What ISIS Is Doing

Aug 31

In: Politics

I try to read a lot and am stunned that I didn’t know this about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS): they’re crucifying people and killing children by the hundreds to encourage conversion to Islam. Some children are being beheaded!

I heard about this at Church today on Sunday, and was so surprised that I Googled about it when I got home. I won’t link to the horrific pictures and videos I found. Instead, click here for a good and non-sensationalized summary of the ethnic and minority “cleansing” that is going on.

Honestly, every religion has been both aggressor and victim over the ages. No one is innocent on this count. To kill in the name of God, to me, feels like the ultimate irony. And, it sows the seeds for vengeance in the future, which perpetuates the cycle of violence.

Secular fanaticism has fared no better: Nazism, Stalinism, the Khmer Rouge, the murdering of Catholics during the Spanish Civil War and the French Revolution, etc. All of these movements emphasized utilitarianism, whereby the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the view, to paraphrase Spock.

When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, for example, they killed anyone who wore glasses, went to college and/or spoke a foreign language. They sought a “pure” agrarian society, emptying the cities and forcing everyone to move to the countryside. In just four years, 25% of the population died. More here.

I’m very saddened by the human suffering happening in Iraq and Syria. In this very real battle, I stand with the children, whether they’re Muslim, Christian, Turkmen, Shabaks or Yazidis.

They’re the innocent ones.

I’m proud that my wife and one of our children have decided last minute to go to a prayer service today in our town center. But, when I Googled online for a charity that is sending humanitarian aid to Iraq and Syria, I couldn’t find one.

Let me know if you know of one? I’d love to give.

What’s Up with Our Food Supply?

Aug 31

In: Family life, Personal


It’s an overcast Sunday morning on Labor Day weekend. The cool air and grey skies make me glance ahead to autumn. So, I will be cooking a roast chicken with gravy for dinner, and also, a vegan and gluten-free apple crisp (sans the nuts) for dessert. Some kids will demand vanilla ice cream, too. Autumn flavors and aromas.

Regarding the fruit crisp, I’m cooking such a version because we have some family food allergies to nuts, eggs and dairy; also, my wife is avoiding wheat as much as possible. She finds that she has more energy when she does so.

As for me, I a few years ago tried to eliminate as much white flour as I could from my diet. I find that I have more energy as a result. I read online how are bodies aren’t used to consuming so much simple sugar, which leads to the overshooting of insulin and the accompanying sugar “crash.” I then looked up how various foods rated on the Glycemic Index. Many everyday food items create a “roller coaster” of blood sugar that seems to wreak havoc on the body.

All this makes me think of this: what’s up with our food supply? There’s an alarming increase in food allergies and sensitivities. And, no one seems to no why.

I find it ironic that the average American’s lifestyle is more comfortable than Roman emperors’ during the height of the Roman Empire. Yet, we increasingly are bound by what we eat.

I’d love any pointers to any research about which you may know. Something doesn’t feel right. Over-processed and “cheap” food are having a toll. Others think that selectively-bred wheat over centuries has led to a strain that maximizes crop yield but to which some bodies have sensitives.

We are a rich nation. But, something is wrong with our food supply, IMO.

The U.S. Oil Boom

Aug 29

In: Economics, Politics

Energy is in everything we buy. I’m drinking coffee this morning. Farmers used energy to grow the beans. A processor used energy to dry, roast and grind the beans. A shipping company used energy to pick/pack/ship. And, I drove my car to the grocery store to buy the coffee, and just used a coffee maker to brew a batch.

So, energy in some form was used at every step.

I’m writing about this because a NY Times article this morning, “A New American Oil Bonanza,” caught my eye. The journalist quoted one expert, who estimates that American consumers are saving $700 million a week vs. a year ago due to cheaper energy. Whoa! I don’t have data on other forms of economic stimulus, such as the effect of refinancings to free up cash for consumers, but the “oil dividend” must rank up there.

We have had some tremendous dividends in the past as an economy. The end of the Cold War gave rise to a “peace dividend,” as the government unwound defense expenditures and freed up capital for the private sector. The onset of the Internet has theoretically made some forms of commerce more efficient. But, I think this oil dividend is bigger than all that.

Moreover, this oil boom has been making our nation less dependent on others. Here’s a chart.

(Via AmericanProgress.org)

I think all this will have some huge second-order effects. First, are we less likely to engage with the Middle East? Frankly, I wonder if the U.S. would have been involved with the first Gulf War if it were not so dependent on Middle East oil. And, what are the “true” environmental costs of fracking?

Nevertheless, from out of nowhere starting in 2008 due to innovations in fracking, this oil dividend may be the key to U.S. prosperity for decades. No one predicted fracking. It’s almost as though a chunk of money just fell from the sky right when we needed it during the global recession.

Barbie Doll Brainwashing

Aug 27

In: Family life, Personal, Philosophy

Holy crap, I officially am freaked out.

A Barbie Doll recently arrived in the mail at our house. “Whoa!” one of my children said, as the package was opened. “Freaky–the eyes are so big, and the legs are so long.”

I’ve never paid much attention to dolls and subliminal messages they send about “ideal” body types. But, as I watched some of my children ponder the Barbie Doll, I realized this: I don’t know any woman who looks like a Barbie Doll. No hips? Unnaturally long legs? No chest? Super-elongated and rail-thin body? Perfect skin?

I told my youngest child: “Well, this is an un-natural body type. Know that people aren’t really supposed to look like that.”‘

“OK, Daddy.”

I hope my kids are happy with their body types. I love them unconditionally how they are. You don’t have to go far before you read about eating disorders (an example here). In fact, many have written about the negative effects of Barbie Doll. I don’t want my children, male or female, doing unnatural acts to achieve a body type that is not attainable.

Barbie Doll, I really want to put you in our blender.  But, your Genie is already out of the bottle, and one of my children is playing happily with you. Grrrr. Watch your back, Barbie: I’m on to you.

Kids, I love you as you are! Truly.

Taking Risks

Aug 26

In: Brain hacking, Career management, Entrepreneurship, Personal, Philosophy


(Matt Lauzon)

I’ve been thinking a lot about risk these days.

Totally Awesome Dude Matt Lauzon and I spent a 1/2 day fly fishing, about which we’ve been emailing for some time and were able to swing finally (a photo from him up top). Matt has started two companies thus far. We talked about risk as we went to/from the river.

A friend of mine has made some huge personal changes, including a sudden and massive move to the suburbs. Another friend, as we speak, is cooking dinner for a date and sounds more happy and more alive than I’ve heard in over a year.

Risk comes in many forms and at many degrees.

In my own life, I’ve tolerated different levels and different types of risks at different points in time. Frankly, when I was out of college, I took very little risk. I did a “standard” corporate career track, from i-banking to consulting to business school. Nothing wrong with it, but it feels in retrospect as a Path Well Trod Upon. I didn’t tolerate any ambiguity.

Part of that was that I didn’t have much money. Part of that was that I married fairly young and was only in my late 20s when our first child came. I didn’t feel that I could take much risks.

But, as I aged, I began to think that, perhaps, “risk” was all in my mind. After all, how risky was it to switch career tracks? Many people do it. And, that’s what led me from a safe and comfortable management consulting job to VC. But, really, that wasn’t all that risky in retrospect. It was a well funded and very respected VC firm.

Then, in 2006, I quit to start a new VC firm, one whose culture I could help shape. Many “corporate folks” thought I’d gone bonkers. Interestingly, all of my founders lauded my decision. I didn’t have a Plan B. I knew it was a ton of risk. Thankfully, it all worked out.

On the personal side, having a large family seemed daunting and risky. But, it no longer does. In fact, it has been completely awesome. Forcing difficult discussions on critical topics can be painful short-term, but can lead to deeper bonds going forward.

I write about this, for I tonight was chatting with a friend. We agreed that “risk was all in your mind.” Now, of course, you need to provide for yourself and family members. But, honestly, once very basic needs of food and shelter are met, I wonder if everything else is gravy?

Case in point: as a guy in his 40s, I own a lot of “stuff.” But, what do I really need? I own a lot of clothing I don’t wear any more. I have lot of stuff in the basement, like some gardening tools, that we almost never use. I have mementos from high school in the attic. If a thief secretly stole all that stuff, there’s a chance I would never know. I don’t notice that stuff now and I probably won’t notice them when they’re gone.

Truth is, I don’t need that “stuff.” IMO, stuff holds me back. Stuff keeps me from taking risks. Declining risk in order to keep my stuff doesn’t feel right to me. In fact, as I get older, I increasingly want to own less stuff and be less attached to material goods.

I’m like a person on a long hike, initially weighed down with an enormous backpack filled with every fancy gadget. Then, as the miles trudge on, I start to ditch equipment and keep only “the essentials.” I’ve begun to realize that most of the stuff was extraneous. And, I’m finding the hiking to be much easier with a lighter load.

So, that’s where I am. I want to spend less time defending and keeping “my stuff.” I increasingly want to live for up-side, both business and personal. As I age, I frankly care less about what others think. As I get older, I value more my family and my friendships. I care more about experiences rather than possessions.

It feels very freeing.