Archive for March, 2013

Lisa Mann — Talent and Heart

Confucius says “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

I think Lisa Mann may have read that advice and taken it to heart about 35 years ago.   All of the leading experts say that the road to happiness is to figure out what your natural gifts are.  Find your passion and follow it.  Trust your instincts and do what you love and let the chips fall where they may.

It all sounds great.  Wonderful.  Nirvana.  Why didn’t I think of that?  How utterly simple!  Unless of course you discover that your natural talent it to be a performer in the music business.   I would guess that over 99% of the people who realize music is what they love to do end up selling out for their second choice for the simple reason that there’s no money in it.  It’s fine for a lot of people as a second source of income, which is why most keep their days jobs.  To try to make it in the music business full-time, most musicians / singers end up working the business from at least 3 different angles.  Teaching is common.  Some do some recording on the side.  But if your real passion is performing and you’re trying to make the rent from gig money, good luck my friend.  The math just isn’t there, no matter how good you are.

That’s why it’s impressive when I run into local musicians who have taken up the music business full-time come hell or high water.  It’s what they love to do, so they put their hearts and souls into it, 401k be damned.  These people understand the term “personal sacrifice” all too well.

One such local musician, Lisa Mann is a full-time musician ( bass player ), and singer who has taken this road.  Lisa is very much an “in-demand” performer whose motto is “I’ll gig anywhere, anytime.”  She has the flexibility to go out as a duo with just a guitar player for smaller venues, can put together an awesome trio if the budget is a little higher, or if you want the full meal-deal, go with Lisa Mann and her Really Good Band.  Any/all of these configurations I highly recommend.

I first noticed Lisa as a volunteer at the Waterfront Blues Festival.  I was lucky enough to get a “back-stage” assignment for an afternoon which basically amounted to monitoring the stage surroundings to make sure no kids were clowning around underneath.  Tough job.  One one such sunny afternoon in July, I had duty on the North stage and the first act was some kids from the Midwest who had incredibly high energy and stage antics.  I couldn’t tell you the band name but watching them perform you got the impression that they were geared up for Woodstock.  I think about 3 people were paying attention.

Next up was the “Northwest Women in Blues Review” which, near as I could tell, was sort of All-star cast of the best female performers in the Pacific Northwest.  Sonny Hess I was familiar with as I’d seen her at the Blues Festival in previous years and was struck by the fact that she handles leads incredibly well.  You just don’t see women shredding the neck on guitar like that very often so when you do, obviously you remember it.  I was looking forward to seeing her perform with the other NW Women in Blues Review but I wasn’t too familiar with the other names on the list.

So I’m back stage and the women are setting up and I’m watching this short little bass player, all of about 4′ 10″ I reckon, setting up front on the big stage.  Hmmmmm, I wonder who that is?  Pretty soon we all found out.   The vocals were so powerful.  She belted out tunes Aretha Franklin style that echoed across the park and half way down into River Place.  There may have even been some folks on the Sellwood bridge groovin’.  What-a-voice.  The crowd went haywire.  How can so much energy come out of that tiny framework?  I was wanting to find out more about this little dynamo on stage.  Come to find out, her name was Lisa Mann.  So noted.

It’s always good to discover another local talent to follow on your weekend musical diversions.  Portland is rich with local talent that’s for sure.  The bar is set pretty high for being considered in the top tier.  Some of the local musicians we have — a few names come to mind — Erick Hailstone, Tim Ellis, Sandin Wilson, Jason Moore, Norm Whitehurst, Marty McCray, Tiffany Carlson, Jim Walker — and I would include Lisa Mann in this group as a vocalist and songwriter, are just one lucky break away from playing much bigger stages.  The talent is there, no question.  All that’s missing is that one lucky break a person needs to get the national level exposure and things could take off.

Talent aside, that’s not what this blog post is about.  Portland is rich will talent, sure.  But so are a lot of cities.   Big deal.

This post is about heart.  We see benefit concerts fairly frequently on TV. You’ve seen them.  Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Elton John, Neil Young and a whole cast of others get together to give relief to Hurricane victims or Aids relief or whatever the cause.  That’s nice and highly commendable, but these are all millionaire musicians.  They can afford it.  God love ’em for taking the time and I don’t want to take anything away from them for their efforts, but it’s a personal sacrifice of limited measure.

What IS impressive is when you find someone from the non-millionaires club whose finances are anything but flush, offering to throw a benefit for someone less fortunate.  Enter Lisa Mann, some friends and the Rally for Aly

Aly, age 11, is Lisa’s next door neighbor who has been dealing with cancer.  They thought they had it under control and in remission, but apparently it’s back.  I don’t know Aly.  I don’t know Lisa that well either.  I’ve just spoken to her a few times in passing.  But this benefit for her next door neighbor impresses the shit out of me because I know for a fact that a local full-time musician does not have the funds to be doing this all the time.  So there’s only one explanation.  Lisa has a humongous heart and she’s following it.  She’s going to worry about her retirement plan on another day.

Please join me in supporting the Rally for Aly, and while you’re there, let’s thank every participating musician.  In my estimation, these are local heroes that deserve our thanks.

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My kind of Pope so far #PopeFrancis

Pope Francis appears to be my kind of Pope.

Previously I had posted a tongue in cheek article re-affirming what E.J. Dionne had written about which was the idea that the next Pope should be a nun.  I can’t imagine any scenario that could possibly energize the faithful more than a female Pope, however improbably the idea may seem. But the point of the article is, the Church lacks energy in part because it has its priorities all wrong.

I have a prioritized “ToDo” list I keep for work that I evaluate each morning to see if the right tasks are at the top of the list. There’s some stuff down in rows 15 and beyond that I may never get to. I work in a very dynamic environment and new priorities float to the top every day. It’s all I can do to address items 1-10 in a given week. In my last job, some of the items down in rows 20-30 had been there for over 5 years.  I suspect Pope Francis has a similar list as he leads the Catholic Church and that he has a task on it that reads:

“Remind the faithful about the sin of using contraceptives” is #56 on his list.

I suspect that is his plan.  That’s how smart people get around the issue of being accused of not being on board with all the rules and regulations.  They don’t come out against it. They appear completely on board. It’s just too far down the list for me to care about right now.

Here’s how I hope the conversation plays out.

Monsignor John : “Holy Father, there’s an issue in Guatemala where some nuns are making noise women’s role in the Church.  They must be disciplined.”

Pope Francis: “Feed the poor”

Monsignor John : “Holy Father, there’s an issue in Venezuela where 30 priests have spoken out in support of gay marriage”

Pope Francis: “Feed the poor

“Monsignor John : “Holy Father, 20 Cardinals in the US have come out in support of ObamaCare even though they want to pass out free condoms as a part of the program”

Pope Francis: “You dumb-ass, that program extends health care to thousands of Children.  Feed the poor”

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The sad state of public discourse

The blogging experience has so far not changed my perspective about the total breakdown of public discourse.

A blog reader “Jack”, one of three people to comment on my blog since its inception ( wow, this thing is really taking off! ), didn’t care much for my post more on Ryan’s Budget , so he drew some conclusions and checked out.  Adios.  See ‘ya, I’m outta here.

I had high hopes for Jack.  He seems like a well educated guy.  His first reply seemed sincere, unlike many of the loons I run into when debating politics.  He made a strong appeal to have an open mind about Ryan’s budget plan as a legitimate proposal that deserved consideration just like any other proposal out there.  Let the process run its course and don’t discount the guy right off the smacker just because he’s a member of the Tea Party.  Okay, fair enough.  I agree with the “let the process run its course” part of that sentiment, and I’m sure it will.

So I got busy during the week and didn’t get a chance to reply until the weekend when I penned a few snarky comments and let my favorite liberal commentators do most of the talking for me.  Limited on time, I reckoned I couldn’t say it much better than Krugman had said it himself so I took the easy way out and linked to Krugman and sprinkled the post with some of my own snarky-ness.

Jack took offense to my left leaning comments and wrote me off as a closed minded lib with poor listening skills “too deeply invested emotionally in your ideology to carry on a reasoned & logical debate.”

Dang, that’s a fast conclusion!  All of that from two blog posts about Paul Ryan’s Budget?

I think it might be time for some self evaluation here to test if this is true.

Let’s see… let’s start with the fact that I’m an Independent.  I’ve been an independent voter since the start of the first Gulf War when I noticed that card-carrying Baath Party members were getting rounded up and shot for well, being card-carrying Baath Party members.  Can’t happen in this country?  Probably not but I decided not to risk it by affiliation to either party.  I couldn’t see any benefit what-so-ever to party affiliation and besides, I like to think I’m capable of making up my own mind and don’t need a party to speak for me.

What else?  Oh,  I think Nancy Pelosi should resign for her alleged involvement in insider trading.  That’s not very partisan, is it?

I think Fox News and MSNBC are each partisan hack networks that basically offset each other, one from the right, the other from the left.  The big difference being that Fox advertises itself as “Fair and Balanced”.  Hardly.

I think there should be a review of entitlements programs each and every year, identifying and eliminating waste where-ever it’s found.  Same thing with Tax Auditors.  That should be a simple mathematical equation, right?  For every auditor hired we get money back until that number reaches the point of diminishing returns?

I think elections start too soon, cost too much, and don’t provide us with real choices.  I’d like to see real spending caps on donations similar to what Jerry Brown committed to in California, only on a national level.  I heard a good quote this time around.  “This isn’t an election, it’s an auction.”  So true.

I’m beginning to think I’ve been mis-labeled prematurely here.  But that’s is what tends to happen these days if we examine the sad state of our public discourse.

One of the reasons I started blogging was to get away from pontificating political opinions on Facebook.  In some instances, decent discussions were had, but I think most people tended to just hide the blow-hard ( me ), and as I came to realize that, I reckoned it was the wrong forum, so here I am.  ( Now I can piss people off here, instead of on Facebook ).

But I’d like to take this opportunity to share a few of the characteristics of people I’ve run across in the course of public debate.  Nothing to do with Jack, like I said, he seems like a well educated guy with different opinions than mine.  The fact that he drew a quick conclusion reminded me of so many other ‘public discussions’ gone south for various reasons.  So here’s what I run into:

  • People are sore losers.  Romney lost.  Get over it.
  • I get emotional responses like you would not believe, especially if the topic has anything to do with guns.  I can’t get half a sentence out before the other side is TYPING IN ALL CAPS ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION, even though nobody mentioned a ban on guns at any point in time.
  • There’s a propensity to “never give an inch”.  Does anyone ever say “I see your point” anymore?  I try.  I honestly do.
  • There’s a total comfort in spreading half-truths and lies.  In my opinion, Fox News is the worst offender but MSNBC is just as partisan.
  • People parrot their “News” channels like Fox.  That’s why I watch Fox.  To see if someone is just channeling O’Reilly or Hannity.   Worst of all, Glenn Beck.

Funny enough, there seems to be a strong correlation between the loudest voices and raw ignorance on both sides.  But alas we have the internet now and everyone gets their say, including @pithyopine.

If there happen to be any conservatives out there reading this, good for you for getting this far!  I congratulate you on that.

It’s risky for me to give this advice, and probably arrogant too, but that’s never stopped me before.  It’s no secret the Republican party is in a shambles.  Witness this past week’s CPAC conference where individuals like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin get air-time.  Do Republicans know that every time they give the mic to one of these Tea Party loons that the Dems throw a banquet celebration while cheering “More!  More!”

I recently found myself 100% in agreement with something that Newt Gingrich said.  He said “look, we can’t just be the anti-Obama party”.

At the end of the day I think it comes down to demonstrating that the party is inclusive and promotes policies that will actually help grow the middle class.  Obama was re-elected with close to 8% unemployment.  That just doesn’t happen.  Not since FDR anyway.  Statistically speaking, all the Republicans had to do was find a reasonable candidate with a pulse and he should have won.  But they chose Romney instead.  So why did Romney lose?  In a word, money.

Romney went on the campaign trail touting the benefits of the Bush Tax cuts and how awesome they were ( despite the evidence that the job creators were indeed not creating jobs with those Tax Cuts ).  People didn’t buy it this time around.  So he defended the 1% and lost the election.  But what choice did he have?  He was funded in large part by the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.  The poor guy was caught between a rock and a hard place.  As is the Republican party now.

I’m for whatever policies grow the middle class.  I am not a believer in trickle down economics and never will be.  I remember all too well the amount of money I gained with the first “Tax Cut” I received during Ronald Reagan’s first term.  $32.  That’s it.  Go stimulate the economy with that, will ‘ya?  C’mon!

I’m not for over taxing either.  It’s true that Kennedy lowered tax rates.  What were they at the time though?  90% for the top bracket?  Well of course that’s too high.  But the Republican’s this time around were running around like chicken little promoting the idea that the sky was falling.  Apparently capitalism fails somewhere between 36 and 39% ( okay, I stole that quote from my cousin, Jim Eady.  But it was brilliant, just the same ).

It’s my belief that Republicans stand firm with big business and big money whereas the Democrats tend to do a little better job ( not much ), of fighting for the little guy.  Hey, I only get two choices, give me a break here!   And remember, I’m an Independent!

Circling back to Public Discourse — it reminds me of this joke.

Harry from Boston was visiting Jerusalem. Each day his walk would take him past the Wailing Wall. Standing and praying at the wall each time he passed was a neighbor Sam. It didn’t matter if Harry walked by at 7AM, Noon, 4PM even later, he would always see Sam praying. Finally Harry approached Sam and asked him what he was praying for. Sam said that he only prayed for good things. He prayed that there will be peace on earth. He prayed that he will be good to his children and that his children will be good to him. 

Harry asked Sam if all that prayer was working.
Sam replied, “It’s like talking to a fucking wall!”

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More on Ryan’s Budget

I don’t profess to be an economist or anything close to it.  Without question, it’s a very complex field of study.  The best we can do is try to listen to those who are well-educated on the subject and look for political bias while doing so.

Recently, I posted a sarcastic criticism of Paul Ryan and his latest budget proposal which, as one of its tenets is a repeal of Obamacare.  From what I’d been reading, it sounded like the intent was to not just revert to a tax structure that benefits the uber-wealthy as was the case under G.W. Bush, but to take it the madness a few steps further and lower the marginal rate to 25% while paying for it with cuts to entitlements.

This blog being new, I don’t often get a lot of comments yet, but recently I had a thoughtful reply to the post challenging me to get out of the mode of simply launching criticisms at Republicans, and proffer up some of my own solutions.  Fair enough.

Not being an economist, it’s not like I’m going to sit down and study the budget line for line and come up with theories about how to fix it.  Instead I must rely on what I can learn from credible sources.  Since the original post, there have been two compelling articles that caught my attention and seem worth repeating.

The first is an article by E.J. Dionne from the Washington Post.  In a nutshell, Ryan proposes reduces the top tax bracket from 39.6% to 25% and pays for it through steep cuts to Medicare and a repeal of Obamacare.  In other words, it’s Reagan’s “trickle down” economics on steroids.  I’m not sure why this plan would see the light of day given the abysmal failure of the US to control its trillion dollar annual deficits under 12 years of testing this bizarre theory in the form of the Bush Tax cuts.  Cutting rates for the top 2% of income earners stimulated some growth in the yacht building industry, but that’s about it.  The whole premise was that the to wage earners are the “job creators”, and thusly, if we line their pockets with tax breaks, they will create jobs right and left, morning, noon, and night.

My point is, how much more data do we need?  We had 12 years of the Bush tax cuts in place and ended up with unemployment at 9% at the end of the experiment and a shrinking middle class.

Ryan’s budget is paternalistic.  He professes to know “what’s best” for the people of this country because his proposal would force many of the poor off of welfare and he reckons they will all go out and find jobs and then send him a thank-you note later on.

The process of creating a budget appears to be approaching some middle ground with the Dems, led by Patty Murray of Washington State having provided a very specific proposal for how to create true job growth and reduce the deficit at the same time.  In large part, it’s based on closing tax loop-holes for the top 1% as well as corporations who have gotten away with tax evasion for years.  Look no farther than Nike in my home state for a company that threatens to take its jobs outside the state unless it gets huge passes on the tax front.

Another source I follow religiously, Nobel Prize winning author Paul Krugman had an article recently that exposed the cruelty and hypocrisy of the Ryan budget.  Krugman frequently points out the real data from the European austerity experiment, which has failed miserably.  Ryan’s budget would take us down this same path, completely ignoring what the experts say is a winning approach to improve job growth and get people believing in the economy again — enough to let go of some of their money.  Just like it was during the Great Depression, it’s about confidence.  This is no different.  The New Deal was all about restoring confidence and the government, as FDR knew well, had a key role in restoring confidence.  Consequently it stepped in and created public works projects and kept people in the work-force who would otherwise have been out in the cold.

As I mentioned earlier, I rely heavily on the experts is these matters and I’ll take John Maynard Keynes and Paul Krugman (Ph.D in economics) over a self proclaimed policy wonk proffering up the same old Reagan re-tread ideas that have failed us for 30 years.

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Paul Ryan’s budget

I was just wondering if Paul Ryan had knowledge of the fact that we have three branches of government including a Supreme Court.

Since the recent Ryan budget is based off of the assumption that the Affordable Health Care Act will be repealed, I was just wondering if anyone told him about justice Roberts’ historic vote.  Maybe I’ll send him a tweet, just in case he’s not informed.

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O’Reilly moved up a notch on Top 10 Ass-wipes of Fox News list

I just moved Bill O’Reilly up a notch on my Top 10 Ass-Wipes of Fox News list for this outburst.  It’s too bad he didn’t have his facts straight when shouting down Alan Colmes.  Alan should have walked out on that little temper tantrum.

Can’t think of a more deserving recipient for the #3 spot behind only Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.

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The legacy of my parents

I oftentimes take the dog on a 3-5 mile walk which gives me the opportunity to “get inside my head” as my wife says.  Mid-life has been a challenge.  Divorce.  Job Change.  Both of my parents are gone now.  Dad died in 2008 and Mom in 2011.    I think about a lot of different things, but memories of Mom and Dad and my childhood come up frequently, so I find myself taking a journey back to the 60’s and 70’s quite often.

20 years ago or so, I remember being really pissed about some of the over-sights my parents had during their tenure as parents of me.  They started the painful process of divorce when I was 15, so there wasn’t a lot of guidance available down the home stretch. And the house rules felt kind of strict growing up at the time with mandatory private school, and some higher behavioral expectations.  It’s funny how attitudes change over time though.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized and appreciated the personal sacrifices they both made in getting 4 kids raised.  Each brought something different to the table.  Clearly they had different priorities for the traits they would like to see in their kids.  Dad seemed to focus on things like self-discipline and academic achievement and relate the two.  Mom was more concerned about how her kids treated others and used the word “consideration” a lot.  Both seemed slightly obsessed with how we would “turn out”.

I was very lucky to be a part of a family that kept away from the extremes you see today.  While conservative in some areas of parenting, they were definitely open minded in other areas and got the big picture.   Dad was a strong proponent of ‘natural consequences’ and just let my bad decisions play out.  He rarely intervened with disciplinary measures after the age of 12, though there were no shortage of opportunities.  If at all possible, he’d just find a way to hold a mirror up so that I could witness my own stupidity.  Usually that was enough said.

Mom would get the most upset with me if I was inconsiderate or rude to someone.  But both were always there for me and had my best interests at heart, always, even though I didn’t agree with the methods at times.  Actually, I had very strong disagreements with the some of the methods, but that’s not what this post is about.

As I got older and became a parent myself, I realized the cool thing about Mom and Dad is that they both tried really hard to walk the talk.  Dad set a pretty good example of exercising self-discipline in his own life and Mom was a saint to others, incredibly unselfish with her time and nursing skill-set.  She was born to be a nurse, I am convinced of that.  I could go on with examples but I’ll skip that for now.

So I’m walking the dog last summer and I’m in my head as usual, and I came across this idea that I latched onto.  What’s one thing that I can put into practice to carry on the legacy of Mom and Dad?  I’m a very independent thinker and challenged  a lot of the status quo in their parenting plan, so I’m sure I was a pretty big challenge for them and didn’t turn out exactly as they had hoped.  But now that they are gone, none of that matters.  Suddenly I had a real strong desire to make sure all their hard work did not go completely to waste.  To carry on some trait they deemed important.

There’s this nature park on one of the walking routes I take called Little Woodrose Park.  It’s a fairly short little connector between two neighborhoods but it’s densely populated with trees and has a nice path.  About half way in, there’s a pretty steep hill.  This may seem a little strange on the surface, but it’s the symbolism that matters to me.  What I came of with for Dad was, I’m going to run up this hill every time I come across it.  I named it Jim Toner hill, and since last summer, every time I go through there, when I get to the hill, I let the dog loose and chase her up the hill and I run to the top without stopping and think of the old man while I’m doing it.  I’m an out of shape 53 year old grandpa, so I’m usually huffing and puffing when I get to the top.  But I do that in memory of Dad and his self-discipline message because life isn’t always easy, and we run into challenges and things that are hard.

Figuring out something for Mom was a little harder, but I recently came up with what I think is something that would make her smile.  When they were married, Mom had issues with Dad being a little inconsiderate at times and not helping out as much as he could around the house.  She didn’t really have the skill-set to challenge him in the moment about it, so she let her frustrations build up over time and developed a lot of resentment.  Playing more of the Martyr.  When I got married the first time back in 1979, about the worst report she could get back from my wife would be a story about me acting like my father in this regard.  Leaving the woman to do all the work or something of this nature.  That would really make her mad if she heard a story like that and she’d be likely to give me the business about that in no uncertain terms.

So in honor of Mom, what I do is, I make sure that I’m pulling my weight around the house and then some.  If I ever have thoughts that maybe the chores are getting a little one-sided, I just keep my mouth shut and keep rinsing.  That one is for you, Mom.  I know she’d be super proud of that one and if she’s reading this now, has a big smile on her face.

So there you go, Mom and Dad.  One thing each for now.  I miss you both terribly.

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