Friday, December 4, 2015

Letter to James Lankford

Dear Mr. Lankford,                                              December 4, 2015

I recently heard your comments criticizing "high" government spending and tying it to high levels of unemployment.  I wish I had the information on when and where you delivered this speech.  I heard it on the radio within the last couple of weeks.

Your comments concerned me, because they didn’t seem to reflect a good knowledge of how our economy works.  It is fairly nonsensical to tie unemployment directly to spending of any kind.  Whoever is doing the spending, - be it government, corporation or individual - that entity is directly creating income for another person.

In short, every cent that is spent is received as income by someone else.   Saying that spending is decreasing jobs is like saying that pushing the accelerator on your car makes it slow down.

One can have political opinions about what the government should spend on - roads?  education?  war? healthcare? - but one cannot say that spending is causing unemployment, since the exact opposite is the case.  In fact, we have a word for what happens when spending decreases in our country too much - recession.

One argument I read is that too much government spending may “crowd out” the private sector.  But this is nonsensical when accompanied by complaints of high unemployment.  If that percentage is too high, then there are workers to be had by whoever would like to spend to hire them.  The government is certainly not “hoarding” all available workers. 

The other argument is that businesses are too nervous to hire because of “high” government spending.   This is also nonsense, as businesses tend to spend according to their current level of business (spending on their products by others) and projections about future levels of business.    If the government decreased spending, unemployment would rise and businesses would certainly not gather more confidence, or more business, from this.

I urge you not to dress up political arguments about government spending as economic arguments.

However, I congratulate you on seeking out redundancies in government spending - your so-called “Federal Fumbles” list. Unnecessary spending is a wasted opportunity, which should be redirected towards a more worthy cause.  But I ask that you please remember that the problem is not necessarily the spending - rather, it’s what we spend our money on.   And that is true of the private sector as well.

All spending, public and private, is someone else’s income.

Thanks for your time!

Steven Stark

Friday, November 13, 2015

Living With The Tension

The older I get, the less I seek resolution and the more I seek to live sustainably with the tension.

There are many examples of this in my life.  My neighbor, a wonderful man of 68 years, passed away suddenly earlier this week.  On the one hand, it is so unfair.  He was fit, energetic, kind, fun, and - having just retired - ready for more adventures with his friends and family.  But on the other hand, he lived life very fully and had a lot of great years and experiences.  On the one hand I am angry, feeling that he and his family were short-changed.  But on the other hand, his 68 years were wonderful.  My father passed away at a much younger age, when he was 55.  He didn’t get to meet his grandchildren.  That is unfair.  But others have passed away after only 30 years of life.  15 years of life.  A month of life.

As opposed to my younger thinking, I no longer think there is a clear resolution to be found here.  I can be angry and grateful at the same time.   That is OK.  Perhaps even good.

There are other questions in life that don’t have clear resolutions.  My Sunday morning discussion group has dealt with the question “How much is too much?” in regards to possessions and wealth.   (Ha, this makes us sound like we are all rich - a relative term, I suppose).   When do possessions and financial wealth work for owners and society?  When do they perpetuate injustice towards neighbors and isolate those who have them?  Is there a certain line, contextual to a culture, where this difference becomes apparent?   I don’t know for sure.

I can’t have resolution on this.  And perhaps this is good. Living with this tension may help me maintain awareness towards myself and others.  I can’t find a perfect solution, but I can be open to my role in injustice, while also living life.

 If I ignored the tension, then I would be living a fantasy, decreasing the depth of my life by isolating myself.  If I found some “solution”, then perhaps I would also stop thinking about economic injustice, thinking I had resolved the issue. Rather, I think this tension requires tending - frequent check-ins concerning balance and how we and our neighbors are doing.  

None of this is to suggest that we shouldn’t seek conflict resolution when possible.  Some conflicts may be resolved and moved firmly into the past.  But others are never going to be completely fixed and forgotten.  And again, perhaps that can be a good thing if our goal is to increase awareness. I suppose I see “resolution” more as creating a life where the conflict can fit into my days without dominating them.  Too much resolution seeking could lead me to distraction from life.

I have read that in Hindu thinking, the goal is not to overcome emotion.  Rather the goal is to nurture an underlying flow of serenity that acts as a baseline during our emotional experiences.  In other words, don’t look to rid yourself of anger or sadness. Experience them fully, but seek to live with them as partners - to walk the razor’s edge of salvation, where an underlying, even sneaky, serenity may help you navigate your experiences.  Tend the serenity. Relax the tightness in your chest.  Breathe.  Live with the tension through awareness, not through stress.

As the book title says - “Wherever you go, there you are.”  In this life, we’ll never be conflict free.   So live with the tension.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Concert May 14!

I am very, very excited about the Edmond North High School Orchestra concert May 14, 2015 at 7:00PM!   

The Symphony Orchestra will be performing my piece Wovensong No. 1 “An Arduous Path”.  Edmond North has four orchestras, and I am telling you, this group sounds like a university orchestra - easily!

Another one of their excellent ensembles will join me in a performance of my song “Lazarus” which is featured on my 2008 album “A is for Airplanes, B is for Baseball, C is for Cats...”   I wrote an arrangement for the string players, and I can’t wait to play with them.

I am pasting the program notes below.  I hope to see some of you there!  For those who cannot attend, I hope we will have some audio/video to post as well.

The concert is at the Edmond North High School auditorium and begins at 7:00PM.  I should also mention that the performance is under the direction of orchestra wizard Peter Markes, Oklahoma's 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year, with bass extraordinaire Jeff Ketch.

Wovensong No. 1 “An Arduous Path” Program Notes

Weaving is a way of producing fabric by interlacing two distinct materials.  The longitudinal threads are called the warp, and the lateral threads are called the weft.   A Wovensong is a form featuring two distinct melodic ideas which are woven together in different ways as the piece progresses.   The form is not unlike a Sonata-Allegro form (the traditional first movement of a symphony), but the structure of the Wovensong is more centered on melodic material than key relationship.  In fact, it is desirable in a Wovensong to end the piece in a different key from the beginning to signify variation and linear progression.  Recognition is brought about by the repetition and development of familiar melodies.   The use of the word “song” in the form title also signifies a focus on melodic material. 

“Wovensong: An Arduous Path” begins with a soft Introduction followed by a pointed, minor-key theme (the Warp) presented in unison by all the strings.  After a period of development, a major-key, lilting theme (the Weft) takes over.   The Weave section features material from the Introduction, the Weft, and the Warp; beginning in a reflective mood and then spinning out aggressively towards the end.  

Lazarus Program Notes

The lyrics to “Lazarus” describe three miracles from three different religious traditions (I have often thought that I should have named this song “Three Miracles”!).   The first is the Buddhist miracle of the discovery of the 14th Dalai Lama, who is said, among other things, to have pointed towards the city of Lhasa, the traditional home of the Dalai Lama, as a very young child and announced that he would be going there soon.

The second miracle is from the Daoist tradition.   A carver wants to make a bell stand out of wood.  Rather than carving one himself, he walks through the forest and eventually finds one that nature has already created. 

The third miracle is the story of Lazarus, from the Christian tradition, who is said to have been raised from the dead by Jesus.

I realize that it took longer to read these notes than it would to read the lyrics of the song!       

The music goes back and forth between the keys of G Major and E Major to create variation, while the melody only changes subtly.    The arrangement for the Chamber Orchestra was great fun to write - I could not be more excited to perform with them!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Love and Hate

I have played many, many weddings over the years (I really enjoy it). A universal theme in the officiators' comments has been that love is not just an emotion, it is an action.
Sometime I wonder - can hate work the same way? It is an open question in my mind. 

I realize that many who oppose same-sex marriage probably feel that they are trying to help same-sex families get away from a lifestyle that violates "God's laws". However surely they must see that from the other side, their actions are hateful, because same-sex families are being asked to give up their intimate relationships on the basis of someone's personal religious doctrine that does not correspond to a wider science-based, ethics-based reasoning.

In short, bills aimed at prohibiting same-sex marriage (like HB 1599 and 1125 proposed in Oklahoma) make life harder for many families out there. Can "hate" be an action, even if it does not correlate with a feeling of hatred?