Dear Fellow Humans

                                      March 18, 2020

As President Bill Pullman taught us, back in 1996,

We can’t be consumed, by our petty conflicts.

Only by working together, can we all be safer,

When fighting against an alien invader.

 

A few months of the butterfly effect,

Teaches us the truth that many try to reject.

We’re all connected …  Physically …  Economically.

Our fates are intertwined. Undoubtedly.

 

Because like it or not, we are in this together.

There’s no going back, we’re all connected forever.

There’s no me without you, no you without me.

There are no ‘others’, just a global Human We.

 

As we socially step back, and do what needs to be done.

As we flatten the curve, and get the battle won.

Let us also move forward, and redefine.

How we show our love, for all Human Kind.

Citizen Bill LT-4.20 for Healthcare

I’ve solved the healthcare problem in America.  Yes, really.  Want to know how?  Well first let’s define the problem: Money.  More specifically, who pays for the healthcare costs of those who can’t pay for it themselves?  What are you personally willing to give up?   The Obamacare solution was to expand Medicaid and raise taxes, specifically on the rich, to pay for this expansion.  The Republicans don’t think that’s fair and want to implement other alternatives that yada, yada, yada. It doesn’t matter; the bottom line is that neither side wants to give up too much of their own stuff –so what’s the solution?  Additional income.  Throw additional income into the equation and no one has to give up anything at all.

Where does this money come from?  The same place it always does: taxes.  What should we tax? It needs to be something popular, and it also needs to be sustainable so as to never run out.  If only mother nature could supply us with something; perhaps a plant that can be made into stuff that humans would pay for.  People would want to hand over their money over and over again, and would never get tired of doing it.  Hmm… if only such a plant existed.

For those of you not paying attention, I’m talking about marijuana. The State of Colorado is making a TON of money from taxing the sale of this plant – to the tune of nearly $200 million dollars in 2016.  $200 Million Dollars in one year!  And that number is only going to go up as this is a brand-new industry, still learning its way and still stifled by the federal government.  Imagine a federal government that worked in partnership with the States to help them generate the most revenue possible.  Imagine this across every state in the nation, and the influx of all that extra revenue to pay for things within the state – like healthcare.

Now, I don’t want to hear any shit about marijuana being harmful.  Pot is way, way, way less harmful than alcohol, cigarettes, and sun tanning beds.  It’s hypocritical to say that pot should be illegal while alcohol is legal.  Period, end of story.   And since the United States allows adults to perform activities that could be harmful, like consuming alcohol and baking their skins in tanning beds, there’s no morality issue at stake here by adding marijuana onto that list.  And again – $200 million in extra state revenue in 1 year!

Will there be consequences to legalizing marijuana?  Of course, there are consequences for every action.  But let me ask you what’s worse:  Dealing with these consequences or having 20 million Americans without healthcare?

I’m not a political wonk, so don’t ask me about specifics.  But money seems to fix most things, and this is a LOT of income that could be added into healthcare.  Perhaps the federal government legalizes marijuana for the individual states with a few rules, like a certain amount of tax off the top that goes to the Feds (Uncle Sam always wants his cut), and a rule that says at least X % of the profits goes to state or federal healthcare costs somehow.  This somehow is the key, but I’ll leave that to better political minds to figure out.  The important part is, additional income – lots of it, at a state level.  ($200 million!)

Furthermore, there’s ice cream on this cake of an idea, as legalizing marijuana not only brings in a huge amount of income that can get pumped into healthcare, it also can reduce the costs of healthcare by replacing a lot of expensive pharmaceutical drugs.   Big Pharma doesn’t like to acknowledge this, but a relatively cheap plant that grows in dirt can be prescribed by doctors for a huge amount of physical and mental ailments – at a fraction of the cost.  I say let the big pharmaceutical companies concentrate on solving the huge and complicated medical problems instead of creating addictive pills that numb pain.  Pot numbs pain, and helps anxieties, and a whole bunch of other stuff, without any concerns of causing addictions.  Regardless of what you think you know or have heard, another truth about marijuana is that you cannot become addicted to it.  Bob Saget has a hilarious scene in a movie starring Dave Chappelle about a pot smoker attending a rehab meeting (YouTube it), and to paraphrase the message from the scene: No one is out on the streets selling their bodies to buy weed, as there’s no such thing as a marijuana addict.  Pot is a lot safer than most made-made drugs on the market today, and the proper use of it within the healthcare system would save lots of money.

To recap: Sun tanning beds are bad, and the legalization of marijuana would produce billions of dollars that could be used to pay for healthcare, while simultaneously reducing the costs of healthcare.   Neither side of the aisle would have to give up anything, and the States would still have a huge influx of income left over to pay for other important items, perhaps little stuff like education and infrastructure.  ($200 Million per year!  Are you registering that!)

Tell your friends, neighbors, and state politicians.  Tweet it out:  #4204HealthCare.  Read as “Four twenty for healthcare”, since “four twenty” or “420” is a pot reference for those who didn’t know.  (Google it).

The Magic of Musical Intimacy

It’s springtime again, which means concerts and music festivals have begun, which in turn means my email becomes flooded with notifications of ticket sales for the summer and fall lineup.   Each year at this time I’m faced with the same dilemma: To purchase or not to purchase, even when I really like the artist’s music, the price is affordable, and I have availability in my schedule.   My decision at that point usually depends on two main factors: The venue, and the quality of seats available.

Perhaps it’s because I’m past my mid-thirty’s, but I no longer enjoy concerts where I’m “listening” to the artist from 500 rows back as I watch a large video screen projecting everything a half second behind the audio, all the while I’m surrounded by non-fans who came for reasons other than music. Those situations didn’t bother me when I was younger, but this isn’t a case where my love for music has waned over the years. The opposite is true, as I’m more connected with music now than I was in my youth. Additionally my buddy Ridge and I started GreenScotch a few years back because of our love for songwriting, so I’d argue that my age is only a minor factor in why I prefer smaller venues these days.

I cringe at the thought, but perhaps I’m just becoming a music snob? Personally I don’t believe I’m pretentious enough to be a snob on any subject matter, but then again in recent years I have started drinking more wine, buying better clothes and reading more non-fiction books. I would hope this doesn’t make me a snob, just a guy who’s matured a bit and been fixed up a bit more by a good woman. Besides it’s not arrogant to lay down the gauntlet and refuse to attend a musical show if I won’t actually be able to see the band. I prefer to witness the smiles, nods and other non-verbal communications that occur up on stage when the magic is flowing, and I actually want to see the sweat flying from the bad ass drummer who makes a 4-piece sound like Neal Peart’s dream kit. I relish seeing first hand the nicks and scratches of history that adorn all great guitars, and I prefer an up close look at the bass player’s choice of fingering options and hand positions for certain riffs of my favorite songs. More often than not these desires don’t match the camera operator’s at large stadiums, and besides I‘d rather see an artist’s subtle emotions without the filter of a video lens.

I’m pretty sure the biggest reason why I gravitate towards smaller clubs for concerts these days is because of my newfound relationship with all things musical; I started playing instruments and writing songs about seven years ago, and it completely changed how I experience music. It made it more personal, more visceral and a thousand times more enjoyable. The downside is that I can’t enjoy a concert from the nosebleed seats anymore, but that’s ok; I can live with that tradeoff. As I wrote in my first blog, viewing a concert from the comfort of your living room is preferable to horrible venue seats, and it comes with its own set of perks. Of course my first choice is live and up close, but let’s be honest, how often do you get that experience in large arenas? That’s why I prefer smaller, more intimate venues where there’s really no such thing as a bad seat, and the audience feels more connected to the artists and in tune with the entire musical experience.

Don’t get me wrong, video has its place and can be fun. I see a future of virtual hangouts not only for standard social interactions, but also for musicians and fans of music. Technology could be used to enhance the musical experience for the super fan, and I’d be ok with Star Trek like holograms that provide an entire stadium full of people with an approximation of a small club.

But until then, I’ll stick with the smaller venues most of the time, like DC’s 930 club, or Baltimore’s Rams Head Live. Sure, I’ll throw in a show at Merriweather Post Pavilion every now and then, and sometimes I’ll even go to one of those large festivals with multiple stages. (Especially the ones with food!) When I do attend a festival, you’ll most likely find me hanging around the smaller stages with the lesser-known bands, as that’s where I’m happiest. That is of course assuming I don’t have VIP tickets, which are a newfound love of mine. I had my first VIP experience a few years ago at the Life is Beautiful festival in Vegas, and it was beyond my wildest dreams! It came with front row seats, private bars and air-conditioned bathrooms with no waiting in line – Now that is how music festivals aught to be experienced! I guess perhaps I have become a snob of sorts.

Fat and Neurotic Autopilots

I’m a bit of an academic nerd with a childlike excitement towards learning new things, and the last few years I’ve been feeding this passion with DVD classes from The Great Courses company, whose tagline is “The World’s Greatest Professors at your Fingertips.”   Most DVDs consist of 20 – 30 video lectures, each only 30 minutes long, and as the tagline promises I’m taught interesting material from world-renowned teachers, all from my own living room, and at my own pace. I’m currently two-thirds of the way through an overview course on modern science called “Redefining Reality”, by Professor Steven Gimbel, and the one before that was an amazing class entitled “The Science of Mindfulness” by Professor Ronald D Siegel. These DVD courses have both entertained and enlightened me with academic knowledge and even spiritual insight I never would have received on my own, and quite often I feel motivated to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing them with others. To that end I’d like to share with you my latest lesson learned: The advancement of human civilization creates individuals prone to being neurotic and fat.

Why? Because we evolved this way, and we didn’t evolve to be happy, but rather to survive. As Dr. Ron explains, the always relaxed and chill, happy-go-lucky cavemen got eaten by the big scary animals, while the paranoid cavemen who constantly worried about danger around every corner were the ones who survived to pass on their genes. Additionally we crave foods that are high in fat and sugars due to their high caloric content, because our ancestors didn’t have abundant food options and needed the calories to survive. These characteristics are still prevalent today because in the larger picture of human evolution, we’re not all that removed from our cavemen ancestors.

Dr. Steve explains how the biochemist Allan Wilson was able to trace the roots of humanity back to a single ancestor he called the “Mitochondrial Eve” from 250,000 years ago. Furthermore Professor Gimbel describes how “for 238,000 of the last 250,000 years, we all had ancestors who lived the same sort of Stone Age life, hunting and foraging in small groups. Only the last 12,000 years have been different and have seen the development of agriculture, metallurgy, antibiotics, and so on. In evolutionary terms, 12,000 years is the blink of an eye. If we figure a human generation is 15 to 20 years, then 12,000 years is only 600 to 800 generations – not nearly enough time to result in substantial changes. But the preceding 238,000 years encompassed 12,000 to 16,000 generations, all experiencing the same way of life and the same selection pressure. That could be enough time to develop neurological features that would then be shared by all their progeny – us.”

Therefore only during the last 4.8% of our 250,000 years as a species on this planet have most of us lived a “civilized” life.  You’re not overly concerned with being happy when every day is a struggle to survive, and you’re probably not going to get fat if it takes a lot of work for a little amount of food. Fortunately most of us don’t struggle with these basic human necessities, yet we are a by-product of ancestors who did.

We also evolved brains that run in autopilot mode, in order to make quick decisions while processing loads of environmental and personal data, as it literally could be a matter of life or death if our Stone Age ancestors contemplated everything at a conscious level. However for most of us this is not the case anymore, as we purchase food, clothing and nonessential stuff without much thought and spend a major part of our lives working to gain money in order to purchase more of them. The same autopilot brain that was so crucial to our evolution as a species is now the engine that creates and maintains the rat race of our modern society. Our ancestral brains are directly responsible for a lot of the suffering we experience in these modern times, again because it evolved for our survival and not for our happiness.

Now that we’ve established that our brains operate on unconscious cruise control most of the time, and that this is the underlying cause of much of our unhappiness, what should we do? We can start by paying attention and becoming more mindful. Webster defines mindfulness as “ the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Your entire life is processed thru the filter of your mind, yet most of us don’t pay attention to what is going on within it. As the famous quote suggests: “If you want to know your mind, sit down and observe it.” Following this logic, I decided about a year and half ago to become more mindful in my daily life and began practicing mindful mediation 4 or 5 days a week.

My experiences with mindfulness so far have been extremely eye opening, humbling, and to be honest, very frightening. The scary reality is that so much of how we think and respond to everything is driven by our emotions, our ego and our ID, just as it was with our Homo sapien ancestors. This autopilot that drives all of us humans has evolved over a couple hundred thousand years, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be controlled; it can. We can choose to turn it off and become more present and aware of everything we do. It just takes discipline and willpower.  I’ve seen the improvements first hand as I’ve learned to pay attention more to my mind and to recognize when I’m not.   Sure I’m still a little neurotic, and I still have more weight to lose, but all in all I’m less stressed and happier now that I’ve turn off my autopilot more than I used to. And to think this all started by watching DVDs from my couch.

The Tao of Adele

If you’re not in awe of Adele’s voice you probably don’t have a heart, as I agree with Beyoncé who famously compared Adele’s singing to listening to God.   Oddly enough the soothing qualities of Adele’s voice rescued me from my own personal hell recently. I became possessed by the devil while attempting to purchase tickets online to see this angel sing, and the blame for this hellacious experience squarely lies with Ticketmaster.

The Adele tickets went on sale at 10am, but due to an untimely work email that required my immediate attention, my attempt at purchasing two tickets didn’t occur until 10:01, which was too late. From prior online purchasing experience, I fully expected to be offered two horrendous options, either front row for $1000 or nosebleed seats for $350, so I started off with low expectations. Consequently I had prepared myself for being ticketless after choosing to reject the horrible options I would be given, but I wasn’t prepared to be offered no options at all. Initially I maintained a glimmer of hope when Ticketmaster immediately put me on hold after typing in my required “CAPTCHA” word to search for tickets. Apparently Ticketmaster still uses 1990s technology and can’t handle the deluge of Adele fans hitting their web site at once, as their response was along the lines of “Sorry you need to wait, there’s a lot of people looking for these same tickets.” No shit Ticketmaster, this is Adele! Why were you not prepared for this? Did the same Obamacare IT team also build your web site?  Eventually the web page came back with “no exact matches were found,” which was annoying since my search queried for two tickets in any section at any price.

I took a deep breath, calmed my nerves and tried again, this time modifying my search from day two tickets to day one, for Adele is doing two shows in DC and my initial attempts were for the second day of course. (Everyone knows day two of any artist is always the better show).

I closed my current browser and started over fresh at the Ticketmaster landing page. It was now 10:03 but I figured I could at least get offered really bad options that I would refuse, but damn it I deserved that crappy offer so I continued my mission. This time my initial CAPTCHA test was a failure, and as I heard my mom’s voice warn that “haste makes waste,” I slowly typed in the words for another attempt at proving I wasn’t a robot. I failed the test again even though I was 200% sure I typed the correct letters.  Nonetheless I checked my Caps lock, cleaned my reading glasses, did a “Ctrl +” to zoom in my browser so that my CAPTCHA test phrase was much bigger, and proceeded to fail for a third time. Then again… and again … and again. The next few moments after that are a blur, as I began yelling and cussing out Adele for employing the Evil that is Ticketmaster!

So let me take this opportunity to apologize to you @Adele, for on Dec 17, 2015, at approximately 10:04 Eastern Standard Time, I sent an avalanche of furious anger and abhorred curse words toward you for something that I knew damn well was not your fault. I deeply regret this momentary loss of reason and it caused me no small amount of guilt for my unfair treatment of you. I don’t of course feel any remorse for my anger toward Ticketmaster because any online ticket service who can’t handle the servicing of online tickets deserves my wrath, and any online business who stick their customers into a repeating loop of CAPTCHA inferno deserves to have their toenails pulled out, sewn back on, and then torn back off repeatedly.

Needing to calm down from my failed ticket buying fiasco, I stood up from my computer and began mindful walking around my office, hoping to lower my blood pressure. It wasn’t enough, so I also pulled up my Sonos app on my iPhone and with a few clicks began playing the new Adele album 25, thinking it would be apropos for her voice to help sooth my frayed nerves and make everything better.

I know what you’re thinking: Who listens to an Adele song to feel happier? I understand completely, since historically an Adele song makes me more depressed than a five time Dungeon and Dragons champion reflecting on his sex life; but this new album is different. Of course she crushes my heart with more than a few songs on this album, with ‘All I Ask’ causing the biggest squeeze. (I swear if that song doesn’t stir strong emotions within you, then you’re most likely a psychopath who has never experienced contagious yawning.) However this third Adele album fills me with a feeling of hope, and it’s not just because it ends with a loving ode to her new child.   This album speaks of loss and sadness but there’s also forgiveness and strength, as well as healthy acceptance of what cannot be changed. The end result for me personally is an album experience that is emotionally draining yet satisfying, and most importantly for this particular occasion, a listening experience that relieves me of my anger. Listening to ‘25’ was the perfect antidote to my online ticket purchasing nightmare, and somewhere along the way Adele whispered to me to ‘”forgive those fucking Ticketmaster wankers.” Now I could be mistaken as she might not have said those exact words or perhaps I simply misunderstood her, since she has that Tottenham accent you know. But Adele’s message of forgiveness was received and followed.

Strangely enough this epiphany of love occurred because I was denied the option of refusing overpriced bad seats. As I already stated I was prepared for the reality of not getting to see Adele live because she was coming to the DC Verizon Center and I hardly go to shows at big venues like that anymore. You can never get good tickets, and call me crazy but when I go see an artist, I want to actually see the artist.   When I was younger I paid outrageous prices (outrageous at the time, cheap today) for the absolute worst stadium seats, but I refuse to do that anymore. If I’m paying a couple hundred dollars for two tickets, I better be close enough to catch a guitar pick or drum stick if the situation arises. Even if you’re one of my favorite artists, if I can’t get up close tickets to see your show, or if those tickets are crazy expensive, then forget it; I’ll catch you later on cable.   I’ve got a large TV with great audio, and this experience comes with a rewind button for maximum enjoyment. Coincidently, this is exactly what happened with Adele, since it turned out my wife had already recorded her Radio City Music Hall special on NBC a few days earlier. So not too long after my quest for her concert tickets failed, I sat on my living room couch and enjoyed Adele singing ‘All I Ask’ three times in a row.

For the record, I should state that I don’t hate online ticket companies per se, as I love purchasing concert tickets on my computer from the comfort of my home, since I’m old enough to remember freezing my butt off in actual lines at run-down parking lots of brick and mortar ‘Ticket Outlet Locations’ back before the internet gave us an ‘online.’ However if you can’t adequately handle the servicing of online tickets, something that’s a major part of your business model, then you don’t deserve to call yourself a master. A ticket apprentice, perhaps. Regardless, I’m over it now and will move on, since I’ve learned to harness the power of Adele to forgive Ticketmaster for my horrible online experience.   Those fucking wankers.