Monday, August 14, 2017

Somewhere in North Korea ...

Somewhere in North Korea …

“… I’m just asking, that’s all,” the General said to his counterparts. “I mean, if we truly care about our people …”

“What you’re suggesting borders on treason,” the eldest of the group snarled.

“I’m not suggesting any such thing,” the original speaker said. He looked around at the rest of the group of nine Generals. “I’m just saying that things are escalating out of control. Possibly, that is, out of control. And, that maybe it’s time that we step in and … try to …” He locked eyes with several of the group. “… maybe, do something about it.”

“We’ve tried talking to him,” one of the others reminded his colleague. “He is very stubborn.”

“A quality he shares with his father and grandfather,” the eldest said. “And I believe that ‘determined’ would be a more appropriate word. It a mark of the greatness of his line.”

The others shuffled in their seats nervously, each wondering why he in particular had been invited to this little unofficial conference.

“You have his ear,” one of the others said, normally one of the quieter among them, answering the unasked question from his seat. “He trusts you. If any among us, if anyone anywhere, can reason with him –“

“He trusts me because my devotion is total,” the elder man barked. “I was a lowly Private and was plucked out of obscurity by his grandfather. He trusts me, because I trust him.”

“Then prove to him that his trust was not misplaced,” the quiet man said, rising to his feet. “Do you believe that the Kims were divinely appointed to lead our people to greatness?”

The old man rose, stretched himself to his full height and stuck out his chin. “I do, with all of my soul.”

“And do you think our greatness will be fulfilled by embarking on a nuclear war with the United States?”

There was stone silence for a moment.

“I will hear nothing of treason,” the old man said.

“It is not treason to try and save one’s country,” the quiet General said softly. “Jong-un is the Chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission, but he does not act alone. He comes to us for advice and counsel.”

“And then he does what he knows is right! It is his divine privilege.”

The other seven watched at the two men debated, not daring to speak up.

“And what do you think will be the end result of challenging the American President, Trump?” the younger man asked softly. “Do you think he will back down?”

The old man glanced around the group. “No. He will not.”

“Do you think he will strike first?”

Again, a moment of silence. The old man pondered the question, a very serious one. “I do not think he will. He is not the crazy man his news media proclaims him to be. His desire is to force Kim’s hand, to make him, as the Westerners say, shit or get off the pot. He will insist on Kim backing down, capitulating completely. He will only strike if we strike first.”

“And will Kim back down?”

For the third time, silence.


“No, he will not,” the younger man said. “The moment of truth will come, and Kim will order the weapon launched. We will be called to the bunkers. And when we emerge, we will find our beloved country reduced to a radioactive parking lot.”

“I expect that you have an alternative to propose,” the eldest of the Generals said.

“Indeed, I do,” the soft-spoken man said. He began to pace around the table. “The next time he calls us all together, I will wear my sidearm … and shoot him.”

There was a collective gasp around the table.

“Then, the logical thing would be for one or more of you to shoot me,” he continued. “After which, you can announce to the world that the beloved Kim was assassinated, but that his assassin was killed as well. At that time, you can declare a state of emergency and a one-month period of mourning for the great leader. Quietly, behind the scenes, you can reach out to China, America, and the other nations. Begin dismantling our nuclear program, open diplomatic relations, and negotiate for assistance so that the country can get back on its feet.”

“And leave ourselves defenseless?” the old man asked.

“You know as well as I do that America is not our enemy,” the soft-spoken man said. “Her people are very sympathetic to our plight, as are our brothers to the South.”

The elderly General nodded. “And you would willingly give your life to do this?”


Again, the old man nodded. Then he drew his sidearm and aimed it point-blank at the other man. “Why wait?” he asked.

“Or,” one of the others began, slowly getting to his feet. “We could try this.” With that, he also drew his sidearm and shot the elderly man in the head. With a look of surprise, the old man dropped to the floor.

With looks of shock all around, the group of eight generals rose, looked at their colleague on the floor, and then around at each other. The freshly minted murderer replaced his weapon calmly.

“I think we've all entertained the same idea,” he said. “Until now, it's been a fantasy. With the world situation as it now is, the time has come to choose. Either we save our nation … or burn with it.”

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Yes - Decades

Tomorrow, April 7, 2017, is the day that Yes will finally be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  I've already shared my thoughts on this rather questionable institution, so I won't bother repeating myself here.  Instead, I will celebrate this new honor on my favorite band with a quick peek at three often overlooked albums, each released roughly ten years apart.

But first, the album that falls perfectly into the front end of this timeline.  And, in many ways, was the true first album by this band.  Yeah, I know, they did two albums before this, Peter Banks was a fine guitarist, whatever.  If you're a dyed-in-the-wool Yes fan, you own both of those albums.  And, you never listen to them.  Because, compared to the rest of the entire catalogue, they suck.

Steve Howe was, and is, not only head and shoulders above most rock guitarists, he's entirely unique in his approach and his sound.  If Hendrix was Van Gogh, and Clapton was Monet, Howe was Georges Seurat.  You should look that up.

That one addition to the band elevated the quality of everything that everybody was doing, including the songwriting.  This album was so far beyond Time And A Word that it might as well have been an entirely different band.  TAAW and the original Yes album showed influences of the Beatles, the Moody Blues, and had a lot of potential, maybe, if they kept at it.  The Yes Album sounded like Yes, and nothing else did.

Most of the best songs on this album were, imho, done better on 1973's Yessongs, but it's still a good album.  My personal favorites are; Yours Is No Disgrace, Starship Trooper, and Perpetual Change.  To set the timeline, this album was released in 1970.
Jon Anderson - vocals
Steve Howe - guitar
Tony Kaye - keyboards
Chris Squire - bass
Bill Bruford - drums

Drama came out in 1980, ten years after The Yes Album.  A lot of water had gone under the bridge in that decade.  The previous year, the band had gotten together in Paris to try and put together the follow-up to 1978's Tormato, which had not been well received, either by the critics or the fans.  It was a disappointing album, especially after the triumphant return of Rick Wakeman.

A quick explanation; Tony Kaye had been let go after The Yes Album, replaced by Wakeman.  Then, after Fragile and Close To The Edge, Bruford left and Alan White came on board.  Wakeman left in '74, then came back in '77.  His return was on an album widely regarded as one of their best; Going For The One.  After that, Tormato was quite a letdown, widely considered their worst album since the first two.

The sessions for the next album, working title; The Golden Age, didn't go well.  Wakeman and lead singer Jon Anderson quit and dove into their burgeoning solo careers.  Howe, Squire, and White debated packing it in, but Squire spoke to a couple musicians whose work he liked.

Trevor Horne and Geoff Downes were a mainly-studio entity that called themselves The Buggles.  Their claim to fame was that the video for their UK hit, Video Killed The Radio Star, was the first video ever shown on MTV.  Squire got together with them and invited them to replace Anderson and Wakeman.  It should have been a recipe for disaster.

But ... it wasn't.  Drama is a great album, and has held up well over time.  The songs are great, and the performances are stellar.  The tour didn't get rave reviews in the UK, but the American audiences reacted well.  I caught their stop in Springfield, MA with Mike and Mark Woodbury, and we loved it.  Horne doesn't hold a candle to Anderson as a singer, and Downes is a lot more subdued than the extroverted Wakeman, but they did just fine.  Below is a link to one of the videos.

So, they went from this to greater and greater triumphs, more and more popularity, and a long string of great albums.  Right?

Er ... no.  Well, yes, but ... not in this form.

After the album and tour, the five members of Yes went their separate ways.  Howe and Downes formed Asia, and went on to more success.  Trevor Horne became one of the hottest producers of the '80's.  That left Chris Squire and Alan White to find a new home.

The pair jammed with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of the recently disbanded Led Zeppelin, and contemplated a collaboration to be known as XYZ.  Ex-Yes and Zeppelin.  Probably just as well.  Ahem.  They went from there to hook up with a guy in LA whose claim to fame was that he was something of a popstar in his home country of South Africa.  Trevor Rabin had come to America for the obvious reasons, and fell in with Squire and White.

They decided to form a band, to be called Cinema.  They needed a keyboardist, so old friend Tony Kaye was called in.  After some rehearsal, they decided they needed a better singer, too.  And who was better than Jon Anderson?

So that's how the 90210/Owner Of A Lonely Heart version of Yes came to be, also known as YesWest.  But by the late '80's they were languishing.  This band did 2 albums, and then ... didn't.  So Anderson, being Anderson, got bored.  He called up some old mates and put together a tour and got them writing some new songs.  They were going to go out as Yes, but the current Rabin/Squire/White/Kaye Yes took them to court.

So instead, they went out as Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, with Tony Levin on bass.  Another recipe for disaster?  Certainly not!  Their one and only studio album hit the stores in 1989.  Not a decade, but close enough.  And fitting in with the theme of albums that SHOULD have sucked ... but didn't.

Which brings us into the 1990's.  They were getting up there in years by this time, in rock years, and their output after this was spotty.  Not without high points, but even those came with caveats.  ABWH was followed by a Yes fan's dream; 8 members of Yes Large on stage together.  The album, Union, sold well and the tour made money.  But, really, it was a mish-mash of half finished ABWH and YesWest tunes that, largely, was a disappointment.

Really, the high point of the decade was the final YesWest album, Talk, which was good but sold poorly, and Keys To Ascension, a mostly-live set featuring the "classic Yes" lineup and some - again, imho - really bad studio songs.

By 1999, Yes was a 6-piece, adding guitarist Billy Sherwood along with another new keyboardist, Igor Khoroshev.  Personally, I think Khoroshev is quite possibly the best keyboardist the band ever had, excepting of course Rick Wakeman.  But after he was busted for groping a female cop in Texas, he was let go.  Damned shame.

This album followed what had to be their poorest received album ever, Open Your Eyes.  Reminds me of the situation after Time And A Word and Tormato.  And, as Yes was wont to do, they followed what should have been a career-ender with a borderline masterpiece, The Ladder.

All right, not a masterpiece, too poppy, some say too much filler, but hey!  I defy you not to get that groove going while listening to it.  The above tune, Lightning Strikes, is the most dance-able song in 7/8 I've ever heard.  There's some really great stuff on here, seriously.

So, this was probably the last really good Yes album, although Magnification had its moments.  They're an oldies group now, and the surviving members are pushing 70, but reviews say they still get the job done.  Squire's passed away, and they booted Anderson years ago when he became unable to tour regularly.  Still, I've got to catch one more Yes show while they're still out there.

So here's to Yes, and whether or not you like them or agree with me about these albums, they are certainly the best at what they do.  Easy to be first, when you're the only.  And kudos to the Rock Hall for sneaking them in under Jann Wenner and Little Steven's noses.  From what I hear, they're being inducted by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush!  Wish I could be there.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Outrage Factory

First, an open apology to those of you who tell me 1) I should write more for my blog, and 2) I should write more about music, and nothing about politics.  This post is about politics, so if you are a member of the above, you can stop reading now.

Have you made it this far?  Kudos for your durability.  Okay, those of you who know me well know that I am a mouth-breathing Conservative wacko who automatically likes anyone with an (R) next to their name and believes anything they say.  Right?

If you're laughing right now, that means you actually do know me fairly well, and may have even thought about some of the political things I've written here.  If, however, you believe the above, then you might as well stop reading right now, because you've already decided what I'm about to say and you disagree with it.

I am writing this out of frustration with President Trump.  Well, not so much him as all the kerfuffle (that's a technical term) swirling around him.  And right now, this kerfuffle seems to be centering on his campaign's relations with the Russian government.

I've been trying to figure out how the mechanics of this collusion works.  The big crime appears to be the hacking of John Podesta's emails, relating to activities the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign undertook to undermine Bernie Sanders' campaign for the nomination.  According to the outrage factory, Russian hackers, probably working at the behest of their government, did this to help Trump win the Presidency.  As part of this, Senator Jeff Sessions, a noted Conservative and current US Attorney General, plotted with a Russian ambassador.  And so, probably, did other members of the Trump team; possibly even The Donald himself.

So, what did they discuss?  Were the Russians asking Trump's permission to do the hack?  Or to release the information?  Were they asking him for assistance, like his people knew more about hacking than they do?  Or maybe the ambassador was just saying, "Hey, look what we got!  Think we should drop this on Julian Assange?  What do you think he'd do with?"  Oh, I know!  They'd never heard of Julian Assange, and were asking Sessions what they should do with all this groovy stuff!

What do you think they talked about?  The presumption, I suppose, was that Sessions et al were asking Russia for help.  Logically, it would have been the campaign that reached out to the Russians.  As if the Russians 1) should give a shit who won, and 2) if they did, had to be prodded by the side they preferred to take this action.  I'm sorry, but if this scenario doesn't sound absolutely ridiculous, then I'm afraid I have nothing more to say.  Thank you for reading this far.

Still here?  Wow.  Okay.  The premise that the Russians care who won is a sound one, and it's been reported - very quietly, in the current atmosphere - that the old Soviet Union used to try and undermine any candidate they didn't like.  Surprised?  Really?!?  You honestly didn't know that?  Hell, we do it, right out in the open.  For instance, the last Israeli election, the Obama Administration and people from his campaign openly helped Netenyahu's opponents.

What I question is the idea that they actually worked with the Trump campaign, and did it this publicly.  Trump sent Jeff Sessions?  Not some nameless lackey?  No, he sent his biggest supporter in the US Senate.  If Russia had this information, and wanted to undermine Hillary, why bother talking to the Trump campaign at all?  Some people have suggested that one of their motives for cutting Hillary's throat was to have something they could wave under Trump's nose later on.  So why do it so openly that everybody would find out they had colluded?  You mean, I've thought of this, and these professional espionage guys didn't?

And the next question would be, who gives a flying leap off a rolling donut?  What was the hack, anyway? 

First of fall, if it was a hack, it was walked straight into.  Oh, Joe Frazier's hand is coming straight at my face.  He must want to shake hands, so I'll step into it.  What happened, according to reports from news sources that actually seem to prefer Hillary to The Donald, is that Podesta, or somebody from his staff, answered a spam email.  They did what is widely known as a stupid thing, and clicked on an attachment.  Oh, I feel so sorry for that Nigerian prince, or I really would like to see another naked picture of Britany Spears.  Click.  Children, that's what dumb-ass looks like.

Second, Julian Assange himself has, on several occasions, stated unequivocally that he didn't get the emails from the Russians.  Not that anyone should take the word of someone who's claim to fame is digging out the truth and presenting it to the world.  Actually, I'm still undecided what I think of this gentleman.  I believe that national security is an important issue, but for all the fussing about the German premier's phone conversations and all, nobody seems to have died from it.  The Bible tells us that the truth will set us free.  There also seems to be a suspicious flexibility of opinion on he and WikiLeaks, in that when it's happening to your side, it's bad.

So what was done, was emails about how the DNC and the Clinton campaign colluded against Bernie (kind of like the Trump-ets and the Russians are accused of doing).  In other words, what came out was THE TRUTH.  I find it also a little suspicious that the Democratic Party, the Clinton Campaign, and the Obama Administration didn't see anything wrong with Russia annexing Crimea, attacking Ukraine, or putting boots on Syrian ground.  But hack the Democratic Party's emails?  I'm sorry, make it possible for an idiot to get hacked?  Now, you've crossed the line.

So, this is the big story?  This is supposed to be the basis for the impeachment of a brand-new President?  This is why we shouldn't trust him; because he might have had a part in the truth getting out about his opponents and how they think and work?  Maybe that's the thing; because he caught us doing it, he's gotta be doing it, too.  Doesn't everybody?  Actually catching them at it seems to be the crime.

At this point, the question arises; who suffers from a Trump presidency?  And who would have, therefore, gained from a Hillary presidency?  Who benefits from the status quo?

And don't try and feed me that bull about the downtrodden.  I've listened to that crap since Johnson.  If Carter, Clinton, Obama and Clinton are so good for blacks, hispanics, LBGT, the poor, etc., then how come fifty years later it doesn't seem to be any better for them?

(As a sidebar, the other day on BookFace I saw a link to a new group, dedicated to LBGT; Liquor, Bacon, Guns, and Tits.  I haven't joined ... yet ...)

Big sigh here.  I'm no expert.  But I'm 61 years old, and for most of that time I've been paying attention to what goes on around me.  I also try and think about it.  I've got seat time in every wing of the political spectrum, and along my journey I've made some observations. 

One is that, the biggest difference between liberal and conservative politicians is in how they manage society.  And that is what they do, they manage it.  Neither side really seems to be interested in fixing anything or helping anybody or freeing anybody.  With Democrats, more public money gets spent on programs.  With Republicans, more people work more hours.  With one side, the economy flourishes; with the other, some roads get paved.  But make no mistake, both sides like things just as they are.

But the status quo works!  It really does.  Especially in America.  Just about everybody's got a place to sleep and food on a table, and a way to get around.  In very real terms, our corrupt government is taking pretty good care of us.  If Trump hadn't run, I'd have held my nose and voted for one of the other Republicans.  Jeb Bush, or John  Kasich, or even Jim Gilmore would be pretty good at managing the mess.  Although, now that I think of it, I would have probably voted for Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina.

The above link is to a song by one of my favorite songwriters, Bruce Cockburn.  The song is "The Trouble With Normal."  And the trouble with normal is, it always gets worse.  We're not supposed to care about the people who really control the world are doing with it.  We are fortunate to live in a country where they've learned the value of keeping the general populace happy.  Henry Ford figured out that, if he paid his factory workers more, they could buy the cars they built.

For the most part, the average American citizen doesn't have to worry about midnight raids, or our neighbors ratting us out for speaking our minds, or any of the other general symptoms of oppression.  If more dictators could figure this out, there'd be more dictators.

The problem with that is, intelligent, compassionate people insist on pushing back.  They insist on speaking truth against power, and pointing out where they and their neighbors are being ripped off.  They say disruptive things like, if you're going to take a trillion dollars of our money for shovel-ready projects, how come my roads are still so friggin' rough?

So politicians develop tricks for managing this.  They know how to keep a dynamic tension going on.  One side talks about one set of things, and the other, the other.  It's why Republicans don't talk about race relations or pollution.  It's why Democrats don't talk about economic growth or a foreign policy that promotes democracy.  They both talk like the issues that the other side focuses on don't exist.  They dance around each other, and their news outlets spin and spin and get people who actually care (but don't waste a lot of time thinking) to stay wound up.

To be fair, there are politicians and journalists who really believe they're doing the right thing.  These people are easy for the rest to manipulate.  They should wise up. 

Really, they're less the problem than the people pulling the strings, whoever they may be.  The Rothchilds, Big Pharm, Big Oil, Archer-Daniels-Midlands, Monsanto, the list goes on and on.  If those groups could ever get together, we're all in the stinky end of the pool.  Fortunately, they're people, too.  And each, in its grasping for domination, aren't interested in cooperating with the other Illuminati members.  They each use the politicians and journalists their individual benefits, against us, only going after each other when necessary.

They don't even try very hard to keep their influence secret.  I suspect they take a certain amount of pride in it.  Just Google a phrase like, "How does big oil (or fill in the blank) rule the world?" and see what comes up.  And it's probably only 10% of the real dirt.  Clearly, George Soros and the Koch brothers can't do it all themselves.

Y'see, politicians and their patrons, in America particularly, have figured out an important truth.  The average person in the streets comes in three basic flavors, regarding politics:

1) I don't care
2) They're all crooks, but I vote so that my side wins
3) Your side are all crooks, and my side are only a little bit crooks, but I really, really care and want the world to be a better place and so I speak out and vote on behalf of my side so that it wins.

The goal of most media - on both sides - is to feed the third group, and make the second group feel good about their choice of side.  And maybe, a little, to entertain the first group.  But that group would rather watch Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead, which seems a lot more realistic.

This is why I try and take my news from as many sources as possible.  It's also why I don't write for this blog very much; because most things, I've either already written about, or I'm still thinking.  And even after I've written, I keep thinking.  Bad habit.  But if you're into that thinking thing, and you really, really care, then you should collect as much data as you can in order to make a truly informed decision.  I don't have a side.  Scratch that; I'm on our side.  All of ours side.  And, yes, even the crooked bastards deserve to have someone on their side.  Jesus loves them, why can't I?

Why do these blog posts always get so damned long?  Why do I even bother?  I suppose I do love to pontificate, and I can do it here without really bothering anybody.  I've already given you permission, twice, to stop reading.  Or maybe three times.  But for the most part, I'm looked for feedback.  I'm just smart enough to know what I don't know.  I want somebody to wise me up.  If you would please reply and tell me where you think I might be wrong, or bring up a point I apparently haven't thought of, I would honestly appreciate it.  If I don't answer, it's because I'm thinking about it.

Which brings me to the gentleman pictured above.  In my pre-Christian days I considered him one of my gurus, and still think he presents a good example.  He ate wisely, loved passionately, and his favorite phrase was "I yam wut I yam, and dat's all wut I am."  

When I think about politics, and how the game of it gets played, it always brings up another of his favorite catch phrases; "I jus can't stans it anymore!"  This is his "Smarten up, you buncha chumps" pose.  It's not even a pose; he's obviously on the move, prepared for action.

I think this is what the managers and owners of the status quo see when they look at Donald Trump.  Someone who has made his, but instead of retiring to his estate in Florida has decided to give back.  He sees what we see, and he's a good ways closer to the action than we are.  He stands around the locker room at the club and, yes, he's made some crude remarks, but he also sees his comrades laughing up their sleeves as the unwashed rabble they manage.  And he just couldn't stand it any more.

This is what I think they think.  If he's the same person that is in Art of The Deal and spoke to Don Imus all the time, it sounds like him.  The Donald Trump described above is what I see, not the stupid frat-boy bomb thrower and wannabe despot we're being handed by MSNBC.  He's not Hitler, and he's not some college kid on spring break.  I even think it's a good possibility that his biggest critics would love to be what they accuse him of being.  It's how they see that; it's in their mirror.  It's called psychological projection, in which they defend themselves against their own impulses and qualities by projecting it onto somebody else.

We've forgotten that we have a seat at the table.  Election time comes, and they fight for our attention and pretend they're on our side and beg us to trust them.  Then, they sit in our seat and do what their patrons tell them to do.  And when we get upset about it, they have pundits go on television and the radio and tell us what they believe we want to hear.  They produce slick little pics-with-captions that we can share on BaseFook, so that we can prove we're "well informed."  And if you've ever shared anything by or The Comical Conservative, you've been managed.

So when somebody like Donald Trump comes along, that looks like a loose cannon and might upset the apple cart, they pull out the big guns.  They are going to do everything they can to slow him down and make him ineffective.  They're trying to convince people that he's bad, because he might have helped some Russian operative reveal the truth about Hillary Clinton's staff.

And don't be mistaken, this is one of those moments when they reveal their contempt for the average person; the one who builds things and occupies homes and drives cars on the highways.  Their contempt is front and center now, because with Trump, and Brexit, and a hundred little populist brushfires that have sprung up all over the world show that we are guilty of the unforgivable sin; that we wish to govern ourselves.

Oh, we can't have that.  If the people of the world start governing themselves, where does that leave us?  Quick, wind up the outrage factory!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Should Willy Daffern be in the RnR HoF?

Pop quiz.  What do the following bands have in common:  The Beatles; The Rolling Stones; The Who; U2; Rush; Genesis; Lynyrd Skynyrd; Black Sabbath; Def Leppard; REM.

In each of these bands, the original members met as kids.  Many went to the same school.  Most probably learned to play their instruments together.  At some point, lightning struck and they became famous.

This, of course, is not how all bands come to be.  According to the Wikipedia article about Deep Purple, they were put together to be a rotating band of hired guns.  The original lineup was culled from musicians who were already working pros or semi-pros.

It's a statement that you hear all over the place, since Deep Purple was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; that in the 1970's, there were three hard rock groups that mattered: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple.

A lot of people have a real problem with the Rock Hall, mainly because of artists that have not been inducted.  The hall is very secretive about the process by which artists are chosen, and the perception is that certain individuals simply will not allow acts that they personally don't like.  The names that come up the most often are Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine and the hall, and Little Steven, long-time guitarist with Bruce Springsteen and vocal advocate of "garage band" music.  But so far as I know, nobody knows the names of all of the hall's leadership.

This is the explanation for why such acts as Jethro Tull, Yes, and the Moody Blues aren't in the hall.  And, it also explains why acts like Rush, Kiss, and Deep Purple took so long to get in.  Ian Gillian recently revealed that he was told Deep Purple didn't get in until now because they were a "one-hit wonder."  His reply was, which one hit?  Hush?  Smoke on the Water?  He proceeded to rattle off half a dozen singles that went high on the charts in both the US and UK.  Of course, it didn't count that their albums sold in the millions, and that they were stars of album-oriented rock radio.

It's a lame excuse, and a quick look through the list of hall members shows it.  It would seem that the hall's leadership has an image in their head of what rock is, and the above mentioned groups simply don't fit.  If they had their way and could ignore the outcry, Rush and Deep Purple wouldn't be in yet, and would never be.

It's almost like good musicianship somehow isn't rock and roll.  To me, that's sad.  It's the idea that Rick Wakeman, Justin Hayward, Martin Barre, Neil Peart, and Roger Glover have attained a level of skill that somehow makes the music they play and compose ineligible to be called rock.  Buddy Guy, Cat Stevens, Public Enemy, and Bob Marley are rock, and the Moody Blues aren't?

In fairness, looking through the list of inductees, I don't see one single name that I don't think belongs there.  That's the thing about halls of fame; they're about fame.  All the artists in the Rock Hall, even if I personally don't care for their music, or think of them as rock, have considerable followings, have had significant influence, and are worthy of the recognition they've received.

As a hall of fame, the rock one seems to hew more toward the model of the Football hall than the Baseball one.  The Baseball Hall of Fame tends to set the bar very high.  There are pitchers with 300 wins and hitters with 300 homers that aren't in the hall.  It took a long time, for instance, for Jim Rice to be named.  The football hall is much more inclusive.  Just take a look at the number of players inducted to each in any given year.  Baseball, it's unusual to see more than three.  The rock hall sometimes has a dozen.

This is not a complaint, but it does show what induction to the hall really means.  In baseball, it means that you are part of a much more elite group.  By his induction, Jim Rice stands shoulder to shoulder with Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Honus Wagner, and other giants.  It could be argued that being more inclusive lowers the stature of the greatest members, and being less inclusive elevates the lesser ones.

Be that as it may, the rock hall is what it is.  By being inducted, Deep Purple stands alongside the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Green Day, Elvis Presley, The Hollies, NWA, Cheap Trick, Chuck Berry, James Taylor, Booker T and the MG's, and Johnny Cash.  Take that any way you like.

Their induction caused me to dig out a bunch of old Deep Purple.  I'm sorry to admit I haven't listened to them in a long time.  To be frank, while I've always liked them, they've never been one of my favorites.  I guess I just don't relate to a lot of what their music is about.  Even so, it's hard to beat "Made In Japan."  That's just a great, great album.  Jon Lord on Space Truckin'?  Ya can't beat it.

One thing that quickly jumped out at me was the very high level of musicianship, especially in the second incarnation.  Ian Gillian and Roger Glover replaced Rod Evans and Nick Simper on vocals and bass respectively and, while the originals were very good, the replacements were even better.  This is my favorite version of the band, along with Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice.

David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes eventually replaced Gillian and Glover, and once again were very good.  Blackmore left and was replaced by Tommy Bolin.  Personally, I think in retrospect Bolin was in over his head in Blackmore's place, but that's me.  If you really want to hear Bolin at his best, get Billy Cobham's "Spectrum."

Deep Purple is an example of a scenario that came to prominence in the 70's.  In the 60's we were introduced to the concept of the supergroup, the most famous of which were Cream and CSNY.  By the 70's groups were being put together and sold as supergroups whether the members had achieved any significant prior success or not.

Following the threads in and out of Deep Purple is an education in this area.  Original vocalist Rod Evans went on to form a band called Captain Beyond with the former drummer of Johnny Winter And, Bobby Caldwell, and two former members of Iron Butterfly; bassist Lee Dorman and guitarist Larry Reinhart.

I kept chasing the threads in and out and around Deep Purple, and they led me through such acts as Atomic Rooster, Cactus, the James Gang, and on and on until I found myself at Brand X.  Brand X and Captain Beyond are two of my favorite lesser known bands, which each went through several incarnations and always included a very high level of musicianship.

Brand X was a jazz fusion band that sometimes included Phil Collins on drums.  Incredible musicians, highly recommended.  YouTube has entire albums of theirs posted.  I would direct you to Moroccan Roll and Product for an introduction.

Which brings me to the original subject of this essay, Willie Daffern.  Captain Beyond released two albums in 1972 and 1973, ("Captain Beyond" and "Sufficiently Breathless") then broke up.  The members went on to other groups and other things.  Then, about '76 some of the members decided to start the group up again.  Relations between these members and Rod Evans had deteriorated, so Willie Daffern was tapped to take over lead vocal duties for their third album, Dawn Explosion.

Willie's only other recordings up to that point had been as a drummer for a couple bands I'd never heard of.  He turned out to be a very good singer, and I think Dawn Explosion stands up well to the group's previous releases.  Unfortunately, none of their albums ever really took off, but they're excellent.

Willie, like many other fine musicians, spent his career bouncing in and out of bands.  Sometimes musicians like this backed up a front person, and sometimes they were part of an attempt to form a group.  And sometimes, people would leave an established act and their roles would have to be filled.  That's how Fleetwood Mac, Yes, the Moody Blues, the James Gang, Brand X, and countless others survived through the years.  It's also why they evolved so dramatically.

So I would like to take this opportunity to honor all the hard working professional musicians who, like Willie Daffern, and Dominic Troiano, Morris Pert, John Goodsall, Carmine Appice, Don Airie, Nils Lofgren and hundreds of others that have moved in an out of bands, spent long weeks and months on the road, and worked the grind of numberless studio sessions.

These men and women dedicated themselves to the life of a working musician.  They started families, put bread on the table, and then spent weeks and months away from family and table to work on the road.  They played a lot of music they didn't really care about, and poured their heart and souls into music they did.  They watched lesser talents go by them on the way up, and down, the ladder.

They entered into musical relationships that sometimes had zero chemistry and even less chance of success.  Sometimes the chemistry was there, the music was cooking, but nobody cared.  Sometimes they would get right to the ragged edge of major success, only to find themselves replaced.  Or to find they had dishonest management who cleaned them out before leaving them dead beside the road.  Or to be told by some talentless A&R guy, "I don't hear a single."

In a way, the induction of Deep Purple honors all those musicians who sell their gun arm because they love to play and keep hoping for that big break.  Having passed through that band is comparable to winning the Daytona 500, or wearing a Super Bowl ring.  It's a career maker.  It's a guaranteed free beer in any bar you walk into.  Yeah, I was in Deep Purple.  Y'know, when I was in Australia touring with Deep Purple ...

Kudos to the hall for inducting them.  Do they diminish or elevate the other members of the hall?  I don't think that's the question.  What their induction does is elevate the hall.  It makes it more relevant to people who love the whole of rock music.  It's a victory for those who can appreciate skill as well as passion, and do not think the two are mutually exclusive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An Open Letter to Jeb Bush

Open Letter to Jeb Bush

I hear you’re having a frustrating time of it. The nomination was supposed to be yours for the asking, and it’s getting further away all the time. I don’t know if what I’ve got to say is going to make you feel any better, but maybe I can offer a little clarity.

The bane of your existence seems – and I choose that word carefully – seems to be Donald Trump. He’s “the outsider,” and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are riding his coattails by being “outsiders” who are potentially more palatable than Mr. Trump. Carson’s ahead of you, and Fiorina’s breathing down your neck. In fact, the three of them are getting as many voters right now as the whole rest of you put together. But you know that.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it’s not Donald Trump’s golden personality that is your problem. Your problem … well … is you, sir. Not you, personally, but the whole lot of you. And not so much you, as what and who you represent.

The perception is that we can’t believe anything that you say. Big, ongoing problems in this country have been getting nothing but lip service from the Republicans for decades now. Yes, I know, you were a big success back in Florida, brought the budget down, good conservative, stared down the liberals, all that. Acknowledged.

But believe it or not – and many in your party choose not to believe it – we out here in fly-over country actually have brains, and pay attention to what’s going on. For instance, we remember all the way back to 2014, when the Republicans running for Congress promised to use the “power of the purse” to shut down Obamacare and so forth and so on. And … uh … they seem to have forgotten.

Now, to be fair, I know why they didn’t do anything like that. Just so we’re on the same page, I’ll spell it out; Any disagreement like that comes down, in the end, to the budget. You give the President a budget he doesn’t like, and he won’t sign it. Then, the government shuts down until somebody gives in. And the Republicans have learned three things about President Obama:

1 – He’s arrogant
2 – He’s stubborn
3 – He’s not running for reelection.

So, he’d be perfectly happy to leave the government shut down until January 21, 2017. Therefore, it would be stupid to stick a budget under his nose that he won’t like, because he has nothing to lose.

The trouble, then, is that the Republicans don’t bother to explain this to us, the great unwashed mass.  They act as if we can't figure that out. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and some others scream bloody murder, and the mainstream boys say nothing. It becomes a passive-aggressive game, and anyone with two functioning brain cells knows it.

What nobody seems to realize is, the simple act of telling the truth and moving on would defuse a lot of this. Look at what happened last Saturday in the Democratic debate. First question to Sanders was about whether or not he should apologize for Hillary’s donor lists being hacked, and he said yes, and apologized.

The look on Hillary’s face was priceless. You could see the wheels turning. She never expected that. She assumed he’d do what she would do, which was deflect and shuck and jive. It’s why Bernie has so much traction. Right or wrong, he’s honest. Dumb, maybe, but honest.  (Isis was caused by global warming!) Like Jimmy Carter, but with a spine.

But you, sir, are a mainstream Republican. And the average person in this country doesn’t trust mainstream Republicans any more. You, as a group, talk about the government being too big, but you never seem to make it any smaller. You talk about too much waste in the Federal budget, but it just grows. You talk about security, but the borders still hemorrhage undocumented people. You make big noise about not letting in Syrian refugees, but Canada’s letting in 20,000 and the perception is that you’ll do nothing to keep them from coming here.

We know why, too. The people who gave you that big, fat war chest want those undocumented workers for their own purposes. They pay some temp agency minimum wage x how many people they can jam into a van, and those people in the back of the van are lucky to see half of it. And they can’t bitch or unionize, because they’re illegal.

We KNOW this! It’s not a big, dark secret, and we’re not all stupid. Lots of big businesses want an army of workers they can use like toilet paper. They also want hell-hole countries for them to come from, so that they’ll keep on coming. It’s the Royal Scam, by Steely Dan. If we helped Mexico and Honduras and El Salvador become more democratic and prosperous, who would make the Beanie Babies and pick the fruit?

So, why should we believe you? You stood there on Fox News the other night outlining a reasonable plan for dealing with illegal immigrants, and I just don’t believe you. I think it’s bullshit. I think that, given eight years, you and your party would figure out some reason why it just couldn’t get done. Then, you could blame the next Democrat for not doing it. Why do I think this? Because I've seen it already.

So, no, sir, I won’t be voting for you in the NH primary. I’m not sure who I am voting for yet, but it won’t be you, or Marco, or George Pitaki, or Chris Christie, or Rand Paul, et cetera, because you’re all liars. Okay, maybe not specifically liars, but your positions and ideas are so “nuanced” that what you want us to think you’re saying isn’t what you’re ACTUALLY saying at all. In fact, if you get the nomination that you seem to think is your birthright, I might just – for the first time in my life – not vote at all.

Unless …

This is why I’m taking the time to write to you. You CAN earn my vote. For the most part, I agree with you on many important issues. There are a few simple things that you could say and do to set yourself apart from the pack. One would be to explain that budget thing, about Obama not caring if the government gets shut down. Yeah, I know, you’re not in Congress, but you could still explain it. And don’t use it as a club, just explain it.

In fact, just about anywhere that you could break things down into plain old truth would make you a lot of friends. You need to address things like whether or not you have backers that benefit from illegal immigration. Take a risk. Tell the world, live on television, that as President you’ll help make their countries the kind of places they won’t have to leave. You’ll pressure their dictators to reform, instead of just selling them more planes. Remember, billionaires only get one vote each.

That is how you could separate yourself from the pack. You're at a crossroads, Mr. Bush. You've gotten as far as you have with help from billionaires, businessmen, and deep-inside Republican movers and shakers. You're standing in the place where John McCain and Mitt Romney have stood before you.

Except that the train is leaving the station, and you're not on it. The people, the individual voters, are driving the train this year, and they see who's backing you, and whose phone calls you're taking and who you're leaving on hold, and they don't like you. WE don't like you.

Think back to the first debate. To that moment when Rand Paul made some sharp remark about Trump, and The Donald shot back about Paul saying something on the floor of the Senate and then immediately posting it on line. Trump exposed the game! And thousands, if not millions, of us felt a thrill go through us. He pulled back the curtain and exposed the little man pushing the buttons.

Ted Cruz does it, too. He rants and raves, knowing that if Mitch McConnell did as he asked and dug in his heels, that they'd lock down the government for the next year and a half. It's easy to bitch that the machine you're riding in won't make the hill when you're not driving.

So, Mr. Bush, expose the game. Call them out. And call yourself out, too. It's time to choose. Are you going to be President for your rich, powerful friends? Or are you going to be President to make the country, and the world, a better place? Because that's what we want, and we hate the thought of holding our nose and settling for less, yet again.

Mr. Bush, it's time to turn to your rich, powerful friends and say thanks for your help, but I'm going to give the people what they want. And in the end, you'll thank me. You'll have to work a little harder, but you're used to that and you're starting from a position of advantage. The rising tide that the people want will raise you as well. The auto industry hated the idea of opening our doors to Japan and Europe, and building cars that were safer and cleaner, but the smart ones buckled down and did the job, and we're all happier for it.

Assure them that the things you're going to do will help them, even if it pinches a little at the beginning. Then, turn your back on them and embrace the people you want to vote for you. Tell them the truth. Admit that you were trying to walk the line. Bet the farm. Risk it all. Be the first American politician, maybe ever, that told the real, whole truth. Expose the games.

Explain how basic conservative values, like smaller government and strong foreign policy, benefit everybody, and not just white men. Explain how it will help blacks, and women, and hispanics. Explain how the Democrats, who claim to be compassionate by not doing anything about illegal immigration, are actually ripping off those very same people.

Explain how liberals are actually keeping the downtrodden down by making them dependent on big government. And then explain, in terms we can understand, how you're going to make government smaller. Not just grow more slowly, but actually become smaller.

We, the people, believe these things. We get it. We understand that these are things that are real. And we want somebody who wants to take us in that direction. We want to follow a leader who will actually improve things.

Those of us who are old enough to remember 1980 watch you and Trump cross swords, and hear you saying a lot of the things that people said about Reagan. Trump isn't the man behind the curtain, covering up what he really is with a lot of smoke and fire and lights. You are.

So pull back the curtain yourself. Expose the game. And step out into the light, and be that guy. The guy that actually did something to help the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. The translucent face in the smoke and fire couldn't do anything for them, but the exposed huckster changed their lives by telling them the truth and altering their perspective. He even got Dorothy home!

Remember, if you will, the tale of when the Disciples were in the boat on the sea of Galilee in the storm. They looked out and saw Jesus walking on the water. Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus, and then saw the storm and almost sank. But Jesus took his hand, and calmed the storm.

Mr. Bush, you are in a boat in a storm with a group of other disciples. The one who will stand on the sea with Jesus is the one bold and brave enough to get out of the boat.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Foreign Policy and Illegal Immigration

In late October of 2015 I heard a story on NPR. In it, the woman was telling the sad tale of a man who had made his way from El Salvador or Honduras or some other Central American country, through Mexico, and finally to the United States. At some point he was sent back, having to return or be taken all the way through Mexico until he got back to his homeland. Eventually, he arrived back at his own home. Within 24 hours of walking in his front door, the thugs that had threatened him in the first place and forced him to seek asylum in the North came and shot him in the head.

The woman telling the story then declared that he died as a result of this country’s policies.

Now, I didn’t get to hear the first part of the story, so I have no idea where she got this information. Somehow, she knew about this one guy who came all that way and had to go all that way back. Then, one solar day later, he was murdered by somebody for some reason. Pretty specific detail as well, seeing that she knew he was shot in the head.

Who was this guy? What had he done to piss off those thugs? Who were they? How did she find out about it? And her last statement might even raise up the possibility that this poor man’s murderer(s) might have been a US Marine, or a white police officer, or an ICE agent, or a covert operative from the CIA. After all, it was US, as in the U. S. that killed this poor fellow. My guess is, we killed him just by turning him away and that somebody local to him did the dirty work.

I dispute this claim. I believe, if this fellow’s neighborhood in El Salvador or Honduras is rife with thuggery of this nature, then it’s the fault of the local authorities for failing to properly police the situation. Unless she is suggesting that it’s the responsibility of the United States to make sure this fellow’s neighborhood be made safe. I suspect, however, that this same person telling the story would insist that it’s not the responsibility of the US to be the world’s policeman.

Actually, what she seems to be suggesting is that we ARE supposed to be the world’s policeman, so long as the world comes to this country. Unless, of course, she doesn’t believe we should police the people who come here illegally. I don’t know about you, but I’m confused.

One side of the debate insists on framing this as the other side being against immigration, conveniently forgetting all about the word “illegal.” Somehow, they’re not illegal, they’re just “undocumented.” That allows them to declare the other side as racists. I might be tempted to buy into this idea if that other side were also trying to drive out non-whites who were here legally. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, so the argument doesn’t stand up to logic. And even if they were (or are), it still doesn’t make what is now illegal legal.

Whether you call them illegal or undocumented, the fact is indisputable that they’re here without proper documentation, thereby making their presence here illegal. So why is it all right for those laws to be broken? If they’re bad laws, why don’t we change them?

The immigration laws, any immigration laws in any country, are based on two concepts; national sovereignty and citizenship. In most places, you are a citizen if you were born there. There’s some fluctuation in certain places, but generally if you were born in Greece, you’re Greek. Born in Japan, you’re Japanese. And so forth. Maybe you’re not racially Japanese, maybe your parents came there from Scotland but now live in Japan and you were born there. There might be room to think that you’re also British, or maybe just British, because of your parents. But if your parents came from Scotland and you were born in Japan, you’re not Brazilian. Are you still with me?

So the people we’re talking about didn’t acquire proper documentation, didn’t wait in line at the border, didn’t go through customs, didn’t show anybody a passport. Therefore, they are here – what’s the word? – ILLEGALLY!! Very good, class.

So, therefore, if you still think that’s all right for them to be here in spite of the fact that they broke the law in doing so, what is your solution? Should people not have to show passports or acquire visas to enter the United States? Should people from certain countries or certain economic strata or certain races be allowed to bypass those things? If so, then why don’t you hound some congressman to submit a bill making it … you must know the word by now … LEGAL? Then, the debate would be about whether or not such a thing should or should not be legal.

But while it’s illegal, law enforcement has a responsibility to enforce the law, does it not? If there was a law that everyone had to wear purple socks and you kept wearing green ones, you would probably fight for a law that said any color socks were fine, right? Sure beats paying all those fines, or being on the run. In green socks.

Bottom line is, either we should have borders and limitations on who can cross them, or not. It would be an interesting experiment to just declare that the United States of America no longer has borders. Anybody may come and go as they please. Who wants that? Let’s have a show of hands, please. Although, you’ve got to admit, we have some pretty plain and formidable natural borders. A big, wide river, two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico … just leaves that imaginary line to the North, I guess. What if Canada wanted a border, but we didn’t?  And how about Alaska?

Which kind of brings us back around to the original point; that people from all over the place are coming here. How many people from here ever go there illegally? Hell, how many go there legally? Is there a big community of American expatriates in Honduras? I didn’t think so. Why is that?

Because this country is known for some interesting things that we’ve gained over the years. Things like peace, prosperity, security, equality, and freedom. All, very cool things. And at the same time, we tend to let people decide morality for themselves. Sounds like a great place to live. Can’t say that I blame anybody that wants to come here.

What would be REALLY cool would be if their countries were like that, too. Then, they wouldn’t have to come here. They could stay where they are, and be happy, healthy, prosperous, free, all that great stuff. So, how could their countries get a little closer to being like this country?

Let’s look at an example; Germany. After World War One, the rest of Europe (mostly England and France, really) wanted to stomp Germany into the ground. It’s kind of traditional. European countries have been doing that to each other for centuries. If it hadn’t been for Woodrow Wilson – a man much reviled by modern hard-line Conservatives, by the way – that’s probably exactly what they’d have done.

Instead, Wilson promoted the idea of a League of Nations, that would do the dirty work of helping countries resolve their differences. A noble idea, pretty badly flawed in some ways, and doomed by the refusal of the very country that Wilson was President of to join it themselves. But, it was an idea rooted in a very important and daring concept; compassion.

Remember that only twenty years earlier we had fought and won the Spanish-American war. We never sent troops to Spain, but we did kick theirs out of Central America once and for all. And the day-to-day operation of most of Central America and some of South America was taken over, not by the United States government … but by the United Fruit Company. Better known as Chiquita bananas. Some of the history can be seen in a Wikipedia article:

This became a model for future international affairs, for good and for ill. The USA went to war, but followed a pattern of not behaving as conquerors. Instead, at the end of World War Two – which many scholars believe was a direct result of the way the Axis powers were treated after WWI – the US led the way toward a different relationship with the defeated Axis powers. This time, instead of putting the nations of Germany and Japan under their thumb, we helped them rebuild.

Japan wasn’t that difficult a project. Their leaders wisely surrendered before we could lay waste to their country. Something about being the first and only victims of nuclear weapons might have had a little to do with it. But Germany and the Nazi’s insisted on fighting literally right up to the door of Hitler’s bunker. Germany, and most of Europe, had been bombed back to the stone age.

In both cases, the losing country was handed a constitution and instructed to sign it without question. But Germany needed a lot more than redirected leadership. They needed homes, food, businesses. So President Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall came up with a bold, daring plan. The, er, Marshall plan. Much better at doing things than naming them, I guess.

This was all couched in language about American security, but really it was nothing more or less than an act of compassion. We broke it, we fixed it. Not that we didn’t have an excellent reason for breaking it, but broke it so thoroughly that they were left incapable of fixing it. In the end, responsibility for protecting themselves was taken over by us. Everything else was up to them, and since they signed the constitutions we handed them, that meant the will of the public held sway. Just like here, governments came and went, the people were represented, and a free market economy was allowed to prosper.

The end result is that both Japan and Germany grew to rival us as economic powers, a situation that we all enjoy today. And we only had to leave thousands of troops in these countries for … er, well, they’re still there, as a matter of fact. And nobody’s talking about taking them out any time in the foreseeable future. It’s given thousands of our people solid employment, maintains the peace in Europe and East Asia, holds the commies at bay, and frees up the Japanese and Germans to crank out Volkswagens and Hitachis. Looks like a win-win all the way around.

So why couldn’t we have done that in Afghanistan and Iraq? You mind the store and raise your kids, we’ll watch your backs. Call it conquered, or occupied, or whatever you like. It’s a proven system. You can suffer under our thumbs as much as the Germans and Japanese. And go ahead and be Muslim, or Sikh, or Zoroastrian if you like. You could do a hell of a lot worse, and have for millennia.

The only thing they’d really have to be leery of is getting sucked in by the infamous military-industrial complex. Remember Central America? It’s amazing how things like this swing back and forth. Used to be, the Marines would go in and settle a place down, and then a big company/companies like Chiquita would go in and manage the situation. Plantations, single-focus economy, all that sort of thing. Kinda what Haliburton continually gets accused of doing.

Around 1965, President Johnson sent Marines in to settle things down in the Dominican Republic. There was a huge cry of outrage over it, too. Accusations of a whole Chiquita-Halliburton-kind of thing, being warmongers just as the whole Vietnam protest was heating up. So Johnson and Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara (former CEO of Ford Motor Co.) helped develop a different plan; from then on, it was left largely to the corporations that wanted to control a place (and whatever it put out) to do their own dirty work.  The government involvement was limited to diplomacy.

For a reference on this, I highly recommend a book by John Perkins, called “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” Mr. Perkins is a native of Tilton, NH who spent much of his adult life working for a consulting firm based in Boston that few outside of the boardrooms have ever heard of.

His job was to go around and help decide things like who was going to win the next civil war or phony election or whatever. He did the sort of thing that was done in the semi-recent James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace.” After deciding he felt just terrible about it, he started a kind of New Age doohingy (Imagine whirled peas!) and wrote this book that nobody wants to admit exists, but your library or a decent book store might be able to get for you. Or just Google it. Amazon’s probably got it. I found out about it from a radio interview he did.

But my recommendation for Iraq and Afghanistan would be much closer to the Marshall plan. Say what you will, I got the impression those Iraqi people liked voting. How about all those blue fingers attached to smiling faces? And, fine, keep Halliburton out. Just have the Army corps of engineers rebuild the infrastructure. And a few big bases, with buildings built to last, as if we were going to stay for a very, very long time. Don’t worry, we’ll prosecute anyone that messes with your women. We’ll even help paint your mosque.

After all, that’s what we do. We are the one, single, solitary country in history that does that sort of thing. We don’t conquer people, we liberate them. Then, we do business with them. Clearly, nobody else can be trusted to do that. France? Hell, they were in bed up to their eyeballs with Saddam Hussein. Russia? Yeah, right. England? Check with the Irish on that. And isn’t that where the whole Balfour Directive came from, that created the current roster of “countries” in the Middle East?

Because where all these terrorists and suicide bombers and Isil (Isis? Al Quieda? New York Mets?) recruits come from is desperate people. Not the leaders, of course. The leaders are the ones who want the desperate people to slit somebody else’s throat besides theirs. No, no, not me!! Go get, er, um, the Americans! Yeah, the Americans. They’re the ones buying all the oil. They’re the oppressors, not us guys with our foot on your necks. Go get them rotten bastards. And bring me another iced tea before you go, wouldja?

As for the countries that we haven’t sent troops into, we should start applying serious pressure on their governments to change their ways. There’s too many fiefdoms and dictatorships in the Middle East and Central America, and there should be consequences. We should stop handing billions to people who mistreat their populations just so they’ll let us land planes there.

There is danger to that, of course. Many of these dictators, etc. won’t want to play along. They’ll go to Russia or Iran or somebody else less interested in being compassionate and let them land their planes there instead. Our response should be to make that as difficult as possible, working with the friends we already have.

To the Sheiks and El Presidentes and other tin-pot demi-gods, the path to friendship is simple. You want to be King? Fine, be King. England’s got a King. So do Norway and Denmark. Japan’s got an Emperor, even. They have no power, but they’ve got big, fat paychecks and fine houses and their faces on the coins and everything. They smile and open Parliament, and then go to the Summer house in the Hamptons and drink margaritas.

But let your people vote, and make things, and profit from the black stuff in the ground and the yellow stuff in the trees. Let them go from being destitute and poverty stricken to being fat, having cable TV, sitting in barcaloungers. Let them fight obesity instead of starvation. Let them drive their VW’s and Toyotas to the Mosque and hang in the parking lot after, talking about how good that chicken pie supper was last week and how their kids’ grades suck. Yeah, let them have schools, and stores, and all that good junk. Instead of suicide-bombing your armored caravan, they can hang at the mall.

To the wise rulers who take these risks, trusting their people and showing them compassion, the United States is prepared to be lavish in its support. Your country can be a shining beacon of prosperity and opportunity, which will really piss off your neighbors that went with the Russians. Their people will be looking longingly across the border at those BMW’s and blue fingers and ask each other why their Sheik is so damned stupid.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that the 9/11 terrorists weren’t desperate, malnourished people. I think he misses the point. They were radicalized in the same crucible, but they had the where-with-all to get here and do that. A lot of it was paid for by those people who wanted their disaffected starving brethren to slit somebody else’s throat.

Really, the only solid alternative to my recommendation above; modified Marshall plan, and diplomatic pressure; is the “Fortress America” concept suggested by Eisenhower Sec. of State John Foster Dulles. In that plan, we cut ourselves off from the rest of the world and start a free-trade, mutual defense pact with the rest of North and South America. We stay in our hemisphere, and your hemisphere can go wherever it wants in whatever hand basket you can find.

I’ll admit, there’s something to be said for the idea. But I prefer the one that has us reaching out in compassion and helping others achieve what we’ve got. It’s hard work, requiring constant vigilance. Or, at least a semi-interested occasional glance. Maybe helping the next poor Honduran from getting his head blown off won’t help this country, but it’s a good thing to do. And, it would keep that poor guy/gal/kid/trans-gender giraffe from having to swim the Rio Grande.  It would actually make the world a better place.  People wouldn't have to come here to escape squalor.  Wouldn't that be better?

Let's face the fact, the very poorly kept secret; there are people in this country that benefit from illegal immigration, and it's NOT the illegal immigrants.  It's businessmen who like having a large pool of workers who can't unionize and can't ask for even minimum wage.  And these rich businessmen shovel money at both sides of the aisle.  Do you seriously believe the Democrats ignore the logic of enforcing the immigration laws out of compassion?  Or that the NOTHING that the Republicans have done since Reagan gave 3 million illegals amnesty is?  No, it's so that Archer Daniels Midland and Wal-Mart and the other big money players can pay low-skilled laborers a starvation wage.

Twenty or so years ago, I supported NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.  I believed that it would benefit the people of Mexico and other underprivileged countries.  Turns out, the country most benefited by NAFTA was China.  That's because we have restrictions on goods shipped from China.  But because of NAFTA, we have no such restrictions on goods shipped from Mexico.  So China sends ships to Mexico, loads cheap goods made by near-slave labor onto Mexican trucks, and sends them here.  Think about that next time you go to Wal-Mart.

So I believe we need a major re-think on foreign policy.  We need to push our government to pay attention to somebody besides the billionaires that fund their campaigns.  We need to insist on a foreign policy that helps people, here and around the world, instead of lining the pockets of the arms makers and everybody else that profits from the status quo, at the expense of billions of people around the world.

And yes, we need to be strong, and we need to flex that muscle, but we should flex it in the name of that which helps people.  We in this country are the product of a crazy experiment about republican democracy.  It seems to work pretty well.  When we declared our independence, just about every country in Europe was a monarchy.  Now, even the ones that have monarchs are actually run by governments modeled after ours.  But with so many making so much off the third world as it is today, who but us can lead the way to help them improve their lot?

We need to take a hard look at the countries where the illegal immigrants and terrorists are coming from.  If they're right in looking to us, to join us or to hurt us, it's because we're not doing anything to help improve their lot right where they are.  May I be bold enough to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we SHOULD be the world’s policeman? Or at least, our brother’s keeper?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Music rant

This might become a series, but can't say yet.  There's certainly enough material for it.

Back about 1983 I was living in Sacramento, California.  As it happens, the California State Fair is held there, which makes sense as it's the state capital.  San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are all bigger and more important, but Sacto gets the fair.  Yay.  So, I went.  And, as I was unemployed at the time, I went several times.

I grew up in New England, where there's all kinds of fairs.  They last usually 4 days.  California's lasts a month.  Lots and lots of cool stuff to see and do.  One of the things is a big stage, and there was music every day and every night.  I heard that Bill Graham was promoting the stage that year.  I got to see Santana, the Police, Huey Lewis and the News, Greg Kihn, and a number of other great acts, all for the price of admission to the fair.

My favorite of all those acts was an afternoon session by Ronnie Montrose and Mitchel Froom.  Now, one of the things that's always impressed me about Rush is how much music three guys can make.  Montrose and Froom went one better.  No vocals, which made it easier, but those two guys made a lot of great sound.  And Montrose only played guitar!

This was in the early days of MIDI, and maybe even before, I'm not sure.  Froom was surrounded by a bank of keyboards and boxes, and at one point stepped out from behind it, with incredible music cranking away, and played what looked like a digital trumpet; it had three buttons on the top, a dial in the front, and he blew into it.  Way too cool!!  The biggest shame of it is they never did a record.

From that day on I kept an eye out for the latest musical technology.  In the later '80's when I got back to NH I started collecting some stuff.  I had a budget of zero, so it was all used and obsolete, but worked just fine.  If you've ever heard my CD, "Rough Edges," most of it was done on a Tascam 4-track cassette machine owned by the band I was in, Tribute, and the sounds came from a Yamaha DX7, a Roland Juno 106 and a Yamaha drum machine, all controlled by a Roland MSQ-700.  If you're a synth gear head, maybe you're impressed now.  Lots with little, in a nutshell.

All that stuff is long gone.  About 1999 or so, T. C. Sweeney talked me into forming a band, and I've been oriented toward live guitar playing ever since.  Which I love, btw.  Nothing better than working with live people.  But for about 10 years before that, I rarely played live.  I spent most of my musical life after the end of Tribute hiding in a hole making little demos.  If it wasn't for Jonathan Sindorf and the Hidden Place Coffeehouse, I'd have probably never played out at all.

So now I'm back out playing, and I'm also back to writing, and it's time to record.  Actually, I never really intended to stop writing and recording, but the Tascam 4-track gave up the ghost years ago.  So for the past several years I've been looking at the new developments in digital recording.  And here comes the rant for which this is the long-winded intro.

Advice to my musician friends; NEVER recommend a piece of Tascam recording gear to me.  I rented an 8-track digital recorder for a month once.  Didn't get one lousy note recorded.  Had the manual, read it cover to cover, went online and sought advice, tried and tried and tried to plug it in and hook it up and figure out the confusing menus on the little screen, and ended up with bupkis.  Bupkus?  However you spell it, I got nutt'n.

When I took it back and told the young man at the store what I ended up with, he had the audacity to ask if I wanted to rent it for another month!  No, I don't want to grtzn frtzn rent the grzzl frakk thing for another khtthkn frzzgrn month, you &%$#@ ...

So my dear friend, Rocko now owns a Zoom R-16.  He's the drummer in one version of the Red Hat Band, the version that does all the original material.  Perfect.  I'd been looking around at digital multitrack recorders, and I've owned a few pieces of Zoom equipment, and they're always pretty easy to use.  I had been thinking about an R-24, but Rocko decided to save me $400 and bought this one first.

He immediately loaned it to me!  But first, he warned me that he'd had very little luck figuring out how to use it.  Basically, all he'd managed to do with it so far is use it like an old-fashioned tape recorder.  You could hook up mics and guitars and get tracks laid down, but that's it.  He couldn't figure out how to add the on-board effects or access the on-board drum and bass programs, or any of the other bells and whistles that came with it.

No problem.  He still had the manual, and I would take the time and figure out how to make it do its tricks.  Zooms are user friendly.

Note to Zoom; when you put that phrase on your packaging, Hoser is spelled with an H.

I come from a day when "portable" meant that it had wheels.  There was nothing wrong with that.  I think it's wonderful that you can now put almost infinite capabilities inside a box no bigger than a pack of cigarettes.  Unfortunately, when you do, it equals the pack of cigarettes in usability.  The R-16 is only as big as it is because it has 8 sliders.  So, you've got a small 8-channel mixing board with a pack of butts attached to it.

My recommendation is that you put all this marvelous technology in a device big enough for banks of buttons and switches, with clear markings as to their purpose.  Large, readable print would be nice, too.  You should also include a 21" high-def television screen for showing what the hell's going on in the pack of butts all the 1's and 0's live in.  Then, put wheels on it.  Charge an extra hundred bucks if you have to.  If it actually works as advertised, you will find me in the long line of old geeks waiting to buy one.