It’s already great

prayerThere’re always people telling us how crappy our lives are. Are you pessimistic or optimistic? Life is actually getting better,safer, and more free in the big picture. What time in the past would you like to have lived in (as a regular person)?

Be careful, don’t choose a time period with a strong chance of killing you. There are some not so great times in the past that you could find yourself in.

Consider this period from a long time ago. “Around 72,000 B.C., a volcanic super-eruption with the force of 1.5 million Hiroshima-size bombs occurred in Indonesia. A six inch layer of volcanic ash settled over Asia, there were traces of ash as far as East Africa, the homeland of humans. Skies darkened and global temperatures fell, creating a ‘long night’ lasting for many years. DNA testing indicates that the human population dropped to between 3,000 and 10,000 people.”

Pretty grim. But some people made it through that bottleneck and all 7 billion people today are descended from that tiny group of survivors. Eventually we discovered agriculture, leading to a life that generally wasn’t great for common folk.

“In the year 1820, life expectancy less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less than 20% of the population was literate.”

After the industrial age got under way, followed by the information age, things began to get better for common folk, at least from a 30,000 foot perspective.

“Now human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty and over 80% of people are literate.”

The strongest force enabling human progress has been the fast pace of and  broad reach of technology.

Surprise is the key element of creativity and entrepreneurship defying every econometric model and socialist scheme. Creativity can’t be planned. Most entrepreneurs, from Sam Walton to Elon Musk, didn’t get to the top of a hierarchy. They created something new. Progress comes from the creative minority. And that’s growing.

Economic potential never drops because knowledge always rises. Technology (knowledge embedded in machines) gets better because we invest in research and development and never replace a good machine with an inferior one. Plus the abilities of the average worker keeps rising because average educational and training levels continue to rise.

The trend is that things get better. It’s already pretty great and if history is any indication of the future, it’s just going to get greater. At least in the big picture first and then for the common man.

The bronut

donutBear with me for a minute before I get to the bronut.

Consider the human gastrointestinal tract. Technically it’s not part of our “insides” even though it passes through us.

It’s more like the hole in a donut that passes through the donut.

Looking at a donut, think of the top of the donut hole as your lips and the bottom of the lipsdonut hole as the hole in your bottom. Stretch that donut vertically until it’s about six feet tall. Along the way, feel free to extrude pairs of arms, legs , and ears, and whatever else you’d like,  from the glazed outside of the donut. What should this thing be called?

A few years ago, a French pastry chef in NYC started making donuts out of croissant dough and called them “cronuts.”  I’m calling my human inspired donut a “bronut.” It’s catchier than saying “sapiennut” or something like that. Mathematicians call the donut shape a “torus” but that’s not evocative enough.

Anyway a bronut is just a way to envision something that’s in us but at the same time also not part of us .

It’s mostly pretty good

get-paranoidSeth Godin writes one of the few blogs I’ve followed for years. He has a huge tribe of fans and I’m one of them. When you see him on stage in a video presentation, Seth is a skinny bald guy rocking baggy shirts and suits that are too big on him and his voice is kinda nasal, so it must be substance over style that’s propelled him.

Another blog I follow is Marginal Revolution by the economist Tyler Cowen. He’s another case of substance trumping nerdy professor style. He posts so many ideas it’s hard to believe.

I think there’s never been a better time to be alive and living in a modern economy even with its real and often imagined ups and downs.

Here’re two quick posts from Seth followed by one from Tyler:


Making a new decision based on new information by Seth Godin

This is more difficult than it sounds. To some people, it means admitting you were wrong.(But of course, you weren’t wrong. You made a decision based on one set of facts, but now you’re aware of something new.)

To some people, sunk costs are a real emotional hot button, and walking away from investments of time, of money, and mostly, of commitment, is difficult. (But of course, ignoring sunk costs is a key to smart decision making).

And, to some people, the peer pressure of sticking with the group that you joined when you first made a decision is enough to overwhelm your desire to make a better decision. “What will I tell my friends?”


Differences by Seth Godin

For as long as we’ve been keeping records, human beings have been on alert for the differences that divide us. Then we fixate on those differences, amplifying them, ascribing all sorts of irrelevant behaviors to them. Until, the next thing you know, we start referring to, “those people.”

It seems as though it’s a lot more productive to look for something in common. Attitudes and expectations. Beliefs in the common good and forward motion. A desire to make something that matters… Because there’s always more in common than different.


Ford fact of the day by Tyler Cowen from Bill Vlasic’s NYT article

Mr. Trump and others have criticized Ford for creating jobs in Mexico rather than in the United States. Seldom mentioned by Ford’s critics, though, is an essential fact. The Wayne factory will remain fully staffed, with 3,700 workers, to build what Ford really needs now: more trucks and S.U.V.s.

There’s no doubt that Nafta has played a role in the migration of many American manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Before that, US automakers barely had a presence in Mexico. Now, Mexico’s car-making work force is about 675,000 strong.

But many factors determine the number of auto-making jobs in the United States — a figure that according to federal labor statistics has actually grown by 200,000 jobs, to around 900,000, since the recession gave way to economic recovery in 2009.

The Dutch Reach

skirt-riding-upYou never know what could be passing next to your car just before you get out. And if you nail a cyclist when you open your car door you’ll feel pretty bad.

The Dutch have a solution. Enter the “Dutch Reach.” And I’m going to start using it.

A  Dutch Reach is opening your driver’s side car door with your far hand instead of using your near hand. Using  your right hand instead of your left hand it makes your body swivel, positioning your head to look out of your car so you can easily check to see approaching bikes. Maybe a better name would be the “Dutch Twist.”

If this habit can be spread, it’ll help reduce accidents, making cycling lanes less dangerous. The Dutch Reach is already part of the driver’s eduction program in the Netherlands.

It’s simple and easy to teach making it cheaper than costly infrastructure changes to make biking safer.

The end of the campaign


luchaThe party elders’ couldn’t believe it. And their lack of courage in getting off their doomed train weighed heavily on some of them.

The constellation of victories by the other party in the weeks before election day were strong indicators of what was to come. By the end of November 8th the exit polls left no doubt on both sides about who was going to be the biggest loser, and the soon-to-be defeated party was in shambles.

For some party true believers, suicide seemed a safe course and some even began extolling the “pleasure of sacrificing personal existence” for the party. After the election results were in, younger party members held baskets from which they passed out cyanide capsules to the party faithful.

Suicide became a national trend, exercised by thousands of distraught people fearing the worst for their country and themseslelves. As in a cult, the mass suicides were in part a response to the shock of seeing a massive, inextricable lie come crashing down.

Note: After the Nazis lost WWII there were thousands of suicides in Germany by officials and citizens fearing retribution or due to a sense of overwhelming loss. Recently, I saw a story about history that’s not widely known and that was the inspiration for the story above.

Put a bell on it

dead-hummingbirdA friend recently showed me his puppy. While we were discussing how to train dogs, he mentioned that he wanted his puppy to do some “opportunistic hunting” when it grows up. For a dog that probably means cats and maybe a slow wild animal.

Outdoor cats without bells on their collars probably need to be culled. The authors of “Cat Wars” claim cats have been implicated in the decline and extinction of some 175 different species. Any small mammal, bird, or reptile seems to be vulnerable to an attack by a cat.

A cat owner may ask, ‘What impact can my little cat be having?’ Well, every snowflake in an avalanche will plead not guilty to causing harm.

Cats are putting up some big numbers. When combined, cats’ cumulative damage to other animals is staggering. One researcher claims the number of animals killed by house cats in North American in a year is between 6.3 and 22.3 billion(!) mammals, between 1.3 and 4 billion(!) birds, between 95 and 299 million amphibians, and between 258 and 822 million reptiles. It’s an avalanche!

Think about those numbers. Even if those numbers are way off, even by half, the death toll from cats is unacceptable. Please put a bell around your cat’s neck before it goes out into the world.

The Globetrotters

itt-sept-2016I traveled to Canada a few weeks ago to train at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school there. It was a great experience. I could train for free and was even provided a place to stay. The school, Island Top Team, is part of a worldwide network encouraging BJJ practitioners to travel and train with other.

Where I train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is more of a club. There’s a teacher but he’s not there all of the time and there’s less than 15 students. So, there aren’t the taboos on training at other schools that are present at many traditional BJJ schools.

Anthropologists have observed that “nomadic foragers are universally and all but obsessively concerned with being free of the authority of others.” I think the same is true for those of us who’re no longer hunter-gathers.

There was a focus on “us vs. them” in tribal life. But that’s a ancient survival mechanism that kept us safe by staying with and fighting for our own tribe. Anything else would’ve meant death during most of our history because you wouldn’t be able to survive on your own. Nowadays in our industrialized world it’s not needed.

A typical Jiu Jitsu business model builds on and takes advantage of the “us vs them” idea  by creating a culture of “expected loyalty” hampering exposure to different and possibly better moves. But we’re  adults, and no other adult should tell us, who we can and can’t grapple with.

The BJJ Globetrotting idea came to a Danish BJJ Black belt who encountered some “us vs them” mentality on a worldwide trip to train BJJ. He said:

The stories about Jiu Jitsu politics I heard from people, haunted my mind for long, after I returned home. The feeling I had gotten from visiting all these academies of the world, finding friendships in each and every one of them, made them painful to listen to. One day, whilst riding my bicycle home from training, an idea popped up in my head. I realised that I was in a position (as a black belt with a school) to do things differently. I could create a team against teams. An alternative Jiu Jitsu affiliation, that poked the traditional notion of our tribalized culture and would advocate against the typical BJJ business model of making sure your customers are scared enough to keep eating in your restaurant out of ‘respect.’

He wrote down a set of defined values to apply to the new globetrotter type student and academies.

We don’t pay each other any affiliation fees
We wear any patches we like on our gis
We are free to represent any (or no) team in competition
We encourage training with anyone regardless of affiliation
We are willing to promote anyone who deserves it—members or not
We arrange camps, seminars and visit each other for training and fun
We believe everyone is equal both on and off the mats
We strive to enjoy life, people and the world through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

True, honest friendships and positive memories are amongst the very few things really worth collecting in life.

Any person you meet could potentially change your life forever. Why limit yourself including who you choose to be friends with and train with and allow to influence your existence?

As far as I can tell his ideas are working.

The Risk Takers

cayote shadowActually what I meant was illegal risk takers operating in the shadows. Terrorists and Wall Street “insider” traders come to mind. Do they have similarities? Maybe.

They’re generally men, younger, willing to take big risks, seeking  large paybacks (paradise or great wealth), often with criminal records, and favor associating with acquaintances from their youth.

The concepts of religion and money are belief systems allowing humans to interact in large numbers. As long as you and many others, share a belief that there’s an invisible super powerful deity, or that colored pieces of paper have value, there’re situations in which some might be willing to risk everything.

Here’re some interesting observations from a Bloomberg column about insider traders based on the research of Kenneth R. Ahern at USC:

Some aspects come pretty close to what we see in the movies. The average insider trader is 43 years old, and nine out of 10 are male. The practice also seems correlated with some features of recklessness: Insider traders are younger than their associates, less likely to own real estate, and have fewer family members on average. More than half have criminal records, with almost all charges stemming from traffic violations.

To my eye, the most striking data involve personal connections: Insider traders appear to be pretty careful in choosing their accomplices. Of the known pairs of people who provide and act upon private information (“tipper and tippee”), 64 percent met before college, and 16 percent met in college or graduate school. Another 23 percent are family relations — more siblings and parents than aunts and uncles, despite the added capital that the latter might have provided. Tips are also commonly shared among people with ethnically similar surnames: Of 24 tips coming from people with Celtic surnames, for example, 14 went to individuals who also had Celtic surnames.

The choice of accomplices demonstrates how hard it is to trust people you haven’t known very long, especially if you’re not all that trustworthy yourself.

This implies that maybe modern corporations are, in some ways, more honest places than one might think. Not that people are always so law-abiding; rather, many workplace relationships may be too superficial and too transient to develop the trust and cooperation typically required for villainy and law-breaking.

Going Scary

religionLast year around this time I heard an interview with Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon who’s also a trained hypnotist and keenly interested in the art of persuasion.

In the interview, he claimed that Donald Trump was a master persuader with a good chance of becoming the next president. A year ago, the only other person with the same opinion was probably Trump. Adams’s argument is that persuasion allows success a field that you shouldn’t be succeeding in (because you don’t have any experience in it).

These days, Adams is a minor celebrity in the world of political opinion because of his track record on Trump’s popularity. By the way, Adams says he’s voting for Clinton.

Now in a recent interview, he’s laid out some interesting insights into the Clinton campaign. These are a few of his ideas below, which I’ve shortened for clarity.

Persuasion can be a superpower. I can tell you that Clinton’s campaign, before Bernie Sanders dropped out, didn’t have any signs of good persuasion. She was talking about experience and facts and policies. All this stuff doesn’t persuade anybody, because we don’t know about facts and policies. We just pretend we do.

After Bernie dropped out, she went full hard-core persuasion, dropping all facts and reasons — you don’t hear much about policies anymore. And she went to fear.

Take a look at what Clinton did to change her message. It changed from, “Hey, I’m experienced and he’s not” — which is not terribly persuasive when people want the outsider anyway . It went from, “Hey, he’s not such a good businessman,” to, “He’s dark, he’s scary, he’s crazy, he’s mentally unstable, he’ll have the nuclear codes.”

They went to super-scare. Some top persuaders  waded in and said, “Stop doing everything you’re doing, and scare the fuck out of people. And here’s how you do it. You make this guy look like he’s out of control.” So out of control that somebody like you could say, “You know, I think he does hate that baby.” And they pulled that off.

If I were advising her, I’d tell her to do nothing different. Because she’s way ahead in the polls. So to win, she just has to make Trump look increasingly scary. And it appears that will be easy to do, and she’s been very successful at it.


old morphineIboga is derived from the bark of a Central African shrub’s roots (ibogaine is the purified and measurable form of iboga).

Some Africans in the iboga habitat area chew the root for the psychoactive effects. It’s used in high doses in ritualistic settings and at low doses it can maintain alertness while hunting.

Iboga has gotten traction in the West for supposedly reversing addiction to recreational drugs, especially opiates. It’s illegal in the US because it’s a psychoactive compound and hasn’t been researched enough.

It’s not illegal in Mexico. There’re at least two independent “clinics” in my town of around 2,500. Addicts travel here to be treated. The treatment involves an ibogaine induced nightlong experience of insightful self-reflection and coming out of the experience with no cravings for the addictive substance.

I’ve talked to a few people who’ve been treated.

They all said it worked. But I wouldn’t say the ones I spoke to, or saw hanging around after treatment, were drug-free, because they still drank alcohol, smoked pot, or maybe other more secretive indulgences.

Maybe I’m just more familiar with the abstinence model, so my perspective is off. There still seems to be a hole that these former users were trying to fill with pretty heavy partying.

From what I could tell, there isn’t much follow-up after a couple of weeks. And as far as statistics were concerned it just seemed like word-of-mouth. The big addiction was addressed but the underlying issues that led to the addiction didn’t get much attention.

The whole iboga subculture always seemed incomplete. My ideas are only from talking to a few people. Other clinics may be much more thorough with follow-up and addressing underlying and unresolved psychological needs.

Here’re some ideas that I took away from an article in the Atlantic magazine  that shed a little light on the iboga treatment:

Physical dependence is only part of addiction. Above all, it’s a psychiatric problem. Drug addiction is defined as the compulsive use of drugs despite negative consequences. 

After an ibogaine trip, a user’s insights may figure prominently in the recovery story, but  about 10 percent of addicts are basically ready to quit at any given time and will respond to whatever they try.

Addiction can be framed as a developmental disorder. Fewer than 10 percent of addicts develop their habits after their early 20s, when the cortex finishes developing and introduces an adult aversion to risk.

…addicts are usually dealing with some other mental health problem or trauma that makes them vulnerable. And contrary to popular belief, most opiate addictions are not lifelong. They are resolved within five years, a little longer for heroin. The real task is mostly a matter of keeping addicts alive and otherwise healthy until they can age out of addiction.

The best way to do that is well established. Methadone and other long-term maintenance treatments cut mortality in half. They create physical dependence but not addiction, and they form a foundation for a stable life.

Ibogaine has its appeal among drug users, who often gravitate to underground culture anyway.

There’re other reasons an addict might shy away from mainstream programs, though. Eighty percent of treatment programs, including court-ordered treatments, are based on the 12-step process requiring surrender to a higher power.

The official policy is that addiction is a ‘biopsychosocial-spiritual’ disorder. How are they going to convince people it’s a health problem when you throw ‘spiritual’ into it? They’d never use the word ‘spiritual’ for something like depression.

A disease with prayer as an answer is a contradiction

It’s no wonder addicts are turning to other sorts of unearthly experiences that are less infantilizing.

History shows that for the most part, adults don’t want to be addicted to things. At the turn of the century, heroin was an ingredient in many over-the-counter products. When FDA labeling came into effect, consumption of those products plummeted.  

If ibogaine is the only treatment someone will accept, it may be a useful option to keep on the table, but maintenance treatments are by far the better and safer course.