Thursday, March 25, 2010

Glenn Beck on MLK

Just saw an article about Glenn Beck by Jim Wallis, who is currently under the Beck attack due to his stance on social justice.  In the article Wallis cited Beck talking about MLK as a great example of a person against violence. 

I totally agree with this, as does Wallis.  I wonder if Beck is aware of MLK’s stance, especially toward the end of his life about the United States:

"Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the 16th century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population."

MLK believed that the US made genocide a policy in our colonial existence as well as after our Independence.  He made it clear that when the Native Americans would not be enslaved, we had to import slaves. 

I wonder if Beck knows that MLK’s next big push in life was toward Economic Justice in America.  In a recent article on MLK:

Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.

Beck, did you know that MLK, who we celebrate for his courage, took a courageous stand against the economic injustice in America?  Did you know that the reason that we don’t view speeches of MLK from his last year of life is because they are laced with anti-war rhetoric, a negative view of the history of America, and treatises on the radical redistribution of wealth? 

Beck, did you know that if MLK were making these speeches today, you’d be calling him a commie? 

Beck, did you know that people like MLK and Wallis and Wright can be good strong Christian men, who care deeply about people in our country AND are PATRIOTS even though they question the motives of the founders, the methods of our colonialism, the legacy of our past, and the current social and economic injustice?  I feel like if Beck were presented with the above question, he would either say: NO! or have some sort of synaptic episode that would push him over an edge. 

The way that Beck teaches, there is no inbetween.  The only patriot and true american-christian is one who is against any expansion of government regulation or control and believes that the founders were purely moral and God-inspired authors of a Declaration and Constitution that are inerrant and unchallengeable. 

Again, I am just voicing and probably overstating my shock at the one-sided argument that Beck offers on his show.  He does not allow himself to be challenged live on tv, and takes a very cowardly approach to battling his detractors with out of context attacks.  It is shocking to me that people believe in this guy, that they can watch him and not see through it.  Shocking.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Glenn Beck Rant

OK.  I haven’t done this for a while, but I have to do it.  Every time I visit my dad, he is watching Fox News.  He watches it all day long.  He assures me that Glenn Beck is a brilliant guy, he assures me that it is the only balanced news on tv.  I still didn’t really give it a try.  I have been busy and really don’t have the time to dive into politics. 

But because everyone got so crazy this week about health care, I decided to spend a little time on the news.  I watched a balance of CNN, FOXnews and of course checked in on the Colbert Report and Daily Show.  The news has been very entertaining.  Conservatives are super upset and liberals are gloating and celebrating.  Both of the displays are equally nauseating to me.  But it is a big display of morbid curiosity. 

Anyway, since I have been watching a little more news than usual, I checked into Glenn Beck.  I had heard and blogged about his statements a couple of weeks ago telling people to avoid churches who were supportive of social justice.  What I expected from watching Beck was to be surprised that he is more balanced and less manic than most people paint him out to be.  I expected him to be more grounded in reality and to make some good arguments.

The first thing I saw the other day was that he was clearing up his statements about social justice in churches.  Beck said “here is my definition of social justice…” and flipped a chalk board to show what he calls social justice.  His definition of social justice was that that government would forcibly take money away from citizens to give it to others.  This was more balanced than what I expected.  Personally I don’t think that churches should be preaching about politics and what the government should or should not do.  I don’t think that a church should tell me to say the pledge, sing the national anthem, or who to vote for.  I don’t think that a church should tell me where the president should stand on issues.  I don’t want that in a church.  I know that my dad and millions of others would disagree with this statement.. but I really don’t believe that what our government does is important enough to waste the church’s time.  It is pretty much futile.  The only possible exceptions being when lives hang in the balance in the case of war and abortion. 

Beck shouted that Jesus never told us what to do in relation to the government except to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  Of course this is not true, but people who thrive on hyperbole don’t fact check big statements anyway.  When Jesus said “go the extra mile” He was talking about when a Roman soldier would ask you to carry their pack of gear for them, you were legally required to carry it for one mile, but Jesus was saying, “carry it an extra mile.”  This was directly related to the government with which I am sure Jesus and most of the Jewish people of His time disagreed with. 

Why might Jesus say something like this?  Quite possibly because the difference between Jew and Roman in that day, though HUGE in the eyes of those cultures at those times, was small in the eyes of Jesus.  Jesus was saying that when you have the opportunity to show grace, peace, to GO THE EXTRA MILE.  Was this a mandate or a law from Jesus?  No.  Does this justify the Health Care Reform Bill?  No.  I can only indirectly support or refute the health bill with scripture.  And, FYI I could easily indirectly support AND refute it easily with scripture. 

I am digressing a bit from my original Beck rant here and will get back to it in a second, but… in my humble and private opinion, though this is one of the first laws of my lifetime that actually will affect my life a little bit… it is not that big of a deal to me and won’t affect my life personally that much. 

Now, I can see the argument that some are making about how government should be smaller and shouldn’t tell me what kind of health care I should get.  I can see the argument that even though the congressional budget office says that this will only save the American people about 100 billion over a decade at most, that it will probably cost a lot more than what we are estimating and will cost a lot.  The price tag is almost a trillion dollars, and I really think that is not going to be recouped easily.  I can see the argument that we may be strapping more debt on our kids.  All of those arguments are well founded in reality and in history.  I share those same concerns. 

But what is Glenn Beck doing?  Is he using those same arguments?  No, he’s taking it further.  He is saying that we are moving toward socialism, marxism, communism, and nazi-ism.  Of course, anytime the government regulates anything, you can argue that we are inching toward socialism.  There is nothing wrong with that argument.  I personally don’t think that the government should be able to tell me to wear a seat belt or a motorcycle helmet, BUT I am fine with the government telling me that I should reasonably protect my kids when I transport them.  Is having the government regulate whether I endanger my kids, a step toward socialism?  Maybe it is.  But I welcome the government protecting children from parents who might get them killed. 

At some point the United States had to make decisions that if we were to have order in our society and prevent people from stealing at will we would have to have a group of people to protect the rights of the citizens.  Government had to decide what rights to protect and to what extent it could go to protect them.  Is this a step toward socialism?  Maybe, but I think we need the police.   I think that America would be a country of total anarchy without police.  We went as far as to get an FBI, a CIA and many other organizations funded by the people to protect the rights of the people.  The genius of the USA was that these things are created and overseen by a representative government.  This, of course is far different than many countries that have formed a military, police and social services to do the bidding of the government or dictator of the time. Ultimately, if the government gets too big, Americans can vote for the person and people who will shrink it.  Also, ultimately there are three branches of the government, any of which can shut down a law that they deem to infringe on the rights of citizens.

When I heard the first statement by Beck and was pleasantly assured that he did not say ALL of what I thought he said about churches and social justice, I was glad, but what Beck is doing in almost every case that I watch him dissect, is he is taking everything to it’s most extreme.  He seems to think that every person will go to their extreme.  If a person is on the left, they will be a socialist, if they are on the right, they should be a conservative patriot holding to the wishes of the founders.  He is extremely frustrated by anyone who does not end up on one extreme or the other.  He assumes that any centrist is either hiding their real agenda, or that they are not informed well enough about an issue, otherwise they would be on an extreme.

I watched the show yesterday where he put up pictures of Jeremiah Wright, Jim Wallis, Bill Ayers and Nancy Pelosi.  He played a sound clip from all except Pelosi.  He had short sound bytes from Wallis saying that he believed in a government that would redistribute wealth, also a quick sentence without any context of Wallis saying that he was a Marxist like some other woman that he is referring to.  He quotes Rev. Wright saying some of the things that were well publicized during the election.  He plays a clip of Ayers saying that he wasn’t sorry that he set bombs as a revolutionary in the 60’s.  None of it was in context.  But he assumes the worst from each.  He then makes the statement that these people are all communists who were confidants of Obama and were his trusted advisors and says: “what kind of person surrounds themselves with radicals day in and day out?  A Radical.”  Therefore, Obama is a socialist that wants government to control all.

Do you see the leaps of logic here?  First of all, are these people really communists?  Ayers was an anti-war demonstrator.  He did terrible things in his anti-war demonstrations, but later amassed a fortune.  Obama has served on a committee with this man, and according to Obama has barely had a conversation with him in the past.  Rev. Wright was the pastor of one of the great downtown churches in Chicago.  Wright was a supporter of aid for the poverty afflicting the city.  Wright was a pastor who loved people and loved families.  He said some radical things, but very few of his sermons focused on the radical liberation theology that he seems to subscribe to.  Pelosi is hated by conservatives in such a massive way that she qualifies as a communist without Beck even needing a soundbyte.  Wallis, we are told is Obama’s special religious advisor and one of Obama’s key policy advisors.  This is a funny statement because you’d think that Wallis might have mentioned on his website that he is a key policy advisor.  The truth of course is that Wallis, who is the editor of Sojourner’s magazine is one of many on the presidents’ council on faith based and neighborhood partnerships. 

In reality, Wright was Obama’s pastor, Wallis is one of many on a council with Obama, and Ayers has barely ever talked to Obama.  These people are not his advisors.  He does not surround himself with them.  In fact, he rarely sees any of them besides Pelosi.  These are not difficult facts to sort out.  But Beck not only chooses to not sort out facts, he projects half truths in a way that manipulate the viewer.  If you take Beck at his word, these 4 people are full blown communists and are all advisors surrounding our president.  If either of those things were actually true, it would be worrisome, but it is all just a manipulation.

Beck does this in other ways.  Last night, he showed on his chalkboard, a diagram depicting a triangle of how things should be.  God should be at the top, affecting, the decisions over health care and other issues that make up our government’s priorities.  He then said, if you flip it, you see what Marxists believe, that government is their God, and that government dictates our morals and our morals are manipulated to make us believe that the health care bill is the right thing to do.  What Beck makes us believe is that communists are Godless people, which certainly is not always true.  He also said that Americans and especially the founding fathers were “God-fearing” people and full of faith, hope and charity.  Of course those things are not ALL true either.  The founders were slave owning people who justified wars, and several of them were not what we would call Christian today.  Some of them were God-fearing, some of them apparently used the name of God to justify their own lifestyles.  Some of them were war heroes, some of them owned slaves, some of them had affairs with slaves and other women, some did all three.  Beck paints them all with the fattest brush, because that is what he does.  He flipped the triangle telling us that is what “progressives” do.

What Beck is unwilling to believe is that Wallis is a God fearing man, whose relationship with God and experiences drive him to believe in social justice in a different way than Beck.  Rev. Wright is a God fearing man whose relationship with God and experiences drive him to believe a certain way about the United States.  And Beck is a God fearing man whose relationship with God and experiences have caused him to believe what he believes. 

Faith in the same God can lead to differing opinions about leadership, about politics, and about just about anything.  Jesus did not endorse capitalism or socialism.  I think that Jesus would have been Jesus under either government, and I think that Christians like Wallis and Wright and Mormons like Beck can also have faith under either government. 

The big problem that I have with Beck is that he believes that because Glenn Beck is right and justified in what he says, that Wallis is wrong, that any policy from the government is wrong because it expands the power of government, that any aid from the government is wrong because it comes from taxpayer dollars.  This is one way to believe about the government.  It does not make the opposition wrong.  It just makes the opposition different.  Also, because the founding fathers believed something 200+ years ago, does not make it right today.  We can see that in the way they went about slavery, expansion, mistreatment of other cultures and peoples and their justifications for war.  The founders were not perfect.  Their words do not endure forever.  That’s why there is a Bill or Rights and amendments to the constitution.  The founding fathers had great intentions for America, but that does not make them right.  Some people who have expanded or suggested changes have also had great intentions and motives, the fact that they wanted change did not make them wrong. 

In my opinion Beck is either a person who adamantly believes what he is saying and his way of justifying his logic.  If this is true, I think that Beck is pretty simple minded and is not able to understand the complexities of differing opinions.  OR Beck is a master at knowing that his exaggeration and rhetoric are very inflammatory and are getting people very riled up and angry.  In my understanding, this would make him a master manipulator who is not at all genuine.  OR He is fooled by his own grandstanding and ego to believe that people who disagree with him are morons and that he is the prophet.  In my understanding this makes him delusional with epic grandeur and an unfathomable hubris.  Perhaps my mind can not think through the complexities of Glenn Beck’s persona.  Perhaps it is a mix of all of the above.  Perhaps there are other variables in these equations that I am not seeing, but Beck is not helping anything.  He is stirring up anger that is not helpful to any part of the process.  I have watched all week so far and he has not suggested one helpful strategy that Americans could use to help themselves.  He has only preached anger, and misunderstanding. 

I’ll watch a few more of these to see if he is just angry and raging about the Bill being passed.  But I am getting less and less hopeful that there is anything that he is doing to help anything at all.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Thoughts on the Health Care Bill

In 2004 and 2008 I was shocked at how gross people could be about politics in those presidential elections.  But things are just getting worse and worse.  Both sides are full of crazy people vying for the next obnoxious sound-byte.  By the way, blame the media for awarding sound-bytes to complete insanity. 

Last year, I was blown away when a young church staffer posted on his facebook a list of lies about the Bill.  He posted that these were true statements, and after inspection, you could see how words were stretched and changed by the original author.  Of the original 48 claims, only 4 proved to be true while the others were false, fabrications, or at the very least misleading. (The website is an important resource because they are doing the work of actual journalists.  In 2004 Dick Cheney urged voters to check the veracity of his opponents’ statements.) The church staffer who posted this on his facebook was obviously ardently against the bill, and his reasoning was akin to someone who watched a few hours of Glenn Beck and Bill Oreilly. 

What shocks me is that there seems to be almost NO ONE who is willing to look for a common ground.  Everyone rushes to support or condemn the next idea out of the president’s or the pundit’s mouths.  There is almost no meaningful dialog happening, just a war of clips and sound blurbs. 

When it comes down to it someone needed to pick the common ground and start from there.  The common ground shared by a vast majority of americans seems to be that Health Care costs are spiraling out of control, insurance can drop who they want, when they want with little more reason than saying that they have met a lifetime quota, are too sick, or had a preexisting condition. 

I read an article last week that said that Research and Development made American Health Care the best and thus we saw the lowest infant mortality rates in the world as well as communicable disease mortality.  However, because of the cost of this R&D, more and more people have been priced out of health care, and now infant mortality, disease prevention and communicable disease mortality are now becoming very scary numbers. 

There is a problem here.  Hardcore conservatives think that the government should not be the entity to correct the problem and the market will sort itself out.  They believe that consumers will drop insurance policies to the point that the insurance companies will lower their rates.  But this is not happening.  It might eventually happen, but people will get sick and die in the meantime.  What has been happening is that the insurance companies raise their rates to compensate for their lost profits. They tighten their regulations and only insure the healthiest people.  They have found a way to continue to increase profit without actually providing the service. 

Conservatives have been using the term “government takeover of health care” but is this really accurate?  The government mandates the safety of many of the products I eat and use.  They tell me how to drive and what I am allowed to drive.  They tell me what I am or am not allowed to eat.  They will not allow drug companies to sell me a drug without a prescription.  They regulate what is broadcast over television, what type of words can be said.  Conservatives are begging the government to restrict who is and is not allowed to marry and divorce.  They mandate how much school we are required to attend and what is taught in those schools.  They regulate police protection and fire protection. 

But now they are mandating that I HAVE TO have health insurance.  And this makes conservatives very angry.  They don’t seem to be arguing that we are all required to own car insurance.  And that we are required to be licensed to operate a car.  I guess I don’t quite understand.

Believe me though, even when I am saying that conservatives are being a bit ridiculous, I am not fully on the side of the democrats.  I am just saying that I think that conservatives are overstating their case in order to stop any progress from happening in any way for President Obama and a democrat controlled congress. 

Personally, if you were to ask me.  I completely believe that because of how far our country has traveled from when the founding fathers came up with their ideals, we can  not hold to the letter of their every intention.  When they penned their famous words, many of them had slaves, and the religions that they practiced only had slight variances under a basic Christian principle.  They were absorbing land for free, taking it from the natives who lived here.  Certainly we can’t live like that. 

I saw a post on facebook by another conservative friend of mine who linked to a photo of a tea party protester who was holding a sign saying: “Don’t give them my money.  Give them my work ethic!”  There must have been 30 comments under this photo of people saying how “right on” it is.  People were saying that people without health care, have obviously chosen to not attend college or get a steady job and thus don’t have the option because of their own poor choices.  I want to introduce them to so many friends that I have, some of whom did not attend college, but work harder than most people that I know.  And the ones that did attend college are getting jobs with no health benefit, or a very lame one. 

The guy who helped in our yard in Phoenix, was hispanic, but an american citizen.  He and his wife worked as hard as anyone that I know.  They cleaned houses and did yard work.  He battled rattlesnakes and scorpions, he cut palms down from tall trees in 110 degree weather.  They could not afford health care.  Is that the American dream?  If their baby has a fever, they have to go to the ER and sit for 10 hours (literally).  If he hurts his back, he goes to the ER for 10 hours and pays $200 to get referred to a specialist who he can not afford.  And because he has a poor health history, even if he could pay for insurance, he would probably be bumped out because he has preexisting conditions. 

We live in a system of inequality.  Republicans and Dems have to face it.  We do.  Because of poor choices that our country has made, there are people at a tremendous disadvantage here.  Can government fix it.  No.  Should it try.  No.  But, for an issue as basic as health care that needs reform for people who do have the money and power as well as the powerless and marginalized.  Should we do something?  In my opinion yes.

Is the health care bill perfect?  No.  I am glad that it will not use public dollars to fund abortion.  I hope that this is regulated well.  But at least it is a starting point.

Glenn Beck can make as many crazy statements as he wants, so can Rush or anyone else.  But if this means that the people that I know will get health care, I am very very happy. 

My prediction is that people will start seeing why this is a good thing sooner than later.  Even though there is a lot of backlash against the dems, I believe that republicans are shooting themselves in the foot by being against everything.  If this bill is seen as a victory or has a marginally good view by the end of 2010, republicans will have a hard time gaining ground against the dems.  Right now, they think that this is inevitable, so it will be interesting to watch. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Yamaha AES620

Here is a list of the guitars that I can remember owning:aes620 guitar

  • Hot Pink Tanara Guitar
  • Ibanez RG 550
  • Ibanez Artstar Hollow Body Guitar
  • Goya Classical Guitar (Garage Sale)
  • Samick SG
  • Takamine Acoustic Electric Martin Lawsuit Edition
  • Ibanez js600
  • OLP MM4 Guitar Port Package
  • Ovation Acoustic Electric
  • Line 6 Variax 300
  • Washburn BT2
  • Ibanez AEX Special Edition

At least that’s all I can remember.  I still have the Takamine Acoustic Electric guitar and an old Ibanez Bass that I never really plan.  But I have bought all of those guitars looking for the one that would actually help me be a better player.  I sold every one of them so that I could either buy another guitar or a golf club.  Looking back, the only one that I really wish I still had is the Ibanez JS600 Satriani guitar.  It was dinged up, but extremely comfortable.  I don’t know anything about the pickups, but I did love it.

None of these guitars made me a better player.  All of them encouraged me to play more guitar at least for a few days until I got bored with it because I really needed lessons and not a different guitar. 

I admit to some rockstar fantasies.  I did hope when I bought my first couple of guitars that I would get in a band and look cool.  But those fantasies have all faded. 

I was recently inspired to take guitar a bit more seriously and actually learn a bit.  I have decided that I really do love guitar.  I really do want to learn to play.  I decided that much like my recent desire to lose weight, I needed to humble myself a bit, I needed to say “I am becoming a fatty” “I can’t sprint” “I am too lazy to play catch with my kids”.  But for the guitar, I had to say: “I may have learned to play some chords in the first position, but anyone can do that” “I can’t play a barre chord” “I can’t play any kind of solo” “the only lead riffs I know, I butcher” “I need to start from near the beginning.”

So what I needed was a guitar that was easy to play, and had a tone that would be pleasing and fun to listen to.  Of course, my dream guitar has long bee the Yamaha RGX-tt Ty Tabor Signature edition.  You can find these for $600-ish dollars on ebay.  But I don’t have $600 and don’t need a guitar with a complicated tremolo.  I need a good player that I can get better on that will still be a good guitar when I am a better player.

So I researched what Ty has played and I researched what people were recommending.  Everyone and their dog goes back to a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Strat.  My only aversion to either of these is the price.  So I searched a bit more and found a review of Ty Tabor saying that the Yamaha AES guitars were his new favorite.  He was playing the top of the line AES920.  But I read further and learned that he was also playing a 620 at times on stage. 

I found that this guitar was the Guitar Player’s Magazine Editor’s Choice guitar and that it won the ONE award in Guitar One magazine.  So I knew that this guitar was at least special. 

Looking further, I found that there is NO ONE who gives this guitar a poor review.  Looks, feel, playability, sound, quality of construction are apparently first rate.  The reviews all say that this is the best Les Paul style guitar that many have ever played.  The mix of the mahogany body with the maple top and the rosewood on mahogany neck are perfectly put together.  It’s such a solid feel and a pleasing look.

This guitar is an ergonomic update to the les paul guitar. The shape is so much more thin and comfortable than a les paul, and of course it weighs less.

It is a string-through body and is full of warm sustain.  You can make the sound as rich or as harsh as you need on this guitar.  I’ve never played a guitar that can have as good of a low bassy sound along with a singing treble and mid sound.  You can hear this through either pick up or just strumming this guitar acoustically. 

Not that I have owned any high-end guitars before, but I have played some and in my opinion this is the finest feeling guitar that I have ever played.  I was worried by some who made the neck sound big and bulky, because I do like a thin ibanez neck, but there is nothing uncomfortable at all about this neck.  It is never in your way and feels completely natural.

Since I bought it used, I can not vouch for how it was originally set up, but I can say that on my guitar, the action is very low and comfortable. 

The pickups that came stock in this guitar were: a Jeff Beck style Semour Duncan bridge pickup along with a Yamaha Alnico pickup in the neck.  The original owner did not like the neck pickup and had unhooked it.  So I was left to choose another.  Because the AES920 comes with Duncan ‘59’s I purchased the Guitar Fetish Alnico ‘59 Pickup. 

The Beck Pickup is amazing.  Lots of beef to it but a lot of clarity.  You can really get some great gritty tones from it.  I imagine that someone who is only into smooth jazz would think that this pickup is too gritty, but anyone who uses a tube amp is going to get some great sounding overdrive with this. 

I am still assessing the pickup I put in.  It is very warm, complements the Beck pickup and sings really well.  I am really thinking that I made a great choice here. 

I don’t really pay much attention to how guitars are marketed, but I am assuming that this guitar was very poorly advertised.  Ty Tabor used it, Sammy Hagar has a signature model of it, but I am finding a lot of metal heads who bought it at their local music store looking for a metal machine.  I’m sure they won’t be disappointed, but playing this guitar through a modeling multi effects amp, just won’t do it justice.  It will sound every bit as good as any Epiphone Les Paul that they could have purchased, and will have more body than any Ibanez that they could have gotten for a similar price.  But the thought of this guitar being covered in Slayer stickers makes me sad.  There is so much more to this guitar than a metal head will experience.  Yamaha did build the AES720 especially for Metal Heads, it has Dimarzio pickups and a metal head paint scheme. 

This guitar is versatile and is a tone machine.  Play the blues through it and you will understand the amazing tone that it can create.  Play some chiming U2 type chords and riffs and you will hear how open the sound is. 

This should have been marketed as a guitar for people who want to hear great sound.  People who have been playing $1800 PRS guitars and Gibson Les Pauls should have been challenged to try this thing.  Some of those guys may never want to switch from their expensive guitar choices, there is a mental security and pride to knowing that you paid a lot and got a great named guitar that the pro’s will respect.  But there are tons like me who feel like a genius for researching and finding this unbelievable guitar used for $200. 

I shot an email to customer support at Yamaha to ask why the AES were discontinued and to let them know that the guitar was marketed so poorly.  They emailed back and said that the sales were low and it was a financial choice for them.  It seems like a very sad and unfortunate choice in my opinion.  But we can benefit from their mistake by picking one of these up for less than $300 used. 

In short.  The best guitar I have ever owned by a long shot, my favorite guitar I have ever played (I like it more than the bulkier les paul’s and the stylish PRS gutiars) it is gorgeous, and well built, the sounds are amazing and make a hack like me have some good moments.  It is a compliment to any type of amp that allows  a great guitar to shine.  It is comfortable and very first rate in every way. 

Justin Guitar

justin guitar

Ok.  You can see from recent posts that I am getting back into playing the guitar.  For some of you who have known me for a while, this may seem like a joke.  I have tried numerous times to get “back” into it.  But when it comes down to it, I was never as “into it” as I thought I was.

Like every youth pastor in the world, I learned every first position chord in the book.  I could play pretty much any worship song (especially with a capo) since almost every worship song has a very predictable progression. 

I bought my first electric when I graduated high school.  It was a hot pink tanara that had a repaired neck.  My mom paid for it for my birthday present.  It was garbage, but it was funny.  I learned the chords on it and played it at church a few times.  Once I learned power chords and how to play a few riffs in drop d tuning, I thought I was on my way to being “good.”  So I used my credit card and purchased a tweed amp stack and an Ibanez RG550 guitar.  It was a good deal and I loved playing them, but of course I thought that by playing the same things over and over again and learning a couple of songs here and there,  I would get better.

I did not.

Over the years since college, I have bought a few different guitars.  There were times in my life where I learned King’s X songs and could play some pretty intricate riffs by learning the tabulature to the music.  But I never really got any better. 

The last decade has had me in churches where there have been teenagers that have been amazing guitarists and I have never had a challenge or reason to get my guitar out and play it.  So I didn’t much at all.

Until this last few weeks.  Brandon had told me about some online lessons that he was taking and I could see quite a bit of rapid improvement in his playing.  He upgraded to a Fender Tele guitar and a cool Vox amp stack.  It was fun to watch his excitement.  While I watched this, I noted that I really needed a hobby too.  So even though I had a guitar and an amp, I went searching for a guitar that would be easier to play.  I sold the guitar and amp and purchased:

A Yamaha AES620 Guitar.  This is a guitar that I researched after learning that Ty Tabor had played them on stage along with his AES920 guitar.  Every review, every guitar magazine called this guitar an incredible value.  They said that it had an amazing sound.  They said that it was just an incredible guitar for the money.  I searched and quickly realized, I did not have the money.  After an extended search, I found a Craigslist ad in Roanoke VA for the guitar.  The guy was selling it for $200.  It needed a new pickup but he was willing to take my payment and ship it.

I replaced the broken pickup with a cool ‘59 humbucker that I found and I love the sound.

I also picked up the Blackheart Handsome Devil amp that I reviewed the other day.

But, was I really going to use it?  Or would it collect dust in my office?

That question was answered when I found

I was searching for online lessons and found one by Justin Sandercoe.  He lives in the UK and films himself giving guitar lessons.  But not just a couple, or a few.  Hundreds of lessons.  I was shocked when I found them, but I had to ask: which ones are for me?  Where do I begin?  So I found his homepage. 

His homepage gives you all the info you need to get started.  I could see that some of the beginners lessons were too rudimentary for me.  But some of them showed me technique that I had never learned on my own. Some of them showed me that I was making things more difficult than they had to be.  So I have to unlearn some bad habits while I learn the new. 

I also found that some of his beginners courses contain things that I had never heard about, and in his style of teaching, they were very seminal to development. 

When I did take lessons in college, I usually spent most of the time chatting and hanging out with my teacher.  I was pretty embarrassed to play for him, and thought I would learn the most by watching him play and explain what he was doing.  This obviously did not work for me.

I had already known some music theory from my violin days, and learned the Pentatonic blues scale from my teacher.  But I did not know why it was pentatonic and why it was important.  Justin not only talks about what you should learn, but shows you how to learn it and why it matters. 

He has a progression to his teaching.  First learn technique.  Then some chords.  Then a few songs so that you can practice your chords.  He has great exercises to go with these teaching how to get from chord to chord quicker.  He gives you a few songs that you can play as you progress through the lessons. He even teaches some cool distinctive fingerings and techniques to make the songs sound cooler.  So, he not only teaches you how to play the chords “Save Tonight” by Eagle Eye Cherry.  He teaches you the cool strumming rhythm and finger patterns that make it sound “next level.”

He them moves to the pentatonic scale and while I am learning the scale, and how to play it cleaner and faster, I am also taking his lessons on the blues style of playing.  I have been in the blues stuff for a week, have learned the scales and some licks to play, and can already play some rudimentary solo patterns.

I can see a dramatic difference in how I play and how I sound in only the couple of weeks that I have been learning his stuff.  This is amazing.

The other cool thing is that while I learn through the blues stuff, I can still go back and learn finger stretching and strengthening exercises and learn more about barre chords and how to play them, as well as learn some songs. 

I can do it through his style of teaching, at my own pace.  I can watch the lessons as many times as I want, and can find songs that he stretches my abilities in order to play.


That’s right.  All of this stuff is on there for free.  All of the videos are on youtube, all of the explanations and resources are on his site.  He does sell some products, but you don’t need to pay a thing or buy anything to go through every lesson.  He does take donations and does want to sell some products, but there is no pressure, no commercials, no being taken advantage of. 

I can not give a higher recommendation to anyone who wants to learn guitar or who wants to get better at guitar than to take Justin’s methods and start learning.  I am having a blast and learning how to make my new guitar and amp sound pretty cool.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Blackheart Handsome Devil Combo Amp


blackheart handsome devil

Keep in mind that I am not a good guitarist.  I have learned riffs from my favorite King’s X songs.  And can hack through some of my favorite old music from Jars of Clay.  And of course I can play any worship song with first position chords. 

I have loved Metal forever and had always envisioned myself getting better at churning out some metallica thrash riffs.  But surprisingly there is something not quite fulfilling and attention holding about learning to chugga-chugga through a few metal riffs.  I can sound good for a good 20 seconds before I have to start a new song’s riff.

The only amps that I have owned since I really started learning are modeling amps that have hundreds of digital sound combinations that you can blast through.  But playing Sad but True through insane distortion and a phaser is silly for a minute but really has no lasting appeal. 

But of course, for some reason, I was looking for a cool modeling amp with all the bells and whistles. 

I only had about $350ish to spend and was looking through Craigslist for anything that caught my attention.  I searched for all of the metal amps that I have been told that I should like, Mesa Boogie, Bogner, Soldano, but of course they all cost hundreds more than I have to spend.  While goofing around I found a blackheart handsome devil amp.  It is the combo.  There are separate head and cabs for sale too.  I had never heard of them besides catching a glance of one a couple of months ago at a guitar store.  But I didn’t know anything about them at all.

There was a link to an online youtube demo.  I was shocked at the great distorted sound as well as the clean sound.

Handsome Devil Review

But what really started occurring to me after watching dozens of other reviews was how much I love not only the sound of a tube amp, but how much I love the blues. 

I have known for a long time that I like rock with a lot of blues in it.  But I always thought that metal would hold my attention.  But it never happened.

After hearing these demo’s I was motivated to at least read more reviews and potentially go out and try one.  I read reviews and learned that they were developed by an amp maker that had a great name from creating some awesome amps in the past.  They were less expensive than most tube amps because they are produced overseas. 

But no matter what I tried.  No one locally had them to try.  So I decided to buy the one on Craigslist without even trying it.  I talked the guy down to $320 and met him at his office. 

After getting it home, here is my review:

This amp has amazing sounds.  The tube distortion/overdrive is thick and syrupy like a much larger amp.  It will give you a great blues tone, or if you turn up the drive you will get a much thicker beefier tone than British distortion.  Even though the highs are clear, they are tight thus giving you not only articulate chords in distortion but an amazing lead tone. 

You can get great distorted overdrive at low low volumes.  I can turn it down and have a cool sounding distortion to practice with while Kim watches tv in the next room.

The amp is a 15w amp, but switches into a triode mode where it becomes a 7w amp.  Both settings can get very loud.  Both deliver great sounds, but they are different sounds.  The 15w pentode setting gives you some great chiming clean tones like a vox amp might.  The 7w gives you more laid back tones that sound a bit like an acoustic guitar when you are clean.  The 7w has a lot of room to turn it up and get some great gritty clean sounds.  You can really get as heavy as you want and find tons of cool sounds in between. 

If you want metallica, you might not be satisfied.  But if you want Metallica, you really need a Soldano, or a Mesa Boogie amp anyway. 

What this amp has done for me is not only educate me about the different sounds that a tube amp can produce.  It has also shown me how much I love a great blues sound.  This is my new project now.  I want to play some great blues and learn how good I can get at it.  It’s going to be fun with this amp.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Don’t ask me how I know this, but Oprah has a show called: “my favorite things.”  During this show, she showcases her new favorite devices and gadgets and articles of clothing or decor that make her life better and endorses them.  I think that my wife has spent some money because of these shows in the past. 

Being a church planter that does not have much or any disposable income, I really don’t have the means to buy whatever I want.  But, I decided recently that I really want to be able to buy a thing or two on occasion.  So I have started a new pattern.  I will sell old stuff that I no longer am using to pay for a new thing here and there.  I actually made a deal with myself that I would reward myself for losing weight and for working hard. 

Here was the deal.  I wanted a new phone.  Actually more accurately, I wanted a new phone service.  I had AT&T and was dropping every call.  I learned that T-Mobile had great service and makes calls over wifi wherever you are.  Coolio.  But I could not afford to drop AT&T and buy into a new contract.  But when I found out how much my iphone was worth, I was thrilled that I could get a decent phone.  The one that I wanted was the google nexus one.  So I offered to trade my iphone for a nexus one.

And we did it…

HTC-Google-Nexus-One-3G-problems (1)













Let me be clear.  I don’t think that the apps are as great as the iphone experience.  But this phone and the service are FAR superior.  I can use this phone and never drop a call.  I can call over my wifi.  I can replace the battery.  I will have a flash enabled browser next month.  The google voice app is great.  The Android marketplace has more free apps than the itunes store.  It plays all kinds of music and video files.  The browser is faster.  The processor is faster.  You can multi-task apps.  It is great.

I seemlessly take calls on the church phone number and on my own personal number.  I can call on either number too.  I am so much happier with this phone than I was with the iphone.

So that is thing number one.


Number two.

I was watching Brandon get more and more into the guitar.  He bought a super cool Vox amp that sounds amazing, especially a shimmering clean tone.  He also bought a Fender Tele guitar.  Very cool stuff.  It got me thinking more and more than I wanted to get back into the guitar.  When I had sold my old guitars I had retained my acoustic which is great sounding and I had bought a poorly set up electric that was a really great looking ibanez.  What I needed was an electric that sounds good, is well set up and easy to play so that I can play it at no volume while people are sleeping or working in the next room.  I was not going to use my acoustic for this purpose, so I wanted an electric that was well set up.  I knew that my ibanez would never be a good learning guitar, so I started looking around.

I did not have the $600 to buy a used Ty Tabor signature Yamaha which I have always wanted.  But I had seen that he had switched to a different Yamaha recently and a custom hand made guitar.  He had switched to a Yamaha AES920 which looks like a les paul but he says that it sounds better with the construction and pickups.  None of these are available.  The ones that I could find were all in the $800-900 range.  Too much.  But Yamaha made several other AES models.  the 720 is for metal heads with dimarzio pickups and is ugly.  The 420 is the cheap one with lame pickups and bolt on hardware.  The 820 was discontinued after half a year and had no available reviews.  But the 620 was getting great reviews.  It was the editors choice in a couple of magazines when it came out and sounds amazing.  All of the youtube reviews are saying that there is no epiphone les paul that touches its tone, and more importantly for me, is supremely playable.  It is an amazingly beautiful guitar.  Ty Tabor plays one on occasion, which is a selling point for me.  I loved it.  So I looked for one online.  Found some used ones on ebay with a reserve price of $400 which was rich for my blood.  So I googled “used yamaha aes620.”  Several came up.  Quite a few in Canada.  A couple in cali, and a couple on the east coast.  Most of them were too expensive, but the one in Roanoke VA was only priced $200.  I emailed the guy and ha agreed to ship it for $200.  It just arrived and is in perfect shape.

aes620 guitar

Now I have an incredible guitar.  It sounds amazing.  I will post a review of it later.


So now I needed an amp.  I sold some other junk so that I could afford a $300 ish amp.  I started looking on craigslist for a great deal.  I typed in Mesa Boogie and Bogner just to see what I could find.  What I found was a Blackheart Handsome Devil.  I had never heard of it.  But after listening to the reviews on youtube Brandon and I were blown away by the sound.  Blown away.  But I could not find one locally to play.  So I bought it without playing it.  Awesome, awesome.  I will post a review later.  But know now.  this amp is one of my new favorite things.

blackheart handsome devil

Coffee Shops, Fleas, Glenn Beck, and other stuff…

So here I sit, in Vinaccio’s coffee in Marysville.  I’ve said it before.  The only people who come into coffee shops are either Christians or people who were displaced from their office today.  Today I am both.  I had to get out of the house because of a repair guy who is spraying for fleas in our home.  yep fleas. 

I don’t get it.  I have been totally unwilling to have any pets and we still get fleas.  Please don’t think of us as the “dirty family.”  We aren’t dirty.  Apparently, this flea infestation is very common in our neighborhood.  We were told that all of the houses are built on sand and there is moisture and wetland everywhere around us.  I’m sure there is a spiritual application in that whole statement, but frankly I am too frustrated to suss it out. 

I am frustrated for a couple of reasons.  First, there is country music playing at this coffee shop.  Apparently they didn’t get the coffee shop memo about having to play Sarah McLaughlin and Norah Jones.  Weak.  I am also annoyed and the guy that our landlords hired to spray for fleas.  He showed up with some Raid Bug Bombs and some newspaper.  I said: “Do you have everything you need?”  He replied: “I brought some news paper to set the flea bombs on.”  I asked him if I had to do anything else to prepare and he said, without looking around…”nope, you should be good.” 

The only reason I am cool with this is because I am sick of getting bit by fleas. 

Have you heard about this whole Glenn Beck thing?  He made a comment the other day when he clearly said that if the website of the church you attend mentions “social justice”, your church is trying to turn you into a socialist and you need to leave your church.  He even held up a nazi flag and a soviet flag to demonstrate what a church that is in to social justice is moving towards. 

If you don’t believe me, here is the quote:

“ I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them…are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.”

Hmmmmmm.  I know Beck is a Mormon and is not an evangelical christian as most people try and paint him.  I know that he uses non-stop hyperbole to make his points.  But this is just nuts.  You can’t deny the fact that his opinions hold sway over a lot of people.  This is rough.  I’m sure that when Beck is calm, if he and I could have a conversation, there are some things that he and I would agree on about politics.  I am also sure that there is plenty that I disagree with. 

In fact, many times in the past couple of weeks, I have been asked about my stance on politics.  I used to be very outspoken on politics, but have been trying to not make political statements.  So here is the only statement that I will make, even on my own blog.  I do believe that the vision of the founding fathers was for a small government.  No question about it.  I do believe that they understood that government had a very important role though.  Government was supposed to protect the rights of the people.  Government should provide laws and a way to peacefully enforce the laws.  The problem with the vision of the founding fathers was that at the same time that they were writing laws to protect their rights, they were (at least many of them were) engaged in taking the rights away from slaves and native americans.  Their strength was talking about the ability to keep  your land and possessions separate from the government.  Their weakness was not ensuring that the “have nots” would have a pathway to earn the same possessions and positions through hard work.  Keep in mind though, that NO government has ever found a way to deal with both issues.  There has to be a balance, and the balance is always going to be tenuous. 

Jesus’ teachings were about helping though who were the “have nots”.  I firmly believe this.  That’s why I cringe when I hear the Bible used to support capitalism.  I also don’t know if I have ever heard the Bible used to support communism or socialism, though I do think that you can use Jesus’ words to do this or at least the lifestyle of the churches in Acts.  But again, Jesus never said to make His teachings into a government.  I think that the teachings of Jesus are always going to cause a revolution.  There will always be tension. 

But here is Beck, saying that churches who want to see Social Justice and want to make it happen are trying to bring about communism.  And he is telling you to run away from churches that want to do this.  The problem is that most of these churches want to do this through service and charity, not through political policy or change.  Arrrgh.  My problem with political pundits is that they take one statement and create this very scary strawman and tell you that is what every person that they oppose believes.  This is the logic that we can use to scare children and people who are unwilling to look into the facts. 

The other day, I was told by a friend who has a GED that he is going to start college at a local community college.  This is a dude who you would not picture in college.  He says “aint” all of the time and has never done well at school.  He did poorly at school because of a hellish childhood home life.  I am well aware that somehow tax dollars will help fund his education.  I know that small government people would be ticked off at this.  But I am thrilled.  If he works hard, he will get a degree and have a path toward a life where he can achieve the way that most of us can, the way that most of us take for granted.  If he works hard and gets his degree.  I will think that this is an incredible use of money.  Far better than a mission to Mars or a new stealth bomber.    That’s my opinion. 

I know that is rambly, but oh well.  I don’t blog enough to stay on topic right now anyway.

So here I sit in the coffee shop.  Two tables of people are having a Bible study.  Another group is pretty obviously three church members planning some event.  There is a lone woman by the fire trying to get some work done.  I am totally believing that the only people keeping coffee shops in business are Christians.  If it weren’t for Christians, all coffee would be sold from those drive through booths. 

Who is keeping Glenn Beck in business?  Who is keeping this flea guy in business?  I could have picked up a couple of flea bombs at the store and done what he is doing. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Body Bugg Update 3.01.2010

I’ve been about to post an update about the Body Bugg progress the past couple of weeks, but every time I do, I get sidetracked by work or life and by the time I get around to posting it I realize that I lost more weight.  I have to say that I am so happy with the results.

Here is the dealio…  The body bugg is not responsible for weight loss.  It is not a miracle device.  You don’t just strap it on and lose weight.  But… if you put it on and check the results daily, you will find that if you keep living like you had before, you will continue to gain weight.  This will put a level of shock and horror into you.  What I do find is that I generally live a pretty sedentary lifestyle.  Not a lazy one.  But, I am often in front of a computer or talking with someone around a table.  During an average day of meeting with people and working on a computer, I burn about 2500-2600 calories.  This sounds like a lot until you factor in the things that you eat and drink.  My favorite order at Jack in the Box is an Ultimate Cheese Burger with Large Fries and two tacos.  I have realized if I eat that meal, and not one more thing for the day… I will only maintain my weight.  If I eat another thing, I will gain weight. 

I also find that when I do something active like take a hike or play a round of golf (even in a cart) I will likely burn 3500-3700 calories. 

When you look at that data, you realize that in order to lose weight at a noticeable rate, I have to eat about 1200 calories in a day, and no more.  I would wager that almost every meal that I ate before I went on a diet averaged over 1200 calories. 

Basically, in order to lose a half pound of fat, you need to burn 1750 calories more than you eat.  So losing about 2.5lbs per week means that I need to eat about 1250 calories a day less than I exercise.

My resolution to lose weight had to be strong.  So here is what I have done:  I have cut the amount that I eat in about one third.  I know that this sounds crazy.  But I can easily exist on this amount of food.  Yep, I will have hunger pangs through the day.  But I have decided to condition myself to have those pangs remind me that I am losing weight.  This makes them far less annoying and makes them a reminder of my good eating habits and strong will-power.  Not only am I eating less, I am eating better food.  More veggies, more fruit, almost no red meat, low fat everything, high grain bread, no milk, no beer (except on rare occasions), no pop (I haven’t had any in almost a decade anyway.)  I take a multi-vitamin everyday and a very high amount of vitamin D.  I snack on fruit and never candy.  I will only eat cake at a birthday party, and will only have a small piece. 

On days when I am completely sedentary and only working with no exercise, I will limit myself to about 1000 calories.  When I do exercise, I reward myself with a little larger entree at dinner.  This is the difference of about 200-250 calories anyway. 

It’s not just eating, I have also been exercising more.  Throwing the ball with Jeffrey has been a big difference.  When we first started doing this, I could not break into a sprint.  I could not sprint!  I could take a few jogging steps to catch a pass, but that was about it.  In the course of less than a month, I can now sprint again.  Not long distances, but I can do it. 

I also have started riding a recumbent exercise bike.  When I first started doing this, I could not pedal even slowly (with some resistance) for 10 minutes without getting winded and fatigued.  Last week I started at a pretty good pace with decent resistance and pedaled through an entire Colbert Report and through a Daily Show without hardly noticing that I was working hard. 

I have also started hiking.  At least once a week, I am going for a hike of a few miles at least.  I bought shoes and a camera for my hikes.  It is fun, it is time to think, and the whole way is exercise.  Just awesome!

I have also started a pushup, situp and squat thrust challenge that I found online where I increase reps every week in order to get stronger.

I started this diet in mid January and to this point (March 1) I have lost 23.5lbs.  This is a little under half of my goal.  Keep in mind that a good portion of this weight (7-8lbs) was lost in the first week and a half and was water weight and body waste that is no longer stored the same way.  I could put that amount of weight back on in a matter of days if I chose to start eating poorly again.  I also need to keep in mind what the body bugg trainer told me.  Worry about inches more than about lbs.  Especially if I am getting stronger while I am doing this, I should be gaining muscle weight and losing fat simultaneously.  I am sad that I didn’t take my measurements before this whole thing started.  I measured for the first time last week, and am excited to check my progress next week.

I am excited that the jeans that were fitting a little too snugly before I started this diet are now very loose on me.  My XL shirts are not looking a little tight anymore.  I can wear almost everything in my closet again and am not limited to only my baggiest shirts and pants. 

My goals are: to lose 50-55lbs by June.  To lose 12 more lbs by our Launch Date on 4.4.10.  To fit into a suit that I could not wear at a wedding that I officiated back in November (I was not even close then, and it fit pretty well last week!) 

My rewards are that first and foremost, I look and feel better.  I also am rewarding myself with some very elementary hiking gear.  I bought two pair of clearance hiking shoes that I like for $17 each!  I also bought a little camera too. 

I am also buying a new guitar and amp. (I have to sell some stuff to do it, but I am happy to do this since I really want to get better at guitar too.) 

To be totally honest, I have been much more positive about myself and my abilities during this time.  I am excited to try new things more often.  My self confidence is higher.  Last year, I was about to sell all of my guitar gear because “I’ll never be any good.  I don’t care anymore.”  But now I am approaching things differently.  I can lose weight.  I can have discipline to exercise and eat right.  I can have discipline to take guitar lessons and get good. 

So, NO, the body bugg is not a miracle cure.  But here is what it did for me.  It showed me the honest, plain truth.  There were numbers to back it that truth up.  It helps me to know what I need to do.  It doesn’t do anything for me besides give me honest and real feedback.  Apparently that is exactly what I needed.