Wednesday, January 25, 2012

why I won't vote for any of the Republicans

OK... anyone who knows me knows that there is a simple answer - BECAUSE THEY'RE REPUBLICANS!  There are clearly some Republican stands that do not work for me.  In my estimation, they are all too quick to throw the poor under the bus and to shred the little safety net we have.  As a party, they have focused on what I think is the wrong issue when they talk about the deficit while what we really need are jobs.  Yes, yes, yes, the Dems are not much better, but they are a little better.  So here are a few of my reasons with each of the four remaining candidates.

Newt...  character counts.  He has none.  We can look at his hypocrisy as he claims to be a "family values" candidate while having done more to sully marriage than anyone I have ever known, read, or read of.  And while involved in despicable behavior, he had the nerve to condemn Bill Clinton for similar acts.  I know he says it was not about the sexual acts but about lying to congress, but when the moderator of the South Carolina debate asked about his behavior with his 2nd wife, he said it was despicable to ask such questions in the midst of a presidential campaign.  Evidently it was fine to ask such questions of a sitting president?!  He claims to have changed.  People do change.  I don't believe him.  His mean-spiritedness through the debates shows that he is the same old Newt.  There are those who talk of him as having "big thoughts" and "great ideas."  When his big thoughts and great ideas include essentially doing away with child labor laws, they sound like terrible ideas and small thoughts to me.

Rick Santorum... I respect a person living their faith and bringing it to play in their politics.  Every single political view that I hold is impacted by my understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.  That said, Santorum's understanding of what it means to be a Christian is, in significant places, diametrically opposed to mine.  And while I believe one can act ofor public policy changes based on his or her faith, public policy can never find its sole or even primary justification in anyone's faith.  To believe that birth control should be outlawed is so far outside of the mainstream and so far outside of anything that is positive for our country that I can't imagine him being president.  Add to that gender views that take us back at least a century.   I guess I expect more from him since he calls himself a Christian and a Roman Catholic.  When he completely dismisses the rest of the "pro-life" views of his church without a blink, I wonder how much of his political views really are based in faith.

Mitt... First, running a government is not the same as running a business and anyone who thinks it is or should be, doesn't understand government.  Add to that the fact that his role in business was to purchase weak companies, strip them of anything of value, and essentially throw the rest away.  Even if business and government were analogous,  that is not how I want to see government run.  That he is so incredibly rich that he doesn't have to work, makes more in a week off of investments that I do in a decade from work, and seems to see nothing wrong in paying a lower percentage of taxes than the vast majority of the 99% makes me wonder whether he really gets it.  It also seems that he wants this job too bad.  He seems to switch his views depending on what he thinks will get him elected... perhaps not an unusual trait for a politician but still one that I won't vote for if I can help it and it just seems too obvious with him.  I do respect that he gives a much larger percentage of his income to charities than any other politician I know of. 

Ron Paul... he's the one that really scares me.  I don't think the Republican establishment would allow him to win, but I think he is the candidate who would be most able to beat Obama.  Paul's commitment to reduce the role of the military and to end our empire is very attractive to me and to many liberals.  His commitment to enforce the parts of the constitution that protect individuals from the powers of the state likewise is attractive.  His libertarian views regarding drugs also are attractive to many liberals.  His consistency is a wonderful thing in the days of politicians reading polls and changing their views like their ties.  He could strip off many liberal voters who are disenchanted by Obama's militaristic bent or who drank the Koolaid that he is a socialist and expected him to act like one.  He isn't and he hasn't!  At the same time, I think that many Republicans who find those views distasteful would still vote for him just to vote against Obama.   I think he might gain far more than he would lose.  The parts that I don't like about Ron Paul scare me more than the parts I do like entice me... he is commitment to shredding the safety net for the poor, doing away with government involvement in ensuring safe food, water, air, and drugs.  He does not believe government has a role providing an adequate education for all or providing foreign aid that can make a difference in saving the lives of literally millions overseas.  Those views are more than I can take.  Add his racist statements of the past and he is completely off my list too.

When I listen to what each of them envisions for the country, for the world, and look at the stands and characteristics they bring to the table,   none are the kind of leader that I believe we need in this difficult time.  None bring the kind of vision of the future I want to see implemented.

So that leaves me with Obama.   Folk who know me also know that I've never been a huge fan of Obama.  During the Democratic primary I described him to my friends as a centrist and looking at his work in office, that is exactly what he has been... and I'm anything but a centrist politically.  I'm not thrilled... but I like him much, much, much better than any of the above.  I wouldn't vote for a third party candidate even if there was one I loved because I'd be too afraid one of the above might win.

So, given the choices, for me, it's Obama 2012.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

annual pilgrimage

This week was my annual pilgrimage to the NAMM convention in Anaheim, CA.  NAMM is a huge conference for dealers of musical instruments (and everything you can imagine might be tied to them) and manufacturers.  It is a big deal in that business and many of the manufacturers essentially do their entire years sales in the Anaheim convention center so they all trot out their newest and slickest.

I first attended about 5 years ago and was struck first by the booth babes... you've seen photos of them at auto shows.  They were exactly the same.  6 foot tall women wearing very little clothing and more often than not, surgically enhanced in multiple ways.  As the economy went down over the last few years, the booth babes were the first expenditure to be cut and very, very few displays had them this year.  Business seems to be on the way back up and attendance seemed higher than the last few years although there were some obvious manufacturers who were absent.

It is a convention only for people who are in the business so if you don't have a tie with a manufacturer, a retailer who will send you to the event, or are a big enough star to be able to get in for publicity's sake, you can't attend.  I get in on a visitor's pass with Lowden Guitars and really enjoy getting to spend some time with George and his family, seeing their primary demonstrator at the booth, Thomas Leeb, and getting to see the newest and slickest that George and company have produced this year.

For those of you who don't know,  Lowden is a small Irish family run company that builds what I consider to be the finest guitars in the world.  They build about 500 guitars a year and are played by some of the finest guitar players in the world including Pierre Bensusan, Alex DeGrassi, Richard Thompson, and Thomas Leeb.  Many other famous players have played Lowdens at one time or another in their careers and there are scores of wonderful players around the world who love these amazing guitars.  I've been playing them since about '86 or '87 and currently own two.  My primary guitar is an O25C Custom built in 2000 after my first Lowden, an L25C built in early '86, was stolen in Philadelphia in August of 1999.  My second is a recently acquired S10P built in '87.  It is old, beaten, abused, and scarred.  The two guitars have slightly different voices but they clearly come from the same gene pool and both really sing.  They are not inexpensive guitars, but at this quality one would never expect them to be.  That said, I have not played any guitars at any price that I would choose over a Lowden and I have played some very expensive guitars.

African Blackwood F50
Lowden had a bunch of gorgeous guitars in their booth but was really getting buzz about three of them.  One was a medium size guitar with a redwood top, very elegant appointments including a bevel on the lower bout that makes the guitar more comfortable to pay, and back and sides of a very rare and expensive wood (at least in sizes needed for guitars) called African Blackwood.  The wood has all of te characteristics needed for an excellent guitar and this one is.  It was also the most expensive guitar at the booth.

The real buzz came from two prototype fan fret guitars.  Let me explain the concept behind these guitars.  Longer strings work better for lower pitches and shorter strings work better for higher pitches.  This is called scale length and tells you the distance between the nut (the piece of bone near the top of the guitars neck) and the saddle (the piece of bone in the bridge).  The vast majority of guitars have a single scale length for all six strings which like many issues in guitar design, represents a compromise.  Once you've chosen your scale length, there are formulas that tell you where to put the frets so the guitar can play in a well tempered scale (another compromise to tuning).  What would happen if you had multiple scale lengths so the lowest strings were longer and the highest strings shorter?  Theoretically the low pitches would be richer and deeper and the high ones clearer and more bell like.  This is especially noticeable for folk who do lots of altered tunings.  Of course, it requires some voodoo with the frets, nut, bridge, and braces to make it all work.  Most visible is the arrangement of the frets... like a fan.  A few individual builders have been producing guitars with these multiple scale lengths but they are often incredibly expensive and beyond the experience of almost all guitarists.  George produced two prototypes of fan fret guitars and every player who visited the booth wanted to try them.  The high point of my time there was when Colin Hay, known to many from his days in the 80's band Men at Work, and a friend of his played a gorgeous duet on the two fan frets in the quiet room at the Lowden display.  Just sublime.  The sound of the guitars was really beautiful and they fit together, hand in glove.
fan fret guitars

I forget what the actual string lengths were, but, if I remember correctly, the lowest string is more than 1.5 inches longer than the highest one. Notice in the photo that the frets are arranged in a fan.  The slanted bridge on the right hand guitar is the logical way to get a slanted saddle but the interior bracing of the guitar must be changed to accommodate the different placement of the bridge.  The guitar on the left uses George's normal bridge with what struck me as a Salvador Dali'esque extension for the slanted saddle.  This allows George to retain his signature bracing pattern.  Some who looked at the guitar asked whether that additional wood would deaden the sound or lessen sustain.  I certainly couldn't hear any deficits. 

The orientation of the frets did cause many of the players to scratch their heads.  Some reported that once they ignored what their eyes were telling them, they didn't feel any difference in playing.  Others said that it would require some small adjustments to technique.  I was in the second group.  Given the depth and balance of George's "regular" guitars, I'm not sure I see the need need for the fan frets and so I can't see a situation where I'd feel the need to adjust.  Others, especially some fingerstyle players who often play with the lower strings dropped a step or more, may see the design as a wonderful thing.

I didn't see much of the rest of the show... I walked through the entire center once and I did look at cases and gig bags since I need a new one for my S10P, but other than that, I stayed pretty close to the Lowden booth.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the beauty of a place

Once upon a time there was a Texan visiting the northeast.  He had heard about the beauty of the place and was excited to see it.  Standing on the side of a Vermont mountain, looking across a valley he turned to his host, shrugged and remarked, "I guess the scenery is nice... but it is so hard to see with all of those trees in the way."

I have been very few places that did not have real beauty.  I love the stark beauty of the desert with the shapes of the rocks and colors of the hills.  I love the impressionist like landscapes in the northeast.  I love the rolling hills, dotted with grazing cattle and sheep that we saw in Scotland.  I love the fecundity of Hawaii where the flowers bloom everywhere and the mountains fall into the sea.  I love El Junque, just east of San Juan Puerto Rico where everything literally drips with life, the green is overwhelming, and the oxygen so thick it is almost oppressive.  Oklahoma didn't do anything for me... and I've been a few places in the central valley of California where it was also difficult for me to see anything truly beautiful but I expect that if I spent even a few more hours in either place, I would find something.

All that said, where I live is astoundingly beautiful.  While I lived in the northeast, the picture I often had of California was of the sprawl of Orange County or the urban blight or extreme wealth of parts of LA (thanks television!).   Those are certainly part of the picture here but the one piece that really surprised me, and still does at times, is how wild California is.  About once a year we hear of a sighting of a mountain lion, often in a place where significant populations of people live.  A few months ago, I was driving home along the Gaviota Coast and looked over to my right only see a golden eagle take off from a telephone pole.  This past Friday, I was driving along the same coast in the other direction and looked out to the ocean only to see a whale spout about 200 yards off shore.  It was the second time I'd seen a whale from my car while driving in that area.  Then there are the more common wildlife - coyotes, hawks, hummingbirds, dolphins, sea birds, sea lions, elephant seals, varieties of lizards and snakes, and tarantula...  And while we live in an area that is technically semi-arid, there are always flowers blooming of one sort or other.  The hills are usually golden brown dotted with live oak trees, but after a rain, they turn green and then in spring they turn yellow, covered with mustard flowers.  The sides of the mountains along with rock faces are often covered with the dirty green of chaparral, live oak, and evergreens.  The mountains rise and fall into the ocean.  In winter when the air is very clear, you can look south across the ocean (the coast runs east-west in the SB area) and it seems that you can reach out and touch the Channel Islands, the closest of which is 22 miles out. 
Gaviota Pass

Driving from Santa Barbara to Buellton, where we live, you go along the coast for about 20 miles and then turn north, paralleling the coast which also turns north a bit further west, and drive through the Gaviota Pass through the Santa Ynez Mountains... the mountains are glorious with the southern end of the pass being particularly dramatic.  Once you get to the Santa Ynez Valley, you're in wine country with some of the best Rhone style and Pinot Noirs in the world surrounded by vineyards, cattle farms, and other produce. 

So, I highly recommend a visit some time and I expect I may hear you sitting at a breakfast spot either in Santa Barbara looking out at the dolphins playing in the ocean or in the valley, enjoying Danish pancakes and in either place, talking across the table, wondering whether you might somehow be able to move here.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Do You Hear What I Hear?

My daughter was laughing that the other day about something she overheard.  She was walking down a street and heard two young, elementary school aged girls singing a song they were much to young to be listening to - "I'm Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO.  There's a line in the song, "I've got passion in my pants and I ain't afraid to show it."  The girls were obviously way too young to make sense of that line... so they heard it and sang it in a different way, "I've got cashews in my pants and I ain't afraid to show it..."  Doesn't make much sense either, but it worked for them.

A few days ago I was talking with a friend about Cambridge Drive Church's community outreaches.  We have multiple 12 step programs that meet on our property.  As we talked, my friend mentioned SLA.  He was talking about Sex/Love Addicts... I heard Symbionese Liberation Army, the domestic terrorist organization that kidnapped Patty Hearst in the 70's.  Here's the connection... His SLA is a 12 step program.  Mine goes back to my younger years and has a connection with the church because one of the Church members had a daughter who was part of the Symbionese Liberation Army.  Obviously, the conversation quickly degraded until it made no sense.

How often does that happen in life?  Even when we use the same words and hear the same words, they may have very different meanings for us and while we think we're making sense to one another, we may be missing something very important.

In the meantime... "I've got cashews in my pants..." and that would not be very comfortable.  So be careful what you say.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


My primary instrument is acoustic guitar and I have two wonderful instruments, both built by Lowden Guitars, an Irish company that builds stunning guitars.  They are not inexpensive but to my ears, they are well worth the cost.   The sound is big, warm, responsive, elegant, and rich.  Guitars though are not very loud as far as instruments go so to be heard in any but the most intimate of settings, they require some kind of amplification.  Any instrument that embodies all of those adjectives is going to be very difficult to capture with any kind of pickup and amplifying it will necessarily involve multiple compromises between accuracy, complexity of the system used to capture the sound, susceptibility to feedback, and the choice of which characteristics of the instrument must be attenuated to play in a louder situation.  I joke that I spent a significant amount on a great guitar only to be faced with multiple compromises when trying to amplify it and significant additional costs.

Getting a good live sound is a huge area of discussion among acoustic players.  For me, the bottom line is always, which compromises am I willing to make?  What characteristics of the sound of my guitar played in my living room am I willing to give up in order to be able to play for an audience of 50 or 100 or 500 people? 

Compromise... is not a popular word in the US these days.  For decades, compromise has been the primary work for politicians.  In a nation growing ever more diverse, their job was to come together and work out deals with which nobody was completely happy but everyone got something they deemed important.  Of course, there have always been instances where folk have had issues about which they could not compromise.  Still, until recent times, politicians did a pretty good job of finding ways past those issues and making deals.

In recent years our culture has become more and more polar.  In politics this has been fed in the primary process where the more extreme voters are likely to participate and many politicians, especially on the right, are pushed towards the extremes just to get nominated.  As those more extreme groups have gained power in the primary process and have enabled some extreme candidates to get elected, they have become more entrenched and less willing to compromise.  For what it's worth, the same thing has happened in religious circles.

Now, here's the piece that has me interested.  A few days ago Glenn Greenwald published a fascinating article in The Salon comparing many of Obama's political stands to those of Ron Paul and traditional liberal stances.  He said the issue was that many liberals are either downplaying the issues where Ron Paul is actually more in line with their beliefs or ignoring them altogether.   The reality here is that progressives are being forced to compromise their views.  They must decide whom they will embrace when one candidate stands for some of their issues and not others while the other candidate is the exact opposite.  I think Greenwald is correct that in large degree the liberals are avoiding a conscious compromise and ignoring those issues where Obama stands in contrast to their historic views.

Coming out of Iowa, the Republicans have a similar dilemma.  Mitt Romeny, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul represent very different understandings of what it means to be a Republican and each would present an extremely different platform for that party in the next election.  None seem to be a happy compromise for them.  Indeed, I think that dis-ease with compromise has been the genesis of the revolving 2nd place candidates as many in the party are not happy with Romney while each option they put forward turns out to be worse.  In any case, they will be forced to compromise, to choose which characteristics they can let go in order to keep some others.  Some, like many in the Tea Party have already said they will not vote for Romney as he would be a compromise with their core principles.   It will be interesting to see where this goes...