The Great Decoupling

In 1880, George Eastman developed a machine that could coat the dry photographic plates used in the sliver gelatin process. In plain English, that means he made it easier to make the things that made pictures. Eight years later, he founded the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, NY. Eastman Kodak sold cameras pre-loaded with film for the modern day equivalent of $600.  Continue reading


The Fourth Estate

The first Saturday after the 2016 election, I sat down with my kids to eat breakfast at our kitchen table. Cheerios and bacon. It was a Saturday morning dad breakfast if ever there was one. I did my best to engage them in conversation but I was a distracted. The election was on my mind. I had a few thoughts I wanted to put down and post on my then small but growing political blog. So, after they cleaned up their plates and wandered off, I opened up my laptop and took about thirty minutes to cobble together a few paragraphs that captured how I felt about the previous few days. I did a too brief once over to proof read it, hit the publish button, closed my laptop and went about my day.  Continue reading

Of Men and Ideas

Listen to the people in your world that vigorously disagree with you. Don’t try to change their mind. Don’t argue with them. Not yet. Not until you’ve listened. Just listen and seek to understand.

It’s a rare and difficult principle to maintain. I do try to get outside the echo chambers that agree with me as much as I can. But sometimes, I don’t know I’m in one until it’s too late. Recently, around October 8th maybe, I realized that I’d been in one for quite a while. It was one that told me that Donald Trump was personally too despicable to be president of the United States of America. Clearly I was wrong. Because I didn’t do that thing I just said to do. I didn’t seek to understand. I saw the man. And I dismissed him, with good cause to be fair. But I never dug down deep into understanding Trump-ism. I fought the man, never the idea. And that’s a problem.

So what is Trump-ism?

You can find the answer wedged somewhere between Scott Baio and Jerry Fallwell Jr. telling Yo Mama jokes at the Republican National Convention this year. A man named Peter Thiel spoke. Thiel is a billionaire Silicon Valley businessman who is one of the few men in the world who have founded multiple billion dollar corporations. He sits on the board of directors for Facebook. He counts people like Elon Musk as his partners and peers. And if there’s a Mount Rushmore of the modern “dot com” business ecosystem, Thiel is on it. You could write ten thousand words on what’s right and wrong with Thiel and still not be done. You could write another ten thousand on why he doesn’t fit any molds that we like to put people in. I’m not going to do that here. But I’m familiar with him. And as someone who works in the tech world and moves in the Silicon Valley circles, I can get you pretty far with a few sentences.

Peter Thiel has had success listening to what everyone is saying and doing, and going and finding something else, building it before anyone else does and winning before there is competition. He asks aloud in his books and speeches, and urges us to ask ourselves, what truth do you believe, that almost no one else does? It’s a hell of a question, especially in business. He is, after all, Silicon Valley’s contrarian. If you want to know more about him, Google him. There’s loads of stuff, much of it ugly and negative. But as far as this discussion goes, that stuff, is noise. Because it’s fighting the man again, not the idea. His ideas, though, are at the emotional center of Trump-ism, whether or not he ever intended them to be. They can be summed up in two Peter Thiel quotes:

“For a long time our elites have been in the habit of denying difficult realities. That’s how bubbles form.” Thiel is the anti-bubble.


People incorrectly believe that “If you don’t conform (to diversity), then you don’t count as diverse. No matter what your background”

I love it.

When I read those quotes as a business leader and someone who has worked on my own start-up, I get pretty fired up. It evokes emotion. It stimulates me. They are powerful words that speak directly to the psyche of change makers-people who want to drive to a better tomorrow. And when I posted those quotes and his name on my Facebook page without commentary, I got a very heavy dose of feedback about Thiel being a white nationalist and an anti-semite and a rape apologist and an opponent of the free press. All of which may be true. I don’t know. I’ve never been in the same room with the man. But none of the dissenting commentary addressed the ideas he had. Because in a vacuum, they are ideas that are nearly impossible to discredit.

We don’t live in a vacuum though. And right now, those words are being spoken in the Trump-ist echo chamber with great excitement.

So what exactly is that truth Trump-ists believe that no one else does? Except all other Tump-ists of course. Steve Bannon, chairman of Breitbart News and recently appointed chief strategist of Donald Trump’s administration can help explain it. Now, it’s possible that hearing the words Steve Bannon evokes a blinding rage in you and a need to spout out a laundry list of grievances about white supremacy, misogyny and maybe even a twenty year old arrest report for domestic violence. And that’s fine. But realize, you’re doing it again. That’s the man. The man is easy to beat. The idea, well, that’s another thing all together.

So here’s the idea in his words.

America is in “a crisis both of capitalism and the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian west in our beliefs.”

Bannon says that crony capitalism and globalization have eroded the stability of our country and weakened us to the point of crisis. Whether or not he believes it matters far less then what it means. Thiel and Bannon are Trump-ism. They form a combination of contrarian, anti-elite non-conformists, conforming together behind the belief that the key to restoring righteous capitalism is a focus on the return to a Judeo-Christian led world.

If not…it’s going to be China for a hundred years…

That’s the idea. And it comes in the form or a red hat, and a slogan.

It’s powerful idea. And it represents one side of the modern political argument in America today. You couldn’t have sent a worse champion than Hillary Clinton to strike it down if you tried. She was perfect if you were fighting the man. But she wasn’t fighting the man. She was fighting the idea. And she was powerless against it. Perhaps if we had taken the time to understand the idea, we may have thought differently. Perhaps that’s why the Democratic National Committee is in ruins, when most of us thought that it was the Republicans on the edge of oblivion.

That doesn’t mean Trump-ism is right though. In fact I believe it’s quite wrong. But it took a little digging and understanding to get there for me. And in order to do that, you have to be willing to divorce the ideas from the men saying them, especially since some of those men are only saying those ideas because they know they are the ideas that work right now. Because the ideas are not wrong because of the men saying them. The ideas, by themselves, on their own merit are wrong. Dangerously so. And we need to start screaming from the mountain tops why.

First, intended or not, the core argument of Trump-ism, Judeo-Christian leadership of the world, is a substantial part of the argument that white supremacist groups use to further their message. Trump-ism left off the part about racial superiority. Those groups gladly add it back in. And when you deliver the Trump-ism message, and you are willing to accept anyone who believes it, without strong condemnation of those specific groups that add racial superiority to it, it provides oxygen for them to grow and breed and start to normalize and call themselves things like “Alt Right”. And then they form groups that sound snappy like The National Policy Institute. Make no mistake about it.The National Policy Institute is a white supremacy organization. If you can’t get a couple hundred of your members in a room without a bunch of them throwing out Nazi salutes or yelling sieg heil, and the first Op-Ed on your pretty web page is about the folly of desegregation in schools, then you are a white supremacy group.

You can call yourself something else. And you can ooze into the room with lots of other dis-enfranchised people and tell them you are the same. But you aren’t. And unless the leadership of the new Republican Party denounces it and cast it out of their numbers, a dangerous political discussion is on the horizon. Because whether or not to denounce and eliminate from prominence groups that further white supremacist ideology cannot become a political debate.

Secondly, because frighteningly the first part isn’t enough, if the “Judeo-Christian” portion of your message really is the whole message, than that’s a problem. Because that’s not American. America, imperfect in her ways, has been defined by relative inclusivity. Our strength has come from differing people coming to us from places with their ideas and their drive to build something. And my opposition to Trump-ism is grounded on the belief that I’m not willing to give on that. Not because I’m full of love and togetherness and because I’m naive to those out there that want to do us harm. I’ve fought them all over the world in places you’ve probably never seen doing things you’ll probably never do. I’m not willing to give on that relative inclusivity because turning inward makes you weak. And ignoring the skills and ideas that others have, and forcing them to seek other places to have them, makes others stronger. My message of dissent is about making and keeping us strong.

It pretty simple for me.  If that big idea that you have that no one else agrees with, that Peter Thiel disruptive change the world for the better idea, is that the words penned in our Declaration of Independence or in the Bill of Rights are wrong, that all men aren’t created equal and that only some are born with liberties and the freedom to pursue their faiths, then fine, let’s have that debate. And let’s have it in earnest. The fact that middle America, my strong patriotic brothers and sisters that took up arms with me to fight Islamic fundamentalism and other ideologies that threatened our way of life appear willing to have it, hurts me. It hurts me down to my soul. Because I believed, and I still need to believe that we are better than that. And that the principles that I swore to defend with my very life didn’t only apply to me and people like me. They applied to everyone.

So let the debate begin.

Ten Things I Learned Writing an Objective Political Blog

About 18 months ago I decided to be more intentional about my growing social-media commentary and start a blog about society, politics, foreign policy or anything else that mattered.   I’m a data and technology guy with a history degree and a vet with a handful of war-time deployments. And I have an autistic son. That pretty much hits most things. So I felt that I could put together some interesting perspectives on things that are effecting Americans today.  So about 60 articles and 100,000 or so words later, I’ve got a pretty steady following.  Last month over a thousand people a day visited my site and interacted with my content in 137 countries.  It’s not quite a social hysteria, but it’s enough to make a few observations.  So I thought I would share.

Here’s the top 10:

1. People like lists.

More than 3.  Less than 20. It guarantees them that no matter what they click on, it won’t be the dreaded wall of unbroken text that crushes the soul of anyone reading something on a smartphone while they’re supposed to be doing something else.  Without one, it’s almost impossible to keep your place while scanning your phone in a slow work meeting, a conversation with your spouse about their day or watching six year old soccer.

Or an otherwise unnecessary new paragraph.  Put a list out there, no matter how droll the topic, (see title above) then people will read it.

2. No one has time or interest for more than 750 words.

My wife, love of my life and grand supporter of my creative outlets has room for about 500 of mine.  Some have room for more.  But when you scroll to the bottom of the page on your phone in an effort to gauge the investment you’re about to make, 750 words or so is about where the less than “serious” folks drop off.  Unless of course you make it a list…

3. Most things that matter, can’t be effectively and responsibly discussed in much less than 1,500 words.

Which means we’ve got about 750 word gap between the attention span of the modern human and what is required to garner understanding on an issue.  Chapter 1 of The Book of Genesis  is about 750 words.  Which means the entire creation of the universe fits in the gap between our willingness to know something and the time in which we need to invest to understand it.

4. People share things that they have not read.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon.  A modern blogger, equipped with the basic tools and analytics of their craft can tell how often their posts have been shared or liked on Facebook, or re-Tweeted on Twitter.  And they can also tell how often their page has been visited.  Armed with those two points of data, bloggers, especially ones that deliver political messages and societal commentary, come to the regular conclusion that no one is reading the crap that they are sharing.

It’s called “slacktivism”-a term coined in the modern social media environment to describe attempting to appear to care about or support a cause by doing little more than reading and sharing posts about it.  You know, “raising awareness” with your thumb.   And I’m here to tell you that many don’t read any of it.  The smarter or more edgy the headline or blurb, the more people share it that never even opened it.  You know who you are.

5. Facebook is the greatest social achievement since the invention of television.

And it’s not close. 1.6 billion people used Facebook last month.  As memberships on the planet go, here’s the breakdown:

  1. Humans
  2. Christians
  3. Facebook
  4. Muslims
  5. Chinese

Nothing the planet has ever seen has the optional membership and daily engagement that Facebook has.  And that’s powerful.  But what’s more powerful, is what they’re doing with it.  Over the past 18 months, I’ve been able to get the content of my blog in front of 700,000 targeted people with interests in exactly what I was talking about, at the moment that I was talking about it.  As a result, my blog has been read by over a hundred thousand people from all over the world.

And I’ve been able to accomplish this with a marketing budget less than my cable bill.   Here’s the point, Facebook can distribute information in a way that no other entity on the planet can or ever has.

If you’re wondering why “Chewbacca Mom” was a big deal, consider this.  That video was viewed 50 million times in a day-130 million over the course of a week.  To put that in perspective, the Super Bowl attracted 112 million viewers this year.  The cost of 30 seconds worth of advertising during the Super Bowl is $4.5 Million.  It’s valued at that because you can’t get that many people to be a part of a focused audience without something extraordinary, like the largest sporting event on the planet.

Until now.  Now you can get it with a woman putting her phone on the dashboard of her car in the Kohl’s parking lot.  And hitting no more than three buttons on her phone. And with Facebook Live, it’s all internal content on Facebook’s domain.  No more kicking to YouTube. No more loss of traffic.

The world is a different place and most of it appears to be happening on one site. And it’s probably only a matter of time before regulation, at least in America, starts to invade the space.

6. There’s really only two types of people in the world. 

Those who see the world independent of perspective.  And those who see the world from their own perspective.  The second views the world and its inhabitants as a virtual series of concentric circles, increasing in importance as you approach the center where there is the greatest concentration of people like them. It’s not so much specifically about them. Everyone has their own personal bias and desire for self preservation.  But that group puts a premium on people like them.  Everyone else, not so much.

The other group has no such rings, just a common concern for their fellow man, sometimes no matter how silly or misguided their fellow man is.

It’s not a perfect classification.  It’s a spectrum with extremes.  But you can break down just about every societal issue, its points and counter points by that litmus test.  If I cared about everyone else the way I cared about me and mine, then I have one position.  If I don’t, then I have the other.  Simplistic I know.  But I would challenge you to counter it with an honest argument.  It’s not easy.

7. Still plenty of racism to go around.

There’s a surprising amount of people still comfortable with saying overtly racist things in public venues. If you don’t think it’s out there, peruse the comments section on this site’s Facebook page.  Enjoy! And then take a shower.

8. Cognitive dissonance is a real problem. 

And the information age is actually making it worse.  What’s cognitive dissonance?  It’s a theory developed by Leon Festinger in 1957 that  states that people have a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency. And that powerful motive can give rise to irrational and sometimes “maladaptive” behavior.

The example Festinger used was a study of a cult, in which the members of the cult had given up their homes and possessions because the world was going to be destroyed by a flood.  After the prescribed flood did not occur, those less committed members were able to disavow the cult’s beliefs and move on.  The more committed ones sought to explain that the flood was avoided by their faithfulness.  Translation, some can make their reality fit their mind set more than others.

That used to be really hard to do.  If you believed something, and it were proved wrong through circumstance or logical progression of events in the old days, then you either had to accept it, or be crazy.  Now, with the advent of the information age and the plurality of media realities one can create for one’s self, it’s a lot easier to shape your reality to whatever brand of reality you want.  And the cycle goes on.

9. No one cares about data.

I’ve built algorithms to rank presidential performance, run correlation studies on economic indicators and dissected the entirety of the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey tables to run trend analysis. My favorite comment, used more than once…”what a bunch of crap.”

If you agree with me, you don’t need my data. If you don’t, you don’t believe it. In the end, people consume things that they agree with or are about them.

10. Being a veteran lets me say things others can’t.

And I don’t know that it’s  a good thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not.  Because there’s a lot of less than impressive veterans out there saying less than impressive things. And people appear to put more stock into them than they ought to. There’s a difference between paying respect for service and pretending that someone has a level of credibility for having served that they actually don’t. For anyone who served at any time in history, they can probably look back at the folks they served with and think of quite a few they wouldn’t take political, societal or economic advice from. Or advice on other less dynamic things like how to make a cup of coffee, or where to buy a carton of milk. Or how to get through the day without hurting yourself…or others.  You get the point.

I couldn’t have said that by the way, if I weren’t a vet.


So there it is.  The 10 things I’ve learned. The world is full of bias, self preservation and short attention spans.  It probably always has been, because it’s full of people.  And we’re nothing if not predictable.  A person can change.  People, that’s another matter all together.  But now that I’ve shared these things, maybe you can move forward with a bit more measured conviction about the things you run into on your phone, or your computer, or you’re in-laws house.  And if you’re starting a blog of your own, and you have your sites set on mediocre part-time success remember.  People like lists.