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July 2006

CSNY vs. GWB at WRA (A Concert Review)

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rendered a rousing rock and roll revue that combined retrospection with rekindled rebellion at the White River Amphitheatre last night.  While I don't believe U.S. President George W. Bush was physically present at the concert, representations of him -- including his words and actions (and their consequences) -- were front and center through music (from Neil Young's latest album, Living with War) and video and audio clips (interspersing Bush, U.S. soldiers in uniform and in coffins, Iraqi citizens and a tickertape-style list of various statements and statistics regarding Bush and the war in Iraq [aside: Wired recently ran an article about raw videos from Iraq]).

Csnyatwra1_1

This was the third "CSN and sometimes Y" concert Amy and I have seen in the last two decades, including a CSN concert in the mid 80s and CSN at CSM (Chateau Ste. Michelle) two years ago.  Without doubt, it was their most energetic and powerful performance -- they are, at their core, a protest band, and they have more fodder now than in over 30 years.  The music -- old and new -- was inspired and inspiring, and I believe that Neil Young's presence, in addition to the current U.S. administration policies, helped to fire up the band (and the audience).

The music spanned a spectrum, from the heavy, electric, rock and roll guitar thunder of the first set -- punctuated by numerous dueling solos between Stephen Stills and Young -- to softer, more intricate and even exquisite, acoustic guitar and piano-based melodies that predominated much of the second set -- where the different numbers and combinations of singers and harmonies evoked a sense of rapture ("Guinnevere", by David Crosby and Graham Nash, stands out on that count).

One shortcoming in my concert experience was the band's choice not to more thoroughly engage the audience.  The only things they said between songs during the first set were "Hi" and "Thanks for coming", and though they seemed to loosen up a bit in the second set -- starting with Young stopping Nash midway through Our House (after Nash played a bad chord and muttered [something like] "Ack!" in between verses, Young stopped the song, and said "Let's play that song again") -- they still didn't say too much about the stories behind the songs, didn't provide many opportunities for sing-alongs, and didn't try very hard to incite the audience toward action (I was surprised not to see any tables outside the amphitheatre where people could sign up for activism ... and I was also surprised that water bottle caps were confiscated at the entrance, due to concern that people may throw them as projectiles onto stage). 

Of course, CSNY's music itself is tremendously engaging, and some of the songs are pretty inciteful (I'm thinking particularly of "Let's Impeach the President").  Toward the end of the concert, they did invite us to join a sing -- and clap -- along, for "What are Their Names", and after playing the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock, during which a giant microphone was brought out on stage and a yellow ribbon was tied around it, they tipped the microphone -- dimly shown in the photo below -- toward the audience to encourage us to speak up (against the madness).

Csnyatwra2_2

Another sequence of symbols -- backdrops of different flags at different times in the performance -- was largely lost on us, as we were at the far back [right] corner of the front section, and so couldn't see them (Buzz Person's official concert photos captured many of these flags, as well as better images of the giant microphone ... and everything else, for that matter).  However, being in that corner did enable us to make a quick exit, a tremendous advantage about which I'll say more below.

The playlist for the concert included the following (a modified sequence of what the Minneapolis - St. Paul Star Tribune posted after an earlier concert there):

First set:

  • Flags of Freedom (source: Young, 2006)
  • Carry On (CSNY, 1970)
  • Wooden Ships (CSN, 1969), the first of many Stills / Young dualing guitar solos
  • Long Time Gone (CSN, 1969), one of many CSN[Y] "goosebump" songs for me; Crosby inserted "I'm asking you to speak out against the madness"
  • Military Madness (Nash, 1971), Nash inserted a plea to George Bush: "no more war"
  • After the Garden (Young, 2006), I was wondering whether this is the same garden we had to get ourselves back to in "Woodstock"
  • Living with War (Young, 2006)
  • The Restless Consumer (Young, 2006), "Don't need no lies!"
  • Shock and Awe (Young, 2006), with an amazing horn solo (I wish I knew what kind of horn that was ... a fluegle horn, perhaps? ... reminded me of the horn on Conquistador, by Procol Harem)
  • Wounded World (Stills, 2005)
  • Almost Cut My Hair (CSNY 1970)
  • Immigration Man (C&N, 1972)
  • Families (Young, 2006)
  • Deja Vu (CSNY, 1970), where the dueling guitar solos went on a bit past the point of diminishing returns (for me), and where the band missed an opportunity to explicitly highlight how much of the current situation with respect to George Bush and the war in Iraq harkens back to the era of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War in which CSNY initially made their mark ... given my perception of the average age of the concertgoers, this may have been obvious to many

Second set

  • Helplessly Hoping (CSN, 1969), with amazing 4-part harmony
  • Our House (CSNY, 1970), 1.5 times, as noted earlier
  • Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Young, 1970), with Young on piano and Crosby and Nash harmonizing
  • Guinnevere (CSN, 1969), the standout of the concert for me, absolutely exquisite
  • Milky Way Tonight (C&N, 2004)
  • Treetop Flyer (Stills, 1991)
  • Roger and Out (Young, 2006)
  • Southbound Train (C&N, 1972)
  • Old Man Trouble (Stills, 2005), wow, can Stills still cranks out the blues!
  • Carry Me (C&N, 1975)
  • Teach Your Children (CSNY, 1970), why no sing-along to this one? :-(
  • Southern Cross (CSN, 1982), I found myself finally warming up to this song
  • Find the Cost of Freedom (CSNY, 1971), and one might ask, who's freedom ... and at what cost?
  • Let's Impeach the President (Young, 2006)
  • For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield featuring Stills and Young, 1967)
  • Chicago (Nash, 1971)
  • Ohio (CSNY, 1970)
  • What Are Their Names (Crosby, 1971)
  • Rocking in the Free World (Young, 1989), during his solo, Young somehow managed to tear all the strings on his guitar, in what amounted to a rousing finish

Encore

  • Woodstock (CSNY, 1970), one of my favorite CSNY songs, and yet the most disappointing of the evening ... the singing was flat, no doubt due to the inability of Stills, and perhaps others, to still hit those higher notes.  Fortunately, this disappointment enabled us to make an even quicker getaway from the concert.

Speaking of getaways, this was our first visit to the venue, and we were concerned about some of the things we'd read about transportation to and parking at White River Amphitheatre on blog posts and comments at Pleasing to Remember and LeeLeFever.com.  We followed the directions provided at RiverGiver.com, leaving Woodinville at 4:00, taking SR-520 to I-405 to SR-169 and cutting across SE 400th Street, and arriving around 6:00 (we were stuck in horrendous traffic on 520 and 405, so we would probably take West Lake Sammamish Parkway to I-90 to I-405 next time).  I don't know what time the parking lot opened (the gates opened at 6:30 for an 8:00 show), but we got there early enough to get good parking spaces, and were driving away on SE 400th Street within 10 minutes of the end of the concert, and back home in 1.5 hours.  On a somewhat related note, the selection of wine and beer is surprisingly poor (e.g., cans of Miller Genuine Draft and wines in a box), given my experience at other large venues in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., Safeco Field), and the price is high (around $7), so we didn't buy anything there ... and, in fact, will always plan to eat and drink elsewhere for any events at WRA.

Returning to the initial thread, despite my disappointment over the band's suboptimal overall engagement and specific rendition of Woodstock, this was a great concert, and even though it represented a significant investment of money and time (compared to concerts at Chateau Ste. Michelle, which are only 10 minutes away), it was a rare, and valued, opportunity to see CSNY in full force ... and I hope they (we?) can have as much impact on the political and societal problems of today as [I believe] they did when they first rose to fame, nearly 40 years ago.


The Karma of Kindness: Unattributable and Inexplicable Generosity vs. Reciprocity

A recent Seattle Times article reported how Warm Acts of Kindness Catch On, highlighting a number of instances where unknown people treated others to coffee, dinner or cold bottles of water on the beach.  Everyone involved in these acts feels good: the givers, the receivers and the people in between (e.g., baristas, restaurateurs and even people simply observing the acts).  These random acts of kindness sometimes create a contagion effect, where the receivers or witnesses are motivated to become givers [of] themselves (other studies have also noted that kindness is contagious).

The article raised a number of interesting issues with respect to giving and receiving.  William Talbott, a UW Philosophy professor, noted that many interactions and relationships are contractual in nature, revolving around reciprocal benefits.  In my judgment, anything involving reciprocity diminishes the sense of generosity; anything I give with an expectation of some kind of return is not a really a gift but an investment or a loan, with some kind of tacit term sheet or scorecard.

This notion of score is pervasive in our hyper-competitive society, where nearly everything is seen as a game with winners and losers.  James Carse, in his book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility, distinguishes between finite games, where there are fixed rules, winners and losers, and infinite games, where there are variable rules and the whole purpose of the game is to continue play, and so there are no winners and no losers ... and thus no notion of scoring.

Dan Gilbert, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, recounted two experiments relating to random acts of kindness.  One demonstrated that people who are given random gifts enjoy them less if there is an explanation associated with the gift (without a given explanation, receivers are free to enjoy speculating on possible explanations of their own).  Another showed that people enjoy the attention of unknown admirers more than attention from people whose identities are revealed to them (again, due to the joy of ongoing speculation of possibilities).

I suspect that the greater joy felt in receiving gifts that lack attribution and/or explanation also increases the likelihood that receivers, or witnesses, will be motivated to practice their own random acts of senseless kindness, thus perpetuating the karma of kindness.  I further believe that whatever, whenever and however we give, we thereby open up to receive, and so by being generous, we open ourselves up to receive the generosity of others ... perhaps through simply recognizing that generosity is possible in a broader range of situations.

Of course, as recent developments in the Middle East highlight, unkindness can also be contagious.  First-hand witnesses to violence are more likely to perpetrate violence on others, and the notion of retaliation is closely related to that of reciprocity (you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours; you scratch my eye out, I'll scratch out yours) ... and keeping score is closely related to settling scores.  While the karma of kindness can create heaven on earth, the karma of violence spirals down into a living hell. 

In his book, Carse notes that

Evil is never intended as evil. Indeed, the contradiction inherent in all evil is that it originates in the desire to eliminate evil. "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

Substitute "Jew" or "Hezbollah" for "Indian", and the stage is set for another cycle of violence ... broaden the target to include an entire axis of evil, and one can set the stage for many cycles of violence ... perhaps even an eternal war.

The Seattle Times article ends with a story Stephen Jay Gould told about his experience of the kindness of people shortly after the 9/11 attacks (which was shortly before his death), in which he mused "if only we can learn to harness this wellspring of unstinting goodness in all of us".  I'm reminded of the expression "If you don't have anything nice to say about somebody, don't say anything at all" ... the world would be a kinder place if we were to adopt a practice of "If you don't have anything nice to do for someone, don't do anything at all".


Passion and Purpose in Living, Loving, Learning and Leaving a Legacy

Kenneth Lay Stephen Covey A news item appearing in my Google Desktop Sidebar this morning about the death of Enron founder Ken Lay immediately reminded me of Stephen Covey's book, First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy.  I don't know much about how well Lay lived, loved or learned, but I have a pretty good sense for the legacy he has left ... and it is very different from the legacy being created by some other famous and wealthy people. On a whim, I decided to see if Dr. Lay and Dr. Covey, both popular speakers, ever appeared on the same program.  Googling for "stephen covey ken lay" did not turn up any such event, but it did serendipitously connect me to Steve Pavlina's inspiring blog post about deciding what to do with your life, which emphasizes the importance of defining one's life purpose and applying the fuel of passion to achieve, or at least contribute to, that purpose, while being open, honest and fully conscious.

In yet another example of when the reader is ready, the blogger appears, I have been very much in the question of deciding what to do with my life lately.  Although it is my decision, it is one that is very much influenced by a number of other stakeholders, including my wife and children, and other potential customers (I still believe that, on some level, everyone's a customer).  I recently discovered that Noah Kagan, a friend I met through the blogosphere, is also exploring this question (when the blogger is ready, other bloggers appear?).  As I posted a comment that included a link to a post I wrote during my last career transition, I became glaringly and uncomfortably aware that I was not being true to myself or my blog, not mustering the gumption to be open, honest and vulnerable about the fact that I am currently in the question, if not a full-fledged transition.  I've been receiving warm encouragement to unfold from Dan Oestreich, another friend I initially met through the blogosphere, and to practice appreciation, especially for myself.  So I will take this opportunity to unfold -- or, perhaps, unpack -- a little about my current state and desired trajectory, in light of all these positive influences.

I have been channeling my passion through the company I founded over a year ago, Interrelativity, whose purpose is to use technology to help people relate to one another.  The mission of the company is a derivative of the personal mission -- I create a world of harmony and love by helping people relate to one another -- that I uncovered, articulated and embraced at a Warrior Monk retreat I attended during the last period in which I was immersing myself in the question of what to do with my life.  As I have noted periodically in this blog, Interrelativity has offered me -- and others -- rich and rewarding experiences along many dimensions, but, unfortunately, the financial dimension is not among them.  I have never felt so alive, and yet I have not earned so little money in over 20 years.  As provider for my family, I feel a growing tension between my lofty idealism and a more grounded pragmatism.  I want to be able to make meaning and make money, and so I have started to explore other paths through which I might be better able to achieve these dual goals.

Friends have asked me what kind of position I'm looking for.  I tell them that I want to find a path through which I can fully engage my passions, skills and experiences to make significant contributions to worthwhile projects while continuing to grow, personally and professionally ... and, of course, get paid.  I have felt fear about articulating this longing so publicly; after all, who am I to want all this?  Doesn't everyone want this?  What would this world look like if everyone was committed to doing work that makes meaning?  Some have suggested that I cloak or modulate my deep sense of passion and purpose, fearing that some potential customers (including prospective employers) may [only] want to pay for the services of someone who is willing to make money without necessarily making meaning.  I share this fear, and I may come to regret being so candid, but having opened up to the possibilities of unfolding radiance -- or what Steve refers to as awareness and full consciousness -- I'm going to risk feeling like a fool, and feel the fear and do it anyway.  It's all a learning experience.

Steve notes that his purpose is to grow and help others grow.  When I first discovered Stephen Covey's books and seminars, and crafted my first mission statement, it was "to foster the growth of my self and others".  The shift to my current mission, "helping people relate", is simply a reflection of the way I go about fostering growth in my self and others -- I'm an irrepressible connector, and nothing makes me happier than helping people relate to other people (and places and things) that they previously either didn't know about or didn't fully appreciate.  More information about some of the specific ways I have helped people relate over the years -- including projects, presentations and publications -- can be found on my home page at the Interrelativity site.

A brief perusal of Steve's blog tells me I've struck a mother lode for personal growth ... with numerous dimensions of potential connection.  One post listed in Steve's "best of" sidebar that jumps out at me is on self-acceptance vs. personal growth, a challenging issue I've long thought -- and blogged -- about.  Another is on how to make money from your blog, and there are many more that look interesting and inspiring.  However, another issue I've been grappling with is allocating time among input, processing and output (which is yet another theme in which I've received inspiration from Stephen Covey and Dan Oestreich, and another one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra) ... and so I'm going to apply a disciplined approach to mining this newly discovered wellspring of wisdom slowly ... and surely.

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Hearts and Minds, Us and Them, War and Peace

Curtis Johnson shares some insightful -- and potentially inciteful -- views on new ways of thinking about -- and acting on -- the issue of terrorism in an article entitled "Towards Effective Global Influence".  After starting off with a quote from Marine Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson

"Hearts and minds are more important than capturing and killing people"

Curtis notes the "obsessive reversions to what they know and understand" typically followed by the United States' Defense Department and State Department (and indeed, almost every organization I've ever known), and highlights three key weaknesses in current strategies:

  1. Confusion about the Target Population
  2. Bi-Polar Thinking
  3. Focus on One-Way Influence

He goes on to propose a "robust, integrated, strategic relationship strategy ... requiring deliberate, thoughtful, and costly study; sober reflection; humility; and a flexibility in policy and mindset " ... actions that are extremely challenging for any organization -- or individual, for that matter -- to apply.

Curtis' own organization, the Advanced Concepts Group of Sandia National Labs, is a rather unique collection of individuals who "think different" and thrive on challenging conventional wisdom in a variety of domains that in some way affect the health and/or security of the nation.  Central to Curtis' critique is the prevailing us vs. them (or, perhaps, U.S. vs. them) perspective that appears pervasive among the policymakers in the U.S. government.  Curtis points out that there are many who are neither with us nor against us (yet), and therein lies the opportunity to influence, rather than control, opinions of the moderate majority.  By employing hard-nosed, single-minded, pure-push attempts to control the relationships we have with [people in] other countries, we risk further alienation, isolation and and retaliation.

I came upon Curtis' article after reading about a workshop on "The Warfare System and Beyond" led by Sam Keen, in which he helps participants recognize, and [hopefully] reverse, the tendencies of people, tribes and nations to dehumanize our enemies.  This reminded me of one of the ACG's focus areas, Future of Warfare, and a "think-fest" they held on the topic recently; one of their observations was that "control is illusory and short-lived" ... a point which Curtis significantly expanded upon in his article.

Personally, I think that Web 2.0 and The Wealth of Networks offer very promising emerging technologies, ideas and models for addressing the problems that Curtis raises.  Unfortunately, given the natural organizational tendency toward "obsessive reversions to what we know and understand", these new trajectories may not be welcome at the Departments of Defense or State, or even Sandia National Labs (though perhaps more welcome at the relatively free-thinking Advanced Concepts Group).  Of course, it's also a question of priorities, and whether the powers that be really want to embrace the hearts and minds of people and achieve real peace, or continue in a state of perpetual war.

Update: Gene Becker has a recent post that reminds me that at least one government agency is willing to implement a "pull" (vs. push) model of interaction:

Tomtomorrowwehearyou


Revolution: the Business and Brand of Sustainability?

The Seattle Times recently ran a Washington Post article on how Steve Case pushes symbiotic relationship of business principles, green ideas.  This was particularly interersting to me, given that a few days earlier, Case's new company, Revolution, LLC, had flexed its muscles to grow Flexcar, whose [now] former CEO, Lance Ayrault, had shared some of his insights into and experiences with social entrepreneurship at a Northwest Entrepreneur Network breakfast a few days before that.  During the Q&A session at the NWEN breakfast, Lance had noted the delicate balance of being a small (and growing) business with a majority stakeholder (Case / Revolution) with an entirely different sense of scale ... and, from the announcement, it looks like that balance may be shifting.

According to the Post article, Case, and his CEO, Michael Crooke, want to position Revolution as a meta-brand of environmentally friendly but mainstream products and services, targeting consumers who value "lifestyles of health and sustainability."  However, the company web site describing what Revolution is about focuses on control and convenience, with no mention of the environment or [planetary] sustainability.  While the article quotes Case as saying that he wants to avoid any product or service that is "too fringy", the web page states "We don't play it safe - we play to win".  One of the investments that Revolution has made is in Gaiam, "a provider of information, goods and services to customers who value the environment, a sustainable economy, healthy lifestyles, alternative healthcare and personal development" whose founder reportedly lives in a shack without running water; another is Miraval Resort, an exclusive "destination for body, mind and spirit", which appears to be at the opposite end of the housing spectrum from a shack ... and very distant from the dramatic stories of social entrepreneurship highlighted in the PBS series The New Heroes.

It will be interesting to see whether and how Case, Crooke, et al., can bridge the gaps between the ecology and the economy, and between alternative lifestyles and mainstream business.  I'm reminded of "The Tough Choice", a great essay by David Batsone in the March 2005 issue of Worthwhile Magazine, in which he reviews the tradeoffs between profitability and conscience faced by a number of founders of socially responsible businesses, with segments on each of the following:

In each case where an [initially] socially responsible company chose a path of "growth" -- several of which are also covered (and available online) in an article on "To Drink or Not to Drink?" by Brooking Gatewood in The Dartmouth Green Magazine -- the price paid for growth was a diminishment of the commitment to social responsibility that motivated the founders.  It will be interesting to see what happens in this Case ... and whether the eco-friendly brand sought by Revolution is achievable ... and sustainable.