Monday, October 5, 2015

On the UCC shooting, gun control, and good and evil

Driving home from work the day after the UCC shooting, I heard local sports radio personality Jason Scukanec talking about the shooting and his reaction to it. He said that he was "tired of this happening" and that it made him want to "get rid of all of his guns". As a second amendment guy, my initial reaction was negative, but as I thought about it, I realized that his was a normal reaction for a good person to have to such a senseless, violent act. Good people do that, they see a problem and want to do something about it, even if it means personal sacrifice. Good people give and sacrifice for the good of others.

But that's not what bad people do. Bad people take. They take from others for their own ends, with no thought of the harm they are doing. That's the way of the world: there are good people and bad people - givers and takers - and even if all of the good people in the world threw all of their guns into the sea, it would not stop one bad person from continuing to use guns to take lives from others. The two actions are mutually exclusive.

Then I realized... we don't need to ban guns, we need to ban evil. If only there was a way, I thought, to gather all of the bad people up and send them off someplace where they could never interact with the good people again. That's what we need! Then it occurred to me, isn't that what heaven and hell are all about?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Danger Of Christian Conservatism

   Throughout the history of Christendom, whenever society has turned away from perceived Christian principles, (those of the denomination in power at the time), the church has turned to government coercion to force people to act according to said principles.  This is where we are in America right now.  Christian conservatives (chriscons) see sky-rocketing out-of-wedlock birth rates, gay marriage, abortion, and all manner of societal ills as evidence (sound evidence) that society is no longer bound by Christian principles.  And now these chriscons are looking for the government to step in and force people to live by biblical law.
   As a Christian Libertarian, I worry about this trend.  This tactic not only pushes for further governmental intrusion into private lives and beliefs, it also has the potential to backfire.  These chriscons trust certain "Christian" or "conservative" politicians to implement laws regulating private aspects of human behavior, never realizing that once we allow government jurisdiction over such private matters, we open the door for non-Christian, non-conservative politicians to use this new-found jurisdiction to legislate against those very Christian principles.  We see this today.  Christians push for laws excluding gays from marriage and certain other rights and, instead, we get laws requiring Christian businesses and churches to recognize and not discriminate against these things.
   So what's the alternative?  Well, the church should remain the church.  There is no biblical mandate in the New Testament for the church to govern man by coercion.  None.  And appeals to Old Testament laws are irrelevant to New Testament Christianity.  No, the church should insist strongly on the separation of church and state.  The church must wake up and recognize that the only way it will be free to be the church is if it is a separate entity entirely from government.  Therefore  it must sever all ties with government in order to eliminate any and all governmental influence and jurisdiction over spiritual matters.  The church must realize that once church and government become intertwined, government oversight of private matters is virtually guaranteed.
   Instead, the church should simply do what it was instructed to do: preach the gospel, pray, give to the poor... these are the biblical principles that will change society.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Rush To War

ISIS beheads another Westerner and I suspect we'll soon be bombarded with pundits calling for more military actions against the terrorist organization. But shouldn't we be asking why they are making such public spectacles of these beheadings? It's almost like they want war! Well, believe it or not, they do. If you pay attention to what these Islamists are saying, they've been pretty clear about it, and the Islamist goal hasn't changed: they want to unite the Islamic world in war against the West. And they've discovered the perfect strategy to do so - incite the West into military action that is sure to kill civilians which, in turn, inflame Muslims into believing that the West just wants to kill them. Pretty simple and effective. And we fall for it every time! Of course there's lots of money to be made in war so the politicians don't really have too many qualms about any of this. Until the American people wake up and refuse to fall for this, we'll continue to be hoodwinked into endless war.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

I recently tweeted three proposed Constitutional amendments on my Twitter page and I’d like to flesh out my reasons for doing so here (where I’m not bound by the 140 character limit).

Here are the amendments:
  1. No public funds shall be used to subsidize, promote or foster any private enterprise or branch of industry.
  2. No individual, unless employed by the federal government, shall receive public funds.
  3. Any state passing a law declaring its intention to secede from the union shall be allowed to freely do so.

So let’s take them one at a time.
No public funds shall be used to subsidize, promote or foster any private enterprise or branch of industry.

This is pretty self-explanatory – this ends corporate welfare.  If enacted it would stop our politicians from rewarding their corporate sponsors.  It would also make this country a level playing field for businesses, because the government would no longer be able to pick winners and losers – the market (that’s us!) would do that!  Think about it, had this been the law of the land in 2008, the massive 700 billion dollar bailout of Wall Street would have been illegal. 
No individual, unless employed by the federal government, shall receive public funds.

This is similar to #1 only it is aimed at individuals.  This would make it illegal for the government to take money from one person and give it to another.  Now, before everyone gets all up in arms about the poor and needy, let me just point out that there is a way for the government to support the poor and needy – it would have to hire them!  That’s right – instead of giving people money because they are poor, the government would have to give them a job.  No more “money for nothing”!
Any state passing a law declaring its intention to secede from the union shall be allowed to freely do so.

OK, this is probably the most controversial one – if only because we’ve been conditioned to equate “secession” with “slavery” in this country.  This has nothing to do with slavery however; it is all about checks and balances.   The Articles of Confederation – the law of the land before the Constitution – created a government that was essentially a loose confederation of sovereign states.  Because of this, many of the framers of the Constitution were very concerned that a new federal government would eventually engulf and obliterate the states.  They spent hours debating ways to create branches of government that would be independent of one another and, if need be, oppose one another.  The idea was to combat tyranny – which would certainly creep in if one branch of government got too powerful or if two branches could collude together with no way for another to oppose them.  Well, the ability for a state to secede from the union is a check on federal power.  This is nothing new, there was talk of secession almost from the beginning, but there are those in power now who would insist (as Lincoln did) that no state has the right to secede and that all measures – including war – can be used to stop that from happening.  That, friends, is tyranny!  This union of states – if not voluntary – is coerced.  This amendment would end that once and for all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Currently Reading...

The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates

I bought this for the Anti-Federalist papers (I'd heard of the Federalist papers but had never heard of the Anti-Federalist papers) but the first half of the book is taken up by the Constitutional convention debates.  So far, those are very interesting - especially Alexander Hamilton's push for complete central government authority.  I have yet to get to the actual Anti-Federalist papers.

The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War

Wow! This one has been a real eye opener.  I had no idea Lincoln was such a tyrant (and there's really no other word that adequately describes him!)

The Bill of Rights Primer: A Citizen's Guidebook to The American Bill of Rights

Very good book.  Really enlightening - especially for the way it contextualizes the document and explains the perspectives and motives of the authors.  The section on trial by jury alone is worth the price of admission!

A Second Federalist: Congress Creates A Government

Brief excerpts from early congressional debates that show Congress grappling with issues of power, authority, liberty and state's rights.  I find it interesting that as early as 1800 measures were already being discussed to limit the freedom of the press.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why Amnesty Doesn't Solve The Problem

The Senate recently passed, and the House is currently debating, legislation that would give amnesty to the 11+ million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.  At the same time, it would also increase border security.

This legislation is self-defeating.  What's the point of increasing border security and doubling down on future illegal immigration while at the same time rewarding past illegal immigration?  Talk about sending a mixed message! 

If we really want to allow people to just walk over the border and become citizens - then we should change the law to allow that! - OR - If we really want to keep people from just walking over the border and becoming citizens - then we should enforce the law to stop that!  Stop pussyfooting around!  Take a damn stand!  Quit pretending you're "for border security" if you're really going to undermine it and reward those who got past our Border Patrol.  And quit pretending you have "compassion for those who just want a better life" if you're going to turn around and "get tough" to stop them from now on!   We can't have our cake and eat it too. 

The problem is that those who really want to open the borders don't have the guts to do that and those who really want to enforce border security don't have the guts to do that.  So they all take the 'back door' method: making another "one-time exception" while leaving the existing immigration laws intact.  The system is broken and politicians are cowards.  Until we start electing courageous men and women who will actually say what they really think and stand on those principles, we're destined to see more of this kind of back door, "try to please everyone so I can get re-elected (and not be accused of racism)" legislation. 

That this nation is in serious need of immigration reform is beyond debate.  The system we have in place now is ridiculous.  We have: A) people lined up for years, jumping through hoop after hoop to come here legally; B) people who just walk across the border, settle in and become part of society with no real problem; and C) the same government on the one hand enforcing every jot and tittle of immigration law and on the other refusing to enforce it at all.

We need to decide, once and for all, what it should take to become an American citizen or legal resident alien.  That's the issue.  Congress needs to debate that, change the law to reflect that, then stand behind that.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Black Sabbath - 13 - An Album Review

So, first things first: I am a Black Sabbath fanatic.  They've been my all-time favorite band since I first heard them on some kid's turntable back in the early seventies.  (I don't remember the details - the album, the kid's name, the exact year - I just remember thinking "this is the heaviest music I've ever heard!")

So when the four original members of Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward - announced on 11-11-11 that they were going to make a new album (their first together since 1978), I was ecstatic.  I also had some trepidation. 

My main concern was that the band would not return to their original form, which was a mixture of doom, anger, power, and beauty, and stylistically: heavy rock interspersed with jazz, blues, classical and folk.  And tempo changes: Black Sabbath songs were always full of tempo changes. 

Tony was my main worry. 

When the Black Sabbath Reunion album was released back in 1998, it brought about a sudden resurgence of interest in the original Black Sabbath with lots of press proclaiming them "the inventors of heavy metal", and more specifically calling out Tony as the "doom-master".  Tony, it seems, had bought into the press's characterization of him and had been releasing albums (2000's Iommi, 2005's Fused - with Glenn Hughes, and 2009's The Devil You Know - with the Ronnie James Dio fronted Mob Rules version of Black Sabbath going under the name "Heaven and Hell") which contained an over abundance of slow "doomy" tracks - many of which seemed to be variations of Electric Funeral (from Paranoid) and Black Sabbath (from their self-titled first album).   He had also grown to eschew tempo changes.  He had fast tracks, slow tracks and mid-tempo tracks, but not many that would actually change tempos mid-song like the old Sabbath songs used to.  So I was afraid we'd get another overly doomy album lacking the jazz, blues, classical and folk elements, and tempo changes, that had dotted the landscape of the original 8 Sabbath albums.

Then I heard that Rick Rubin, who was going to produce the album, was going to try to get the band to return to their roots.  He actually mentioned that Black Sabbath was not a "metal" band and that they had elements of blues and jazz in their songs.  OK, so I was encouraged. 

Then Tony got cancer.

Now Ronnie James Dio had just died from cancer before Tony got diagnosed and I was really scared for him and prayed immediately for his recovery.  I was also (selfishly) concerned for my own dreams: could it be that the 4 original members of my favorite group of all time would never get to make another album together?  I was devastated (musically speaking).  But Tony, by all accounts, had caught the disease early on and had taken the appropriate steps, and he wanted to continue with the album.  So that was a good sign.

Then Bill Ward dropped out.

Now Bill is, by far, the most eclectic member of the group.  His solo albums (1990's Ward One: Along The Way and 1997's When The Bough Breaks) were totally removed from the Black Sabbath doom and gloom, yet they contained, what were probably, the best songs written by any of the original 4 members in their solo careers. Plus, Bill was essentially a jazz drummer.  He has almost none of the characteristics of the modern metal drummer.  He refers to himself as an "orchestrationalist" and patterns his drum style on the percussion section of an orchestra.   For this reason, I was really encouraged to see what he was going to bring to the table when the four of them got in a room together.  Then he was gone.

The band began doing some promotional shows with Tommy Clufetos - Ozzy's solo band drummer - and he did absolutely nothing for me.  He was the typical metal drummer: hard hitting, predictable and boring.  "Please", I thought, "don't let him be the drummer on the album!"

Well Rick Rubin saved the day again!  He told the band that he didn't think Clufetos fit and suggested Rage Against The Machine's Brad Wilk.  OK, now I'm interested again.

Fast forward to today.  I've got the finished project in my hands.  The album's awkward title "13" is, according to Ozzy, based on the fact that it took 13 years to make (they had initially tried, and failed, to make a new album back in 2000).  The cover - a burning "13" effigy - is also a bit ho hum.  But Black Sabbath has never really been about album names or album covers - so what about the music?

Well, it's an amazing accomplishment.  Given all of my fears and trepidations, I have to say that I am impressed with the album Rick Rubin was able to pull out of these guys.  Most of the songs on the 8 song main album and the  4 song* bonus disk, have tempo changes and there's a ton of cool riffs here.  That's good.  The album has a decidedly "live" feel to it, and is much more raw than I expected.  That is also a big plus.  Then there's the song Damaged Soul, which is a trippy "Hendrix meets Cream then gets crushed by Black Sabbath" blues jam.  Wow!  And lastly, Zeitgeist has a jazzy guitar solo at the end.  So all the elements I yearned for are there. 

Tony's guitar playing is every bit as good as anything he's ever done - better perhaps.  His riffs are amazing and his solos are too - never being over-the-top but always seeming to fit the song perfectly.  And his blues guitar playing in Damaged Soul is right up there with my favorite blues rock legends: SRV, Hendrix, Roy Buchanan, Peter Green, etc.  It's good to hear Tony stretch out and play something besides doom and gloom for a change!

And Geezer is a monster on bass!  If you just listen to the bass playing on this album, you can't help but think "wow!"  He is all over that bass!  And his tone!  It's the best bass tone I've heard from Geezer Butler in a long time - maybe ever.  It's that good.

And Ozzy gives his best vocal performance in years.  He has always been the weak link in Black Sabbath - not because of a lack of ability, but because he's blown his voice out so many times that he can no longer hit the notes he used to.  And he never really took care of his voice.  In fact I don't think he's ever taken singing seriously - I doubt if he's ever worked on breathing techniques, or singing from the diaphragm, or anything a professional singer would worry about - for him it has always been about having a good time and putting on a good show.  Even back in the day, he often had trouble recreating the songs live like he had done them in the studio.   But Ozzy's strength has always been his amazing knack for vocal melodies.  And that ability shines through on this album.  Even though he's working with a very limited range now, his melodies are right up there with Tony's riffs and Geezer's bass playing.

Brad Wilk does a credible job on drums.  He doesn't really add to the songs but, more importantly, he doesn't detract from them either.  He's no Bill Ward, (nobody is - perhaps not even Bill himself anymore), so there's really no eclectic orchestrationalism like I was hoping Bill would bring, but there's also no heavy handed rock drumming.  So, all in all, Wilk is neither a plus nor a minus.  That's good though because my main concern about the drumming was that I would notice it (in a bad way).  I don't.

So what are my criticisms?  Well, I have a few.  First is the lyrics.  They are never bad, that's not it at all.  Geezer, who is Sabbath's chief lyricist, does a terrific job, along with Ozzy (who wrote the lyrics for 4 out of the 12 songs) in crafting interesting, topical lyrics with many an excellent "turn of phrase".  So what's my criticism?  Well, I've been spoiled by Geezer's otherworldly, phenomenal lyrics on albums like Sabotage, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Volume 4.  Those lyrics were some of the best ever written in my opinion!  Needless to say, nobody could probably live up to that standard, and on this album, Geezer falls (slightly) short.

Another criticism is that there are parts of certain songs that are completely derivative of previous Sabbath songs.  The song Zeitgeist - with its lyrics about space travel, Leslie effected vocals, jazz outro and bongos - is a clone of Planet Caravan, (from the Paranoid album), while the song End of the Beginning borrows heavily from the song Black Sabbath.  There's also a riff in God is Dead? that sounds remarkably similar to the main riff of Hole in the Sky (from Sabotage).

Also, I think the album could've used a little more diversity.  I think Bill Ward would've helped in that area.  I think that, more than his drumming even, is where Bill Ward is most sorely missed.  I think he would have had some off-the-wall suggestions that Rick Rubin would've probably loved.

But those are nit-picky little things.  All in all, I find the album to be excellent and, (and this is probably the biggest compliment I could think of), I would rate it right up there with the original eight Black Sabbath albums.  It's that good.

Now, if you're not a Black Sabbath fan (meaning they're not your favorite band), then you probably won't get what all the fuss is about.  That's OK, you're not meant to.  This album was made for Black Sabbath fans.  It wasn't made for the media, or the casual listener.  In fact, if you're a casual fan, don't even listen to it because there is really only one way to listen to a Black Sabbath album, and that is at maximum volume!  If you're not going to do that, then don't even bother.

Album rating:  9 out of 10.

* I got the Best Buy exclusive which features one more bonus song (Naïveté In Black) than the normal deluxe edition.