27 Jun

The Confederate Flag Controversy: Let’s Call It Like It Is

The mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, on the evening of June 17th demonstrates racism’s persistence in modern America.  This incident, like other recent incidents, shows that no matter how much some would like to ignore or minimize the prevalence of racism in the United States, it’s alive and well and needs to be addressed with the seriousness it deserves.  The shooting has brought what many see as a symbol of racism and hatred, the Confederate Flag, into the spotlight due to the shooter’s affiliations and pictures of him with the flag.  Admirably, many politicians from both sides of the aisle have called for the removal of the flag on official state grounds in South Carolina and other southern states.  Alabama Governor Bentley even ordered the removal of the flag from capitol grounds last week.  The shooting, horrible as it is, has allowed and provided motivation for many Republican politicians to stand up to the fringe portion of their base that identifies with and supports the Confederate Flag.  However, some of this fringe and others still stand in defiance to the now overwhelming opposition to the flag.

Let’s make no mistake, the Confederate flag stands for racism and treason, nothing more.  Those in favor of the flag, usually citing reasons such as heritage or southern pride, do so out of ignorance of what this heritage truly represents, for political purposes–such as not alienating voters in favor of the flag, regardless of whether they hold extremist views–or, most disconcerting, because they actually identify with what the Confederate flag truly represents.  All of these reasons are problematic, which has been brought into greater light in the wake of the Charleston shooting.

With this in mind, the decision of many Republican politicians and even the businesses who have stopped selling the Confederate Flag to stand up to this fringe base of voters (and, probably less consequentially, customers) deserves recognition and praise, even if it took a tragedy compelling them to do so.  However, those standing fast in their support of the Confederate flag, in South Carolina and elsewhere, need to be confronted with the reality of that which they are supporting.

27 Jun

McCain’s Political Posturing in Response to the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling yesterday guaranteeing and protecting the right to same-sex marriage, Senator McCain released a statement disagreeing with the court’s decision.  In this statement, McCain affirms his long-held traditional view of marriage while arguing that this issue should be decided between citizens and the representatives they elect.  McCain’s argument is that the issue of same-sex marriage is an issue for states to decide and is a matter of states’ rights.

Strikingly, McCain’s stance on the Supreme Court’s ruling ignores the fact that questions of fundamental equality and liberty are constitutional and federal issues.  States should have no more say in this matter than on voting rights or slavery.  However, while McCain’s thoughts on the ruling have no influence on the decision itself, and regardless of how genuine they are, they still serve an important purpose.

In some ways, adopting a “states’ rights” defense allows the Senator to avoid dealing with the issue and his thoughts on it more directly.  Such a political response allows him to attempt to walk more of a fine line between completely alienating voters that may support gay rights while still speaking to an important part of his base.  Though, the primary purpose of McCain’s statement in response to the ruling is to pander to this body of Republican voters opposed to gay rights.  His statement isn’t a matter of policy or states’ rights; it’s a matter of votes.  With an election on the horizon, McCain’s statement sends a signal to this part of the Republican base that he is there for them.  Whether Senator McCain truly thinks an issue of fundamental equality is a matter of states’ rights is irrelevant and has no bearing on the decision itself, thus representing nothing more than political posturing.

27 Jun

Gibson Guitars’ Innovation Blunder

Like many fans of the Les Paul guitar, I am dismayed and somewhat perplexed by the changes implemented for 2015 by Gibson Guitars.  While dissatisfaction regarding these purported “innovations” may not be breaking news, Gibson continues to stand behind its decision to implement these changes for all U.S. crafted, non-custom shop Gibson guitars as part of a strategy to both innovate and attract younger customers, all with a hefty price increase.  However, customer reactions to the 2015 changes and simple logic seem to indicate a great blunder on behalf of Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz.

The biggest (and most controversial) of the 2015 changes implemented by Gibson USA, to persist into the indefinite future, include: the G Force tuning system; zero fret adjustable brass nut; wider neck and fingerboard; the back of headstock Les Paul hologram; and a close to 30% price increase on most models (like the Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Traditional).  None of these changes are necessarily innovative in and of themselves: Gibson has offered automatic tuning systems in the past; neither adjustable nor brass nuts are new; and wider fretboards and necks are commonplace on many other models and styles of guitars.  Despite the absence of innovation for these innovations, whether the changes improve Gibson guitars still merits consideration.  Unfortunately, as the following analysis will show, not only do they not improve Gibson guitars, they bear no relation to attracting younger customers while problematically reducing customer choice and charging customers extra for changes they don’t want.

Automatic tuning itself is fine in concept and may be an attractive feature to many guitar players, especially those who switch between different tunings during performances.  However, contrary to the reporting of Forbes.com, instrument tuning does not present a significant barrier to new and younger musicians, the key demographic targeted by Gibson Guitars with the 2015 changes.  Clip on tuners are available for a small fraction of the cost (only ~$10) of Gibson’s G Force tuning system and are both easy and accurate enough to use for players of all skill levels.  There have also been many reports of broken G Force tuning systems and overall customer dissatisfaction with the tuning system on 2015 guitars, similar to the technical issues and dissatisfaction surrounding Gibson’s automatic tuners in the past.  The G Force tuning system can be removed, though customers will need to also buy new tuners, an additional expense to remove an unwanted feature they were already charged extra for, as they are standard on all Gibson USA guitars.

The adjustable brass nut appears more of a solution to streamline the manufacturing process and rectify poor workmanship than an improvement or innovation.  Being able to adjust the nut height alleviates Gibson from having to accurately manufacture synthetic nuts and cut nut slots for every guitar they make.  However, brass material also changes the tonal characteristic of unfettered notes.  This 2015 change doesn’t necessarily target young or beginning musicians.  It can lead to an improved factory guitar set up (or easier way to fix a poor factory set up), though Gibson could have instead simply paid more attention to their workmanship instead of introducing an “innovation” to solve an issue of poor workmanship.  Again, customers are left with no choice in the matter, as the adjustable brass nut is now standard on all Gibson USA models.

As with the other 2015 changes, it takes more than imagination to understand how Henry Juszkiewicz thinks a wider fretboard will attract younger or beginner guitar players or improve Gibson guitars.  Again, it seems a problem in search of a solution.  Perhaps this all is simply an attempt to leave some sort of legacy, to say, “this is what I did,” but all this is the best Henry Juszkiewicz could come up with.  A wider fretboard that preserves the same string spacing as previous models doesn’t really do anything.  Sure, the more material on the ends of the fretboard, the less likely it will be to pull or bend strings off the side of the fretboard.  The thing is, guitarists bend or pull the low and high E strings away from the edges of the fretboard.  There is no need for a small bit of extra material that does nothing more than change the way the guitar feels.  All together, these changes do little, if anything, to improve Gibson’s guitars or to attract new or younger guitar players.

The fact that Henry Juszkiewicz thinks that Gibson needs to change its guitars to attract this younger and even beginner guitar player demographic demonstrates a great degree of ignorance.  He is confusing a lack of sales among this demographic with a lack of interest.  Younger and beginner guitar players don’t lack interest in Les Pauls or other Gibson models, like the SG, because they are missing some features they highly desire or because they think the guitars aren’t cool, it’s because of the price.  Gibson guitars are expensive instruments.  Ironically, the tremendous 2015 price hike puts Gibson’s guitars even more out of the reach of this very demographic!  Combined with the 2015 “innovations” unwanted by both would-be and long time customers and lack of choice regarding these innovations, it is easy to understand Gibson’s poor sales for 2015 models according to music store gossip and to expect this slump to persist into the future.