Archive for July, 2009

“Birthers” And The DIS-Information Age

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

With all the focus on topics like War, Recession, and The Real Housewives Of Atlanta this week, you may have missed the BIG STORY: a newly-named group claims that Barack Obama fails to meet the statutory requirement that our Presidents must be born in the good ol’ US of A.

These folks are now called “Birthers,” and while a few otherwise reputable souls like Lou Dobbs of CNN might be among their number, they are generally dismissed by the President’s backers as right-wing nut-jobs. Which isn’t fair, because Birthers also include some left-wing nut-jobs.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Democrat Birthers asserted that John McCain – having been born in the Canal Zone of Panama – was similarly disqualified for the Oval Office. Senator McCain’s parents – whose citizenship is not in dispute – were stationed there with the U.S. Navy.

Nor is Birther-ing really new at all. As far back as the 1960s, there were those who tried to prove that JFK was actually born during a sea crossing from England, not (as stated) in Massachusetts immediately after the voyage.

What each group failed to realize was that exemptions to the Born In The USA rule apply to both the McCain and Kennedy situations. But apparently, mere facts won’t deter a zealous Birther from his holy mission.

Witness the current email making the rounds which alleges that then-college student Obama traveled to Pakistan in 1981, at a time when such trips were outlawed to US citizens. Therefore he must have been traveling on a foreign passport, mustn’t he?

Actually, no. The whole premise is a phony. In fact, US citizens could and did travel to Pakistan in 1981 – perfectly legally.

We live in an age of instantaneous worldwide transmission of video, audio, and print. For this reason, we’ve been called “The Information Age.” Unfortunately, a lot of what goes out each day – like the Birther story above – is crap. With no filters to stop anybody from saying anything about anyone, what we really live in is the DIS-information Age.

So here’s a note to Birthers: whatever you might wish were true, if you have to resort to lies to sell your thesis, it’s probably not a very good one to begin with.

Now here’s a second thought: just because Americans could travel to Pakistan in 1981 doesn’t mean the collegiate Obama did use a US passport on his visit. So, if you really believe in what you’re saying, have Lou Dobbs ask Pakistan’s Immigration Office to check whether any Indonesians named “Barry” stopped by, around 28 years ago. And – until you and Lou do that – cut the crap. You’re just making those of us with actual valid reasons for opposing this administration’s policies look like we’re in bed with the loonies.

Band Breaks – The Party Killer!

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Nobody minds when the band takes a break as the guests sit down to dinner. In fact, most folks probably don’t even notice that they’ve left the stage (other than the fact that it has suddenly become easier to have conversations without shouting.)

But anytime after 10PM, if the music stops – so does the party. Your guests look at their watches, pass meaningful nods to one another, then head for the door.

Some bands I know are perfectly aware of this, yet take long intermissions anyway. Most do so – I believe – hoping to get off early. (If half the people leave as a result of the 10 o’clock break, and half of those remaining depart at the 11PM intermission, the hostess will often let the band go early.)

This would be fine, if band members who had been hired from 8:00 until midnight refunded 25% of their pay. But the same musicians who will charge you for a full hour when your party goes 15 minutes past its contracted time, somehow never give back a cent when the night dies early (thanks to their intermissions.)

How can you prevent the party you’ve spent months planning from dying a premature death?

1. Ask your bandleader to consider – instead of giving all his players an intermission at the same time – to rotate out his musicians, so that some are always left on stage.

2. Prepare a CD of prerecorded musical favorites to play during the band breaks.

3. When hiring your band, ask if you can give them an extra long break during dinner (when you don’t need them), in exchange for a double-length set from 10:00 to 12:00. If they won’t cooperate, somebody else surely will.

Although many bands fail to understand this, it is in their direct interest for your event to be such a smashing success that it goes full-time. When the music makes your party-goers forget about checking their watches, everybody wins: the hostess, the guests, and that suddenly in-demand band, as well.

The Unappreciated Leadership Of Moses

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

The Bible tells us that Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Their goal was Canaan, but – as it is commonly stated – they wandered in the Wilderness for 40 years before reaching that “land of milk and honey.” (40 is a very popular Biblical number. It also pops up again in the stories of Noah’s Ark and Jesus in the desert.)

But that’s not really what happened. At least – not necessarily.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. And apparently, the early Hebrews didn’t have much use for terms like “billion” and “trillion.” In fact, they seldom needed anything much bigger than – you guessed it – 40. So, their word for “40″ and their word for “many” (or “lots of”) was the same word. This means that Noah could have endured “many” days and nights of rain, but not necessarily exactly 40. And Moses – who spent 40 years in Egypt, 40 years as a shepherd, and then 40 in the Wilderness – may have had a less symmetrical life than we’ve been told. He could just as easily have spent “lots of” years doing those things.

This may be a case where Biblical scholars gave us an exact translation of the Hebrew, yet failed to convey the actual intent of the Torah writer.

So now the question arises, “Why did Moses wander for so long – however long it actually was?” And the answer is, because he was a good leader. It’s not that he didn’t know the way to Canaan, or that he was too stubborn to ask for directions. His people weren’t ready. (And I don’t mean that only in the Spiritual sense.)

You see, Canaan wasn’t vacant. In fact, it was pretty well full of local tribes who had absolutely no intention of simply handing over the keys to Jericho and Hazor without a fight. Moses needed time to turn a group of freed slaves into an army – a well-trained military force capable of laying siege, of winning pitched battles, and (most importantly) of following orders.

Sam Houston displayed similar leadership, leading up to the Battle of San Jacinto. Like Moses, he had to ignore complaints that sapped group morale, and to resist the temptation of committing his troops before they were ready. It made him extremely unpopular among his men – until they won the battle.

From time to time, you may have to exercise leadership in this same way. It means doing what you know is right, even when it’s unpopular. But real leaders don’t take their troops where they want to go – they take them where they need to go.

Even when it seems like it takes 40 years for them to see the wisdom in your plan.

An Easy Way To Make Your Indoor/Outdoor Party More Connected

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Weather permitting, indoor/outdoor parties and receptions are the best of both worlds. Those of your guests who prefer a steady stream of 72-degree filtered air can stay safely away from Nature, while the more daring can enjoy the infinite variety of God’s air-conditioning system.

One downside to the indoor/outdoor event is that somebody always seems to miss the important announcements, like “Dinner is served,” or “The bride and groom are departing.” Wherever you place your band or deejay, either the innies or outies are too far from the sound source to hear key information. This, however, need not be the case.

When my band plays at Marie Gabrielle, a local indoor/outdoor restaurant and reception site, we simply place an extension speaker outside. This not only connects the outdoor guests to the musical ambience of the event, it makes it possible for them to not miss the official First Dance or Cake Cutting.

Even when I’m playing as a soloist at a residence, it is usually easy to run a speaker to whichever area I am not physically in. If the hostess prefers, I can even rig it so that only announcements go through the second speaker. In this way, music haters who manage to flee my melodious noodling still have access to important info.

One key fact to remember: you should always discuss this (and any other non-standard requests) with your music provider, well in advance of your event. In my case, I have to bring an extra speaker, stand, and cable that are not always with me. Also, since you are asking your music provider for something extra, you should offer to compensate them for any additional set-up and take-down time. They may not charge you any extra (I usually don’t), but a volunteered bonus is always appreciated.

The High Cost Of A Cheap Band

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Every city has its own garage bands, made up of players who enjoy making music, but don’t do so for a living. And some of these groups have members who are good enough to have been full-time showbiz professionals – if they had wanted to be. Because they have “real” jobs that pay the rent, they are able to take the occasional club or private party date at a much lower price than the bands for whom music is their vocation, not avocation.

So – in these tough economic times when you are trying to stretch each and every entertainment dollar to its limit – should you hire one of these “bargain” bands for your next event?

Well – that depends. And it depends both on the nature of your event, and the particular band you are considering. Here are a few points to ponder.

Does the “bargain” band look as good as it sounds?
Will they dress appropriately for your event?
Do they know enough songs to make it through your party?
And does their repertoire include enough variety for your guests?
How about their volume? Is it right for you?
How much time do they take between songs?
How long are their breaks?
(And if you don’t know the answers to these questions, shouldn’t you?)

In this life, we pretty much get what we pay for. So, if cost is the single biggest determining factor in who becomes your music provider, you may just be glad to have any band within your budget.

But if your next event is one where you want everything to be “just right,” consider hiring a smaller unit of pros – even if it’s only a trio – who know the drill, know the tunes, and whose livelihood depends on making every customer happy.

Don’t find out the hard way that your “bargain” band was no bargain at all.

Change Of Plans? Be Sure Your Vendors Know!

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Weather is a big changer of party plans. Events scheduled for months to be outdoors may have to move inside on a moment’s notice. But move – where? Do your caterer, florist, valet parking attendants, and music provider know the alternate location? Do your guests?

Parties also occasionally outgrow their original venues. The change may simply be from one ballroom of a hotel to another in the same facility. But valuable time is lost, and needless confusion created, when your wedding cake is placed in the wrong (ie. “original”) room due to your forgotten phone call to the bakery.

Start and finish times are frequently tweaked, as well. It may belatedly occur to you that 9PM until 1AM is perfect for a New Year’s Eve celebration, but way too late for mom and dad’s 50th anniversary party. Just remember – when you notify your guests to show up at 7:00 instead – that you have everything (and every one) ready when they arrive.

Finally, parties get postponed or even canceled. Illness, death in the family, or the bride calling off the wedding can understandably stress you so much that you simply forget to notify every last vendor. That’s why having a professional party planner on board who is not an immediate family member (and not as emotionally involved) is a great idea for any major event. Notification of all the vendors becomes their job, not yours.

Hey – changes of plan happen. So be ready for them when they do. Doing so will save you money, time, and a world of aggravation.

For Beautiful Music At Low Volume, Try Harp And Flute!

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

If the music for your next party needs to be elegant, but soft enough to allow normal conversational volumes, I have two words for you: “harp” and “flute.”

These two venerable instruments – descendants of the ancient lyre and reed-flute – are unsurpassed for lyrical beauty, yet audio opaqueness. (Which is simply an acoustician’s way of saying that they are “real perty” to listen to, while not musically overpowering.)

Not even the piano can match the harp for richness and softness at the same time. Those sitting at a table set 5 feet from a Steinway concert grand had better be good lip readers, because they will inevitably find that syllables uttered at normal volume can’t compete with a big fat bass note. But conversations held that same distance from a harp (or harp/flute duo) proceed without interruption.

How do these instruments manage to be soft enough for those nearby, and yet to carry their dulcet tones across a crowded room? Well, although there is a scientific explanation, I prefer to think of it as “magic.”

What else but magic could permit a centrally-located soloist or duo to be loud enough to entertain all, while at the same instant being soft enough to offend none? And what other word better describes the beautiful synergy between these two instruments?

So – if volume is a such a major issue at your next event that you think only a magician could solve your problem – then this is your lucky day! There is probably a purveyor of magic nearer to you than you may think.

Who Really Killed Michael Jackson?

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Since his death June 25th, much speculation has been offered into who or what actually killed Michael Jackson. The 24/7 news channels have focused on his alleged use of Propofol, Demerol, and a variety of other heavy-duty pain killers/knock-out drops. Toxicology results will be issued in due time.

But there’s no need to wait. You, lucky reader, will get the answer right here, right now. Well – not right now. Let me toy with you for just a minute.

You see, the King of Pop died from the same malady that killed his former late-father-in-law, the King of Rock and Roll. Elvis also kept a well-equipped home pharmacy supplied by yet another all-too willing Dr. Feelgood. But here’s the scoop: no matter what you may have heard, drugs didn’t kill either Elvis or Michael. What did?

Both men died because not one single person loved them enough to tell them “no.”

Let that sink in for just a moment, please. Then think back to Elvis. If just one person had said to him, “El, I think you’ve had enough fried banana sandwiches for one day,” he might still be alive. He could have lived, if only somebody had cared about him enough to say, “Instead of using that heavy-duty prescription laxative again, how about drinking this bottle of water while we go on a nice long walk together?”

But did anybody do that? Did any family member stage an Overeater’s Anonymous intervention? Apparently not.

Perhaps if Bubbles the Chimp could have talked, Michael might have heard some similar hard truths, like “Michael, that third nose job was plenty.” Or the old politician’s adage, “Never be caught in bed with a live boy or a dead woman.”

In all fairness, sister Janet apparently did plan an Intervention. But Michael got wind of it, and threatened to lock the family out of Neverland Ranch. (NOTE TO JANET: Nice try, but – number 1 – we usually don’t tell the guest of honor that he’s about to be intervened. And – number 2 – someplace away from Neverland’s secret passageways and bedroom alarm system would have been preferred.)

Success doesn’t have to be terminal. And the even early adulation that Michael experienced can be overcome by loving – but not doting – friends and family. We in the real world could see that Michael needed serious help decades ago. Surely those closest to him could see it, too.

Yet, well-intentioned or not, they accomplished nothing. So who killed Michael Jackson? Hint: it wasn’t Bubbles.

Postscript: The incessant hype surrounding Michael completely obscured the June 30th obituary of one of Broadway’s greatest voices, Harve Presnell. Ironically, Presnell was best known for a song he introduced in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. That song’s name? “I’ll Never Say No To You.” (Also known as the Presley-Jackson national anthem.)

Questions On The Subject Of “Peace”

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

What – exactly – is “Peace?” Is it simply the absence of war, as in the Paxes Romana and Britannica, in which mighty military powers enforced their wills on subjugated colonies? The “Cold War,” that delicate balancing act between the USSR and USA – was that “Peace?” After all, we weren’t shooting at each other. (At least not directly – both sides usually let their proxies do the actual fighting.)

Those protesters in the streets of Teheran this very day – do they hate “Peace” so much that they are willing to be beaten and shot as rioters (“breakers of the peace”)? Or, just maybe, are they actually seeking something very similar to what we wanted in 1776?

As every schoolchild used to be taught – we were looking for Justice. We held “these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Isn’t that really what makes an otherwise peace-loving people rise up in protest? Isn’t the desire for Justice, and those rights and freedoms associated with it, that lead non-warlike people to rethink their attitude toward conflict?

William T. Sherman declared that “War is Hell.” And no doubt it is. But does that make War inherently evil? Without War, our Eastern Seaboard would still belong to England. Without War, the Great Southwest, from Texas to California, would be part of Mexico, which – without War – would still be a province of Spain. Without the blood of free men, Slavery would still be legal in this country, and Americans of African descent would be – in the eyes of the law – 3/5 of a person.

As we enter this July 4th weekend, I hope we will remember that it was not Peace that gave us the liberties we celebrate, it was our willingness to fight and – if necessary – die. Righteous warriors, not seeking conquest or fame, won something infinitely greater: Justice and Liberty.

So by all means love the idea of “Peace.” Just don’t confuse it with Justice. And, even if you hate the idea of War, whatever you do, don’t condemn the warriors who fight for that noble cause today. At least, don’t do it in my presence. Or you will find “Peace” to be conspicuously absent.

God bless America. God bless our troops. God bless all people everywhere for whom Justice and Liberty are unalienable rights of humankind. Have a great 4th of July!