still have hot dogs in the future"). I talk baseball and UK basketball and describe the Cubs jersey I was wearing at the time. Probably this one:

Later I recorded brief conversations with my father, mother, and sister, so they could greet my children.

Occasionally, throughout the tape, my 13-year-old self from the following year cuts in to tape over certain parts that embarrassed me, continually remarking, in a puberty-deepened voice, about how "stupid and dumb" I was "back then."

In any case, today was the day when I finally introduced this gem to my children. There was nothing special about today, I just decided today was as a good a day as any.

So I have finally completed this 30 year project, having faithfully hung on to the tape for all these years. I plan to digitize it and upload it (privately) to YouTube for family (or friends) who may be interested. It'll be private so it will require a link. Let me know if you want it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Washington's Nightmare

Focused as I am these days on music, both playing and writing, I don't talk much about my books, but I just got caught up on reading my most recent reviews on Amazon and I came across one from February that was so glowing and kind that I just had to share it. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

If you haven't bought Washington's Nightmare, it's available for Kindle readers and apps here.

Here's the review from an anonymous reader:

"This is a fantastic, entertaining, well-organized history/guide to political parties in the United States, from the Federalists in the 1700s up through today's Libertarian and Green parties. Each chapter presents a brief narrative about the history of the party in question followed by a "fact sheet" listing when the party was formed, how long it lasted, how many presidents it managed to seat, who the major players were within the party, what the campaign slogans were, what the key party platform issues were, etc. The author does a fantastic job of presenting a clear picture of what American sentiments, regionally and nationally, have been at various times over the past 200+ years and how events have shaped those sentiments and, in turn, the political climate in America. If you're wondering how the US became dominated by a two-party system, or how the formerly pro-slavery Democratic party became a champion of civil rights, or how the formerly liberal Republican party became associated with ultra-conservativism, or even what the heck the Bull Moose Party and Free Soilers were all about, this is your book. In reading this book, I found it tremendously helpful and oddly calming to be able to put current events into a historical perspective. I liked this book so much that I find myself wishing it came in paperback so I could keep a copy handy for reference! Highly recommended."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Notes from the Cave

As I've reported before, I'm continuing to work on arranging "old-timey" songs for piano solo, with the intent to publish them in a collection later this year. I'm calling this my Opus 1.

My Opus 2 is a piano suite, in 6 movements, telling the story in music of the White Ship. The White Ship sank in the English Channel in the year 1120, drowning the heir to the throne of England and setting the stage for a 16-year civil war known as the Anarchy in British history.

I've recently finished learning a Mozart sonata (just the first movement) that I have been working on since December, as well as my second Joplin rag. I've also been learning the songs that I've been arranging, and recently posted a performance of my arrangement of Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races."

There are a few wonky notes in there, but I'm still in the phase of hitting wonky notes, particularly when the camera is rolling.  I'll probably always be in the phase of hitting wonky notes, for that matter.

I'm currently learning the prelude to Bach's fugue in G, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (which was one of my specialties in college), and a Stephen Foster piece for piano (one of his rare instrumental pieces) called Santa Anna's Retreat from Buena Vista, which was written in 1848, presumably in honor of Zachary Taylor's campaign for president. Taylor had been the victor over Santa Anna two years earlier during the Mexican War (which was, by the way, the most immoral and unjustifiable war in America's history). At the time, Taylor was a national hero and certifiable celebrity. He was also the only president before He Who Shall Not Be Named who had no political experience before winning the White House. His presidency was, of course, largely a disaster and he died after about 18 months in office. Just sayin'.

But this is a politics-free zone so lets talk about sex instead. Just kidding. Honestly, music, reading, and work is about all I do these days and I don't have much else to talk about.

I just wrote a paragraph about work and decided it sounded so jaded and cynical that I didn't want to put it out there for the world to read. So I deleted it.

Let's try reading instead. I'm currently reading a book called Foundation, which is an overview of British history from the ancient past up through the end of the 15th century. I wanted to learn more about the ancient history of Britain in particular, although the author really only spent a few chapters on that. The bulk of the book covers the Middle Ages, although I really enjoy reading about that too.

I'm also reading Under the Dome, by Stephen King. I am very picky about what King books I read, but I watched the CBS series that was based on the book and decided I wanted to read it. It's a monster - well over a thousand pages - but it's good.

I've got something like 59 books to be read on my Kindle, another 4 or 5 print books that I've had for years and haven't read yet, and an additional 85 books on my Kindle Wish List. I have a serious problem.

Remember when I used to have a trampoline? Some of you may. Well, we're getting another one! My 11-year-old has been campaigning for one all summer and she's finally broken me down. It'll be a good way for her to exercise and if I can stomach it, maybe it'll be a good way for me to get some additional cardio as well. I jumped on my sister-in-law's trampoline a few weeks ago and felt queasy afterward, but I'd just eaten a huge meal and had some beer in me too, so I'm hoping that wasn't a normal thing. Trampolining is a good cardio workout and also good for your abs, and God knows I need to do something about my abs. I hate crunches and won't do them, so maybe this will be a way to slim down a bit. I'm over the waist-to-belly ratio that is a marker for heart disease, so I need to lose some of my gut.

That's enough for now.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Middle Age Musings

Entering my 40s has had an unexpected influence on my hobbies and general interests. In no way have I made a conscious effort to be any different than I've ever been, and yet I've come to realize recently that I've gone through a lot of changes since turning 40 two years ago, especially in regards to the things I'm interested in. 

It's not that I've abandoned all my old interests: I still love history and music and literature and intellectual pursuits. But the direction of all those things has changed since turning 40. 

In general, I seem to have started taking more of an interest in the past, particularly the past 150 years or so. 

"You say you love history; isn't history ALREADY about the past?" you may ask.

Well of course, but what I mean is that my musical and literary and even film/TV interests have, in recent years, turned towards events of the last 150 years. I've found myself listening to what I call "Old Timey" music (I have a so-named playlist on Amazon music that has nearly 150 songs ranging from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s), watching old TV shows and movies, and reading 19th and early 20th century novels. 

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know I've been working on a songbook of "old timey" songs that I am arranging for solo piano. I just finished an H. Rider Haggard novel from 1886 and have since started a Jack London novel from 1908. This is the second Jack London novel I've read in the last 6 months and the eighth book I've read in the last year from the late 19th or early 20th century (and that's not counting a biography of Zachary Taylor - president in the 1840s - that I read a few months back).  

I've also started occasionally watching old movies and, especially, old TV shows. For instance, I've been making my way through the original Twilight Zone series over the last year or two, and I recently watched a movie from the 1970s that was about World War One.  I've been watching The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals on Hulu and hoping for them to get M*A*S*H. 

In addition to my "Old Timey" music on Amazon, I've also, in recent years, really gotten interested in classic country from the 40s through the 70s. I've got three different playlists of that music on Amazon Music (I'm listening to one right now, actually).

I enjoy watching shows on KET and PBS about early Kentucky and early America. I especially like old documentaries from the 70s and 80s on various topics (I watched one recently that was made in the 1970s and was about a Kentucky Derby clock that was being made by a Louisville artist who smoked like a freight train). 

This is the clock in question, still on display in Louisville

I'm not sure why I've had this sudden interest in various aspects of the last 150 years, but I think it might have to do with being more "in touch" with my grandparents and great-grandparents. 

"What the HELL are you talking about now, Schmoo?" I hear you asking. 

It may be another aspect of reaching middle age, but I have started thinking about my grandparents and great-grandparents a lot more in recent years, and even "talking" to them on occasion. 

I was not one of those who was blessed to have my grandparents (or great-grandparents) alive during a significant period of my adulthood. My parents were both the youngest of three children and my grandparents were all already in their 60s when I was born. By the time I was old enough to remember them, my grandparents were already "elderly." Three of my four grandparents lived into my adulthood, and my Dad's mother didn't die until I was 34, but after my childhood, I saw very little of my grandparents because they all lived out of town and I only saw them once or twice a year on average. And by then, between the distance and their increasing ages, it was hard to have any sort of "relationship" with them. 

In any case, since turning 40, I have found myself wanting to "connect" with my grandparents by experiencing the things they would have experienced - like the TV shows they would have watched or the music they would have listened to. Classic country music, for instance, makes me feel close to my grandfathers, knowing that it's the sort of music they liked listening to. Right now, "Sweet Dreams of Kentucky" is playing on my playlist. It's a song by Grandpa Jones of "Hee Haw" fame. I associated my Dad's father very closely with Grandpa Jones. They were born within a couple of years from each other in neighboring Kentucky counties and my Papaw loved a Grandpa Jones song called "8 More Miles to Louisville." I also have many memories of watching Hee Haw with my grandparents. 

As he got older, Grandpa Jones didn't have to wear make-up anymore

Now, a song by Tennessee Ernie Ford is playing - "Shotgun Boogie."  Another Tennessee Ernie song, called "16 Tons," reminds me strongly of my Mom's father, because it's a song about coal miners written by Merle Travis, who was from the same western Kentucky county that my Grandaddy was from. My Grandaddy was also a coal miner. So this song is, to me, basically about Oscar Kirby and the life he lived. 

Oscar with a gigantic cigar
In the same way, listening to, or playing on the piano, Stephen Foster songs, and other songs from the 19th century and early 20th century, reminds me, in general, of the lives my great- and great-great grandparents led, even though I didn't really know any of them. I know their names, thanks to, and listening to the popular music of their lives makes me feel a connection with them.

Why, in middle age, has feeling a connection with my ancestors become so important to me? I don't know the answer to that. I just know that it's a thing now. I want to feel close to the ancestors I never knew or only knew for a brief time, and delving into the popular culture of their lives helps me to feel connected to them. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Notes from the Cave

I'm continuing to work on my songbook (which I mentioned in the last post), where I'm arranging a collection of "old timey" songs for piano solo. I'm doing "old timey" songs because anything more recent than 75 years ago is likely under copyright and thus can't be freely used.

I've recently finished an arrangement of America the Beautiful, and I'm currently about three-fourths of the way through My Old Kentucky Home. Up next is Massa's in de Cold Ground, my all-time favorite Stephen Foster song.

Here's one I did a few weeks back. It's an arrangement of an old hymn called Just As I Am.

I recently had an idea for a blog post related to Kentucky basketball, but I abandoned it because I discovered that my main thesis was basically false (this is what's called being "intellectually honest"). Like many UK fans, I felt that Kentucky got an insanely unfair road to the Final Four in this year's NCAA tournament - they were the first team in NCAA history to play three 30-win teams before the Final Four. Basically, 3 of the 4 teams they played had 30+ wins by the time they played them. They ended up losing by 2 points to the 3rd of those 3 teams. This is not the first time that an unfair bracket has been complained of by UK fans. So I decided to do a blog post comparing other major programs (Duke, UNC, Kansas, maybe a few others) to UK to demonstrate how Kentucky is more likely to get difficult paths to the Final Four.

In reviewing past tournament brackets, I discovered that it's basically bullshit. Yes, Kentucky got screwed this year, but while they may sometimes have tough roads in the tournament, they don't always have tough roads, and other teams could easily make similar arguments. I won't go into all the data now, but essentially any team that routinely gets a high seed could argue that they "often" get a tough road through the tournament. It's just the UK fans (myself included) tend to only pay attention to UK's seeding and UK's potential path.

I've really been enjoying the new show on NBC called Trial and Error.  It stars John Lithgow and it's a spoof of trial documentaries. It's silly, but I think it's hilarious and well-written. I highly recommend it.

Now that I am not on Facebook, the readership of my new blog posts has declined considerably. I guess I didn't realize how many people on Facebook actually clicked on the links I shared. Oh well, it's not enough to make me get back on Facebook.

Melanie and the girls are on Spring Break this week, but I'm unfortunately working a lot because I have a co-worker out on medical leave, requiring the rest of us on third shift to pick up extra hours. It's really amazing how, when you're used to working three 12-hour shifts, having to work extra days, even when some of those shifts are only 8 hours, really screws with your mojo. It makes you realize how much you value that time off!

After debating and discussing it for the last two years, we finally got a new dog on Sunday. We've wanted a playmate for Sophie for a long time, but hadn't ever pulled the trigger. I had actually sort of gotten over it, but Melanie and Sydney continued to look and follow adoption sites and they finally found one they wanted. We had to apply to adopt, but our application was chosen so we brought Maggie home on Sunday. Sophie is a full-bred Havanese, but Maggie is half Havanese, half Cocker Spaniel. We jokingly call her a Have-a-Cock. She's the runt of her litter and since she's only 9 weeks old anyway, she is tiny. The dogs are getting along well though and I think they're both going to do well. I fancy myself a dog whisperer, so I'm working hard on house breaking and training. She's doing well so far, although she's very timid and has awful separation anxiety - two things Sophie didn't have issues with.

I guess that's enough boring shit about my life for today. Peace.

Monday, April 03, 2017

New Piano Arrangement

I've started doing some arranging for the piano and one of the first pieces I did is a somewhat obscure Stephen Foster song called My Hopes Have Departed Forever. It's a really pretty piece, though, and I think my arrangement is fairly good for a first try. I've since done a few more and have many more on deck. If all goes as planned, I hope to publish them in a songbook by the summer. It'll be a book of piano solos based on old classics.

I also would like to do a songbook of hymns for solo piano as well as one for traditional Christmas songs. (If you're wondering why all my plans are for old songs, it's because if I want to sell them, I can only do songs that are no longer copyrighted.)

We'll see if all that pans out, but for now I'm enjoying the arranging I'm doing. I've been using a great little website I found called to write the scores.

If anyone happens to be interested in getting a PDF of the sheet music for this piece, just ask, I'll be glad to send it to you.

Since it's an old piece, I made the video look like old cinema. Nice effect, don't you think?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why I'm a Feminist

So I recently updated my Facebook profile picture to the same one that's here on my blog, and my primary reason for doing so was simply because I think it's a good picture of me. But I also happen to be wearing a very visible "This is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt in the picture.

If I could've updated the picture without everyone seeing it on their timeline, I would have, because I knew it would generate comments. Furthermore, for every person who posted a comment, there were undoubtedly 20 others who thought something, but didn't post it.

In addition to the obligatory comments likening me to Brian Posehn (the most hideous-looking actor in Hollywood), and in addition to the smart-alecky comments from old fraternity brothers, one person said the following:

Feminism isn't really about supporting women or women's rights, it's more about spite and envy directed towards men.

This led me to thinking about the reasons why I consider myself a feminist, and what feminism really means to me versus what a lot of people might think of when they hear the word "feminism."

To suggest feminism isn't about supporting women or women's rights is patent nonsense. That's certainly what it's about for me. It's about standing in solidarity with women's rights and women's issues. I'm a man; obviously I'm not interested in directing spite and envy towards my own gender, and neither are the vast majority of the women I know and am acquainted with, many feminists included.

Women have been regarded as second-class citizens in most societies for most of human history. In some modern societies, they still are. Since the advent of human civilization, men have been controlling what women do, what they say, how involved they get to be in politics and culture, what kinds of jobs they can have, what kind of education they can have, what they can expect out of life, and how they should treat their own bodies. In the modern west, most of these issues have been addressed and are no longer a day-to-day struggle for most women. Instead, they have taken on new dimensions. Women today, for instance, can and do vote and participate in the political process. But we still live in a society that is in many ways distrustful of female politicians and which doesn't encourage female participation in political leadership. Of our 100 U.S. senators, only 21% are women. The U.S. House is even worse, with only 19% women. Only 10% of U.S. states have female governors.

Is this all the fault of men? Of course not. But considering the sorts of things women must endure if they want to enter politics (from both men AND women, sadly), it's hardly surprising that many gifted women prefer to do something else or work behind the scenes.

This is just one example, of course. There are countless others. Violence against women. Rampant sexism. Religious traditions that still deny women ministerial and/or leadership roles. Access to reliable and affordable gynecological and obstetric care including, when necessary, safe abortion services. Strong social protections for single mothers and their children. Equal educational and vocational opportunities, including equal pay.

I totally agree that there are some feminists out there for whom feminism is (or certainly seems to be) largely about spite against men and metaphorically castrating men. These are what you might call "militant" feminists and they seem to be interested not in equality and protection for women and women's rights, but rather for replacing a perceived patriarchy with what could only be called a matriarchy. They don't want to be equal with men, they want to rule men. And anytime they perceive something wrong in society, especially in regards to women, it's all men's fault. Presumably, even the millions of women who are opposed to "feminism" in general are just under the spell of the evil patriarchy.

I don't think this characterizes most self-proclaimed "feminists." I think militant feminists are just like many other groups in society - they are a loud minority who, by virtue of their extremism, get a lot of media attention.

Defining feminism by militant feminists is a bit like defining Islam by Islamic terrorists or Christianity by fire-breathing fundamentalists. It's like defining white Americans by the KKK.  

I also want to make a brief comment on the "envy" thing. I think that bothered me more than anything about my friend's comment, because it implies that men enjoy certain inherent virtues or abilities that women don't have and which are, therefore, "enviable." That, of course, is biological nonsense, and that attitude is exactly why standing for, and supporting, women's rights is still so important.

So yes, I am a feminist, and I am proud to stand in solidarity with women and their continued pursuit of equality and fairness in society, even as millions of other men and women roll their eyes or, at times, stand boldly in their way.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Denying Jesus

So I saw this post today by someone on Facebook:

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He said deny me in front of your friends and I will deny you in front of my Father. Challenge Accepted: If you are not ashamed Copy and paste!!

I started to reply to the person, but refrained because I figured I'd regret it later, as I always do. I won't, however, regret blogging about it.

In chapter 10 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: "Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my father in heaven." A popular verse among evangelical Christians, for sure.

This is the only gospel that records this saying of Jesus, making it among what textual scholars call the "M" material - meaning stories and sayings unique to the gospel of Matthew (compared with "L" material for unique stuff in Luke and "Q" material for stuff unique to both Matthew and Luke).

Most scholars would undoubtedly agree that Jesus never made this statement because it sounds suspiciously reflective of the early Christian society in which the author of Matthew was living and writing (80-85 AD) rather than the society in which Jesus lived and spoke (30s AD). The fact that no other gospel records it lends credence to this theory.  It's also worth pointing out that Matthew (as well as the other three gospels) also records the story of Peter denying Jesus three times before his crucifixion. Did Jesus therefore deny Peter before God? Is Peter in hell? If you take Matthew's gospel literally, that's the obvious conclusion.

In any case, whether you agree with scholars that this isn't an authentic saying of Jesus, the saying clearly held profound meaning for early Christians who were, at times, faced with persecution and even execution for being Christians (the main reason why this seems to come out of the culture of the 80s, and not the 30s - no one was being persecuted during Jesus's lifetime for following Jesus). Standing before a magistrate of the Roman Empire, many people denied being Christians so they could avoid being tortured or executed. But this saying was used to encourage Christians not to be afraid to stand up for their beliefs, even in the face of death or torture or social ostracism. The implication was that you might lose your salvation if you denied Christ. Many people were (unnecessarily) martyred in the name of this verse.

Why did the Romans dislike Christians so much? Because they considered them a new and insidious cult who had secretive rituals and who denied the Roman gods and refused to acknowledge the authority and, especially, the divinity, of the Roman emperor. This last point was the primary reason Christianity was frequently outlawed in various portions of the empire. Jews had long been given a pass on denying the Roman gods and the emperor's divinity, but that was because theirs were an ancient and well-respected religious tradition that predated Rome. Christianity, on the other hand, was new and had no antiquity to lend it credence. Think of how many people today feel about Mormonism - a relatively new and secretive cult, invented in America, and espousing strange beliefs and rituals. That's how average Romans viewed Christianity. There were all sorts of crazy rumors about what Christians did, including one that actually accused Christians of sacrificing, then eating, a baby while sitting at a table (which was undoubtedly a conflation of Christian interest in "baby Jesus" and the Lord's supper, where - in the eyes of Romans - Christians ritually ate their own god).

So how does this historical context relate to modern Christianity? To be perfectly frank, it doesn't. Modern Christians aren't persecuted and haven't been since the 4th century. Sure, there has been mistreatment of Christians in parts of the world where Christianity isn't the primary religion, and that continues to some extent even today, but in the Christian west, it's always been Christians doing the persecuting. In the United States, no one has to fear proclaiming their Christianity - depending on which poll you look at, anywhere from 70 to 85 percent of Americans identify as Christian - a vast majority.

That's why this verse has become a popular one for evangelical Christians. It's not about courage in the face of persecution, it's about proclaiming one's faith for the purpose of evangelizing. My Facebook friend isn't proclaiming Jesus even though she thinks she might be persecuted for it. She's proclaiming Jesus because she thinks that's what a good evangelical Christian should do.

In closing, let me also note that failing to copy and paste an evangelical proclamation of your faith on Facebook does not equate to "denying Jesus," as the post strongly implies. This post uses the old trick from the days of mass email forwarding where one was promised good things if they forwarded an email to a certain number of people, or bad things if they didn't. This post makes no promises like that, but the implication is clear that you are "denying Jesus," and Jesus will therefore deny you, if you don't copy and paste it to your profile.

I can't help but wonder if evangelicals like this have ever read another verse from Matthew which, interestingly enough, also is only found in Matthew (the "M" material). Matthew 6:5 says: Do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synogogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward." The whole first part of Matthew chapter 6 is devoted to Jesus encouraging people to practice their religion in private and not proclaim their actions to the world.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The 10 Best Jimmy Buffett Titles

As the heading indicates, you don't have to be a Jimmy Buffett fan to enjoy this post because it's not about Jimmy Buffett songs as much as it is about Jimmy Buffett song titles.

If you know anything about Buffett, it's that he fancies himself a comedian, working clever turns of phrase into his songs and occasionally coming up with funny song titles to go with it. This is, of course, a tradition in country music, and Buffett has always first and foremost been a musician out of the country-western tradition.

Not all of these songs are among his best tunes, but they are without question among his cleverest and, sometimes, surprising titles.

10. Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season

This is one of Buffett's better known songs, if only because it's on his seminal 1974 album A1A. If you haven't heard it before, it's worth a listen because not only does it have a clever title, but it's a fantastic song to boot.

9. God Don't Own a Car

This is from Buffett's pre-major label period. Recorded in 1971 as part of his second album on tiny Barnaby Records, neither the song nor the album was ever released because the sales of his first album with Barnaby were so poor. Barnaby actually claimed to have "lost" the master recordings when they explained to him why they weren't releasing the album. After he achieved mainstream success in the mid-1970s on a different label, Barnaby magically "found" the master tapes and finally released the album, to limited appeal, in 1976. After going out of print for years, most of the songs on the album (including this one) were released on a compilation CD in 1991 called Before the Beach. It's an apt title because these songs don't sound like anything Buffett did later. They are more like 60s folk rock songs.

In any case, God Don't Own a Car isn't a great Buffett song, but the title is eye-catching nonetheless.

8. Earl's Dead - Cadillac For Sale

This is a track from Buffett's most recent studio album, Songs from St. Somewhere. Like a lot of his recent music, this song is only okay. He definitely doesn't have the songwriting chops of his heyday, but that's okay. I still love everything he does and this song is clever if nothing else. It's about a circus performer who has died and whose widow is trying to sell the Cadillac that was an integral part of their life together.

7. It's Midnight and I'm Not Famous Yet

This is a song from the 1982 album Somewhere Over China. It's about a gambler in a casino trying to win it big with "one more bet."

6. If the Phone Doesn't Ring, It's Me

This is a really good song from the 1985 album Last Mango in Paris (the title track, which follows this one on the album, was considered for this list, but didn't quite make the cut). This song is clearly based on Buffett's separation from his wife, which occurred in the early 1980s. They finally reconciled around 1987 and have been together ever since. He wrote a lot of break-up songs during that period.

5. What if the Hokey-Pokey is All it Really is About?

This is from 2002's Far Side of the World album. It's not one of my favorite Buffett songs. It's a song that gives one the impression that it began as a funny title - probably something that someone said while drunk - and then a song was built around it. This song has five songwriters credited, including Buffett, and I've found there is an inverse relationship between the number of songwriters on a Buffett song and how good the song is.

In any case, the title's still funny.

4. We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About 

From Buffett's classic 1983 album One Particular Harbor, this is a great song that pokes fun at what the Baby Boomer generation was growing into in the early 1980s, and how that related to their parents' views on life in the 1950s.

3. Vampires, Mummies, and the Holy Ghost

Religion has long been a theme in Buffett's music, and this song, from 1994's Fruitcakes album, is no exception. Growing up Catholic (he was even an alter boy), Buffett jettisoned his religious trappings in adulthood and apparently never looked back, but his religious upbringing has influenced a lot of his lyrics.

This song is only okay, but the title is eye-catching and the lyrics discuss childhood fears that Buffett had - namely vampires, mummies, and the Holy Ghost. "These are the things that terrify me the most." Which is pretty funny.

2. The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful 

A classic Buffett title, this song comes from the Coconut Telegraph album of 1981. Like a lot of Buffett's tunes, it could easily be turned into a short story. It's about a New York businessman who runs away from his life and moves to the Caribbean, only to find that even paradise sucks after a while, and he ends up heading back home to his old life. Buffett has stated that he got the title from graffiti he saw in a bar bathroom.

1. My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don't Love Jesus 

Unquestionably Buffett's best song title, this one comes from 1976's Havana Daydreamin' album. The song is about a killer hangover and the title describes how Buffett feels about it. Humorously enough, the Oak Ridge Boys, of gospel music fame, sing back-up on this song, which has a real ragtime feel to it. They apparently were afraid their largely southern Christian audience wouldn't get the joke and asked not to be credited in the liner notes.