Archive for October, 2009

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JESUS IS ALREADY HERE

October 29, 2009

JesusIsAlreadyHereLOGO

The end of conflict.

I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox church (at the age of one), but I have not been a part of the church since my late teens. This is not because I think there’s anything wrong with the Greek Orthodox faith, I do not. The Sunday Service is a moving experience that captures the imagination and is rich with tradition and symbolism. But when I looked around the cathedral with its gold trim on… everything: icons, platters, robes, crosses, walls, ceilings, arches, and stained glass visages everywhere, a discomfort came over me.

I couldn’t imagine Jesus speaking in a room like this.

Cathedral

Entering adulthood, I occasionally experienced other churches’ Sunday Services and discovered a seemingly endless variety, each with their own unique way of offering the “…word of God.” The stoicism of my childhood religious experiences seemed rigid and out of touch, by comparison.

SingersLightsSoundI found myself enjoying the “celebration” of many contemporary services: rooms mildly decorated, some with non-descript stained glass windows and often without the traditional large cross; gospel choirs and small vocal groups with drums, bass, guitars and keyboards; people standing up, clapping in time to the music – on 2 and 4 for a change – filling the room with joyous sounds and once the songs ended, offering thunderous applause; messages that lifted people up, instead of asking them to get on their knees; ministers, dressed in business casual or even casual attire, asking questions and challenging the congregation to respond, engaging them to think not only with their minds, but with their hearts.

I could imagine Jesus speaking in a room like this.

SanctuarywScreen

There are, of course, the mixed messages within organized religion: Jesus was not the son of God, therefore (the son of God) has not arrived on earth verses He is the son of God, and is coming back; the Old Testament’s “an eye for an eye” verses Jesus’ “love your enemy”; back in the previous century, the world – which was only 6000 years old according to some – was in its sixth day of creation, Armageddon was near, and by the year 2000, only 144,000 would survive as God’s chosen people, yet here we are nine years after the “seventh day” has begun; a newborn baby, pure of thought and deed, is somehow born a sinner;

It appeared Jesus’ teachings differed greatly with some of what was said in traditional Services. I had many questions and no reasonable answers. I understood faith is “…the evidence of things not seen.” What I didn’t understand was how do we as people of faith, live our lives according to scripture, when scripture is conflicted?

bandstandDuring this time I realized I had to make a decision on what (not who) “God” is (for me) and why the man from Nazareth came to be the most quoted yet misunderstood (my opinion) person in Christianity. For three decades, being a member of a church was not a top priority. From time to time, I read about the teachings of different denominations, realizing that none have a lock on Christianity, although many would have us believe they do.

When I finally learned how to walk this gauntlet of contradiction, the answers came. I discovered a peace that will sustain me for the rest of my life. Whether my conclusions are in agreement with any denomination is not the point. Each denomination of the Christian faith represents nothing more than the conclusions of a few people who think their way is better.

Who can say they’re right and I’m wrong? No one. So, here’s what works for me:

1.)   The man, Jesus of Nazareth, showed us through words and deeds, we have all we need to live peaceful, loving lives. It’s our choice.

2.)   My mother did not give birth to a sinner.

3.)   Armageddon is a man-made concept, created to control people through fear.

4.)   An “eye for an eye” results in blindness, to paraphrase Gandhi.

5.)   You attract that which you are.

6.)   The “…second coming of Christ…” is already in progress, in each and every one of us, every day. Jesus, the “the Son of God,” is not coming back – there’s no need. His work on earth was done years ago. He showed us we have the power to become whatever we choose. The future is our responsibility, not His. Our choices and their consequences were made crystal clear.

In other words…

Jesus is already here.

BandPerforming 

As for those who absorb these contradictions, week after week, year after year, without ever asking questions? How does this affect their beliefs?

Soon after the 9-11 attacks, I had many conversations about traditional Christianity. In one discussion, I was told the invasion of Iraq was necessary. When I disagreed, it was then brought to my attention that, “…there were wars in the Bible that were justified, as is this one.”

“I’m pretty sure Jesus would not go to war,” I said.

“Jesus wasn’t around during those wars.”

“So which is right?”

No answer.

Jesus is already here.

RockChurch

I once presented a hypothetical to one of my Greek Orthodox relatives:

A man, or woman, lives in such a remote part of the world that he or she has never heard of Christianity, the Bible, God or Jesus. They’ve unknowingly lived their life, according to Jesus’ teachings, to the letter: never wronging anyone, having forgiven anyone who may have wronged them; helping to care for the sick and the elderly in their village; giving of themselves selflessly day in and day out. They’ve led an exemplary life.

“Would they be accepted into the ‘Kingdom of God’?” I asked.

 “No, no! Unless they ‘give themselves to Jesus Christ,’ they would not be accepted into God’s Kingdom.”

A stunning answer and one I couldn’t disagree with more. It’s obvious to me Jesus’ teachings are already in that person’s life, whether he or she knows it or not.

Jesus is already here.

ContemporarySanctuary

I was once asked if I believe in God. Before I answered, I took a moment to collect my thoughts, because I did not want to give the impression that I was either Atheist or Agnostic.

“Yes. But not in the traditional sense of God in a place called ‘Heaven’ and the devil in a place called ‘Hell.’”

“I don’t understand.”

“For me, God is not some being – in the sky somewhere – that we pray to. Instead, God is inside each of us. It’s the moral compass – the power to reason and choose – the power of free will. That’s God, to me.”

“So why don’t you go to church?”

“I can’t find one that has what I’m looking for.”

“Do you know what you’re looking for?”

“No. But I’ll know when I see it.”

“Would you go to church if you found the ‘right’ one?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll start looking.”

This paraphrased conversation took place between my wife and I very early in our relationship. I’ll never forget it. It was the only time I have ever been asked the question and finding the right words was not easy. Not long after that, she found a church home that’s part of the rapidly growing movement known as “New Thought” or “Practical” Christianity. Most of these churches are non-denominational and welcome people of all faiths, races and sexual orientation.

Jesus is already here.

PlainChurch

Many traditionalists have voiced their discontent with these new, more progressive approaches to Christianity. Could it be their discontent stems from the diminishing attendance at their own Sunday Services? Is it possible the more progressive approach to Christianity is the future? Are people growing weary of the conflicting messages? Are they concluding, as have I, the answers to their questions are actually inside of them?

The incredible growth of progressive, forward-thinking ministries seems to answer these questions. Case in point: the highest attendance of any church in this country belongs to the very progressive Lakewood Church in Texas, which draws well over 40,000 people, in three separate Services, each weekend.

LakewoodSanctuary

Borrowing again from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe we have all we need – here and now – to be that change.

Jesus is already here.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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WEEKEND WARRIOR

October 20, 2009

WeekendWarriorLOGO1

Life is good, routine.

The kids are grown and on their own. The wife has plenty to keep her busy between her work and seeing to the needs of her parents. You work each week at a decent job that helps pay the bills and gives both of you decent benefits. You help out with the in-laws whenever you’re needed. Occasionally, the two of you watch a movie together, sharing some air-popped corn and Snow Caps. Weekends are spent on house needs, avocations, farmer’s markets, garage sales or the inexpensive brunch together at a local diner. Life still throws some curve balls, but for the most part, nothing you can’t handle. Even the dog and cat are “BFFs.”

But you used to play rock and roll for a living.

And you want to play rock and roll again.

Not full time, just enough to keep you “in the game.” You’ve got the “gear” and the “chops.” Chances are, you’ve forgotten more about music than most young players out there bangin’ and shreddin’ understand. “They’ve got a lot to learn,” you tell yourself. “I’ve been there. I know.” Whether you really “know” or not, the desire to jump in intensifies.

Of course, spousal support is paramount.

Drummer1Chances are rehearsals will be at your place. This means the china and crystal will shift in the hutch and all through the house, pictures will have to be straightened out at least once a week. The house’s largest room – at the bottom of the basement steps – will become the “man cave” for the band and unavailable to wife and beast.

With the “go-ahead” behind you, it’s time to find others willing to jeopardize their comfortable routines to get back on music’s path. And there are others – many, many others – all with different experiences around a common need: to feed their musical soul. But the congruency of this need does not translate into musical compatibility and now, your desire to play music is forcefully challenged. People from all walks of life are parading through yours, as you attempt to assemble a cohesive group. It’s similar to having several people in a room wanting to resolve a common issue, with each speaking a different language.

Singer1For some, it’s getting together with others to play all the tunes they used to do – a “memories” jam – a social event. Or, it’s taking those same tunes and learning them just well enough to get a gig once in a while. With the addition of a little alcohol to either scenario, their musical souls are fed.

But you’re the player who wants to gather with like-minded musicians, for the purpose of learning tunes with vocal and instrumental precision and accuracy, creating the quintessential “cover band.” You’ve lived through the first two scenarios, but your soul remains hungry. This time, you want to perform music you’ve never attempted before – to get out of your musical cocoon – to “do it right” – one more time. Most people won’t know if the vocal harmonies are spot-on or the guitar player learned his parts perfectly. But if even one person notices, it’s worth it. The band will feel accepted – their collective soul fed. This effort will not automatically yield ultra-high paying engagements, but this has never been about money.

Guitar1In your scenario, the struggle to reach the “go live” point is not defined by a timeline. You work until you’re ready – whenever that happens. During this process, sadly, members come and go, sending “go-live” a little further down the road. Your resolve is continually tested, as is your patience. You’re tempted to fall back to an easier scenario: play songs you already know, getting through them with minimal effort, and not be too concerned with quality.

Keys1

But you fight the urge to shift directions, staying the path – a path that could easily take a year or more to navigate. Eventually, the light at the end of the tunnel will no longer be the train coming at you, but rather, the elusive “go-live” point you’ve now captured. Membership is stable and planning for the first engagement is underway. Not knowing how the public will respond, a small amount of anxiety enters your thinking.

 

 

 

Bass1It’s been a long time since the last “introduction” of a new musical group – with you in it. Hopefully, everything hasn’t changed too much out there. Hopefully, well-performed music is still appreciated. Hopefully, there are smiling faces. Hopefully, there’s dancing. Hopefully, there’s applause.

 

Hopefully, this Weekend Warrior can write the next chapter soon.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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“WHY ARE PEOPLE SO ANGRY?”

October 17, 2009

WhySoAngryLOGO

Recently, my son, Adam, asked this question while we were at the airport getting a quick bite, before his return to LA. I mentally replayed the conversation on my drive home and realized the question is a very good one, with many possible answers.

There are the obvious answers: unemployment is high, the economy is bad, the stock market crash greatly diminished peoples’ savings, and so on. It’s easy to be angry about any of these issues, but that anger is just one “symptom.” There is also blame, which leads to hate, which leads to unrest. At times, the combination of two or more of these “symptoms” can be volatile.

But these “symptoms” are just that – symptoms. The root cause is fear. It’s fear that makes people angry, blaming others and even hating enough to lash out. Sometimes that retaliation is physical, but most of the time it’s verbal or the written word.

With that said, I have a first-person, written-word example to share with you, that happened earlier today.

Recently, a comment on one of my posts resulted in me responding to their post, and so on. It was a good dialogue with both of us agreeing in most areas and having some minor differences in other areas.

This morning, I received notice of a response to one of my comments on that post by someone who calls himself “John Doe.” (I don’t understand why people don’t identify themselves.) Here’s his recent comment about me after I once again, discredited Rush Limbaugh. (I know the graphics will be too small for most to read, so I’ve inlcuded the text below each one.) 

JohnDoe01

John Doe

Michael Kontras is a blowhard. Rush Limbaugh is a political commentator. He does not make the news (usually), he takes items that are in the news and comments on them; he merely gives his opinion as to how they are relevant, why a particular person is doing what they are doing, how a particular new policy will affect us, etc. Obviously know it alls such as Mr. Kontras do not like what he says (”99% false”? Methinks you exaggerate there, twit boy). Obviously, what Limbaugh says resonates with many in society today. That’s why he has a twenty-million odd listership, and Mr. Kontras has a puny little blog that nobody reads.

This bit about the “government owns the radio airwaves” is just a convoluted way of trying to get around the First Amendment. The “government owns” them because the Government made a power play long ago to take control of them. No different than the Government taking over national parks. Or if the Government took over the internet bandwidths and said that it “owns” the internet. Or if it took over all newspapers and magazines. When the Government starts censoring what is said on the radio stations, then it runs afoul of the First Amendment. “Congress shall make NO law respecting… the Freedom of Speech…”

I had no intention of engaging in a back-and-forth of personal insults. This person has so many “facts” wrong, but because he is angry, any dialogue opposing his view would only elevate his anger. I responded with this:

MK01

Michael Kontras

Better to be an informed “blowhard” or “twit” than an uninformed blogger. 

Thanks for your comment, Mr. “Doe.”

Okay, maybe just a tinge of sarcasm – but hardly a personal “attack,” in my opinion.

We then heard from the owner of the blog, Federal Farmer.” This is a portion of the response:

FedFarm01

Federal Farmer

I debated…but ultimately decided against…editing out the exchange between “Mr. Doe” and Micheal Kontras. For one thing, the first comment in the fight was a followup that showed up without me accepting it. By the time I saw it, Micheal Kontras had seen it and had sent in a reply. I felt obliged by that time let the entire exchange be shown (though I’ve had enough of it). In my opinion, the personal attacks are not necessary; in fact, they truncate the debate, as can be seen in Kontras’ curt reply. The substantive issues quickly recede and the conversation ends. This seems counterproductive to me where the purpose is to discuss political ideas. Moreover, I question the human tendency to “slide” from political differences of opinion to personal insults.

I thanked “Federal Farmer:”

MK02

Michael Kontras

My thanks to you, “Federal Farmer.”

You are obviously doing your best to keep the focus on the issues, and you are to be commended for your efforts.

If my response was deemed inappropriate, it was certainly not my intention. My curtness was a way of saying to Mr. “Doe” that I have no intention of engaging in personal insults. Calling him an “uninformed blogger” didn’t seem to be over the line, but if it was, I sincerely apologize.

There is plenty of valid information on all the substantive issues, including what our Founding Fathers considered to be “Free Speech.” I’m all for having a healthy discussion on this (or any) issue without the insults.

Mr. “Doe” continued his angry rhetoric: (The host took it down before I could grab a shot of the screen, but I managed to capture the text.)

John Doe

Federal Farmer, thanks for sounding reasonable. Please allow me to explain. Kontras attacked Rush Limbaugh (and by extension, his listeners, of whom I proudly count myself). Make no mistake, he used fancy words but HE ATTACKED Limbaugh. Rush is a “shock jock” and a “shill” and “99%” of what he says is false. What are those if not personal attacks? Is it “not a personal attack” so long as he is attacking somebody who doesn’t bother to read your blog? Why not just call him a paid whore who is always wrong? That’s what he meant. Trust me, Kontras, I am more highly educated than you are, and more informed on the issues. My blog’s bigger than your blog, my blog’s bigger than yours…” he he.

I agree that such attacks are “counter-productive” but so are attacks on those who are bigger and better than you are, who have actually DONE something with their lives, when they can’t defend themselves. Here me, Mr. Kontras?

As I said earlier, my original response to Mr. “Doe” hardly qualifies as an “attack” on him. I know he was itching for a “fight,” much like some high school bully, but out of respect for the owner of the blog, I did not engage him at all after my first and only comment.

However, allow me to have a little fun here, since I have “…a puny little blog that nobody reads.”

I don’t believe I have ever met Mr. “Doe.” So I am truly amazed at how he “knows” that I’m less educated than him. Trust me, Kontras, I am more highly educated than you are…” Really? Come on. I used “…fancy words… didn’t I? Maybe I should have used the “…highly educated…” word: “…whore.”  That would certainly put us on an equal intellectual plain, wouldn’t it?

“ ‘My blog’s bigger than your blog, my blog’s bigger than yours…’ he he.”  Spoken like a true third-grader in need of some parental “guidance.”

There is no doubt that Rush Limbaugh has “…actually DONE something…” with his life – especially for someone who dropped out of college after two semesters. But unlike Mr. “Doe,” who thinks Rush is “…bigger and better…” than me, I enjoy my angry-free life and have no desire to emulate Rush Limbaugh’s lifestyle, or anyone elses, for that matter.

As for my use of the word “shill”, I do have this tendency to resort to those pesky little things called “facts.”

Here are Rush’s own words – in the 2008 interview with the New York Times Magazine – upon receiving his $400,000,000, eight year contract: “First and foremost I’m a businessman,” Mr. Limbaugh told the magazine. “My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates… that enables me to sell airtime.” He didn’t say, “First and foremost, I’m a Conservative.” He’s deceiving people, making them think he cares about the Conservative Movement or the Republican Party, when in fact, his wallet is his only priority. He’s a shill, by definition.

“Federal Farmer” posted a very insightful comment about presiding over a debate, as opposed to getting involved in one. He felt we were both insulting. Here’s part of what was said:

FedFarm02

In moderating this post and subsequent discussion, I am reminded that George Washington did not proffer his opinion on any of the debated topics during the constitutional convention because he was presiding. To preside literally means to stand before (from the latin). Being partisan on whatever issue is being debated detracts from ones credibility, and thus ability, to preside. Were I to have sided with Micheal Kontras, for example, “Mr. Doe” would not have given my effort to moderate the discussion much credibility. He would have begun fighting me, which would have put me in a conflict of interest…protecting myself vs. managing the blog. It is possible that Mr. Doe could then post a comment that contributes to the discussion even though it attacks me. I would be operating in a conflict of intersts–that of protecting myself and managing the blog.

I mention this as a hypothetical (in actuality, I view both parties to the dispute as being out of line in insulting the other) because I don’t think we as Americans realize that when the US President takes sides on an issue being debated, he undercuts his credibility to preside.

I agree with 99% of “Federal Farmer’s” comments. 🙂

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

PS – I received an e-mail from “Federal Farmer” later in the evening. Here’s some of what he had to say: “Thanks for visiting my blog… I’ve learned a lot today in terms of political theory (yes, I am too logical! lol) from moderating that discussion.  Mr. Doe has sent two additional comments that contained insults so I am blocking further posts from him. In any case, I appreciated that you stopped fighting with him.  I don’t know how I could have made it more transparent for him that I didn’t want continued insults.  Like I said in the blog, who knows what sorts of psychologies play out in politics at the grassroots level?”

Another good question.

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WHEN CLONING GOES WRONG

October 15, 2009

CloningLOGO

Some very creative graphics that will put a smile on your face.

BluebirdWolf

Cat-Monkey

Cockatoo-Bunny

Dog-ElephantNose

Duck-Aligator

Eagle-Dog

Fox-Redbird

Geko-Aligator

Kangaroo-Lion

Kangaroo-Squirrel

Koala-BabyElephant

Monkey-Dog

Parrot-Aligator

Parrot-Dog

Penguin-Panda

Rabbit-CatFace

Sparrow-Dog

Squirrel-Dog

Tiger-PolarBear

Tiger-Squirrel

Turtle-Fox

Walrus-Parrot

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

PS – Photos/graphics from www.Worth1000.com

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CRANIAL FLATULENCE VOL. 6

October 15, 2009

Flatulence

Why we need Angie’s List.

ATM

Camera Behind Screen

Closed Stairway

Crooked Windows

Driveways

Escalator

Lamp Post

Landings

RR Track

Stone Stairs

Urinals

Walk Bridge

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com 

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THE RINGER

October 14, 2009

TheRinger2LOGO

Meet Sen. Olympia Snowe.

She voted for the Baucus Bill, going against her fellow Republicans, but made it clear that this “…was her vote today,” “…tomorrow is a different day…” and could be “…a different vote.” The now-famous “Public Option” amendment was not in this bill, which many think is the reason Snowe said “yes.”

I disagree. (I know how surprised you must be.)

Olympia Snowe could very well be President Obama’s “ringer” in this game of healthcare reform.

StethescopeResearching her history, one finds that our President and Sen. Snowe have some things in common. Neither came from privilege. Both were raised, in part, by family members other than their biological parents. Both have fathers who were born in other countries. Both are highly educated, earning multiple degrees from different colleges and universities. Her voting record certainly indicates pragmatism in decision-making – a trait our President has demonstrated often.

And both want real healthcare reform.

The Senior Senator’s voting record (approximately 58% with Republicans) is not only good for our President, but is also good for Maine and the rest of our country. This 62 year old legislator keeps her thoughts very close to the vest, rarely gives interviews, and even walks up the back stairs when entering the capitol building, to avoid the media.

BaucusCommittee

I believe the reason Sen. Snowe voted for the Baucus Bill was to get it out of committee and move the process forward. She knows, as does everyone involved, the real “battle” will take place “in conference,” which is still three steps away, as I illustrate in From Bill to Law.

Her “yes” vote also has one other very important attribute: it will probably open the door for other moderate Republicans to vote against party lines in subsequent votes. This will give real healthcare reform – which will include a robust “Public Option” – the momentum it needs to become law before the end of the year.

Our President is not only aware of these probabilities, he’s counting on them becoming realities. As I said in Strategy Over Blather, congress will fight the “battles” and he will win the “war.” If he needs to step into the battles, he will do so, privately.

We’re already further along in the process than we’ve been since 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt – a two-term Republican – first introduced healthcare reform running for a third term as, believe it or not, a Progressive candidate in the Progressive Party of 1912. This was their position on “Health,” November 5, 1912:

TRoosevelt“We favor the union of all the existing agencies of the Federal Government dealing with the public health into a single national health service without discrimination against or for any one set of therapeutic methods, school of medicine, or school of healing with such additional powers as may be necessary to enable it to perform efficiently such duties in the protection of the public from preventable diseases as may be properly undertaken by the Federal authorities, including the executing of existing laws regarding pure food, quarantine and cognate subjects, the promotion of vital statistics and the extension of the registration area of such statistics, and co-operation with the health activities of the various States and cities of the Nation.”

Further reading of the platform reveals how long the Republican Party has been in the grip of big corporations. This “grip” on our country’s politics came to a head during Republican President Herbert Hoover’s term (1929-1933) and resulted in the Great Depression. Sound familiar?

As a well-read student of history, President Obama knows all-too-well what to do to avoid the errors of the past when making sweeping social change.

So does Olympia Snowe.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

PS – Sen. Snowe and I also have some commonality: both of us have Greek parents and we were both baptized in the Greek Orthodox faith.

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TWELVE MILLION LAUGHS

October 14, 2009

12MillionLaughs2LOGO

Don’t deny it.

These commercials make you laugh EVERY time you see them.

See. You’re smiling now.

e-Trade hit it “out of the park” two Super Bowl Sundays ago, with the introduction and  animation of this little guy, whose name has not been released.

For those of us who are interested, the marketing genius behind the ads is Nick Utton. In an interview, he describes the creative thinking and animation process that went into this effort. At the time of the interview, the ads had over 10,000,000 hits on YouTube. When I checked today, it was over 12,000,000. That’s remarkable for a 30-second commercial.

And now, for the second posting in my new “Time to Laugh” series, here are all the e-Trade baby ads to date.

“I underestimated the creepiness” (Rented “Bobo, the Clown”)

“No big deal.” (Throwing up)

“Hey girl, can I hit you back?” (Blackberry)

“…the golden pipes” (Two babies)

“Shankapotomous” (Country club locker room)

e-Trade Outtakes

Outtakes from ABC-TV Special*

Still laughing, aren’t you?

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

*The last ABC clip was from a special called “Un-Broke: What You Need to Know About Money” with Mellody Hobson. And who could be seen in the room with Christian Slater in one scene?

Adam-Slater

Yup, that would be my son, Adam. Here’s the clip from the show.