I Vote for a Free Pass on Student Loans and more

The Government has been giving students loans like credit cards regarding the debt they can incur. It has forced graduates to enter the world walking around with a weight on their shoulders. I know people still paying off their student debt into their 40s, and that monthly chunk of change takes its toll. As an artist, a professor, a writer, or any profession that doesn’t pay like a person in the finance world, how do they pay it off? And we need more creative people, not less.

Politicians are calling out that we can not afford this. Can we afford new transportation, healthcare for all, and a better education system? It all comes down to cash flow. This is similar to the insurance business that operates defensively instead of offensively. They do not want to pay for anything until things get dire, and then, of course, they pay through the nose instead of being medically proactive to prolong all of our lives. Sometimes you must take the bite out of the budget to get to the other side.

I sat on the board of LREI for years, including on the executive committee. It was important to fill every seat to make the budget work. There was a point where the cost of running the high school was so high that it sucked the money out of the entire budget. Keep in mind that 25% of the operating budget went to student aid, an extremely high number compared to other private schools.

We reached a point where the school was taking in kids who should not have been accepted, but the concern was primarily just filling those seats. If you take a kid in third grade to fill a seat, the issue is that you then have to allow that kid to sit in that seat for another nine years. If we did that in the high school, we would see the desire to have classes of 60 kids dip to below 40. There was a lot of heated conversation around this at the executive board.

I believed we needed to take the hit, perhaps it would be painful for a few years, but in the end, we would turn around the school. We should not close the high school and take a kid who wasn’t up to the third-grade curriculum to fill a seat. One board member was so against what I proposed that he stepped off the board. It wasn’t pretty.

Fast forward, the school has turned around. There is a list to get into the lower, middle, and high school, and the school is financially better off. I compare this to student debt. We should forgive any student debt and rethink financially helping kids in the future. The more educated people, who can pursue the careers they want without a financial ball and chain at their feet, will be better for all of us in the long run. The debt is just holding itself hostage over the next generation of children that the debt holder is having.

The more educated people who can think on their own probably scare the shit out of the book banners, but everyone deserves a right to an education, and we shouldn’t have to put anyone into decades of debt to do it. It is the right thing to do for our country.

Eating Our Way Through NYC

We have had some delicious meals in the past few weeks.

We journeyed back to Olmstead for dinner. The plates are small for sharing, creative, and always delicious. This round puff is a Brazilian cheese bread similar to a French gourgeres served with a pulled pork pate that hits all the high notes. I couldn’t stop eating the pate.

We go pretty often to Barbuto and sit at the bar. The eggplant caponata with toasted bread slathered in olive oil could be dinner.

Another spot in Brooklyn, Saint Julivert Fisherie, is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I wish it were in the west village. Everything is excellent, the vibe is chill, and the seating situation is brilliant. Everyone is at the high top level, from the bar to the tables. The kampachi is topped with shiso-wasabi oil sitting on a shiso leaf wrapped into one delicious bite.

Friday evening, we checked out Al Coro and sat at the bar. There is a strange contemporary Italian vibe with an expensive tasting menu with tiny portions, although you can order a la carte at the bar. The place is empty; we were betting on how long they stay open. A big disconnect between what people are being drawn to. Although the squid ink pasta we split is delicious.

We returned to an old favorite, iSodi. Back in the day, we could walk in any night and grab a seat at the bar. Now you have to hit the lottery to get in but so worth it. Everything was excellent. The plates of pasta might be one of the best in the city.

Last but certainly not least is popping into the Thai Diner for lunch. The mushroom laab is spicy, layered, and just so damn good.

No need to eat anything but good food in this town.

Leopolstadt

We had theater tickets this past week, and unfortunately, Fred had to bag. I was really looking forward to seeing this play, so I went alone. I wish Fred had been able to come for several reasons, but the biggest one is I can’t stop thinking about the play, and a good play needs discussion.

Leopolstadt is a play written by Sir Tom Stoppard. The first performance was in London in 2020. The play began in Vienna in 1899, the turn of the century. A beautiful apartment filled with an upper echelon philanthropic family who loved the arts and food, not so dissimilar to how I love New York City. They were also not that religious, although Jewish. We follow the growth of this family until 1955, in the same apartment.

Stoppard is from Vienna, and his mother got him and herself out during WW2. First through Shanghai and then to Britain. They become full-on Brits. Fast forward, Stoppard finds out when he is in his 50’s that he is Jewish and most of his family that he knew as a child (and didn’t quite remember) have been killed during the war. Can you imagine living your entire life, and at 50, you find out you didn’t really know who you are?

The play is based on his autobiography. There is a slow crescendo to this family saga. The timing of seeing this play now, particularly since I read yesterday that Berkeley is developing Jewish-free zones. The destruction of families for nothing but their religion continues throughout the globe. At what point will we stop this destruction?

An incredibly moving play that will stick with me for some time.

Is Fear More Comfortable than Knowledge?

History has shown us, as it repeats, that people look to leaders to create a culture of what they deem suitable for all to get in line, particularly regarding the war on drugs. There are so many players to blame, from Nixon to the media. Looking at old footage of the press interviewing anti-drug rhetoric players with hyped-up questions that could only expect negative responses, drugs are scary and evil. Then why are countless psilocybins growing naturally in our forests or backyards? If you believe in the lord, that is the question you should ask yourself.

If we look at the polls, the laws passed on legalizing cannabis have had overwhelming support. The revenue being generated is jaw-dropping. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that people love attitude adjustments in their daily life and have for thousands of years. Just look at the alcohol industry. Prohibition didn’t go so well.

What is the fear about psychedelic use that comes from primarily conservative people? Is it fear of the unknown? Allowing of letting loose? Is it fear of letting your mind open? Is it fear of not being in control? Is it fear of death?

Data has shown that these “journeys” can be beneficial, and game-changing in a positive way. No, these people do not fly off buildings as they wanted everyone to believe in the 1960s when the recreational uses of many of these drugs took off.

The problem is many of these pharmaceutical drugs numb your senses. It makes me wonder about the corruption of pharmaceutical companies issuing products you need to take your entire life to calm your anxiety. Is the war on drugs meant to help the pharmaceutical and alcohol companies because they won’t continue making as much money? 

Many of these experiences for people are one-shot journeys with the right therapists. Even when peyote is taken in the Indigenous culture, an elder is always there to help guide the process. God knows what will come out in decades about the connection between pharmaceutical companies and the Government. And yes, I am becoming more cynical daily.

It makes zero sense why the Government is legally holding these products back. It is fueling illegal street businesses that are not always selling good shit, and that’s scary. Fentanyl is killing people every day. Why is that good? Psilocybins can work with the right therapists to overcome your anxieties vs. having to take a daily pill with therapy. Think about that. Isn’t it time for Government to change the direction of what products can be used for better mental health? Force the pharmaceutical to change its biz model and let a new breed enter the space. That is true capitalism.

I appreciate government oversight, but this false narrative began in the Nixon administration to keep Black and brown people in jail.  It has destroyed countless families and lives. It is time, to be honest about these products. It will be game-changing. Can you imagine a teenager who is so angry, goes through a journey with the right therapist, and doesn’t pick up a gun to foist their anger on the world? Mental health issues are one of the leading problems in our country.

It is time to change the false narrative about these drugs. It is time to unwind from the damage the war on drugs has done to our country. Just go back into history and read the data; it is there in black and white. These natural psychedelics are positive, not harmful. These changes are starting to happen at the state level, and countless people are beginning to realize the benefits. It is time the federal Government joined the conversation, not the rhetoric, and hit the gas.

Curation Works

We were at two food halls this past weekend. One was Urban Hawker, the new market concept mirroring Saigon’s hawkers market. The majority of the food spots were open. Not sure who is behind this concept, but it is all food here, Americanized. The vibe is horrible, and the music is electro-punk that bangs on your head. It is a disconnect between the people eating their food in an area randomly lined with picnic tables and high-tops set up like a food court. However, there is an excellent addition, rarely seen at a food court, a bar stationed at the end of the food area so you can also get a drink to soothe the anxiety of the place.

We also popped into Chelsea Market; we dipped into the secret entrance that takes you immediately downstairs, where the locals buy their products. The success of Chelsea Market points directly to the curating of who got a lease and who didn’t. Unclear how long the leases are, but seven years seems a good number. If you can’t keep up with the new and evolving, your lease ends, and someone else comes in.

Chef José Andrés and the Adría Brothers are the people behind Mercato at the Hudson Yards. Just like Jean-George’s new Tin Building, each shop or restaurant inside is owned and curated by these chefs. Not easy to manage each tiny detail within each shop unless each shop and restaurant is allowed to run independently. I find these concepts start to wane on me over time.

When I was in Paris, I shopped at two stores, Samaratine and Bon Marche. These are department stores, but they do it so well in Paris. It enables me to see the trends, what’s being made and sold, and above all, it is curated. I love well-curated stores the best. Some are not geared toward me, but I do appreciate they are for a particular customer. Everyone only needs a little market share to make it worthy. Why we can’t do it here is beyond me. I won’t walk into a department store in the states.

Fred Segal, in Los Angeles, was early to the party of concept shops. The business plan was similar to Chelsea Market but with clothing and lifestyle stores. And, of course, Collette was the bomb. I applaud the impact they made and how they ended it. That takes a lot, but just like an athlete, there comes a time to dip.

The stores are starting to change in NYC, but there aren’t enough because of the landlords, but that is for another blog. That will never change. I still walk around NYC, pop into a small shop, and buy an item. It feels good, is an activity, creates community, and fills the void that Amazon never will be able to, instant satisfaction. We need more creative locals.

High Line Art Dinner

The High Line puts on two barn-raising dinners a year, the annual event and the art dinner. This past week was the High Line Art Dinner. On the one hand, I don’t love these events, but on the other hand, I do love the gathering even though I find myself lost on who to talk to at most of them. (Above is Mario Palombo, the Chair of the High Line, and me)

We walked the High Line, got a drink, mingled a bit, listened to five women singing archipelago, and then sat down at two long tables forcing each group of six to chat with others. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Alan Van Cappelle, the next ED of the High Line.

Over the last six months, I sat on two committees to choose the next head of the High Line and the Fund for Public Housing. The High Line is replacing a co-founder who came back to run the organization for the past five years, and the other co-founder jumped in when he left, but he wasn’t coming back full-time. The High Line was forced to find a replacement; it is time to create new goals as it integrates into Moynihan Station.

The Fund for Public Housing is essentially starting from scratch. A volunteer was running the organization, and before that, nobody for almost a year when the head of NYCHA changed hands. It wasn’t pretty, but this Fund has so much opportunity.

Big difference. Different heads with different agendas with other goals, one to evolve and one to grow. Each organization ended up hiring fantastic people. For the past three months, I have worked closely with Alex Zablocki, the new ED for the Fund for Public Housing. Watch out for this young man; he is intelligent, street smart, driven, charming, has a great aura, and truly cares. What he has figured out in the past three months is a sheer delight. Watch Alex; he is going somewhere.

And then, at the High Line, Alan VanCappelle is taking over the reins in two months. He is also intelligent, street smart, driven, charming, has a great aura, and truly cares. I feel confident that the High Line is in good hands on multiple levels. Sitting next to him at the High Line Dinner, I was delighted to talk about his vision.

New blood is essential. There is a time in each organization or company’s life when although not easy to do, bringing on someone new with a sparkle in their eye who is excited about the opportunity at hand is essential to organizations like the Fund and the High Line as both continue to make an impact on NYers and the city we love.

Psilocybin Is Happening

Psilocybin is the only new area that I wanted to invest in, but I did not want to continue as an angel investor, so we became LPs in two funds that are investing in the psilocybin space. The use of psilocybin for treating mental health has supporting data. A recent study on psilocybin microdosing found that “seven central themes were observed in most individuals: 1) Mental Health; 2) Dose effects; 3) A feeling of connection to self, nature, or something ‘bigger’; 4) An increase in productivity; 5) An increased state of wellbeing; 6) Navigating problems more effectively; 7) Participants with a musical background experienced an increase in their levels of creativity.” If you have ever partaken in any of these drugs in college, none of this should be surprising to you.

One of the groups we invested in is the Beckley Waves. The guiding light is Lady Amanda Feilding, who has been espousing the benefits of these drugs since she began taking them some 70 years ago. She finally convinced her sons to get on board, taking it to another level. Beckley is incubating businesses that will help bring this industry forward; the first is the Beckley Academy.

The Beckley Academy teaches therapists how to use psilocybins, if needed, in their patient’s therapy. The issue is similar to what happened with technology in the mid-90s. Education saw technology coming, but many were not trained to integrate those tools into their classrooms. Organizations began to teach teachers best practice curriculums. We must continue to do this as technology is integrated into most schools, but there is still work.

As states start to look at the benefits of these drugs that can provide positive effects, they will no doubt only be able to be purchased with a doctor’s prescription, just like Ambien or Klonopin. The more doctors trained, the more best practices are shared, and before you know it, industry has been created that gets us out of the pharmaceutical world that we know today.

Beckley Academy is an incredible opportunity to do good while being part of a brand-new industry.

Aren’t We All Anxious?

Last week the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a committee of medical experts, recommended that anyone under 65 be screened for anxiety. The first thing that popped into my mind was, why not test everyone? Then I saw the reason is from coping with the pandemic and its aftermath (essentially), and they also tossed in rising crime and inflation. I am pretty sure everything happening affects everyone, regardless of age.

What is the reasoning for that? Supposedly there is no actual data that older adults need to be tested because anxiety is similar to regular old aging. Personally, I find that hard to believe. I am not 65, but I am not that far (yikes), and if anything, older adults tend to be who they are, anxieties included, after hitting 65.

The biggest question is considering that everyone has some anxiety level, how will we treat all of this? The answer is certainly not in pharmaceuticals. The answer should be in cannabis and psilocybin products. We will never have the right medical cannabis products we want and need until Federal Government declassifies cannabis as a level one drug. Then, the amount of research will explode because there will be private funding. That changes the game.

Israel has been doing research on cannabis for decades. Their findings have had impressive impacts on multiple levels of medical care. Why don’t we?

Back to anxiety relieving drugs that also come with therapy. Therapy should be covered on all insurance. Products like Ketalin, micro-dosing mushrooms, or an iowaska journey have taken years of therapy off people’s plates and helped others with depression. That is a fact. I have witnessed this first-hand.

Being able to have honest conversations about anxiety alone is game-changing, but what would take us there is shifting the mental health care we all receive, not just for people under 65 but for every age.

Creatives

As more transactions began on the web, data became a word bantered about. What kind of data should we be capturing? What are we going to do with this data? Can we sell this data to others? Does anyone even understand the information we are collecting? Was it time to get a Chief Data Officer to know what we are capturing?

Fast forward the amount of data captured from small sites to the behemoths. The concept of privacy has flown the coop. Every site, every transaction, every post we read, and every trip we take is data documented. What it’s used for is the bigger question.

We are entering a new age where creatives are the future. Creatives are looking at the big picture about how we engage, what a brand wants to look and feel, and our purpose.

The creatives’ curiosity will define the next decade because we need big-picture thinkers looking at the landscape of the next decade. Artistic people define the times. It is time to move out of data consumption into creative consumption. Looking at the world through a creative lens might create more interesting conversations and angles on how we engage with each other in the years ahead, mainly because automation will take over more jobs than we can count.

Cannabis: Federal vs State

January 2022

Soon the majority of the states will have legalized cannabis use, either recreational or medicinal. AKA, the cat is out of the bag.

I am going through the process of applying for a dispensary license, where I will partner with someone. Not shocking; the paperwork is intense with plenty of legal dialects. NY State is attempting to do the right thing by giving the first round of applications to those incarcerated for cannabis use in the state. These people are accountable to certain covenants as they should be. The state will provide real estate as well as a loan program for all of the winners. The state wants to ensure that each of these possible license owners has success.

The other applicants can be nonprofit organizations who work in the space of helping previously incarcerated people get back on their feet. The scariest thing for any of these organizations is their status as a 501C3 because the Federal Government issues that.

Others want to manage a store or work in the industry. What if their partner is involved with organizations that shun that because cannabis is not Federal law? The whole thing is crazy because this will all be moot in the end.

We should all be asking ourselves why the Federal Government is still holding the 280E taxation over the cannabis industry. Why can’t they figure out how to pass the banking law (banks are not “allowed” to give loans or work with cannabis companies) and, most importantly, pass the legalization of cannabis at a Federal level?

Politics are politics, and they are getting worse, but perhaps the answer is age. 25% of lawmakers are over 70, and this continues to climb. Most of these lawmakers don’t get it. They also don’t get Web 3.0 or the importance of getting behind Cryptocurrencies. All three of these are essential to the future of our country, from taxation to leadership.

This is one of the many reasons that people are losing faith in Government. It is time for the Federal Government to pass laws that allow banking for cannabis, remove it as a status one drug and make the plant legal.