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.

Iboga

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.

Decisions

lawn dartsBear with my rambling for a minute.

When I was a kid you could buy “Lawn Darts,” large heavy darts for hurling across a lawn at a target. A potentially dangerous game, possibly deadly if you were a risk taker. They were one lonesome train whistle and drunk mom away from a sad country western song, “He killt his little brotha with a lawn dart…” but they seemed to be a popular toy despite their inherent dangers.

The other day I saw an article in Smithsonian magazine about the search for LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all life on Earth. LUCA is a sort of single-celled Eve at the base of the tree of life that all life has evolved from.

With advanced DNA analysis, it seems that life’s earliest ancestors lived in habitat with no oxygen, feeding on hydrogen gas. So it was likely an organism living near super-heated volcanic vents where hydrogen gas was likely produced. You’ve probably seen the pictures of the habitat, those deep sea vents surrounded by weird tube clams and crabs.

Anyway, LUCA got me wondering about decisions when organisms acquired mobility. When you can move you have options. At that point the most import decision became don’t do anything that has a strong chance of killing you. 

As creatures got smarter, two more important questions arose “Why?” and “Why not?” The trick is knowing which one to ask because most bad things happen quickly.

The positive things in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new skills, fixing bad behaviors, building good relationships, rearing offspring making patience and determination among life’s primary virtues. Reinforced behaviors continue and behaviors that aren’t reinforced peter out.

Decisions about new things and situations can be difficult. Our families and experts are right about 98 percent of the time on the easy stuff, but only right maybe half the time on anything that’s unusually complicated, mysterious, or new. Who knows, if your gut feeling (intuition) disagrees with your family or the experts, take that seriously. Maybe you’re experiencing some pattern recognition that you can’t yet verbalize and their pessimism could be a failure of imagination.

Sometimes, you need to be selfish. Being selfish just means you’re taking the long view of things. That’s why on a plane, you’re told to put your oxygen mask on first before helping even your kid.

After personal needs are met, decisions automatically turn to how to make the world a better place. There’s an order. Humans are wired to take care of our own needs first, then family, tribe, country, and the world.

If you’re at a yard sale, don’t buy those seductive lawn darts.

Give up the bottle

ethiqueWhy not make shampoo and conditioners in bar form?

The next question is, why hasn’t this been done before? Bar shampoo seems like a logical step forward because it doesn’t need a plastic container and it’s cheaper to ship because there’s no need to ship the water normally in shampoo.

The reverse happened awhile back – some companies start selling harder-to-use liquid body soap in place of easier-to-use bar soap. I’m sure it’s marketing and trying to keep up with the competition.

Now, a company called Ethique is selling shampoo, conditioner and soap in bar form. Ethique uses packaging that’s plastic-free, made of biodegradable, compostable material.

“The more I thought about it, the crazier it seemed to me that we pay gobs of money for all that water packaged in plastic,” founder Brianne West told Forbes.

All the products are made from natural ingredients and have eliminated the need for another plastic bottle bobbing around in the trash.

 

Pull Back

rbf“Grumpy and bitter isn’t a place we begin. It’s a place we end up.

People don’t become selfish, hateful and afraid all at once. They do it gradually.

Do we find ourselves taking actions that make our conversations more considered, our arguments more informed, our engagements more civil? Or precisely the opposite, because it’s easier?” Those are Seth Godin’s observations in a recent blog post.

If you’ve been watching the Republican and Democratic conventions, characterizing the Republicans as grumpier and the Democrats as cheerier would be accurate. The Republicans seem focused on the negative, much of which resulted from their earlier policies and obstructionism. The Democrats seem to have a bigger tent and longer term view.

Leaving American politics aside, there are lots of people in the world who think everything is getting worse. But if we zoom out to see the bigger picture, the trending is more towards the good than bad for humans.

Today the standard of living is better than it used to be, in the US and even worldwide. It’s not where everyone would like, but it’s happening. While there’s occasional backsliding, but the general direction is toward a higher standard of living.

Consider that over the past century humans have reined in famine, plague, and war. What used to be uncontrollable and mysterious forces of nature are now more or less manageable challenges.

Now in the affluent countries, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.

You never guess it by watching the news, but the average American is a thousand times more likely to die from bingeing at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.

Grumpier results from the easier short-term take on life. Cheerier happens if you can take a longer view.

The Simple Path to Wealth

the simple path to wealthI just finished reading “The Simple path to Wealth” by JL Collins. It’s a book about money that I’d recommend to everyone.

The bare bones concept is that if you can avoid debt, save most of what you earn, invest your money (in a very low cost indexed fund), and leave it alone, then with a bit of time you’ll wind up financially independent. The particulars he gives are important along with the whys and how-tis. And he does it all in an engaging and down to earth way.

Don’t take my word for it, here’re some reviews and endorsements from other readers:

– By the end of the book you find yourself wondering why it took someone so long to put these thoughts to paper and bundle it all into one package. For someone just starting out on this journey, congratulations, you just won the lottery after having read this book. For someone a few years into their working career, you still have plenty of time. And lastly, for someone over half way through their working career, tomorrow is never too late to start.

– It’s the only book I’ve ever read it’s in entirety on a phone!

– Imagine a book that can teach you everything you need to know about investing in one afternoon. Now suppose that the book is insightful, well researched, filled with wit and humor, and can help you achieve better investing results than over 80% of professional investors. The Simple Path to Wealth is that book.

– He doesn’t ask his readers to take his word for it. He explains how he reached his conclusions.

– …he stresses the importance of money in our society, while writing a book that people who do not really care about money will actually find interesting and actionable.”

– JL Collins gives an approachable, well-structured guide to understanding what money is (and is not), how to protect it, how to make it work for you, and ultimately how to make sure that you master money so it doesn’t master you.

– It’s a book about freedom – the freedom to be your own master by escaping the traps of debt and wasteful spending and letting your money work for you.”

– Jim advises new investors to ‘Stop thinking about what your money can buy.’ and ‘Start thinking about what your money can earn.’ Money is much more than the things it can buy. It represents the energy of our lives. Do you want to exhaust that on stuff and clutter, or use it to buy freedom.

– Jack Bogle and Warren Buffett undoubtedly would give JL Collins a thumbs up.

– If you’re too cheap to spend eleven bucks on the one book that will finally make you rich and happy, then don’t come crying to me in six months when you find yourself destitute, friendless, eating cold pork-n-beans out of a can at the public library, and creeping everyone out.

No second chance

storm by shannon hWho would you want to be with you during a bad situation?

Probably not Adele, Brad, or Oprah or anyone else recognized by their first name. Personality  only carries you so far really. But character that’s been tested is what you’d want if the shit hits the fan and there might be no second chance.

My choice would be one of these three – an ER doctor, a Navy Seal, or an astronaut. Although the training for each profession is different, each one encourages critical thinking and members of each group have survived harsh testing of their skills. They are people who’re comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

This is just a thought experiment I came up with after a sudden, short lasting storm hit our town. It wasn’t a real emergency, but it got me thinking about who I’d like to have around if my world gets disrupted.

With a down jacket and a positive outlook you’ll likely be able to get through a few days of hell on your own, and there’re also regular folks around who have the attributes of doctors, Seals, or astronauts. So the label isn’t necessary for finding a solid person to have with you in tough situations. For identifying a tested, quality person with character – those  three categories are where I’d pick from.

Guns in America

ground droneIf this ground drone was available, some people would buy them. It might be someone with good intentions and training, or maybe not.

History is an early warning system for our public health that America keeps ignoring. Now we’re paying increasingly higher public health costs due to letting just about anyone buy any type of gun they like.

So the question is when will we update the second amendment to reflect current conditions?

A couple of hundred years ago guns were  cumbersome, time-consuming to reload, and fired only a single shot. The authors of the second amendment wrote on parchment using a feather for a pen. And, you could own another person too if you wanted to.

I’ve shot, owned, and still like guns. But just like driving a car, having and using a gun should be a privilege not a right. People should be able to have guns but they should be required to get training and certification to buy and keep one.

The difference between insanity and genius is measured only by success. The public health impact of guns on Americans is insane. America can fix this situation.

Are the tables being turned?

turning the tablesIt’s been 14 billion years since the Big Bang.

We’re a result of four billion years of evolutionary success.

For 70,000 years Homo Sapiens have been running the show.

Capitalism and science have given us an ever increasing standard of living over the last few hundred years.

And this year, the most powerful country in the history of the world is offering Donald Trump as it’s potential president.

Why is he getting the traction he has?

Trump says out loud what a lot of (white) people are thinking. Some white folks think they’re losing power and the tables are being turned on them.

Power is rarely given, it’s usually taken, and that’s what’s scary.

But in a big diverse society like the US the power isn’t equally distributed. It can never be exactly evenly spread across all people because everyone’s not the same. But everyone deserves a somewhat equal chance. That’s all. There’s not much to worry about.