Friday, August 31, 2012

Two posts in one day!?!?!?

I know. It's unprecedented. But I've been hearing forever this argument back and forth about greed. Liberals are always against greed, yet I hear conservatives constantly saying greed is good, because it inspires progress and success. Let me clear this up for everyone.

Proveerbs 15:27 says: "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live."

This seems pretty clear. Greed is bad. But what is greed? says: "excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions."

Some of you have probably heard debates by pundits or talking heads about greed. I've heard Rush Limbaugh talk about greed actually being good, I've heard liberals cite it over and over again as the source of evil. How can we make sense of it all?

I was surfing the internet recently reading an article, and I read the comments on an article where somebody said this: "It is good when greed makes one to create, produce, improve. when greed is taking from others what is unearned - thats wrong kind of greed."

I thought to myself: "yes, that sounds good. There are two different kinds of greed, or different levels of greed, and one is bad, that makes sense." But a fundamental disagreement at the heart of the debate between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives believe that wealth can be created, whereas liberals (herein referred to as "commies") believe that there is a limited amount of wealth to go around in the world. That is why we hear so much about wealth redistribution. It might make sense at some level to redistribute wealth if there were a limited amount of it in the world, because having it means someone else doesn't have it. Unfortunately, that is not the way the world works. Wealth is a relative term, because different people place value on different things, and different people have different talents and abilities. Through trade, wealth can be created and the comfort in our standard of living raises, because people value different things. For more food for thought on this topic, I recommend rabbi Daniel Lapin's book: "Thou Shall Prosper."

Then I started thinking: "Is it greed that drives humans to create, produce and improve?"

The dictionary definition of greed said that it is "excessive or rapacious desire," which would seem to indicate that it is a desire without control.

For example, my neighbor might have a better tv than I have, and I might want it. But if I was consumed by rapacious desire (greed), I might take it for myself. But fortunately I believe I have the self control to recognize that it doesn't belong to me no matter how badly I want it, and therefore I must control my desire to take it.
But on the other hand, if I controlled my desire to take it (remember self control would be the cessation of greed) and instead used my desire for a better tv to give me the motivation to invent a better one than my neighbor's, I might then have the potential to improve society by creating better tvs and selling them. Or as is more likely the case for most people (since most people wouldn't know where to start building a tv, much less a superior one than their neighbor's) my desire  would at least give me the incentive to work harder at whatever it is I do to add value to society, so I can make more money and simply buy a tv that is identical to or superior to my neighbor's.

Didn't I just say the same thing twice? Isn't the second example just a way of saying that there is a good kind of greed? I don't think so. In the second example, my desire was controlled and chanelled to be used as motivation to give me energy. It was not a "rapacious desire," nor was it necessarily "excessive." I don't think that a non-rapacious or non excessive desire really fits the definition, do you?

As with most intellectual debates, this can easily be resolved into clear language that everyone can understand, if our society only had a better vocabulary, or at least bothered to use a dictionary to discover the proper definitions of their terms before they go on hour long rants about them.

My conservative friends, it is time to make a distinction between greed and desire. The commies are right, greed is bad. But the commies are also wrong, desire is good, when it lies within the boundaries of self control. I think that is an easier idea to understand and accept.

Money Musings

I was in class listening to a lecture recently being given by a featured speaker at my college. This guy was the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, and he had spoken to a large audience at a convocation in the theatre earlier that day, but now he was in my economics class. He told us many inspiring stories about his journey through life and how he built his career, and he said something which struck me, and it was this: "Entrepreneurs are different, they see the world differently. I'm not an entrepreneur, I want a job. Whenever I look at entrepreneurs, I see risk, but for some reason they either don't see it or it's just not that big a factor to them. They're a totally different kind of person."

I was reflecting on this while I was putting gasoline in my car the next day, and I realized that he's right and wrong. He's right that we (entrepreneurs) see the world differently, and it wasn't until I heard that lecture that I realized just how different I am from my classmates. But he's wrong that entrepreneurs can't see the risk in starting their own business, and he's wrong that it doesn't bother them. Of course we see it, and of course it bothers us. I think he was missing the following three ideas:
1. Entrepreneurs engage in risk management. It's not that the risk doesn't bother us, we just realize the life is a risk. You don't get anywhere without trying and failing. Failing at something is generally how you learn how to do it. You have to fail and learn what not to do before you really get good at it or start succeeding. Entrepreneurs have a way of looking at the world that says: "I know it's risky, but it's a risk I'm willing/not willing to take" instead of, "that's risky, I'm staying away from it."
2. Entrepreneurs choose freedom over safety. It's at the very foundation of American society. As a famous quote from a founding father goes (I believe it was Benjamin Franklin): "Those who choose safety over freedom will recieve neither," or something along those lines. The only way you can really make your own decisions and take control of your finances and your life as an entrepreneur is to take on the responsibility, take the risks. Entrepreneurs also realize that the more risks you take, the better you get at deciding which ones are good ones, and which ones aren't.
3. Most entrepreneurs think the word "job" is an acronym for "just over broke." Most entrepreneurs realize that having a job is actually much riskier than owning your own business. Everyone is in the business of selling themselves, or more acurately, their time, knowledge and resources, it's just  a question of who your going to sell yourself to. You can get a job, and sell yourself to one client. That client will have a lot of power over you, because they know you're their only client, and you consider yourself lucky to serve them. Or you can own your own business, and have many clients. For example, if I become a band director for a school I have one client: the school, and they can influence the amount of money a make through a single paycheck. But as a private teacher, I have many bosses. All the student's parents (or sometimes students themselves) are the ones collectively in charge of my paycheck, and if one decides to stop contributing to my salary, I can easily find another person to take their place without doing a lot of job interviews, and without having to uproot my family to move to a different town, and without worrying about how my bills are getting paid, because one client isn't going to make that much of an impact on how much I am earning.

I wish they taught us this stuff in school.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Major Psyches

This is my psyche week! I am getting psyched for the return to school, and hectic life. I am really glad I had a summer off, it's allowed me to regain control of my life. I have come to the realization this summer that what I put in my brain becomes what I think, and I've started to realize just how much brainwashing garbage gets pumped into my head when I'm in school. So I've started a new program.
The first thing I'm doing is reading for an hour every morning, first thing in the morning. Right away. I read the bible for 10 minutes which gives me just enough time to finish one chapter, then the remaining 50 are spent on some other book. Time management experts call this "the golden hour." The first waking hour of your day is when your mind is most awake, and most aware. Studies show that if you spend that first hour reading, it's like a mental warm up, and it will keep your mind running at maximum efficiency for the rest of the day. Then I eat breakfast.
The next thing I'm doing is budgeting 3% of my annual income to be spent on educational materials, mostly audio books and programs, so that I can attend my own university. I call my university "mobile U" and it comes out of my car stereo. If you spend and hour a day reading, and you listen to programs in your car, it will take 4 years to complete the amount of study equivalent to a doctoral dissertation, and I would argue degree, the only thing missing is hands-on experience. The good news however, is that everything you choose for yourself is totally relevant, and something your interested in. You'll probably enjoy studying it more, retain the information better, and you won't be forced to study a whole bunch of topics that are totally unapplicable to your life. If you really want an education, just read and hour or more everyday. It will most likely be way more relevant than what you get in school, depending on the field of study, and degree you are pursuing.
The next thing I'm doing is keeping a well-organized to-do list and planning out each day ahead of time. This helps me stay focused on my goals during the day, and it allows my subconcious mind to work out solutions to my problems and goals during the night.

I'm going to focus like I'm in the military, keep everything organized, and provide more information to myself than I get through school to counteract the brainwashing. Too many years, I have felt like a David facing the Goliath of school, with a rock and no sling. Now I feel like I built a working model of Optimus Prime, and Goliath (school) is going down! I am so psyched for the new school year!

Most of these ideas are based on information I got from Brian Tracy. He is a motivational speaker and expert on success. My management system is also based on Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Effective People." Although, I did think of the planning my day out ahead of time thing before I heard it from Brian Tracy. I highly recommend you look for youtube videos or look up these people's materials if you want to be successful.

Advice on becoming a great musician: See above. Also, practice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Minute (Mine-Oot, My-Newt) Musings

Musing 1: I really can't stand ZZ Top. Just being honest.
Musing 2: It's funny how quickly you address important concepts with piano students who are going to stop taking lessons soon.

Musing 3: Living in the modern world (depending on grocery stores, cars/vehicles, computers, electricity, cell phones, municipal water) seems like one of the most potentially dangerous lifestyles one can live considering the dependency it creates. I think it would be a good idea for me to develop more skills than just piano playing.........

Advice on being a musician: It's ok to have a dream. If you have a dream, you have to protect it. Don't look for approval from everyone, even people close to you might not be able to understand your dream, and they don't have to. It's not their dream. People who tell you you can't do something often tell you that because they think they can't do it themselves, so they don't want you to do it. If you want something, go get it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Christian Notes

Today's musing is about the Christian notes.
       I recently played piano during a church service at my home church. I was asked to play during the offering. My church often uses the time that the offering is being taken as a time to show off the talents of the younger generation in the church. Kids who can sing, play the piano, do a sketch, play the flute, etc. Will often get opportunities to perform in this slot. I am not a child, but it's not children-exclusive, it's just a time for those with musical talents to show them off and it keeps the congregation entertained while the offering plate is going around. I guess adults don't usually do anything because adults give up on their talents after they turn 18 or something, so all that's left is kids, and they're usually cute, so it doesn't matter how well they perform.
       I was asked to play (they approached me) and I asked what kind of piano solo they wanted. The lady who coordinates the music said just something interesting that showcases my talent was fine, and they wanted a piano solo. She said "just do what you do," which I would assume means, "I (or we) don't have that much of a preference, as long as it's something you enjoy and you think the congregation would enjoy."
       The piece I played is called "The Central Avenue Drag" by Pete Johnson. It's got a strong blues riff continuously moving in the left hand with right hand improvisations over it, and it's a really great piece. It's a piece I had worked on perfecting for the last 5 months or so, and I had performed it recently at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Milwaukee.
      The response of the congregation when I finished playing was wonderful, people were very impressed, and I got lots of positive feedback after the service was concluded.
       About 2 or 3 weeks later my pastor pulled me aside to talk to me after a church service, and in as gentle a way as he could, he told me that my choice of music wasn't appropriate. He said that jazz music isn't something that's "appreciated" at our church, and in the future I should pick something with more of a "churchy" feel.
       Up to this point, I think that he probably was just saying this because one uptight old person must have been superstitious about jazz music, and must have complained, so he was trying to keep everybody happy. And frankly, it's his church, if he doesn't want music that's not explicitly related to the church or to God, that's his preference. It would have been nice if someone had told me beforehand, but I would be happy to comply with his demands.
       Then he said something that really bugged me, he said: "Or, since the offering is a time when we can stray a little bit from the strict churchy vibe, even a classical piece from like Beethoven or Mozart or something like that would be great, it doesn't have to be a hymn."

.........That makes it personal, and I will tell you why.

       Now the problem is genre, and not content. Instrumental music is an oddity, because there is no explicit message that is plainly obvious to the listener in the music. There may be certain musical ideas and tidbits that can suggest certain themes, I will grant that. But, that piece I played did not portray any particularly explicit theme as far as I can tell. It's a fairly generic blues riff with the title (which no one ever knew until they asked me, by the way) of "Central Avenue Drag." It could be about anything. It could be about walking down an avenue looking for skanky whores a protagonist could hire for the purpose of prostitution, or it could be a song about strolling down the main road in a heavenly city, just feeling cool about basking in the glory of God. It depends completely on the imagination and interpretation of the listener.
       Because my pastor said that a secular piece by Beethoven or Mozart would be fine, says to me that he's not overly concerned with the content of the music or the message it might convey, he's concerned with the genre. Obviously it doesn't matter that Mozart's requiem before his death was about his great fear of the Almighty and what might await him in the afterlife because he wasn't a man of faith. It doesn't matter that Beethoven was very crude and risque, and was excommunicated from the Catholic church.
       All that matters is the centuries-old superstition of one of the members of the congragation that certain notes, intervals and chords are unholy.
       Honestly, when I use the skills of analysis I've gained through my knowledge of music theory to carefully inspect the differences between a Beethoven sonata and my Pete Johnson drag (something 99% of the congregation would have a very elementary understanding of at best), that's the difference. They use different notes, different rhythms, different intervals, and different chords and chords progressions.
       I am a person of faith, but I'm not superstitious. I don't believe that certain intervals or notes or chords are evil. One of my good friends has a saying he shared with me when he discusses this topic with people which I love: "If you can show me which notes on this guitar are the Christian ones, I'll be happy to oblige in playing only those notes."
       I believe that the Christian church today is plagued with overwhelming irrational superstition, in music and many other areas. I refuse to cater to or endorse that superstition, it's unhelpful, narrow-minded, and unbiblical.
       I'm not upset with my pastor, he has the right to run his church however he wants. But the next time they ask me to pick out a piece that reflects my tastes and abilities to play in church, I'm not going to play, because they clearly don't want me too. My love of music, and yes JAZZ music of all genres (does anyone still remember when that was a curse word?) is not unbiblical, and I refuse to compromise my integrity by performing music that supposedly reflects my musicianship but is essentially a lie, because I don't want to offend or upset anyone.
       There is a great superstition about musical genre, and MANY many other things in the church, and I think it's time we moved past superstition, and start living in the truth of God's word.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

More Magnificent Musings

Musing 1: I wouldn't think that piano players (of which I am one) and synthesizers would go together well. Generally when you learn how to play piano, it's very different than learning guitar, because there are no tone or volume controls (other than yourself) and no effects pedals or anything like that. All your options for timbre and intensity come from what you personally can do to the instrument to make it do what you want. There's not a lot of options.       When you learn guitar however, you're presented right from the start with tons of options. Effects pedals, distortion levels, volume knobs, different guitars with different pickups to choose from, different kinds of amplifiers, tone knobs etc.
       I would think that anyone who is trained to play the piano would quickly tire of all the options and opportunities to fidget as a general rule, because we would tend to be more preoccupied with actually playing the instrument, than fiddling with the settings. I would think that synthesizers just wouldn't seem that appealing to piano players in general. Organists on the other hand............

Musing 2: A church I'm playing at recently listed me in their bulletin as a "keyboard player." I was tickled by that. I started as a "church pianist," then became an "organist & pianist," and now I'm a "keyboardist."

Advice on becoming a musician: Increase your financial IQ.
       Own your own business(es). There's two things they don't teach you about in American socialist schools according to Gore Vidal. I don't like Gore Vidal, but I happen to agree with him on this point: they don't teach you about your body, and they don't teach you about finances. I would add to that: they don't teach you how to start your own business.
       If you want to be a successful performance artist and you attended public school in the last 50 years, you are going to be able to reject the model that's been pounded into your head for 12 years or more: go to school, get a degree, get a safe, secure job with good benefits and a good retirement plan.
       I'm not saying school is all bad, or degrees aren't valuable (but there's an argument for that), or't........
Ok, well, if you went to public school you're probably brainwashed, degrees are about as valuable as our currency and losing value faster, and in most career fields they don't matter that much to employers (especially music), and jobs are the most insecure place you can invest your time.
       The point is: it's probably a good idea to re-evaluate this advice no matter what career path you're on, but my advice is don't rely on it for a successful career in music.
       You want to be a musician who doesn't starve? Study. Increase your financial IQ. Learn how to make your money work for you, instead of you working for your money. Don't rely on the government to take care of you when you're old, rely on yourself.