Archive for February, 2010

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LETTING GO

February 26, 2010

Your thoughts go back to the beginning: how you met, the project’s evolution, decisions made along the way in what has now been a 16 month process – a fact causing you to sometimes shake your head in near disbelief.

The initial goal was and still is to make great music together. As is often the case over time, camaraderie is formed. In addition to learning and performing music, you laugh, share past experiences, socialize outside of “band stuff” and ultimately, form friendships that appear as binding as family.

If you’re lucky, all of this cements the group in a fashion similar to any healthy relationship. There’s understanding, compromise, caring, open communication and most importantly, respect. Some who are close to the group often don’t understand the bond. Short of a clear explanation, you simply state, “It just is.”

But now, you’re at a crossroads. Neither direction is easy. As you survey the thoughts of other members, you realize you’re not alone. There is concern, angst, caring and kindness all present in this heart wrenching, but all-to-common situation.

You have to replace him.

He’s done nothing wrong. Most bands would be thrilled to have his easy-going manner, professional attitude, punctuality, kindness of heart and giving spirit.

Most bands.

But yours is an evolving project. The material is becoming more challenging – the result of a consensus decision. The desire to move in this direction also challenges the skill level of each member. All have every intention and the ability to meet the challenge – except one.

“His heart’s in the right place,” you tell yourself, so you keep working with him. “He’s the one that started the band,” you remember, as you witness endless struggle with some musical passages. You begin to ask yourself, “Has he got the chops?”

Then comes the defining moment.

Rehearsing one four beat measure for over an hour, in a span of three different rehearsals, he continues to deny what everyone else knows: he’s not able to learn material of this caliber. He becomes defensive, challenging the other band members, rather than himself. Adding insult to injury, this was the night he invited a co-worker/friend/musician to observe what would ultimately be his last rehearsal with the the rest of you. Fortunately, because of the quality of the band’s character, and his in particular, only frustration – not anger – sets in.

There is the pending disappointment that comes as the night progresses. By the end of rehearsal, the inevitability of the next step is clear.

For the next couple of days, e-mails go back and forth among the rest of you, expressing sorrow and churn for the upcoming conversation. Then, suddenly, there are none. No more funny e-mails. No more links to cool tunes on YouTube. There’s nothing more to say.

It’s now three days away, then two, then one.

Everyone arrives early. There’s a quiet anxiety permeating the room in anticipation of his arrival. The suggestion is made to sit at the kitchen table. You start off, quietly and calmly, expressing your concerns over the last rehearsal, then move into why you feel the best for all is to move forward with someone else. Again, because of his character, he too is calm and understanding, seeming almost relieved. After you finish, the rest of the members express their concerns, in much the same manner.

Then, it’s over.

After packing his gear, he shakes hands with everyone and exits.

“I can’t believe how well that went. He was so good about it.”

“It’s as if he sensed it was coming – almost like he wanted out.”

Maybe, he did.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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PALM PILOT

February 12, 2010

 

I was absolutely not going to write about this, even though its comedic value is priceless.

Then the title came to me, and… well… I succumbed to my lesser instincts.

Sad, isn’t it?

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I am not a Sarah Palin fan. She has the ability to capture media’s attention due to her camera-friendly face – that’s it. Past that, old proverbs come to mind: “Beauty’s only skin-deep.” “Never judge a book by its cover.” “You are the company you keep.” (My grandmother loved the last one.)

And so it goes with her latest attention-grabbing stunt, which did what it was intended to do: put her back in the spotlight for yet another few days. This is where any level-headed person realizes media is not motivated by liberal or conservative agendas. It’s profit-driven, owned by large corporations, competing for the same thing – advertiser dollars. Real news has not been the motivation for nearly two decades, which, sadly, is why all three cable “news” networks covered this event.

On February 6th, addressing the Tea Party’s Convention at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel – which I can attest first-hand, is a stunning venue – in one of the smaller banquet rooms, to a crowd of about 650 people, Palin gave a speech that was obviously not written by a professional speech writer, such as Matthew Scully (George W. Bush’s speech writer) who wrote her debut speech for the 2008 Republican Convention. And, unlike the week she spent at John McCain’s home practicing the delivery of that speech, she obviously spent very little time going over this one. To say the content was less than substantive, is being very generous.

But the Q and A that followed was the highlight of the evening – not for the substance – but for the grade school level competency she displayed answering questions. Not trusting her intellect – which oddly, was the right move – she created her version of a Palm Pilot. She wrote seven “key” words on the palm of her left hand. Deciding that was too many, she crossed one off the list, leaving six words she needed “on hand” to “pilot” her through a “handful” of pre-planned questions for half an hour.

Wasn’t that considered cheating in school? Could this be why it took her attending five different colleges over nearly a decade to receive a Bachelor’s degree? Did she get caught cheating on tests?

Enough digression.

Sarah Palin may be meat and potatoes for the Tea Party movement, but as far as I’m concerned, she’s nothing more than spoiled milk.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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THE REAL DEAL

February 2, 2010

(Please allow me to indulge in some fiction)

“Good morning, Mr. President.”

“Hi, Katie, how are you?”

“Fine. Thank you sir, and you?”

“Doin’ great. What can I do for you?”

“Sir, Representative Pence from Indiana has invited you to the House Republicans’ Retreat in Baltimore at the end of the month. Would you like to attend?”

“To do… what, exactly?”

“I believe he would like you to speak to the House members and then take a few questions.”

“Do we know what day this is… what time?”

“It’s the Friday after the State of the Union address, sir, 2:00pm.”

“So that’s the uh, the 29th. Am I available?”

“I checked and I believe we can make the necessary arrangements.”

“Okay. Put it on the calendar and if you could, please get Mike’s number for me. I’d like to call him.”

“Yes sir.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

“Good afternoon, Mike. President Obama.”

“Good afternoon Mr. President.”

“I understand you’ve invited me to your retreat in Baltimore.”

“Yes sir. We would like to have you join us for a casual Q and A.”

“I would be more than happy to attend, but I have one request.”

“Sir?”

“I would like it to be televised.”

“Uh… well… we don’t normally do that, sir.”

“I realize that, but I believe it would be benificial for everyone.”

“Well, if you insist, we’ll make the arrangements.”

“I insist. Thanks, Mike. See you then.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

“He’s coming.”

“Really? Good. It’s time he heard from us, one-on-one.”

“There’s just one thing.”

“What?”

“He wants cameras.”

“What? Son of a bitch! What did you tell him?”

“I said, ‘yes.’ What else could I say?”

“Great. That’s juuust great.”

“If I had said ‘no,’ he’d refuse to come and the press would be all over us – again – for not wanting to work with him.”

“Okay, but we’ve got work to do. No softball questions!”

“I understand.”

“No beatin’ around the bush. No bullshit questions about birth certificates, for God’s sake! Make sure you review every question!”

“Absolutely.”

“We have to hit him hard – damn hard – and push for answers on some of our stuff. Pigeon-hole him on across-the-board tax cuts, get him to back off this regulation crap and that piece-of-shit healthcare bill – all of it. We can’t afford to have him succeed on any of it. We gotta keep poundin’ away at him.”

“He won’t know what hit him.”

“Make sure of it!”

“Do you have any questions for him?”

“No!”

(End of fiction)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Republicans thought if they could get our President, unscripted, in a room full of only their own firing questions, cameras or not, they would “nail him.”

What were they thinking?

Did they really believe the former Harvard Law Review President, Constitutional Scholar/Educator and Civil Rights litigator who headed the most impressive presidential campaign in modern history, couldn’t handle their questions or wouldn’t fire back?

Are you kidding me?

Does this man look intimidated to you?

Why does the opposition continue to underestimate him? Time and time again during the campaign, when it seemed he was losing ground, and pundits started questioning his moves on one thing or another, he would end up silencing nearly every critic. Did they really think now, as President, Obama would suddenly crumble?

When the news hit that the event was going to be televised, TV and radio commentators spewed their gibberish about how it was Obama’s ego that wanted cameras, so people could see him in the proverbial “Lion’s Den.” I think he wanted people to see Republicans asking scripted questions of a President who is much more than a good orator with well-written teleprompter speeches. He wanted people to see a candid Q and A, unfiltered, unscripted (on his part) with no mediation. He said he was going to “call them out” in last year’s address to the joint session of congress, and that’s exactly why he wanted cameras rolling. The Republicans, not prepared for the push-back, were caught flat-footed.

These events are not uncommon among politicians. But never before has one been recorded live. President Obama deserves kudos for attending and the Republicans deserve kudos for allowing us to observe. Everyone wins with this type of exchange. Unfortunately, it will probably not happen again (with Republicans) anytime soon. Off the record, some attending Republicans said it was a mistake to allow cameras.

What we witnessed is politics the way it should be: politicians going nose-to-nose, directly asking and answering questions from each other, thereby giving us the “real deal” on the issues. No hype, no mediators, no pundits.

The event was covered by CNN and MSNBC in its entirety, but for some reason, FOX News cut away 20 minutes before its conclusion. Apparently, their commentators are more important than our President engaged in an open forum Q and A on the critical issues facing the American people. Or maybe, it was because President Obama was not only answering the questions with amazing detail and correcting the misinformation that’s been permiating the dialogue for the last few months, but he was also very honest about some of the short-comings of his first year in office, making the Republicans look foolish for asking silly “gotcha” questions.

Those who doubt our President’s desire to change things in Washington D.C. need only to watch this series of videos. Even if you did not vote for him, watch with an open mind and heart. You will not see an ideologue, but instead, a man who wants the best for this country.

NOTE: Rep. Pence’s microphone was not turned up at the beginning of this exchange

Even at the risk of alienating many in his own party, our President continues to extend the “olive branch” to his opposition. He knows if he can bring Democrats and Republicans together on enough issues, it will reduce the influence of specials interests, and Americans will start seeing collaboration instead of confrontation.

I remain hopeful.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com