10 THINGS I HAVE LOVED/HATED ABOUT THE QUARANTINE …

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BUBBLE PEOPLE …

I actually think about it all the time, but I don’t say anything. It’s not something you really say. I mean, unless you’re Archie Bunker.

But the thought does cross my mind …

So many people, from so many different parts of the world, have moved into my neighborhood over the past decade or so, I’ve wondered what kind of viruses or germs or whatever they’ve brought with them and what kind of an effect that might have on our little neck of the woods.

Now, before you rush to your computer or phone and start angrily pounding keys, labeling me a xenophobic racist, hear me out …

Any and every time people from different parts of the world start getting together, one group of them introduces the other group to unseen little microbes they’ve never experienced. And it’s often a shock to the systems of one group or the other.

The white Europeans famously brought Smallpox to the Americas and it wiped out large groups of people. Even during the American Civil War, country kids who hadn’t been around a lot of people in their lives, were suddenly smashed against legions of humans from everywhere in the country. And all kinds of things ran rampant among the men; malaria, flu, scurvy, common colds, on and on it went. Obviously Malaria and Scurvy are more about nutrition and water supplies than herd immunity. Still, mixing people together, who aren’t used to being mixed together, always has consequences. Always.

Where I’ve lived, for the past decade, we’ve been opening different headquarters for different industries; health care, auto manufacturers, etc. And so, we’ve had an influx of people from China and Japan and India and several other places, migrating to our little map dot. Personally, I love it. I like smooshing all the races together. I’ve done it in my own home – Mexican wife, Chinese daughter, smart-ass son.

I’m not big on pure bred anything. I’m a mutt. I like mutts.

But we have also had all kinds of strange little flu bugs and stomach bugs and weird coughs that won’t go away and all manner of ailments that have surged through our county, for years, now. And it has always made me wonder where this or that may have originated. Who knows what my daughter brought home from China, that has been dormant for years? Who knows what I brought home from China? Who knows what I took to China?

The point is, we make these choices in life. We decide to go outside and breathe the air and mingle with our fellow humans and eat food at a restaurant and touch things in a mall others have touched. We go get coffee and put our lips on cups someone touched to get them out of the box and the plastic. And having worked in restaurants, I can promise you someone sneezed back there. Someone coughed. Someone scratched his or her ear and then opened your soy milk.

Sorry to break it to you, but any plate of food or cup of fluid you consume, anyplace other than your own home, is being touched by someone you don’t know. Some of them have a cold and don’t yet know it. Some have the flu and don’t yet have symptoms. Some have Mono. Some have Herpes.

If you could see what’s floating in the air you’re breathing, it would drive you into a panic.

If you could see the germ ecosystem inhabiting every single person you come in contact with, it would make you stay in the shower all day. But then if you could see what’s living in the water washing over you, you would dry off, huddle in the corner and live in the fetal position. But don’t even get me started on corners and fetusus.

When I was a kid, my mother and another mother put my brother and I with the other mother’s boys for a few days, so we would all get Chicken Pox at the same time. I guess they did that in the olden days (as my son calls it). All we knew is that we were having a sleepover. Then, all of a sudden, we were all itchy and red. And then…it all went away.

And guess what? I can’t get the Chicken Pox anymore for the rest of my life. I can walk in a room full of kids with Chicken Pox and I’ll be okay. I already fought it and beat it.

These days, instead of throwing kids together to get sick, we immunize for every single thing we can think of. But even after all our state ordered vaccines, something shows up we haven’t seen before. And we find ourselves putting kids with 43 inoculations and 17 seasonal flu shots…in quarantine. Because there’s a germ out there we haven’t accounted for yet.

I hear all the concerned Karens out there, screaming, “what’s the point of this?!?!”

My point is that if we are going to live in a free society, we will never be able to account for everything. We bake the risk of mobility into our lives. And while I am not arguing AT ALL with some extra safety measures during this time of fact finding and figuring out what the hell is going on. And while I am heart-broken by any news of even ONE death or serious illness, there comes a time when we have to take a deep breath (full of contaminated air) and walk out the front door into life again.

We can only live in this bubble for so long. Then we are ceasing to live at all.

Howard Hughes was a legend by the time he was in his 20’s. He was a real estate tycoon, movie producer and director, record setting pilot, an inventor, a philanthropist, a bone fide 20th century innovator, the richest man in the world, and a pretty damn good golfer. Howard was in life. He was a mover and a shaker and he made a difference on the planet.

His romantic conquests were legendary. And it is believed that he contracted Syphilis as a result of them (although there are those who dispute this claim). What cannot be disputed is that Howard Hughes went from interacting with the world, to completely distancing from it. His Obsessive Compulsive Disorder overtook him later in his life, and he went from washing his hands a hundred times a day, to not wanting clothes to touch his body and not wanting food to enter his mouth.

He became so obsessed with the germs around him, that he descended into madness and finally died at 30 thousand feet, in a private room, aboard a jet, headed for a medical facility. He weighed 90 pounds and hadn’t cut his hair or fingernails in years.

His obsession ultimately became his undoing.

We shouldn’t put our most vulnerable in harm’s way. We should practice good hygiene. We should play smart defense when some new virus shows up.

But at some point we have to factor it in…and walk back outside…and get back to work.

We cannot allow our fear to turn us into the national equivalent of Howard Hughes. What more could that man have given the world if he could’ve simply maintained balance? What great accomplishments were thwarted because a brilliant mind was more worried about the viral threats that surrounded him than the possibilities ahead of him?

Some of us are getting sick. And some of us are dying. And a lot of us are getting well. And many of us are sick while showing no symptoms at all. And we are learning as we go. And guess what? After this particular thing has run its course, another one will be right behind it.

But let’s find an off-ramp for the national talks shows being produced from home. Let’s be done with Facebook only concerts. Let’s not fear scratching our faces again. Let’s find a way back into our lives and back into interaction with others.

There are simply too many possibilities out there and too many people we need to get to know, to just be worried about their germs.

Suicides are up. Domestic abuse is up. Depression is up. We are out of balance. In trying not to overwhelm the medical systems by staying home and taking government money, we’ve overwhelmed the government money systems. In trying not to overwhelm the supply chains, we’ve overwhelmed the supply chains. In trying not to spread a virus, we’ve shut down education and travel and commerce and even worship.

Let’s not re-make our lives in a bubble.

Be smart? Yes. Be obsessed? No.

Let’s find a way back outside, into the sea of germs again. Or one germ will have beaten us in almost every way.       

R

PS – My apologies to anyone named Karen. I meant no disrespect.

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A MODERN FAMILY …

The depression set in for weird reasons.

Sometimes – most times – I can’t pinpoint what sets it off (I’ve been dealing with it since I was about 15 or 16). But as I’ve aged, and gotten more honest with myself and my own thoughts and feelings, I’ve been able to occasionally figure out the triggers. This one wasn’t hard to trace, once I really asked the tough questions…which is what you will eventually have to do, if you battle clinical depression.

This particular trigger happened by seeing the weather break and hearing a report that people might start going back to work soon. That sent me into what I call “the spiral.” Why would positive things dredge up feelings of dread for me? So, I dove in.

I tried to weed through the thick jungles of emotional vegetation, that keep you from seeing what is actually happening in the clearing. Because with depression, one negative thought leads to another negative thought…that leads to another, and so on and so on. And before you know it, you have decided that your very existence is unnecessary, or worse, a mistake of some kind.

Your abject sense of worthlessness overtakes you until you finally realize that death is actually not the worst option. In fact, it’s in the top five options.

This is the hopelessness that those who battle depression spiral into over and over again.

In my own case, I’ve learned how to cope through exercise, an uber clean diet, eliminating caffeine, sugar, dairy and pretty much anything that might alter my base-line state of being. I’ve also curbed the whiskey too. But we’re all shut-in. And that got me sipping a little…and thinking.

The “being shut-in” thing kept bouncing around my head. What is it about this “new normal” that has been bothering me so?

And then it dawned on me…it’s not bothering me in the least. And that’s when it all became clear …

What triggered my depression wasn’t the fact that I was shut in. What triggered it was the idea that we all might be able to get out again. And that led me to the realization that I still cannot get out, and that I haven’t been able to get out for the last 17 years. And what I was actually mourning was the fact that everyone was about to leave me again, for the real world.

I have actually enjoyed the quarantine. Literally NOTHING about my family’s life has changed, except now we don’t have to come up with excuses as to why we can’t come to your birthday party. This thing has been a wonderful break for us, from having to wrangle our daughter into a car and plan her next four hours of food, water, bathroom issues and social contact protocol, so we can take her to restaurant and eat with other people.

Finally, I don’t have to screech into a gig at the very last minute, because I was bathing her before I left (so my wife wouldn’t have to do it), act like I’m calm and cool, then do a show (where I talk about her and my family’s drama – from stage for 75 minutes), then stand at a merch table and act like everything is fine at home, while I’m secretly looking at my phone every 2 minutes, ticking off in my mind where they are in the night routine, hoping everything is running smoothly and my wife’s back and knees are holding up.

I’m enjoying the fact that my career is sort of coming to me right now. I don’t have to constantly cancel things I can’t actually get to, because right now nobody is allowed to get to anything, either. And for the first time in 17 years, the playing field has been a little bit more level for me. I’m not losing to people who have absolute mobility on their side.

In short, the world isn’t passing me by anymore, because the world has stopped. And I realize that in many ways, my world stopped the day I became the father of someone with a severe disability.

A few weeks ago I performed my American Dreams record on Facebook Live. And I’m not going to lie – it was weird. Doing those songs and talking about that project took me to a weird place. It’s because it was the last stop before my life changed completely and forever. And I don’t know how to be that person, anymore, who thinks about things from that perspective. And to be honest, as I was playing each song, I kinda came to the realization that I don’t even really like that guy, who wrote those songs. There were so many things he didn’t understand. He was missing so much empathy. He was far too self-focussed. And he may have been trying a little too hard.

Anyway …

I wouldn’t trade my daughter and the journey I’ve taken with her, for any amount of money or success or…yes…even any amount of mobility. But this huge societal mirror, that has been placed in front of all of us, has shown me a few things I guess I never thought about before.

My family is extremely isolated, pretty much all the time. We didn’t realize just how isolated we were until we started seeing people freaking out about being in their houses for a few weeks. This is how special needs families feel almost all the time. We are tethered to a situation that is complicated and hard to manage. And nothing anyone can do will really alleviate it.

People are kind. They really are. And we get sent gift cards for grub hub or friends bring us things and leave them on the front porch or people order things for us and those things show up at our door. And all of that is amazing. We never take any of it for granted. And it’s just humbling. People want to help. They do. But there’s only so much they can do. And then, they have to get on with life.

But we’re isolated. And you tend to get forgotten when you’re isolated. That’s the part that hurts.

It is assumed that I do just fine, career wise. But I don’t really. I don’t get booked as often as I’d like, mainly because I’m just not out there. I’m not “available” to my career the way I need to be, to make things happen the way they need to happen. I only started blogging because it’s something I can do from home, in the time between care-giving duties. I really don’t care anything about being a blogger. I don’t even know what a “blog” is. That’s just what they seem to call whatever it is I’m writing right now.

And I know I’m not doing it completely right. Or at least not taking advantage of all the “revenue streams” I’m supposed to be able to tap into. But I don’t have time to “make it happen” or “be an influencer” or “parlay” it into anything. That’s not why I do this.

I write this blog because it’s my little message in a bottle to anyone out there who might spot this island and wave back.

Blogs that whine and moan are a pet peeve of mine, so…enough of the pity party. But the world stopping for a few weeks has been nice for us. It has given us a renewed sense of community. We don’t have to swipe past pictures of toes in the sand or goofy smiles under the Eiffel Tower or even just laughs around a huge restaurant table. We kinda finally feel like we’re actually all in this together, for the first time. Even though we’ve been in it for almost two decades.

Last night, my wife, my daughter and I, watched the series finale of Modern Family. We felt like we were saying goodbye to some old friends. And it may have cut a little deeper because my daughter thinks of these people as her actual peers. Most of her world comes to her on a screen and she’s been laughing at (and with) them for eleven years, now (Phil – Ty Burrell – is her favorite). We hope that a new family shows up on the screen that she can resonate with and laugh at.

And we’ll be sitting right there beside her, laughing and crying along with them. Because most of OUR world comes to us through screens, now too.

After the show, Jimmy Kimmel had the Modern Family cast on his show, and of course they were all calling in on their phones. And I thought to myself, “this is so ironic. They called the show ‘Modern Family’ and nothing is more modern right now than the way they are doing this interview.”

But my little wave of dread washed over me, because I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before everyone would be back in a studio, talking and laughing and promoting the newest thing and brushing up against people again. But not us. And that’s where the depression trigger was …

When this is all said and done, and we all get “back to normal” try to remember there will be people in the world who won’t be back to normal. Maybe, if you get a chance, remember those who don’t (or can’t) get out much. Maybe whisper a prayer for those among us who see the world mainly through a window.

And maybe wave at it if you can. You’ll never know how much it means to those inside.      

    

R

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PERFECT LOVE …

We were exposed two weeks ago.

Several people at the airport, where my wife works, have tested positive for Covid 19. We went into immediate lock down, after learning that she was in contact with one of them, only going out for essentials and staying a safe distance away from people when we’re out. We wipe everything down with alcohol and Clorox wipes, pretty much all the time. We wash our hands after doing…well…pretty much anything.

This morning, my wife woke up with extreme nausea. She has been in bed all day.

My daughter has a genetic disorder that puts her at extreme risk for this virus, as she has an uncommonly high pain tolerance and she cannot express how she feels until she has severe symptoms. My mother-in-law is 84 and lives in an apartment above our garage. She, too, is compromised.

I’ve had constant, recurring respiratory issues for the last 17 years. We are at risk over here. But we are not wallowing in fear. We are at peace. Why? I think it has something to do with love.

My wife and I flew to China to adopt our daughter right in the middle of SARS.

We were told no less than 4 times, by the CDC and the WHO, not to travel to Asia. But that’s where our daughter was and that’s where we went. Twenty-nine other families, on our plane alone, disobeyed CDC protocols and got on that plane. In fact, hundreds of families kept getting on planes and bringing home babies…from Asia…during SARS.

My wife and I have talked about it at length, and we are convinced that if 2003 were 2020, NOBODY would’ve ever gotten on a plane to China, to get a baby. Not because we were scared of getting SARS (which I was) but because we would be shamed by the world for putting everyone else at risk, by selfishly going over to get a baby during one of the deadliest outbreaks of any virus in history (which it was).

The public pressure would’ve been unbearable. And all of us who decided to ignore the danger would be held up as selfish imbeciles, who are ignoring science and “experts” just to have a cute little baby in their house.

If you don’t believe that is true, you’re not paying attention.

But we went. And we got the babies. And we all came home. And guess what? It didn’t all work out fine. The baby adopted out directly before ours was given to us, ended up having Leukemia. She passed away some years ago. She was beautiful and special and our hearts are still broken by her loss. Our baby ended up having Angelman Syndrome, one of the world’s rarest genetic disorders.

None of us brought back SARS…we don’t think. We actually don’t know. Nobody was ever tested. Who knows what we brought back?

The point is, the journey was nothing like we thought it would be, for any of us. Nobody – not even experts – could predict what was going to happen or what DID happen. Wonderful things followed those adoptions…and horrible things.

The bible says, “perfect love casts out all fear.”

I usually leave the scripture quoting to my father, the Reverend. I’m an opinion writer, not a minister. But some bible verses have stayed with me all my life. That one, in particular, has always made me think and ponder. How can fear be gone? There’s simply too much out there to fear.

But maybe that’s because I had never experienced perfect love, yet.

We are all reeling from this new thing we’re all experiencing. And it can create fear. And we are finding our own ways of dealing with it. My go-to has been humor and creativity. Maybe that’s what I cling to. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe not.

Some are lashing out at what’s around them and taking this opportunity to praise other governments while trashing our own.

If you are seething at our President or our congress or your Governor or your Mayor for not doing what you would do or speaking about it the way you would, then when all the smoke clears, I expect to see you on a ballot, somewhere. Lead us. I’m not kidding. If you have answers, it’s time to contribute to something more that a Facebook fight.

One of the way love casts out fear is through truth. Apparently, it sets you free. Now, truth and facts aren’t always the same thing. The facts can show that I put my dog down, when he was 14. Yes, I had him killed. But the truth was that he was in severe pain and couldn’t walk or go to the bathroom anymore.

And that’s how love gets complicated. But it’s also when I learned something about it casting out fear. We all knew it had been a great life. We all knew there was nothing left to be done. And we ultimately accepted the truth. And that left us without fear.

We are all dealing with this. We’re all doing the best we can, politicians and regular folks alike. It is being handled in the best way we know how to handle something we’ve never handled before.

Some of us are going to be mildly uncomfortable. Some of us are going to get really sick. Some of us are going to die. Those are the facts. The fact is that this is changing us, in real time.

But the truth can ultimately be that we opted for love over fear; that we were honest with each other and direct with each other and still decided to maintain our dignity and empathy and humanity. I believe that’s what I’m seeing out there.

Yes, stay inside. Don’t put people at risk. If you have to go out, make it quick and streamline. Don’t touch anything you don’t have to. Do all the things that make sense. But also don’t drown in fear.

I posted some suicide rates today and a lot of people didn’t understand the point. There wasn’t really a point other than this: there are problems all around us. There is death all around us. There is desperation all around us. And now we’ve added some new mysterious and terrifying thing into the mix.

But we don’t know the ultimate outcome of all this. We don’t have to accept it as a horror show, without redemption. We can decide to let love into the mix.

And in a weird way, it kinda gets rid of the fear.

     

R    

TOO MANY PEOPLE …

Right up there with, “long-story-short” (which is usually followed by the longest story you’ve ever heard) and “I’ll have your check ready as soon as I get back from vacation,” one of my least favorite phrases in the English language is, “the world is over-populated.”

I’ve always been fascinated and bothered by that phrase.

We listen to it and just let it roll off, as if it’s just another dark platitude. But if you examine what that phrase actually suggests, it is nothing short of sinister. Hear me out …

The very thought that there are too many of something – anything – suggests that some of it must go, and that it doesn’t really matter which of it goes. Just something must go.

Extrapolate that out to shirts. If you say, “there are too many shirts in this closet,” you will start getting rid of shirts. But you will only get rid of the ones you like the least. The ones you like the most will obviously stay. So, there’s a pecking order; a highearchy of shirts (if you will) in your closet. And that T-shirt from 1997, that no longer makes your arms look good or makes you belly look tight, is heading off to the great unknown. Because there were just too many in there. Had to cull.

Now extrapolate that out to living things. Too many plants. Too many chickens. Too many puppies. Too many cats. We cull them by favorites as well. Each one of those things, that is about to be gotten rid of, is fighting for its place at the table, whether it knows it or not. And we’ll get rid of the ugly puppies before we get rid of the cute ones. We’ll definitely get rid of the mean ones.

But we will make determinations on which puppies or cats or chickens or plants get to stay, and which ones have to go, based on something. Because, you know…we have too many of them.

Now, extrapolate that out in humans. And once you make that logical leap, you are faced with absolute horror.

Once you just say, “there are too many of us here,” then you have to take the next logical step. And that step is making a determination of who stays and who goes. And that’s the moment you discover you’re actually a Nazi.

You see, the Nazis went all the way to the logical conclusion of that ultimate question: who should stay and who should go? Hence, “The final solution.” They minced no words. They didn’t equivocate. They didn’t flinch. They simply asserted that some people should be on earth and some shouldn’t. They decided which ones should not be. And they carried out the “culling” as systematically as we get rid of old T-shirts. And it was grotesque on a scale unmatched in human history.

But it started with a simple question; an innocent question…should we all be here?

As we race into our homes and stock up on basic needs, to weather this current virus, I’m watching humanity run the gamut of emotions and actions. But one thing stands out above all: we instinctively try to save ourselves and our loved ones. We instinctively try to save others. Something deep inside us knows we are all valuable.

We know people are going to die during this. And yes, we accept certain realities and certain risks when it comes to life. No, I don’t believe those who are comparing death rates of other illnesses and activities (such as driving cars, etc) to this virus, are cold-hearted Nazis just willing to let people die. I don’t believe they’re willing to sacrifice life for money or the economy or whatever.

The truth is, we know there is death involved, here. And we’re all trying to process it in our own way. And we do have to weigh the future and fabric of our very society against the risk of death. We do this all the time, in almost everything we attempt. We weigh the decision of getting on that plane and flying to our family’s house for Christmas against the very real possibility that the plane might crash. We weigh kissing that date goodnight against the possibility that she has Mono and just doesn’t know it yet.

We weigh risks and benefits all the time. That is not the same thing as determining that a large percentage of people need to go away.

The truth about whether or not there are too many of us on the planet bubbles up in our collective psyche when we are faced with a global crisis such as this. And our first human reaction, that comes from deep in our core, is that nobody is here by accident. We know that everyone is someone’s mother or daughter or father or son. And we know that it all matters – that everyone matters. And when one of them dies, someone, somewhere grieves.

There is a certain beauty in how humans react to life-threatening crises. Our inner beliefs pour out of us incautiously. And in many ways, our the best in us comes out. And we realize that we’re all something sacred; something divine, in a way. And where it’s ways to dismiss a person’s value when they’re safe and sound, it’s much harder to do so when they are in imminent danger.

We don’t just let them die without a fight. We don’t just allow the “herd” to be thinned. We don’t even let nature take its course and kill off who it wants to kill off. We say we believe in natural selection – survival of the fittest – but we do not practice that theory in any way, shape or form. We fight for the weakest. And I find that telling.

When I was a kid, our family dog had a littler of puppies. There were 9 of them, but she set one aside to die – the runt. 10-year-old me wouldn’t accept it. I kept laying the pup next to her so it could nurse, but she kept throwing it off to the side, in favor of the 8 healthy ones.

I couldn’t watch the puppy die. So I got a baby bottle and filled it with milk and tried to nurse the pup myself. But it was so weak and near death it wouldn’t nurse. As it was fighting for air and fading away, I tried blowing in its snout to et it to breathe. Through my tears, I tried pressing on its small sternum with a finger, to get its heart to start beating again. But it was no use. The pup died in my hand after a day of drastic measures.

My dog never grieved that puppy. She tended to the ones left alive. But that day taught me the difference between animal instinct and human instinct.

And so, whenever I hear someone say, “the world is overpopulated,” I bristle.

Because that means they’ve decided some puppies need to be placed to the side.

But we’re seeing, through this crisis, that nobody really believes that. Not when it counts.       

R

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THE DAY OF …

www.patreon.com/posts/35035723

So, on my Patreon site I’ve been sharing a day-to-day account of what was happening 17 years ago this week, leading up to the release of my CD, American Dreams.

Most of you know me as a blogger and social commentator. But all of that started as a result of some epic twists and turns in my music career.

Tonight, on Facebook Live, I’ll be playing the entire American Dreams record – for the first time since its release on March 18th, 2003.

If you find this blog helpful in any way and you would like to learn more about my “other” jobs, consider becoming a Patreon subscriber.

If every one of my blog followers became Patreon subscribers, at just the $3 a month tier, I could take care of my family solely on that, without the 6 or 7 other things I do to keep the ship afloat.

I’m not a fan of asking anyone for money, but I have a feeling those of us who “create content” are going to be leaning harder into our online profiles now more than ever.

So, if you like what you get from this blog, once a week, maybe you’ll like it even more once a day.

The link to today’s blog is above.

The $3 tier gets you the daily blog and all the behind the scenes stuff.

The $5 tier gets you access to the 5 books I’ve written.

The $10 tier gets you access to everything I put out: music, books, blogs, everything.

If you’re on Facebook, stop by and say hi tonight. It’ll be good to see you whether you become a subscriber or not.

Thank you all!

R

THE ROCK STAR AND THE ZONE …

Thursday night I will be performing my entire American Dreams record on Facebook live, 17 years (to the day) after its release, in 2003. The last time I performed the entire record was that night at the listening party.

For those of you who have read my book, Angels & Idols, you will be familiar with this. For those who haven’t, this might be a facet of my career you have no idea about. But trust me, that record (and that week) is why I’m here right now, talking to you.

The week that record came out, a deadly virus was circulating through China and the CDC warned my wife and I not to fly there (we were scheduled to go on the 21st). So, a lot of what’s happening now is eerily similar to the conditions in the world, that week.

So, I thought I would post a blog every day sharing different perspectives on what that week was like, leading up to the listening party.

Maybe it will help a little, to take your mind off today and remember that sometimes things work out in the most wonderful of ways …

Official Post from Regie Hamm: So, this week I’m going to be performing the entire American Dreams record on Facebook live, exactly 17 years after the original listening/release party. The recent events in our world have me reeling back to those days. THIS time 17 years ago, SARS was in full swing i…

THE ENEMY WITHIN …

I really hate being right all the time. Imagine how annoying it is for my wife.

I wrote, a couple of weeks ago, that once the first patient with Coronavirus died in the U.S, the marches and protests would start. Well, they have started – not out in public, with signs and slogans, but online and in the media.

The blame has begun.

The government didn’t provide enough virus tests, quickly enough (I actually agree with that). They didn’t restrict travel quickly enough. They haven’t given us enough information, quickly enough. The president called it all a hoax (which he actually didn’t do, if you understand the context of his statement. But he DID use the word hoax in a sentence and that’s probably not a good idea when talking about illness, publicly  – oh, and you’re the president).

Then some are freaked out by the president wearing a MAGA hat to one of the press conferences (which I saw but thought nothing of. He was clearly dressed casual and probably didn’t have the extra hour needed to get his hair in that iconic state of being. I’ve been there. That’s when it’s hat time. And I’m sure he only has MAGA hats in his closet. As a fellow dude, that was my thought, anyway).

The point is, we get to question our government and criticize it when we feel it isn’t serving US as well as we would like. This is a fundamentally great thing. It’s a fundamentally essential thing. And this nuanced little turn, where the state answers to the people – NOT the other way around – is going to ultimately save lives and keep people safer in the long run.

The most interesting thing about the varied responses to the Coronavirus panic (and it is a panic) is how people have directed their anger. We find it easy and satisfying to direct our anger toward the President of the United States. Fair enough. If you run for that office, you get the arrows that come with it. But almost no one wants to direct their anger toward the actual culprit – The leaders and system of Communist China who didn’t (or couldn’t) address this quickly enough to stem it from becoming what it has become.

Let me be as crystal clear as a human being can be: there is nothing about the Chinese people or the Asian race at fault, here. My statement is NOT about the people or their culture or their race or their value as humans. But a SYSTEM that doesn’t allow for criticism of its leadership and doesn’t force any feet to any fire, BY the people, is a great place for a crisis to bloom.

Viruses are not racists. They don’t check the physical features of someone or what country they reside in, before entering. They’re just looking for healthy hosts. Kind of the way we think of planets. Could we live there? That’s all a virus asks.

And this virus is finding hosts all over the world. And people are freaking out to discover that they are prime real estate. And they want their governments to do something about. And every government on planet earth is working on it in some form or fashion. Yes, even Donald Trump and his administration is working on it.

As of this writing, the United States has fewer cases and fewer deaths than most of the other infected industrialized countries. Of course that could change in a few weeks. But here’s a fact that cannot be overlooked or washed over: the top down, command-and-control, state-runs-everything system in China basically failed the entire world. Obviously NOT because they are Chinese (I’m actually pissed off that I have to keep qualifying this. But trust me…I DO. Oh yes – I do – and it still won’t matter. I’ll still be called a racist). Their system failure should be the biggest takeaway from this current crisis.

But the takeaways have been numerous. Here are four others that have stood out to me:

I’ve sort of always known this first one, but I’ve learned it all over again …

1. All the happy talk about compassion and inclusion goes out the window when someone thinks their life is in danger.

I mean, we here at The View love you, but get the hell out of our studio until this thing is over and we can all go back to talking in terms of “theory” again. Yes, we here at Good Morning America believe in all of you. You’re wonderful people. Now, DO. NOT. TOUCH. US. Buh, bye. We here at the NCAA and NBA love all the fans and couldn’t do it without them, and we’ll wave at them through the TV screens. Don’t come here.

People love to pronounce themselves as righteous saviors until they’re facing danger. Then they (most of the time) do what survival dictates. Jesus doesn’t. That’s why I still love and follow him. But I digress …

It’s almost as if all those people who raised their hands and said, “Hey, should we maybe vet people who come into this country? Should we maybe have a border and not just allow entire caravans of people we don’t know anything about, to walk across willy nilly?” don’t look as xenophobic and racist as they once did. It’s almost as if they were just thinking about what could happen in a situation EXACTLY like this one. Who knows …

As far as this second one goes, I’m not an “anti-vaxxer” (per se – although I have nagging questions) but this new virus has shown us all that …

2. No matter what you get inoculated for, there’s always the thing you don’t see coming lurking in the distance…and it’s usually the thing you have to worry about the most.

Viruses mutate and weaken. That flu bug that killed all those people during WWI is still around, apparently. But it’s not what it used to be. It’s the new virus we can’t seem to stay ahead of – not last year’s.

And that means that we have to, at some point, embrace the uncertainty of it all and realize that we cannot protect ourselves from everything, no matter how hard we try. We should try. But we ultimately won’t. And that’s okay. It has to be okay or we will go insane…which is kinda what we’re doing now. Anyway …

This next one is one of the most impotent ones …

3. Our very way of life is more nuanced and delicate than we think.

This is why large, sweeping statements for “change” aren’t as easy to do as they are to say. And sometimes, maybe they shouldn’t even be tried.

It just rolls off the tongue to say, “Let’s get off all fossil fuels.” You could even make up a rhymy little chant to it: “No. More. Fossil. Fuels – Go. Back. To. Plows. And. Mules!” (what can I say – I love to rhyme things).

It’s easy to talk about how we should all “reduce” our consumption or travel, or how we should limit this or cut back on that. Well, we are watching what happens when we do just that, in real time.

And what happens? In just a matter of weeks, markets crash, businesses go under, wages dip, layoffs happen, concerts vanish, sporting events wane. And what happens when all of that happens? Dreams die. The human spirit contracts and doesn’t move forward. People start reacting out of fear instead of love.

Eliminating something or changing something or restricting something in theory is very different from actually doing it in reality. Once we all run out of toilet paper, we will be begging those diesel powered, environment killing, trucks to deliver it to us once again. And we will cheer their arrival. Then we will go back to talking about how we need to get rid of them to protect the planet. It’s kinda what we do.

Finally, this is the last and biggest takeaway that continues to baffle me the most …      

4. We continue to hear what we want to hear and spin it the way we need to spin it to fit into our own belief system, EVEN in a global crisis.

This makes me realize that we are probably not actually even wired for unity.

Two people can (and will) listen to the EXACT same press conference and get two completely different things out of it. And the strange but logical conclusion of this is how we project it all back on social media.

All of the little sub texts are in full force: if you declare that this is all panic mongering, you are clearly a supporter of the president and an enemy of the media. If you implore us all to take this seriously and stop posting snarky comments about something so dire, you are clearly in the MAGA resistance and on the side of “science.” And the sides and teams are all so obvious, that it has stopped even being entertaining.

The push-and-pull of the panicked versus the cavalier isn’t really serving any of us very well and it’s just adding to the chaos.

The bottom line is this: unseen forces are unseen until they are seen. I was never sure what George W. Bush could’ve actually done to stop 9/11. No one ever saw it coming. Not like that. I’m not sure what Barack Obama could’ve done to stop Ebola. Presidents aren’t on-the-ground health officials. And they don’t always get information until it’s too late.

I don’t really know what more Donald Trump could in this current situation. I do believe the test kits should’ve come online sooner. And I definitely plan to find out why the FDA took so long to make that happen. That’s one of the civic recourses we are allowed to access, here in a free society. And it’s a good thing.

In the meantime, we can vote people in or out, depending on which 70-plus-year-old man we think will best handle the next crisis like this. Not there’s anything wrong with 70-plus-year-old men. Those are just all the choices we have left at the moment.

One day, the Covid 19 virus will be in the history books. What will the chapters include? Who knows. I am certain we will see deaths we didn’t want to see. That’s horrible. We will get answers to questions we didn’t even know we had. That’s probably good. And some of us will get fevers and coughs and probably recover just fine.

The chapter we’re writing now, is the one where humans get rattled and afraid and freak out and cling to their deeply held belief systems tighter than Tom Hanks held onto Wilson, in Castaway.

And speaking of Tom, may he get well soon. May we all get well soon.   

R

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BIRTH OF A VIRUS …

As I watched my neighbor put her dog’s poop in a single-use plastic baggy, I thought about split pants in China.

When my wife and I got off the plane, 18 years ago, to adopt our first daughter, we were taken aback by the split pants. Split pants are (or at least were, back then) pants the children wear that are open in the crotch area. That allows them to urinate or defecate unobstructed, onto the street or wherever they may be. The theory is that eventually they will learn to “aim it at the toilet” or something to that effect.

Either way, I distinctly remember my brand new Nike slip-ons (probably made not far from where I was standing) sloshing into a mix of urine and who knows what else, and continuing to do so for the next three weeks.

As I started feeling the cough coming on, I remember one of the women in our group saying, at one of the airports (as she too, stepped into urine) “The people in this country probably have built up antibodies inside them our bodies have never even thought about.”

I replayed that line in my head for the next three weeks, as I descended into night sweats, fevers and a cough like I’ve never experienced.

Over the next several days and weeks, we would experience the amazing culture of China, in several different cities. But some things stood out to this germophobic American. I watched a man hock up something from his chest and spit it on the floor, right next to us, in a restaurant. No oysters for me, thanks. I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.

We visited a Hutong (inner city – where the locals live) and saw raw chickens, skinned and bleeding, just laying on the floor, waiting to be thrown on a restaurant grill…for public consumption. No FDA or USDA or food inspectors or “codes” to comply with, here. But why? This is the last purely communist country on earth. You’d think there would be red tape everywhere. What was happening here?

Then, my wife and I had to rush our newly adopted, 8-month-old daughter to the public hospital…and suddenly it all started making sense.

As we stepped in more urine, took our number from the print-out machine, walked past the line of children whining and crying from the scalp IVs in their heads, then rushed to clean up blood and mucus (left by the last patient) on the plastic table they were now laying our baby on, then waited on the ONE overworked doctor (attending to no less than three hundred people) try to round up a basic anti-biotic to administer to my daughter (right there on site – no refills) it dawned on me what I was seeing and what I had been seeing this whole time. I wasn’t watching a “backward” culture or a third-world society. These people weren’t genetically inferior to first-worlders. They weren’t “less-evolved” than I was.

I was witnessing the kind of maximum, almost brutal efficiency a society must develop when the state is the master and the individual is merely a subject. Why would a Communist country not have an effective FDA? Because who are you going to complain to if you get tainted food? The government? They don’t answer to you. The press? They are owned by the government. And again, they don’t answer to you.

So what if you don’t like the conditions in the hospital? Where else are you going to go? This hospital is the last (and only) stop. You can’t opt for another place and then just pay out of your own pocket. The government has capped financial upward mobility. There is now “income equality.” And that means nobody has the means to buy their way into a different (or better) situation. And even if you could, one doesn’t exist. The state provides it all. You’re stuck.

In every one of those places I described (especially the hospital) there were uniformed guards posted everywhere. The government was literally on every corner. And yet it didn’t feel like help. It felt like surveliance.

“Yes, communism is bad, Regie. We get it,” I hear you saying, through your screen. But it is much deeper than surface ideology for me, personally. As our group was sloshing through the stuff on our shoes, we all speculated as to what new viruses we might be bringing back to the States with us. Well, even during SARS, none of us brought any viruses back. But my family did bring back one of the rarest genetic disorders on planet earth. My daughter was carrying, in her beautiful little self, a messed up sequence of genetic code. She was missing a piece of her 15th maternal chromosome. It brought with it dozens of different symptoms, one of which was seizures.

A month after getting her home, she went into a ten-minute seizure that could only be described as terrifying. And as the doctors and nurses ripped her from my my screaming wife’s arms and dragged us into the waiting room, I was incredibly thankful to be at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world. This hospital was clean and sanitary, with highly trained people everywhere. There were comfortable chairs and private rooms. There was any and every medicine we needed, readily available. And as horrible as that day was, and as expensive as it was (that day basically contributed to bankrupting us. Fortunately, I live in a place where I was able to earn all that money back and more), we were incredibly grateful we were in the United States and people were getting paid large sums of money to tend to our precious little soul. And she survived.

What we know, without a doubt, is that she would not have survived had she not gotten out of China; out of that system.

China is back in the news with yet another deadly virus we are all wringing (and washing) our hands over. And I’m certain we’re more freaked out about it in the United States than they are in the epicenter of it. Trust me on this one. I’ve lived it.

If ONE American were to die of this virus, the marches will begin and the public outcry will be never-ending. Why? Because we are oriented to the individual, in this country. We believe – whether we practice it in our politics or want to admit it to ourselves – that one person makes a difference. And our government answers to us. We don’t answer to them.

As this virus is doing whatever it’s doing, we are also having a heated debate over our own politics as a nation. We are literally discussing the merits of “democratic socialism” in the context of a Presidential election, in the United States, in 2020. I don’t think this is an accident.

I’m watching people (even good friends) on the left, basically throw their backs out, trying to contort and explain away why “some’ socialism is a good thing and how public services are all really “socialist” constructs anyway and how it really isn’t as bad as all that and how ‘this isn’t Communism – relax” and basically try to shoe-horn themselves into possibly having to take a deep breath and vote for a guy who sees the bright side of Fidel Castro but at least is not Donald Trump.

And he has ignited the debate over “single payer” healthcare. And that notion always seems to be reasonable on the surface. Why not just streamline the whole thing? Why not get the bloated insurance companies out of it? Why not eliminate the greed and corporate bureaucracy from our health?

That all sounds very reasonable.

But here’s the thing …

Single payer also means single buyer. That means the dynamics of the market get eliminated. One of the natural checks-and-balances of finding a hot-shot surgeon willing to do the risky procedure or even just seek a second opinion, get chopped away little by little. Because now we’re answering to the government. It isn’t answering to us. After all, where are we gonna go? They’ve got us. And our cancer treatment or skin graft surgery or kidney stone blast is up to their red tape. Sure, we can get in the door for free. But we might die in there, waiting on someone with no incentive and who faces no recourse, to change our plasma bag.

I am not a registered Democrat or Republican. But if you don’t like the state of healthcare in this country, just remember that not ONE Republican has their fingerprints on it. NOT. ONE. Your current state of healthcare was voted on unanimously and signed into law by DEMOCRATS only.

And now, ten years later, we seem to need to fix it all over again. Why?

I personally believe it’s because we’re moving in the wrong direction when it comes to healthcare. We keep moving away from the free market toward a more controlled government system. Why not allow insurance companies to sell their products across state lines? Why not offer them tax incentives to keep high risk patients (like my daughter) on their actuaries? Why not put them in positions that force them to compete harder for the public dollar and become more competitive? In other words, why not make them more accountable to US?

Why not offer dollar-for-dollar tax incentives to individuals who pay for their own care out of pocket? Why not offer incentives to doctors who do pro-bono work?

If those ideas sound like decent ones to you, you may find it surprising that all of them are in a bill proposed by Marsha Blackburn (my long-time representative, now my senator) back in 2009. It’s 27 pages long and it would only take two weeks to implement. It never made it to the floor of the House for a vote.

What if there are answers in the free market?
There are companies like Weltrio, in Oregon, that provide comprehensive healthcare concierge services to corporations who provide insurance, and they lower costs by as much as 68%.
It seems like these ideas are right there for the trying.

The thing about free-market solutions when it comes to healthcare, is that if they don’t work, you can always trash them and go to a public option. But once you nationalize healthcare, there is no going back. And that terrifies me. I’ve seen the natural conclusion of what happens when only one buyer is purchasing gauze and morphine; when one source pays the doctors and nurses.

And I suppose my answer to all of it is: what have we got to lose by trying the easy thing first? What if the evil Capitalists are right and it kinda works?

Vladamir Lenin said, “Give me your four-year-olds and in a generation I will build a socialist state.”

He also said, “The goal of socialism is communism.”

Then, he said, “medicine is the keystone of the arch of socialism.”

We’re finding out – IN America – just how right he was about all of it. And some of us aren’t thinking twice about it.

When Ronald Reagan said, “One of the traditional ways of imposing statism or socialism has been through medicine,” many scoffed at him and joked about how stupid he was or (worse) how he just wanted the rich to have healthcare and didn’t care about everyone else.

But the truth is we all want the same things. We want our children to have access to affordable and GREAT healthcare (that last part if the key). We just have different ideas on how to get there.

As for me, I’ve seen what happens when the choices are taken away. And what happens ends up being a place where new viruses can spread too easily, to too many people, and aren’t contained quickly enough.

And that ultimately affects us all.   

   

R

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