Bursting your news bubble.

Brett Newski is an indie musician. (Or, per Wikipedia: Brett Newski is a North American nomad, songwriter, illustrator, and folk punk guitarist from New Berlin, Wisconsin.) Times are tough for musicians these days, especially the nomadic types. Brett played a very entertaining house concert at the home of my friends Dave and Jacqui, back in the Before Times when house concerts were still a thing. I sure miss those days.

Brett’s newsletters aren’t the cut from the same cloth as most musician’s. They’re deeper, wider, not so much music-centric as life-centric. A recent one really hit home for me – I think you’ll find some wisdom in it as well:

If there’s one thing we can agree on as people, it’s that politics really suck. 
I don’t care how divided we are right now, deep down we want to be buddies. 
It breaks my heart to see us at odds based on what political team we are on.   
We have more in common with our fellow citizen than we do to Trump or Biden. 
The old white guys in the control tower of politics want us to be at odds. If we are at each other’s throats, it makes it very easy for these old white guys to run the show. 
Right now, the big guys are winning. They’ve got us emotional and angry and scared and confused. That’s what they want. But we don’t have to keep drinking their poison. 
A small boost to healing is this…
Seek out those on “the other side” and chat them up, but not about politics.
If you see a man in a red Trump hat, chat em up about sports or recreation or the nice park you’re standing in together. If you see a purple-haired fedora wearing liberal, chat them up about Modest Mouse or community-farming or whatever feels right in the moment. 
I did this for 3.5 hours on the beach yesterday. I swear it injected positive echoes between the 10-12 people I talked to. Those echoes will reverberate into their future interactions too. It’s a spiderweb of productive energy. Maybe this sounds tiny and insignificant, but it beats sitting in the car, absorbing more news, and getting more fearful toward our fellow people. 
Deep down we all want to be buddies. 

It’s easy to get trapped in your own news bubble, your own Twitter-verse, your own echo chamber. But understanding starts with reaching out. Let’s find the humanity in our fellow humans.

You can sign up for Brett’s newsletter here. His new album is here on Spotify.


(Dis)connected learning

My kids started school this week – two in college, and two in high school. Everyone’s “remote learning.”

I’ve been buried in my basement for five months now, doing the ol’ “working from home” thing during the pandemic. It’s boring. It’s monotonous. It’s drudgery. (Don’t get me wrong, I do feel fortunate to still have a gig in a cratered economy.) But yesterday when I went upstairs and saw three of my kids staring at computer screens, my heart sank. They looked like mini-versions of me, zoning out during a boring meeting.

“Said no actual human ever.”

It’s one thing for an old man like me to be a Zoom Zombie for work. But school should be more lively, and more life-affirming. Their days should be filled with laughter, broken lockers, lunchtime sandwich swaps, PE in a gym with a freshly refinished floor, soccer practice, juvenile jokes (they still get those at home). They should be passing notes in class, and passing their friends in the hallway.

I know (or at least I hope and pray) that this is a temporary situation. And it’s the right call for their physical health. But this is making them old before their time.

C’mon science, let’s find a vaccine…

Peddling Paddling

Here’s a pretty cool Kickstarter for a combination kayak/paddleboard made out of recycled plastic, that can fold up and fit in the trunk of a car.

The inventor, Tim Niemier, launched the original sit-on-top kayak in 1971 with his company Ocean Kayak. His admirable goal is to “get a billion butts on boards and boats.”

My motto is a billion butts in boats because I believe the water makes us all humble and better people on our small planet. 

Tim Niemier

The Kickstarter level that includes a Origami Paddler ain’t cheap, but neither are kayaks and paddleboards, especially when you factor in the equipment that you need to haul them, and the hassle of storage. This folding watercraft eliminates those issues, which are a huge “barrier to entry” as the business bigwigs like to say.

I’m on board… how about you?

(Don’t) put on a happy face

Wednesday’s Washington Post had an interesting article about “toxic positivity”… that term was new to me, but the article made a lot of sense. A positive mental attitude is a good thing, but not if you’re using it to gloss over, ignore or deny underlying issues.

“It’s a problem when people are forced to seem or be positive in situations where it’s not natural or when there’s a problem that legitimately needs to be addressed that can’t be addressed if you don’t deal with the fact that there is distress or need.”

Stephanie Preston, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

“’Looking on the bright side’ in the face of tragedy of dire situations like illness, homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment or racial injustice is a privilege that not all of us have. So promulgating messages of positivity denies a very real sense of despair and hopelessness, and they only serve to alienate and isolate those who are already struggling… “We judge ourselves for feeling pain, sadness, fear, which then produces feelings of things like shame and guilt. We end up just feeling bad about feeling bad.”

Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston

For the first (and we pray last) time in our lives, we’re dealing with a very trying trifecta:

  1. Coronavirus pandemic
  2. Collapsing economy
  3. Racial inequalities fomenting civil unrest

It’s weighty stuff. And it’s perfectly normal if it weighs you down.

“Recognize that how you feel is valid, no matter what… It’s okay not to be okay.”

Natalie Dattilo

It’s also perfectly fine to spend our pandemic times “one day at a time” instead of some sort of “everything is fine” charade.

“Making the best of it is accepting the situation as it is and doing the best you can with it, whereas toxic positivity is avoidance of the fact that we’re in a really bad situation.”

Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Philadelphia

So don’t “put on a happy face” if you’re using it to mask some underlying distress that you need to address.

Beer. Here.

The Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati, just north of downtown, has a rich tradition of brewing beer. The neighborhood got its name from the heavy influx of hard-working German immigrants who started arriving in the mid-1800s. And Germans like their beer.

The neighborhood’s distinctive name comes from the predominantly German mid-19th century immigrants who developed the area and became its early residents. Many walked to work across bridges over the Miami and Erie Canal, which separated the area from downtown Cincinnati. The canal was nicknamed “the Rhine” in reference to the river Rhine in Germany, and the newly settled area north of the canal as “Over the Rhine”.[3][4] In German, the district was called über den Rhein.


Prohibition killed off dozens of breweries in the area. But a few survived. And one of those old breweries is getting a major expansion, thanks to a Cincinnati kid who made his mark selling Boston Lager.

Here’s info from the press release a couple of weeks ago:

The Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams Cincinnati Brewery announced plans for a significant expansion of the brewery located on Cincinnati’s Central Parkway. The project will be the largest brewery investment in the long and storied history of brewing in Cincinnati.

The substantial brewery enhancement will support the growing demand for products across the Boston Beer portfolio, bringing additional production capabilities to the site, including two highly anticipated canning lines and innovative packing equipment to support brands like Samuel Adams, Angry Orchard, Twisted Tea and Truly Hard Seltzer. Once completed, the brewery will be able to quadruple production in Cincinnati. The project will also add more than one hundred new jobs.

Jim Koch, the founder of The Boston Beer Company, grew up in Cincinnati. His father worked at the Schoenling Brewing Co. building that now houses part of Boston Beer’s local operations. The recipe for Samuel Adams Boston Lager came from Jim’s great-great-grandfather. Now his business is adding more than 100 local jobs.

He (Koch) said the 107 jobs created by the expansion will be the kind of well-paying blue-collar jobs that made up the backbone of Cincinnati’s economy in the days when manufacturing was king.

“When I grew up there were a lot of blue-collar craftsman jobs in Cincinnati, like tool and die at Cincinnati Milacron or General Motors in Norwood,” Koch said. “There were once well-paying union craftsman jobs in Cincinnati, and a lot of them have gone away.”

Koch said he worked with the Teamsters union and the median income of the new jobs being created will be $70,000 a year. The contract covering those jobs is being extended to the 130 existing brewery workers as well.

Text in italics above from this Cincinnati Business Courier article

We need all the positive economic news we can get these days, and this Sam Adams expansion is great news. The supply chain challenges of the pandemic (turns out most PPE is made in China – who knew?) have also made more people realize that we need to make more stuff right here in America. And we as consumers need to “shop local” and spend our cash on those products. Including beer. Cheers to that!

This four-minute TV news feature from 2011 gives a nice overview of Jim Koch’s back story.

Hello Dark Money My Old Friend

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago, Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and four political cronies were arrested and charged with racketeering and bribery in the largest corruption case in the history of the state. $60 million in bribes from an energy company, FirstEnergy Solutions, greased the skids for passage of House Bill 6, which was going to saddle honest, hard-working taxpayers with a $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants… owned by FirstEnergy, of course. (The bill also gutted Ohio’s clean energy programs and subsidized coal plants. Because if you’re dirty, you may as well go full dirty.)

In 2018, many mounds of money were used to fund the campaigns of candidates who would be loyal to Householder, elect him as Speaker, and vote for passage of the bill. More of the money was used later to thwart a ballot initiative to overturn the legislation (because heaven forbid that taxpayers actually get a say in how their money is used!)

They stacked the deck, and subverted the entire legislative structure for their own personal and political gains. It was underhanded, dirty, criminal… and they nearly got away with it.

How did $60 million in bribes go unnoticed for so long? Why, through the magic of “dark money” of course! FirstEnergy funneled the cash through an organization called Generation Now, a nonprofit “social welfare” organization, allegedly acting in the public interest… and not required to disclose its donors under federal law.

“The millions paid into the entity were akin to bags of cash,” the complaint states. “Unlike campaign or PAC contributions, they were not regulated, not reported, not subject to public scrutiny — and the enterprise freely spent the bribe payments to further the enterprise’s political interests and to enrich themselves.” 

From this USA Today article

If this happened in Ohio, it has no doubt happened (and is still happening) in other states. Think about it – FirstEnergy paid $60 million and got a $1 billion bailout – not a bad return on a crooked investment.

Our political system is supposed to have checks and balances. “Dark money” allows the “checks” to get written to corrupt legislators. We need a lot less secrecy, and a lot more transparency.

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