Monday, July 26, 2010

Modest Proposal Monday - Taxes

I do not pretend to be the Jonathan Swift of the 21st Century. All I'm trying to be is the me of the 21st Century. That having been said, I love Swift's Modest Proposal and believe it to be one of the best pieces of pure snark of all time. Of all time.

So, with that in mind, a new feature that will crop up every once in a great while; Modest Proposal Mondays.


There has been a lot of discussion-political discussion-lately about the merits of our tax-based social systems. There are those on the left who believe the social services should be expanded, and paid for by those who have more than enough money to get by. You know, help your fellow man, all that good stuff that you find in that one book, I can't remember what it's called right now...oh, right, The Bible. On the right, you've got the people who think it's just a social safety net, and that it should be removed outright, that taxes should be lowered or eliminated. Then, there are those in the middle, who believe a moderate system of social security and government sponsored supports for those without means can take advantage of when needed. But certainly the most vocal support is coming from the right, and I've heard quite a lot of it.

And, strange enough, I'm starting to come around to their way of thinking.

So, today, I modestly propose that we give in to the ideology of the Tea Party movement, and completely abolish taxes and any services they may pay for.

I can already hear some of you complaining, but let's look at two services that are going to be cut that will actually be beneficial to everyone; road maintenance and education.

The way road maintenance is paid for now is through a national gasoline tax. States and local municipalities also use extra tax for this purpose. What that means is that federal highways are paid for by the national gas tax, state roads by the state tax, etc. This means that, depending on your state, county and city, you could be paying taxes four times on every gallon of gas you buy. What the crap? And how do you know that the money is being wisely spent? What about that tiny pothole in front of your house? Does that every get any federal, state, or local attention? Probably not! No, they're busy taking your money and rebuilding bridges you never use, paving roads you don't live near and making it easier for people you've never met to get to their jobs at companies you never do business with. Many of these people use these roads to go to their local unemployment offices to get more of your money just for sitting on their lazy asses, or they go to free, tax-payer financed clinics for medical care (something you pay for through your private health insurance), or they go to other Socialist meetings like poetry readings or, shock of shocks, the symphony (which, by the way, might also be partially financed through your municipal taxes).

So what I modestly propose is that we place a permanent moratorium on the gasoline taxes, and instead use the money we save on gasoline to pay a private company or individual to fix the roads we use every day. That way, you can find somebody who will make sure that your route to and from work is always smooth sailing, and you won't have to pay for construction on a highway you've never even heard of before.

Of course, many might suggest that people of lower incomes may not be able to afford to hire anybody to fix their roads. Well, their loss, right? They are saving just as much per gallon of gas as you are, there is no reason they shouldn't put that money towards road repair. If their jobs don't pay them enough, they should find new jobs that do! In fact, they could learn how to repair roads, which would solve a lot of problems! You could hire them to repair your road, which they will do while you are at work. When their work day is done, they already have the skills to go home and fix their own roads. And most employers offer discounts to their employees, so they will be getting a better rate than you will! It works out for everyone, see? Plus, with all the new companies springing up to fix roads, you'll be able to shop around and get the best price, rather than relying on the government's one price monopoly.

Now when it comes to education, I hear you whining, what are people who can't afford to send their children to private schools going to do when the liberal public schools close? Well, the children can always apply for scholarships if they're smart. And if they're not, the parents shouldn't have too much trouble paying for school once they start earning more money building roads that go from the teachers' houses to the school, right? It'll be fantastic for everyone! As far as higher education goes, many lower income students may not be able to attend college simply due to lack of funds. If they can't get a scholarship, they can apply for loans from a bank, which will be better than loans from the government because, again, you'll have many more options from which to choose! And if they still can't get into college, you don't need a bachelor's degree to fix roads, do you?

This doesn't just hold for roads, though. Fire departments, long a socialist establishment, will be privatized and only the best will be hired. Of course, with the many different departments which will be formed, you will have multiple pricing options to choose from should your home catch fire. So even the lower income families will be able to find cut rate fire protection should they need it. Same goes for police protection, lending libraries (lower late fees because you pay for each book you borrow!)...the list goes on.

When you replace one government controlled institution with multiple privatized options, you get a variety of pricepoints and services which better serve the community, and you will always be assured that you are getting the best deal you can possibly afford. Not to mention that with so many companies being formed, unemployment will virtually vanish! It's the ultimate in no-lose situations!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Game Night

If you'll recall, last year I blogged about the Whitaker Music Festival which happens on Wednesdays in the summer here in the StL at the Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, this year we've only attended twice; once with some family in town and once on a somewhat cool evening with a group of friends. Otherwise, it has been uniformly too hot and humid or, as was the case this last evening, too wet. Normally, we'd brave the heat but with the extra oppressiveness this year and with the baby still kicking a hole through Kathy's stomach, it just hasn't been feasible to attend.

So tonight, rather than sit around twiddling our thumbs by ourselves, Kathy and I invited Bunny and Bee over for dinner and board games. Bee brought along her new friend of the opposite sex, whom she refers to as McCartney on her blog so, why not? So, Bunny, Bee and McCartney come over...wait. That doesn't work. We've got a forest animal, a stinging insect, and then the last name of one of the greatest rock 'n' rolling Brits to ever grace us with his musical talents. Maybe I'll call him...Anglerfish. Just to stay with the animal motif.

See, this is why I don't make up nicknames on the blog...nicknames are something I'm no good at. So, in the interest of keeping it simple while protecting identities, Bunny is now J, Bee is now B, and Anglerfish is now C.

Got it?

So, A,B,C, and D were walking down the street when they ran into a very scared looking number. "What's your name?" A asked. "Six..." the number responded. "Why are you so scared?" B asked the number. Six looked around. "I'm afraid of seven..." There was a moment of silence. "Um...why are you afraid of seven?" C asked. "Good question," D nodded. Six looked around. " ate nine!"

Whoa...where did I go there?

Okay, so, J, B, and C came over for some lasagna, though J decided against it because she has some sort of noodle phobia. Let's face it, I surround myself with interesting people. So she had a salad. The rest of us, being unafraid of noodles, consumed noodles. Then we had hot fudge sundaes for dessert. Now, we had a choice of vanilla or chocolate chip. Kathy asked for half and half. Um, Kathy? Chocolate chip is vanilla ice cream with chips of chocolate in it. But trying to use logic like that with a pregnant woman is a bad idea, I found out. So let that be a lesson to you.

After that, we listened to some jazz and classical records while playing Clue and Apples to Apples. Have you ever played Apples to Apples? That's a freaking amazingly awesome game. The basic premise of it is that one person reads a word from a green card, like, say, "Peaceful." Then the other players have to put down a red card with a word they think matches it in some way. Then the person who puts down the green card reads all the red cards, picks the best one, and thus the person who put the winning card down wins. So, "Peaceful" is the word, and let's say there are four other people playing. Somebody puts down, "Bedtime," while another person puts down "The Ocean." The third person puts down "My High School Prom" and the last person puts down "Ziggy Stardust." The strategy comes in about the second round, when you've seen how everybody chooses. Some people would pick something like "Bedtime" for that one while others would go for Ziggy Stardust every time. It's the best game of all time. Of all time.

So, we stayed cool and dry and still got to listen to some good music, while playing fun board games and getting to know C, who in turn got to be judged by myself, Kathy and J. I'm sure he had fun, though...right?


Saturday, July 17, 2010


Today, I woke up early and mowed the lawn. I ran to Schnucks and picked up some milk, Bisquick, and Lindt truffles. I wished my wife a happy anniversary.

I got her a new camera. This may seem a bit much, considering we've got a monster digital SLR, but that's hard to tote around with you everywhere. So I got her a good pocket-sized digital. I got her a four gig memory card and a neoprene case she can carry it around in. Which will be good for when she and I are out with a kid.

She got me a much greater gift, though. I feel like she outdid me.

She gave me a membership in the St. Louis Writer's Guild.

She's awesome.

To celebrate our anniversary, we're actually going to spend a couple hours apart this afternoon. See, she's having a baby shower thrown for her, at our house, hosted by her friends Melinda and Heather. So while that's going on, Drew (Heather's boy friend) and I are going to go do something manly. We haven't totally decided yet, so maybe what we're going to do is be indecisive together. Though we might play mini golf. Afterward, Heather, Drew, Kathy and I (and possibly others) will be going out to dinner.

Happy 6th anniversary, Kathy!


I am working on two album reviews which should be up some time next week. I've got a busy weekend ahead, otherwise I'd finish them.

For the record, I will be reviewing Janelle Monáe's album The ArchAndroid: Suites II and III and Bettye Lavette's Interpretations: The British Songbook. So familiarize yourself with those two artists quickly.


Sunday, July 11, 2010


An update on the novel (which still has the working title Before Rock Attained Perfection but I'm determined to do better than that): This novel is being written, right now, in bits and pieces and it is presenting, as such, problems of cohesion. I keep trying to tell too much about the story rather than just tell the story in the pieces I'm turning out because they've yet to flow together. But in the past few weeks, I've had a series of breakthroughs on things like plot, character development, themes, etc, so I'm confident this cohesiveness problem will be easily rectified.

Speaking of breaking through a creative impediment, my most recent epiphany about the book came about this afternoon while I was showering. Not something many of my readers want to picture, I'm sure, but I am still going to talk about it, so ye be warned. No, I will not go into graphic detail about what I was wearing in the shower (which was, for the record, nothing, not even cut-offs), but I will go into the epiphany, and why I think it happened.

So I've been thinking a lot about the novel (obviously) and yesterday, one of my good friends whom I have known since I was twelve (almost thirteen, back in 7th grade) got married to a guy I wholeheartedly approve of. So that's good. We were close through high school and she was there for me when I needed her in my listless post-high school graduation pre-college funk with an invite to see the stage show Blast, and she came to visit me in Minnesota on her fall break (and inadvertently made my current wife jealous, because Kathy thought this friend was my girlfriend and Kathy, it turns out, wanted that job to be hers). So there was a lot of good feelings about this wedding, plus I got to see my best friend from high school Zach (the bass player in my old band The Hitchhikers, which I may or may not have mentioned on the blog before) plus some other good friends from back in the day. So with these good thoughts and old memories running through my head all day yesterday, and all night, I got up this morning (late) and got to working on the garden.

There is something to be said about working in a garden; feeling the dirt in your hands, holding the plants in your palms and feeling their life. It's...calming. And that's a big deal for me to say, because (as my parents are quick to point out) I would never, ever have voluntarily done any kind of gardening or yardwork, whatsoever, when I lived with them. And Kathy would takes a lot to get me out to do that kind of work and for some reason, I always forget how rewarding it can be. But working in the garden (not mowing the lawn, which is just sweaty or raking leaves, which is just painful) can really help me clear my mind a little.

After that, I took a shower, which is relaxing in a different way. Gardening relaxes my mind; a shower relaxes my body. So I was in there, relaxed mind and relaxed body, singing some Moody Blues softly to myself, when all of a sudden, a solution to one of the problems of my novel presented itself. The water was running down my back and over my shoulders and it just came t me.

I'll just go ahead and tell you a little bit about what I mean. There's a problem of the narrator's father believes that Rock music reached a pinnacle in 1976, and that since then it has been on a rapid downward spiral. The reason presented for this in the original short story on which the novel is founded is that Led Zeppelin's album Presence contained the greatest achievement of rock music, "Achilles Last Stand." But I needed there to be more to it than that, so I found a way for the narrator to discover his father's true reasons. I will say no more now. But I'm excited to get working on it.

Anyway...if your head is ever in a funk, do something with a little bit of a Zen feel to it. Rock garden. Real garden? Try it. Then take a shower. It seems to help me.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Comment Moderation

I had a few little problems with comments on my blog after I set up moderation. The e-mails were going into my spam folder for some reason. Some of you may have posted a comment only to find days later that it still hadn't actually posted. In fact, I've gotten quite a lot of comments since I turned on the moderation, I just didn't know I had them until my blogger dashboard told me I had eleven comments waited to be approved. Oops. Sorry everybody. Anyway, if you comment and it doesn't show up right away, that's normal. If you comment and it doesn't show up for a few days, then either I've dropped the ball or your comment was spam. Try to avoid that last one.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The "Joy" of Classical Music

There are certain forms of art that have no place. I wouldn't even call them art, because they're not artful. They're not even commercially artful, though some (those who make money off such "art") would argue. I'm talking about "art" with a blatant, in your face message. Art like the Left Behind novels and movies. Art like Christian Rock music.

The reason I bring all this up is because I just listened to Dvorák's Symphony for the New World, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and I am currently listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony, after which the only commercial Classical radio station in the entire United States of America will cease broadcasting to become a Lutheran Church-funded Christian Rock station. This is kind of a sad thing to happen. And by kind of, I mean, very.

Classical music has always been a large part of my life. Music in general has, but I have many memories of listening to this radio station (Classic 99.1 KFUO) from my youth. Many people growing up know classical music from Loony Toons. I knew it from the radio and the symphony and the records and tapes and CDs in my parents' music library. I knew it from concerts my father would play in. I knew it as a listener and then I knew it as a performer. Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Mozart, Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dvorák, Mussorgsky, Hindemith, much more. And I was always able to discover new music by flipping over to the classical station.

The fact that tomorrow morning I'll have one less viable radio station to listen to makes me sad. I refuse to listen to Christian Rock, because there is no artistry. The intent is so heavy-handed, there's no room for interpretation. Each and every song is a love song to Jesus, God, Faith...what pain there is seems to be referenced in passing, removed by Jesus. Where's the humanity in that art? For what is the purpose of art if not to hold a mirror up to reality? And I know, in reality, many people find joy in Faith. Fine. Many people find joy in a well written piece of music. And many musicians and composers believe their talent to be a gift from God. And with that, I have no qualms. My sadness comes from the idea that the owners of the new Joy FM feel the need to remind us of God. To quote Douglas Adams, "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" Except, in this case, do we have to hang sings on the plants that there are fairies at work? It cheapens the beauty of the flowers.

As I understand it, most Christian Rock bands are put together the same way that other tasteless mass market pop is put together; some people who want to make money put together a marketable package of pseudo musicians with only enough talent to do exactly as they are told. Somebody else writes their music for them, and all they do is record it and perform it. So the artistry is not even there at the beginning. Just get a good looking group of people with decent singing voices and the ability to cover the instrumentation you need, and (in the case of Christian Rock) make sure they're clean cut and regular churchgoers.

Never mind the fact that a few short decades ago, the predecessors of the people now putting together these rock groups decried rock and roll as "the devil's music." I really want to know what late 70's tech geek and person of faith engineered his record player to play Hotel California backwards to hear "Worship Satan" over and over. Let's just skip that part and get to Joy FM.

Why did this happen in St. Louis? This is tantamount to the symphony hall closing and becoming a church. Or the art museum becoming a tabernacle. I am sad, I am indignant, and I am sad. In that order.

Sorry this wasn't more coherent. I just don't know what else to say without inflaming any anti-religion v religion debates. For the record, I am an atheist who loves classical music, so of course I oppose this. But many people of faith oppose this as well, mostly because we already have radio and television outlets in St. Louis for religious expression. Now we have no easily accessible outlet for classical music. Sure, there's internet radio and satellite radio and HD radio and CD and mp3, but not everybody can gain access to these things. It's just sad.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Days of Future Passed

That is the title of my current favorite album.

Let us be clear on one thing; my all time, Desert Island, Number One With a Bullet, House is Burning Down Only Have Time To Grab One Album is still Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary. But just like how in April my favorite album was Broken Bells, in May it was The Decemberist's Picaresque, and in June it was The Best of Buddy Rich (the LP I got for Record Store Day...that was a hard month because, as stated before, it's not available on CD or mp3 in album form though I could piece-meal it together I guess), this month it's turning out to be the epic concept album from 1967, Days of Future Passed by Moody Blues.

I know what you're thinking. Well, no, no I don't. But I can guess what some of you are thinking. And by some, I mean, I'm going to mentally divide all of my readers into three groups, each based on what I am guessing that you are thinking as you read this.

Group A: "Right on, man! Groovy!"

Group B: "But...that's kind of schlocky and gimmicky and pretentious...I mean, it ends with a poem about a 'Cold Hearted Orb that Rules the Night' and then a gigantic gong blast. What the hell?"

Group C: "Dude, I have no idea who those dinosaurs are. were alive in 1967? I knew you were old, but sheesh.

To those groups I say (respectively), "Totally," "Yeah but it's still so good," and "Duh, what do you think I did after the Boer Wars ended? That's when I got into music. That Tchaikovsky sure was a devilish whipper-snapper in his younger days. Oh, wait, jerk, I'm not even thirty years old yet, I just happen to have been raised on awesome music, much like my child will be."

The point Let me try and catch my train of thought. Now, let's see...favorite album...June...whipper-snapper...oh yeah!

The point is that whenever I listen to this album, strong images are conjured up in my mind. I remember my mother had this on tape and would listen to it and kind of lazily dance around the house as she went about her day. I have very vivid memories of her standing in front of the stereo (which was under the stairs at the time, which won't make sense without a detailed architectural history of my parents' house which I am not willing to go into at this point, though know that the stairs were white with brown carpeting for a time before they were stripped of carpeting and painted, inexplicably except so far as it was the late 1980's, deep magenta) and singing "Tuuuuuuues-day A-aaaaaaaaaaafternoooooooooon!" along with the tape. Eventually, we moved the stereo, got a CD player and even tore out the magenta stairs and put in normal stairs to a better floor-planned upstairs (the house is not on the market, yet here I am selling it to you). And with the CD player, my mother upgraded from tape to CD, and still continued to sing along.

So I know this album intimately, it's part of the geography of my musical mind. I like to think that if, for some reason you wanted to do this, you could crack my head open and find the part of my brain that remembers music, lower a stylus into the correct groove and you'd hear this entire album perfectly.

The only problem is, I haven't heard the entire album perfectly as it was originally released. You see, in 1978 the album was remixed, and that new mix has become the prevalent recording now sold and heard everywhere. The original was only ever released on vinyl and 8-Track tape. Since then, of course, we've had tape, CD, SACD, digital music...and it's all been the 1978 remixing. But people who are familiar with both mostly agree that the original mix is superior. Now, why don't they just record it from the original masters? They had deteriorated, which is why it was remixed in the first place. The only option now, and it's not one likely to see any official action, would be to find an original pressing on vinyl in excellent condition and transfer it that way. It's been done; many recordings from the early part of the 20th century were done direct to wax record, transferred to lacquer and (eventually) to vinyl, and that's the only form in which they existed until somebody came along to release a compilation (and I just heard a story on NPR about somebody doing this, but I can't for the life of me remember who, nor can I find a link to it on their music site). So, it could be done.

The only problem with that, of course, is that since the remixed recording has been around and dominant for 32 years, it's not easy to find a good copy of the original record. I think I've talked about it before, maybe not, how vinyl is a self-destructive medium; every time you listen to a record, you destroy it a little (and also the needle), and also every dust particle could wreak havoc on the quality, not to mention that vinyl is big and unwieldy and fragile (not a good combination). So the likelihood of a 33-43 year old record existing in excellent condition is not good. Add to that the relative desirability of this item; anyone who has it probably wants to keep it, any one who wants it and finds a copy for sale will likely snatch it up in a heartbeat. So I have yet to hear the original mix. Which is sad, because I want to incorporate the album into my novel.

That's what got me into the album recently; I was looking for some classic rock to incorporate into a scene and was scrolling through my iTunes (it's still much easier to keep music organized digitally than it ever will be physically, plus I have almost ten years' worth of downloads and CD rips that I am never going to fully replace with vinyl) and chanced on the cover art, which gave me a chill. Oh yeah, that's the other thing about this album; when we got it on CD, my mom would put it on I would sit in front of the stereo and stare at the cover art. Because this was cover art designed for a record, it's intricately detailed and kind of psychedelic. So I listened to it, all the way through. It's quite the album. It reminded me that alums like The Decemerist's The Hazards of Love and Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid (a fantastic and amazing album, one of the best of the year) have a rich lineage that reaches back to classical music. In fact, Days of Future Passed was originally commissioned to be a rock rendition of Dvorak's New World Symphony. But the band decided to instead continue their work on what was to be a stage show they had been kicking around for a while. They didn't abandon the idea of classical music, though; this album is rich in orchestral layers; strings, horns, winds, it's all there.

So, I got into it, and started doing some research, and found this discrepancy in the mix. It fits in perfectly with part of my storyline.

But now I feel like I need to hear the original release. But I won't let that stop me! Onward and Upward! On...onward and upward.

:::cries softly in the shower:::

discussed in this post:

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Link Shuffle

Every so often, I reorganize my links. I don't bring this up as an idle topic; no, in fact, I just messed with it. Take a look.

First off, I took down some links. I took down some links to sites I used to frequent quite a bit but have stopped checking. I also removed some blogs that have not seen an update in a really long time. If I took your link off, and you're upset, leave a passive-aggressive comment on this post and I'll reinstate the link.

But, I also added two new links! First up, Gerald (remember Gerald?), who's now had three or four, um, hundred blogs that he's taken off the internets, is back on the internets with his Art Blog. Pretty sweet stuff, so check it out here.

Also new is Provocative & Talkative, which chronicles the life and times of a new(ish) friend of mine (by that I mean that we have known each other for a little over two years now, but have just recently started hanging out and, it turns out, we're good friends). She very cleverly invents nicknames for all the people she blogs about, so as not to open herself up to Google stalking. Me? I apparently don't mind that much. You can find her here.

Also new, and I hate to do this, but I've enabled comment moderation and also word verification. The reason I hate to do this is because I believe in the openness of the internets. But the reason I have to do this is because (I'm sure regular commenters have noticed) there has been an increase in the number of spam comments on my blog, complete with Asian characters and embedded links to questionable sites. Not what I want my blog to be about. Rest assured, all new and returning readers, that I would say that if you are a real person and you make a comment that is truly, well, real, I will allow it. Any comments with links in them, I will have to check the link before I approve it but, again, chances are good that you will be approved. If you're a bot of some kind, you lose! You get NOTHING!

That's it for now. I promise to have some real posts coming up sometime soon.