Ask James: Evil, Atheism, Occupy Wall Street, Entrepreneurship, and More

Via on Oct 3, 2011

Every Thursday from 3:30-4:30 I’m going to answer any questions about any topic under the sun. It’s my lifelong quest to be the social media “Dear Abby” and I’m having fun and I think others are also. Then every Saturday I’ll pick some of the questions and provide more extensive answers. Here they are:

http://www.truthaboutnursing.org/images/celebrities/dear_abby.gif

IF YOU HAVE A GOOD IDEA DO YOU GET VENTURE CAPITALISTS OR DO YOU BUILD?

@wkarmistead asks if one should build a prototype or get a venture capitalist first

Answer: Absolutely build a prototype first. Go to elance.com or scriptlance.com, put a basic spec of your project up on the site (don’t worry about anyone stealing the idea), and then there is a reverse auction to see what programmers will do your project. Pick a programmer (cheap, but look at their recommendations and call references) , and build the project for $2-4k (assuming a minimal feature set ischeap enough). Why do this instead of going to a VC first?

A) Once you have a site up your value is higher

B) You will learn extremely valuable things in the process ofbuilding your site: you will come up with new ideas, learn what obstacles and competition might exist, etc

C) You might have a chance to get a paying customer, or users. This also values your company higher.

D) You might realize it was a bad idea. Easier to move onto the next idea if it were your own money

E) Why waste time pitching your invisible project when you can use that time to do valuable thinking and building

F) You might never need VC money

(interesting stat: Angel-financed companies can exit much more quickly)

WHAT IS EVIL?

@jmorgenstern asks: how do you personally define morality? What is good? What is evil?

ANSWER:

I wrote a post about this once that nobody read. First off, I don’t consider myself religious in any sense. Today is Rosh Hashanah. I don’t even know how to spell that. I’m also not a Buddhist, Hindu, whatever. But I do think it’s interesting to see what texts have withstood the test of time over thousands of years.

It’s the same as music. If a song withstands the test of time, compared with thousands of other songs, then you know there’s something good about it. Like if a failed Britney Spears did a cover of John Lennon’s song, “Imagine” then you know it would be a hit. So I am constantly reading somewhat obscure spiritual texts from a long time ago.

(Britney at the top of her career)

So I wrote a post, “Was Buddha a Bad Father”. The details of the post are not that important to this question but one speech that Buddha made to his son Rahula (after a big separation from him that began the day Rahula was born) was where he said, “before, during, and after every thing you do (speech, action, etc) make you sure are not about to harm anyone, are not harming anyone, and did not harm anyone.”

In other words, he is defining Evil. Everything else is Good.

When we are good, we are on our way to Happiness. Since harming others causes undue stress. I discuss this in my latest book:

“I Was Blind But Now I Can See”

BALANCE IN LIFE

@HarrisonAmy asks: What balance should we have in life between: learning by reading or watching others / learning by doing?

ANSWER: Always 50-50. For example, when I write, I read for 2-3 hours first, then write for 2-3 hours. When I start a business, I read every book I can about successful entrepreneurs and I spend time networking as much as possible with other startup entrepreneurs.

Even when I was dating, I spent part of each day researching dating (i.e. sending out messages on dating services, for instance) thinking about how I can make a date better, etc. And then, ofcourse, the other part of each day actually dating (See,”HowI Met Claudia”)

Amy then asked me how do I know when I’m off balance. The way I know is if I have a hard time coming up with new ideas. If I feel the “flow” is missing. I spend part of each day trying to come up with ideas for myself on whatever I’m interested in. If I’m too distracted or not thinking of enough good ideas then I know I’m off balance.

ATHEISM

@mczirjack asks: What are your thoughts (if any) of the expanding Aetheist movement i.e.: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, etc

ANSWER:

Atheism is almost a one-word oxymoron. It’s an organized religion against organized religions. But they still try to keep all of the trappings of an organized religion: every “professional atheist” tries to lay out an ethical system.

I could think of myself as an atheist also – I don’t believe in a man with a beard who magically created the Universe. Then I can lay out an existential system of ethics and ways for men to deal with each other without the words “under God” hanging over them.

Most people forget that Buddha was an atheist. And that even in orthodox Judaism there is no real word for God.

I prefer, for myself, to develop a system of happiness, to eliminate the constant brainwashing that occurs around me, and to try to enjoy life today.

In terms of the question: “do I believe in a higher power?” I would have to answer that I do believe in the concept of “surrender” which may or may not imply a higher power (who knows?). In other words, many situations get so difficult you want to throw up your hands and just say, “you know what, I did all I can. I leave the rest up to you.” And who is that you? It might be a higher power. It might be a creative force inside of you that is dying for those moments to be unleashed. Or it might simply be the feeling of gratitude that is always worth cultivating to help one find more happiness in life.

BEST WAY TO NETWORK

@bgin2end asks: I just started a linkedin ad campaign to jump start my network in a new city, any other good ideas?

Answer: I’m not sure a linkedin campaign works at all to jumpstart a network. I think a little more elbow grease is needed.

The best thing to do, ever day list 10 people you would like to network with. Come up with 10 ideas for them and send to them for free and say, can I buy you a coffee? This:

- Shows people you are thinking about their concerns perhaps more than their own

- That interaction with you can make them money

- Can get them a free coffee

I think roughly one out of ten will answer depending on who they are and the quality of the ideas. I think it will also grab you a higher caliber of network than a generic ad campaign will (not saying that bgin2end’s campaign is generic since I haven’t seen it but I think most campaigns are generic in order to hit a wide audience). You can call this “personalized networking” in that it’s like “personalized medicine”. Medicine that works based on a person’s unique DNA.

WHAT’S MY STANCE ON MOOD-ALTERING DRUGS?

cseidholz asks: mood-altering drugs (a la depression meds, etc.) – yay or nay? if nay then what?

ANSWER: Several issues: One is that clinical depression is a real physical disease and does require drugs. However, there is a severe problem.

“Depression” is a very loose, umbrella term. Does it mean “anxiety”? Or “eatingdisorder”? Or “post-traumatic stress syndrome?” Or ADD, ADHD, traditional clinical depression, etc.

And for each one of these things (and a dozen more) a different drug works and the rest of the drugs DON’T work and can, in fact, make you worse. For instance, some anti-depressants can make you feel suicidal if you are not technically depressed.

On average it takes eight years for a depressed patient to discover which drug works for them. There have been various tests that have shown this.

I’m biased on this topic because I’m invested in a company that solves this problem (so have learned a lot of the problems in the industry), CNS Response. They have 10,000 EEGs in a database. Each of the 10,000 is of a patient who was successfully diagnosed and treated.

Then, with a new patient, they match the new patient’s EEG with the database to determine the right treatment. It’s remarkably effective according to statistical tests done.

OCCUPY WALL STREET

@KarimGuessous asked what is my stance on Occupy Wall Street

ANSWER: I thnk a lot of people, including myself, have been badly hurt by the financial crisis that occurred in 2007-9 but really began in 2000-2002 and can be argued, began much earlier.

The problem is this: I used to live right on Wall Street. So I know the people who actually work there. Many of those people lost their jobs, their pensions, their homes, their savings, their 401ks, etc.

I hate to think now that along with all that they already lost they have to deal with thousands of people shouting at them and shoving signs in their faces as they try to get to work. A shit job they have to go to feed their families.

I understand “Wall Street” is symbolic but the reality is that “Wall Street” moved to Park Avenue between 45th and 57th Street many years ago. I used to live in the same building where JP Morgan worked (it got converted to rentals). Now Jami Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan works on 45th Street near Park Avenue. And the hedge funds are all in Greenwich, Connecticut. And the SEC and the Federal Reserve are in Washington DC. Why protest in the face of hard working Americans when the real culprits who should be put on trial live and work elsewhere. I have an article about this at Freakonomics.com

(why would anyone occupy Portland?)

CHESS: WHO WAS BETTER AT THEIR PEAK, KASPAROV OR FISCHER?

@StockSage1 asks who was better: Fischer or Kasparov.

ANSWER: At his peak, Fischer was better relative to his competitors than Kasparov ever was.

However, if you paired them at their respective peaks (using a time machine: then Kasparov was better). Why?

- Training techniques improved

- Computers enabled Kasparov to do quicker and more extensive research on any position

- Kasparov was never mentally ill so he was able to pursue studies and play in tournaments for 25 straight years. Fischer maybe had 10 years of study.

- Kasparov was already recognized as a young talent at the age of 9. Fischer had to work harder to get his talent out. Kasparov also had better trainers at a young age. Fischer had none.

HOW DO YOU KEEP INFORMED IN A FAST-CHANGING WORLD?

@ryan_a_lane asks:

What’s the best (most responsible/useful) way to keep up-to-date on what’s going on in the world?

ANSWER: Do the opposite of what everyone else does: read nothing. Why do I need to keep updated?

I once gave a talk at a major newspaper. Afterwards several of the reporters came up to me and said, “that was totally different than how we analyze the news. We usually have no idea what to say. Like if the market goes down we say, ‘market down due to oil fears’ “. This was in 2004 that I gave this talk. It’s gotten a lot worse since then. Now themedia tries to find the most crazy thing we can be afraid of and they put that on the cover.

And there’s no news source that’s different. So today, rather than reading ANY news at all I finished off a book of short stories I was reading (“Knockemstiff”) and started reading Stephen Levy’s new book “In the Plex”. I’ve been reading Levy since his book “Hackers”. I also read some poetry by Charles Bukowski. Then I started my day.

Reading any information source for up to date news will only make one stressed, confused, UN-informed, and generally in a bad mood. So why bother?

HOW CAN EDUCATION BE IMPROVED

@StealthAviator asks: How can education be improved?

ANSWER: I assume he meant education for grades 1-12. I wrote about this recently in “Shakespeare is awful, Jefferson was a Rapist, and PI is useless.”

My basic assumption is that grades 1-12 are too standardized (higher test results for many schools result in more state funding) and not individualized enough.

For instance, both of my kids lovedrawing Manga comics. But there’s no way for them to do this in school. And after school they are buried in homework and then tired. So whatever skills they developed this summer when they were drawing a lot will start to fade.

The other thing is: most things we learn in grades 1-12 we have to relearn anyway. Or we forget. I asked one friend my age the other day, “who discovered electricity?” and he answered instantly: “Ben Franklin” because that is what we were taught in grade school. It happens to be the wrong answer. Anyone hear of William Gilbert in the 1600s?

So here’s how I would reform it: since we know grades 1-12 is just glorified babysitting so parents can work, why not hire a bunch of good moms (or dads) to watch over the kids while they play outside, read books, draw, and do whatever they want. Keep them out of harm, and guide them if they ask questions. Also let them play and learn on computers if they want.

And that’s it. Will save money, result in smarter kids, result in more active kids (less obesity), and resultin more kids finding theirpassions instead of being killed by standardization.

 

HOW SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT RAISE REVENUES?

@ericmontas asks: What will it take for the GOP to accept tax hike on the rich?

ANSWER: They will never agree. Eric then asked, “that’s unfortunate because how will the government raise revenues.

My answer to that was: to raise revenues government should stop corruption, pork, and pull back military from 120 countries, close useless agencies (like the FDA), close various government branches (like Congress and the Presidency) and also start finding assets that they can sell and be put to better use in private industry like national highways.

Altogether, my suggestions would save trillions of dollars. Massive demilitarization alone, which kills civilians all over the world, would save 100x more than taxing people who make over $1mm. Not that I’m excusing thebank CEOs who got away with murder in 2008 and then gave themselves bonuses but shareholders, rather than the government, needto get more active and stop that. The government has four tools to raise money: raise taxes, print money, sell assets, spend less. I think the latter two are the best methods for the economy as a whole.

HOWTO BE SMART AND GOOD LOOKING?

@Mike_Ocsbig asks: How can one be both smart and good looking.

ANSWER: its hard to be smart and good-looking. So i told god before I was born i would only take the former. just to guarantee it.

FEAR OF LOSING VERSUS “Should I be a Trader?”

@MzAprilShowers asks: what advice would u give to someone like me who wants to trade for a living but can’t seem to get over fear of losing :(

ANSWER: Anyone who is interested in trading has several features in common (most of the time:

A) Intelligent enough to do heavy research on companies or trading systems. I think 99% of traders realize they need to create an edge for themselves and this involves hard work

B) An ability to gamble.

C) They don’t want to work for anyone else.

These are similar (or the same) as features required by an entrepreneur. I think, ultimately, daytrading is a loser’s game (See, “8 reasons not to daytrade”) and you can use those same attributes to be an entrepreneur (See, “100 Ways to a be a better entrepreneur”)

 

STOCK MARKET INVESTING VERSUS WRITING A BOOK

@teashopgirl asks: Am I a fool for continuing to invest in the stock market? I’m self-employed and don’t know how to build a nest egg these days.

ANSWER: You are not a fool at all although I would stay away from the stock market. I’m bullish on the market and the US economy. But I think too many people without experience buy at the top and sell at the bottom (See my “10 reasons to not own stocks”) and I also think there are only two types of people who make money in the market:

A) People with large stakes who hold forever (Buffett and Gates come to mind)

B) People are wired right into the exchanges and make millions of trades a day.

Everyone in the middle gets slashed up and loses money.

I happen to own the children’s book Tea Shop Girl has written. When you own stocks you get too distracted to write, particularly during downturns. It’s also very hard (Maybe impossible) to write a bestselling fiction book.

But, for someone already in the business, it’s possible to write series of books that get consistent (but small advances) that could then produce steady streams of royalty. My advice after more back and forth was to be prolific (Isaac Asimov, for instance, wrote 467 books) and write a 100 books ina series of children books.

HOW DO I PICK A BLOG NAME?

@rbinmn asks: how do I pick a blog name?

ANSWER: Use your own name. It’s the best way to spread the word about what you are, who you are about, and what you stand for. Look at huffington Post. The most successful blog ever (whether one likes it or not- it started as a blog) was built on the back of one person’s name. Someone should make a libertarian version of the Huffington Post although lewrockwell.com is doing a good job.

BEST TV SHOWS?

@perfectweapon asks: What TV shows are you watching these days?

ANSWER: Louie, Rome, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mad Men, Shameless, Arrested Development (on itunes), In Treatment, Entourage. Any others that are out right now I should be watching?

MY IQ

@AlanaKennedy asked: what is your IQ?

ANSWER: Lower than I think it is.

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One Response to “Ask James: Evil, Atheism, Occupy Wall Street, Entrepreneurship, and More”

  1. Great post, James! Like your take on atheism and keeping up-to-date on the "news" …. my days are now going to be easier. Cheers to you :)

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