Selling Out Your Home Concert

Anyone can hold a concert. Just like anyone can make any number of products you see or buy in the market place. Making products isn’t the problem. Finding buyers is. With the ever increasing snow storm of advertising and information flashing before our eyes, getting to the messages we want is difficult. That means getting your message about your concert to the right people is the challenge.
First, what not to do. Don’t advertise to everyone, just to the people who are most likely to come including:
1. The friends, neighbors and family of your host. That includes people they know at their place of employment, church, clubs, associations or anywhere else that respects them.
2. Your friends and family. If you’re still in school or teaching school, that’s a great place to round up bodies. The other people mentioned in item one apply to you as well.
Start making a list of the names, addresses and emails of every person from the possibilities listed above. That is your “house list.”
You are going to prepare an invitation that will have the following features:
1. It will first tell the person how the concert will benefit that person. The wrong way is to begin by telling how wonderful you are, and that is how most concert and other ads begin. This is about THEM NOT YOU!
2. You’ll continue extolling the benefits of coming to the concert and the kindness of the host.
3. You will become a benefit of the concert.
4. Your music will be a great benefit of coming to the concert.
5. You’ll clearly let them know where, and when.

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Remember this code: AIDA
Interest (those are the things that will benefit the audience)
Desire (creation some emotion – people buy from emotion, not intellect)
Action (make sure they have a way to contact you, the host through email or phone to let you know they are coming)
All of this should be accompanied with a social media campaign that you orchestrate. Set up a Facebook page just for this event and get your friends to invite people to it. Use Twitter and other social media to get the word out. Make this a media event.
Decide on the purpose of the concert. It can just be a concert hosted by a family, or it could be:
1. Evaluation or Feedback concert. You’re seeking opinions of people about what music you should put on your CD or use for your auditions, or whatever. For this you’ll need an evaluation form.
2. Pre-CD launch concert.
3. Benefit concert for a cause your host believes deeply in. (See the chapter in Marketing Singers about how to hold a benefit concert and get paid twice for doing it.) We held a benefit concert at our backyard that opens out to a golf course and had 400 people attend and we raised our goal of $30,000.
4. Pre-audition tour concert or Summer Program Funding Concert. Let them know you’re going on an audition tour to New York or London or wherever you’re going for a Summer Program and need to raise funds and donations will be accepted along with feedback.
Here are a couple of examples of flyers or invitations that worked quite well. This first one is for the host family to send out and emphasizes an invitation from them. That’s the first benefit.

This second flyer is benefit heavy right from the start and catches people’s heart. It’s all about THEM and how you can help them. A simple letter accompanied this with the email and email of where to RSVP.

The cover photo was from her first home concert. It led to the second home concert. Her greatest asset was her persistence. Of course she had a beautiful voice and was prepared to deliver a great concert.
In Part II I’ll discuss what to do at the concert to set up your “perpetual gig machine!”

Here is the note I received from this singer and her results are fairly typical:
“It went great!!! I sang well, the pianist played well; we had 45 people there in this huge, gorgeous home. The acoustics were PERFECT–the room I sang in had a monastery-cloister arched ceiling. The guests were very happy. I pre-sold 29 CDs.
Donations brought in $610. Not too shabby!
People are talking already about doing a Christmas program there in a couple of months, and a couple of other people expressed interest in having entertainment in their homes.
One of the ladies who came was my dry cleaner–I met her the day before when I dropped off my dress to be cleaned. Turns out she’s from CA and loves opera. It was just a lot of fun and everyone came away w/something.
Thanks for your help! It was a team effort that has paid off beautifully.
Thanks,Kristin Jensen”

Your reasons for holding your concert will determine your next actions. If it is just to sing, well, you've sung, so there is nothing more to do. But I'll now assume you're more ambitious and want a singing future. Therefore you need to 1) earn money at the concert, 2) sell CDs, 3) book more concerts or engagements and 4) gather information to lead to even more engagements.

Here’s what to do:
    1. Work out with the host that at the end of the concert to please read a blurb about the feedback. Write out what they should say, something like, “We want to thank Fred/Kathleen for being our honored guest tonight and for the beautiful music. She is always looking to improve and would appreciate you opening your programs right now and filling out the brief survey so she can get your feedback. We’ve provided pencils (make sure you provide them in nice boxes all around during the intermission). And Fred has a CD that you can take home with you as our gift. We’d ask you to make a donation to his audition fund.As you know, to audition for Broadway/Metropolitan Opera roles it takes quite a bit of money just to get there and Fred could use your support. So make a contribution to that fund and we’ll give you his CD.” Something like that. Work it out with the host. Maybe you don’t give away the CD. Maybe you sell the CD AND ask for the donation. Feel your way through this. There isn’t a right way, although there is a wrong way – not doing or trying something and holding back. Get out there and do something, even if it doesn’t work the first time.
    2. Prepare a printed program. You want everyone to have one. Yes, it’s nice to have them see the numbers, but what you really want is for them to see the survey. More on that in a moment. I’ve included a sample. Don’t use this one. Create your own, but use the concepts.

    3. Notice on the program a good mixture of music that progresses from the familiar to the more esoteric (for some) that is all great music. Please the fans but uplift them for a thoroughly entertaining night. Don’t go too long. A one hour concert is grand plus a ten minute break/intermission. A ten minute break is great as a dramatic pause for you and for your audience to discuss how wonderful you are.
    4. The survey is NOT a scientific survey but a leading marketing document. You’re leading them down a logical path. You’re asking them to recall positive things about your performance and letting them put those down on paper so it sticks in their mind. The more they write the more they’ll bite. As you see it leads them to volunteer to contribute or buy a CD or to hold a concert – take some action. In that they enjoyed your singing and they’re recalling how much, why wouldn’t they want to share you with their friends? And they will. I’ve yet to find a singer who does this that doesn’t make at least $300 to $500 for the night plus book other concerts.
    5. Make sure you’ve gone over all of this with your host. Kindly ask them if they’ll emcee the affair. It’s their home. Ask them if they’ll do the introduction, the intermission announcement and the closing comments.

    6. Ask if they’ll introduce you and give them a written introduction. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t tell them to read it. Tell them you’ve jotted down a few ideas that they can use if they like. They’ll probably just read it so make sure you write it so it sounds great if read.
    7. After the intermission, have them suggest to the audience that if they would like to have you sing in their home there is a place on the back of the program where they can request you to hold a concert for them.
    8. Have a nice container for people to place their programs with their feedback. Have envelopes there to put the feedback sheets in and the $$$ as well.
    9. Mingle, mingle, mingle. Shake hands with everyone. They’re likely to hand you $$$ then too. Thank them for coming and say, “I am anxious to read your feedback sheets” to encourage them to fill them out. Bring a Sharpie that you know works so you can sign your CD. When someone buys one immediately say, “Would you like me to sign that?” They’ll always say Yes and in doing so people will see that and it encourages others to buy.
    10. When you get home, enter all of the names and demographics you’ve gathered onto your House List spreadsheet (see Marketing Singers book to know how to do this and what to do with this list) before you sleep. You should have this from the feedback sheets and you should have also gotten the list from the host, telling them you need the emails to thank the people personally for coming. Putting this off is deadly.
    11. The next day, be sure to write a Thank You note on a nice card to the host with profuse kind words. Then email all of the guests, thanking them for coming. If they have asked you to do a concert, begin the discussion. If they haven’t, let them know a date you’re available and see if they’d like you to come then. NOW is the time. Every day that goes by the lead grows colder. Offer everyone your CD where appropriate. Don’t be shy but be wise.
    12. Get someone to video at least one of your best songs along with shots of the audience and home. Get the hosts permission to publish this. Then post this on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and whatever other social media you can. Get out there with the message that you perform. And provide a contact website, email or phone number.
Following this path can lead to additional home concerts. It can lead, as you’ll suggest to the audience, to you singing at their professional functions like office parties, office openings, company conventions, reunions, political functions, church meetings or retreats, and so forth. Many will live in retirement communities. That’s not an old folks home. That’s a community with a community center that loves to have events on a regular basis. I know singers who have a regular circuit of these centers that pay them for monthly or quarterly concerts that pay $250 to $750 for the evening. They perform at least three nights a week year around.
At first it takes a great deal of coordination and marketing work to get this piece meal singing career going. Once you get this perpetual job machine in gear, it becomes more and more on autopilot. The more you perform, the better you become and the more exposure leads to better chances. Marketing is not magic, it’s motion.

 link click here  Meridian Article   
When Joseph Smith presented the world the Book of Mormon in 1829, at age 23, he was a senior at Oxford studying English, theology, history and philosophy… Hold on. Actually, he had less than 6 years of “book learning” – probably a 5th grade education at best. Instead of school, he had plenty of years pulling stumps and farming, not exactly the resume of a writer. He had little ....   link click here  Meridian Article   

Is God a Loving God?
By Mark J. Stoddard

One statement people constantly make that doesn’t work: “Why would a Loving God allow__________?” You can easily fill in the blank. It is a nonsensical (not nonsense) statement because once again mankind is creating God in their own image and not vice versa.

When we state we believe in a Loving God, we add a formal adjective that doesn’t belong. God is not The Angry God, The Vengeful God, or The Loving God. He is simply God. We either believe and have faith in Him, or, we don’t. When we decide God must be loving, we define God while we’re deciding what is loving and what is not. Our limited ability to judge Deity with eternal perspective doesn’t seem to stop us defining what is limited loving. On top of that we provide agnostics a chance to throw "Loving God" around to support their disbelief. "A Loving God wouldn't do that," they say. 

What they fail to realize, and by extension we fail, is the word "loving" is defined in our finite terms.

If we walked into a room and watched a man take a knife and cut a person, we’d recoil in horror and perhaps do something like attack the man with a knife. In doing so, we’d claim to be loving. To the contrary we’d be harming the man with the knife, a surgeon, and potentially kill the person on the antiseptic operating table with our intrusion.

Yet we do this constantly by deciding what a loving God would do. Isaiah wrote that “my way are not your ways saith the Lord, for as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Yet we persist in saying we worship a Loving God. Can we determine how loving that God was to let thousands of Lamanite Warriors descend upon thousands of some of the most dedicated and faithful people to ever live…the Anti-Lehi-Nephites. Some scholars have suggested "Anti" may be a reflex of the Egyptian "nty:" meaning “one of” or “to align with someone.” Those who aligned with Nephi and Lehi had once been blood-thirsty until they accepted Christ. When they did they knew that their crimes were terrible and that should they ever take up arms against anyone – even for a great reason like self-defense, their prior sins would be visited upon their heads when they once again becoming blood-thirsty. They refused to allow that awful state to return to them so they buried their weapons and refused to take them up even though a horde of terrifying warriors was coming upon them.

Those with faith in a Loving God might be tempted to say, “A Loving God would look upon their great faith and miraculously save them from destruction. Surely he could not let such goodness be for naught!”

But the Warriors descended upon them and a Loving God did nothing. The Warriors slashed and murdered innocent men. Where was the Loving God? Firmly in his omniscient state. God’s will contains eternal perspective. Soon the Lamanites could hack and cut no more and broke down and wept at the carnage they’d caused. Thousands that day left their blood-thirsty ways and joined or aligned with the Anti-Lehi-Nephites.

Later we learned of another attack and how the remainder of Anti-Lehi-Nephites and the recent converts again refused to take up arms, even in self-defense. But their sons had not needed to swear such oath so they took up arms and defended their parents with stunning results. How many millions of people have been inspired by their faith in their mothers – surely every ward has a speaker on Mother’s Day read from the Book of Alma where Helaman describes the great faith of these stripling warriors as they attribute their faith to their mothers: “we knew our mothers knew it…”. Perhaps an Omniscient God was indeed a Loving God once we understood a fraction of divine perspective.

Perhaps an omniscient God, as He describes Himself and His Son, knows what real “loving” is: ‘This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the Eternal Life and Immortality of Man.”

He knows the operating room, the doctor, the world completely and asks us to have faith in Him even when life’s trials seem to go against us.

When my first son Alexander lay in intensive care with three strains of E Coli pneumonia threatening his every breath and the doctor giving him a less than 50-50 chance of living. I went to the cafeteria where I thought a little food might help. But, I couldn’t eat as I sat and pondered. Wiping away tears and fears, it hit me hard. “Now is the time for you to decide what your faith in God really is.” The rubber was meeting the road. This wasn’t some ambiguous philosophy class discussion. This was reality. And it came to me as I closed my eyes and said, “Whether my son lives or my son dies, like Job said, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In confidence I arose…not confident my son would live. I didn’t know that. But I knew that I knew God lived and my son was in His hands.

Our son is now a faithful husband and father of six. He lives. His testimony is strong and he and Becky are teaching their children well. But the end was not yet.
Alex with Becky (right), my mother, other of Becky's and our
 family, with Alex and Becky's kids in the back at Thanksgiving.

Within seven years of Alex’s birth, his two brothers died too young. We grieved, but the question of a Loving God or an Omniscient God had long been answered. That answer or foundation of faith, buoyed us up so that we could “Be Still and Know that I Am God.” As we were still, the Comforter was poured out upon us. Our boys were taken, but the faith of our children was strengthened and we were blessed.

How could a Loving God allow a child to die – two dear sons to die? Because He knows how it will build us and where it will lead us in this life and beyond.

The Roots of the Sexual Misconduct Wave Are Clear

     We reap what we sow. Just ask impartial political and social analysts how this spate of men behaving badly started. The answer ought to come back that Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly are just the tip of a nefarious ice berg.
     Did this all start with society’s open cover-up of Bill Clinton’s peccadillos? It didn’t help that his “did not have sex with that woman” line was believed or at least accepted by feminists and liberals because he was their man. Just as President Trump’s crude statements about the fun of promiscuously grabbing random women is tolerated by his admirers. Cue Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By Your Man.”
     No, the dalliances of powerful men have long been overlooked. Women have a shameful part in this, but more on that later. Certainly, the brazen affairs of President JFK are now well chronicled. Nude swimming with ladies in the White House pool and Secret Service guards diverting his wife Jackie away from the door that would have revealed what she already knew was going on. Nightly rendezvous with ladies to help Jack with his headaches… yes, that was the accepted rational at the time.  But the affairs of Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower and FDR were covered up by the press with the excuse that “boys will be boys.”
     The first time I heard that canard was from my father. He was disgusted by the behavior of his fellow Air Corp officers in World War II. Married men stationed in Hawaii before and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 openly dated local girls, and by dating we are talking more than moonlight strolls on the beach! Dad told his sons often that the reasons or rationalization were legion. But the most common one was, “boys will be boys.” He didn’t buy it for a minute.
     Some folks misquote scriptures and say, “you shouldn’t judge.” That too is a discussion for another time, but my father had no trouble looking his sons in the eyes and stating clearly that “that is terrible behavior. Your morals matter. No excuses.”
     So, after hundreds of years of men behaving badly, and way too many women willing to participate in the cover ups, the victims of male predatory and promiscuous sexual practices have courageously stood up, one by one, and said, “I didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it and demanded it stop.” Yes, plenty of women did want the romance or sexual attention. Yes, they did dress immodestly to attract attention. Yes, they’ve contributed to this debauchery. But, that doesn’t excuse anyone. Bad behavior is bad behavior. Men or women.
     The answer to all of this is actually fairly simple and more than a hashtag campaign. Live the Gospel of Christ. Chastity, modesty, and fidelity are not outside the ability of anyone to live. Temperance in alcohol would eliminate a huge amount of the grief.
     In 1983, the Reverend Jerry Falwell who started The Moral Majority, not as a vaunt but a goal, and later Liberty University, was asked at a dinner I attended, “If you were driving down a country road at dusk saw a lady off to the side of the road with car trouble, would you give her a lift into town?” Some in our party were surprised by his answer.
     “Why not?”
     “We both have too much at risk.” 
     He went on to explain that he would stop, try to fix the problem and stay with her until he could flag someone down and drive with her into town to get a tow truck to help her out. But, he would NEVER be alone with a woman who was not his family.
     Vice President Mike Pense has been roundly ridiculed by the same people who are aghast at the randy, stud-ram ethics of Weinstein, He has categorically stated he will never have dinner with a single lady. He’s drawn a moral line in the sand he won’t cross. Considering his detractor’s inability to understand the consequences of moral actions, he’s doing something very right. Needless to say, VP Pense would never invite a woman to his hotel room “just for business.” It’s astounding how many women have fallen for that trap.
     And to executives, here’s a thought. Eliminate closed opaque locked doors. No blinds. Just literal transparency in the work place. Matt Lauer would not have done what he did to women in his office if the complicit bosses at NBC had officially declared “no locked or opaque doors.”
     Women must draw moral lines in the sand even if they think it will cost them their job. You have too much at risk otherwise. And…you may be fired. That’s the price of courage rather than unintentionally becoming an enabler or complicit.
     Complicit. That fits for so many men and women in this necessary purging of bad behavior in our society. But laws, lawsuits, firings and such will not end this spate of bad behavior. Yes, we’ll fire people and demand others resign, but that’s just an ineffective attempt to cure societal woes.  As the Book of Mormon clearly demonstrates, when surface behavior changes without soulful repentance, the disease will return with a vengeance.

Remembering a Great and Gentle Soul They Called Tommy Monson and now President

They Called Him Tommy Monson
By Mark J. Stoddard
            With the passing of President Thomas S. Monson on January 2, 2018, my first thoughts were of sadness to lose such a great and decent person from an earth that desperately needs more kind and gentle souls. But then I’m covered with his joy at being relieved of the difficulties of health and in being reunited with his wife, Frances.
            Immediately my thoughts are taken to my memories of brief encounters with this man.      
            Across the reception hall the tall, well-dressed man left his post in the receiving line and strode straight to me. He reached out and put my tie between his fingers and proclaimed, “It’s a confident businessman who wears a yellow tie. How are you this evening?
            That wasn’t my first encounter with Elder Thomas Monson.
            I first met him as a young teen flying alone from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. Somehow I was put in 1st Class. As I relaxed in my seat, a very tall fellow boarded the flight with a smile as wide as the aisle. I knew who he was. Elder Thomas S. Monson, who had just recently been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Callings didn’t come much bigger than that in this church.
            He smiled down at me and asked him to excuse him as he stepped around my knees and settled his tall frame into the seat better suited for him than me. Instantly, before putting on his seat belt, he thrust out his hand, “Hello. I’m Elder Tom Monson. What’s your name?”
            I presented myself in a stammering way that didn’t matter to him.  He listened and then asked me if I was a Boy Scout. We talked about campouts, knots and scout nonsense for a while. He laughed a lot and asked me more questions about my life. Soon the flight attendant let us know it was time to put our seats up and prepare for landing. We’d spent nearly two hours talking about me. He shook my hand as he left the plane and said, “You’ll be a fine missionary one day. But don’t grow up too fast.” With that he was gone.
            As I sat in the south balcony near the Tabernacle Choir I thought about that chance encounter with a man who had only been an apostle a short time. By now, years had passed and I was at BYU. He was doing what he’d done for decades and was about ready to speak at General Conference. As he spoke I noticed the young man in front of me, not much older than I, starting to breathe heavily and heave his body sideways and then rock forward and back. Suddenly he jumped from his seat and shouted, “That’s enough, Elder Monson, and…” I couldn’t make out what he said as he stepped into the aisle and began ranting as he walked down the aisle of the balcony. Before he got to the bannister, perhaps to leap over it, he was tackled by at least two security guards. I looked up to Elder Monson who had not flinched, nor stopped speaking during this disturbance. As the guards picked up the young man, Elder Monson continued in his Monsoneque fashion as if he’d been unaware of the ruckus. In a Tabernacle where you could hear a pin drop, no doubt the yelling had been noticed, but made no impression on the speaker.
            I reminded him of that ruckus and also my flight with him when I met him as a missionary in Brisbane, Australia. I wondered if he was really good at faking remembrance but he said some things that left no doubt he remembered that scout from the plane – he brought up the scouting stories again. In his sermon to the Elders, Sisters and couples, he began by telling us that he had just come from the Pacific islands where he was met by the Mission President, Elder Waters, his counselor Elder Flood and Elder Reigns and there he was Elder Monsoon. We all laughed and groaned but enjoyed his sense of humor.
That night at the fireside open to all, he spoke in his undulating pattern of amusing and serious applications of gospel service. Perhaps I listened more than night because we’d brought a lady who had been taught by other missionaries before we’d given her the full set of discussions, yet she could not take the next step of baptism. She explained how she loved what she’d been taught, her extensive reading of the Book of Mormon and the Bible; that it all made the greatest sense but she just didn’t “know if it was true.” I had no other answers but to suggest she attend the fireside and listen to an apostle. She sat next to us listening with real intent. After Elder Monson concluded and sat for a moment, he stood and walked back to the podium and said he felt impressed that he needed to shake our hands and meet each of us, so for us not to be shocked when he walked to the rear door of the Kangaroo Point Chapel during the closing song.
            When the final Amens were said to the evening’s closing benediction, the hundreds of people who had filled the chapel began filing out that back door. I could see him towering over the people with a large smile, reaching down to grasp each hand. As we approached I could hear him tell each person, “thank you for coming… good to meet you… thank you for coming…” and so forth. Many had shaken his hand before us so when it came our turn I expected more of the same. He shook my hand and said, “good to see you…” and then stopped, looked down at the sister with us, smiled, reached for her hand and held it a moment. Then quietly he said to her, “Sister, it’s true.” It seemed longer than a moment; far longer. And then he went back to greeting and shaking people’s hands.
            The lady with us managed to get away from us through the crowd and we found her at the balcony rail of the outdoor patio. Tears were streaming down her face as she smiled and nodded her head in affirmation of the witness she had received. Her baptism followed the next week.
            At the open house for the President’s Club of Ricks College, while my wife and I waited for our turn to go through the reception line, I was telling Elizabeth about that fireside more than 30 years before in Australia when Elder Monson walked toward us. After he had finished admiring my tie, I told him the last time I had met him he’d told us about meet President Waters in the Pacific islands, and then he finished retelling the story. He didn’t miss a word from what he’d told us in Brisbane. I think my wife was surprised to find out that I hadn’t made up a single thing.
            When we all finished chuckling over that story, I quickly retold him the story of the sister who he had helped so much. His smile left and in a deeply somber mood he thanked me for sharing that with him, that he hadn’t known the reason for him going to the back to shake hands but did so now. He again thanked me and wished Elizabeth and I all the best.
            I didn’t see him for years after that and only briefly when we drove by his home in Midway, Utah, and waved to him as he was in his yard with a rake, wearing blue jeans and a plaid shirt, doing what everyone else did on a Saturday afternoon, just being the person that he’d been when they used to call him Tommy Monson instead of President.


Facing the Russia Threat

Times have changed since the Cold-War officially ended, but, perhaps times are more dangerous. Certainly for Latter-day Saints, the entire Russia-America relations are more complicated.

Pre-1991, before the putsch that overthrew the Soviet government of the USSR, American LDS members had communism as the clear-cut enemy, although in enclaves of BYU and other universities left-leaning LDS professors quietly spoke fondly of the wonders of collectivization with their academic peers, while sternly looking down on the Ezra Taft Bensonites who could quote “None Dare Care It Treason” or reel off statistics and sayings from Cleon Skousen’s “The Naked Communist.”

In 1991 the Bensonites felt justified that they’d won part of the geopolitical gambit although there was still Cuba, Venezuela and China to go.

The LDS lefties decried the capitalists going into post-Gorbachev Russia and spoiling a pure people. Oh well. What can you do with some mother’s children?
I felt their wrath when, in 1990, I brought the Deputy Minister of Higher Education of the USSR to BYU. He was instantly greeted with great warmth by so many from the BYU political science and Russian departments until he spoke to a large gathering. 

At the start of his lecture these professors were beaming to have a Soviet leader actually speaking at BYU, but let out a collective (pun intended) gasp when he announced that he was bringing to the USSR a group of American business leaders to teach capitalism to the Soviet people. When he announced he had partnered with me to lead his effort, I went from their darling to devil in a twinkling of an eye. Ah, the fickled fortunes of fate.

Over the next ten years the company my wife and I started, took 10,000 Americans and Soviets/Russians and put them on ships that sailed on the Volga and Dnieper rivers so Americans could learn about Russia and Ukraine through the eyes of her people. Thousands of friendships were made.

Between land tours, Americans were in classes on board learning about Russian culture, Pushkin tales, language, etc., and the Russians were taking my classes on how to survive and prosper in a free market economy and how to start a business. Many businesses were started with new American partners.

Marriages happened. So many Russians joined the LDS church just because coincidentally (if there are such things) many of our passengers were faithful LDS members anxious to share their faith.  

All of this work in the former USSR republics, Russia in particular (I’ve been there more than 50 times), I grown to understand a bit about the place. I’m not an expert on this place Churchill called “a riddlewrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
But I’ll try to lend some thoughts.

What’s changed in Russia from the Soviet Union is, on one hand substantial, but on the other, negligible. Russia has a long history of being subjected to either tsars, commissars or plutocrats. Democracy is minor on a local level and at best theoretical on a presidential level. The parliament is the main democracy although Vladimir Putin has constrained that making it less relevant.

Given the long history of being ruled from the top down, the Russian people have no history of objecting to authoritarianism until they are pushed to do so by massive war deaths and starvation that precipitated the Bolshevik Revolution. Beyond that … so many just take their vodka back to their small apartments and survive.

America has long been a country they at once fear and admire. Even while it was the USSR I was greeted with trepidation, then genuine warmth. Children couldn’t wait to high-five me in the closed city of Gorki. When I was the first foreigner to address the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine and then BelaRus, the decorum shown was astounding. The shared frankness remarkable. I quickly learned that Russians were self-deprecating and loved “dishing it out” and taking it. We teased each other incessantly. I gave as good as I got, and then some. 

On long train rides we held joke contests that I won about as many times as I lost. On politics, they were realistic but rather fatalistic. None could ever see how anything could ever really change for them. Yes, a bit of freedom in traveling and starting businesses, but they’d just shrug and figure the mafia would take whatever the politicians didn’t take.

The LDS Church has grown, shrunk from emigration and loss of faith, and grown some more. The temple in Kiev was no accident. Ukraine is more hopeful than Russia, but the saints all over the former USSR are people who have something so many Russians lack – hope.

This was borne out to me while on one of our river cruises. We had gathered the Americans and Russians together for one of our “Getting to Know You” sessions where ANY topic was allowed, although we told people to speak for themselves and not their country and whenever I felt we’d covered the topic, we’d go on. On Russian stood and asked, “To my new American friends. Please tell me what gives you security and…hope.” The Americans started off with answers like their financial solvency, a paid-off home and car, money in the bank, and a retirement account. 

A little flummoxed the Russian tried again, a bit more earnestly. “Not that. What gives you inner security. Peace. Inner hope. A deep sense of being still?” The Americans tried again with freedom, democracy, friends and such and could see they still weren’t registering with this very earnest and sincere Russian. So they asked him, “Tell us what gives you hope.”

That brought a serene smile to his face. “Two years ago I was like most of my Russian friends. I was in despair. I had no hope. We had nothing and no prospect of anything even though this country was becoming more free. Life was dark, with little reason to smile. Then, I was allowed to come on this cruise and I met some people who introduced me to God. A light began to shine inside my heart. My heart became a little warmer. I shared this with my wife and children. We all could feel the light and warmth grow. God became the center of our lives. Today, we still have very little, but, we have so much hope. So much warmth in our heart. Today, we smile and every day we smile and give thanks to God.”

The Americans shifted very uncomfortably in their chairs as they knew they’d been taught a powerful lesson by this Russian. Many spoke up and echoed his belief in agreement. The rest of this meeting of people from different faiths became unified in their faith in a divine being. One last thing. The good Russian was in the leadership of the local LDS church.

Having the church helping the lives of so many Russians rather complicates American foreign policy for many LDS in the West.
But things are rather straightforward in some ways. Russia is being led, pulled and bullied by Putin. Too many Americans whine about Trump doing the same, but that shows a woeful ignorance to the real political system differences. 

What Putin says will go for as long as he wishes to remain in power. And power is the dogma of Putin, not communism. Trump seems mindful, and I hope he is, that Putin is not governed by a sense of what is best for Russians, but what will keep him in power. Trump had better not push him too far, but had better do enough to keep him in check. It will be a delicate dance.

Obama was terrible at this dance. When someone sought to cut in, Obama stuttered and stammered but stepped aside, “leading from behind.” Putin knew he could push his power claims however far he wished and did so mercilessly on Ukraine.  Trump will need to let Putin win a issue, but very few and solely in the trade area which will actually help Russia and in turn be good for America.

Putin understands Trump. He knows Trump is also not an ideologue and deals from a power base as well. The two will be in a two-step for at least four years. Neither will push the other enough to have a war. Above all Putin cannot afford any military actions. His military is weak and ill-prepared for any conflict more than a few minutes. A military set-back of any kind would be a disaster for Putin so bluster must be his game and he knows if he tangles with the US a set-back is the overwhelming likelihood.

Financially, Putin cannot afford any further reductions in his foreign currency reserves. Look for Trump to make some trade deals to allow Putin a chance to build the Russian economy. So many little thing wins can make a huge difference to this country that is potentially a huge trading partner for the USA. Keep in mind it has more natural resources than just about any country; more oil, precious metals, enough virgin forests to cover the USA and other “bounties of Rodina.” Its populous is intelligent but hasn’t a clue how to run a true market economy. Should Trump help them with that, then Russia could cease to be a tough, muscle-bound enemy and become a friend. That would be good for my friends in Russia and for the USA.

Except plenty of sabres to be rattled but in the end, money talks.

Name that Politician

Time to play “Name that Politician.” I’ll use present tense and American lingo although the politician may be modern or historical, American or British.

1.      He is notorious or famous for his uncompromising positions on his pet projects which are considered outrageous and outlandish by a great many people.
2.      He changed parties at least once and was often seen in the company of the political enemy.
3.      While in his job (be it political or private) he often used patronage (securing jobs for friends of friends) for getting projects through.
4.      His marital life was often a target of his political enemies.
5.      Detractors often pointed to his many failures.
6.      He was criticized by many for being opposed to the major war of his time when he ran for president.
7.      When he ran for president, he was not popular among large groups of people.
8.      When campaigning he often fought back politically by pitting his opponents against each other by carefully planned political patronage and by appealing to the people with his powers of oratory.
9.      His bedrock principles were noted as nationalism, and republicanism.
10.   He was known as a talker. He could talk for hours and often did.

Not sure who you were thinking about, but, if you said Winston Churchill, you could mostly be right although I’ve never quite associated his philosophies with republicanism and have never read any criticism of his wife, Clementine or Clemmie as he called her. But he failed often in politics, changed parties several times, levied criticism against the bunglings of WWI and most of the other points.

But all ten certainly applied to the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln. And I chose to write briefly about him because it’s a beautiful spring day and I’m gazing out at our lilac bush that’s about to bloom. The frost has spared the blossoms and soon it will spring forth in all its beauty. For most, that is an amazing occasion, but, for me it is a rather melancholy time for it brings to my mind these lines from Walt Whitman:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

He wrote these as the opening lines to his elegy for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln, for it was on a spring day like today in 1865 that Lincoln succumbed to the effects of the shot from JW Booth the night before. April 15, 1865 to be exact.

It would be well for all to remember during this primary election season to temper our enthusiasm for our candidates and antipathy for those we oppose. Booth’s ember of political hatred once enflamed led to death of a great leader. 

Trying to Put Some Reasoning into Politics

What in the World Does Anyone See in Trump
By Mark Stoddard
Taking Donald Trump to task is too easy. No one has ever blown himself up to be larger not only than life, but than a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Snoopy Balloon. He knows the pot shots are coming but only inflates himself more, caring less for the incoming fire.

Nowhere does he get more incoming righteous indignation fire than from Utahns seething with wrath for his Gadianton visage, lack of Cleon Skousen upbringing and the missing Ezra Taft Benson sensibilities for the Constitution. Many that I meet insist Trump is not a Republican, neither a consistent conservative nor even a conservative, and so forth. Others just say he is evil…pure evil, although I’ve never understood that oxymoron.

I’ve had plenty of Romney clones assure me Trump is a phony and his billions of dollars aren’t real. That Trump’s business failings, unlike Romney’s, were big deals, but their sources are always “a friend of a friend told me and he knows.”

I assure them that like Marc Antony, this Mark has not come to praise Caesar but to bury him. Or at least understand him – and like Opie told Sheriff Andy, “Let’s give him a fair trial and then hang him.”

To that end I’ve gathered my wheel barrows of research collected not only from when the Donald first announced he was running , but in the mid 1980’s when I first saw him in New York City and read his light weight book, The Art of the Deal. My business associate at the time, Byron Boothe, assured me he didn’t think much of the flamboyant millionaire because he had dinner in Trump’s group and Donald had a drink… with an umbrella in it. What kind of a hard driving real estate mogul drinks Shirley Temple’s, Byron insisted. Turns out Donald is a teetotaler and doesn’t care if anyone likes it or not. Pretty much the way he does everything.

Back to a year ago. When my brother called me from California to let me know he’d heard Trump had thrown his hair into the ring to run for the presidency I asked for which party. I half expected he’d gone back to the Reform Party of Ross Perot. But, no, he declared he was now a Republican all the way. Unless they weren’t nice to him. I told my brother I wouldn’t hold my breath. Give Donald a week or two to self-destruct with several off-message comments that would sink his tenuous ship.

In the months since then Trump has scored more off-message comments than I can count and they’ve driven his media coverage through the roof along with his negatives. In my previous life as a political hack in D.C., the president of our grassroots citizen’s lobby, Neal B. Blair used to preach that if you can drive the opponents negatives high enough, he could never recover.

Well, Trump has gleefully collected the negative rule books and a bunch of other campaign conventional wisdom rule books and burned them on his way to a commanding lead and the probable nomination of the Republican Party. And, yes, my friends in Utah, he actually is a Republican according to all of the ballots and Republican Party records.

One high ranking Republican friend at the Utah Republican Convention I attended confided in me that his daughter had been doing research on Hitler’s rise to power and he thought it scary how many similarities there were with Trump’s rise. I yawned and suggested about 10 points where Winston Churchill’s rise was also similar.  He paused to give that some thought, and then concluded that powerful people do tend to have much in common with their accumulations of power – both those who do it legitimately and those who don’t. In fact, Ted Cruz’s methods of scoring delegates is actually more comparable to some of Hitler’s tactics than Churchill or Trump’s methods of populism. At least Hitler started a party and kept to it while both Churchill and Trump changed parties. (Knowing history is a bummer.)

My friend asked why I supported Trump and I said, “whoa, cowboy. The election isn’t today. I have no vote until November. I support no one. I’m in a state of gathering information. Pondering.” So he asked me, “What is good about Donald Trump?”

I suggested that the first clue to that answer is that if you have to ask that question it might be that your personal prejudices are so high that you’re blind to the obvious strong points. I asked him, “Why do you think so many otherwise intelligent people like Dr. Ben Carson, Phyllis Schlafly, Geraldo Rivera, Rudy Gulliani, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Newt Gingrich, Lou Dobbs, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have good things to about Donald Trump? (Not that they’ve all endorsed him, but they do say many good things about him.) Why does his ex-wife who he admits he severely wronged, stand up for him so strongly and promote him as a presidential candidate?”

He thought about it. “Those aren’t stupid people. I think it’s his innate or perhaps developed sense of leadership in getting something done. He has gotten things done and in a government that’s in gridlock; in Washington D.C. where we’ve both worked and nothing works, our fellow citizens are sick to death of politicians who can’t get anything to work.”

I agreed. Despite Mitt Romney’s protestations about Trump being a phony, Trump has actually accomplished quite a lot. Just look at the heaps of criticism about all of the buildings with his name plastered on the top – Trump. He’s got an edifice naming complex for sure. But, they’re on buildings he’s built. When’s the last time you built a building. As a former general contractor, I have respect for anyone who even dabbles in building. It takes a considerable amount of coordinating leadership to pull together the subcontractors, inspectors, materials and testing to put even a small house together. Try doing it for a skyscraper in Manhattan. Trump has accomplished more in business than Mitt Romney, and Mitt has an impressive resume.

Like any business person, Trump has made mistakes – some whoppers in fact. So did Romney. Our country was founded on people who were unafraid to make whoppers. Big deal. Some of Trump’s businesses were either ugly, shady or awful. I have no interest in dealing in gambling or strip joints. For him it was just another business. Voters will have to weigh the evidence and compare those legal but unsavory businesses with the way Hillary Clinton conducted the seamy quid pro quo and crony capitalism of the Clinton Foundation. I suspect that will end up a wash with neither side getting clean.
My friend asked about Trump’s divorces. Yep, he’s had them. Of course Kasich had one and Trump had two. Not sure if we’re supposed to keep score. Some insist Donald’s penchant for marrying beautiful eastern European models is a disqualifying trait. I’d rather not get into the peccadillos of past presidents. It broke my heart when I found out Ike stepped out on Mamie Eisenhower, but then again, she was no pin up model so does that factor back into the equation or should we just stop this sort of questioning? Unless we bring up Marilyn and Jackie and JFK. Aww. I give! Monica beat them all and Hillary enabled.

In the end, we both decided if Trump were to be the Republican nominee, the best advice is to study up on him without all of the knee-jerk reactions and try to sift through his character and issues. Ignore his smoke screens and lack of political sophistication in giving well thought out political double speech…something we both agreed was at least refreshing.

We listed a few thinks we both like about Trump:
1.      He is a generalist. No, he doesn’t have well thought out policy answers. For those stultifying policy discussions we’d have to go to Hillary to bore us. Trump lays out vision. That’s what leaders and generals do. They hire colonels to create the deals, and lieutenants and sergeants to carry out the plan. And Trump does have his vision. Specifically he says he wants to:
a.      Stop illegal immigration.
b.      Promote proper immigration and streamline it.
c.      Eliminate huge trade imbalances.
d.      Make better trade deals
e.      Encourage our businesses to stay here.
f.       Have an incentive tax system to encourages our businesses to invest here and bring their money parked overseas back to the USA.
g.      Protect the 2nd Amendment.
h.      Protect the unborn except in the case of rape, incest or the life of the mother.
i.       Repeal Obamacare. We did wonder what Trump meant by his thoughts that he couldn’t let a poor person die in the streets because he had no insurance. Again, a generalist comment. His references to that have to do with putting it back to the states to figure out. He does seem to like Federalist solutions – let the States decide.
2.      He is learning and is starting to pivot to a less amateurish persona.
3.      He says he’s going to produce a list of conservative judges he would nominate to SCOTUS who will be strict constitutionalists. Smart move if he follows the list.
4.      His family. Anybody with an impressive family of five kids can’t be all bad. I believe someone once stated something about “by their fruits you’ll know them.”
5.      He has vigor and works tirelessly unlike Hillary and Obama.
6.      He doesn’t yet have a politician’s vocabulary and stuffy speech but, unfortunately, he’s likely to acquire it.
7.      We saw nothing racist or anti-woman about him. Let’s start with racist. Yes, he speaks ill of illegal Mexican immigrants, but, Mexico is a country, not a race. On Muslims he suggested a temporary halt until our documentation process could be verified and other generalizations but to the obvious point, Islam is a religion, not a race. So, where are the racism objections?
Now the anti-women charge. It’s obvious from his business dealings that he employs and promotes freely men and women of any and every race. He sees green first. At least so far as the evidence is concerned. True, he’s made terrible comments about a handicapped person and about Rosie O’Donnell and some other individual women. That makes him a jerk, not a racist, bigot or other “ists.” He seems to be an equal opportunity offender at times, and a charmer at others. Don’t know how he’ll change in the Oval Office. Could be a problem if he gives Angela Merkel a wedgie or tries to high five the Pope.
8.      We believe him when he says he abhors abortion now and has a pro-life conversion. We believe him as much as we do Romney in his change in abortion stances.
9.      He’s loyal and sticks by his people.  Cruz, Kasich, the media, Clinton, Sanders all said Trump should have fired his campaign manager for grabbing that female reporter but Trump stood by his guy and now the facts prove Trump right and the rest as reactionaries.
10.   He is or can be an SOB. But, as FDR said about George Patton, “yes, he’s an SOB but he’s our SOB and is going to kick the butt of their SOB.”

We’re not about to coronate him, not by half, but at least he’s not Satan and deserves a fair hearing before we string him up at the Convention. We mostly found his greatest positive is… he isn’t Hillary Clinton.