Tuesday, December 4, 2018

And Then?

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I wrote the following 33 years ago...fitting for a day of collapsing confidence in the markets...

The sun rose.  Rising ever so slowly yet rising nonetheless.  As it made its ascent into the vast blue expanse overhead, shadows of dawn were transformed into fully illuminated objects of the day.  All was very quiet, as silent as undersea chasms into which the light of dawn never penetrates.  Nothing moved. All was perfectly tranquil.

Projecting from the rubble below, a network of iron beams - twisted, mangled, and rusted, reached upward as a tree stretches its gnarled limbs from a fissure in the bedrock.  Fragments of glass flashed in the fresh new light.  On the ground, a mixture of steel, glass, plaster, concrete, and asphalt combined to form a landscape never observed before.

The sun rose higher.  The higher it climbed, the warmer the air became.  Still nothing moved.

A bridge support stood in the desolation, land that once bustled with activity.  The bridge, both a functional superstructure and a monument to a concept that those who created the structure  never totally understood, was annihilated, reduced to mere powder.

The sun continued its ascent.

Towering above the bleakness stood geometrically symmetric metal skeletons; wires draped from them like wild grapevines dangling from bare trees in the dead of winter.  Once laden with surges of power, giving vibrancy to their designers, now they hung - powerless - in this realm of desolation.

The sun reached its zenith, thoroughly permeating the silent surroundings.

Partially submerged, yet still conspicuously there, was an enormous metal formation in the shape of a pointed ellipse.  Lying on the floor of an inlet, this colossus was sheltered from all the dangers of the open sea. Chains bound it to proportionately minute supports on land - the chains still insuring against any unwanted movement.  Atop this immense construction, two long narrow tubes pointed menacingly at the sky - daring anything to intrude into this silent, seemingly forbidden territory.  

The sun began its descent.

A spire rose upward, splitting the air.  Upon the pinnacle stood a simple, strikingly prominent figure - an upright bar intersected by a horizontal bar - a cross.  This figure cast an endless shadow across the desolation.  Once this had been a solid firm construction - now fleeting.

The sun sank lower in the sky.

A causeway was clearly delineated on the ground.  This, combined with many other such causeways, converged at one point.  At this point stood a stone.  Along the road stood forsaken buildings once bustling with international commerce; houses empty shells, silent as the stones from and trees from which they were constructed; vehicles, once transporting their owners from one place to another in a seemingly endless cycle.

The sun set casting an orange red hue on the giant stone at the roads' convergence. Upon this stone, a simple inscription read:

"To Whom It May Concern, We Were"

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Happy Twentieth Birthday M·CAM

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the incorporation of M·CAM – the world’s first and only intangible asset qualitative and quantitative underwriter and trader.  At its inception earlier in 1998, the concept of rendering the “intangible” tangible through the marriage of big data and qualitative market algorithms was revolutionary.  Formed the same year that Google was launched, M·CAM’s steady progress towards reforming the manner in which markets measure intangible effects has spanned the globe and left an indelible mark on the capital markets.  Two years ago, M·CAM’s success was memorialized with the launch of the CNBC IQ100 powered by M·CAM – the world’s leading equity index.

There’s no question that our success is due, in large part, to the amazing contribution of the 103 community members who have been part of our company for a time across two decades.  We’ve provided investment returns for many active investors throughout our operation.  And we’ve impacted global markets and government regulators with unprecedented contributions to advancing transparency and accountability.

But on today’s momentous anniversary, there are a few unlikely individuals and organizations that I wish to acknowledge for their contribution to our long march to this moment.

M·CAM’s first credible external investor – Ned Goldstein – transformed our start-up into an enterprise that attracted national attention.  Ms. Fengming Lu opened the State Council of China to us as China was commencing its accession into the World Trade Organization.  And Dr. Pieter Fourie made South Africa our first commercial endeavor at a time when the nascent technology markets were merely whispers in Africa.

M·CAM’s first remarkable public recognition came from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology and Terry Woodworth who awarded us the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first Innovation Grant for a fintech company in January 1999.  This award put a spotlight on our work at a time when financial engineering was largely relegated to academic institutions.

As he was leaving his post as President Clinton’s Comptroller of Currency for the United States, Eugene Ludwig took time to open up many doors to regulators and government agencies which ultimately included the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), the FDIC, and other important relationships upon which M·CAM built a reputation of incomparable collaboration and success.

SwissRe’s William Hoffman was the first commercial partner to take a reputational and business risk in our early days.  His long days and nights in Zurich led to our first appearance in the Wall Street Journal announcing our partnership in 2000.  Together with the team at Banc of America Securities, SwissRe put M·CAM on the global stage in September 2000.

Bank of New York’s investment research program, coordinated by John Meserve introduced investors to M·CAM’s market research through its Jaywalk and ConvergEx platforms.  In a world where sell-side research was a dime-a-dozen, the Jaywalk team went out on a limb to promote the importance of our work.

Congressman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) put the power of the United States Congress behind our efforts with the U.S. Commerce Department, the United States Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service.

Professor Anil Gupta and the team at the Indian Institute for Management – Ahmedabad and the SRISTI and HoneyBee networks proliferated our Global Innovation Commons work around the world.

Theresa Arek and Alise Stunnenberg took my involvement with the World Bank and brought it to a world of communities that gave rise to the Heritable Innovation Trust and our engagement in landowner rights across the globe.

Alistair Nolan – policy analyst at the OECD – and Carol Corrado – senior advisor at The Conference Board – brought the weight of their academic research to our analytic services offerings.  Together with Tony Clayton – chief economist at the UK Patent Office – and Alan Marco – chief economist at the U.S. Patent Office, the merger of industry and academic expertise drawing on M·CAM’s methodology further solidified our gold-standard collaboration credentials.

Nick Drake, Dan Goldstein, and Jimmy Smith – during their common tenure at TBWA\Chiat\Day did their best to make us cool – nice try guys!

And then there’s the trinity of extraordinary gentlemen – Mr. Joe O’Shea, Mr. Chet Nagle, and Mr. Bob Kendall – who added their wisdom to our navigating the most arduous of challenges and who, when all horizons appeared to be shrouded in impenetrable fogs – kept watch with me and offered the encouragement that kept a steady hand on the helm. 

If you’re reading this post, odds are that you’re also one of the amazing lights that have marked the path to this moment.  For each and every contribution to our collective success, I’m deeply grateful.  And as we consider the coming months and years, my commitment remains to honor all those who stood with me!  As with any success, it is not merely the hand that steers the ship but it’s the conspiracy of hands, winds and waves that makes the journey an epic voyage.  I honor each of you.


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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Living a Lie

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I’m sure you’re with me in the persistence of your rapt fascination with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) measurement of gravitational waves measured in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington and the 1.5-billion-year-old black hole collision from which they originated.  Even more so, I’m sure you sleep better at night knowing that nature (yes, that same thing that allegedly created a cataclysmic shock wave 1.5 billion years ago) obeys the theory proposed by Einstein on general relativity.  Thank heavens.  After all, how disappointed would we all be if we found out that our myopic projection onto nature didn’t follow “our rules”?  Thankfully, the Nobel Committee awarded med/tals to three researchers – Barry Barish, Kip Thorne, and Rainier Weiss – which in the medal’s own atomic composition were the product of the theoretical genesis of the very gold from which their medal was struck!  Au79 – aka gold – is supposedly born of stellar events incapable of being replicated at scale on Earth.  I’m sure you chuckled with the irony that the medal was from metal derived of a cosmic event resulting in the precipitation of gold that was derived from an equally improbable theoretical framework of cosmic proportions to the discovery for which the medal was awarded.

In the months following the measurement of the first gravitational wave, there’s been a plethora of confirmatory measurements.  Imagine that!  We go 1.5 billion years without a ripple and then, boom, waves are popping out all over like acne on a 13-year-old version of my face!  And as we take this step closer to answering the existential question of why matter exists and how it came into being – something that I know keeps me up at night – we’re a few billion dollars and a few years away from confirming Fritz Zwicky’s 1933 postulation of “dark matter” that makes up most of… well, pretty much everything.  And if you’re like me, you can’t wait until 2022 when we finally power up the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile when we get to learn when to set our Mayan calendars for the “Big Rip” which is when the universe is torn asunder by the accelerating pace of the expansion of the universe and all its “dark matter”.

I had the privilege of reading Julius Pretterebner’s The Unifed Theory – Electricity, Magnetism, Gravity, and Mechanics which seeks to unravel the hidden structure of Maxwell’s equations in pursuit of a rational Unified Theory.  I had an interest in this as I’m continuing to entertain myself with the “consciousness” and “discernment” evidenced in playing with magnets and iron filings.  Weaving a tapestry of Newton, Lorenz, Kepler, Faraday, Helmholz, and others, Julius takes us on the journey from geometry to kinetics in a flurry of formulae worthy of Jackson Pollack unleashed with a paint bucket and a blank canvas at the MoMA.  What I find fascinating in the blinding Greek characters is the persistence of separation – distance, time, vacuum, and direction all in the quest to find what makes it all stick together.

Over the years, I’ve encountered people seeking to end relationships, rationalize grief, or justify callous neglect who utter the fatalist epitaph, “I must have been living a lie.”  This refrain of the hard-done-by is the unconsidered product of an illusion projected onto reality lubricated generously by therapists who prey on the wallets of those who seek solace and justification to assuage pain receptors symptomatically triggered by an absence of personal culpability and accountability.  Understanding “WHY” is attempted to be resolved: by becoming remote from the supposed ‘cause’ (distance); after a situation has become irreconcilably destroyed (time); in complete absence of personal responsibility or self-awareness (vacuum); and, with a notion of finitude that must be reified to support a socially sympathetic narrative (direction).  Like colliding black holes, neutron stars, and dark matter, our capacity to apprehend in hindsight the copious and persistent neglect we had for the present addicts us to telling the “WHY” story using variables that science conveniently offers us as “laws” and “unified theories”.

A simple journey through Wikipedia will be helpful for those who don’t read the footnotes of chemistry, physics, and mathematics journals.  Matter, is made up of electromagnetically charged particles.  For convenience, we’ll stick to the generally accepted atomic model of protons, neutrons, and electrons.  The guts of matter (the nuclear core of atoms) is made up of things that don’t seem to totally compute.  Allegedly neutrons beget protons and around this nuclear core, negatively charged electrons orbit in various energy states.  Based on the number of spinning electrons, multiple atoms can bind to form molecules, molecules organize to beget stuff and, presto! We’ve got stuff!  Neutrons are born of stellar formation and destruction.  Our theoretical models have a ticklish problem in that neutrons are supposed to decay pretty quickly – in the matter of a few minutes.  Now hit pause on that thought for a quick reality check.

I’m writing this blog post from 38,000ft above the Pacific Ocean in an aircraft made of aluminum.  How is it, precisely, that neutrons from deep space keep ‘showing up’ in aluminum form to keep this plane in the air?  And how is it that the carbon, phosphate, sodium, potassium, and chlorine which currently allow my fingers to keep typing on my keyboard keep persisting in their form when the average neutron hangs around for less than 15 minutes?  Am I sitting less than 15 minutes away from a supernova, a black hole, or a neutron emitting energy source?  If I was, wouldn’t I be incinerated?

Julius points out the uncomfortable math problem that Kepler eluded to and Newton calculated when they described the Earth’s elliptical orbit of the Sun.  ‘Separate points in space’ don’t exist as physically isolated actors.  While we want to make everything fit into lines-between-points models, that very model is broken in its opening assumption.  Everything is in motion and unlike our mathematical simplistic assumptions is not seeking ‘normal distributions’ or ‘homeostatic balance’.  When one passes a magnet over iron filings, some of the iron filings respond and some don’t.  Pass the same or a different magnet over the ‘unresponsive’ filings and their response changes.  How is it that when presented with a field, some particles respond and some don’t?  How is it that the exact same experimental conditions applied exactly the same way a second time leads to a different response?  Is the iron filing that doesn’t jump in the first instance “living a lie” as some alternative nonferrous substance or is it the case that the field in which its experience the present moment simply not eliciting a response as presented?

One of the most romanticized separation illusions is the inadequately characterized notion relationship loss.  In a recent conversation I had about the concept of grief I suggested that the emotional notion of grief could benefit from re-examination.  In the conversation, I recounted the over 30 years I’ve lived with excruciating pain in my legs following a tremendous accident and multiple ensuing reconstructive surgeries.  Reflexively, I have been bombarded with three decades of the question, Why?  Why do you have to suffer pain every day?  And I join the millions who are sympathetically patronized with Why.  Why did he get cancer?  Why did my child die?  Why did my marriage end?  Why was I abused?  Why, why, why?  And what I’ve come to recognize is that WHY is merely the pretext for symptomatic relief – not for fruitful living!  Oh, you poor dear, you’re in pain… I’ve got an opioid for that.  Oh, you poor dear, you neglected your relationship… I’ve got a therapist who can help you blame someone.  Oh, you poor dear, your loved one died… you can disengage living your life in homage to…WHAT!!!???  Like our billion dollar quest to find out the WHY of the Universe, we play out in miniature the same madness in our own social orbits.  Substance abuse, surrogacy and dependency on prostituted empathy, escape and isolation, reclusiveness all mark the profitable trail of a Unified Theory of disunity.

“What would happen,” I inquired, “if we reconstituted GRIEF into a Gratitude Reminder In Emotional Form?”  Rather than seeing the distance, time, vacuum, and directional illusions that we project, what if we used the dark energy of emotion to animate in impulse of gratitude?

Life spoiler alert!  Around 2033 when we read the news out of Chile that at long last we’ve seen and measured ‘dark energy’ and we confirm that in a few more billion years it’s going to complete the Big Bang cycle by rending our universe asunder, we will have learned nothing.  As long as we chase a non-present projection of an illusory construct on each of our todays so as to render them somehow defective in favor of an ideal condition which we couldn’t imagine given our space-time limited fantasies, we’ll continue in missing what’s in front of us in the moment.

Which brings me to the point.  WHAT’S THE POINT OF LIFE?

Well, thanks for asking.  I’m pretty sure the answer is, there is none.  If by life you mean judging the present as inadequate; obsessing about a linear future as something to which one aspires; a rejection of present relationships for your enculturated definition of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; and, a determination that through passive aggressive isolation or outright cruelty a judgement will be rendered on the wrongdoer, well then, it’s pointless.

But if we golf clap for the Nobel Prize committee and then go about emancipating ourselves from the illusion of separation, we can:

Realize that one person’s pain is a sensation to heighten our own experience of and gratitude for what is whole and properly functioning;

Realize that one person’s ‘loss’ is an invitation for deepening cherished connections and reinvigorating the social, material, and energetic networks that sustain us;

Recognize that in our unfiltered expression of insights and wisdom, we’re merely resolving for ourselves and others resonant chords which can remind and stimulate wisdom in others; and,

Celebrate that each moment is entangled with all other moments in all other dimensions and thoughtfully engage our field effect in our awareness so as to bend and accommodate the field effects in the experience of others in positive manners.

In short, while my life and your life may have no purpose in isolation, our purposeful living appears to  shape the field of reality and, in so doing makes an indelible mark in the ever present NOW.  No stories; no justifications; no excuses – No Lies.


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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Who Do You Say That I Am?

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Take a moment and try to remember your first conversation using words.  No, really pause and see if you can recall your very first conversation.  And by that, I mean when you knew that you were using language, logic, and your capacity to formulate organized thought with another person.  How long ago was that conversation?  Where did it happen?  Who was around when it happened? 

I think my first memory of a conversation was on March 7, 1970.  I was standing in the Mexican desert in the State of Oaxaca near the town of Mitla.  It was sometime between 11:38am CST and 11:41am CST.  I know that I was proudly proclaiming to anyone who was within earshot something to the effect of “my daddy has a telescope”.  I was about 4 years old.  The day before, I had a staring contest with a cactus that was about my size.  During that week, I had climbed the 75 meters up the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan.  It was during totality of a solar eclipse.  And some mix of all these exceptional experiences fuses in my mind the capacity to recall the artifact of a conversation with remarkable precision.  I remember that there were around 5 people to whom I addressed my comments.  I remember that one of them was a little Mexican girl about my age who was wearing a yellow and orange dress.  I remember a man who was crouched down looking at the pin hole shadow of the eclipse on a board laid out on the ground.  This memory is 48 years old.

Most scholars would suggest that the first record of the recollected (not witnessed) words of Jesus were written somewhere around 57AD.  The appearance of the story of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples recounted in Matthew 16:13-20 was probably originally written around 80-90AD.  Suggesting that anyone could “quote” a recollected conversation received through hearsay across 5 decades is beyond implausible.  Consider your own fallibility in the exercise above.  If you haven’t considered it, redo the exercise and see how memorable YOUR OWN MEMORIES are.  But let’s set that aside for a moment.  That’s not the point.  In Matthew, after a host of acts regarded as unexplained phenomenon by their witnesses, Jesus asks his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”  In the story, this question arises in exasperation from his observation that people were trying to figure out who he was after he had fed 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 4,000 with 7 loaves of bread.  I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about the appetite of the 4,000 which required so much more bread!  And worse than that, his own disciples were thinking that they were in trouble for not packing a lunch on their boat trip.  For those of you who didn’t grow up with the eschatological obsessions that characterized my childhood, I’ll connect some dots.

According to the Gospels, Jesus spent his life living and explaining values that were an “ideal”.  He didn’t apply titles to his person or his actions.  He simply lived and tried to explain the philosophy behind the “how”.  It was his observers who insisted on titles.  “Messiah”, “Prophet”, “Healer”: all attributes suitable in a moment in the context of what had just transpired but none of them descriptors of his full essence.  And this irritated everybody – especially those in his closest circles.  “It’s hard to explain what you do,” one can imagine them protesting after their last conversation about the guy they were hanging out with.  Was he a carpenter?  Fisherman?  Seafarer?  Water-walker?  Vintner?  Sommelier?  Physician?  Prophet?  Friend?  Revolutionary?  Iconoclast?

The Second Commandment in the 10 Commandments is the prohibition of idols or graven images.  Language generally – and our obsession with classifier nouns specifically – represents the most insidious idolatry of our time.  A label on a person, a group, a movement, an institution and suddenly nuance is replaced with reflexive duality.  Our capacity to see metaphoric coherence in pluralistic expression diminishes with each passing “cause” or “outrage”.  With definition comes dissonance.  Few comedies have matched the comedy of idolatry itself.  Around 726, Emperor Leo III decreed that all images and icons should be removed from churches with all veneration of the same outlawed 4 years later.  Fifty years later (and with the lobbying of those who found veneration quite a profitable venture), the Second Council of Nicaea (or the Seventh Ecumenical Council) reinstated icons and veneration.  Somewhat ironically, Constantine V – who had outlawed veneration of images – had a carve out sanctioning the preservation of images of the emperor!  Funny how that pissed off the folks the Byzantine and Roman churches who saw themselves demoted in favor of the emperor who monopolized the iconography of the day.  On October 13, 787, the council specifically authorized the, “manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments to be exhibited on the walls of churches, in homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them.”  The business of propaganda justified the rejection of Second Commandment.  Oh, and in 1536, John Calvin found himself siding with Leo III and re-banned images in favor of, you guessed it, words.  And this father of the Protestant movement had the decency of burning at the stake those who would challenge his words.

What is it about nouns that leads to murderous obsession, flagrant inhumanity, ostracization, and all manner of destruction of the human family?  I find it amusing that the text in Matthew shares an eerie resemblance to another biblical text – Genesis 2:19.  “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.  And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”  In our common myth, the FIRST thing we do on earth is name stuff!  Seriously?  To be human is to exert dominion by classification?  And when an ideal human is doing some amazing things showing humanity what is possible (against the carnage of the Roman occupation of Palestine), his followers insist on “naming” him at least as the story is told?  Seriously?  Isn’t it funny that the only term Jesus reportedly used to describe himself is “I am”?  That’s right, whether you think of him as divine, deific, inspirational or delusional, the only title embraced by him is the evidence of his being and doing.  Is a giraffe more “giraffe” or “tall spotted, furry, gangly quadruped leaf eater that looks pretty damn funny bending over to take a drink”?

Over the past 45 years, I’ve been plagued by well-meaning people who want to know “what” I am.  Countless branding experts have been brought in or offered their services to package me so that others can “get it”.  “When I look at your company’s website, I don’t “get it”,” I hear with monotonous regularity.  “Do you run and non-profit?”, I’m asked by those who see the work I’ve done in conflict-torn and marginalized communities.  “So you’re an investor,” conclude those who see the work I do in the capital markets.  “Are you a quant?” inquire people mystified by the fact that I developed the world’s leading large cap equity index.  “So you are a doctor?” concluded a group of people who recently saw me attend to the injured and one fatality that died in my hands at a car accident.  “So you’re a futurist,” concluded a friend who saw a video from 2006 in which I detailed the precise cause and consequence of the 2008 global financial crisis.  Speaker, futurist, doctor, polymath, healer, joker, idiot.  One recent commentator on my criticism of the hype around Tesla raged, “Who does this guy think he is?” before suggesting that I should be silenced with a gun.

What’s wrong with, “I am”?

I had an interesting experience in Indiana in the late 80s.  There was a high school athlete who was an exceptional quarterback setting records for yardage and touchdowns with nearly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his senior year.  His success attracted the attention of a prominent university where he received a football scholarship.  As the football season was coming to a close, his success as a point guard in basketball pulled him between the snowy fields and the steamy gyms.  And with the playoffs in basketball bleeding into the baseball season, his role as star pitcher called his attention again.  Oh, and he was homecoming king, popular… and resented.  He was too good at too many things.  “You have to focus,” the university coached yelled at him after telling him not to play baseball for a State Championship team.  I watched as this great kid “focused”.  At university, he set records for career touchdowns, all-time total offense and slipped away from basketball and baseball.  In 1993 he was drafted to the NFL where he set the rookie record for attempts, completions and yards.  In each subsequent year, his performance diminished.  Seven years and 4 teams later, this all-around athlete retired.

Did he “need” to focus?  Did he have to “choose”?  Or was it us who couldn’t wrap our head around someone that was just skilled at everything he touched?  Was Rick a great quarterback?  Sure.  But wasn’t there something more?  Wasn’t it the case that he was a master of greatness?  He knew the value of persistence, valued excellence over mediocrity, embraced discipline and effort over entitlement.  And did we all lose the real impact of his genius by a world that made him conform to what we could productize?

History tells us that Joseph was a spoiled brat.  He was a favorite son and rocked some cool threads.  This pissed off his brothers who beat him, stripped him of his coat and sold him as a slave to Potiphar – a jailor in Egypt.  He worked hard, looked amazing and gained the favor and attention of his master (and unfortunately, his master’s wife).  After refusing her advances, she unleashed the venom of sexual harassment and Joseph wound up in prison on death row.  His ability to interpret dreams put him on pharaoh’s radar and he became the originator of history’s first recorded commodity exchange and reserve bank and in so doing, saved the Egyptian population – and his duplicitous family – from 7 years of famine.  What was he?  A brat?  A fashion icon?  A slave?  A general manager?  A fortune teller?  A politician?  A commodities trader?  A Central Banker?  A Governor?  No.  He was.  That’s it.  He just brought his excellent stewardship to each situation and, combined with his integrity and power of analytic discipline, put in motion the culture that once received a young woman on a donkey, a Palestinian carpenter, and their son when they were refugees from a Roman occupation near Bethlehem.  There’s no Jesus without Joseph.  And there’s no Joseph without all the “I ams” that came before them!

In the Ramayana, after proving his devotion to Rama in the epic battles and against the humiliation of the military generals, Hanuman is asked by Lord Rama, “How do you look upon me?”  Hanuman’s triangulated answer is instructive.

“From the perspective of my physical body, I am your faithful servant.

From the perspective of the soul, I am a spark within your eternal Light.

From the perspective of pure truth, you and I, my Lord, are one in the same.”

For those of you who are familiar with the ordinates of Integral Accounting, you will undoubtedly see in this answer the polarities of Alchemy, Eidos, and Gnosis.  From the perspective of matter and energy (commodity), my value is service.  From the standpoint of perception (custom & culture) my shared experience is propagation of light (technology).  And from the knowledge of truth, I have identity with everything in the universe (well-being).

So, who am I?  Well, here’s the paradox:  from which perspective are you asking the question?  Because the answer is that I understand matter and energy and align it to productive service.  I see things in the multi-dimensional contexts and create reproducible ways for others to engage and benefit from these perspectives.  And, thanks to the countless wisdoms to which I’ve been exposed, I finally know that I am.


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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Addicted to Death...Purdue Pharma and Oxycontin

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https://potent.media/history-of-the-opium-wars
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.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

More than Enough To Go Around

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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!



https://squareup.com/market/duncan-entertainment/item/enough-to-go-around
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sugar, Stevia, or Saccharin…Pick Your AI Poison

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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. 



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[1] Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980)
[2] 35 U.S.C. 101:  Inventions patentable
[3] http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/03/20/lindsey.native.explorers/index.html

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