Sunday, December 26, 2010

Uncle Warren's Attic 106: Ten Thousand Days

Here's the whole album and a soft sell. If you like a song or two, or the whole thing, you can buy it to download at Merry Christmas! Click or right-click on the pod icon or right here to download/listen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Uncle Warren's Attic 105: Merry Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas and God bless us, every one! Listen/download this festive episode by clicking on the pod icon or right here.

Links to stuff that you'll find while listening ...
"Hooray for Santa Claus" from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
"The Lord's Bright Blessing" from Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol
"Chiron Beta Prime" by Jonathan Coulton
"Stuck in the Smoke Hole of our Tipi" by Grandfather Old Hands
"Allons, gay, gay Bergeres" and "Joy to the World" by Robert Shaw Chorale
Scrooge by Jim Dale
"O Come All Ye Faithful" by Pomplamoose and Wade Johnston

Last but not least, I promised the video to "Stuck in the Smoke Hole of our Tipi" - see below.

Have a great Christmas - keep subscribing and see you in a few days!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Uncle Warren's Attic 104: Cat Man/All That's Left You

More from Refuse to be Afraid, two more songs from Ten Thousand Days, and a small handful of other aural delights await if you'll click on the "pod" icon or click here.
This week's chapter is "What this book is, and is not."
This book does not contain a system, merely an exhortation.
I believe that every human being is an individual, and it is dangerous to group individuals into a collective or make generalizations based on apparent similarities between individuals.
We are snowflakes, not assembly-line products. No two snowflakes are alike, they say, and assembly lines were invented in order to churn out items that are identical in every possible way. Keep in mind, though, that even two products that come off an assembly line are not exactly alike.
What works for me in overcoming fear may not work for you.
To buy a hard copy or download the book, click here.
And two songs from Ten Thousand Days this week, in part because "Cat Man" is a mere 61 seconds long. "All That's Left You (The Judy Garland Song)" also included. If you like that tune or think it's time to buy this whole groundbreaking album, click here.

Other goodies this Tuesday morning:
"Sufficiently Breathless" - Captain Beyond
"Just Always" - Glass Harp
"Penitentiary Blues" - Charlie Monroe
And vintage ads for Mountain Dew and K-TEL! Also, Sha Na Na exhorts listeners to not do drugs. All told, it's another lovely and entertaining podcast. Here's another chance to hear/download it: Click here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

UW Attic 103: I Picked You

Another tune from my homemade album Ten Thousand Days, another chapter from my book Refuse to be Afraid, and contributions from Bob Gibson and Hamilton Camp, John Sebastian, Nancy Sinatra and Rocky Votolato.

Click on the Pod icon or this link here to download and/or hear the show!

The lineup:
Theme: Not to Return - Randy Bachman
I Picked You - w.p. bluhm
(Vintage Shaeffer Pens commercial)
Well, Well, Well - Bob Gibson and Hamilton Camp
Well, Well, Well - John Sebastian
(Nancy Sinatra for Coca-Cola)
Refuse to be Afraid: "It Starts When You're Always Afraid"
White Daisy Passing - Rocky Votolato

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

UW Attic 102: A Little Thing We Used to Call Freedom

A little tune that could have been ripped from today's headlines is the second song in my album Ten Thousand Days. "There's just this little thing we used to call trust ... you can't treat everyone as if they're a crook ... It seems every day we're told to give a little bit more, and liberty's the biggest thing that they took ..."

Buy Ten Thousand Days or "A Little Thing We Used to Call Freedom" here ... and you can find the book Refuse to be Afraid here.

For the free podcast, click on the "Pod" icon or right here for Uncle Warren's Attic #102.

Featured in this show:
Theme - "Not to Return" - Randy Bachman
"A Little Thing We Used to Call Freedom" - w.p. bluhm
(Vintage McDonald's ad)
"Are My Ears On Straight" - Gayla Peevey
Mystery tune - "Sometimes (When I'm Alone)"
(Vintage Pepsi ad)
"The Cliff" and "The Symptoms" from Refuse to be Afraid
"Shenandoah" - Jennifer Avalon

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

UW Attic 101: Back Where I Belong

Introducing "Back Where I Belong" from my new music project Ten Thousand Days and beginning a reading of my book Refuse to be Afraid. This begins a 10-week (ish) series that will feature a song from the album and an excerpt of the book. You can collect all 10 podcasts to get the picture slowly but surely, or you can go to my bookstore or CD Baby or iTunes to buy and/or download the book and album in their entirety today.

Here's your handy guide to today's episode:
Intro/Not to Return - Randy Bachman
Back Where I Belong - w.p. bluhm
(Robert Palmer concert ad)
Buy For Me The Rain - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Cheese Curds, Booyah and Beer - Fred Alley
(Roy Orbison for Coca-Cola)
Refuse to be Afraid - Introduction - Warren Bluhm
The Banana Boat Song - The Tarriers

Click on the Pod icon or here to listen/download UW Attic 101 - Here are your links to the album and the book. Have fun!!!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Ten Thousand Days preview: You Can't Be Trusted

Hi folks! Happy Election Day. Here's a tune for the day from my upcoming album Ten Thousand Days, releasing Nov. 9. Also watch for Uncle Warren's Attic #101. Click on the pod icon or right here to listen!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A conversation about fear, friendship and fun - oh, and the book too

Wally Conger and I chat about Refuse to be Afraid and ... well, I'll let Wally explain here.

Oh, and during the conversation, I mention putting up a way to e-mail me. There!

Friday, October 01, 2010

'Mr. Worf, Fire!' and other great cliffhangers

A recent discussion of The Amazing Spider-Man #33 got me thinking about great cliffhangers.

Wally Conger reminded his readers that this month is the 45th anniversary of the great three-part webslinger story about a mysterious villain named the Master Planner and his gang trying to take over New York.

Issue #32 ended with the Master Planner being revealed as none other than Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis Doctor Octopus, who during the inevitable slugfest drops an enormous piece of machinery on the webbed one’s back, pinning him to the floor helpless.

Oh, did I mention the room under the Hudson River is about to collapse? He’ll probably drown when it does.

Oh, did I mention Aunt May is dying and the serum that could save her life is on the floor just out of Spider-Man’s reach, losing its potency minute by minute?

Wally wrote about how the opening pages of the next issue are probably the most inspirational moments in comic-book history, and they are. Spidey has no choice but to dig deep and find the strength to push the weight off his shoulders, save himself and rescue Aunt May, and he - just - keeps pushing - until - he - DOES IT!

I still get goosebumps.

But step back a month. One reason the opening pages of Issue #33 work so well is that creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did such a masterful job of building the suspense, and then cut the story off at the end of #32 just as we readers were the most involved.

They had spent nearly three years making us care about the characters, and most of two issues putting first Aunt May, then Spider-Man and of course the city of New York in jeopardy. I couldn’t wait to grab #33 off the newsstand and see how it ended — and the payoff was simply awesome.
I’m sure there are more, but I could only think of two other cliffhangers that made me sweat that much.

“Mr. Worf, fire!” The third-season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of that series’ finest moments. A new character arrives — ambitious Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) who wants Will Riker’s job, the Enterprise’s first officer having been offered a captainship of his own. But Riker’s not sure he wants to leave the side of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard just yet.

Then Picard is captured and assimilated by the Borg, the half-human, half-machine collective that cannot (as far as anyone knows) be stopped. With his half-mechanized captain staring at him through the view screen and demanding his surrender. Instead, having modified the Enterprise’s technology to create a powerful makeshift weapon, Riker orders the crew to fire on the Borg and his beloved captain.

The screen fades to the words “To Be Continued.” Are you kidding me! I can’t recall ever looking forward to a television season premiere as much as I did for “Best of Both Worlds, Part II.”

“Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.”  At the end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, Samwise Gamgee discovers that his friend Frodo Baggins was not actually killed by the giant spider Shelob but is indeed a captive of the evil orcs.

The book, second in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was published in November 1954, and 11 months would pass before publication of the third installment, Return of the King.

I had the luxury, as a geeky teenager about 15 years later, of shrieking in panic at 2 a.m. and grabbing immediately for the third book. I can’t fathom what the wait until October 1955 was like for the original Tolkien fanatics.

What these legendary cliffhangers had in common was the care that the writers took to invest us in the characters. By the time they reached the edge of the cliff, we loved Spider-Man and Aunt May; we loved Riker and Picard; and we loved Frodo and Sam. We wanted them to overcome, and we cared about how they would do so.

And in these three examples, the payoff also is memorable. Many’s the cliffhanger that promises a terrific escape and conclusion but falls short. What makes these stories legendary is the delightfully excruciating buildup, the promise of something terrific and, in the final chapter, a climax even more terrific than we expected.

Deliver even more than you promise — always a good policy in any business, and especially so in good writing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Refuse to be Afraid: The Book

We all live with fear, ranging from little anxieties to sheer, stark-raving-mad, paralyzing terror, and everything in between. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of getting started, fear of being stopped before we’re finished, fear of what to do next after we’re finished. Fear of hate, fear of love, fear of hating, fear of being loved. Fear of sickness, fear of health, fear of other people’s habits, fear of our own.

Fear of death.

Life is scary. But you don’t have to let your fears control your actions.

As I've been blogging these themes have come up time and again, and I've long been tinkering with compiling them into a book. The book is here. Thanks for your encouragement.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Veterans in Upper Michigan fight for the right to smoke

Frankly, I see this as a healthy sign for liberty.
Now Foucault-Funke Post 444, where the ashtrays never came off the tables and smokers line the bar each afternoon and evening, is at the center of what could be a decisive showdown for the new state law and — as the vets see it — for the individual liberty and self-government they fought to defend ...
The new state smoking ban, Shepard said, is just one more encroachment on personal freedom, a decision handed down by out-of-touch politicians 500 miles away. She likens it to restrictions on gun rights and creeping government intrusion generally.
"We're not a communist country yet, but we're only one step away from it," she said.
The leaders of the Baraga post said they didn't go looking for a confrontation with the state or local health authorities. But when the new law was signed, they decided it was time to take a stand.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Out-give the government

Dave Ramsey has a revolutionary idea in the podcast of his Aug. 19 show, as he talked about the power of giving:

We gripe in this country a lot about the taxes and the government taking all of our money, and we should, because they do, but the truth is, I think that if people of faith gathered together and for about a decade out-gave the government, we could make the government irrelevant as a social organization. They could be irrelevant; no one would care that they’re there, if we the people start doing a better job of taking care of we the people. You could out-give the government and put them out of business, and then the taxes would go down because you wouldn’t tolerate taxation at this level if people who were hurting were all being helped by outside organizations and other people.
Worth a shot? Worth discussing amongst ourselves - as long as we don't talk so long we forget to act.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ten Thousand Days minus 150 equals ...

I DID write "coming soon" in this post, didn't I?

Well, in that "we are just a blip in the timeline of eternity" sense, my set of new songs Ten Thousand Days is indeed coming soon.

And so is Refuse to Be Afraid.

And so is The Imaginary Revolution.

And so are podcasts with the "Uncle Warren's Attic Productions" imprint on them.

All in their time, my friends. All in their time. It's been a busy year away from cyberspace. Much has changed. And much has not.

Thank you, so much, for checking in to see.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Self Help: Words that could have been written this morning

I am still amazed that the opening paragraphs of Samuel Smiles' book Self Help were published in 1859. Except that he uses an occasional word or turn of phrase that people don't use anymore, Smiles could be writing about the contemporary debate about government bailouts versus the power of the individual and the private sector.

Smiles' book is packed with examples of real-life (19th century) success and encouragement. No wonder it created an entire new genre. I'm tickled to be in a position to re-introduce this classic to modern audiences. Check this out (and click on the book cover to find out how to buy or download it):
+  +  +  +  +
“Heaven helps those who help themselves” is a well-tried maxim, embodying in a small compass the results of vast human experience. The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it constitutes the true source of national vigour and strength. Help from without is often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably invigorates. Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.

Even the best institutions can give a man no active help. Perhaps the most they can do is, to leave him free to develop himself and improve his individual condition. But in all times men have been prone to believe that their happiness and well-being were to be secured by means of institutions rather than by their own conduct. Hence the value of legislation as an agent in human advancement has usually been much over-estimated. To constitute the millionth part of a Legislature, by voting for one or two men once in three or five years, however conscientiously this duty may be performed, can exercise but little active influence upon any man’s life and character. Moreover, it is every day becoming more clearly understood, that the function of Government is negative and restrictive, rather than positive and active; being resolvable principally into protection — protection of life, liberty, and property. Laws, wisely administered, will secure men in the enjoyment of the fruits of their labour, whether of mind or body, at a comparatively small personal sacrifice; but no laws, however stringent, can make the idle industrious, the thriftless provident, or the drunken sober. Such reforms can only be effected by means of individual action, economy, and self-denial; by better habits, rather than by greater rights.

The Government of a nation itself is usually found to be but the reflex of the individuals composing it. The Government that is ahead of the people will inevitably be dragged down to their level, as the Government that is behind them will in the long run be dragged up. In the order of nature, the collective character of a nation will as surely find its befitting results in its law and government, as water finds its own level. The noble people will be nobly ruled, and the ignorant and corrupt ignobly.
Indeed all experience serves to prove that the worth and strength of a State depend far less upon the form of its institutions than upon the character of its men. For the nation is only an aggregate of individual conditions, and civilization itself is but a question of the personal improvement of the men, women, and children of whom society is composed.

National progress is the sum of individual industry, energy, and uprightness, as national decay is of individual idleness, selfishness, and vice. What we are accustomed to decry as great social evils, will, for the most part, be found to be but the outgrowth of man’s own perverted life; and though we may endeavour to cut them down and extirpate them by means of Law, they will only spring up again with fresh luxuriance in some other form, unless the conditions of personal life and character are radically improved. If this view be correct, then it follows that the highest patriotism and philanthropy consist, not so much in altering laws and modifying institutions, as in helping and stimulating men to elevate and improve themselves by their own free and independent individual action.

It may be of comparatively little consequence how a man is governed from without, whilst everything depends upon how he governs himself from within ...

Good stuff, huh? To access more of it, click here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

W.B. presents: The Poison Belt

There is a message for us in the creative life of Arthur Conan Doyle, who tried to kill off his most immortal creation.

Doyle got tired of writing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and wrote a stirring final episode in which the famed detective dies. The public outcry was such that he had to bring Sherlock back.

As an alternative to Holmes' death, Doyle instead breathed life into new characters, notably the bombastic but brilliant Professor George E. Challenger and the three friends with whom he discovers The Lost World. Instead of destruction (killing Holmes), Doyle chose the creative act of assembling an entirely different iconic character.

While the world largely knows Challenger through The Lost World, there are four other tales, three of which are collected in The Poison Belt, my latest little product under the Richardson Press emblem. In the title novella, the four adventurers reunite to face a graver threat than dinosaurs: a section of outer space the Earth is passing through that may result in the death of the human race itself. In "The Disintegration Machine," Challenger investigates an inventor who claims to have created a device that can scramble a person's atoms and then bring him back — sort of an early version of Star Trek's transporter. And "When The World Screamed," the professor theorizes that Earth is one giant living being, and he proposes to get that being's attention. Still to come to complete my little Challenger trilogy: The Land of Mist, a novel steeped in the spiritualism that marked Doyle's later years.

The lesson from Doyle's work: Don't dismiss the good you've done before. Do keep finding new ways to exercise your creative chops.

Challenger is not as immortal as Holmes — but The Lost World and its sequels are still something special nearly 100 years later.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

W.B.'s Book Report: Thou Shall Prosper

Rabbi Daniel Lapin's book is one of those eye-opening, game-changing books. He purports to explain what money is and how money works.

The laws of the marketplace don't change — you can try changing the rules as governments often do, but it won't work. Lapin explains the rules as clearly as I've ever seen, drawing on the ancient teachings of the Torah itself.

Business and money itself, Lapin says, are products of humanity's spiritual nature. As such they only work well when values like trust and integrity are at play. Again, some folks find temporary success with business and money without trust or integrity — but the emphasis there is on temporary.

This is one of those rare books that needs to be read more than once — studied and absorbed. I would be doing a disservice by trying to relate its concepts based on my still-growing understanding.

This much I can and will say: The attitude of our nation's leaders and most entertainment venues toward business and business people is based on falsehoods and a complete misunderstanding of the free market. I knew that much instinctively before I picked up this book, and Lapin does a nice job of explaining why it's true.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

W.B. presents: A Little Volume of Secrets

In the past year I've encountered three remarkable little books that have changed the way I think and approach this interesting experience called life. As A Man Thinketh, Acres of Diamonds and The Science of Getting Rich are all in the public domain and readily available online and in ebooks. In fact, I've downloaded them all and printed them out so that I can read them either on screen or in the old-fashioned way.

But I kept thinking it would be nice to have in one place, in traditional book form. In this marvelous print-on-demand era, that's entirely possible. And in this wonderful print-on-demand world, I don't have to keep this convenient little product to myself.

So here is A Little Volume of Secrets, which compiles these gems by James Allen, Russell Conwell and Wallace Wattles between two covers with a brief introduction by a lesser talent named Bluhm. The title I chose is a not-too-subtle allusion to a more recent book that purports to have uncovered something new about human nature and the universe. As you'll find in these pages, the principles have been there for at least a century and indeed much longer — as ancient as the saying, "As a man thinketh, so is he."

A taste:

Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself.
— James Allen, “As A Man Thinketh”

Let every man or woman here, if you never hear me again, remember this, that if you wish to be great at all, you must begin where you are and what you are ...
— Russell H. Conwell, “Acres of Diamonds”

You are to become a creator, not a competitor; you are going to get what you want, but in such a way that when you get it every other man will have more than he has now.
— Wallace D. Wattles, “The Science of Getting Rich”

Warning! Don't expose yourself to these guys if you are perfectly content to live your life the way you've been living it. They definitely will turn your perceptions in interesting ways.

Click here to get a look at A Little Volume of Secrets.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Freedom from fear

What is freedom?

Freedom is a place that seems to be the opposite of fear. And by definition, of course, freedom will mean different things to different people.

Freedom is often described in terms of absence: Freedom is the absence of present tyranny, barriers, threats, debt or other restrictions, or it is moving beyond the past to a promising future.

But freedom is more than a void; it is what fills the void: The actions, the peace of mind, enabled by the removal of those barriers.

Freedom is also, joyfully, an absence of fear — more accurately, of course, a willingness not to allow fear to be yet another barrier.

Make no mistake, fear is real — but you can decide not to be controlled by your fear. You can refuse to be afraid. It’s a little scary — but it’s a sound decision.

I am inspired by the attitude of our golden retriever puppy. When she is unfettered, Willow is a thing of beauty as she runs. She will run as fast and as far and as long as she can, or until I call her name and she comes running back.

Ideally we are limited only by others; ideally the only limit to our freedom is that nothing we do will limit others’ freedom.

“Fear not” and “be free” are nearly the same command. Refuse to be afraid — dare to be free — these are bold decisions.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

W.B. At The Movies: Iron Man 2

Who's better, um, suited to achieve world peace — the private sector or the U.S. Senate? That's among the questions raised by the amazing new film Iron Man 2, now playing at your friendly neighborhood movie theater.

When we rejoin Tony Stark, last seen admitting that he is the man inside the Iron Man armor, he is fending off an unctuous senator (played with astonishing realism by Gary Shandling) who believes those high-tech secrets would be safest in the hands of the public sector. Stark has the temerity to assert that his property belongs to him, setting up one of the film's central conflicts.

After the first Iron Man unexpectedly was one of the best comic-book movies ever made, I had my expectations lowered sufficiently by several reviews that concluded the first sequel wasn't up to the standards of the 2008 original. By the time Captain America's shield makes an unexpected appearance, I was totally immersed and well on my way to concluding the relatively downer reviews were hooey.

Robert Downey Jr. continues to be a dream bit of casting as Tony Stark. Mickey Rourke is wonderful as the villanous Ivan Vanko (Whiplash), and Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer is the actor's most entertaining performance since he nearly stole Galaxy Quest as Guy Fleegman. Gwyneth Paltrow is appealing again as Pepper Potts, although she isn't given as much to do as in the first flick.

Scarlet Johansson is marvelous as the mysterious new lady from Legal, and the scene near the climax where we get the full reveal of her capabilities is right up there with Yoda's light-saber battle in the annals of action-flick treasures. Don Cheadle as Rhodey/War Machine is fine, although I still don't know why it was necessary to replace Terrence Howard, who handled the role in the first installment.

After two hours that flew by in a flash, director Jon Favreau (born to direct Iron Man and to play Happy Hogan) has answered my opening question definitively — What has government ever done better than the private sector, after all? — and pretty much cleared the enormously high bar he raised in chapter one.

The main reason Iron Man 2 is not quite the special ride that Iron Man was is simply that it doesn't have the element of surprise: Few people really thought that a film based on one of Marvel Comics' second-tier heroes would be that great. The second film proves it wasn't a fluke.

And the now-routine teaser scene after the closing credits is one of Marvel's best yet. Is it 2011 yet? Please?!

Monday, May 03, 2010

W.B.'s Book Report: The Total Money Makeover

Hi, my name is Warren and I like stuff.

The pursuit of stuff has gotten me in trouble three times in my life. Credit cards maxed out, living paycheck to paycheck, fear that the next time the phone rings it'd be some lower life form wondering why the check I promised to mail this morning hadn't arrived by afternoon.

Actually, this third time the situation hasn't gotten nearly that bad yet. The first two times were enough to educate me to the warning signs, but not enough to get me to quit pulling out the plastic. Intellectually I knew debt is dumb — the borrower is slave to the lender — but like a drunken congressman, I couldn't stop.

Dave Ramsey has built a small business empire teaching people to stop and start using money properly. The Total Money Makeover is the distillation of his lesson plan. It's as simple as getting out of debt, writing a budget, saving money and not buying anything you don't have the cash for — but in a world built on instant gratification, simple can be revolutionary.

The key is behavior modification. As Ramsey states, being a recovering stuff addict himself, figuring out how to get out of debt is mathematics, but if everyone who can do the math could do it, we wouldn't be a nation of debtors. His "Total Money Makeover" is training yourself to change your behavior in a series of seven "baby steps." Completing each step gives you a little taste of victory, which builds encouragement and momentum.

Armed with Ramsey's book and his daily podcast (which is one hour of his three-hour syndicated radio show), for the first time in my life I have a small emergency savings fund, I have cut all of my credit cards into pieces and started paying them off — paid the first one down to zero at the end of March, and the second monthly payment should disappear this month. I can see a future where I am earning interest, not paying it, and that makes me eager. And if I can do it — a guy once hopelessly addicted to pulling out the card and buying stuff without thinking — you can manage it, too.

This isn't just a book, it's a lifestyle change and a path to freedom. Find the podcast, find the book, and start your own journey.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Every one of us has all we need

I've been thinking of eighth grade lately. That was the fall when The Beatles released the immortal single with "Yellow Submarine" on one side and "Eleanor Rigby" on the other.

What an amazing record. A simple giddy romp, almost a children's song, backed by the gorgeously mournful portraits of the isolated Miss Rigby and Father MacKenzie. All the lonely people, where do they all come from? And the band begins to play.

I confess to being a weird kid, but those who knew me then are already aware of this. I would walk down the halls of the school singing "Yellow Submarine" at the top of my lungs. The song filled me with such innocent joy that I didn't care how eccentric that made me seem — or perhaps I was relishing the chance to be eccentric.

Strangely enough, not long ago, sitting in the audience taking notes as a small-town crowd debated whether to allow a fast-food restaurant to invade their unique tourist community, I was hit by that old familiar sense of innocent joy. No, I didn't break out in a chorus of "We all live in a yellow submarine," but I did feel a wonderful contentment of being back where I belong.

Odd to be so happy at something that at times has felt like drudgery over the years. But it was a warm understanding that chronicling the news of a small community has turned out to feel like part of my life's mission. We all have a purpose, and it's delightful to be doing it.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Offline and back

I've been offline for a few weeks while things change (for the better) in the day job. Three years ago I was invited to move from the small town to the big (well, medium-sized) city; last fall I let it be known that I was content with the job but miss the small town. Now I'm being moved back to a place that I pretty much loved for five years, and I'm tickled. Official announcements are still to come.

In the meantime a variety of projects remain in limbo, including my 20th homemade album, Ten Thousand Days, and its accompanying series of podcasts ... the long-promised book Refuse to Be Afraid ... and my little Christian music podcast Ikthuscast, which I find myself thinking may have run its course after 150 installments.

I have at least one book report to write up for you and a handful of other thoughts and observations, but for this morning I just wanted to check in and say hello. As for that yet-to-be-announced change I started this note with, I've become one of those folks who is getting paid to do work he loves, and that is always good news.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to slay the hobgoblins of health care

The debate over the new U.S. government health-care monolith all came down to something H.L. Mencken wrote quite a few years ago now. How individuals proceed from here depends on recognizing that ultimately, our lives depend on ourselves.

The political arguments of the past few years have been a perfect illustration of what Mencken meant when he wrote:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
What are the supposed hobgoblins that have menaced America of late? Hard-hearted insurance companies. Greedy drug companies. Cold-blooded hospitals. Ambulance-chasing lawyers. Doctors more devoted to earning a Beemer than saving lives. Lest we forget, the rampaging hobgoblins include power-hungry big-government Democrats and heartless corporate-serving Republicans. The most frightening hobgoblins of them all: On the one hand, the prospect of a catastrophic medical event with no safety net. On the other, the specter of a totalitarian, brutally intrusive government.

I don't purport that these hobgoblins are wholly imaginary. The players of the political game have marched out far too many anecdotes for anyone to deny that sick people are thrown roadblocks by insurance carriers, that prescription medicine costs can be unreasonable, and that politicians have goals that do not involve the good of the folks who elected them.

However, I do suggest that there is an important question to ask whenever someone appeals to your darkest fears, a question that must be answered before you willingly relinquish your freedom:

Why does this person want me to be afraid?

What possible gain could this politician, this advertiser, this seeming friend achieve by making me alarmed and clamorous to be led to safety? More often than not, the fear-maker offers a way out of your anxiety that not coincidentally involves a personal profit to himself. A politician offers a bill. An advertiser offers a product. (And in the interests of full disclosure, even I offer you something: I am writing a book called Refuse to Be Afraid that I hope to sell you someday soon.)

The person who wants you scared proposes to lead you to safety. The politician asks only that you surrender a bit of your liberty. The advertiser asks only for a bit of your cash — but keep in mind that money misspent deprives you of the liberty to spend it wisely.

And here's the most important underlying fact in Mencken's words, the fact that's hard to remember when you are sufficiently alarmed: You have the power to lead yourself to safety.

No one can deprive you of your freedom without your permission.

For years the U.S. government has been moving to replace the unwieldy and unresponsive private-sector bureaucracy that is the health insurance industry with an unwieldy and unresponsive public-sector bureaucracy like those of many federal government agencies. Politicians have matched insurance-claim or hospital horror for Medicare or Veterans Affairs horror. Now the power grab has been passed and signed into law, but one essential hasn't changed.

Whoever controls the unwieldy and unresponsive bureaucracy, you have always had control of your health decisions. No one cares more about your health than you do. That was true 10 minutes before this abominable law was signed, and it's true today. So take control. Take the steps you are still free to take — you'll find that most of the hobgoblins holding you back were imaginary. It's a scary thing, assuming control of your life. But if you refuse to be afraid, the benefits are enormous.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Coming Soon: Ten Thousand Days

The guitar is back in my hands, and my fingers are rusty. But it feels good.

Last year, Barry McGuire and John York brought their Trippin' the Sixties show to Green Bay, and the next afternoon Barry spoke and sang a few songs at the Cup O'Joy up the street. It was a weekend that changed my life, and not just because he led the Cup crowd in singing me "Happy Birthday."

That Sunday night, I pulled out the guitar for the first time in ages and wrote a song for the first time in ages. I had chuckled with Barry as he described writing "Greenback Dollar" with those trusty old chords, G and C, and an Em thrown in for good measure. Out came "Back Where I Belong," which begins with words that listeners of Uncle Warren's Attic #57 might recognize:

"I was dead and gone, but now I'm better ..."

That was just the start. For the next month songs came pouring out of my brain, almost like a dam had burst and emitted tunes. By the end of May — April, really, just one song came out in May — I had a pile of songs that fit together so well I was pretty sure I had an album in hand.

Almost 12 months gone now, and those tunes have been percolating in my mind. It's long past time to pick up the guitar, confront the microphone, and start sharing them.

And so ... watch this space. And make sure you're still subscribed to the Uncle Warren's Attic RSS feed, because that's where the first versions of these songs will be coming.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Anti-Wildflower Man (and Woman)

A couple in California is being harrassed by the lawn police. No, it's not the scenario I wrote about in "Wildflower Man," where a fellow let the flowers take over his yard; just the opposite. Read the news here.
Some Southern California cities fine residents for watering their lawns too much during droughts.

But in Orange, officials are locked in a legal battle with a couple accused of violating city ordinances for removing their lawn in an attempt to save water.

The dispute began two years ago, when Quan and Angelina Ha tore out the grass in their frontyard. In drought-plagued Southern California, the couple said, the lush grass had been soaking up tens of thousands of gallons of water -- and hundreds of dollars -- each year.
And so the family has been charged with a misdemeanor by the city for failure to have at least 40% land cover on their property. Oh wait, did we say "their" property? If it's a crime to keep the land in the condition you think is best, who really owns it?
"It's their yard, it's not overgrown with weeds, it's not an eyesore," said (neighbor Dennis) Cleek, whose own yard boasts fruit trees. "We should be able to have our yards look the way we want them to."
Something in human nature just seems to make certain people force their ideas about The Way Things Ought To Be on the rest of us. Or, to put it another way:
"Compliance, that's all we've ever wanted," said Senior Assistant City
Atty. Wayne Winthers.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Don't let anyone scare you

Fear may draw a television audience. It may generate cash for an advocacy group. It may support the legal profession.

But fear paralyzes us. It freezes us. And we need to be flexible in our responses, as we move into a new era of managing complexity.

So we have to stop responding to fear: Is this really the end of the world? Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods? No, we simply live on an active planet. Earthquakes are continuous, a million and a half of them every year, or three every minute. A Richter 5 quake every six hours, a major quake every 3 weeks. A quake as destructive as the one in Pakistan every 8 months. It's nothing new, it's right on schedule.

At any moment there are 1,500 electrical storms on the planet. A tornado touches down every six hours. We have 90 hurricanes a year, or one every four days. ... Violent, disruptive, chaotic activity is a constant feature of our globe.

Is this the end of the world? No: this is the world. It's time we knew it.
— Michael Crichton

Friday, February 26, 2010

I stand corrected - records in cars

I got an e-mail overnight regarding my statement that "as wonderful as vinyl is, they never figured out a way to play records in the car." I guess I knew that — I always heard that Motorola's corporate name derives from "motor" and "Victrola" and the effort to create a practical car record player — but I have to believe the idea never caught on because of tonearms' tendency to skip when jostled, or maybe solving that dilemma was way too expensive. In any case, items like this make for fun speculation about what might have been ...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vinyl, eBay and the road to freedom

I've had some modest success as I start selling parts of my vinyl LP collection at eBay. No surprises yet — over the past 15-20 years I have been one of the last surviving people who preferred to buy records when available, and so as vinyl experiences a reawakening, I knew there would be a market for those limited-edition vinyl copies of albums produced over the last couple of decades.

As I suspected, Neil Young remains cool. I cleared out my collection of Neil's more recent stuff at prices that made me happy. And the recipients of the albums sound pleased, too. Ah, the free market at its best — when buyer and seller both gain something of value.

As much as I love music and vinyl, why am I doing this? Partly to pass along the joy. I've experienced the fun of putting a slab of vinyl on a turntable and the fulfilled expectations of the fresher, more real sound that comes out. Now it's time for others to enjoy it.

Mostly it's because I've finally learned there is no music so sweet as the sound of my voice saying, "No plastic, I'm paying with cash."

For the third time in my life, I pushed my cards to the limit, to the point where too much of my income was going to purchases I made a long time ago, and accumulated interest. In a sense, I don't own this collection; the agents of Visa, Mastercard and Discover do. And so, to pay off my masters, this debt slave is liquidating.

Don't feel sorry for me; I'm so happy about this decision I could bust. It's all about freedom. And passing on the joy of music ownership. (My favorite records long ago were transferred to CD anyway — as wonderful as vinyl is, they never figured out a way to play records in the car.)

So check out my stuff on eBay — right this moment I have only four albums up, including the immortal American III: Solitary Man by Johnny Cash, but I plan to be busy this weekend. And if you want some great info about getting out of debt, check out the work and podcasts of Dave Ramsey.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Uncle Warren's Review: American VI: Ain't No Grave

Johnny Cash was already a legend when he met producer Rick Rubin, but what the two of them did together is, well, indescribable. The last four albums Cash released in his lifetime are the best recordings he ever created. Tom Petty once said the best Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album ever is Unchained, the second Cash album produced by Rubin where the Heartbreakers sat in as the backup band.

After The Man In Black died in 2004, Rubin released a fifth album that was very good but didn't quite live up to the previous standards. Tuesday the sixth "American" project arrived, with Rubin promising this is the last he'll be associated with. Amazingly, American VI: Ain't No Grave does not sound like the last decent scraps from the pile.

When the three then-surviving Beatles cobbled "Free As A Bird" together around an old John Lennon demo tape, a friend of mine said it was comforting to hear a new Beatles song again. That's the feeling that this new Cash-Rubin collaboration evokes.

The title song is perfect for Cash to release after his death, after a long and often defiant life: "Ain't no grave gonna hold this body down." And all of the tracks are about endings, most of them covers given the unique Johnny Cash treatment. From Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day" to "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" and including an original tune called "I Corinthians 15:55" ("O death, where is your sting?"), the album is a fitting valedictory. And "Aloha Oe" is a wistful and perfect song with which to close.

Johnny Cash was already a legend when he started working with Rick Rubin. But he could have become a legend just on the basis of these six albums (and don't forget Unearthed, the five-disk set that includes a few dozen great cuts that weren't quite great enough to make the "American" projects).

I had all sorts of ambitious plans for my day off Tuesday, but I spent the afternoon with Mr. Cash instead, listening to the new album twice and the first two American recordings in between. There never was an interpreter of songs like Johnny Cash, and no one brought out the best of Cash like Rick Rubin.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Secrets of rhinoceros success revealed

Oh — a rhinoceros!

Wally Conger is my best friend I never met. He and I "met" as teenagers in the late 1960s when he was putting together fanzines like Spidey Fan and Fantasy World from his parents' home in California. I was in New Jersey, which is why we never met. In those days people communicated by snail mail mainly because, well, there was nothing else. Seems to me we talked by phone once, which was kind of cool but expensive.

After 2-3 years we drifted off to live our lives until 2005, when a friend of mine sent me a pithy quote he'd picked up off the Internet that was written by "Wally Conger." Modern communications being a little more sophisticated and instantaneous than it used to be, I found this Conger fella within a few minutes and sent him an e-mail to the effect of "Are you the Wally Conger?" Kind of a silly question, really — how many Wally Congers writing about pop culture and anarcho-libertarian-type stuff could there be?

Turns out we lived semi-parallel lives in the media and corporate worlds until the last decade and a half, when he took off on his own to work on a variety of business projects. He was the guy who introduced me to Blogger, which has led to my so-far-not-so-vast podcast and publishing empires. He has lent his name to reviews of ventures like The Adventures of Myke Phoenix, and I've helped plug Wally's stuff when and where I can.

In the last year he's launched, a place devoted to "smashing wage slavery one job at a time. Starting with his free e-book Fire Up Your Cash Flow Over a Donut and Coffee in 10 Minutes ... or Less!, Wally has been providing regular advice about how to move out on your own with Web and/or other businesses.

His newly released project is a fun conversation preserved in black-and-white and audio called No-Nonsense Damn-the-Torpedoes Jungle Rhinoceros Tactics to Flatten the Crap Outta Fear, Worry & Doubt (apparently he can't name something in fewer than 12 words). It's an interview with Scott Alexander, blogger, entrepreneur and author of three motivational books starting with Rhinoceros Success. What's rhinoceros success? Here's Scott talking to Wally:
The rhinos are guys like you and me. We're out there having fun. We enjoy life. We're charging. We're building businesses. We have dreams. We have goals. We wake up in the morning and we want to get going on stuff. Now I know you like to enjoy your cigars and stuff, and that's part of your adventure, is doing what you want to do. But the thing for rhinos is, they're out in the jungle and they're having fun. They're pursuing what they want in life.
And they don't let anything get in the way of their success, growing a tough hide and charging through setbacks to victory ...
... you hear these success people say, "Well, success is easy if you think it's easy." But I totally disagree with that. I think success is difficult; it's radically difficult. Think about it. If success were easy, if anybody could automatically become a success, it wouldn't be success, right? It'd be mediocrity. It's easy to be mediocre, but if you want to be successful, you have to charge harder, you have to do things that the cows aren't willing to do. You have to get out there and charge and expend some energy. So, yeah, the chips are always down, and fortitude and charging is the most important thing.
Along the way in a 45-minute conversation, Wally and Scott share some valuable insights about what it takes to get up some momentum and keep charging — and they have fun along the way. The podcast would make a nice package on its own, but Wally took the time to transcribe the whole gorram thing into an ebook — with a short bonus anecdote — and he throws in some worksheets designed to help you start your rhino life. So you can take your time perusing the words, take the conversation with you in your car or iPod, and scribble out your own plan for rhino success.

This is definitely something I'm going to keep close at hand in the Attic, and I heartily recommend it to the dozen of you who visit here regularly. [Full disclosure: I've signed up for Wally's affiliate program, so I'll get a piece of the action if you buy the package after clicking "Click here to view more details."]

Go ahead. Take a look. Click here to view more details.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Knowledge overcomes fear:
The scary sign in the window

I hadn’t been alive for very long, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to die yet. The little poster in the front window of the barber shop in Little Falls, N.J., told me it might not be long.

In stark bold letters, the poster announced “The 7 warning signs of leukemia.” I didn’t know exactly what leukemia was, but it sounded scary and in the late 1950s it was almost always fatal. The poster said it was cancer of the blood.

I did an inventory for the signs. “Change in a mole or wart” — well, my little body was littered with moles, but I was pretty sure they all looked the same as the day before. “Fatigue” — no, I had plenty of energy; I was a kid after all. “Hoarseness” —

I cleared my throat.

Was I hoarse? I did have a little bit of a tickle there, a small frog perhaps. I tried a few words.

“Hello? Hello? Oh no.”

My voice was a little ragged.

I might have leukemia! It was a real possibility. The poster said so. My voice was hoarse.

I squirmed my way through the haircut, panic rising in my soul at every clip. Why waste my time with a haircut when I might have so little time to spare?

Afraid to say anything out loud, I was quiet on the way home, and the next time I was with my mother without the brothers around, I approached her and said solemnly, “Mom, I have to talk to you.”

She could tell right away that I was a tad distraught. No doubt she looked around the house to see if anything else was broken, but the look on my face told her this was different from guilt. I led her into a bedroom and closed the door.

“What? What is it?” Now she was starting to get anxious herself.

I threw myself against her apron and hung on for dear life.

“One of the symptoms of cancer is hoarseness and today I’m hoarse!!!” I wailed.

For just a moment there was no sound in the room except for my terrified sobbing.

And then, a soft laugh.

You know the scene in the movie A Christmas Story where Ralphie gets in a fight and afterward his brother, Randy, hides under the kitchen sink? When Mom asks what he’s doing there, he screams, “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”

Mom gives a soft chuckle and says reassuringly, “No, Daddy’s not going to kill Ralphie.”

Every time I see that movie, I laugh out loud because Randy’s fear and Mom’s reaction are so real. I know, because that’s exactly how I sounded that day and exactly how my own mother sounded when she said, “No, you don’t have cancer.”

Patiently, she told me I needed to have more than one symptom before I needed to consider the most dire diagnosis. I realized I probably was going to live. The fright eased its way out of my tiny frame.

Lesson learned: Wait until you have all of the facts before jumping to conclusions. So often we become afraid because we only understand part of the story. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” says the old proverb — but the emphasis is on the word little. If you don’t have full knowledge, you can make a dangerous mistake: such as being paralyzed by fear.

The leukemia society didn’t mean to frighten a little boy that day, but planting a little fear in your mind is a common motivational tactic. The idea of the poster was to get you to a doctor, but it also works for product advertising and politicians.

When I sought more information from the closest trusted source at hand — my mom — the fears were dispelled.

Are you scared of something you don’t fully understand? Get more information. Most of the time, the situation is not as dire as you fear. And even more often, as I learned by discovering I didn’t have leukemia, the situation is not even a “situation” at all.