Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stuff we missed

"If each dead person became a ghost, there'd be more than 100-billion of them haunting us all. Creepy, but cool." Neil deGrasse Tyson

THE GOOD NEWS is that after wearing a heart monitor for 48 hours, the cardiologist believes the atrial fibrillation Paul has been experiencing was likely caused by excessive caffein consumption. Usually he ingests very little, but Paul reconstructed that week in his head and remembered that the problem began on the way home from a gig in Council Bluffs where between rehearsal and the performance, he and the guys had been sitting around for hours drinking coffee and soda, not to mention all they consumed on the drive over and back.

The doc said that if atrial fibrillation goes on for a day or two solid, they have to shock a person's heart back into rhythm, but Paul's heart reset itself several times over the course of those days, so no need for shocking or meds or any other intervention. Just don't do caffeine! He can live with that.

I mentioned that Paul came down with the flu despite having gotten his flu shot in August. It was definitely the flu — chills, fever and the whole shebang. It then morphed into a really bad cold, and he coughed so hard that he put his ribs out of place, so yesterday he got a deep tissue massage that pushed them back where they should be.

I managed to escape the flu, but I got the bad cold. I'm on the back end of it now, though. Not completely over it, but close. Together, we've been raising the stock value of both Kimberly-Clark and Walgreens.

The bummer of being sick, besides how un-fun it was, is that we missed out on three things we wanted to do.

Thing one:
You may have read that Senator Joe-McCarthy-reincarnated-as-Ted-Cruz came to Des Moines October 25 as the keynote speaker for the Iowa Republican Party's Reagan Dinner.

During his speech — oh no he didn't . . . oh yes he totally did — defend the federal government shutdown he led that cost American citizens $24 billion!!

I was seriously going to make a sign and go down and picket outside the Iowa Event Center where it was being held. I don't know if I would have been the only one, but I'd have been okay with that. A person just can't let an opportunity like that slide by. 

My sign was going to say, "Give us back our $24 billion you dumb ass." Okay, I wouldn't have actually said the dumb ass part, but I would have been thinking it really loud.

Thing two:
The following Tuesday night we missed Neil deGrasse Tyson speak! I know!!!!!! 

We'd been waiting for that night for like nine months — ever since his talk was announced. Big bummer. 

His visit was so anticipated that Drake University, where his talk was being held, sent out an email announcing that attendees would not be allowed to start lining up for his 7:00 talk prior to 3:00 PM, camping out beforehand with chairs, tents or sleeping bags was forbidden, and the overflow area for the line to get in was a nearby parking lot. That tells you something about how many people were expected!

We could have survived the evening out to hear the talk, but waiting in line outdoors for hours was definitely not in the cards for two sick people. But isn't it cool that a science dude like him is such a rock star?!

Thing three:
Today we're missing out on dressing up for Halloween! I love going to work in costume!! We're headed into the office today, but a proper costume takes effort that we weren't able muster. We had it all planned, too. Paul was going as a cheerleader — short skirt, letter sweater and pom pons — and I was going as a football player with helmet, shoulder pads and full regalia. 

That's two years in a row we've missed. We're bummed! I swear I'm just going to pick two random days and wear costumes to make up for it.
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SPLC 1 — Alabama 0

"We don't need a melting pot in this country. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables — the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers — to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences." — Jane Elliot, American anti-racism activist and educator who created the "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" class exercise in 1968

WHAT DO the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama have in common? Me, of course. 

A) I'm a big fan of the SPLC, and B) I was born in Alabama

There was a bill passed in the Alabama State Legislature, HB 56, making it a crime for anyone — citizen and non-citizen alike — to drive someone who is undocumented to church or a hospital, requiring school children to report on the immigration status of their parents and even preventing refugees who have been granted asylum in our country from going to a state university. 

I wrote about it July 9, 2011, the day after the SPLC filed a law suit challenging this law.

Well, hot diggity dog, the SPLC won! Below is an email letter from today from Morris Dees, founder of the SPLC.

Dear Kelly,

We've just won an important victory against Alabama's racist anti-immigrant law.

The law undermined our most fundamental ideals as a nation. It was forged amid a legislative debate rife with incendiary rhetoric and bigotry aimed at a tiny sliver of the state's population – Latino immigrants.

The New York Times called Alabama's law "cruel, destructive and embarrassing" – the "worst in the nation." 

We sued the state over this unconstitutional law, known as HB 56, and following a series of court victories, we've announced a final settlement that effectively guts it.

No longer will schools require children to verify their parents' immigration status.

No longer will the state of Alabama authorize the detention of someone during a traffic stop for the purpose of checking their status.

No longer will acts of kindness toward immigrants, such as giving someone a ride to the hospital, be considered a crime.

Because of our suit, the most egregious provisions of the law have been permanently blocked.
When this law was enacted in 2011, it unleashed a kind of vigilantism, leading some Alabamians to believe they could cheat, harass and intimidate Latinos with impunity. We saw families with children lose their water service … day laborers cheated out of their wages … sick children turned away from medical clinics.

Many Latinos — regardless of their immigration status — chose to flee the state rather than face the racial profiling promoted by HB 56. Farmers lost millions while crops rotted in the fields.

This victory will have a major impact on many lives — not just immigrants, but legal residents and U.S. citizens who could be suspected of being unauthorized simply because they are Latino.
We remain committed to pursuing comprehensive immigration reform in Congress so that no other state will be tempted to pass such a mean-spirited law again. And we continue to work in the courts to uphold the rights of immigrants facing injustice.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Jewish funeral traditions

"In the world of truth, the place we all go to after life on earth, what counts is the lasting impact we had on the world." — Rabbi Aron Moss

Paul was honored and moved to be asked to serve as a pall bearer at Sharon Stein's funeral. Neither one of us had been to a Jewish funeral before, so Paul did some research beforehand so we'd know a little about what to expect. 

Though unfamiliar to me, many of these customs struck me as sensible and kind.

A Jewish funeral takes place as soon after death as possible because it's believed to be more respectful to attend to the deceased's needs promptly.

Sharon died early Sunday morning, and the funeral was Tuesday morning. In Orthodox communities, it would have been held within 24 hours. Reformed Jewish communities are more flexible, especially in the instance of sudden death, to allow close family members to travel to the funeral. In Sharon's case, those traveling long distances were already here.

In Jewish tradition, friends to not console the bereaved until after the burial in order to allow the family to grieve privately and focus on all that needs to be done. 

There are no flowers at a Jewish funeral. Flowers are considered to be frivolous, a waste of resources that could be better used to help others, so a contribution to charity is preferred. This custom makes all the sense in the world to me, and that's what we did.

Here is what a website called Chabat had to say about not sending flowers: "While flowers are a beautiful gift to the living, they mean nothing to the dead. The body, like a flower, blossoms and then fades away. It's the achievements of the soul — the love we show to others, the light we bring into the world, the good deeds we do — that remain beyond the grave. Take the money you would have spent on flowers and give it to charity in the name of your loved one.

K'riah is an ancient ritual. In Orthodox congregations, the immediate family members rend a garment. Rather than cutting clothing, the Non-Orthodox practice is to wear a torn black ribbon on the left side over the heart, but in either case the ceremony symbolizes the tear in the mourner's heart.

Cremation is against Jewish law. Everyone is buried wearing a simple, pure white linen garment so that the rich will not receive more honor than the poor, symbolizing that we are all equal in death. The garment is without pockets as symbolic proof that none of us takes anything with us when we leave the world.

Jewish caskets are plain and must be made completely of wood, without nails or other metal, so that it will decompose naturally and allow the body to return to its source. 

Caskets are always closed at a Jewish funeral as a gesture of respect. To me this is compassionate and respectful. Having now considered it, I've decided that I don't want people gaping at me after I'm dead.

Jewish funeral services are simple, not long in duration and no music is played. After the short service, the casket and body are taken to the cemetary to be interred, and mourners accompany the deceased.

One of the most moving traditions was the interment. Each mourner was asked to cast three shovelfuls of earth onto the casket in the open grave. This is considered a great favor to the departed because it's something that he or she can not do for themselves. The blade of the spade is scooped into the pile of dirt upside down on the first shovelful so that it carries no dirt to symbolize the regret the mourner feels about the person's death. With the second and third shovelfuls, the spade is right side up.

At the Jewish cemetary, Paul and I noticed there were small stones sitting atop several of the gravestones, enough that it seemed as though people had intentionally placed them there. I looked it up afterward, and learned that the stones are left in lieu of flowers. 

The Chabat website said, "As a flower blooms and then fades away, so does our body, but the soul, like a solid stone, lives on forever." 

The Chabat site suggests that mourners take a modest stone that costs nothing and place it on the grave or headstone to tell the loved one that although she or he had is gone, the impact they had is everlasting. 

After the burial, a meal of consolation is held, and traditionally items such as bagels, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, cookies and other round-shaped food are served to remind the mourners that life is forever a turning circle.

In the evening, a service called Shiva is conducted by the Rabbi at the home of a first-degree relative — father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister or spouse. For an Orthodox family, that period is seven days, but for Non-Orthodox Jews, it's a shorter period of time.

Paul and I participated in all the ceremonies and rituals, including two nights of Shiva, to the best of our abilities in honor of our beloved Sharon

Her funeral was held at Tifereth Israel Synagogueled by Rabbi Steven Edelman-Blank. He also conducted the graveside service and Shiva ceremonies. Paul and I both found him to be a kind, inclusive, gentle man.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Get your flu shot anyway

"There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before." — Henry David Thoreau 

PAUL CAME DOWN with the flu on Sunday despite the fact that we both got our flu shots at the end of August, but he would have gotten much sicker had he not been vaccinated.

He said, "If this is only 60% as bad as it would have been if I hadn't had the shot, I'd hate to know what 100% is like."

I knew he was unquestionably ill when he woke up Monday morning just long enough to croak, "Will you get me a sub for tonight?"

Paul plays lead trombone in the Des Moines Big Band, and Monday night is their regular gig. When Paul doesn't make a gig, you know he's sick! 

I had been hanging tough until Thursday night, but then I could tell I was in for it. So far I haven't gotten nearly as sick as Paul. Fingers crossed.

I was up and around this morning doing laundry and dishes and cleaning the refrigerator until mid-afternoon, when it became apparent that it was time to give up. I crawled back into bed and shortly had one cat serving as a chest warmer, one as foot warmer and one by my side. 

And they say cats aren't affectionate. Oh please. Ours follow us from room to room all day and all night, and if we create laps of any shape or size, one or two of them are on them in moments. So as my grandmother would say, "Piffle!"

I rest my case below: Shye in the first two pictures, Boy Boy in the next two and Shiva in the last two. And if there isn't a lap available, Shiva will settle for pretending there is.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Lying liars who lie: Rand Paul

"I don't condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important." Senator Rand Paul, October 17, 2013

I HAVE LONG been enamored of the state of Kentucky — at least the one that exists in my imagination. I get dreamy-eyed envisioning abundant forests, fields of blue grass, rolling hills and gentle mountains (as opposed to the scary Rockies), and then I sigh and say, as Liz Lemon often does, "I want to go to there."

Unfortunately, I just now put two and two together. Well, actually it's one and one. 

Kentucky has Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul as their Senators! I won't be moving there anytime soon — like ever!

And just as an aside, what the heck kind of name is Rand anyway? 

Senator-you've-got-to-be-kidding-me gave a speech at the University of Louisville School of Medicine last week, and really, you will at the least be disturbed by what Paul said, and I'm not referring to the kind, extremely smart Paul I'm married to. 

And speaking pulling the wool over the public's eyes, you do know about Rand Paul's made-up self-certification in opthalmology, right? If you don't, I've reprinted a Daily Beast post written by Dr. Kent Sepkowitz on 6/15/10.

Extra-smart, extra-nice Paul.
Lying liar who lies Paul.

Below is part of an article by Jill Lawrence from the National Journal who covered his speech and below that a few cogent conclusions by the Daily Kos. 

Before you read these revealing few paragraphs, however, bear in mind that according to the University's own website, the subject of this speech sponsored by the Benjamin Rush Society was "Preserving the doctor/patient relationship and related human values issues" and try to square that with the things R. said. 

I'm not sure that Rand Paul actually has any "human values" since he would rather cost the nation between $23 and $24 billionaccording to Standard and Poor’s index and Moody’s Analyticsthan let people in our country have ready access to affordable health care. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Rand Paul was talking with University of Louisville medical students when one of them tossed him a softball. "The majority of med students here today have a comprehensive exam tomorrow. I'm just wondering if you have any last-minute advice."

"Actually, I do," said the ophthalmologist-turned-senator, who stays sharp (and keeps his license) by doing pro bono eye surgeries during congressional breaks. "I never, ever cheated. I don't condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important."

He went on to describe studying for a pathology test with friends in the library. "We spread the rumor that we knew what was on the test and it was definitely going to be all about the liver," he said. "We tried to trick all of our competing students into over-studying for the liver" and not studying much else.

"So, that's my advice," he concluded. "Misinformation works."

Why would he set himself up with an anecdote like that? He knew reporters were in the lecture hall. He's also well aware that watch-dogs are compiling a growing file of evidence that he plays loose with the facts. He offered a few more examples to the students that very afternoon.

"Under Obamacare and the current evolution of things, we have 18,000 diagnostic codes. We're going to 144,000 diagnostic codes," Paul told them. It wasn't the first time he had implied that the number of codes—complete with seemingly absurd categories for injuries from macaws, lampposts, and burning water skis—was exploding as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But fact-checkers across the spectrum, from the conservative website The Blaze to USA Today to the liberal site Think Progress, had thoroughly debunked that notion months earlier. As Paul must know, the new diagnostic codes were approved by the Bush administration and have nothing to do with Obamacare.

The students laughed about the macaws and again when Paul said someone making $30,000 a year would not be able to afford insurance under the new law "if it's going to cover pregnancy to sex change to lap dancer." The administration has said plainly that policies do not have to cover sex-change surgery. As for lap dancing, well, that apparently was Paul's imagination going somewhere unusual.

And in conclusion from the Daily Kos:

I don't think I've ever heard such a beautiful summation of conservative Republicanism. Let us count the intertwined lessons:

— It is all right to lie outright to people if doing so will gain you personal benefit. That's not cheating.

— If you can't do any better yourself, try hurting others. It all counts so long as you end up on top!

— Misdirection is a fine tool for convincing others to do stupid things instead of smarter ones.

And from the Daily Beast:

The Biggest Rand Paul Outrage Yet
Dr. Kent Sepkowitz

Scarcely a day passes that we don’t find out something new and objectionable about Dr. Rand Paul. The risk in the pile-on is that a real doozie will get missed, lost in the daily torrent. The recent news—his lack of standard certification as an ophthalmologist and its relationship to his self-anointing and self-created National Board of Ophthalmology—is just such a Big Deal. Its specifics, however, are so complicated and unrewarding to follow as to threaten to place it on the endangered scandal list.

I am here to make certain that we don’t let this one slide. His decision to sidestep the standard way doctors are certified in America is—even by summer politician standards—slimy, lazy, self-serving, and, important to remember as we sink deeper into his muck, revealing of the real reason for his me-against-the-Man shtick. (Hint: He’s not looking out for you, Mr. Little Guy). But before we read from the latest entry of the Randiad, let me guide you through the mind-numbing world of American physician credentialing.

Trying to gin up a moral issue out of the selfish power play is reminiscent of Nixon’s view of the law as something to try to outsmart. It’s also disrespectful to the oddball but often courageous stances of his father and other giants of the right willing to fight on principle.

Here’s how it works: To practice medicine legally requires a license issued by the state. Eligibility for licensure is granted after graduating medical school and after passing a series of difficult standardized exams prepared by the National Board of Medical Examiners. Once completed, licensure is forever (assuming a person behaves and isn’t a total disaster). Rand is a licensed physician.
But a guy's got to practice medicine somewhere—an eye specialist like Dr. Paul, for example, needs a hospital's operating rooms to ply his trade. And that's where certification comes in. Whereas licensure is a one-size-fits-all blanket of general adequacy, certification is granted by a specialty board to indicate competency in a specific field such as ophthalmology (or medicine or surgery or psychiatry). Certification tests long have been administered by venerable, apolitical groups such as the American Board of Ophthalmology (or Internal Medicine or whatever). The certificate is a national credential that, although not absolutely necessary to practice medicine, is more or less required for any doctor seeking an affiliation with a hospital.

It gets even more complicated, but hang in there; Rand is hoping the distinctions are just too subtle for anyone to really care about. In the 1980s, American medicine decided that it should police itself. A little. So the Grand Old Men of the various fields decided that already certified specialists should recertify once a decade. Rand initially did the right thing and became certified; but when his 10 years were up, he decided he’d had enough and chose not to recertify. Rather, he organized his own certifying program for ophthalmology based right there in his hometown of Bowling Green. He then appointed himself president of the group, which he named the National Board of Ophthalmologists, and better yet, declared his wife (not a doctor) VP and his father-in-law secretary. Talk about convenient! It remains unclear what the NBO criteria for certification are; the organization appears to have no website or easily located documents (though it is registered with the state of Kentucky as a nonprofit and claims to have certified a few hundred eye doctors).

All of this would be OK with me; I just took the frigging recertification test in my field and I hated every minute of it. It is humiliating and infuriating and insulting and a waste of time and money. Indeed, I applaud Rand’s sticking his tongue out at the gasbags who insist on teenage procedures (multiple-choice tests proctored now by cybersecurity) to assure that a doctor is certified in his field.

But Rand lost me when he articulated the reason why he resisted. Being a conscientious objector or pissed off adult simply wasn’t good enough. No, he decided to cast it as a high-end moral stance against groups that discriminate—groups like the American Board of Ophthalmology. And what exactly was their discriminatory practice? Opposing civil rights maybe? Nope—much, much worse. The old geezers who made up the test requirements built a nice little loophole for themselves: They excluded themselves from having to recertify—instead they were “grandfathered” in. And in so doing they discriminated against poor Rand and me and thousands of other of victimized doctors. Thank goodness someone had the strength to make a stand against the nefarious two-tiered system. Ah the pure horseshit—true Kentucky thoroughbred stuff.

Trying to gin up a moral issue out of the selfish power play is reminiscent of Nixon’s view of the law as something to try to outsmart. It’s also disrespectful to the oddball but often courageous stances of his father and other giants of the right willing to fight on principle. With his creation of a ludicrous home-brew “certifying board,” he has shown his dedication not to a movement but to the single goal of making life a little bit more convenient for Rand Paul. And here Paul does appear to speak for his generation: He has given us the finest example yet of yuppie selfishness in senescence.
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ella Mae sings with her daddy

"Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away." Elvis Presley

MANY OF YOU have already seen this You Tube video of adorable Ella Mae singing her heart out with her daddy to an Elvis Presley song, but in case you missed it, or if you just want to feel really happy today, give it a look. 

When you hit the play button, there will be a text box that says "Play on You Tube." Just click there, and it plays.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Pet Expo — Des Moines

I care not much for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it. Abraham Lincoln

THIS PAST Saturday Paul and I attended the Pet Expo in Des Moines on behalf of The Pet Project Midwest. We were there to work their booth for a couple of hours. 

Hey, if anybody knows how to work a trade show, it would be us!!!! Our little company, Brainstorm Marketing, has won something like 13 or 14 International Nomadic Teddy Awards for exhibit design excellence, and when we win, we're beating out places like Chicago, London, Dublin, Washington DC and so on. Really! Companies like Principal Financial actually hire us to train their booth staff on the best way to work a trade show.

The booth was next door to the greyhound rescue booth, and I totally fell in love with one of them. Of course, I melt whenever I see any greyhound. There's a story behind my soft spot for them; I'll tell it to you one of these days soon.

He was so demure being pushed in his stroller.
One of the next-door greyhounds.
Three greyhound pals. I fell in love with the white one in front.
This little guy was SO adorable!!!
Me with another cutie baby.
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Friday, October 18, 2013

New phone app for pregnant women

"I have no doubt what the outcome would have been otherwise." — Sara Byrd

IF YOU'VE read my blog more than once or twice, you've noticed some common threads. I often blog about social justice and equality — and as a result, politics — because the later effects the first two so much. 

Health, human behavior and devotion to and from animals are all topics of special interest to me, and goodness knows I've posted loads of photos of our furry-purries. I also write about Paul's musical endeavors, and once in awhile I throw in something about movies or shoes. Yes, I do have a bit of a shoe thing; could be worse.

I came across the below piece of health-related information on the WHO-TV subpage of NBC News. This app might just save someone's baby-to-be.

COUNT THE KICKS: Phone App ‘Saves Baby’


A smartphone app developed in Iowa that promises to reduce still births is credited with saving a baby’s life on the first day it was launched.

Little Alexandra Byrd likely owes her life to a program called Count the Kicks and a new mobile phone app that the program provides.

“Yeah, I have no doubt what the outcome would have been otherwise,” her mom, Sara said.
Count the Kicks started in 2009 by five Iowa moms who lost baby girls.

They encourage expecting mothers to literally count the kicks they feel, and track those movements to ensure their baby is still healthy in the womb.

Sara Byrd heard about the program and installed the app. She was at work when the app reminded her Alexandra hadn’t moved in some time so she rushed to the doctor and had an emergency C-section.

“She wasn’t breathing when she was born, she was gray,” Sarah recounted.

“You expect, even knowing she was in distress you still expect to have that cry when they are delivered and it was just silence in the room.  I looked at him finally and asked if she ok, is she breathing and he just shook his head no.”

Doctors were able to get Alexandra breathing and she is doing very well now.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The music/success correlation

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." — Bob Marley

PAUL GOT HIS blood test results, and his electrolytes are not out of balance, so that's out as a cause for his heart palpitations. 

(I could have solved this mystery myself if they'd only asked. It's pretty obvious to everyone who knows us that I have been making his heart thumpa-thumpa-thumpa ever since we met 21 and a half years ago.)

Today Paul got fitted up with a heart monitor which he'll wear for 48 hours. In the meantime, Paul's sister Lori said that she's had the same sort of wacky heart beat forever and the same story with his double-cousin Deb. Sounds inherited. Not that that makes it any less worrisome.

I've been talking a lot about Paul's trombone playing of late and happened to come across a great article in The New York Times about the achievement benefits of musicianship. The moral of the story seems to be: get your kid playing an instrument early and diligently.

Is Music the Key to Success?
Published: October 12, 2013

CONDOLEEZZA RICE trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard.

Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?

The connection isn’t a coincidence. I know because I asked. I put the question to top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media, all of whom had serious (if often little-known) past lives as musicians. Almost all made a connection between their music training and their professional achievements.

The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously.

Will your school music program turn your kid into a Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft (guitar)? Or a Woody Allen (clarinet)? Probably not. These are singular achievers. But the way these and other visionaries I spoke to process music is intriguing. As is the way many of them apply music’s lessons of focus and discipline into new ways of thinking and communicating — even problem solving.

Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry. Woody Allen performs weekly with a jazz band. The television broadcaster Paula Zahn (cello) and the NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd (French horn) attended college on music scholarships; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell trained to become a professional violinist. Both Microsoft’s Mr. Allen and the venture capitalist Roger McNamee have rock bands. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, played saxophone in high school. Steven Spielberg is a clarinetist and son of a pianist. The former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall.

“It’s not a coincidence,” says Mr. Greenspan, who gave up jazz clarinet but still dabbles at the baby grand in his living room. “I can tell you as a statistician, the probability that that is mere chance is extremely small.” The cautious former Fed chief adds, “That’s all that you can judge about the facts. The crucial question is: why does that connection exist?”

Paul Allen offers an answer. He says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” Mr. Allen began playing the violin at age 7 and switched to the guitar as a teenager. Even in the early days of Microsoft, he would pick up his guitar at the end of marathon days of programming. The music was the emotional analog to his day job, with each channeling a different type of creative impulse. In both, he says, “something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”

Mr. Todd says there is a connection between years of practice and competition and what he calls the “drive for perfection.” The veteran advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his most famous work, the Apple “1984” commercial depicting rebellion against a dictator. “I was thinking of Stravinsky when I came up with that idea,” he says. He adds that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively: “Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”

For many of the high achievers I spoke with, music functions as a “hidden language,” as Mr. Wolfensohn calls it, one that enhances the ability to connect disparate or even contradictory ideas. When he ran the World Bank, Mr. Wolfensohn traveled to more than 100 countries, often taking in local performances (and occasionally joining in on a borrowed cello), which helped him understand “the culture of people, as distinct from their balance sheet.”

It’s in that context that the much-discussed connection between math and music resonates most. Both are at heart modes of expression. Bruce Kovner, the founder of the hedge fund Caxton Associates and chairman of the board of Juilliard, says he sees similarities between his piano playing and investing strategy; as he says, both “relate to pattern recognition, and some people extend these paradigms across different senses.”

Mr. Kovner and the concert pianist Robert Taub both describe a sort of synesthesia — they perceive patterns in a three-dimensional way. Mr. Taub, who gained fame for his Beethoven recordings and has since founded a music software company, MuseAmi, says that when he performs, he can “visualize all of the notes and their interrelationships,” a skill that translates intellectually into making “multiple connections in multiple spheres.”

For others I spoke to, their passion for music is more notable than their talent. Woody Allen told me bluntly, “I’m not an accomplished musician. I get total traction from the fact that I’m in movies.”

Mr. Allen sees music as a diversion, unconnected to his day job. He likens himself to “a weekend tennis player who comes in once a week to play. I don’t have a particularly good ear at all or a particularly good sense of timing. In comedy, I’ve got a good instinct for rhythm. In music, I don’t, really.”

Still, he practices the clarinet at least half an hour every day, because wind players will lose their embouchure (mouth position) if they don’t: “If you want to play at all you have to practice. I have to practice every single day to be as bad as I am.” He performs regularly, even touring internationally with his New Orleans jazz band. “I never thought I would be playing in concert halls of the world to 5,000, 6,000 people,” he says. “I will say, quite unexpectedly, it enriched my life tremendously.”

Music provides balance, explains Mr. Wolfensohn, who began cello lessons as an adult. “You aren’t trying to win any races or be the leader of this or the leader of that. You’re enjoying it because of the satisfaction and joy you get out of music, which is totally unrelated to your professional status.”

For Roger McNamee, whose Elevation Partners is perhaps best known for its early investment in Facebook, “music and technology have converged,” he says. He became expert on Facebook by using it to promote his band, Moonalice, and now is focusing on video by live-streaming its concerts. He says musicians and top professionals share “the almost desperate need to dive deep.” This capacity to obsess seems to unite top performers in music and other fields.
Ms. Zahn remembers spending up to four hours a day “holed up in cramped practice rooms trying to master a phrase” on her cello. Mr. Todd, now 41, recounted in detail the solo audition at age 17 when he got the second-highest mark rather than the highest mark — though he still was principal horn in Florida’s All-State Orchestra.

“I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.”

That’s an observation worth remembering at a time when music as a serious pursuit — and music education — is in decline in this country.

Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

With every beat of his heart

"I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don't intend to waste any of mine." Neil Armstrong 

LIFE got a little crazy yesterday. 

Paul had a rehearsal the previous night which did not go particularly well, so he was not in what we doctors call a favorable mood. Ain't nobody happy around our house when the trombone player ain't happy.

Paul also had a weird heartbeat thing that started Saturday night. He describes it as his heart racing, although I took his pulse while it felt that way to him, and it was 64.

He gets this double-beat thing periodically. It's very uncomfortable, Paul says. Not painful, more like a sensation of pressure. Kinda sounds like it's an inherited thing. Paul's mom experienced a similar phenomenon and went to the doctor who sent her for all kinds of tests including wearing a monitor for 24 hours. She had to write down every time she experienced the weird fast-beating feeling, and like Paul, her heart wasn't beating in anyway abnormally during those times when it felt like it was. After many, many tests, they told her that they just don't know what or why it is.

I managed to get Paul into the doc's two hours after I called. The EKG appeared perfectly normal, but to be on the safe side, he will wear a monitor for 24 hours as his mom did. The doctor wisely opined that we can't assume that it's the same thing even though it likely is. 

She also did a blood draw to check his electrolytes. With Sharon's death, challenging work deadlines and lots of late hours as a trombonist, Paul has been under a lot of stress and not gotten all that much sleep, resulting in some prolonged, severe intestinal upset, so it's possible his electrolytes are messed up which could be the cause.

We somehow still managed to get a large graphic installed at a restaurant in preparation for a TV cooking segment being filmed this morning, with 15 minutes left for Paul to dash to Big Band, grab his horn and play.

The good news is the graphic looked great and Paul played, as he described it, "his ass off" which at our house is always a good thing because his mood pretty much mirrors how well he's currently playing.

Me, I mostly hang on and attempt to keep it between the ditches. I managed to still make my appointment for a sorely-needed haircut, squeezed in after the doctor and before dashing to the install. The mop on top of my head had grown so long and unruly that Megan had to whack more than two inches off just to try to wrestle it to the ground.
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Sunday, October 13, 2013

How they talk

"Like family, we are tied to each other. This is what all good musicians understand." Billy Joel 

PAUL IS once again off being a trombonist, this time a rehearsal for an upcoming salsa night at El Palacio

Paul was a pretty tired guy by the time he got home last night from Mason CityWe had some work we needed to do today before Monday, so I ran into the office and brought Paul's computer and the big monitor back so he could work from home in his jim jams. Seems less like work that way.

Friday night on the drive home from Council BluffsPaul said that the guys were all talking about how lucky they are to have married exactly the women they married. 

Paul said, "Maybe not quite the conversation people would imagine a bunch of jazz guys having late at night on the way home from a gig."

Jason Danielson said, "Gees, Paul, how'd you manage to get Kelly?!" 

Most kind of you my extra smart, super talented, liberal, secular humanist pal, Jason. I'm a big fan of Jason's — but he already knows that.

Meanwhile, I'm here with Shye, Shiva and Boy Boy who are all curled up together in a snuffly, purry, furry circle around me. People who say that cats aren't loyal and affectionate just don't have any powers of observation or subtlety to their souls.
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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rat packing

"This is me doing a show about my friends and my father's friends, so it's a labor of love." Sandy Hackett

PAUL IS in Mason City being a trombone guy playing in Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show. It's the second night of two shows in Iowa. Last night they played Council Bluffs.

Here's the dish: Sandy Hackett is Buddy Hackett's son, and he can sound just like his dad when he wants to. Buddy was friends with all the original Rat Pack guys, and Sandy grew up a few houses away from Joey Bishop. This is what Sandy has to say about his dad and the genesis of the show.

"Not only was he my father, he was my best friend. He was also friends with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis and Dean Martin and Joey Bishop, who lived up the street. He was Uncle Joey. This isn't me going out and doing research about strangers; this is me doing a show about my friends and my father's friends, so it's a labor of love."

Paul has played with and for a number of big names including Red Skelton, Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Frankie Valli and Wayne Newton, so he gets to know these entertainers as people

The great thing about this show is that all the people in it are genuinely nice. 

Sandy plays Joey Bishop and is stand-up funny. Sandy's wife, Lisa Dawn Miller, is also in the cast playing Ava Gardner, and she has a Broadway calibre voice. In another — I'd say six degrees of separation, except it's just one degree — Lisa's dad was the late Ron Miller. 

That name may not ring a bell with you, but I guarantee the songs he wrote will. Ron was discovered in the early 1960's in Chicago by Motown's Berry Gordy Jr. and Mickey Stevenson. Ron went on to write such big hits as For Once in My LifeTouch Me in the Morning, Heaven Help Us All, A Place in the Sun, Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday, I’ve Never Been to Me and Someday at Christmas

Paul says that all the arrangements are first-rate, which makes it a fun show to play. The Des Moines Big Band supplied two trombones, two trumpets, two saxes, keyboard and bass. The musical director for the show who is also the drummer seemed to like our local boys, and may hire them to do five nights in Kansas City in May. Fingers crossed.

I've attached a documentary about Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show that Sandy and his wife, Lisa made. It's 40 minutes long so settle in if you want to watch it. About half way through there's a boy, Oliver Richman, who performs. He's Lisa's son, and this kid can definitely sing! 

Here are two upcoming dates on their tour:

Thursday, October 17, 2013
Midland Theater
Newark, OH

Friday, October 19, 2013
The Orpheum Theater
Galesburg, IL

Friday, October 25, 2013
City Opera House 
Traverse City, MI

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