Sunday, September 16, 2018

Addicted to Death...Purdue Pharma and Oxycontin

Purdue Pharmaceuticals has been in the middle of a firestorm of controversy regarding its role in the epidemic of opioid abuse in the United States.  As is often the case, once a case of death-inducing corporate profiteering rises high enough on the public radar, everyone from John Oliver to Stephen Colbert to headline grabbing U.S. Attorneys jump on the bandwagon decrying the evils of the Sackler family.  And let’s face it: Mortimer Sackler and his off-spring knew that they were selling a drug that would lead to addictions.  And recently, they have been awarded a 20 year monopoly on the treatment of the very addictions from which they profited.

In their December 22, 1997 patent filing (U.S. Patent 6,277,384 filed by Robert F. Kaiko and Robert D. Colucci – both of Connecticut - with the assistance of Davidson, Davidson & Kappel LLC based in New York City), they acknowledge the engineering of compounds that are engineered to optimize analgesic effects in human patients that are classifed as “physically dependent addicts“. Navigating through the thorny addiction minefield of all opioids, they stated that “preferably, the amount of naltrexone included in the oral doage form is less positively reinforcing (e.g., less “liked“) to a non-physically dependent opioid addict than a comparable oral dosage form without the antagonist included“.  By 2001, knowledge of opioid abuse and dosage tampering led Purdue’s researchers (working for Euro-Celtique SA – a Luxembourg company) to invent “bittering agents“ to make drug abuse less palatable (U.S. Patent 7,141,250).

Several of Purdue’s early opioid patents were set to expire at the end of 2018.  But courtesy of the United States Patent & Trademark Office and the United States Food & Drug Administration accommodations and complicity in protecting Purdue’s monopoly on death, subtle modifications to the formulation with no substantive new invention have extended the company’s proprietary position until the mid-2020s.  Oxycontin®’s march of death will continue to enrich Purdue years after their addiction engineering plans should have expired.

Purdue’s recently granted patent holds an ominous calculus.  In U.S. Patent 9,907,793, they confidently assert that the public trade-off between abuse and benefit justifies the use of the drugs.  “Especially the physical dependence of patients suffering from pain to opioid analgesics leads to the development of tolerance, meaning that upon extended intake, increasingly higher doses of the pain relieving agent have to be taken by the patient, in order to experience pain relief. The euphoregenic effect of opioid analgesics often leads to the abuse of pain relievers. Drug abuse and psychological dependence are a common phenomenon, especially among teenagers. These dangerous effects are especially caused by the substances with strong analgesic capacity, and can range from undesired habituation to fully developed addiction. However, these substances are legitimately used for medical purposes and medicine cannot do without them.”(emphasis added)

And, a little trip down memory lane – if we can be lucid enough to take that journey – would suggest that the inevitability of opioid use and its associated addiction just comes with the territory.  Since Portuguese sailors started mixing opium and tobacco in the 16th century leading to the economic rise (and fall) of a fair few empires to Frederich Sertuerner’s definition of opium’s active ingredient in 1803, countless mercantile forces have preyed on the addictive properties of opioids.  Merck & Co began its commercial manufacturing of morphine in the 1820s and Britain’s Dr. Alexander Wood started shooting it up in 1843.  At the turn of the most recent millennium, reportedly over 89 million prescriptions were written in the U.S.  And, not surprisingly, Shire Pharmaceutical’s U.S. Patent 7,375,082 notes that “as prescription numbers rise, the number of emergency room visits and deaths from overdose increase correspondingly.”  This was written in 2002!  Get with the program Colbert and Oliver!  The profiteering on this death has been around a lot longer than the satire that now seeks to profit on the evils of the profiteers!

For nearly two decades, medicine has seen over 500 patents issued to address minimizing or preventing opioid addiction and abuse.  But as Dr. Lynn Webster published in Pain Medicine (Vol 10:Supp2, July 2009), “none of these formulations are currently commercially available.”  Ironically, the publication of her paper was brought to you by…, you guessed it… a pharmaceutical company!

Let’s be clear.  Purdue has published in its patent filings its knowledge of addiction and abuse risk for nearly two decades.  With Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota and Florida joining the rush to prosecute Purdue Pharma, several parties may be worth considering as “co-conspirators”.  The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has approved patents that clearly set forth evidence of knowledge of drug abuse.  The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (charged with safe-guarding the public) has supported monopolistic distribution of a harmful substance.  What precisely makes their complicity less odious than that of a bishop covering up sex abuse in the church?  Why is it that we’re allowing agencies of the U.S. government a pass for letting this epidemic get out of control when they’ve directly supported the very company responsible for selling a harmful substance?

Oh, maybe because we like to pretend that we disapprove of the death and carnage associated with drug abuse but our state health care programs, tax authorities, and “health care” companies are enriched by the suffering of millions.

We are not serious about the pain and suffering caused by opioids any more now than we were when we saw our modern political and economic systems hatched in opium dens.  If any of the states or litigating parties want to get to the root of the problem, they’re ignoring the evidence that is publicly available from two U.S. government agencies that have been complicit in making the abuse possible.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

More than Enough To Go Around


Nine years ago, a photo of a mother and child in Darfur captivated my heart.  My dear friend Chip Duncan had prepared a book – Enough to Go Around – Searching for Hope in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Darfur.  As an award-winning photojournalist, his eye was capable of rendering in film those raw, present moments in which humanity triumphed against the stark – at times, ghastly – scourges of indescribable suffering.  A year earlier in Peru (when I met Chip on the Inca Trail) I had come to learn of a man who was willing to travel to the farthest reaches of the globe to bring to all our attention things that mattered.  In the ensuing year, Chip tried to find a sponsor who would publish the book and, courtesy of several business deals that provided me a bit more than enough in the moment, we decided to sponsor the book’s publishing. 

We live in a world in which the message of Chip’s book continues to be lost on most.  While many people can disparagingly look at the starkness of the images and consider “enough” through the lens of the distribution of sparse resources, Chip’s book highlighted the expansive properties of “enough”.  Seeing a world in which the linkages of humanity expand possibilities.  Sharing the unspeakable joy of one friend’s success shared as the triumph of the community.  Experiencing the diversity of life and its complexity as an extension of living wisdom.

I’m impressed with explicit catechism of the hideous logic popularized in John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s 1944 Theory of Games and Economic Behavior which set forth the principle of the zero-sum game.  This meant that, “the sum of all payments received by all players (at the end of the game) always zero.”  Put another way, for every winner, there must be an equivalent loser or set of losers.  In business, personal relationships, and social interactions, zero-sum thinking leads to massive energy sinks. 

For over a year, I’ve been waiting to make progress on a business transaction which is considered to be one of the market’s largest disruptive opportunities.  A business partner has been paralyzed for nearly a year with the artificial paradox created by zero-sum thinking.  In their business, much of their revenue is derived from the incumbent corporations who will be most impacted by our disruption.  As a result, the possibility of the success in the future is immobilized by the recognition that they (and their existing revenue paying clients) must realign priorities to assimilate what good old-fashioned self-interest dictates.  They want the benefit of the promising future but don’t want the risk of disrupting incumbent cashflows.  At no point is there a consideration of a mutually accretive situation in which our combined success can build annuity revenue strength to what is currently capricious marketing expenditures.  Someone has to win.  Someone has to lose.  And in the process, a year of business has been moribund.

All of us have had a friendship that has unnecessarily languished because a person has decided that there is finitude in the capacity for love and friendship.  Rather than seeing expanding circles of friendship as a resilient network that makes the tapestry of emotional support more robust and responsive, living is impaired because friends have to “choose”.  By the way – that word when applied to friendship or most other living situations – is a zero-sum flag.  I may select where I place time and attention in a moment without choosing in a priority-based paradigm of winners and losers.  The duality of zero-sum and “choice” or “priority” based thinking traps people into believing that they are more or less important as equivalence is not possible.  Someone must be more favored – someone less. 

When this type of thinking and behaving characterizes business or social interactions, the net effect is loss.  Focus is placed on emotional gamesmanship and posturing rather than on aligned progress.  Necessary communication is disrupted because distractions – both overt and passive aggressive – disrupt the normal flow of necessary interaction.  Incentives are hijacked for vindictive or posturing outcomes rather than singularly focused on equivalent benefit.  Emotional energy is consumed in pettiness rather than in rallying to purpose. 

Chip gave us an amazing gift to jolt us out of this pettiness.  By showing us the glorious moments of triumph in places of devastation, he gave us the opportunity to hit the pause button on our behaviors and consider those around the world who are finding light in the darkness.  And while I don’t pitch many books, on this anniversary of its publication, I encourage each of you to read, share, and integrate the messages of Enough to Go Around – Searching for Hope in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Darfur.  From the image on the cover to the last word of the book, you too will see a world in which zero-sum has no place.  And wherever the image of the mother and child hangs on a wall or graces a coffee table, let that gaze remind us that enough is more.  There’s enough because when it’s shared, there’s always more!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sugar, Stevia, or Saccharin…Pick Your AI Poison


I was delighted to see Monsanto suffer the fate of Big Tobacco this past week when a jury awarded a terminal cancer patient a $289 million damage award for their cover-up of the carcinogenic risk of RoundUp®.  Predictably, Monsanto’s lawyers immediately responded with their intention to pursue an appeal choosing to defend financial interests over morality.  And, if history offers any instruction, in this round, they’ll prevail.  While glyphosate is probably harmful to human health given its lethality in plants, the genetically modified seed products that we consume in our food chain that include Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) infection to suppress susceptibility to RoundUp® is likely far more dangerous in the long-term than the weed killer. 

In a report my company M·CAM produced in 2005 (13 years ago), we discussed the insidious chain of industrial accommodation that encouraged Monsanto’s impunity.  (For a full copy of the report, make your request in the comments field below.)  Bear in mind that DuPont and Monsanto were both racing to control industrial agriculture decades earlier and were able to alter U.S. patent law to do so. 

“On June 16, 1980, the United States Supreme Court determined that artificially engineered living organisms are a patentable invention.  In Diamond v. Chakrabarty[1], Ananda Chakrabarty sought to patent under U.S.C. 35 §101 a genetically engineered bacterium capable of breaking down crude oil, a property which is not possessed by any naturally occurring bacteria.[2]  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Commissioner Diamond had upheld the patent examiner’s refusal to grant a patent to Chakrabarty, asserting that living organisms were outside the scope of patentable subject matter under §101.  In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court ruled that because of the broad nature of the language of §101 to provide for the issuance of a patent to a person who invents or discovers “any” new and useful “manufacture” or “composition of matter,” it would uphold the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals’ earlier conclusion that the fact that micro-organisms are alive is without legal significance for the purposes of the patent law.”

In other words, what was once illegal – the patenting of life – was narrowly approved by the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision in 1980.  And ever since, economic interests have explicitly trumped life when money is on the line.

This would be a great time to put down your Diet Pepsi, Diet Coke, or other artificially flavored beverage as one day, you might be disappointed to know that just because it tasted like it was sweet, it actually was anything but…

Which leads me, in my normal circuitous route, to the object of today’s post on Artificial Intelligence.  That’s right, this is a post about AI!

Intelligence is one of the many gifts the Greeks and Romans bestowed on humanity.  Like other ephemeral concepts, the capacity for adaptive sensory integration and associated purposeful, considered action has been a scholarly fascination for a few millennia.  Growing up in the 1970s in Southern California – within the erudite infection zone of Stanford University and its century-long obsession with psychometrics popularized by American psychologist Lewis Terman (1910) – I recall the elementary school obsession with measuring “intelligence” and my resulting entry into the “Gifted” program.  Between the Stanford-Binet and the Wechsler tests, measured intelligence was inextricably linked to the industrial production mandate on education in the 19th and 20th centuries as well as the US and Nazi Progressivism eugenics movements.  That’s right, we cared about intelligence measurement to pick social winners (and their capacity to procreate) and social losers (and the forced sterilization of over 64,000 people in the US and millions across the globe).  To win was to be most capable of “desired” social contribution and to lose was to fail to conform.

To measure “intelligence”, white men of U.S. and European academic credentialing devised copious variations on what constituted intelligence and how best to quantify an individual’s capacity to express the same.  These included: ability to reason and problem solve; breadth and application of acquired knowledge; ability to manipulate numerical symbols; reading and writing aptitude; short-term recall; long-term information retrieval; visual pattern recognition and manipulation; auditory processing; cognitive processing speed with distractions; and, decision reaction time. 

Out of all human capabilities, a hierarchy of “what matters” was ordained and then devices to measure aptitude towards these values served to rank humanity.  Not surprisingly, this century-long eugenics indoctrination diminished our collective capacity to innovate into ever narrower fields of irrelevance.  In the 19th century, we used analog systems of wind, sun, combustion, symbiotic species, gravity, and hydraulics to animate our living and industry.  But with the monopolistic electrification of the turn of the 19th century, we became monoenergetically  electrically dependent.  When we speak of “solar”, “wind” or “alternative” energy, we now mean using those devices to feed a monoenergetic grid.  When we think of nourishment, we think of industrial caloric production.  Forget flavor.  Forget freshness.  Forget fiddling in the kitchen with variety!  Monsanto’s billions are derived from an “intelligence” that decided that monoculture agrarian behavior was preferred over unconsidered alternatives because intelligence meant the solution was in chemistry and efficiency (two mandatory elements of measured intelligence).

I’ve experienced many forms of intelligence that evade detection by the eugenics engineers of the past and present.  When I taught Euan to sail this past week on the Indian Ocean, I relayed the reading of wind patterns on the water, airfoil dynamics of setting the sails and reading of the tell-tales that I received from my Great Uncle John Parsons that now afford me and him the ability to sail to all points of the compass in the open sea.  I’ll never forget the countless patients with whom my former wife Colleen worked where the differential diagnosis said that nothing was wrong but she sensed imminent peril and was always detecting what machines weren’t.  I’ll never forget my son Zachary’s ability to interact and perceive signals from animals allowing him to interact with everything from fluffy puppies to the most venomous snakes without concern.  I live each day with my wife Kim’s innate capacity to detect human motivations and behaviors and orient them for beneficial purpose.  I marvel at Lorraine’s capacity to engage implicit signals from people and systems and detect anomalies and remedies thereto.  I marvel at Elizabeth Lindsey’s wisdom heritage inquiries which demonstrate current examples of ethnographic diversity manifesting pluralities of awareness beyond electrical and digital dependencies that transcend capabilities of both[3].  I decipher systemic codes from photosynthesis to particle swarm dynamic signaling in birds, fish, and cellular membranes and apply them to market dynamics on a daily basis.

When I encounter advocates for and detractors from artificial intelligence, I find myself first puzzling over whether any awareness of “intelligence” exists to form the context for the virtualization thereof.  The mechanical automation of what human automatons do is not AI, it’s merely substitution.   If a task can be automated, it probably never required “intelligence”.  It probably required habituation to reflex.  And habituated reflexes are – are you ready for this? – non-cognitive functions.  Whether we’re prepared to admit it or not, the monoapplicance dependence on the electrical (or quantum) computer is not a hallmark of progress.  When we place ever greater reliance on ever narrower bandwidths of energy or information, we place ourselves closer to extinction!  This is NOT an intelligent proposition.  Ten years from now, is there any chance that we’ll leave a social artifact that could survive an electromagnetic impulse erasure?  Highly unlikely.  Will our children be able to rifle through photo albums to see their first visit to the San Diego Zoo?  Doubtful.  And if the power goes out in any metropolitan area, what’s the actual survival likelihood for most of the population?  You guessed it.  Pretty grim. 

This past week, the Australian government made their Orwellian announcement that they propose to require technology companies to either engineer or accommodate the introduction of spyware and malware into computer and communication devices sold in Australia.  Failure to comply with turning over digital information, passwords, etc., will result in fines and prison time.   Tragically, they’re merely making overt what AT&T and Bell Labs did after Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis with the National Telecommunications Act in the U.S.  And like the U.S. citizens who preferred the convenience of the telephone to caring about abridged civil liberties, the Australian population will shake its head for a moment knowing that this sounds wrong but then rush back to see who the Bachelor picks to be his soon-to-be-divorced dream date.  Are we, as intelligence researchers report, getting more intelligent as James R. Flynn postulated in his 1984 study?  Or is the aperture of our “intelligent” capacity aligning more closely to the eugenic conformity for which the intelligence movement was principally animated?  Think about it.  We know less about our food, our energy, and our obscured dependencies than at any other epoch yet we claim greater innovations and greater achievements based on our increasingly artificial intelligence. 

When we decide that manipulating a few symbols for a desired effect constitutes intelligence, innovation and progress – like Monsanto’s generational quest to toxify the “green revolution” – we often achieve stated outcomes.  No one can suggest that Monsanto’s RoundUp® hasn’t radically increased crop production in isolated observation.  But when we delimit our awareness – selectively killing the “undesirable” in favor of the monoculture – we ALWAYS create consequences.  And while my social impulse suggested the modifier “unintended” in the previous sentence, I’m not so sure that the intent isn’t to harm.  A school groundskeeper is going to die.  Glyphosate may very well be a contributing cause.  But so too might be the corn syrup, soy protein, and cotton, to which he was exposed – all of which lined the pockets of Monsanto.  Until we do ALL-IN-CONSEQUENCE analysis, we’re not intelligent.  And the evidence would suggest that making our current state of affairs “artificial” is simply ludicrous. 


[1] Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980)
[2] 35 U.S.C. 101:  Inventions patentable

Image from Wikimedia Commons user TheBernFiles. - Own work, Public Domain

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Battling Wits when Death is On The Line


You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line"!    Vizinni in The Princess Bride 1987

I don’t care for games.  I never have.  Given the choice to ride my bike, work in the garden, sit by a crackling fire, cook, do dishes, vacuum, or pretty much any other time-consuming activity or play games, I’d choose the former.  With one exception.  I love the game of Risk.  When French film director Albert Lamorisse invented La Conquête du Monde in 1957 and sold it to Parker Brothers in 1959, he had the benefit of a world war to observe the psychology of geopolitical intrigue.  The year before inventing Risk, Lamorisse won the Palme d’Or in Cannes for The Red Balloon – one of cinema’s greatest (and most depressing) short films.  In the film, a young boy pursues the meandering flight of a red helium balloon as it whimsically blows across Paris before being popped by a pack of hooligans atop a hill deflating the aspirational innocence of the young boy’s fanciful excursion.  As U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin today in Finland, I’ve reflected on the life – and untimely helicopter crash accidental death – of Lamorisse’s artistic and diversionary contributions to the last century and mused if we’re more Risk or Red Balloon this week.

If you’ve never played Risk, you wouldn’t know that controlling Asia is nigh impossible until the end game.  While of equal value, North America and Europe do not represent equivalent ease of management with North America enjoying the most point value with the least risk of attack.  And the Southern Hemisphere (South America, Africa, and Australia) only serve to fortify their Northern Hemisphere masters and offer no strategic value beyond their geographical alliance.  And if you’ve never watched The Red Balloon you wouldn’t know that bullies with stones and slingshots always ruin the innocence of whimsy.  Or, on reflection, you wouldn’t have to play the game or watch the film.  You could just look at Twitter and arrive at the same social conclusion.

Whenever Trump opens his mouth or exercises his primate-inspired opposable Twitter thumbed intellect, you can count on elites like The Atlantic to lament the end of the American century.  From CNN to The Guardian, the status quo reflex is to shudder and cringe at the arrogant, misogynist, xenophobic, totalitarian, egomaniacal ravings of the golden fleeced puppet.  But this façade of indignation serves as a diaphanous veil on the arrogance (and ignorance) embedded in the assumption of nostalgic hegemonic illusions.  There wasn’t an American century. 

Yes, I said it!  While the United States has built the myth of the 20th century being somehow its empirical zenith, the facts indict such a view as the whimsy of a school boy following a balloon blown about by the Parisian winds.  In World War I, 41 million casualties resulted from the conflict and the Central Powers’ GDP shrunk by as much as 40%.  The Allies outspent the Central Powers $147 billion to $61 billion.  In World War II, close to 3% of the world’s total population were killed with as many as 80 million people dead from conflict, disease, starvation, or other deprivation.  Germany and Japan had their manufacturing infrastructure obliterated.  Under the Potsdam Declaration, U.S. economic power was secured by treaty and expediency, not based on genuine competition.  Reinforced by the dubious Bretton Woods doctrine that “free trade would result in lasting peace”, globalization in the image of an American idealism sought to impose on the world a corporatocracy in which U.S. economic interest determined what “fair” would mean.  And for the record, “fair” meant favoritism.  If it was good for the U.S., it was free and fair.  If it harmed U.S. self-interest, it wasn’t.  So it’s no wonder that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan is cursed not for its chauvinism but rather for its objective ignorance.  There’s no “again”.  The U.S. appeared to be “great” because we were playing Risk while the rest of the world was playing Go.  And, for the record, Go strategy upsets Risk every time – particularly when the world is digital in its trade!

Thirty years after Nixon leaned on China to back his unilateral default on the gold standard (August 15, 1971), China entered the World Trade Organization.  In the 17 years that have followed, China’s over 400% growth in middle class spending power has expanded market opportunities for domestic and foreign companies to be sure.  But while the U.S. was fighting Bush & Cheney “terror” phantasms, China was carefully playing Go.  Recognizing that the control of supply chains adds “suspenders” to the One Belt One Road resurgence of the Silk Road in Xi’s China, rather than engaging the Southern Hemisphere, the U.S. made the classic Risk error: namely, try to control the Ottoman Empire.  China played the right game.  The U.S. played the wrong game.  And the U.S. was playing the wrong game because it thought that it was the empire protected by the frozen landmass linking Kamchatka to Alaska and the Isthmus of Central America.  What it failed to realize is that its last chance to change games was at the reunification of Germany and the Two Plus Four Agreement in 1990 when George H.W. Bush lost the plot of the 20th Century (assuming he had any clue about the plot at all).

And for those red white and blue fans out there – remember this.  Your blue jeans, computers, satellites, drugs, fertilizers, engines, and TVs have more Nazi and Axis engineering in them than they have American ingenuity.  What we did was take the technologies of others and deploy it at unprecedented scale.  But we did it on the back of a world that we forced into IMF indebtedness and corruption.  Now that others are cleaning up their own economies, we’re finding out that the we weren’t the best.  We were just less broken so appeared to have a moment of glory.  If you took the time to look at the reparations at the end of World War II, you’d realize that we’d still be on party-line phones if it weren’t for “the enemies” of a generation ago.  Our modern illusion of wealth is based on a story that we’ve yelled so long that we believe it to be true.  But the facts unfortunately tell a different story.  We took advantage of weakness.  We were not strong.  We imposed our will on the broken.  We did not rise to excellence of character and moral leadership.  And when Trump and Putin meet today, they’re merely repeating a tired refrain from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1905 Russian fantasies.  Those didn’t last the decade and neither will Trump’s touchy feely Putin fling.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Until Death Do Us…


I have had the great fortune of engaging in several intimate conversations lately about the recent epidemic of suicide among “successful” business, sports, entertainment, and other notable personalities.  As I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special “Nanette” (watch all the way to the end to get the point), I was overwhelmed with the importance of Hannah telling her lived experience – not the comedic theater she used to alchemically deflect the embodied pain of inhumanity.  I sat with a group of entrepreneurs just a few nights ago in New York and shared my lived experience.  These impulses converged to convince me that it’s high time I wrote about my life and why I’m sick and tired of people being shocked, surprised, or bewildered by those who end their lived torment!  My exhaustion comes from the simple fact that our social fabric seems incapable of withstanding honest critiques of what we’re doing to destroy our humanity and in so doing, leads those who are in positions of prominence to meet all too often, a hopeless end.

“David,” you ask, “what does suicide have to do with the economic and business themes of Inverted Alchemy?”

Well, here’s the simple answer followed by a much longer explanation.  Instead of focusing my efforts on the enterprises to which I have allocated much of my energy, most of my life my attention has been shame management and a struggle to find a reason to persist.  My professional and corporate success have been miniature triumphs over my self-deception and perceived worthlessness.  Had there been genuine conversations about what was really happening in my life, my effectiveness could have been significantly improved and the environments I managed could have been less filled with conflict.  And even in my writing here, I’m still entirely encumbered by the social shackles of propriety seeking to mute what could be considered criticism of individual actors in my life’s journey.  So even in this moment, I’m not at liberty to tell the whole truth.

As early as I can remember, I was indoctrinated into what Gregory Bateson referred to as the “double-bind” – in his view the precursor to schizophrenia first detailed in his 1956 paper Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia.  In Southern California during the late 60s and early 70s, my early life included an amalgamation of anti-war protests in San Diego, “spirit-filled” psychedelic religion, and exhortations to “critically examine” consensus thinking (provided that that thinking didn’t critically examine the wrong things… which I did).  Love peace… but beat a child to instill discipline.  Think critically… but ignore the inherent contradictions in Biblical texts or catechisms.  Be “filled with spirits”… but make sure that the hallucinations you have are sanctioned by the adults who know what is right.  Be non-conformist… but be sure that your selected path is “right”.

In my adolescence in Pennsylvania, my puberty emerged in a community that distorted “love” in every dimension.  In religion, “love” was a vindictive God using shame and guilt as his only instrument to extract adherence.  In sexual interactions, “love” was the reserved for the proprietary sacrament marriage.  Attraction was lust, lust was sin, and sin was to be hopelessly avoided at all costs.  “Truth” was the providence of religion or science.  Questioning the inconsistencies or hypocrisy in either was evidence of a social deficiency.  Material “wealth” was the basis for denigrating comments and doing “More With Less” was a monastic ego intoxicant.

From April 8, 1977 until August 8, 2017, I didn’t have a single day in which I didn’t feel worthlessness and shame.  Shame for my perspectives that were not consensus.  Worthlessness for my abject failure in most of my relationships.  Shame for my human desires that were constantly suppressed with social stigma and apathetic neglect.  Worthlessness when – celebrated for my loyalty, intellect, or capabilities – I knew that I couldn’t awaken basic kindness in those who most benefited from my existence.  And above all, from Thanksgiving Day 2007 until Thanksgiving Day 2013, the knowledge that every effort I had made in my most personal and familial relationships had placed me on a collision course with the inevitable end of my marriage.  For 14,732 days (40 years and 4 months), I saw this world as a place in which I had little relevance.  I had few adults with whom to speak.  And with the advent of social media, I began the insidious deception of projecting an illusion of success in my personal and professional life with the mistaken impression that if I promoted the best of life – celebrated with gratitude the amazing journeys that my efforts made possible – somehow that would awaken in those closest to me the values that I so deeply desired to see manifest.  And it’s this last thing that elucidated the most harm.  By making it appear that everything was great, no one saw that inside I was collapsing under the weight of the illusion I was propping up.

On October 2, 2013, I was done.  The psychological and physical pain with which I lived each day had grown into a malignancy in my mind so much that I spent most days thinking about the ways in which I could end my life without leaving my children in pain.  I had made a life of providing for others.  I had been a master entrepreneur building enterprises that spanned the globe and impacted the lives of billions for a better future.  I had loved relentlessly.  I had overcome pain, injury, torment, ridicule, treachery, greed, and every manner of inhumanity.  I modeled a life of generosity beyond anything I had ever seen or experienced.  But the broken, shameful, worthless man was louder than all these things.  I couldn’t see any path to persist.  I was my own unsolvable paradox and the cacophony in my mind was killing me.  And I didn’t make it on my own.  I’m still on this planet because of the love of 3 people.  One business colleague and my two children.  At the darkest end, my daughter held my hand to keep me here.

I don’t know what happens to others but I do know that once I decided that death was a plausible escape from the pain of living, a new level of despair sets in.  I resented a world that allowed a “me” to get to this point.  I resented relationships that didn’t respond to explicit requests for help made worse by the mere fact that I had to ask for something that was self-evident.  My public speaking was celebrated but my anger was ever-present.  My intrepid willingness to take on genocidal mining operations, corrupt governments, white collar crime, covert black-ops, corporate malfeasance bordered on reckless as I figured that my life’s futility might as well be used to stamp out tyranny.  If it got me killed, all the better because it would be the honorable way to go.  In point of fact, from the Nicaraguan war in 1986 until August 2015, I can confidently state that much of my global gallantry for the advancement of humanity was equally fueled by my indifference to my own survival as it was the genuine compassion and fortitude I had for the manifesting of a better world for others.  When being tortured by a gun-wielding guard, he yelled in my face, “I could take your life from you right now.”  I responded, “You cannot take what is not mine to give.”  This sounded stoic.  It was, in part, but it also was the statement of a man who had given up on living.

Today, I am choosing to Fully Live, not just survive like I did in October 2013.  That choice was ignited in 2015 when genuine humanity manifest in my discarded existence.  And while Kim has worked relentlessly to help me see the value in what my life has accomplished, she’s still sees the scars – both literal and emotional – that served as sentinels guarding the darkness in which I lived.  Slowly, I’m chipping away at the 5 decades of inhumanity that planted the seeds of shame into the mind of a little boy with an unusual sense of perception.  Those seeds, watered with blood, bruises, and neglect, grew into the vines that nearly choked the life from me.

And what am I doing about the suicide epidemic that now serves as one of the top 10 causes of death in middle aged men and women in affluent societies?  Well, thanks for asking.

  • 1.      I’m asking people how they’re doing and actually listening for the answer – not just the words but how those words are spoken.
  • 2.      I’m reaching out to people who I see struggling.  I’d much rather offend for asking than let someone suffer in silence.
  • 3.      When asked about my business and commercial success, I’m sharing the uncomfortable personal stories that are about navigating my personal life.  Ironically, when I’m doing this, the conversation invariably becomes much more genuine and the commercial and business facades crumble in favor of authentic human interactions.
  • 4.      I’m constantly honoring the lives of those who stood with me in my darkest hours and making sure to remind them that my life is an extension of their love and kindness.
  • 5.      And when others are at the edge – or regrettably find themselves beyond hope – I am prioritizing their living over any of my own agenda.

Because, if we’re serious about our alleged concern about suicide, it’s high time we do something long before a man like me has to beg for mercy and kindness.  If we’re not emanating kindness and sharing love from a life worth living then we’ve broken a sacred trust with our fellow humans.  And if we pretend that the “workplace” is not a suitable place to have these kinds of conversations then that simply means that we’re fueling the very desperation that leads to lives that end for lack of meaning and value.  As a business owner, I know that I cannot succeed if those around me are not operating at the best.  I know I wasn’t for 3 decades and I’m done propping up the illusions of social indifference at the expense of my well-being and that of others.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Anthropomorphizing Light

This requires a slow read as it is dense...but I think, exceptionally important

In a race to possess the oppressive foothold with which the propagation of iniquity could be democratized to substantiate the delusion of Fallen Humanity and Original Sin, Greek and Roman philosophers appealed to Greed (pleonektes and cupidus, respectively) as a generalizable abhorrent trait.  Polycarp, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, and Sextus all echoed warnings against the impulse to seek to possess beyond reasonability.  By the 4th century, the fledgling apostolic church knew that by ascribing to the teachings of their long-romanticized namesake the maxim, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” they could convince everyone of a fundamental sinful nature.  After all, who doesn’t love money?  For justification, they wove an elaborate thread around the oral tradition of the Abrahamic faith’s myth of a beginning in which the mortal crime of humanity – alleged to be resulting from the conspiracy of a snake and a woman preying on a clueless and malleable man – was the pursuit of knowledge and served as the basis for a persistent ubiquitous evil condition.  Ignoring the prima facie conundrum of an alleged “sin” derived from a deity who is the personification of Greed itself (after all, in the 10 Commandants, 1/3 are about an egotistical, self-absorbed deific greed demanding supremacy, attention and loyalty), the early ecclesiastical brainwashers took advantage of illiterate masses and manufactured a pervasive illusion of a flaw in character and made it the evidence for sinfulness.

Epiphanes of Cephalonia in the late first and early second century CE was critical of this restrictive and oppressive social construction.  Together with other Gnostics, he argued that as the sun equivalently shines on everything; nature provides for itself with equanimity; and therefor greed and avarice are born not of human nature but of the mistaken impulse to enclose thereby creating the illusion of relative abundance or scarcity.  Greed, and all other contrivances of ownership and enclosure, were evidence of manipulated darkness – not the equivalently available evidence of life-giving illumination.  This celebration of isomorphic nature was considered a heresy by the early 4th century and the Dark Ages were set in motion!
In an effort to understand greed more fully, I took the time to read Dr. Vadim Kaplunovsky’s TheQuantum EM Fields and the Photon Propagator in which he weaves a mathematical quantum tapestry of Feynman, Green, Coulomb, Heisenberg, Lagrange, Yukawa, and others to explain attraction, repulsion, and other basic observations of photonic behavior.  He concludes his treatise with passing observation that mathematically, fermions and anti-fermions can be attracted to each other despite the clearly repelling natures of their charges!  If you take the time to read the paper, this last sentence is worth wading through all the Greek formulae.  For in his final words, we arrive at a conclusion which confirms that there remains – in the end – a mystery.

Greek philosophers gave us an obsession with geometry and, in so doing, the illusion of boundaries.  If we examine what physicists call ‘elementary particles’, we realize that they are neither particles nor are they thermodynamically limited.  All of our sense making in quantum mechanics presupposes conditions that are illusions as falsifiable as all the myths that precede the scientific revolution.  Distance, time, vacuums, laws and constants are all dimensional projections which serve to limit what is fundamentally unlimited.  Our obstacle to understanding quantum energy states is our manipulation of a projection of distance, time, or both.  Can two particles experience non-local effects through calculable deduction?  Almost.  But to model this phenomenon requires assumptions we know to be untrue.  Would it be simpler to see energy as an infinitely orthogonal dynamic without shape or boundaries?  Of course.  But if we did that, no one could be the arbiter of the dominant general theory and, as such, hierarchy, power, control, and manipulation would be inaccessible.

I’ve been drawn to understanding photonic propagation for a particular reason.  I’m intrigued by the phenomenon of experiencing a life in which the more incredulous individuals are in the presence of generous giving, the more beneficiaries rapidly move from gratitude, to distrust, to outright parasitic expectancy.  Together with the Gnostics, I find the source of emanation energy the object of inquiry.  Much of my life’s work and activity seems to arise from a rather mysterious energy that persists even at times of extreme emotional or physical depletion.  And the beneficiaries of my actions are seldom individuals with whom a ‘contractual’ agreement or exchange exists.  In other words, my default is to share and give without consideration.  This explicit mode of engagement without expectation of ‘return’ in an equivalence or in-kind fashion does not mean that I don’t have expectations.  Quite to the contrary, if I have been generous, my expectation is that generosity will propagate.  If I have been kind, my expectation is that kindness will flourish.  And while I don’t expect reciprocity per se, I do expect that in the emanation of propagated goodness, at times, I’ll be the beneficiary of that proliferated energy.  But this is seldom the case.  In fact, the more reproducible the adjacency to receipt of my energy, the less likely I experience the flow-on effect and the more I engender expectation and dependency. 

Current photonic physics suggests the paradox of vectors of propagation which imply some sense of momentum but grapple with the observation that a photon can at once be pushing light energy outward and in the same moment be receiving the same energy.  In other words, the error of individuation or identity is the geometric, spatial and temporal fallacy.  Like the sino-atrial node in the heart, the auto depolarization is both arising from within, and responding to, perceived ‘external’ activation.  But in the absence of distance, time, or space, the activation simply is.  Not from.  Not to.  Just activation.  Similarly, my impulse towards generosity is neither “mine” nor “given to”.  It simply is an impulse which is meant for propagation – not absorption.  Yet absorption seems to be more prevalent than passing the impulse along.

So, back to Dr. Kaplunovsky’s unintentional philosophy.  When discussing the oldest assumption of electrostatics – namely, like charges repel and unlike charges attract – he hastens to point out that in certain instances of kinetics (eg. gravity) attraction transcends this “law”.  Further, the linear model of propagation fails to stay within the Quantum Electro-Dynamics (QED) theory when infinite orthogonality and inertia are added to two dimensional planar (non-realistic) assumptions.  In other words, all we think we can understand about propagation of charged particles work in conditions that never exist, using projections of our own creation, built on dimensional assumptions we objectively know to be untrue.  Besides that, we’ve got it nailed down. 

Which brings me back to the two millenia and counting question.  Can Emanating Light co-exist in a world that presumes Greed?  In a context in which propagation of goodness was the infinitely orthogonal presumption of non-local inter-relationship, we would be able to see the following: 
  • 1.      In the moment of goodness received, there would be an immediate recognition (not acknowledgement of or reciprocity to) the momentum vector of such goodness;
  • 2.      In the same moment, the first impulse would be the transfer of received energy to  omni-directional propagation in favor of consumption;
  • 3.      The experience of goodness would be confirmation of coherence within a field of goodness and a resolute intention to remain an active participant in such a field; and,
  • 4.      The ‘recipient’ would propagate the impulse in all vectors including the directional flow from whence the impulse was perceived.

This last point is most critical.  This is NOT an admonition to “return the favor”.  This is acknowledging that if “I” am the source of generosity, “I” might not be.  It may be that I’m merely the conduit through which propagated goodness is flowing.  Given my earlier observation, this would be plausible considering that most of my best work occurs when “I” feel least capable of being elegant, kind, graceful, or generous.  What it DOES suggest is that a flow of gratitude in the direction of or through the steward of the impulse would reillumine that which is potentially obscured enhancing the energetic exchange.

QED does not answer the ancient question of the Gnostic’s Monad.  But it does demonstrate the length to which we’ll go to reify our illusion of separation and individuation.  In the end, it is not Greed and Avarice that beset us.  Rather it is absorption (gluttonous consumption of unconsidered energy) and narcissistic supremacy (jealousy for favored status) that serve to sclerose our vitality and propagative capacity.  Recognizing that no one can receive what I cannot give, I’m invited to see myself as a propagational steward rather than a source of emanated goodness.  And recognizing that equivalently no one can take what was never mine, the absorption impulse can merely serve to identify the dissonant fields in which I do not experience coherence.  The early church fathers insisted on separation as a presumption of all subsequent social calculations.  We know that this fundamental assumption is falsifiable in every manner.  And modern physicists continue to use a blur of rules, laws, and blinding formulae to confirm theory which evidence clearly indicts by adding constants of time and space.  In neither case did any crowd ask the sun where it defines its edge.  At no point did anyone ask the leaf whether it was producing glucose in photosynthesis or whether it sees itself as merely a component of our respiring lung from which it derives CO2.  And until we can see the inseparability of it ALL, we’ll go on hoarding and harming each other, consuming that which we did not need to satiate desires we’ll never appease.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Threadbare Jeans and the Unraveling of America


If you live in the Bay Area, you cannot escape the 145-year legacy of today.  On May 20, 1873 Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received their patent on what would become one of the world’s most iconic items – blue jeans!  Their patent, U.S.#139,121 wasn’t for jeans but rather for the copper rivets that reinforced the pockets and hems of jeans making them more serviceable.  Jacob Davis was an immigrant from Riga, Latvia and came to the U.S. in 1854 and became a citizen in 1871.  Levi Strauss, an Ashkenazi Jew from Germany, immigrated to the U.S. in 1847 and became an American citizen in the same year he started his dry goods business in San Francisco in 1853.  Riding the speculator wave of gold seekers across California and later into the Yukon, the two men set in motion one of modernity’s most ubiquitous brands. 

Moses Cone was born in Tennessee in 1857 to Jewish German immigrant parents Herman Kahn and Helen Guggenheim.  Thinking that “Cone” was more American than “Kahn”, Moses’ father changed his family name upon arrival into the United States.  In 1887, Moses and his brother Ceasar invested $50,000 in the C.E. Graham Mill Manufacturing Company in Asheville, North Carolina and from there aggregated several mills throughout North and South Carolina.  By 1908 their factories near Greensboro, North Carolina were the world’s largest supplier of denim.  By 1915, their relationship with Levi Strauss & Co was cemented and together, the two firms would clothe millions. 

In 2003, bankruptcy ended the Cone business.  Over 10,000 people lost their jobs and thousands of others saw their livelihoods destroyed as the era of denim faded in the West with the rise of competition from the East.  And while China exports the largest quantity of denim, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Brazil are expanding their role in the global supply chain. 

I was reflecting on the Strauss / Cone paradox as a case study for the current upheaval in the world’s trade imbalance perturbations.  And, given the protagonist’s shared Jewish heritage, I was drawn to the economic cautionary parable from Genesis 25:29-34. 

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.[a])
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.  So Esau despised his birthright.
What strikes me about this story is the foreboding message it implies about U.S. economic behavior.  In the early days of the industrial revolution, cheap labor was an immigration issue.  When mines needed digging, railroads needed excavation, and mills needed tending, the affluent found ‘others’ to whom sub-standard wages could be paid in exchange for the promise of the ‘American Dream’.  At that time, the principal beneficiary was not a consumer paying less at the store but rather the industrialist pocketing greater profits.  As time went on, the laborers became slightly more affluent and started demanding access to goods and services – many of which they were responsible for making or assembling.  In response, in the 1970s and 1980s, a fatal decision was made to accomplish the Walmartization of the world by making vastly more products at vastly cheaper costs.  To prop up a consumer-credit financial system, the laborer-consumer demanded more stuff and bought it on credit.  That part of the equation was visible.  But what was not considered was that in exchange for sending manufacturing to ever cheaper labor markets, the ugly consequence of this would be the diminishment of the very labor that once paid the wages to support the consumer.  By demanding stuff rather than quality and value, we have ‘sold our birthright’ for thirty years of cheaper jeans. 

And now, when we want to “Make America Great”, we’ve got a tiny problem.  Our affluent expectations cannot be met by our own domestic production.  And while we’re pretty sure that the world will go on making cheaper jeans for us ad infinitum, the reality is that the world’s industrialized labor pools are themselves now growing their new lower middle class.  Domestic consumption rather than export is a growing reality for much of the world’s markets.  And what this means is that our temporary consumer orgy fueled by cheap labor is now starting to hit a wall.  The promise of perpetual growth, the always-better-tomorrow that would be the siren song of America’s capitalism, the illusion of our intellectual superiority always saving the day is now being shown for exactly what it is.  Hype and propaganda.  In his article in The Diplomat (“Chinese Consumers Will Change the Global Economy, April 6, 2017), Matthias Lomas highlighted the fact that the 400 million Chinese middle-class consumers are increasingly selecting quality, brand and status over price-sensitive consumption.  What if the world’s new middle class actually prefer ‘better’ to ‘more’?  In a world in which the American generation was based on ‘more’, we don’t have a clear picture on quality.  And this means that “Great” is a reach that may exceed our grasp. 

Our birthright – if there was one – was to be an experiment on democratized access to opportunity.  We turned it into a opium den of consumption.  And what did we get for it?  Cheap jeans!