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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

A Plea to Trump Supporters

I just read a troubling Facebook post about two open-minded teenagers who attended a Trump rally even though they were Bernie supporters. Granted, wearing Bernie garb was provocative, but they were otherwise quiet and respectful. They were also escorted out by the secret service and police. That's scary, but not why I'm compelled to write this post.

What is more scary to me is the reaction they got from the Trump supporters (not all of them to be sure). Look, I get it! Lot's of people are fed up with our crappy government and Trump does a great job of representing the "not our crappy government" camp.

I'm sure Hitler could tap into a similar sentiment right now. He came to power during a time when the economy was in shambles. Regular folks were getting squeezed harder and harder. Hitler blamed immigrants and outside forces for this. He argued that Germany was for Germans and that alone they could rebuild their country. For everyone who had lost a job to a Jew or a Pole or an Armenian, this really hit home. Throw them out! Build a wall!

At issue here isn't the problems we face. They are real. The issue is anger and those that would amplify it for their own ends. If you are angry, you are an easy pawn for power brokers with their own agendas. There is strong scientific evidence to  suggest that anger can impair cognitive functioning. It is in the best interest of leaders who want to control people to tap into and even inflate your anger. You are much more easily manipulated that way.

So, here's my plea. Stop being angry. Take some long slow breaths and just relax. There. Now, you can think clearly. If you hate our government, ask yourself what a good government would look like. Is there a way to get there from here? Will it be easier to get there with everyone's help or just whities against the world? Is the thing that make the U.S. stand out against all other countries that we are a melting pot of so many different cultures and treat them all equally? I think so.

I believe in the middle way. We use the word "extremist" to describe someone that usually ends up dead, in jail or at large. Extremists live at both ends of the political spectrum. It is a nasty place with little tolerance for divergent viewpoints. It is those very divergent viewpoints that make this country great.

One Trump supporter told those teenage girls at the rally to move to China. That's ironic, because they were doing something very American. They were exploring divergent viewpoints. Maybe the person who shouted that should move to China. I'm sure they'd fit right in.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Hillary Will Win the Presidency

I'd like to start this post by saying that I'm not a huge Hillary fan. She's a horrible orator, but maybe not such a bad politician. Her positions are calculated based on what her team thinks she needs to do to win. In other words, she's not particularly idealistic.

Let me also say that I like Bernie Sanders. He's affable and idealistic. He has a good grasp of the problems this country faces and I believe he truly desires to fix said problems. The reality is, he can't. The system is completely stacked against him. Washington has basically shut down Obama, who is far more pragmatic than Sanders. Congress won't let Sanders order paperclips.

It's starting to look likely that Trump will win the the Republican nomination. Anyone with half a brain who is willing to actually put it to work ought to be able to see that a Trump presidency would be a disaster. You just can't run a country -- especially the most powerful one on the planet -- like a game show. Maybe Trump would hire some proper diplomats to curtail his belligerence, but with an ego that far out of control, I wouldn't bet on it. With him as president, I could see us fighting a world war in which Europe and Latin America are part of the opposition. Simply put, the man is dangerous and there are many rich and powerful people who are smart enough to do anything to stop him -- up to and including voting for a Democrat!

This brings us back to Hillary. Her flexibility and pragmatic views make her far more palatable to more centrist Republicans. In a general election between Sanders and Trump, a third party candidate is more likely to win. In a two candidate race, lots of smart Republicans will begrudgingly vote for a sane, but ideologically divergent Sanders rather than a crazy man. Hillary is a no-brainer. That's why Hillary's war chest will grow rapidly if she doesn't win big tomorrow night. Republicans who want to hedge their bets will help her out as a backup. As is not uncommon, Republicans may even start voting for Hillary in the primaries, writing their own party's choice off as a lost cause.

What is this Trump phenomenon? I get it. People are sick and tired of Washington insiders casting them aside. Making choices that provide economic cover for the rich and powerful while stripping the middle class. Trump, unencumbered by reality, promises to reverse all that. Whoopee! Tell them what they've won, Bob? A crackpot president who won't be able to get anything done! Sweet!

I think Eddie Murphy said it best in Trading Places. "The best way to hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people." It may be the only way. The Great Depression turned a lot of rich people into poor people. After the recovery, the years that followed (50's and 60's) were the most prosperous in our history. This time around, we printed up $3.5 TRILLION in order to prop up the rich people. Depressions suck, but they do serve a purpose. They unclog the pipes of capitalism. Neither Trump nor Sanders is going to turn rich people into poor people. Thus, the pipes will remain clogged.

At least Hilary will keep things moving along until the next crisis. Maybe it will be a real depression next time. If it happens on her watch, I think we will be better off than if Sanders or Trump were in charge. I'll take a pragmatist over an idealist or a game show host any day!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Voluntary Redistribution

I read an article yesterday in The Economist about how global fiscal policymakers are running out of tools to fix the next economic downturn. Interest rates are near zero and even negative rates have limited potential. All the levers of control have been pulled and yet, here we are -- facing sluggish growth that threatens to stall. Government spending means more debt and nobody seems to have the stomach for that either.

I’m a self-confessed Trekie. In Gene Roddenberry’s series, capitalism has been abandoned. Capitalism is a dear old friend that has been the best way for humans to exchange the things they need with one another. It is the best system we know for managing scarcity.


We assume that scarcity is an underlying fact of life on Earth. Is it? Are there any problems of extraction, reclamation, production and distribution that couldn’t be collectively solved with a combination of innovation, initiative and resources? Is it possible that unnatural divisions between us are the ultimate cause of scarcity?

If we all worked together for the common good, what could we accomplish? It seems to me that this initiative would need to start with the rich and powerful (who are usually one and the same). In 2013, the Forex currency exchange was trading $5.3 TRILLION per day. At that time, the daily global trading of goods and services was estimated to be 25 times less. That’s just currency folks! This does not take into account money sitting in banks or in other trading accounts. None of this money helps real people with real problems. I suspect it causes them.

It seems like it is the nature of the rich and powerful to hold onto what they have for as long as they can. When the system finally collapses (which it always has eventually), they are left with nothing. Frankly, in times past, they often ended up with their head in a basket, swinging from a rope or some other sudden and violent death. We like to think we’re more civilized now, but one only needs to follow the news of the day to know that’s just wrong.

What could rich and powerful people do if they took their money off the sidelines and put it to work? For starters, they could build infrastructure. Ideas already exist to build a global “enernet” that would provide cheap power wherever it is needed. We could build new transportation infrastructure on top of the old such as that proposed by SkyTran. Most importantly, we could fully fund (and thereby accelerate) research to address every unsolved problem facing humankind.

Just try to imagine what would happen if the global economy was 50 or 100 times more effective than it is now. What could we do? It seems we’d have virtually unlimited ability to create the golden age of humankind that we all know in our hearts is possible.

Behind it all are a few extremely powerful people who have convinced themselves that changing the system would be disruptive and destructive. They believe that from their vantage point, they see things more clearly than the rest of us. They understand about forces we know nothing about that would derail any attempt to create a better world. They are wrong. They are part of the same cycle that humankind has repeated over and over since the dawn of civilization. If they put all their power and resources behind a transformation. They could make it happen. They could own the creation of a future that unbinds us from the shackles of the past. It would take courage. It might even get messy at first. But, what better legacy to leave behind?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Lip Balm is For the Bees

When we got into the soap business, we thought we should have a few other products as well. Having started the business in late fall in Michigan, moisturizing was already on our minds. The air gets pretty dry in the winter months around here. So, we opted to make some body lotion and lip balm.

Our goal was to make better products that don't have a ton of chemicals in them. I will confess here and now that I am a longstanding Burt's Bees lip balm user. Back when lip balm was called Chapstick®, that's what I called it and that was the brand I used. When I discovered Burt's Bees, I came to realize that Chapstick® is made from petroleum. That's what some of us call a fossil fuel when its other derivatives find their way into the tank of our car.

Burt's is made with real bee's wax. It smells better, it feels better. And, it's ingredient list is a bit shorter. Frankly, when we set out to make lip balm, we didn't think we could beat it. There was one thing I did like about that petroleum product: it wasn't so hard. The hardness thing is particularly a drag in the winter when I most need it because it gets so hard that I practically risk chipping a tooth putting it on.

Enter Ti LeBlanc lip balm. The secret? Just the right amount of coconut oil. It makes the lip balm softer and creamier. I can pull an ice cold tube out of my jacket pocket and it goes on just like butter! Sometimes less is better. We only have three ingredients.

I know what you're thinking. "This dude is just going on about his damn lip balm because he's trying to sell it." Well...yeah, I'd like to sell some lip balm. Can you blame me? That doesn't mean it's not as good as I say it is.

Don't worry, I'm not going to keep going on about lip balm. Here's what I'm going to say. Go to the Ti LeBlanc Website and spend $24 on other products and we'll throw in the lip balm. It'll have to be peppermint because I can't figure out how to make our discount system allow you to pick your flavor, but if you really hate peppermint, put a note in the order and we'll hook you up with another flavor.

By the way, we've got a Grand Opening BOGO deal going on right now, so you can get two bars of soap and a lip balm for free! It's a good time to be dirty, dry and chapped.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Almost Biological

By Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff
at the European Bioinformatics Institute
We are a young species when it comes to intelligence. As we learn more about the brain, we find fewer differences between our own and those of other mammals. From a sociological standpoint, our differences may be mostly superficial. I often wonder what a race of intelligent beings far in advance of our own would think of us. Would they see the fine-grained difference between us and other mammals? They would obviously see that we are far more sophisticated at building tools. That’s a big deal -- but not the only deal.

When I look at other mammals, I see creatures that fight with each other to garner scarce resources. They are willing to do anything, up to and including killing their own kind, to improve what they perceive as a desperate situation. When I look at humans, I see the same thing. This self-destructive behavior is not in the long term interest of any truly intelligent species. I think most of us know this.

I read a lot of science fiction. I love speculation about possible futures. It makes me think about who we are now. As a result, I have come to believe that no advanced species is truly biological. We have already begun our march towards becoming a technological species. The lines are blurring.

Scientists are designing robots made from DNA. They are using a new approach called CRSPR to insert custom sequences of DNA to engineer certain traits. Is this biological or technological? Is biology defined by the materials used to produce something? Or, does “biological” refer a natural process of evolution through random mutation?

We can debate these questions, but over time they will matter less. If you could get a $500 transfusion that would replace your own blood with artificial blood that would prevent you from ever getting sick again, would you do it? If you could replace your lungs with a device that would let you run at full speed without ever getting winded and swim underwater for four hours without taking a breath, would you do it? Maybe you wouldn’t take advantage of these things, but there are plenty of people who would.

Technological breakthroughs like these are inevitable. People are already working on them. Incremental breakthroughs are occurring daily. Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves first, we will eventually start to colonize space. When we do, our current physical limitations will create a huge burden on our systems. Creating spaceborn environments that allow us to remain in our biological “Goldilocks zone” requires temperature, atmospheric and gravity controls that would not be required for technological beings. All of these things are easily overcome for a spacefaring species.

The debate about what makes us human will change with time. Any technological intelligence that is born of our creativity is ipso facto an evolution of us. We have not had to grapple with technological evolution for very long. The concept is new and it is only natural that we would resist relinquishing our biological roots. Currently, most artificial replacement parts are substandard compared with the our biologically evolved parts. That won’t be the case for too much longer. We’re already building exoskeletons that are stronger and harder than our own bones. Our cameras are far higher resolution than our eyes -- we just don’t know how to hook them to our optic nerve yet. Soon, we will start chipping away at our biology one system at a time. When we figure out how to make a better brain, we will load it with our humanity and see what happens.

When we finally accept that the things that give us the greatest pleasure are also the things that cause us to destroy ourselves, will we let go of them? If we do, what else will we be free to lose? I have no crystal ball, but I can’t help but feel that we will ultimately become purely technological beings. That is not to say that there won’t be any organic elements to our physiology, but they will be highly engineered technology -- not naturally evolved. I’d be happy to be almost biological if it allowed me to live forever and explore the universe. How about you?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Why the Cover-up?

Since October, methane gas has been spewing into the atmosphere at a are the of 110,000 pounds per hour. This linked article from The Hill was the most authoritative source I could find on the Internet. Where is CNN, MSNBC, Fox, Time, etc? Some have indicated that this is the worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill. Others would say it is worse.

While some of the oil from the spill could be cleaned up. None of the methane will be recovered. It is 25 times more harmful to our atmosphere than the CO2 we are always talking about. Why are they keeping it quiet? Could it be because they don’t know how to cap the damn thing? People don’t like problems with no solution. What’s the news? More crap got pumped into the atmosphere today?

I suppose that pockets of methane have been released into the atmosphere since we first had one. Without people to capture it, the gas just became part of the environment. This is a bit different. Aliso Canyon is a storage facility. There is more gas there than one might typically find in a single natural reserve.

Between cutting down the Amazon rainforest and pumping more crap into the atmosphere, there seems to a growing question about whether we will be able to continue to breathe what the Earth will have to offer us in the future. Another little-known fact is that the oceans are the primary source of storage for CO2 and greenhouse gases that are pulled from the atmosphere.  There is a growing layer of these gases compressed at the bottom of the oceans. Scientists believe that as the oceans warm, which they will do as the polar icecaps continue to melt, they will not be able to hold that CO2 down there. We could start seeing releases from the oceans on top of what we already pump into the atmosphere ourselves.

Maybe there are some knowledgeable people out there who know that we have already passed the point of no return. Could we clean up our atmosphere if we put all of our knowledge and resources into it? Maybe. It would obviously mean major sacrifices from everyone and a lifestyle makeover that would not be to the better for our ruling class. From an economic standpoint, what is probably necessary to reverse the trend we’re on is a disaster. Entire industries would be abandoned. Other industries would see their funding sources dry up to be diverted to more important things.

We are born selfish and greedy. It is not a good recipe for altruistic behavior. Will some of us on the planet today live to see a time when we will suffer and possibly die for the bad choices we’re making now? I don’t know. It’s like a grand game of musical chairs. We all hope the music doesn’t stop while we’re still in the game, but it always stops eventually and in this game there will be no chairs for anyone.

Ironically, if we are eventually forced to build environmentally contained domes, we will have a much harder time building the infrastructure to get off this rock during the very time we have learned how to live in other hostile environments. Maybe now is the time to start planning our escape? I think so. Other than Elon Musk and few other high tech visionaries, nobody seems to be doing much about it. I guess the money just isn’t there yet.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Confessions of a Serial Entrepreneur

I’m a serial entrepreneur. Every one of my prior attempts has been a high-tech endeavor. Despite having varying degrees of success, one thing has become apparent -- the high-tech world is fundamentally unstable. Things change, change causes disruption, and one cannot be expected to respond successfully to disruption every time.

When a good friend approached me and my wife about a business selling soaps, lotions and lip balm, my first reaction was “finally, a non-high-tech business!” The thought that I wouldn’t need to deal with constantly changing technology had tremendous appeal. The fact that we’re selling soap was...meh. I guess I was more excited about what the business wasn’t.

Fast forward -- we’re making soap. We’re learning about different soap formulas. I’m still roughly in the “meh” camp. The thing about good soap is that it takes up to six weeks to properly cure. So, when you make it, you need to wait awhile to see how you did. During that time, I’ve discovered that there are lots of people out there that are very enthusiastic about soap.

I’ve been using Dial and Irish Spring and various other household brands for my entire life. I’ve never thought twice about it. Recently, I learned that this stuff isn’t even really soap. It turns out that soap is made when you mix fat with lye to create a chemical process called “saponification,” which turns the fats into salts. Different types of fats produce different effects. Okay, that’s probably more than you want to know about soapmaking. Here’s the thing, look at the ingredients of Irish Spring:


I had to look up tallowate and kernelate to figure out what’s going on here. Apparently, these are fats that have somehow already been converted to salts. This undoubtedly eliminates the curing, which means faster to market. By the way, tallowate is made from beef fat, so if you use this, your soap is not vegan. Bottom line: this stuff is designed to be quick to make first and foremost.

Back to me. Finally, I got around to using actual soap. Wow! What a difference. If you’ve never used real soap. You will probably be as surprised as me. It actually makes my skin feel better. Now, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has a lot to say about when you can make claims about what a product can do for your body and as an owner I need to be careful about making “claims.” So, this is just me talking about me. Your results may vary.

If you happen to have actually gotten this far into my post today, I’m going to make it a bit easier for you to try out some real soap. Just go to the Ti LeBlanc website and pick yourself out a bar of soap. Type in “friendsshipfree” (without the quotes) into the coupon code box when you check out guessed it!...we won’t charge you for shipping (Sorry, U.S. customers only -- for now). I’d love to hear what you think. We have a Facebook page and as a new company, every customer gets the sort of attention that as a customer, you live for. As a matter of fact, if you’ve got some ideas for a product, let us know. We might just whip you up a batch!