Friday, February 29, 2008

D.C. Cabbie Roulette

Imagine that you live in a city with one restaurant. Sometimes when you go to this restaurant, you get a friendly waiter who takes your order, brings out your food, and takes care of you so that you leave satisfied. Other times you get a waiter who tries to charge you twice the price listed on the menu. Even though the menu says the trout is $25.00, the waiter tells you it's $50.00. When you tell him that's not the right price he calls you an asshole and you leave hungry and angry. But it's the only restaurant in town, so eventually you wind up back there again. Everything goes fine this time, but the next time you come in you get a different waiter. "What would you like to order?" he asks. "I'd like to order the trout" you say. The waiter says nothing. He just turns and walks away and you never get your food.

Each time I hail a cab in D.C. I wonder what will happen. Will I go away satisfied? Or angry? Last night we hailed a cab to go home. Since the route home crossed 4 zones and there were two of us, the fare should have been $15.10. The driver said "$30.00". There were no zone maps in his cab, he was just some joker in a broken-down Ford ripping off tourists coming out of Old Ebbitt Grill.

The night before I missed the last Metro of the night, which leaves at midnight (the time when most bands are still going strong: wouldn't it be nice if the clubs started shows earlier? But then they wouldn't sell as much beer...). It was freezing and the streets were empty. Finally a cab rolled up, I got in, and we had a great conversation about jazz and teaching kids music as we rolled uptown. He charged me $13.60 - the correct amount - and I gave him a fat tip because I was grateful for a ride home and he was a nice guy.

I've had D.C. cabbies drive away when I tell them where I'm going. I've had a D.C. cabbie stop for gas while I sat in the cab. One cabbie charged me $35.00 for going from my office to the Library of Congress- a ride that should cost $7.50.

On April 6th of this year, despite the best efforts of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, D.C. cabs will get meters. Get ready for new, innovative routes like Georgetown to Capitol Hill via Tenleytown, or Union Station
to Adams-Morgan via Petworth.

...half of the cabbies you see in Adams Morgan especially during weekends and last call rush hours are illegal out of state drivers with phony licenses out there to make a quick buck by ripping off people...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Eric Clapton and the Seeds of Addiction

Reading Eric Clapton's autobiography, where he describes spending the first part of the seventies junked-out and the second half drunk, I got to thinking about addictions and people who just can't stop.

Here are some definitions of one addiction: alcoholism

Alcoholism is a progressive, often fatal disease, possibly hereditary. Alcoholics are ill people whose body chemistry is such that they can become addicted to alcohol. In emergency treatment, alcoholism must be distinguished from schizophrenia depressions, head injuries, and so forth.

Alcoholism, like drug addiction and schizophrenia, is best seen as a form of family interaction in which one person is assigned the role of the alcoholic while others play the complementary roles, such as the martyred wife, the neglected children, the disgraced parents, and so forth. As this deadly game is played by mutual consent, any attempt to remove the key factor, the alcoholic, is bound to create difficulties for the other family members, who will attempt to restore their former game.

Alcoholism is a moral failing, not an illness. It is the natural penalty for drinking.

Alcoholics are drinkers who do not obey the rules of the drinking society. They behave badly when drunk, and they cannot hold their liquor. Alcoholism is an unacceptable form of drinking behavior.

Every addiction is different just as every addict is different. It's a puzzle each addict has to figure out. Some figure it out in time, others do not.

I hope my friend figures out the puzzle in time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Naked Cowboy's Work Ethic

I read somewhere how each morning The Naked Cowboy reads a set of inspirational snippets before heading out to play in public in his underwear. The texts are bits from classic self-help books by Anthony Robbins, Dale Carnegie etc.

D.C.'s Bad Brains (the best
punk band this town ever produced) based their work ethic on a single book: Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich", a work that emphasizes the importance of Positive Mental Attitude (PMA).

I guess my inspirational text is a novel called "I Served The King of England", originally written in Czech by a wild writer named Bohumil Hrabal. That's the book I've re-read most often. It's a hero story about good fortune
happening by chance amidst the random tragedies of life.

But an absurdist Czech novel doesn't seem like a good template to work off of right now. I need something more constructive...

Then again, maybe not.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Price of Water

The drinking water in the District of Columbia contains levels of lead 17 times the amount the federal government considers unsafe in drinking water. For children, exposure to this level of lead causes:
  • Reduced IQ
  • Slowed body growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Behavior or attention problems
  • Failure at school
  • Kidney damage
To combat the lead problem, which is caused by old lead pipes, the city's water authority has added orthophosphates to the water.

Exposure to orthophosphates causes:

  • bone decalcification
  • increased parathyroid gland activity
So a lot of people in DC drink bottled water instead of tap water. We're not alone.

Americans ... paid $7.7 billion for bottled water in 2002

The failure of our public works has provided a business opportunity to corporations who bottle and sell water.

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) is replacing lead pipes in the District. Recently they're considering slowing down the replacement project because of costs.

"..what's it worth to you?"
(a WASA official on the cost of safe drinking water)

That's not a question that should be asked. Safe drinking water is not a commodity. It's not a budget line item. It's a human right. And human rights are priceless.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why Do Yoga?

I've been asking myself that question lately because it's been feeling rote.

This morning it was gray outside, gray inside, gray gray gray. So I "went to the mat" as they say in the trade.

I went through the asanas and thought about how each of my teachers has taught me different aspects of my practice.

At the end I sat in meditation. Meditation is the hardest part of all.
The brain is a very stubborn muscle.

In a typical yoga class, the final pose is shavasana ("corpse pose" or, if that scares you- "relaxation pose") where you lie on your back and think about dinner, or about work, or some other complicated knot of a problem until you drift off to sleep and start snoring...

This is when you meditate. All the physical movements preceding this were to get you primed to rewire the mechanism that's been running, running, running every day since your were born.

For a few minutes today my third eye opened. Then some thought came clanking in and I snapped back to the grid. But it lasted long enough to remind me why I do yoga.

Here are two scans of a Buddhist monk's brain:

8 years in and I'm still just at the tip of the iceberg.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Meditations on the Lunar Eclipse

As Stereogab and I stood outside watching the lunar eclipse, I thought about how much things have changed.

In other ages, an eclipse was a terrifying event.

American Indians believed that a lunar eclipse spawned a negative essence that spread over the world. If a particle of this essence landed on a cooking pot, sickness would result. So they turned all their pots over to avoid contamination and threw out their water supplies, believing they'd been tainted with this negative essence.

While we stood outside watching the moon disappear, our neighbors sat inside watching television. Cars drove by, the Metro came and went, life went on just like any other Wednesday night.

I suppose I should be glad that Science has triumphed over Superstition. But is science the reason people don't get up from the couch to watch a lunar eclipse? I read recently that 1 in 5 American adults believe the sun revolves around the earth. So maybe science isn't the reason. Maybe people have become so disconnected that they don't notice (or don't care about) the patterns of nature.

That is really terrifying.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Modern Junkies

Which of these guys is a junkie?

Both are.

Heath Ledger overdosed on a combination of Xanax, OxyContin, Valium, Restoril, Unisom and Hydrocodone- all prescription drugs.

Between 1999 and 2004,

prescription drugs overtook cocaine and heroin combined as the leading cause of lethal overdoses

An article about OxyContin abuse in rural Virginia states that:

A record 248 people died of overdoses in Virginia's western region in 2006, more than those who died from homicides, house fires and alcohol-related car accidents combined. That was an 18 percent increase from 2005 and a 270 percent increase from a decade ago

The modern pushers
Last year, the manufacturer of OxyContin was fined $643 million dollars because the company

... falsely claimed OxyContin was less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms than rival pain medications.

More than 70% of Purdue's $1.8 billion in annual revenue comes from the sale of OxyContin.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Infected School Lunch Meat Blues

In DC this week, schools chancellor Michelle Rhee announced an overhaul of the city's school lunch program, noting that:

the in-house program lost $30 million in three years partly because students refuse to buy meals that don't taste good.

Maybe the meals didn't taste good because the meat was from the Southern California slaughterhouse busted by the USDA recently where sick cows were ground up for school lunches and other federal programs (143 million pounds of diseased meat, "most of which has probably already been consumed" has been recalled).

Meanwhile, one public school has The Edible Schoolyard where students grow and cook their own food. They learn the principles of ecology, agriculture, and cuisine. It's a holistic approach to teaching and feeding kids. And it's one that could be implemented at any public school in the country.

Does your local school have an edible schoolyard?

Why not?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Cruelty of Animal Lovers

In an article in today's Washington Post I read a heartwarming tale of efforts by U.S. soldiers and an American organization to rescue a 9-month old from the horrors of Iraq. The U.S. organization spent $4,000 on the rescue. The 9-month old orphan named Charlie arrived in Dulles yesterday and will eventually reside in Phoenix. The rescue organization announced in their press release "We are thrilled to have Charlie safe on American soil"

Charlie is a dog.

Estimates of the number of (human) orphans in Iraq run from a low of 500,000 to a high of 4.5 million as of January 2008.

Closer to home,
there are two bakeries in Alexandria, Virginia that cater to dogs: Madeleine's Dogs and Barkley Square Gourmet Dog Bakery & Boutique. A "Madeleines Dog Bone Birthday Cake" costs $25.00.

As of 2007, %5.9 of the population of Alexandria (7,800 people) have incomes below the poverty line. In the United States, living below the poverty line means lacking the resources to meet the basic needs for healthy living; having insufficient income to provide the food, shelter and clothing needed to preserve health.

I like animals. I like them so much that I don't eat them. But it isn't compassion that motivates people to rescue animals from Iraq or bake cakes for them. It's selfishness.

We imbue animals with aspects of our own personalities, channeling our identities through animals who reflect these energies back out to us in a way that appeals to us. In other words, the devotion of a dumb animal makes us feel better about ourselves.

That's how we get to a point where we value the life of a dog over the life of a child.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

swimmingly yours

Heart Tattoo Fish...
Originally uploaded by ~Dezz~
It's Valentine's day. Buy your sweetheart something nice - I'll bet they sell a lot of roses today. But a daisy will do too, you know.
cuz the real gift is

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You Don't Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way the Wind Blows

Watching the weather yesterday on CNN at the gym, the weather guy was talking about tornadoes in the south. The anchor asked him "Are tornadoes usual for this time of year?" and the weather guy replied "Absolutely!"

Are they? Let's go to the Internet:
So they aren't normal for this time of year. But by saying "Absolutely!" the weather guy assured those watching that "Everything is alright, there's nothing to worry about."

Which leads me to the recent refusal of the President of the United States to call our current economic situation a recession:

"Bush, citing some experts, said the U.S. was not in a recession"

The Internet provides this graph to contradict that statement:
This will eventually be called a recession. If it continues long enough it might even be labeled a depression. But that too is just a word.

The people who use the media to control our perceptions know that words matter.
They choose words carefully, staying "on message" all the time, scaring us with warnings of terrorists and soothing us with phony claims of victory.

So next time you hear your government spokesperson claiming that everything is ok, you should feel concerned because most likely the exact opposite is true.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Use Me! (Just Don't Abuse Me)

In documentary filmmaking, one of the most expensive parts of making a film is buying rights for the soundtrack music. This is why filmmakers often choose to have someone compose music for the film rather than paying to license commercial music.

A few years ago I worked with a woman who was making a documentary and needed some music for the soundtrack. I'd been curious about soundtrack work, so when this opportunity came I was excited to give it a shot. I'm not sure what happened but now the trailer for the movie is up and that's my song playing in the background but the music is credited to someone else!

What particularly sucks about this is that all my music is under the type of Creative Commons licensing requiring attribution only. No money, no strings attached, just put my name in the credits if you are using my music and that's it.


POSTSCRIPT: the filmmaker removed the trailer from her site as I requested. But that doesn't change what happened. I have a copy of the trailer, so the link still works.

Monday, February 11, 2008

An Open Letter to the People of Wyoming

Here's a question for those of you who live in Wyoming. You don't have any state income tax, right? Just sales tax. So what if another state - like Pennsylvania - decided your laws needed to be changed, that you need to start charging an income tax. You resist, fighting it in the courts, but you lose and you are forced to change your state rules and start collecting income tax because Pennsylvania wants you to. None of your tax money will go to Pennsylvania. They just doing it because they object to your lack of a state income tax.

Then Ohio decides they want to close your ABC stores. In fact, Ohio feels that you should be a completely dry state. And they take the case to court and they win the first round. Even the Vice President of the United States Himself voices support for the ban. It starts to look certain that all the bars around the state will be forced to close and you'll have to drive 200 miles to Montana to buy beer, just because Ohio wants it that way.

You elect Senators and Representatives to go to Washington, DC to vote on your behalf, right Wyoming? But imagine that your man Mike Enzi goes to Washington and sits in Congress but his vote doesn't count. So if you want him to vote "yes" or "no" on a bill that determines whether to go to war, or fund abortions, or lower taxes, or any issue that concerns you, he can't.

That's our situation here in the District of Columbia. When a Senator from Texas doesn't like our gun laws, she changes them. When a Representative from Kansas
doesn't like our public health laws, he changes them. And there's nothing we can do.

There's more of us in D.C. (
581,530) than there are in Wyoming (515,004).

56% of us are black.

Last September the latest bill for our statehood died because a Senator from Kentucky and a Senator from Mississippi were opposed.

This is the Mississippi state flag:

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Happy Surprises: My Journey to Obama

When the presidential race started, I wasn't paying much attention because, like preseason football games in August, it seemed too early. Once things started rolling I thought Clinton seemed like the best option. Obama seemed like a longshot and I felt like "this election is too serious, we can't afford to take any chances this time around". Clinton seemed like "a safe bet".

But until Iowa, I had no idea so many other people were fed up with the status quo too. Iowa allowed me to dare to think that maybe, just maybe, America wasn't as lame as I'd assumed. And that maybe, just maybe, a new generation of kids who've come of age during the national nightmare of the past seven years aren't buying the politics of fear and the business of business as usual. And that not everyone stuck in Walmart jobs was buying the Code Orange rhetoric anymore.

When I saw the results for South Carolina I was floored. Now things were moving from "fluke" to "possibility". And when the results of superduper Tuesday started rolling in my optimism increased. But what convinced me that Obama really does stand a chance to win was something else: my mom. If you looked at a breakdown of my mom's political opinions, economic status, educational background, and generation, you would put her squarely in the Clinton category. But she voted for Obama. And on February 12th, I will too.

Take a look at this video where Lawrence Lessig discusses the differences between Clinton and Obama:

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Warm Enough for Ya?

In the early part of this century, Exxon and other oil companies spent millions to encourage skepticism on global warming. Last year, Exxon made $9.2 billion in profits. Corporations only do what's best for their balance sheet (a great film on this is"The Corporation" ...a great recent book on this is "Supercapitalism").

I do my best; riding mass transit, living in a green building, walking or biking instead of driving, buying fluorescent lightbulbs....but I have no control over power plant emissions, vehicle mileage standards, tax incentives for clean energy, mass transit funding.... that's the job of the people I elect. And they've failed me. And you.

How many people did you know who died in 9/11? Chances are it's zero for most people in America. Yet the attacks of 9/11 triggered a massive military buildup that has cost us trillions of dollars. We even had our "global warming 9/11": Hurricane Katrina. But it happened to the wrong demographic. If families in Hilton Head or Martha's Vineyard had to spend three nights on the roof of their house before being rescued maybe things would be different today. Some conservatives still argue that global warming is a theory. You mean like the theory that Sadaam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction? That theory was accepted as fact. Why not this one? Because it's "An Inconvenient Truth".

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My Favorite Record Stores

two record stores I frequent:

True Vine is my new favorite record store and I've only been there once. The place is chaotic, almost an anti-store, which would make it more like someone's living room, which I think describes it pretty well, come to think of it. I got into a discussion with the owner/manager/clerk/head conversationalist about Wacky Packages, which was cool, especially when it devolved into a story
about riding around naked listening to Psychic TV ( I won't say
whose story that was).... PURCHASES: Incredible String Band "Changing Horses" (LP), Six Organs of Admittance "Shelter from the Ash" (CD)

Another chaotic store that I love is Joe's Record Paradise. It has a completely different vibe from True Vine- more frumpy Rockville than arty Baltimore. Joe's is a maximalist place. There are the record bins, then below the bins are shelves, and in front of the shelves are cardboard boxes, all stuffed with records. I tend to spend either 10 minutes or 5 hours. It can get overwhelming. Although I recognize some of the staff after repeated visits, there's no acknowledgment that I've ever been there before.... PURCHASES: 13th Floor Elevators "Demos Everywhere" (LP), Curtis Mayfield "Back to the World" (LP)

I guess what I like about these stores is that they are completely unpredictable. You can't go in with a particular title in mind, or a shopping list. You have to just be open to whatever you encounter while flipping through the stacks. It's a cultural field trip through hairstyles and fashions, cover photo moods ("we're having fun", "we're cool", "I'm serious") and graphics.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tune In Across the Universe

Today at 7 p.m. EST, NASA will transmit the Beatle's song "Across the Universe" towards Polaris (the north star), which is 431 light years away from earth.

The song will travel across the universe at a speed of 186,000 miles per second

according to the news release.

(Paul McCartney says: "Send my love to the aliens")

John Lennon wrote the lyrics after listening to his wife Cynthia "go on and on about something". The song was recorded forty years ago today- February 4th 1968 - at Abbey Road studios in London. It was intended for release while the Beatles were in India.

It's not my favorite Beatles song, but I like the idea of transmitting it out across the universe. It's an optimistic act; kind of egocentric, but that's what we humans are all about. We're adding a track to the Cosmic Jukebox, the Fab Four are representing Earth in an intergalactic Battle of the Bands.

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me.

Jai guru deva om

Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe

Jai guru deva om

Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Sounds of laughter shades of life are ringing
Through my open views inciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a
Million suns, it calls me on and on

Across the universe

This post is dedicated to my cousin Matt.