Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Taylor, Wherefore Art Thou?

Taylor Guitar's marketing dept. thinks this image defines cool.

I bought my first really good guitar, a Taylor acoustic guitar in the summer of 1991.  I still have it and it's been a wonderful guitar to play and own.  It's in the vintage class now that it's over 20 years old and even though some frets need to be redressed, it's tone has grown richer over time.  Since then I've owned several more Taylor guitars and they were all outstanding.

Robert Taylor shook up the industry in 1980s with quality made acoustic guitars famous for one main innovation–thin necks like one would find on an electric guitar.  For years acoustic necks were a thick and round as a club.  The thinner neck made the guitar easier to play since the low profile neck–as it became known–reduced hand tension and strain.  Complex chords were easier to place and position.  The old guard of acoustic guitars in America, Martin and Gibson, followed Taylor's lead and starting make thinner necks for their instruments as well, although Martin's necks still aren't as thin as a Taylor.  It was innovation long in coming.  

By the 1990's Taylor guitars were being widely seen played by noted country artists and they are popular among prayer and praise Christian bands.  Many rock musicians use them as well.  Besides the necks, the tone on a Taylor guitar features a   good balance between the bass and treble.  Another innovation was the introduction of the Baby Taylor.  For years guitars for kids were cheap, junky things and basically unplayable.  Taylor fixed that by introducing small guitars for children that adults learned to like as well.  I had one for a while and they are very nice guitars even if the string spacing is a bit too tight for my hands.  They make great travel guitars.  Soon, Martin had out the Little Martin.

But lately, I'm wondering where Taylor is headed.  A few years ago they came with the acoustic-electric T series which are very good performance based instruments even if they are a bit pricy.  Now they have a whole line of solid body electrics.  Who plays those things?  Fender and Gibson had cornered the market and have for years.  Taylor is not introducing anything that is innovative with these guitars such as when they started with the low profile necks.  Not only that but the established forerunners feature better prices.  The Taylor electrics are just too high priced for what they are.  Fender and Gibson have been around for years and many great players have owned them.  Their guitars like the Stratocaster and the Les Paul feature iconic designs.  Nothing says rock and roll like a Strat.

The latest catalog for 2013 shows just about every guitar now sports onboard electronics complete with a preamp and transducer installed.  I was surprised to see this.  While amplification is a great need for preforming musicians great and small, what about us traditionalists that want to play unplugged?  Well, there's Martin who still produces a large number of acoustic guitars free of this stuff.  Gibson's acoustic guitar line and a host of other manufacturers do as well.  I own two Martins now neither of them has a pickup installed and besides they are a much better fit for where I'm at musically.  And best of all, they are both more affordable that an equivalent Taylor.

So I wonder where Taylor is going.  I have always liked them as a company.  They practice good conservation with the environment.  Robert Taylor is an innovator and his success is a classic American story.  But the marketing picture above, showing an aging hipster (Hector Penalosa, Taylor employee) with Taylor hung around his neck, could almost be a metaphor of a company that is loosing its way.  It looks silly. You would never see Martin producing such an embarrassing marketing archetype.  But then Martin seems to have a better sense of who their customers are.  (Not to mention their long and deep connection to American musical history–Williams, Elvis, Cash, Dylan, Baez, Young, Stills, etc.)  People buy acoustic guitars to sound natural, to make acoustic music.  That's why you see so many bluegrass musicians playing Martins.  I don't know of any bluegrass band that has a guitarist with a Taylor and if there is, they are few in number.

Sure, you can still buy a Taylor a la' natural, most likely used and sometimes new, maybe order a custom one with nothing onboard.  And I will add another Taylor in the future as they still make the best 12 string guitars available.  I just hope in the coming days they stick to a course of solid acoustic innovation and don't get bogged down trying to compete where giants have already tread.   Acoustic guitars are what made the company so great.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Doubtful Case of Sharon Hill

Sharon Hill, a rising star in the Skeptical community was interviewed recently on Tim Binnall’s Binnball of America show (2.5.13).  She blogs at Doubtful News.  Hill comes off in her interview as smart, knowledgeable, and certainly reasonable.  She does not appear to be a zealot though her blog postings feature the usual skeptic-style dismissals.  Hill is sort of a nicer and less annoying version of Michael Shermer, who defines himself as a skeptic but in reality is a debunker, one with an everlasting smirk.  These so-called skeptics say they practice critical thinking but even that apparently has limits.  They doubt little of anything said or published by mainstream academic science or for that matter, the government.  

One of Hill’s main points is that investigators in the paranormal or Cryptozoology are not themselves scientists or scientifically trained.  To her, the ghost hunters on TV are just guys faking science for entertainment.  Hence her term, “sciencey” as a poke against the researchers that use scientific method but are not academically trained in such methods.  There is a certain hubris with this approach.  Sharon Hill has a BS degree in geology, but she can tell us that Bigfoot isn’t real?  Nor ghosts? Nor conspiracies?  Her apparent scientific research in these matters is basically nil.  Great, a scientist that does no scientific research into the matters she writes about.  Granted, everybody has an opinion and has right to it.  We all get to!   Other than banging away at a keyboard, what research has she really done?  Apparently, none.  She also has a tendency to be like the debunkers by dissing people, such as Dr. Melba Ketchum who announced she has some DNA data before publishing her results. And she was forced to do that by a scientific Politburo that basically wouldn’t let her publish her findings to be begin with (for more info check out her interview on Coast to Coast AM--quit enlightening how this process works).  Hill wrote a piece challenging Dr. Ketchum’s work without viewing her paper.  Is this what a real skeptic does?  Or in the terms of a poster, a “pseudoskeptic.”  Which evoked a whinny response form Hill followed up by a sarcastic one before she gave up and moved on.

And then what scientists, other than Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and a few others, are really looking into this stuff?  The herd mentality, the dogma of materialism, the need for grant funding and tenure, keep most in the coral and out of the pasture.  Any who challenge the status quo are the new lepers.  So it’s often left up to non-scientists to investigate these things.  

However, there is something not quite right about this woman.  During her interview on Binnball, Hill manifests a pleasant, middle of the road approach in regards to being a skeptic dealing with issues of the paranormal, UFOs, Bigfoot, and so forth.  But you don’t see this in her blog postings.  Kind, yes, but she is still on the well trodden road of debunking anything on the fringe.  Hill states that she does not discount personal experiences that people have.  But then she sort of does.  After all, in the skeptic’s world view, a person seeing Bigfoot or a ghost is on the same strata as somebody seeing the Tooth Fairy.  And while on the topic, in one article, she posts really bad examples of Sasquatch video clips.  Notice that the Patterson film is not listed.  Of course it can’t be, it’s too good!   It’s all part of the put down of these strange events that this middle of roader skeptic can’t seem to resist. 

And really, is there anybody in the skeptic crowd that has ever believed a first-hand eye witness account from somebody claiming to have seen a Bigfoot creature?  I know of none.  or for that people that claim to see and experience a variety of things from ghosts, UFOs, unknown animals, deceased loved ones, and so on.  

Sharon Hill sums it up:

“People hesitate to accept alternatives that cause them to question their senses, memory and perception. Their interpretation tells them this happened in this way. It has become personal. Frequently, they will stubbornly refuse to reconsider, the old ‘I know what I saw’ dismissal.”

You see, these attitudes only apply when a person has something unusual happen to them.  This line of thought isn’t considered if the person witnesses a shooting star or a crime.  Of course, those things are common place but what people experience, when the going gets weird, can still be valid.  Saul knew what he saw on the road to Damascus, evidenced by the radical transformation of his new life to become Paul.  Normal people know what they see and experience, and there is no sin in being stubborn about it.  Especially if they are not insane, not on drugs, not pranksters, and have no normal inclination to experience oddball happenings.

All skeptics love to tackle conspiracy and Sharon Hill is no exception in her interview.  As she stated, “If there are no snitches were are no conspiracies.”  For somebody as highly educated as she claims to be (no Universities credited in her bio) to think like this is bewildering.  She goes on to related  the old tired cliché of, “the government can’t keep secrets.”  Oh come on!  If government can’t keep a secret then how does the CIA, NSA, ONI, Pentagon, MI6, KGB, and many others stay in operation?  How do the governments of other nations maintain their intelligent services?  I think it’s quite apparent they do (Proudy, The Secret Team) via compartmentalization (Hill denies this), NDA’s, and so forth.  Look how many JFK files are still classified.  The Navy personnel at Bethesda, after JFK’s autopsy, had to sign NDA’s or else face prison.  This is one method of how you keep people’s mouths shut.  Hill admits to being a government employee.  She doesn’t state this in her bio.  Things get muddled as she insists government plots don’t happen because of blabber mouths to later reverse course and admit that it does lie and that government conspiracies do happen.

Obviously, she is out of her league discussing any of this.  On one hand she admits government conspiracies do occur and then flips and says they are rare since people snitch too much.  She said the the government can’t keep a secret and then says it does regarding the JFK assassination.  Which is it?  I think she is trying to appear fair but often ends up with endless and needless flip-flopping.   It obvious that she is not knowledgable on lot of diverse subjects that she comments on.

People Have Real Experiences
Basically, the scientific model for reality is flawed.  There is a physical, material world and how it functions and then there is what actually happens.  And much happens outside of the model.  I have experienced this and my family and friends have was well. Most skeptics take paranormal experiences and just write it off as a fluke or a coincidence or a hoax.  But that is a faulty assumption and one generally based on materialism, that such things cannot happen anyway.

An interesting experience to relate is one had by Dave Von Ronk.  Von Ronk was a mainstay of the New York folk scene revival of the 1960‘s and was an accomplished singer and guitarist.  Part of the revival included the resurgence of older musicians that had been around for years who finally got duly recognized.  One of them was Rev. Gary Davis the blind, illiterate, yet brilliant master guitar player of blues, ragtime, and gospel.  Von Ronk had recorded one of Davis’ tunes but he knew it never sounded right.  After the Reverend died, he came to Von Ronk in a dream.  In the dream Rev. Davis told him what was wrong with the performance of the song–he had the bass lines reversed.  Armed with this knowledge, Von Ronk got out his guitar and followed the instructions.  He finally got the picking pattern correct and performed the song as Rev. Davis had intended.  This episode is the transference of knowledge about a very specific thing.  A great leap of insight that solves a problem.  Dave Von Ronk’s dream is an event that transcends time, space, even death.  

I had my experiences in the summer of 2011 with the death of my mother.  She passed in her sleep.  Odd things began to happen shortly thereafter that gradually grew into poltergeist-type activity.  In about six months it all dissipated.  I kept a journal at the time to document the incidents.  Since then, every so often, something will flare up, some oddball episode.  Just a friendly little reminder that it’s still out there–whatever it is.  

I do try to look for a rational explanation for these events.  But it usually happens when you are not paying attention.  You see a door closed, walk by, and later don’t recall closing it.  Probing the memory doesn’t help and if you think hard enough you can convince yourself you did it.  Then it happens again.  Am I having memory problems?  Then somebody you live with in the house asks, “Did you close my bedroom door last night?”  A bit of relief comes to you that at least the mind is still safe.  But then you experience that unpleasant jab that the door closed and you didn’t do it and you don’t know who or what did.  You know it’s for real now.  Especially those stints when you were in the house by yourself.  It happened then too.

Towards A More Balanced Approach
There probably isn’t a better one than that of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, professor of  biochemistry at the University of Cambridge.  He’s one of the few scientists that takes seriously certain aspects of paranormal phenomena.  As Dr. Sheldrake says, science thinks it has answered all of the main questions and the rest is merely filling in the blanks.  He doesn’t think this is so, thinks it leads to hubris, and hence, such things as telepathy, precognition, the sense of being stared at, and dogs who know their owners are coming home (a title of one of his books.) are being properly investigated.  

His latest book, Science Set Free, examines these issues in a fair and balanced way in critiquing the dogma of scientific materialism:  

“According to these principles, all of reality is material or physical; the world is a machine, made up of inanimate matter; nature is purposeless; consciousness is nothing but the physical activity of the brain; free will is an illusion; God exists only as an idea in human minds, imprisoned within our skulls.”

Now that is a good example of true skepticism!  

Materialism is the main theme of Science Set Free.  The original title was The Science Delusion.  An awful title as Dr. Sheldrake doesn’t mean science is a delusion only that the steadfast belief in materialism dominates scientific sentiment.  Hence, the investigation of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena is just silly superstitious stuff not worthy of further inquiry by them.  Then people like Sharon Hill come along to diss investigators as rank amateurs.  Well, the pros won’t show up!

And So...
I am a firm believer that we need a rational look at everything we are told these days since we are lied to about nearly everything.  I don’t know if Bigfoot is out there or if UFOs are from outer space, inner space or parts in between.  I only know that we all experience things that are outside of the model we have for reality.  On the other hand, it’s not possible to research in great depth everything we are told or read about.  I love science.  It’s one of the great enterprises of mankind.  Just don’t tell me everything is science is so factually based if you are going present theory and conjecture as the truth.  Dark matter and dark energy are two examples of that.  Two things that can’t be measured, tested, or imaged. Yet physicist Dr. Michio Kaku tells us on his radio program, Science of the Fantastic, about the day scientists “discovered” it.  Ha!  It’s a theory for heaven’s sake!   One bound in mathematical abstraction and often presented as fact. They have discovered nothing of any real substance.  It's nothing more than hi-tech myth making.

I direct you to Steve Volk’s excellent article, Spanking the Skeptics (linked below) where he addresses comments made about him by the condescending know-it-alls at the radio program, Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.  Volk illustrates how their world view of paranormal believers is so skewed they make broad generalized assumptions that are not true.  What results is a major slap down of these nerds.

Skepticism is a good thing.  But it needs to be applied fairly.  It doesn’t need to be turned into a profession as some have done.  Science doesn’t explain everything and it's not helped by narrow minded materialism.


Sharon Hill Blog.

Web site.

Tim Binnall’s web site and radio show links.

Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, Science Set Free (in UK, The Science Delusion).

Also available on Kindle and iBooks

Sharon Hill’s thin skin response.

Steve Volk’s article, Spanking the Skeptics

Coast to Coast AM broadcoast featuring news reporter Linda Moulton Howe and her interview with Melba Ketchum.  Needs subscription for listening.