Sunday, July 10, 2016

How Naïve We Were

How naïve we were to believe that electing a black president would bring an end to racism in America. While one part of our country celebrated this historic milestone, another part simply dug its heels in and moved racism into the closet.

Racism has deep roots in American culture, in families, among co-workers, and in communities. To give up racism is to give up family and friends, to risk rejection. To do so requires bravery.

Thanks to Donald Trump, racism has been allowed out of the closet. In a bizarre rendition of “I’m OK, you’re OK,” Trump has absolved racism by proclaiming political correctness incorrect. In this climate of hate, is it any surprise that black men are being shot by police for minor infractions, or in some cases, for no infraction at all?

At a personal level, racism is a way of compensating for one’s low self-esteem by using ethnic scapegoating, or in its more passive form, stereotyping. Fear plays a role, as well. It is human nature to fear people that we perceive as being different from ourselves. In a country as ethnically diverse as the United States, this presents a daily challenge for those with limited cultural interaction: they see the enemy everywhere. Older American cities still maintain neighborhoods with distinct ethnic lines drawn between them. Residents of white neighborhoods presume that ethnic groups prefer to live with their own. But did they ever ask them?

The way forward for America will take generations. It will take brave people willing to risk friendships and reputations, willing to challenge family members at those holiday dinners, and willing to reach out to people they might have once considered alien.

Yes, electing President Obama was a milestone, and re-electing him was a validation. But this was by no means the end of racism in America.

Illustration by artist Shepard Fairey

Saturday, January 9, 2016

What makes Donald Trump tick?

While Americans focus on the candidates' policies during the 2016 presidential primaries, Donald Trump is one candidate that deserves closer scrutiny. His brazen proclamations on every imaginable subject have left both conservatives and liberals scratching their heads and asking the same question: What makes this guy tick? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to look beyond the issues and instead look at what drives the man.

For years, Donald Trump has been a virtual self-promotion industry. Every addition he has made to the world has his name emblazoned on it—in extra large letters—lest we forget. It's hard to think of another American billionaire who does this, other than the traditional naming of a university building, museum or hospital. Trump claims to be the smartest man in the room but only speaks louder when smart people challenge his thinking. He has little capacity for self-deprecation or empathy and can't stop bragging about his accomplishments. So what's going on here? Check out this informative description from Wikipedia and see if you recognize any similarities:

"Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and others."

People with NPD have one central mission in life: to gain the admiration of others (also known as Narcissistic Supply), and they will do whatever's necessary to achieve that end. Even when addressing a friendly audience, a person with NPD will endlessly brag about how smart, successful, and accomplished they are. Some people with NPD do indeed become successful, but they can only enjoy their success through the admiration of others. Their success can be short-lived if the endeavor that brought the success later conflicts with the admiration mission. A person with NPD will go down with the ship if necessary to maintain the flow of admiration.

When Donald Trump says he's going to make America great again, what he's really hoping to do is create a lifetime supply of admiration. Without it, he has little sense of self-worth—even with his billions.

People with NPD can be quite compelling, especially when they control the conversation. It's a kind of performance art, and new audiences can be readily drawn into it. Eventually, though, the audience will see through the charade, and the "actor" will have to find a new audience. The prospect of losing one's audience is a source of perpetual anxiety for people with NPD. Fortunately, for Mr. Trump, he has a new audience every day during primary season, lessening the chance that they ll notice the chinks in his armor.

Those with NPD tend to group others into one of two categories: great people, and the worst people in the world. Great people are the ones who admire them or make them look good by association. The worst people in the world is everyone else. There is no grey area. One can witness Mr. Trump making this distinction regularly.

Donald Trump chooses his policy positions based on which ones bring him the greatest amount of admiration. That’s his criteria. The more outrageous, the better. This explains why many traditional republicans find inconsistencies in his platform. To them, he’s an unpredictable wild card.

It's very important that the American public understands what drives Donald Trump. It's not just greed or a desire for power—it's a mental illness. As president, his decisions would continue to revolve around his quest for admiration, a very risky proposition for our country.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

EVERYONE Who Can Afford a Tesla Should Be Driving One

Are you the sort of person who buys European luxury cars?

The latest iteration of Tesla’s Model S luxury sedan has All Wheel Drive and can go zero-to-sixty in 3.2 seconds. This puts the Model S at the top of the heap among luxury sedans, beyond BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz. And the Tesla does this at 1/5 the energy cost, with no CO2 emissions when charged from renewable sources.

Tesla's latest performance breakthroughs have come not a moment too soon. It is vitally important that car buyers begin taking electric cars seriously, beginning with luxury car buyers. EVERYONE who can afford a Tesla should be driving one. Why? Because the environmental clock is ticking. The most recent United Nations report on global warming is a stark reminder that things are going to get a lot worse if we don't start taking aggressive steps toward C02 reduction. Think you're not part of the problem? Gasoline powered automobiles are the leading source of CO2 in the atmosphere—the primary cause of global warming.

This is not politically-motivated theory; it is scientific fact and is supported by leading climate scientists around the world. There are no unanswered questions. Over the next five years, high-performance EV technology will become less expensive, allowing greater numbers of people to make the switch to an electric car. In the meantime, those who can afford to make the switch now should not hesitate to do so. It will help spur growth in this vital technology. These cars are so much fun to drive and so easy to maintain, you'll wonder why you waited.

But will a few hundred-thousand Tesla's really make a dent in global CO2 when 90 million new gasoline cars are manufactured every year? Yes they will, but not only by creating less CO2. A Tesla Model S is more than simply an electric car; it's a rolling announcement about the arrival of electric transportation. It is vitally important that drivers of gasoline cars get this message. Tesla has shown that an electric car can actually be a better car. Growing public demand for reasonably priced electric cars with realistic driving range will spur car manufacturers to build them.

To get the maximum benefit from electric cars, it is also important that we convert the world's electric power plants to renewable sources of energy, such as solar. While it’s worth noting that electric cars charged from coal-fired power plants are still 60% cleaner than gasoline cars, a solar powered electric grid will have many other benefits as well. If you add solar panels to your home, you can reduce your electric car's CO2 footprint to zero, while also lowering demand for electricity from the power plant. This technology exists right now and will actually save you money on energy.

It's time to leave your luxury gas guzzler behind and adopt the new normal.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Where's Your Camera?

There's an historical tragedy going on around us today, a tragedy that most of us won't recognize until it's too late. We're neglecting to adequately document our lives. Really? Even with the gazillions of Facebook photos everyone's posting?

While smartphones have become ubiquitous, digital cameras have virtually disappeared. When was the last time you took a digital camera on vacation or to a graduation or to a milestone birthday party? What many of us will learn eventually is that smartphone photos are not the same as digital camera photos. Not even close.

Ironically, we're shooting more pictures than ever before, thanks to the smartphone. But smartphone images, even those produced by the very latest smartphones, are still inferior to the photographs you took with your film camera fifteen years ago.

Why does this matter? Because if you intend to do anything more with your family photographs than post them on social media web sites, you'll be disappointed with the quality.

Apple's latest iPhone 6 produces an 8-megapixel image. That's high-resolution for a smartphone camera, but it's less than half the resolution of some of today's least expensive digital cameras. For $110, you can buy a Nikon Coolpix S3600 that produces 20.1-megapixel images, large enough to produce a sharp 8x10-inch print. The 8-megapixel image from an iPhone will produce a 4x6-inch print of the same quality—theoretically. But there's still another catch...

Compare the lens on the smartphone to the lens on the $110 digital camera. Even without knowing anything about lenses, it's pretty obvious which one is the real deal.

When you use the zoom-in feature on a smartphone camera, it's a digital zoom, not an optical zoom. Digital zoom is done with software, and it essentially reduces the image resolution as you zoom in. Inexpensive digital cameras give you a choice of optical or digital zoom. You may not notice the difference on the camera screen or the computer screen, but you most certainly will when you try to have a print made.

There's no question that smartphone engineers have made extraordinary advances in smartphone camera technology, but make no mistake about it: a smartphone camera is not a substitute for a real digital camera.

Photography has always played an important role in my life. I inherited this trait from my mother. For her, maintaining the family photo albums was of critical importance. It served as a way to mark the passage of time and the growth of her five children. Looking at those albums reminded us of the significant milestones in our lives and helped us define a path into the future. I've maintained photo albums of my own kids' lives—until I began shooting with a digital camera. Then I took the photo album idea one step further...

I shoot my family photos with a 24-megapixel Nikon DSLR and store them on my Mac in iPhoto. Whenever our television is turned on, but not in use, a slide show appears on the screen—a random selection of the 1,300+ family photos in my collection. (This is easily accomplished with a $99 Apple device called an Apple TV.) Because the images were taken with a real digital camera and not a smartphone camera, the image quality on the TV is stunning. Having this random show on display in our home has definitely affected my kid's lives, giving them visual reminders of how they got to be the people they are. That's huge.

So don't hesitate to pull out your smartphone camera for that funny shot of the dog, but for anything historically important, pull out a real digital camera instead.

And please don't forget this...

Make absolutely certain that you are making backup copies of your digital images! Just imagine losing years of historical documentation all at once. This can happen very easily with a hard disk failure, a stolen laptop or a house fire.

You should never make backup copies on the same device that contains your original images. There are backup services that will archive your files to a "cloud" server. This is the best bet for maximum safety. Another option for those who follow schedules is to periodically backup your image files to a CD or thumb drive and put it into a safe deposit box at the bank.

Think about those tornado aftermath scenes you see on TV. What's the one thing people most hope to find in the rubble? Photographs.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Other Piece of the Heart Disease Puzzle

This past January, I wrote a blog piece about the inherent dangers in restaurant food and how excess saturated fat contributes to heart disease. While cardiologists still point to saturated fat as a component in heart disease, another perhaps more serious component has moved to center stage: Sugar.

Thanks to recent developments in medical technology, scientists have been able to watch the effect of sugar on the body at the molecular level, and in particular, its effect on liver function. The liver generates a variety of different cholesterol molecules, depending on the type of foods we consume. Some of this cholesterol is good for us and is necessary for normal body function, but some other cholesterol types are downright dangerous. There is a type of cholesterol called Small Dense LDL which adheres to the walls of arteries and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. These Small Dense LDL molecules are the direct result of excess sugar in our diet.

Sugar occurs naturally in a wide variety of foods, from honey to fresh fruit. Since 1960, the American diet has allowed sugar to grow to 20% of our total daily calorie intake. The World Health Organization recommends that only 5% of total daily calories come from sugars. For an adult with a normal Body Mass Index, 5% would be about 25 grams of sugar—or 6 teaspoons daily. Just for reference, a 23-ounce can of Arizona Green Tea contains 51 grams of sugar!

Not All Sugar Is Alike


While the sugar contained in fruit is less harmful because it is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, another type of sugar is particularly risky for one's health: High Fructose Corn Syrup. HFCS is a man-made sweetener used in 70% of the foods found in a supermarket. It is cheaper than cane sugar, so it's the sweetener of choice for the packaged food & beverage industry. HFCS is in foods you would never expect: bread, crackers, low-fat yogurt, even processed meats.

HFCS has a different effect on the body than natural sugar...

Natural sugar triggers an insulin response, causing the pancreas to pump insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin receptor molecules attach themselves to fat cells, so that those cells will attract sugar in the blood. In addition, insulin tells the brain to turn down the feelings of hunger.

HFCS, on the other hand, does not trigger an insulin response. The feelings of hunger don't go away, so the tendency is to consume more and more. This results in higher concentrations of sugar in the blood and a corresponding increase in Small Dense LDL being generated by the liver. This highly-utilized food additive is creating a national health crisis in America. Heart Disease in individuals younger than 20 is becoming common.

Cancer Risks Too


Excess sugar in the diet also presents a cancer risk. An insulin spike can serve as a catalyst for certain types of cancer. Some cancer tumors have the ability to receive the same insulin receptor molecules that fat cells do. This provides the tumor with a means to attract sugar to fuel its growth.



Many people realize that there is a connection between sugar and Diabetes. Unfortunately, most people don't realize that they have Diabetes until the damage is already done. If you have Diabetes, your chances of developing heart disease are significantly greater. Here's an interesting fact: the highest concentration of Diabetes in the world is in a cluster of wealthy Arabic countries where alcohol consumption is against the law. Instead, they've been drinking sugared soft drinks.

Going Forward


I will continue to be vigilant about saturated fat and salt in my diet, and I'll continue to get lots of aerobic exercise. These preventative measures are no less important. But sugar is a real wake-up call, especially for someone who's never had a weight problem. I cringe when I think about all those sweetened juice and tea drinks I consumed for years. Ever since I started consciously avoiding sugar, I've felt like a new person.

According to a Cleveland Clinic study published in The Journal of Family Practice, a plant-based diet not only prevents heart attacks, but it can actually reverse the damage caused by heart disease. They recommend a diet rich in whole grains, beans, and yellow, red & green vegetables. This should be welcome news for anyone who learns that they have heart disease.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Why Tesla Motors can't (and won't) sell its cars through franchise dealerships

California icon Tesla Motors began selling cars in 2008 with the release of the revolutionary Tesla Roadster. It was the first fully electric car that didn't have to make apologies for its performance. The Roadster's zero-to-sixty time, as quick as 3.7 seconds, put it head-to-head with the fastest cars made by Ferrari and Porsche, and it was faster than any other car made in America. What's more, the Roadster has a range of 240 miles—triple the range of any previous electric car.

What prompted the creation of the Roadster—and the birth of Tesla Motors—was the realization that lithium ion batteries had finally reached a level of energy density that could make an electric sports car a practical reality. The batteries were light enough and powerful enough to offer the kind of performance found in high performance gasoline cars, while also providing a useable driving range of over 200 miles. A similar inflection point occurred at Apple when Mitsubishi began producing a hard drive the size of a quarter. Mitsubishi's engineers had no specific application in mind when they designed the tiny hard drive, but when Apple's engineers saw it they immediately realized it was the missing piece to a new product—and the iPod was born.

While the Tesla Roadster's performance is spectacular, something else kept the car from becoming a mass market success: the lithium cells were expensive, and the Roadster's battery pack contains 6,831 of them. These lithium cells are similar to the type used in laptop computers and rechargeable power tools. In one sense, Tesla made a brilliant decision by designing their battery pack around a common lithium cell, but it also resulted in a car with a very high manufacturing cost. If you took that cost and factored in an industry standard 15% profit margin for Tesla, plus a 20% profit for a third-party dealership, the Roadster's base price would have been in the neighborhood of $130,000. Even with its great performance, the Roadster would have been a tough sell at that price.

More importantly, however, Tesla believed that third party dealerships wouldn't be the best advocates for electric cars, especially if they sold gasoline powered cars out of the same dealership. By promoting electric cars, they'd be undermining their existing business. Furthermore, electric cars require a fraction of the routine service required for a gasoline car, and service is where car dealerships generate most of their profit. Where would the incentive be for a dealership to get behind this new technology?

So Tesla set up its own showrooms and began selling cars directly to the public. By eliminating the middleman, they were able to offer the Roadster at a somewhat more realistic $109,000. Between 2008 and 2012, Tesla sold about 2,600 of them. Car dealers and dealer associations barely took notice.

Then Tesla released the extraordinary Model S sedan in 2012. Right away, this car began winning practically every car award on the planet. Consumer Reports called it the best car they'd ever tested. Motor Trend Magazine named it their 2013 Car of the Year. Sales climbed from about 2,000 at the end of 2012, to 25,000 at the end of 2013. Through manufacturing efficiencies, Tesla was able to get the base price down to $70,000. And after a federal income tax credit for electric cars, consumers paid only $62,400. The auto industry began to wake up.

Drawing from its experience with the Roadster, Tesla pushed ahead with its revolutionary sales & service model. Tesla took a cue from Apple and redefined the automobile showroom by placing them in upscale shopping malls. The highly trained sales staff is there to educate, not to sell. There are no sales incentives or commissions, and every customer pays the same price.

Bottom line: the consumer pays Tesla roughly the same amount as they would for an equivalent gasoline car, but gets a lot more car for the money.

Think of it this way: when you buy a Tesla, you are essentially making a down payment on 10 years of fuel—in the form of the car's battery. Of course you'll also be paying for electricity to charge the battery, but that electricity will be costing you only 20 to 25% of what you'd otherwise be paying for gasoline. The EPA estimates that I'll save $9,100 in fuel cost during 5 years of driving in my Model S, when compared to a similar gasoline powered car. Now imagine if every Audi A8 or Mercedes S Class came with a gas card worth $9,000. A Tesla simply has more intrinsic value built into it.

Tesla plans to build a massive new battery factory that will help bring battery costs down further, enabling them to offer a $35,000 car with a 200 mile range. But their cars will continue to be expensive to manufacture relative to their gasoline powered cousins. Selling directly to the consumer allows Tesla to offer its cars at realistic prices while also providing added value.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Your Favorite Restaurant Could Be Killing You

I'm one of the last people on Earth you'd be concerned about when it comes to eating right. Since my early twenties, I've made a point of maintaining a well-rounded diet, reminiscent of the food pyramid chart on the wall of my classroom in third grade. Meat, dairy, vegetables, fruit—everything in moderation, nothing to excess. As an adult, I've become a fan of culinary prowess, seeking out restaurants that push the creativity envelope as a matter of pride. I love the way today's young chefs connect with local farmers, bringing a new level of freshness to the dinner table. So, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered a few years ago that my love affair with fine food could be killing me.

I've always thought of myself as having good genes. I come from good stock. Neither of my parents smoked, and neither of them were notably overweight. While most of my friends spend their adult lives trying to lose weight, I've spent most of mine trying to gain it. Sounds perfect, doesn't it?

Some years ago, when I turned forty-five, I had a gym installed. The goal was to sharpen my mind, as well as my body. I hadn't had regular aerobic exercise in years. It took a while to regain my stamina, but once I did, it felt great. I settled into a three-times-a-week routine.

I received some good advice on working out properly, always starting with some stretching and a half-hour of treadmill time, the goal being to get my heart rate up to 80% of its theoretical maximum and keep it there for at least twenty minutes. Only then would I start lifting weights.

I kept this routine going without interruption for ten years. My appetite increased, and I continued to enjoy fine restaurant food whenever I could. When my knees began complaining about the treadmill, I switched to a Concept II rowing machine. The rowing machine made it possible to push my heart rate up more efficiently. I looked younger and felt great. My annual checkups at the doctor's office became a running joke. My blood pressure was off-the-charts low. My resting heart rate was fifty beats-per-minute. I was far from the train wrecks they were used to seeing at the doctor's office.

Then something changed. I began feeling a slight pressure in my chest while on the rowing machine. I did what most people do in this situation and ignored it, although I did make a point of keeping the phone within reach. What I experienced wasn't really chest pain per se; it simply felt as if something was pushing against my sternum from the inside, and only at high heart rates. Eventually, I decided to visit a cardiologist.

The cardiologist recommended a stress test. For that, I was wired up to an EKG monitor and put on a treadmill. Gradually, they raised the speed and incline of the treadmill until my heart rate was in the same territory I'd been achieving on the rowing machine. Sure enough, I began feeling the same chest pressure. Afterward, they did some chest scans to see if they could identify any blockages. The results were inconclusive. The next logical step, though a more serious one, was to get a heart catheterization at the hospital. That procedure would show, for sure, what was going on.

Two weeks later, as I lay there in catheter lab, feeling smug that this whole thing was probably about nothing, the cardiologist remarked, "Well, look at that. You have two forty-percent blockages in your L.A.D. artery. I suggest we put two stents in there right now." An he did.

For the next few weeks, I struggled to get my head around this development. How could this possibly have happened to me, I wondered, a guy who's been working out like an astronaut for ten-plus years, a guy who's been eating the healthiest diet imaginable? The answer to this question came to me in the form of some education at the cardio rehab center. As much as I thought I knew about healthy food, there was a lot I didn't know and I dare say the chefs at my favorite eateries didn't either.

Restaurant chefs will tell you: the three easiest ways to make customers happy are: butter, cream and salt. The industry code word for recipes featuring these items is comfort food. When times are tough or the winter wind is howling, the public is unconsciously drawn to comfort food. It's a perfect fit. But, as I have learned, these are the three worst things someone could consume as part of their daily diet. Butter and cream are high in saturated fat—one of the primary components in heart disease.

Saturated fat can be found in lots of things we eat regularly: crackers, chips, peanut butter, chocolate, energy bars, "low fat" yogurt, cheese and ice cream, just to name a few. Saturated fat is processed by the liver, resulting in cholesterol being released into the bloodstream. The small arteries that surround the heart muscle are particularly prone to getting clogged with this stuff. In many cases, the result is a sudden heart attack. If I hadn't been getting regular aerobic exercise, I wouldn't have known I had a problem until it was much more serious. I was very lucky to have an early warning.

There are factors that increase your risk for getting heart disease, including diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity. If you also have a family history of heart disease, these risk factors become much more critical. My father had heart disease later in life. I should have taken that as a clear signal that I, too, might have the gene for it. With that knowledge, I could have taken proactive measures fifteen years ago to reduce my cholesterol. I just assumed, incorrectly, that people who exercise and are not overweight can't get heart disease.

There are three pieces to the heart health puzzle, all of which are equally important:

• Diet—A healthy diet should include no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day. Read the health labels when you shop. When you eat out, request "dairy free" versions of your entrees. Most restaurants will accommodate your request or suggest a different item. Use olive oil instead of butter.

• Exercise—Get into a regular exercise regimen that includes 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least three times per week. Use a heart rate monitor.

• Cholesterol lowering drugs—If you have a history of heart disease in your family, you should start getting your blood tested at age 40 and every year thereafter. At the direction of your doctor, take a low dose statin if your LDL and cholesterol values begin to rise. Note: Not everyone can tolerate statins. There are different varieties, and some people will tolerate one type and not another.

An excellent resource, the one I use, is a cookbook written by Philip A. Ades, a cardiologist in Burlington, Vermont. The first section of the book will give you a fast education on the subject of heart disease and how to prevent it...

The EatingWell for a Healthy Heart Cookbook

So here I am five years later, feeling great, and happy to be writing about it. I still have my workout routine, and I still have my favorite eateries. I'm just a bit smarter about reading the menu and asking the right questions.