The Power of the Love of Music

LAST WEEKEND I VOLUNTEERED at the Park City Jazz Festival in Deer Valley, Utah. It has become a tradition with me: excellent music, the joy of helping out, the beautiful mountain scenery, not to mention the respite from the August heat of the Salt Lake valley.

In that milieu, I remembered again of the power of music and yet how easy it is to let it slip silently out of our lives. The music that moves me most is jazz, because of its heady improvisation, soaring instrumentality, and ability to envelop the listener in a moment of time that elicits meaning not through lyrics but from the unspoken and often inarticulated feelings inside the listener's heart -- an emotional journey sketched by the musician but colored in by the listener's personal reaction to the song. And when I find myself in that moment, forgotten memories recovered and given voice, I shake my head in wonder that I allow myself to exist outside that moment for so much of my day.

When I was eight years old, I was riding my bike home. They had been clearing a lemon grove for a new park, and had dug many shallow trenches for sprinkler lines. My buddies and I had been playing Army Man all day in those trenches, wearing plastic replicas of GI helmets and hurling hard green lemon hand grenades at each other like the dog faces in "Combat," our favorite TV show.

On that particular evening, tired and dirty from a day of saving the world, I was pedaling home on my red Schwinn. I had my little transistor radio rubber-banded to the gooseneck handlebars and was turning a corner when I heard my first Beatles' song: "Camp By Me Love." The tune and words were so catchy that by the second time the chorus rolled around, I knew it by heart. (Of course I found out later that it wasn't a song about a guy asking his girlfriend to go camping, but something about love being beyond price. But at that time I knew nothing about love but a lot about camping, so that's how I heard it.)

When I got home I picked out the melody on our spinet piano. I knew nothing about chords, so I just tried to find the bass note that went with each change of the melody. But within an hour I had basically figured out the song. I was ecstatic and from then on, I was a musician. I heard something on the radio and reiterated it on piano. It wasn't long before I was rearranging chords to make new songs, often using the same lyrics I'd heard on the radio, often to such tin-eared results as "Camp By Me Love." Nevertheless, by the time I finished high school, I was a fair interpreter of popular music. I formed a band with some friends and 1975 was a glorious year when Zarahemla played church dances, parties, and youth gatherings all over southern California. We even entertained unrealistic fever-dreams of a recording contract.

My best friends have always been musicians, and all of them are more talented than I. I was a sponge, soaking up information that I'd not gotten in my formal training, which ended for the most part when I entered high school and had no time for piano after classes, sports, the beach, and my job. My fellow musicians introduced me to the finer elements of music theory, culminating in the clever "mu" chord popularized by Steely Dan. When I realized that this jazz chord made their music seem at once complex and accessible, I shook my head in wonder. How can adding a second tone to a triad do that? Further, how can a melody evoke emotion?

Music brings me back in time better than any other memory aid. I remember putting Billy Joel's astonishing 52nd Street album on the turntable and dully realizing that this guy was better than Elton; after all, he wrote the lyrics and the music! I could name dozens of songs and albums that literally stand like bright signposts in the landscape of my life, often associated with people, sometimes with places, and always with powerful emotions, sometimes as a result of the song itself, sometimes as a remarkable synchronicity when a song comes on the radio that exactly mirrors what I was feeling at that exact moment. Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That" featured a rudimentary computerized drum sound that literally made me exclaim, "It's changing! Right now! Music is changing!" And indeed, from that moment in 1983, drum machines came on board, some would say to sad results. And I would love to argue the point, not to convince you, but to talk with you about music, which is one of the few things in life worth arguing about, because it always results in sharing, in increased appreciation for a song or band or style you didn't previously like, and a full heart. Not many conflicts result so often in large smiles, knowing nods of the head, and hearty handshakes when the argument is over.

So there I stood at the side of the stage, wearing my yellow SECURITY tee shirt, facing the audience on a Sunday evening in Deer Valley, listening to Al Jarreau sing one of his most famous tunes, his face radiant and his happy demeanor contagious. Al et al. helped me find the groove and I was right in the center, swaying slowly from side to side, eyes half open, hands behind my back, chin lifted, rhapsodic. "Mornin' mister radio/mornin' mister Cheerio/mornin' sister oriole/need I tell you everything is fine?"

The sun was setting over the pine-clad canyon wall and the grassy hillside before me was full of people, all in that same groove, heads nodding, smiles on every face. And when he sang the rising melody, "I know I can/like every man/reach out my hand/and touch the face of God!" a chill ran up my spine and tears started in my eyes. I was in it, that evanescent moment when music fulfills its greatest promise: it was drawing me closer to the Infinite.

Did I mention it was also raining at the time?

Democracy Inaction

AUGUST, NORMALLY A SLEEPY MONTH FOR POLITICS, is sizzling with political heat all across America. Elected representatives are holding town hall meetings and getting an earful from the normally somnambulant populace, which has apparently beginning to awake to Washington's perfidy. It's about time.

As a resident of the most conservative state, I have lamented the lack of political excitement in my own backyard, but then I went to the Board of Education meeting inaugurating a new school district which was carved out of the largest school district in Utah. Salt Lake valley is divided economically east and west. The east side is established; the west is growing. While schools are aging on the east side, new multi-million dollar state-of-the-art schools are springing up on the west side. Thus, property taxes in the Jordan School District have been high and going higher, yet most east side tax money goes to construction on the west side. East side denizens didn't like paying for schools ten miles away from the run-down schools in their own neighborhood, so last November the Canyons School District was born.

My own taxes took a jump, even as my home fell in value by almost 15%. To find out why, I attended the first Canyons school board meeting. It was interesting, and like all government-sponsored programs, expanded from the planned two hours to four. Why? Because scores of my neighbors, who appeared relaxed and agreeable before the meeting, burst into angry outbursts and shouts at the utterly stunned board members sitting before us.

The issue was simple: the Board, repeatedly patting itself on the back for its boldness and creativity, showed us an almost unintelligible PowerPoint presentation designed to inform us as to the mechanics of the new tax scheme, all of which resulted in what they proudly pointed out several times was a zero-increase budget. Oh, what a good boy am I!

Following the presentation, taxpayers each got three minutes to express their opinions. And here's where democracy fell apart. People asked, quite rightly, how the Board could be considering a tax scheme identical to the previous year when everyone in the audience was making do with less this year. The diminishing value of our properties aside, many people used their three minutes to talk of jobs lost, increasing utility expenses, and across-the-board belt tightening. They were often interrupted by applause from the sympathetic and increasingly angry crowd.

During these diatribes, the Board members sat stone-faced and unresponsive. Not a word was uttered in defense of the proposed budget and no question put to them by a taxpayer was answered. Many of them simply worked on their personal computers. Some took notes. But not one of them engaged with the petitioners or responded directly to their concerns.

At the end of more than a hour of public outrage, the time was turned over to the Board. Though they addressed some of our concerns, they spoke among themselves, not to us. It became clear that they had already made up their minds before the meeting ever began; public opinion had not swayed them in the least. At the end of their internal discussion they voted unanimously to approve the tax scheme as proposed.

In disgust, half the audience got up and left.

Then the surreal process was repeated. The CFO spoke in vague terms about budget particulars, this time sparing us his pointless PowerPoint. Public response was again allowed. I got up and asked how is it that the Board refused to respond to questions put to them in real time, by real people? They simply stared at me, saying nothing. Not even the simple, irrefutable logic of "when the pie is smaller, you cannot have the same sized piece as before," seemed to penetrate their closed minds. I closed my remarks by noting that one of the Board members had stated that 85% of their budget was tied to district salaries and benefits. Had they considered the unfortunate but clearly responsive option of reducing salaries and costs across the board or cutting administrative positions? My question was answered with silence.

In the Board discussion that followed public comment, a Board member revealed that salaries and benefits of District employees were set by state law; the Board had no power to change or alter them. So, in a school district with a budget of $200 million, the Board has the power of the purse over just $30 million.

I shook my head. What, then, were we doing there? More to the point: what was the Board doing there? What impact could they possibly have on the District other than rubber-stamping the administration's proposed budget? It seemed like high school all over again: people running for meaningless offices for no other purpose than to advance their own popularity. The budget of the Canyons School District was unanimously approved by the Board.

That's when the rest of us left.

On the way home, I reflected on what democracy has devolved to. All the elements of possible success are there: engaged people with opposing interests striving toward important goals. Yet not a single moment of true dialogue occurred during the entire four hour enterprise. People made presentations, people commented on the presentation, Board members talked among themselves and then voted as they had planned to vote all along.

This new "democracy" is no doubt designed to avoid the messiness of traditional democracy: heated discussions and angry accusations, which can result -- if people's minds are open -- in solutions to problems. So there we sat, two hundred people in the same room, and not a minute of real person-to-person communication in four hours. But from the Board's perspective, the evening had been a success: they got the budget they proposed, they heard from their constituents (though they apparently didn't listen), and the pressure in the boiling tea kettle of public anger was reduced. Success, right?

Not to the almost two hundred tax payers who attended, their taxes raised, their usable income reduced, and their opinions ignored.

One good thing came out of the evening for me: a growing feeling that democracy in America is undergoing a painful rebirth. As more and more of us attend these public gatherings and we see how ridiculous the process became while we were busy living our lives and leaving politics to politicos, we are forming new opinions about what's wrong with our country and how to fix it. We of the silent majority, who routinely solve problems in our own lives and live within our own budgets, are beginning to demand the same from our elected officials. And if the stunned, disbelieving looks on the Canyons School Board's faces are any indication, then a sleeping giant may be awakening.

You may diminish this sort of grass-roots awakening as mere Astroturf and decry it as staged and unimportant. But from what I saw last Tuesday night in Sandy, Utah, you do so at your growing peril.

P.S. The next day, a local television station quoted a District spokesman on the Board's unanimous approval of the proposed budget: "We believe it is responsible fiscal policy for Canyons constituents in a very difficult budget year. We wanted to be responsive to the needs of our public."

I kid you not.

The Forest for the Trees: What's in the Healthcare Bill

"What good is reading the bill if it's a thousand pages and you don't have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?" -- John Conyers (D-MI)

Fortunately, Congressman Conyers, some people have read House Resolution 3200 and some of them are lawyers and here's what it means, with the page numbers and a layman's translation:
  • Health benefits will be limited on an annual dollar basis (29). This means rationing.

  • Instead of you, your doctor, or even your insurance provider, a government committee will decide what treatments or benefits you receive (30). Enjoy standing in line at the DMV? Then you'll love this!

  • Health services must provided to everyone (50-51). "Everyone" obviously includes illegal aliens, as well as those who simply do not wish insurance coverage.

  • Government will have access to your financial records to ascertain eligibility (58). The end of financial privacy.

  • Union retirees and their families will receive special benefits under the plan under Section 164 (65). A sop to the Unions that elected the democrat majority. AARP also benefits, due to an exclusion specifically tailored for it.

  • A national "healthcare exchange" will be established to bring private plans under government control (72). This will destroy private insurance coverage, for no private company can compete with the federal government.

  • Under the Exchange, plans which do not meet certain requirements will be excluded (84). And they set the standards, excluding their competitors: private insurers.

  • The Exchange will set benefit levels and limits (85). More rationing.

  • "Outreach" activities will be conducted to entice people to participate in the new healthcare plan (95). Here's where ACORN and other approved NGOs come in.

  • Governmental immunity applies to lawsuits regarding payments or methodology in healthcare (124). Presently, you can sue your insurer. Say goodbye to that right.

  • Physicians' income will be regulated by the government, regardless of the physician's special training or abilities (127 & 241). This is akin to paying everyone in the NBA the same salary.

  • Employers must automatically enroll employees into the public option plan (145). No choice of insurers.

  • Employers must provide healthcare insurance for part-time employees (147). Tens of thousands of small employers will now go out of business.

  • Employers who have a yearly payroll of over $400,000 who fail to enroll in an Exchange-approved plan will be be fined 8% of payroll (149). That's a small business: just 10 employees at $40,000 a year.

  • Employers who have a yearly payroll between $250,000 and $400,000 who fail to enroll in an Exchange-approved plan will be fined 2%-6% of payroll (150). That's as few as five employees: Mom & Pop businesses will fold.

  • Individuals (including the self-employed), who refuse to enroll in an Exchange-approved plan will be taxed 2.5% of their income (167). Zero choice, both in coverage or participation.

  • Nonresident aliens who refuse to enroll in an Exchange-approved plan will not be taxed (170). But they will nevertheless receive the same healthcare as you do.

  • Costs for cancer treatment will be leveled among hospitals (272). The Mayo Clinic must charge no more than any other hospital for their superior expertise.

  • Physicians are limited in ownership of hospitals (317). Thousands of small and rural clinics will fold.

  • "End of life" consultations are mandated (424-428). A government bureaucrat will advise you that since your healthcare is rationed, here are the ways you can die.

  • The end of life consultation may result in a court order regarding life-sustaining treatment (429). The government may even order your death.

  • State "family planning" services will be regulated by the federal government (774). Any hope of state sovereignty over abortion law will be terminated.
That's nowhere near all, but you get the idea. As even the supporters must admit, this law will greatly increase the government's incursion into previously private healthcare decisions, including access to your health records and finances, doctors' decisions, and even the way you die, not to mention the wholesale takeover of more than one-quarter of the U.S. economy.

As a lawyer myself, I instantly recognized the legal-speak of the Bill, which was undoubtedly written by a liberal think-tank intent upon converting America to a socialist state. They know that healthcare "reform" is a sure-fire way to fundamentally change the American economy, making the population dependent upon the government, and thereby ensuring that those dependants will vote democrat for the foreseeable future. When over half the public learns it can vote itself free money (or free benefits), then what is to stop them from doing so? The other 49% must shoulder the cost, for as long as they choose to do so. Will Atlas shrug?

The Troubled Assets Recovery Plan (TARP), a 1500 page bill that spent close to $1 trillion, was considered too important and pressing for our representatives to read it before enacting it. The Democrat leadership in the House waived the traditional 72-hour posting requirement and required members to vote on the bill within 24 hours. Of course no one read the bill and of course it's been a great success, hasn't it?

And now, we have those same leaders in the House insisting that members of Congress not only not bother to read this bill (with many more far-reaching provisions than the TARP bill), but vote on it immediately without discussion or debate before the August recess.

Why? Because of what the Bill contains, plain and simple.

Now you know more than John Conyers. But that didn't surprise you, did it?