Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Ranking Elton John Albums - Part 1, Nos. 31 through 21

I've been an Elton John fan for just about as long as I can remember. From the age of 9 or 10, I began listening to my own music and generally gravitated towards guitar-driven rock (Van Halen, Dire Straits, eventually Guns n' Roses, etc.). But before all of that, there was Elton John.

His first Greatest Hits album, from 1974, was basically a family playlist. I guess my earliest family music memories are of Amy Grant and other Christian singers, but once my parents decided it was okay to introduce their precious children to secular devil music, it was basically Elton John, and maybe some Alabama.

On vacations and other long trips, this album would also get played through a least a couple of times. I knew all the songs on it by heart. As I got older, more compilations were put out and I eventually had his Greatest Hits volumes 1, 2, and 3.

For a long time those were the only Elton John albums I had, and the songs on those albums were basically the only Elton John songs I knew. Then, in college, I got a book with note-for-note transcripts of a bunch of Elton John songs. Many of them were songs I wasn't familiar with. There was one in particular - Indian Sunset - that I really enjoyed playing and I was dying to hear the real, actual song. (Children, this was back before Al Gore invented the Internet.)

So I figured out which album that song was on (it was Madman Across the Water) and I bought the CD. I ended up liking every song on the album, which didn't surprise me, since I'd always liked every other Elton John song I'd ever heard.

Still, after that, I never bought another Elton John album. Up until a few years ago, I was okay with only knowing the same 35 or so songs I'd had on my greatest hits albums and my one studio album.

But then I got a subscription to Amazon Music and discovered they had every single one of his past albums available. So I created a playlist with 372 songs on it. I've been listening to it very regularly now for the past few years.

And now I've decided I'm qualified to make a list ranking his albums from worst to best.

I am ranking the 31 studio albums that Elton John has released as of 2019. I have not included any live albums, compilations, or collaboration albums he's done with other people. I also am not including the five or six movie soundtracks he's done over the years. These are just the 31 solo studio albums that he has put out since 1969.

I didn't actually intend for this introduction to be so long, but hey, shit happens. Anyway, here's the first part of the list. Let me know what you think, although be aware that if you disagree, you'll be wrong.



If you've ever heard this album, then you are like me: a victim of Victim of Love. This is a no-brainer. I can't imagine a ranking of Elton John studio albums that didn't put this album as the very worst. It's not just Elton's worst album, it has to be one of the worst albums that's ever been recorded by a major act. It's remarkably bad. It is absolutely unbelievable that a star of Elton's caliber agreed to do an album this awful.

Here's the thing: It's a freaking disco album. The first song is an 8-minute disco version of Johnny B. Goode, if you want an idea of how awful it is. I think all the other songs are originals, but they are just terrible. And it's not just because disco is terrible. Even by disco standards, these songs suck. I guess if you were high as a kite in orange bell bottoms on a disco dance floor in Germany in 1979, maybe it would've been fine, but I can't imagine any other setting where this album isn't just fucking terrible.

I don't know the background of the album, but it seems to have been a record company gimmick to cash in on the disco fad of the late 70s. Released in 1979, Elton basically only participated by singing the songs. He didn't write any of the music or play keyboards (or any other instrument) on any of the songs. And he's never performed any of them live. The record company seems to have wanted something, Elton was too fucked up on coke to produce anything, so they brought in studio musicians and songwriters to write and record a disco album, and then just brought Elton in to sing the lyrics and put his name on the cover. That's what it appears to be, anyway.

Regardless, it's terrible. I skip the songs when they come on.


I haven't seen the Elton biopic, so I don't know if it addresses this, but the late 70s seem to have been a bad time in Elton's life. This is another terrible album from that time.

Thom Bell was a famous producer who had developed a sound called Philadelphia Soul. Elton had written a stand-alone single called Philadelphia Freedom in 1975 that tapped into this sound. After that, he apparently wanted to work with Bell for a whole album. Evidently the two didn't get along well and they ended up only recording 6 songs before calling it quits. Even though the recording sessions took place in 1977, the album wasn't released until 1979, and then it was only a 3-song EP. One of those songs (Mama Can't Buy You Love) did end up going to #9 on the charts.

In 1989, the album was re-released, this time with all 6 songs.

With the exception of Mama Can't Buy You Love (which is a decent song), both incarnations of this album suck. Maybe if I was into 1970s Philadelphia Soul music, I would like it. But I'm not. The background music is heavy on brassy orchestration and apparently one of the gimmicks of this sound is to repeat a catchy chorus about 435 times at the end of the song. I mean these songs just go on and on and on, and it's not NEW music, it's the same hook, over and over and over again. If you're familiar with Mama Can't Buy You Love, you'll know what I'm talking about.

With the exception of Mama, I skip all these songs when they come on.


This is Elton's most recent album, released in 2016. It was a tough decision to put it here, because there are no "bad" songs on it. And I don't want to be one of those "all his new music sucks" guys.

But the problem is that there are no really good songs on it. It's basically just 10 very average, forgettable tracks. A few of the songs have a catchy beat or a catchy hook, but all in all the music is just not great. It feels very much like what it is ... an album by a 70-year-old former pop/rock star who has long since graduated into the low end of the Adult Contemporary arena.

I also can't stand the cover of this album. In my opinion, Elton John is remarkably bad at album covers. He's got some really, really awful ones in his catalogue. This is one of them. The expression on his face and his body language on the cover reminds me disturbingly of my mother-in-law. And the music can probably also be described as Music Your Mother-In-Law Would Like.


This album is from 1985 and it's like he wasn't even trying at this point. There is one gem on this album in the song Nikita, but that's about it. Wrap Her Up is catchy, but it's ultimately just bubble-gum pop by two gay guys (George Michael sings back-up) pretending to be straight.

And besides those two songs, the others are all "meh." Some are basically skippers, but even those you don't skip are basically songs you never need to hear again.


Back to that bad period in the late 70s again, and another album that's just not that good. This was the second album Elton did after "breaking up" with his longtime writing partner, Bernie Taupin. The first was the aforementioned Thom Bell Sessions and the third was Victim of Love. This one, at least, was a straightforward studio album with Elton writing the songs and performing them, albeit with a different lyricist.

I put this album above Ice on Fire simply because A Single Man has the song Georgia on it. I absolutely love this song. It's probably in my top 10.  Elton had made his fame playing a style of music I like to call piano-driven Gospel Rock, and in the late 70s, he moved away from that sound, pretty much permanently. But Georgia was like one last hurrah of that classic Elton, piano-driven Gospel Rock sound. I just love this song.

There are a few other decent songs to be found here, but all in all it's not a good album. Elton just wasn't the same during the 5 or 6 years that he and Bernie Taupin weren't writing together.

As a bit of trivia, Elton frequently recorded songs during his recording sessions that didn't make the final cut for the album. They were sometimes used as "B-sides" for singles, and other times just stuck into the vault unreleased. Years later, they would frequently make it onto compilation albums of "rare" songs or included with re-releases of the studio albums they were recorded with.

One of those songs for this album was called Flintstone Boy. It was originally the B-side to a single. It's now included on the reissue of A Single Man. It's the only song I know of where Elton John wrote the music and the lyrics. Elton is famous for his playing and songwriting, but lyrics are not his forte, which is why he's always used a lyricist to write with him.

I guess maybe in the wake of breaking up with Bernie Taupin he decided to try his hand at writing some lyrics. The result is this song. And it is absolutely awful. It seriously must be the most inane, asinine set of lyrics I have ever heard. And I guess because the lyrics were so uninspiring, the music he wrote for them was also pretty terrible. It's just a bad song. Definitely a skipper.


This is an album from 1992. It reminds me a bit of Wonderful Crazy Night in that it doesn't have any bad songs, but it also doesn't have anything really all that great on it. I need an album to have at least a few gems, and this one doesn't deliver. The songs are all okay, but there's just nothing here that I would ever intentionally go and play. The title track was a top 10 hit and it's probably the best song on the album.


This is another recent album, having been put out in 2013. If you like albums that sound like basic jazzy piano bar music, then this is an album for you. As a pianist, I like the piano-driven aspects of the album, which includes 3 brief piano solo instrumentals scattered among the regular songs (called Dream #1, Dream #2, and Dream #3).

The Ballad of Blind Tom is a good one that tells the story of a real-life pianist in the late 19th century. He was a black man born into slavery who was a blind piano prodigy. He could also apparently mimic any voice he ever heard and repeat long speeches and soliloquies from memory. He was diagnosed as mentally handicapped during his life, but he was likely an autistic savant. Someone could play him a song he'd never heard before, and he could immediately play it back to them, note-for-note.

If there's any problem with this album, it's just that it's a little too piano-lounge for me. You need to have a glass of brandy, a book of philosophy, and a tweed jacket on when you listen to this album.


We're beginning now to reach the stage where the albums are more good than bad. This album comes from 1981 and Elton had begun to write with Bernie Taupin again, although Taupin only wrote the lyrics for about half the songs.

Just Like Belgium is probably the best song on this album. There aren't any bad songs here, although a couple of them are just sort of boring. Carla/Etude/Fanfare are three songs that all run together on the original B side of the album, comprising about 6 minutes of instrumental music. Why there are three different titles to what is basically a single 6-minute instrumental is anyone's guess. The music then runs directly into the next track, called Chloe, which is the only one of the four that actually has lyrics.

But all in all, this is a decent record with some good hooks and laid back grooves that make for a decent 80s soft rock album.


This was Elton John's first album, released in the UK in 1969. It was not released in the U.S. at the time, which is why his second, self-title album, is frequently named as his "first" album. Empty Sky didn't get released until 1975 in the U.S., at the height of his fame.

This album's main strengths lie in its hints of the greatness that was to come, and in its novelty value. If you're familiar with "classic" Elton John, you notice immediate differences when you listen to this album. His voice sounds different, and many of the songs have a very 60s, psychedelic sound to them. He bizarrely opted to play harpsichord instead of piano on a number of the songs, which gives them a very foreign, artsy kind of feel.

The best song on the album actually wasn't even on the original album released in 1969. It's Me That You Need was one of several singles released independently at that time. The song has since been included on reissues of the album.

Another song from the album, Skyline Pigeon, is easily one Elton's best songs, but not the early version found on Empty Sky. On this version, he plays harpsichord, and it totally ruins the song. A few years later had the sense to re-record and re-release it, and that second version is one of my favorite Elton John songs.


This is actually Elton's best-selling album of the 1980s, but as a whole, I think it's actually among his worst. But that doesn't mean it's a bad album.

To begin with, it has I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues on it, and that's one of his best songs (maybe his very best song) of the 1980s. It also produced several other hits that are decent, including I'm Still Standing, Kiss the Bride, and the title track. Kiss the Bride is another one of those bubble-gum pop songs that Elton did so well in the 80s and which sound funny today because OF COURSE he didn't want to kiss the bride.

In any case, the reason this album is lower than most of his other 80s albums is because besides those hits, the rest of the songs on the album are pretty weak. A set of pretty much forgettable songs.


According to the Wikipedia article, lyricist Bernie Taupin lists this album as his least favorite, because he apparently thinks his lyrics weren't very good. Considering how bizarre and sometimes even silly his lyrics can be, I don't necessarily understand what his problem with this particular album is.

In any case, this album is from 1997 and its very heavy on orchestration. Some of the songs give a sense of elevator music. It's definitely strongly in the Adult Contemporary camp. But over time, this album has grown on me.

A lot of the songs are very dramatic and theatrical (he wrote a number of movie soundtracks in the 90s, including The Lion King and several others, so he must have just been in that mode when he went into the studio to do this one). If you let yourself, you can kind of get swept away in the drama of a few of the songs, with their big, sweeping orchestrations and their booming climaxes.

Something About the Way You Look Tonight is probably the last truly great song Elton John wrote. It got a lot of attention and airplay because it was the B-side to his standalone single Candle in the Wind 1997, the tribute to Princess Diana, which is to this day the best-selling single of all time.


Keep watching for my next post, which will continue the countdown from 20 to 11. We're going to start getting into some really, really good Elton John albums. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody

So in the early spring, I bought a book of Queen songs arranged for piano. I started learning Bohemian Rhapsody and very quickly decided the arrangement was lacking. So I decided to make my own arrangement.

Between the time I took creating the arrangement and the time it took me to learn it, I've been working on this piece for most of the year.

I finally got a version of it recorded that is at least halfway decent.

Here it is.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Christmas Music Playlist

I know it's early in the season for this, but I figured I would announce this now. I've spent the fall arranging a set of my favorite Christmas songs for piano. And I've recorded those songs and put them into a playlist on YouTube that anyone can access.

So this Christmas, if you're looking for traditional Christmas music, and you like piano music, you can put this playlist on in the background. Also, just in case anyone is interested, you can also buy the sheet music for any of these arrangements by CLICKING HERE.

The YouTube playlist is HERE.

Here's one of the videos from the playlist, to give you a taste:

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Notes from the Cave

Thank you to everyone who responded to my last blog post. I didn't respond individually to anyone, but I read all your responses and appreciate them.

I've decided to keep the blog going. With 13 years of posts, some of which I am still pretty proud of, there's not really any good reason to delete the blog. Even if I wasn't going to update it anymore, I probably wouldn't delete the blog outright. 

But I think I probably will continue to post now and then. I think one of the main reasons why my production has waned so much is because I'm writing podcast scripts now on a regular basis and have very little time to do things like blogging. Also, my writing fix gets satisfied by the script writing, so I don't necessary "need" to blog. 

Anyway, speaking of podcast scripts, in my last Notes from the Cave in February, I promised to keep you abreast of what was going on with all that. I failed in that promise, although I still like saying the word "abreast."

I did start writing for the new podcast company in the early spring. They are called Parcast and they were actually bought by Spotify not long after I started writing for them. They have about 15 or 20 weekly scripted podcasts that they produce. I signed a contract with them and wrote two shows for them. The first was for a podcast called Assassinations and it was a 2-episode series on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which set off World War I.

The second was another 2-episode series for a show called Kingpins. It was about a marijuana smuggling operation in the Miami in the 1970s.

After that, I signed a new contract with Parcast (for more money, yay!) to write 10 more episodes. I am currently working on the 5th episode in that contract. The first was a 2-episode series for the show Cults about a Satanic cult in Massachusetts in the late 70s that was implicated in a string of prostitute murders. (I wasn't allowed to actually use the word "prostitute" in these scripts where all the characters were pimps and prostitutes. "Prostitute" is not PC, apparently. You have to call them "sex workers." #Hollywood, amiright?)

Then I wrote two stand-alone episodes for a show called Historical Figures. Neither of these has come out yet, so I'll refrain from giving away the subject matter. Both were people I had never heard of before beginning my research.

I'm currently working on another stand-along episode for a show called Gone, which discusses people and objects that have disappeared. I'm going to be writing two stand-alone episodes for this show as well.

The remaining four scripts in the contract have not been assigned yet, so I don't know what they'll be about.

Switching gears, let's talk about music. I'm still practicing the piano on a regular basis, about 4-5 days per week. I'm currently working on 4 songs, 3 of which are ALMOST finished. (Finished, for me, means a relatively clean take recorded on video.)  Those three songs are the third movement of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata (once learned, this will make 2 complete Beethoven sonatas that I have learned), a fantasia by Mozart, and my own arrangement of the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody (you're REALLY gonna like that one). The fourth song that still needs some work is my own original classical-style composition called Rondo in A Minor: The Midnight Hour.

As for my composing, I have recently been putting a lot of time into arranging Christmas songs for solo piano. This is something I've been wanting to do since I first started playing again in 2016, but every year it gets to be Christmas time and I realize I've failed to do it. So this year, I started in September arranging Christmas songs. I'm about 75% done with the 19 songs that I've chosen to make arrangements for.

I'm not sure that I'll ever learn every single one of them, although that will remain to be seen. I wish I was good enough to be able to just sight-read all of them. Some of them are easy enough that I can almost do that. But regardless, the software I use will play back anything you write, with electronic versions of the instruments. And in this day and age, the software playback is pretty damn realistic. So after I'm done arranging this set of songs, I'm going to record the playback and then upload each song to YouTube. Then I'll put them all in a Christmas playlist that anyone can access if they want to turn on some solo piano music for Christmas this year. I'll post a link once it's done.

I should point out that the songs I've chosen are all traditional Christmas songs - I'm not a big fan of modern Christmas music, so don't expect any Mariah Carey or Amy Grant Christmas songs. Instead of Josh Groban, think Bing Crosby or Andy Williams.

If you are interested in listening to my compositions, both original compositions as well as numerous arrangements I've done, you can click here and hear them all. The one caveat is that you do have to create an account. But that's free to do. I have piano pieces as well as chamber music (small ensembles) and full orchestral works. I currently have about 70 public pieces. You can also buy some of my sheet music here.

Anyway, thanks as always for reading (and listening!). 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Time for a Change

I'm thinking about shutting this blog down. No one really reads blogs anymore, do they? Unless you're famous, they're kind of pointless in this day and age.

I never finished the series I started earlier this year about a new U.S. constitution. The second post got basically no attention so I kind of lost interest in continuing to write about it.

What do you think? Should I shut this 13-year-old blog down?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A New United States Constitution, Part II

The United States needs a new constitution. We have the oldest constitution on earth (and it's not even close), and while some might see that as something to celebrate, I see it as a big part of the reason why our nation and our government is increasingly useless and ineffective.

In Part I of this series we looked at changes to the First Amendment that I would like to see occur. In Part II, we're gonna dive headlong into the Second Amendment. This actually won't take long because my idea for how to fix the second amendment is pretty simple.


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.

Let's ignore the fact that the Second Amendment is so strangely worded (I mean, it was written by 18th century British people, after all). To fully understand what they meant, it's helpful to add some implied modifiers, remove some commas, and reword things a bit: "Since an efficient militia is necessary to the security of a state, the citizens have the right to own and carry guns." 

Second Amendment Background

I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you that the Second Amendment never meant what it's typically interpreted to mean. I'll simply say there are very good and convincing arguments that it was never about individual rights, but always and only about the need for state militias. This was an era when there was no permanent, professional U.S. military. States were expected to protect themselves from Indians or anyone else. Since states and towns frequently couldn't afford to arm their militias, men joining a militia were expected to provide their own guns. This remained true for many decades after the founding the of the country. It was only in the first part of the 19th century that permanent, federally-funded, professional standing armies began to be formed. In the 1780s, the same people who insisted on the Second Amendment thought that such standing armies were the tools of tyrants. 

So it really never had anything to do with your personal, individual right to have a gun. But none of that really matters for my purposes here, because I frankly don't care what the Supreme Court has said or what you think the amendment means. 

Nor does it matter what I think it means, because in our imaginary constitutional convention, we're  gonna abolish the Second Amendment altogether. If there's no Second Amendment, then there can be no disagreement about what it means!  

Taking Away Your Guns

Gun rights activists often accuse liberals of wanting to "take away your guns." As an independent liberal, I plead guilty as charged. I totally want to take away your guns. If I was King Byron of the Kingdom of America, I would absolutely ban all guns forever for all time for any reason. And I'd put your ass in jail if you were caught with one.  

But I recognize that not everyone agrees that guns should be outlawed across the board. So that's actually NOT the reason I want to get rid of the Second Amendment. After all, this is a democracy and I'm just one person.  

I want to get rid of the Second Amendment because it's fucking asinine for a nation to have the right to own guns enshrined in its very constitution. It's no wonder this country is so obsessed with firearms that we have almost half of all the firearms on earth and literally have more than one gun per person. When it's included in our basic Bill of Rights, its not hard to figure out why we've developed a gun-obsessed culture. Only two other countries on earth have gun ownership in their constitution - Mexico and Guatemala. Now there's two countries you want to be aligned with.  

Abolishing the Second Amendment would get rid of any constitutional arguments for gun regulation. Local, state, and federal governments could regulate guns within reason, and there'd be no appealing to the constitutionality of the laws. Just like you can't make a constitutional argument about whether it's okay to pass speed limit laws, you wouldn't be able to make a constitutional argument about a town, city, or state that wanted to limit guns in whatever way its elected officials saw fit. It would also allow the federal government to develop standards and regulations - like blanket assault weapons bans or high capacity magazine bans or whatever.  

Don't like your town or state's gun laws? Elect new leaders! But you don't get to cry about constitutionality. 


I hate guns and I want to take away your guns. But since I don't get to make that call, I think we should abolish the Second Amendment in order to allow the government to sensibly regulate guns without appeals to a constitutional right that someone thinks they should have. 

In our next article, we're going to move away from the Bill of Rights and talk about terms limits on federal offices. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

A New United States Constitution, Part I

In recent years, a number of people and groups from across the political spectrum have called for amendments to the constitution on a variety of topics. This is nothing new. There have always been calls for amendments to the constitution. Sometimes (though not often), they even get passed.

But I think it's time for a whole new constitution. I mean completely rewriting our constitution to reflect the modern issues affecting 21st century America. I've been thinking along these lines for several years now. We need to call a constitutional convention.

Trying to fit 21st century problems into an 18th century legal document is a bit like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. It just doesn't work, and if you force it, it's all stupid-looking and probably won't last very long.

Our constitution is hopelessly outdated. But we treat it as though it's just one very, very small level below sacred scripture. Like the Bible, we treat the constitution as somehow inviolate and sacrosanct, the final and inerrant Word of the Founding Fathers, who themselves are frequently treated as mini-Christs. I've written about this before. It's the Doctrine of Constitutional Infallibility, and it's deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

The Constitution was written in the 18th century, addressing 18th century problems that were unique to a small, rural, coastal nation that was just starting out.  It's woefully inadequate to address the issues of a massive country that is the world's largest economy and superpower.

But I'm really not here to convince you we need a new constitution. I actually want to talk about what a new constitution would look like.

Now, I'm no political philosopher. I'm not a lawyer, a legal expert, or trained in constitutional law. And I'm not pretending to be. But I do have some ideas for a few changes we need to make. In this series of articles, I intend to outline a number of proposals that I think would make for a better constitution and, subsequently, a better society to live in.

In Part I, we're going to look at the First Amendment. 


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of Speech

Everybody loves the First Amendment, right? Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion. It's all hunky-dory, cum-ba-ya, American Pie stuff.

But there has long been one acknowledged problem with freedom of speech in particular: it protects hate speech too. As recently as 2017, in an unanimous Supreme Court decision affirming that hate speech is constitutionally-protected, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: 
[The notion that the government can restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend ... strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech ... is that we protect the freedom to express "the thought that we hate."
Most people agree: in order to have freedom of speech, you have to allow people to say offensive stuff too.

My question is this: Has anyone ever stopped to ask if this is ACTUALLY true? Is there some philosophical, legal, or social reason why we can't outlaw hate speech while still having freedom of every other kind of speech?

The first change we need to make in our new constitutional convention is to rewrite the First Amendment to specifically and categorically ban hate speech and, especially, hate groups, including the rights of those groups to assemble.

The typical argument against this is that it would create some sort of slippery slope - that if we started banning offensive speech, then we might somehow slide slowly and surely into tyranny. Justice Anthony Kennedy made this point in the same 2017 case mentioned above: 
A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.
I'm not suggesting that we ban "offensive" speech. Instead, I'm specifically talking about speech that is intentionally and specifically used for the purpose of spreading hatred against other people or groups of people. 

I'm also not talking about what you do or say in private. I'm not suggesting that if you use the n-word in your own home, someone should be able to report you to authorities and have you fined. I'm not even saying that if you go out in public and call someone the n-word, you should be able to be fined for that. 

I'm talking more specifically about hate groups that seek to spread a message of intolerance and hatred towards other people. Think of white nationalists/supremacists, certain Christian, Muslim, and Jewish separatist groups, Neo-Nazis, the KKK, etc. Basically, any group recognized as a hate group by reputable organizations that track such things. 

Is there any reason on earth why freedom of speech has to mean these sorts of groups can exist? Why would banning their right to meet, march, protest, advertise, put up signs, hand out pamphlets, have a website, or use social media mean that somehow our society was going to devolve into tyranny? That's abject nonsense. 

And it's proven by the fact that numerous other democratic, industrialized nations have such bans on hate speech and hate groups and somehow they've managed to not descend into chaos. In Germany, for instance, Nazism is illegal. You can't wear a swastika, you can't promote Nazi ideology, and you can't even deny the Holocaust. Yet, magically, Germany is still a free democracy! Furthermore, virtually every country in Europe, plus a bunch of others around the world, ban hate speech outright. Guess what? Their citizens are still free!  

It's part of the Doctrine of Constitutional Infallibility that somehow you can't have freedom of speech and also ban hate groups and hate speech. It's American mythology. It's an American lie. 

We already ban some forms of speech. Walk into a crowded theater and yell "ACTIVE SHOOTER!" if you'd like to test those bans. Slander and libel laws are also examples of how speech is limited in this country. Outlawing hate speech and hate groups would go a long way towards solving some of the problems in this country, and there is not a shred of evidence to suggest it would lead us into a loss of our free democratic principles.

Separation of Church and State

Freedom of religion is also enshrined in the First Amendment, and legal precedent based on that freedom has led to the notion of separation of church and state. That phrase, however, is not actually in the constitution or the text of the First Amendment. I think it would be beneficial to alter the wording of the religion clause to specifically note that there is a firm and unbreachable divide between church and state, between government and religion. 

Government can not touch religion (unless it's a hate group or doing other illegal things) and religion can not touch government (meaning you can't legislate your religious beliefs). 

I would also like to see a clause expressly forbidding churches from having any sort of involvement whatsoever in politics, including especially political lobbying. Religious political lobbying has had an enormously detrimental effect on American society in the last 40 years, and should be completely outlawed. Religious groups don't pay taxes. They therefore should have absolutely no right to directly influence public policy through lobbyists.


Thoughts? Opinions? Agree or disagree? Would you change anything else in the First Amendment?

In Part II, we'll look at changes I'd like to see to the Second Amendment. That should be a fun discussion.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Notes from the Cave

I've had a few days off of work and it's a good thing because I've been sick with sinus crap. It started as primarily a fever and body aches over the weekend and now it's morphed into straight sinus issues. I'm pretty annoyed about the whole thing, honestly.

I was supposed to have breakfast with my parents and my aunt and uncle this morning, and I ended up sleeping right through my alarm because I was up really, really late because I couldn't fall back to sleep after waking up at 230 in the morning with a stomach ache.

On the plus side, I got my birthday presents this week. I only asked for Amazon gift cards for my birthday, so I was able to go on a big shopping spree and clear out some of my wish list, which consists largely of instruments and accessories. I got a banjo, a mandolin, and another harmonica, along with a tuner, some straps and extra strings, stands for the instruments, and a sheet music stand for my violin playing. Now I just have to learn how to play all this new stuff. I'm already planning my first song - a multi-track recording of Oh Susanna, with piano, guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and fiddle, alternating the melody line among the various instruments. We'll see how that goes.

In any case, Nile River Studios is really beginning to shape up. The only major thing I have left to get is a decent drum set. I have no plans currently to buy a bass guitar, although that might change in the future, just depending on how much recording I decide to do. I've got a MIDI controller I can use to play bass lines so it seems kind of silly to get a bass guitar that I'm otherwise not all that interested in playing for its own sake. All the other things I've bought are instruments I actually want to play as an end in themselves, whether or not I ever record anything with them.

I recently finished recording my latest piano piece which was actually a composition by Erik Satie, one of the French Impressionist musicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I haven't traditionally played much music of this style, but this one is a particularly pretty piece.

I've cut back the number of new songs I'm learning at any given time on the piano, simply because I'm needing more time for playing my other instruments these days. I'm currently only working on 3 new songs, down from the 5 that I've traditionally done in the past. As I've been adding more and more songs to my permanent repertoire, I also need more time to play those songs during my practice sessions to keep them sharp.

Additionally, I MIGHT have a new writing opportunity coming. You all know I wrote a podcast series for Wondery last fall. That all turned out really well and was a great professional writing experience. A few weeks ago, I contacted another podcast company and asked if they were in need of any writers. I ended up talking to one of their producers and sent some writing samples. We're currently working out the details of me maybe writing for one of their shows. So that's all still up in the air, but it looks like a real possibility. So with the potential ahead for more writing work, I figured I should keep my piano practice time as short as possible - I just won't have 3 hours a day if I'm working on a writing project.

Obviously, I'll keep you all abreast (lol, I said "breast") of how that all goes.