Archive for June, 2009

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TORMENTED TITAN

June 27, 2009

TormentedTitanLOGO

As a professional musician, I have enormous respect for Michael Jackson’s contribution to music. MJ01Of the 12 solo albums he released, the three that really spoke to me were Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad. That music, put to electrifying live performances that have never been matched – and often poorly copied – produced a once-in-a-lifetime entertainer.

 

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That’s the Michael most of us will remember.

 

 

There was, of course, the tormented Michael that succumbed to his “demons.”

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We witnessed, with dismay and concern, his album-by-album physical disfigurement, the unhealthy desire to be child-like, the accusations of pedophilia and the anorexia that took him from a vibrant, energetic singer and dancer to a 5’10” man whose stage outfits probably weighed more than him when he passed.

 

MJ04We can only speculate about some aspects of his life: the strained relationship with his father, his unusually close friendships with Diana Ross and Elizabeth Taylor, the sister who seemed to be closest to him (La Toya) and the one who seemed the most distant (Janet).

 

 

MJ05

 

Michael’s “inner circle” kept him a mystery to us, often misleading the press of his whereabouts, his health, his relationships and his lifestyle.

 

 

MJ06

 

 

There was the Michael that donated millions to fight childhood hunger in this country and around the world.

 

 MJ07

 

Those that believe he was a pedophile (he was acquitted in one trial and settled out of court in the other) say that his desire to help children was his way of getting close to them.

 

 

MJ08

 

Their reasoning is that pedophiles notoriuously take jobs in venues that keep them in close proximity to children such as schools, little league sports, Sunday school, etc.

 

 

MJ09

 

I’m glad we will never know for certain. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

At 2:26pm on June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson left a painful life here on earth to be in peace.  

The hurt is now gone.

 

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Those of us still on this earthly plane will be inundated with story after story about his life – the triumphs and the tragedies – and his death.

 

 

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We’ll grow weary of hearing about how great he was, or how pathetic he was, or the combination of both.

 

 

MJ12 

 

Once all this has passed, we will be left with the incredible gift he gave to the world – his music.

 

 

 

Sing and dance with the angels, Michael.

They will welcome you.

MJ14

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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MAN-CRUSH?

June 26, 2009

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One of them is married to a very wealthy woman – the other has never been married.

Every time one speaks on an issue,

the other follows on the same issue, using nearly identical words.

Both can be seen together in hundreds of pictures – everywhere!

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So, what’s the deal?

I know many are throwing around the idea that Lindsey Graham is gay. If that’s the case, why is he so enamored with John McCain? It’s doubtful that McCain is gay.

And while we’re on the subject of being enamored with McCain, what is Joe Lieberman’s story? Why does it seem that Joe and Lindsey – who don’t appear to be close friends – both have a man-crush on McCain, while Cindy seems very aloof around John? What do they know about McCain that neither Cindy nor any of us know about him?

Being the imaginative person that I am, I could speculate on a variety of scenarios, some of which could create lingering mental images that I don’t want to be held responsible for.

Apparently, Vanity Fair doesn’t share my concern.

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I hope I’ve maintained my dignity.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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20TH CENTURY FOX

June 24, 2009

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We all know that FOX News has always topped the TV ratings  for cable news.

That’s a problem – for FOX News.

Millions of people are moving away from watching news on TVs to watching news on their PCs and cell phones.

FOX has been outfoxed in the last two election cycles.

What’s the most visited online news website? MSNBC. According to the latest Nielson Ratings, in March, 2009, MSNBC topped the online ratings list with 39,900,000 hits to FOX News’ 16,800,000. Add to this the tens of millions that went to YouTube during the last two election cycles, and it’s not hard to understand that traditional TV news viewership is rapidly decreasing.

Internet traffic numbers are only part of MSNBC’s website success.

MSNBC’s parent company is a partnership between Microsoft and NBC (which is owned by General Electric). With Microsoft as one of your owners, there’s a good chance your website is going to be second-to-none – and theirs is. Add to that the fact that NBC News uses MSNBC’s website for THEIR programs and you have a very powerful online news website. It even beats CNN’s online traffic.

This is why you hear FOX News commentators railing against NBC and GE, with conspiracy theories, conflicts of interest stories, etc. Here’s one of many, many examples:

It’s not surprising that they’ve created this dialogue about the NBC family. FNC’s parent company, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, lost over $6,000,000,000 (that’s BILLION dollars) last year.

So why doesn’t FOX News’ TV ratings translate into big ratings for website viewership?

Most of FNC’s TV audience is above the age of 45. Generally speaking, that demographic is not nearly as internet savvy as the 34 to 45 and 18 to 33 demographics. They are also less educated in the latest technologies. Ten years ago, that didn’t matter. Today, it’s critical. The 45+ demographic that watches cable TV news, while having very loyal FNC viewers, is no longer large enough for FOX News to help Republicans win national elections. The 21st Century has moved beyond FOX News.

I can attest to these facts based on the people I know that are avid FOX News fans. Most are not computer literate. Many are at least my age or older. Those that are younger than me do not spend time researching information. Whether it’s from a lack of computer knowledge, or a lack of desire, I can’t be sure. These are the people that FOX News counts on – what I called the “Low Information Voter” in Faith Trumps Fear. Some of these people are family members as I wrote in Twelve Words and Yes, I’m Going There.

MSNBC, whose TV ratings are still far less than FNC’s, does not seem to be worried. Their ratings are increasing drastically and they managed to edge out CNN during primetime in March, 2009.

One more thing that gives MSNBC TV an edge is NBC. Contrary to what FNC spews about NBC, Brian Williams is #1 in the 6:30pm news ratings. Their news department is one of the most widely acclaimed in the industry for its fact-based reporting.

FOX News will never have the talent or gravitas of NBC, Microsoft or MSNBC.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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CRANIAL FLATULENCE VOL. 3

June 22, 2009

Flatulence

One of the things that separates us from other mammals is the power to reason.

Then there’s this guy.

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I’m not sure I want to see the next slide.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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CRANIAL FLATULENCE VOL. 2

June 22, 2009

 Flatulence

Now that it’s summer, I thought drivers would be a fun topic for the series.

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There’s nothing to add.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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TWELVE WORDS

June 21, 2009

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“Anyone who can make you believe absurdities,

can make you commit atrocities.”

I know. I know. It’s just a bumper sticker.

But words are powerful. I wrote them down and drove off. As I continued running my errands that day, the sentence stayed with me. When I had the opportunity, I did a little “googling.”

With the exception of one word, the sentence is a quote from François-Marie Arouet, whose pen name is Voltaire. (He used the word “those” instead of “anyone.) After doing a little more research, I learned that this man was a bit of a non-conformist in his day. A contrarian, much like me.

A few days later, I was visiting with family and as is often the case, I started hearing FOX News/Rush Limbaugh talking points. “We’re losing our freedoms, one by one.” “We’re slowly becoming a European country” and “Our image around the world is weakening.” I listened to about three minutes of it, temporarily excused myself, and called my wife to tell her I was on my way.

As I was driving home, I remembered the Voltaire quote. While I know that no one in my family is capable of committing atrocities, I also know there are those who listen to hateful language from TV commentators and radio talk show hosts, day in and day out, that take these words to heart. Sadly and pathetically, some act on them.

Police officers killed in Pennsylvania because the shooter believed that President Obama was going to take his guns away. Where did he get that idea?

Dr. George Tiller murdered for performing legal medical procedures. Where did this gunman get the idea that Dr. Tiller was illegally killing babies?

To be sure, Bill O’Reilly is not Walter Conkrite and Keith Olbermann is not Tom Brokaw.

The 21st century, while bringing us incredible information technology, has also forced conventional media to move away from truth-telling to what has been called “Tabloid Television” and “Shock Radio.” The days of truthful television and radio “news” programs are all but gone.

If you are looking for the truth, unfortunately, you have to search for it. Fortunately, we have the internet. Yes, there’s plenty of spin there as well, but there are also plenty of facts. It’s not hard to discern the difference. The internet was responsible for the outcomes in the 2006 and 2008 elections. People started researching the “facts” heard on TV and radio, learned the truth about those “facts,” and voted accordingly. The corporate “noise machines” were not able to control the message, regardless of how many TV affiliates, radio stations and newspapers they owned. TV and radio ratings are becoming less and less significant. Internet traffic to news and information/video websites is the future.

Hearing absurdities from commentators is entertaining. Hearing them repeated by family members is something entirely different. My reaction is a mixture of surprise and sadness. The surprise is that these are educated people with good jobs and young families. The sadness – and concern – is for the children. What’s the take-away message for them when they hear their parents talking like this? No hope? No freedom? No future? No security? Hate? Fear?

Just a bumper sticker?

Really?

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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THANK YOU, TIM

June 16, 2009

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One of my co-workers walked over to me on that June afternoon, with a sullen face. He knew I followed politics, so he thought I might be interested.

“Tim Russert just died.”

“What? No. You mean his dad just died – his name is Tim, too.”

“No, the TV Tim Russert died.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Tim was only five months older than me. How could he have passed at such a young age? I immediately took a minute to read the breaking news on the MSNBC website. It was true. One of the most beloved newsmen on TV was never again going to share that smile with the world.

Later that Friday evening, my wife and I sat on the couch, literally in tears, as we watched the story unfold.

Neither one of us realized how much this man was a part of our lives. His was always the most insightful, intelligent, well prepared and executed Sunday Morning News program. Nothing else came close. If you wanted the truth and the facts on the issues, it was always Meet the Press with Tim Russert.

His wife, Maureen and their son, Luke, both exhibited extraordinary strength through what had to be the most difficult days of their lives. No amount of consoling can reduce that sense of loss. Only time helps.

As I sat on the couch that night, it dawned on me that Tim, sitting at his desk, passed doing what he loved. His passion for life, combined with an unyielding work ethic that no doubt doubled the forty-hour work week was evident in everything he did. He had an energetic zeal that few could match. Some might say that’s what killed him. True or not, he left this earth living life to the fullest.

This event made me take a look at my life. At the time, I had a forty-hour-a-week job. I also helped out with our small church’s needs by handling the administrative work, the website, recording and mastering the CDs of the service and performing every Sunday morning. It added an additional twenty-five hours to my “work week.”

Late into the night, I silently asked myself this question: “Although each week is filled, is it fulfilling?” I enjoy my job – but it’s just that – a job. I work with very nice people in an environment that most would call enviable. The service to my church, while gratifying, encompasses so much in so many areas, that by Sunday afternoon, I am exhausted. Then it starts all over again Monday morning at 6:00am.

So the answer to my question was… no.

As sad as it is to think Tim’s passing helped wake me up to my life’s reality, that’s exactly what happened. I have a feeling millions across this country took a hard look at their lives in much the same way. Knowing what I know of Tim, he would be happy to know that he once again helped others, even at this sad time.

That was a year ago.

Today things are different. I relinquished my responsibilities to the church. The minister completely understood.

Now that I’m no longer exhausted from seven day work weeks, my desire to be involved in something creative is front and center. I’m in a new musical group which is still in rehearsals and will be ready to go public late in the year. In addition, I’ve started blogging, of all things. Who knew I would enjoy this? (Actually, my son, Adam, did.)

To say that both projects keep me busy is an understatement. My creativity is surfacing in so many different ways. Musically, my vocal and instrumental skills are growing – even at my tender age of fifty-eight. I’m improving my “chops” on the keys, singing styles of material that are new to me, and really expanding my repertoire.

TypewriterKeys

Blogging is the surprise. I never enjoyed writing when I was in school. I did only what was required to get a decent grade. The rest of my time was spent at a piano keyboard, not a typewriter keyboard. (Insert age joke here.) Now? I can’t wait to get to my next post. The ideas are endless. I’m not able to get to them fast enough.

PianokeysBecause I create a graphic for each post, I am also tapping into a different creativity. In addition, blogging has taught me a great deal about how to write with precision and clarity. It appears I may have learned a few things in those English Literature Classes.

Imagine that!

Thank you, Tim.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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OLDEST SON OF AN OLDEST SON – VOL. 2

June 15, 2009

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In my mind, the conversation went something like this:

“So… I’m going to Africa.”

“Say that again.”

“I’m going to Africa with a journalist who is doing a story and wants my video blog to be a part of it.”

“Africa. You mean the small town in Delaware County, here in O – HI – O. Right?”

“Nope. NAI – RO – BI, KEN – YA.” 

SAY THAT AGAIN?”

Your oldest son going to Africa, using a couch surfing website, is a little unnerving. Going with a free lance journalist – a bit more unnerving. Usually, when journalists go to foreign lands, they are funded by the news organizations they represent and are accompanied by several people and lots of equipment. This time, uh… not so much.

But, Adam was going. He wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to see a part of the world that very few Americans will ever see. London first, then on to Nairobi and Malindi (with a safari thrown in there somewhere), back up to Paris, then Venice and then back to London very briefly, before coming home to the States. The airline tickets were remarkably inexpensive for that amount of travel. All the “couches” were lined up. (I still shake my head when I read that last sentence.)

I have to admit there were a few evenings when I felt anxious about his safety. (I can’t imagine how the parents of combat soldiers must feel.) It wasn’t fear, just concern. It is certainly common knowledge that Africa has many third-world countries where law enforcement barely exists, if at all. Visualizing Adam carrying so much expensive equipment through the streets of Nairobi and Malindi gave me pause. It looks far more glamorous and a lot less dangerous in the movies.

We videophoned when he was in London. After that, I did not hear from him for several days. Then he was finally able to connect via internet cafes with very slow connections in Nairobi and Malindi, which made uploading his vlog entries nearly impossible.

As I write this, Adam is now in Paris, where running and hot water are in abundance, the streets are paved and there is (thank you, Jesus!) high-speed internet. We videophoned last night. He then asked me to point my PC’s camera towards the TV in my office so he could watch the Lakers-Magic game (game five of the finals) where later that night, Coach Phil Jackson won his tenth NBA Championship and the Lakers won their fourth. The game started at 8:00pm est, which was 2:00am in Paris.

UPDATE: As promised, here is video of our conversations via videophone when he was in London, Paris and Greece. (The trip to Greece was a last minute change of plans.) I gave him the original footage and he did the editing, which saved me a lot of time. Truth-be-known, he’s much better at it. 🙂

Adam’s vlog entries for this trip are great. You can read them here.

His videos are spectacular. Here are some of them.

Obviously, Adam inherited his adventurous spirit from me. As you can see, I too enjoy a trip to the wild.

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As for the animals – how are you not scared speechless seeing this?

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And don’t tell me you’re not trembling watching these guys eat.

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Being the fearless person that I am, I’ll be going back very soon.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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WHAT HAPPENED, JON?

June 14, 2009

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How does a man with an incredible film career, which includes an Oscar, and four Oscar nominations, become so fearful of another man? Why would he intentionally make false statements about him? Why would he allow his illustrious career to get reduced to this? Is this how he wants to be remembered when he leaves this earth – the man who was afraid of something that wasn’t true? How fearful do you have to be to call any human being the “False Prophet?” Does he understand what he’s saying?

Jon Voight is very passionate about his love of the Jewish People and Israel. Most of us in this country can not only sympathize with his passion, but are in complete agreement that Israel should remain intact and independent.

What I don’t understand is how Jon came to believe that our President is somehow anti-Israel.

Barack Obama launched his campaign for the Presidency in the home of the late Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolfe. (FOX News said it was at the home of Bill Ayers. That’s a lie.)

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Here’s what Rabbi Wolfe had to say about then candidate, Barack Obama.

Also during his campaign, Obama gave a very pro-Israeli speech at AIPAC. 

Our President’s desire to assist in creating peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis is hardly an anti-Israeli position. Obviously, the 1948 War of Independence, the 1956 Sinai War , the 1967 Six Day War  and  1973 Yom Kippur War haven’t brought lasting peace between Arabs and Jews. Is it wrong to want to try something new? Isn’t it time to live in the moment, and not continue to fight the last 60+ years over and over again?

Neither country is without fault in this conflict. If the Israelis are settling in areas that are not theirs, then that has to stop. If the Palestinians are lobbing bombs into Israel, that too has to stop. In his speech in Cairo, Obama firmly said that these two countries must find common ground, create a lasting agreement and quickly move to implement that agreement.

Our role must be one that supports peace between Israel and Palestine. What that peace looks like has to be defined by them, not us. We can only voice our opinion and if requested by them, help to facilitate the communications.

I certainly hope that Jon learns more about our President’s position before he continues to make speeches that incorrectly state that position.

I want to remember Jon for the joy he brought to the millions of us who have enjoyed his films over the years.

I don’t want to remember him as just another radical speaker at a Republican Fundraiser

I find it interesting that those who say they “are scared” have no desire to squelch their fear. Instead, they choose to live with it, exploit it and blame someone else for it.

Thank God our founding fathers didn’t live that way.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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RONNIE WAS WRONG

June 11, 2009

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A few days ago, I heard a fellow musician say, “Musicians and actors should stick to what they do best and not mess with politics.” I reminded him that we had an actor become president in 1981. His response was, “Yeah, but he was the good one!”

I get it.

Musicians, actors (and various other celebrities) should not engage in areas beyond their field, such as politics, except for the GOOD one. 🙂

As I’ve said before, I cherish good relations with family and friends, so I did not pursue a dialogue. Trying to reason with justification is an exercise in futility.

Now that we’re coming up on the 100 year anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth and the full year of celebration that is said to be coming in 2010, I think it’s time to bring the myth that Reagan was a great president to a screeching halt, before the Ronald Reagan Legacy Foundation (his son’s organization) petitions to have his image carved into Mount Rushmore.  

First of all, Reagan wasn’t that nice a guy. Watch how he handled this heckler.

I don’t expect all publicly elected officials to be nice people. More often than not, they aren’t. Nothing revealed that more than the hate that spewed from so many elected officials during last year’s Presidential election. I do however, expect decency shown to the people they are seeking to represent, even if those people are not in agreement with them. Having to politely deal with hecklers in a crowd comes with the territory.

Reagan’s gift for communicating certainly kept most people from digging too deep into his personal beliefs (me included) and the policies that ultimately set the stage for much of the pain that is being felt by a great majority of the American people today.

In a single sentence, Reagan revealed his intentions and subsequent legislative agenda. “Government is not the solution to our problem – government is the problem.” Many of us didn’t pay nearly enough attention to those words.

Ironically, government GREW exponentially during the Reagan years. The growth was in what Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address – The Military Industrial Complex.

Although we were told that the tax cuts for the wealthy would “trickle-down” to the middle class, we never saw the major job growth that was promised. Only military-related jobs increased – funded by the very government Reagan said was the problem.

Whether intentional or not (a debate for another time), the combination of these two events seriously crippled our government’s ability to provide critical infrastructure and services for its citizens.

From his desire to de-unionize American industries…

to de-regulating the banking industry with disastrous results, Reagan, the Republicans and not a few Democrats in congress put this country on a path to huge deficits. This resulted in reduced revenues for important programs that are the safety-net for our elderly and our poor and started affecting incomes for the middle and lower middle class wage earners in our country. It also greatly reduced the funding for public education, a legacy that started back in California, where as Governor, Reagan did his best to derail the public education system.

The push for less regulation on businesses greatly increased corporate profits and stock prices thereby rewarding only those at the very top of the corporate ladder, with nothing “trickling down” to the workers they managed. Personal debt grew dramatically while personal savings fell. George H.W. Bush had it right. He called it “Voodoo Economics” when he campaigned against Reagan in the 1980 primaries. Sadly, after being tapped for VP, he said no more about Reagan’s economic policies and continued them in his own administration.

Then there was the Iran-Contra Affair.

Reagan was popular, but he was not a great president.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com