Thursday, February 4, 2016

Let Them Die and Decrease the Surplus Population


"At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, ... it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?"
"Plenty of prisons..."
"And the Union workhouses." demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"Both very busy, sir..."
"Those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

This chilling recommendation by Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol is spoken of the “poor” in his encounter with the gentlemen from the charitable society.  While it sounds like the ravings of a pure sociopath in the 21st century, we miss the depth of commentary that would have attended audiences of the cognoscenti of the late 18th and early 19th century.  Then, the proper noun “surplus population” would have been known to mean those unemployed and under-employed who serve no purpose to the rent-based labor model of capitalism.  They were, in the minds of 18th century economists, better off dead than being a drain on mercantile profits.  This is because they added nothing in terms of marginal rents to be exploited for labor advantage and they did were non-responsive to price manipulations.  They were not just the “unaccounted for” – they were useless.  Ironically, the urban and rural poor of the 18th century were less valuable than slaves as they couldn’t even be commodified into chattel trade!

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. issued a recent note calling into question the efficacy of capitalism.  “We are always wary of guiding for mean reversion.  But, if we are wrong and high margins manage to endure for the next few years (particularly when global demand growth is below trend), there are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism,” stated Goldman’s Sumana Manohar and her colleagues.  For the new players not familiar with the statistical principle of “mean reversion”, it’s most easily understood to refer to phenomenon that take on cyclical oscillations where period of high prices, for example, ultimately re-equilibrate with competition or increased supply thereby approaching commodity marginal value.  But in their analysis, Goldman accidentally indicts the already failed modern capitalist model by citing, as reasons for high profit margins, “strong commodity prices” (read – exploitation of impoverished and disenfranchised labor and resource regions where willful neglect of quality of life and land lead to extractive bonanzas), “emerging market cost arbitrage” (read – exploitation of poorly compensated labor), and other variables.  In short, the 18th century mandate that modern capitalism be predicated on imperialistic land and inhabitant exploitation is actually getting worse and incumbent businesses are the ones who, through bribery, corruption, incumbency paralysis, and patronage hold the only advantage to pressure “emerging market” countries’ leadership into allowing reckless endangerment of their land and citizens.  Goldman would be ideally suited to know about this given the extensive role they play in financing what Joseph Schumpeter predicted as the end of capitalism.  Schumpeter recognized that, drunk on power, influence derived from the control of capital and surplus profits, companies would take on corporatism where their own existence would be more important than the markets they once served.  “Entrepreneurship” and “innovation” in his forecast, would merely serve to create acquisition efficiencies for corporations and would not challenge incumbent products or services. 

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in what is heralded as “innovation” – once the fulcrum required to tip the profit margin lever in the capitalist model.  In “Silicon” this and “Entrepreneurship” that, there’s been an increasing push towards incremental improvements to incumbent platforms.  We don’t come up with a new way to communicate, we come up with an app that renders an incumbent device more incumbent.  We don’t come up with a new enterprise model, we crowd-fund and crowd-source our way to market tests to offer shrewd companies insights into where the market is susceptible to “new”.  In homage to Frank Robinson, angel investors and venture capitalists fawn all over “minimum viable product” efforts while incumbency-threatening transformation is suffocated.  For Adam Smith’s corrupt system to work, it required capitalists who would take gambles on transformation where price or supply dislocation was possible. During the last 15 years, this impulse has been extinguished and corporatism has fully replaced capitalism in every quarter.

And embedded in the virus that was unleashed when mercantilism ceded its hold to capitalism was the toxin of necessary neglect.  By assiduously avoiding contact with the land and people which were the “efficiencies” derived from colonial and militant oppression and extraction, the general public could comfortably clothe, feed and amuse themselves without ever seeing the cost of contaminated water, inhumane treatment of workers, decimation of culture and community, and extinction of resources, flora and fauna.  In other words, for the capitalist system to work, moral opacity was necessary.  Not surprisingly, the observational retrospective piece by Goldman presumes that corporate profits are essentially valuable.  But this two and a half century assumption has not been sufficiently examined. 

Under capitalist dogma, profit is the arbitrage between the “cost” of production and distribution and the “price” that a consumer is willing to pay.  It is the seduction premium that is foisted upon a public willing to acquiesce to manipulated supply, frail egoic identification, or perceived need.  As the consumer is seduced into their portion of the calculus, so too is the enterprise willing to bankrupt its own sense of accountability or responsibility by intermediating those attributes of business most odious.  Celebrate the environmentally friendly electric vehicle so long as you don’t pay any attention to the lithium miners’ plight.  Carbon obsess your way into wind turbines so long as you don’t see the rainforests of Papua New Guinea that are clear cut for the toxic balsa timber.  Celebrate – with Goldman – the collapse of commodity prices while paying no heed to the environmental and social cost of extractive industries becoming more callous in their pursuit of metals and energy in more remote and unverifiable locations.  The less you measure the extinction costs which are “free” in the capitalist model – that matter, energy and effort that can be used and abused to extinguishment without any model for replenishment or reuse – the more “profit” seems to manifest.  Profit is the inverse economic function to all-in-consequence value recognition.  This is NOT an anti-enterprise statement.  Genuine innovation, genuine quality, genuine purpose-filled products and experiences can justify a PREMIUM which, unlike “profit” is the value acknowledgement willingly bestowed on enterprises who manifest value in line with socially desired outcomes.  And premium can exist on both sides of the antiquated business model.  As a supplier, I may offer goods or services to partners at an advantaged price because I prefer my affiliation with them.  As the distributor of goods and services, my transparency and honorable actions may engender greater reward and recognition than my thoughtless, mercenary alternative. 

And lest one misunderstand this commentary to solely apply to business and industry, allow me to bridge the following important social observation.  Many deeply personal and intimate relationships suffer from the same negligent accountability capitalist curse.  Profit in friendship, relationship, and intimacy can be often a seductive trap where one party seeks to benefit at the expense of the unacknowledged well-being of another.  The resulting imbalance can, like imperialistic business, lead to subtle and overt exploitation, resentment and ultimate extinction of relationships.  Unseen and unaccounted contributions by one party can render gifts of generosity, kindness and service which in their offering are freely and joyfully given and manipulate them into entitlement and expectation.  What once was generative and offered in love becomes resented and provided in dutiful drudgery.

Unlike Goldman Sachs’ recent note, I would argue that the capitalist ideal likely never got a chance to breathe.  The experiment largely born in the industrial age in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany was immediately co-opted by militarism and state-sanctioned privatization of Federal Treasuries (not surprisingly necessitated in each instance by sovereign debt resulting from expeditionary military exercises).  Apologists for capitalism fail to evidence its capacity to function without tyrannical extraction from colonial theft of lands and peoples thought to be too remote to matter.  Since the early 1800s, they’ve assiduously avoided accounting for extinction and waste of materials, community, culture, and energy.  And they’ve entirely neglected the damning evidence that the vast majority of genuine, transformational innovation has been stifled or extinguished by incumbencies that control capital, means of production and distribution, and governmental patronage.  In other words, irrational profit margins are not the harbinger of capitalism’s failure – they’re merely the forensic evidence of rigor mortis in the unborn fetus of imperial hegemonic delusions. 

When we account for it “all”, we’ll be able to discuss the persistent, generative, infinitely orthogonal cyclical efficiency of systems which are devoid of extinction, oppression and callous neglect for each actor in the ecosystem.  We will celebrate with premiums those actors and enterprises that model the most salutatory of ethical values rather than reward with indifference those who maximize seduction while preserving moral opacity and negligence. 


Monday, January 18, 2016

Out of Sight is Not Out of Mind


After years of manipulation, slight-of-hand, and misinformation, RioTinto (ASX: RIO) concluded a $4.4 billion project financing package with Export Development Canada, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corporation, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation of Australia, BNP Paribas, ANZ, ING, SocGen, SumitomoMitsui, Standard Chartered Bank, Natixis, HSBC, The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, KfW IPEX-Bank, and Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden for the reinvigoration of the Oyu Tolgoi underground copper mine in Mongolia.  In other words, if you have pension or mutual fund investments (many of which are investors in RIO) or if you live in most of the world, you’re now part of the long and sad legacy and future of the Khan’s Turquoise Hill.  Congratulations.  This deal was signed just before Christmas and most of us were too busy with our last minute electronic gadget shopping to pick up on this little gem. 

According to RIO CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques, “This kind of mining development partnership model sets the industry benchmark for future schemes and underscores Rio Tinto’s commitment to responsible and prudent growth. Long-term copper fundamentals remain strong and Oyu Tolgoi as a tier one asset will be a globally important source of supply as the market moves back into structural deficit over the next few years.”

After spending about $6.4 billion so far and in another few years with between $4-6 billion more invested, RIO will be able to extract Mongolia’s mineral wealth through an elaborate and sinister financing scheme that may enrich them and their investors while leaving Mongolia with precious little more than a hole in the ground and sovereign debt.  When RIO talks about a “mining development partnership”, this is code for leveraging a nascent democratic government and an ill-informed population for the purposes of extracting financial – not mineral – returns.  If it’s a “responsible and prudent” plan to supply the world with copper that they want, why is it that this same RIO, after years of environmental and social degradation in Panguna, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea is trying to pawn off its majority ownership of Bougainville Copper Limited to the already grossly over-leveraged PNG national government (or any other buyer) that can distance it from its violent past and present environmental negligence liabilities?  After the mine-induced civil war that cost an estimated 20,000 lives, this long-term Pacific island copper asset to support the global copper market is unattractive, in part, because the citizens of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville “democratically” approved a Mining Act (heavily influenced by RIO and Australian advisors) that did not give the mining license away.  This same asset was given to Bougainville Copper Limited by the Australian government and the United Nations and is 54% owned by RIO today.  The copper’s easier to access geologically but for that nasty little colonial detail of corporate-induced genocide.

RIO, like many other companies in many other industries, continues to deploy a business model that identifies a confirmed asset reserve, creates an elaborate corporate structure that puts itself in the driver’s seat with respect to securing control of financing and revenue associated with the speculative phase of mining (in many cases “offering” debt financing to a government so that it can participate in the illiquid equity of an operating shell corporation in country) and then makes money on the spread between its own cost of capital and the rate charged to the country for “participation” in their own asset.  Long before the first concentrate is shipped away from the mine, RIO has already rung up another enormous “asset” in the indebtedness of the unsuspecting country.  By the way, this is part of the reason why its “prudent” investment needs to pay the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) political risk insurance.  After all, the financiers are cunning enough to know that opaque operating agreements, illiquid shell corporation “participation” in mining development, and environmental abuse sometimes result in citizens getting seriously upset and toppling regimes that gave away the wealth of a land and its people. 

If the world needs copper, why is it that an underground development project in Mongolia is “prudent” while and open-pit proven reserve is not feasible?  Copper concentrate would flow much more rapidly from Panguna than from Turquoise Hill for the same amount of money!  Why did so many commercial banks put up $2.34 billion for the BNP Paribas funded debt facility and why did the European and American “development” banks put up so much public money when minerals (like so many other commodities) are trading so poorly in the global market?  And why, in their December 15, 2015 press release announcing the financing, did RIO make the point of stating that “Oyu Tolgoi has a workforce that is 95% Mongolian and Oyu Tolgoi LLC has paid $1.3 billion in taxes, fees and other payments to the Government of Mongolia to date,” but somehow didn’t choose to state how much the Government of Mongolia has been charged in project-related interest for their equity in the project?  In their 2009 financing agreement, the government of Mongolia owed the mining company about 40% of its GDP for the right to participate in its own country’s asset!  And while, since our retention in 2010 to inform the government and the citizens of Mongolia of their horrific abusive financing issues, there have been several structural alterations in the Government of Mongolia’s participation in the project, the underlying financial model still favors RIO and the global markets at the expense of the citizens of Mongolia.

Years ago I was asked by Sir Julius Chan, Governor of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, if an ethical mining company could exist in countries like PNG and Mongolia.  I said then, as I would now, that it’s theoretically possible.  But in the nearly decade long experience I’ve had working across the globe in economically and politically challenged countries, my conviction is fading on the probability of such a company actually emerging.  And while the earth geologically distributed the Periodic Table variously, the economic model we have for conductive metals seems to be more likely to produce violence, war and environmental ruin than the opulence of a Saudi Arabia, Norway, or Abu Dhabi.  The opiate of electrical power has cauterized our collective consciousness so that we are numb to the bleeding of humanity and the persistent desecration of the earth.  And in sterile press release after sterile press release, we never stop to ask why “development” marches on hand-in-hand with MIGA-insured political risk.  If the system were working ethically, this would not be necessary!

I know that these posts, like the dozens before them, are not Inverted Alchemy favorites.  I know that they’re not pick-me-up, feel-good, themes to discuss.  But in the big scheme of things, I think that these are some of my most important offerings to the world.  For it is a generous world that offered me the invitation to see what most never do and with that blessing comes the accountability for the stories of our fellow humans who bear the cost for our unconsidered consumption.  

Sunday, January 3, 2016

FDR, Stalin and an Icarian Crash


Economists are scratching their heads over the dawning of 2016 about as vigorously as a kindergarten class with an outbreak of lice.  2015 went off like a damp squib with official estimates for economic growth at a globally imperceptible 1.9 percent or so.  The wizards at Goldman Sachs have revised their estimates for growth down nearly 20% from just a year ago – not very heartening when you consider the numerator in this equation.  Commodity dependent economies ranging from Australia to Venezuela are looking at the most bleak economic forecasts in recent times courtesy of the lower demand for oil, copper and other extractive industry resources.  Profits are shrinking in most major sectors; costs of capital are at their subsidized nadirs, and the ability for the great capitalist hegemonic illusion to remain propped up is about as resolute as a drunken reveler the morning after Mardi Gras. 

Seventy-one years since the Bretton Woods grand imperial utopian experiment and it looks like the unconsidered assumptions of this Icarian dream have finally been melted by the sun.  Next stop – a watery grave marked by melted wax and feathers.  Allow me to broaden the metaphor.

Leading up to Bretton Woods, the United States and its allies were fighting a motivated, technologically unified foe led by Germany and a ruthlessly ideologically emboldened Japan.  In the ideological morass oozing from the Great War a few decades earlier, the world was in the labyrinth of faux socialism that would make the most astute minotaur pine for a sudden death.  Franklin D Roosevelt and his vice-president Harry Truman were busily placating a largely impoverished populace with grand projects that would forever prove the beneficence of big government.  Marx and Engels had been sufficiently long dead and forgotten so as to make the Soviet Union a festering ground for the metastasis of communism – a lovely extreme but for the autocratic tyranny of those who determine what is in the best interest for all “others” while they themselves live in cloistered opulence.  Germany knew that the solution rested in the elimination of the “others” while Japan, with its centuries of bigotry and classism, knew that they were more German exclusionists than Great Experiment capitalists or communists.  So, in or around 1945, the world decided to set itself on a collision course with 2017. 

Now before you go off trying to decipher the significance of 72 years (which may be a wonderful diversion for some of you), let me simply offer the following comment.  The life expectancy of humans on Earth right now is 71 years.  It is merely informative to realize that the social and political experiments that were constructed to institutionalize capitalist socialism (pensions, social securities, and the like) are likely not going to survive the generation for which they were designed.  But allow me to return to the Icarus metaphor. 

When We The People were advised that governments were going to care for what communities once saw as their purview, we were giddy and strapped on the wings fashioned in the shop of a master craftsman (Daedalus in our story).  Being the designer of said wings our paternalistic overlords knew that wings of wax are best not used in proximity to the sun.  But unlike Daedalus, not only did our patrons not advise the risks of solar approximation, they encouraged it.  Using the cunning wax of central bank manipulation and the seemingly innocent feathers of industrialized consumption, they created the thermals that were euphemistically called “economic growth”.  And away their charges (literally, in each sense of the word) flew.  Daedalus had King Minos – both patron and prison warden – to escape.  FDR’s great experiment had the petro-dollar as both patron and prison warden.  Both end in heartbreak when the children fly too close to the sun. 

The melting wax in our metaphor is the growing illiquidity of the great promises that were made a generation ago.  In the past few years, we’ve seen Portugal, Italy, Greece, Syria, Spain, Venezuela, Japan and Brazil struggle with the fact that social promises unkept lead to social and political upheaval.  To date, these countries have had incremental albeit inconsequential impact on the global stage courtesy of Central Bank manipulation.  However, as the U.S. social security illiquidity comes due in 2017 (first hitting the elderly and the indigent) and as other economies follow suit in close proximity, the reduction in “growth” will rapidly accelerate into a paroxysm far more destabilizing than 2008.  Not to worry, we could have Donald Trump as President so we should be just fine… ummm…. maybe I should consider moving now! 

Now these impending challenges are just that.  Challenges.  We created them and we can resolve them.  But it takes a healthy dose of optical physics and courage to get a view of the solutions. 

First: parallax.  Parallax is the optical illusion in which objects closer seem to be larger and more mobile than objects seen at a distance.  Bretton Woods was a great example of the error in reality created by confusing parallax for objective reality.  Just because the “other” was further away didn’t mean that we could ignore “them”.  And now that “they” – countries like India, China, Brazil, and much of the African nations – have become increasingly economically engaged – “they” are closer meaning that their size and movement appears more consequential.  China, for example, always mattered.  But now that they appear to be larger and move more nimbly, they’re suddenly deemed important.  “They” were always important.  And when “they” was a euphemism for “cheap” and “enslavable” “we” didn’t care.  But know that “they” are “we”, we have to care. 

Second: aperture.  Aperture is the process of selective narrowing and collimating of a reflected field of view to achieve depth of view and focus.  When one limits one’s perspective, it’s easy to find monolithic solutions.  When one opens perspective to include a wider range of inputs, pluralistic reality becomes much more evident and requires more actors to be fully informed and engaged.

To weather the coming economic storm and achieve more of a dive than a cataclysmic fall into the watery abyss, we need to bring ourselves into closer proximity to each other and we need to expand our informed engagement!  That requires a commitment to learn, stretch our awareness, and lessen our dependence on paternalistic systems that were built not to care for us but to disintermediate our care for our neighbor.  As we enter 2016, make a commitment to share your wealth, compassion, and industry with someone you didn’t include in your circle in 2015.  And, with any luck, we’ll find a more reliable way to fly.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kyrie Elesion: 2015


Colleen Martin, Erik and Johanna Josefsson, me and about 150 others gathered at Veritas Vineyard & Winery for a masked ball 365 days ago.  The night was brisk but warm enough that the backless gowns were far more comfortable than the suits which a night of dancing gradually shed.  An expansive feast was set before the revelers accompanied by opulent pairings of the fruit of the vine.  Celebrating my 29th New Years with Colleen and my first with Erik and Johanna was a lovely diversion from the melancholy that marked so many New Years before.  For with the passing of each year, I find myself quite often reflecting on that which was in need of improvement in my own life and in the experience of lives with whom I intersect.  My New Year’s tradition has been more requiem than magnificat.  And as I donned my mask – a beautiful Venetian gesso and gold leaf homage to the contrast of light and darkness – I realized that the party marking the end of the year was as much fa├žade as the ornament on my face.

In a timeless ritual, I have constructed a discipline to officially end my siege of lugubrious introspection with the passing of the year.  Having reflected on all my omissions and commissions that represented my unrefined ideal, I turn my thoughts on this day, the last of 2015, towards those who have lit the constellation of lights in my blackest of nights so that, through every passage, I arrived safely at this moment.  Now, for the third year of blogosphered modernity, I wanted to share with you some of my Litany of the Saints of 2015.

Kyrie Elesion

On January 6, 2015 I left the freezing snow of Washington DC for the balmy sun of Gold Coast Australia where Colleen, Christine McDougall, me and beautiful group of about 30 Aussies got together to share an amazing several days deepening our knowledge and practical implementation of Integral Accounting.  Among the gathered was my dear friend and colleague Robert Prinable, together with his lovely wife Bernadette, who would become some of the most valued and trusted friends across the year.  Peter Hojgaard-Olsen and his amazing family, Martin Blake, Jason Andrew and several others were to be not only 2015’s earliest but also most valued compatriots for the coming year.  Without question, one of most cherished acquaintances from the gathering was artist extraordinaire Devon Bunce who opened my eyes to the power of aesthetic story-telling in a way I had never contemplated.  I was to learn that her perspective was to punctuate much of my year. 

My longtime colleague Rodney Woods and I shared the stage at Rev. Jesse Jackson’s RAINBOW PUSH conference in New York before I headed to the Middle East and India to round out the first month of the year celebrating the life, vision, and later legacy of the passion of the late Hon. President A.P.J. Kalam with my dear friends at the Indian Institute for Management – Ahmedabad.  And just in case I didn’t have enough frequent flyer miles in the first month of the year, on January 23 I joined Julio De Laffitte and about 100 amazing, intrepid Aussies and Kiwis on what was to become an Unstoppable experience of life beginning in Chile and then blossoming in Antarctica.  During this trip, I was to meet a host of amazing people who have become of inestimable value in my life.  Matheos Venetis who taught me new depths of gallant vulnerability and tenacity of spirit.  Robin McClellan, the personification of dignified grace in service to purpose.  Lorraine Mill who opened the aperture on my willingness to be seen and perceived.  Kaya Finlayson, the most capable of story-tellers who choreographed the first media artifact in which I saw the best of me exceed my wildest expectations in our celebrated film Future Dreaming.  And Kim Phillips.  On a Deception Island ridge formed by volcanism in the year of my birth, 1967, I came face-to-face with an ancient future guide and accomplice who has fanned the bellows of my life’s refining fire to allow my pure essence to emerge. 

The Spring included the amazing collaboration with Michael Lythcott and Jennifer Carter-Scott at the University of Miami’s MBA for Artists and Athletes where Pam Cole, Bob Kendall, John Kendall and my collaboration with Chris Redman, Russell Okung, Derrick Morgan, Lee Evans, Tommie Harris, Jack Brewer and many others took root; Mak Khan and USHA; more awards for our documentary Patent Wars; Charlottesville living with Katie in streams and vineyards; and long bike rides in the rolling hills of Virginia.  Summer warmed my media credentials with the launch of Kaya’s masterpiece, Future Dreaming; my first animated appearance at the Cannes Lions Festival courtesy of Will Sansom and Dan Goldstein; and the launch of our growing relationship with CNBC courtesy of Adam Tepper’s introduction.  And then came the fall and winter…

In Terra Pax

I’ve spent years feeling like I’ve been observed and not SEEN.  This year, Kaya, Kim, Lorraine, Katie and Robert helped chisel away the veneer I’ve hardened around this perception.  Years ago, when I was writing my unpublished love letter to Katie and Zachary, Sometimes Out of the Clear Blue Sky, I made the following observation:

In business, as with the rest of life, having an innovative idea is more often a curse than a blessing.  For while people may marvel at a complexity or concept, it often becomes a thing to amuse and contemplate – much like the consumption of a Dali painting.  When one gazes at “The Persistence of Memory” the mastery of detail and the surreal are evident however few walk away inspired to bend pocket watches over dead tree branches.  Most of us do not have friends like Dali on the “A” list for Super Bowl parties.  Oh, yes, we’ll have them around at gallery openings or charity events but not in the intimacy of everyday life.  Our society cloisters innovators in ivory towers and gives them titles that both command respect and create distance.  While we crave the creation, we seldom want anything to do with the creator. 

This year, in exceptionally precise ways, I had the blessing of individuals who were willing to directly tackle this source of turmoil in my life.  My dear friend Dustin DiPerna persisted in that role but it was some of the new Saints that had the courage to meet my complacent assuredness with ruthless, meticulous criticism.  Bypassing friendship and empathy and relentlessly demanding accountability and integrity like those who give accounts for souls was the greatest offering made to me this year.  Ironic that this came at the same time as Future Dreaming was unveiled.  It was as though my long-held view that celebrity is a social toxin was being inoculated with a vaccine of truth so as to insure that I couldn’t be seen as being anything other than completely, fully, gratefully human.  My deepest gratitude for this generosity of spirit and intrepid love goes to Kim who navigated with me what has been until now too daunting an undertaking.

Kaya’s beautiful gift in film did more, in one act or artifact, to disseminate a message about which I have relentless passion than anything I’ve collaborated on to date.  Future Dreaming is a defining moment in the present and served to propagate a clarion call to humanity to remember the purpose of living like nothing else I’ve done.  I’ve often stated that I may have offered the canvas and the paint in my words but it was Kaya (and Robert, Colleen, and Lorraine) that crafted the masterpiece.  Working with Robert, Peter, Nadya Peshevska, Kim, Colleen and others in the coming year, Kaya and I look forward to building more depth to this important opus.  In so doing, we all can stop praying for peace on earth and start living it on a daily basis.

Magnificat anima mea Dominum

Being seen as the vessel of purpose gave rise to Mary’s proclamation that we know as the Magnificat.  In all of life, be it personal or professional, it is this that in the final analysis, is the gift of inestimable value.  When one goes from being appreciated to being genuinely seen and valued, the desert of vanity and aspiration melts into the verdant Eden of magnanimous abundance.  This year’s canonization of those who have been my saints is unlike years past.  My year began with a mask and ends with all being revealed.  My gratitude pours out to hundreds unnamed save by inference in this last of the year’s writings.  If you’re reading this, I am grateful to YOU!

Meet each sunrise with gratitude;
Abandon that which restrains your joy;
Reverence those who share your path; and be,
Tenacious in integrity
Indomitable in resolve, and
Noble in thought, word and deed.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Birthday Dad!

Inspired by Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Four score years ago my grandfather and grandmother brought forth on this continent, a new incarnation, conceived in Mennonite austerity, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are equally fallen.

Now we are engaged in a great ecclesiastical contest, testing whether this incarnation so conceived and so constrained, can long endure.  We are met on a great testing ground of that contest.  We dedicate a portion of our honor as a final resting place for those who have given life, will, and purpose so that this epic question can be resolved.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow this inquiry.  My brave father who was thus conceived, went far from his home and his community and modeled inclusion and the cause of Civil Rights in the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship; offered his life and his fortunes for the service, education and wonderment of others; embraced the stranger and the Vietnam-era counter-culture casualties inviting them into our family; raised four sons who were taught the respect and dignity of Creation in all its wonder; and, inquired into the boundaries of beliefs that were thought beyond inquiry.  This world may little note, nor long remember, the great deeds of my father’s past 80 years but it will never forget the effect of his living.  It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished intrepid inquiry which he has so nobly advanced.    It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored pasts we take increased devotion to that timeless inquiry into the meaning and purpose of living; living which for so many was cut short in previous inquisitions; that we resolve that those who are passed have not lived in vain.

On this day, December 18, 1935 a 6.0 earthquake hit the Sichuan Province of China, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with his Cabinet to discuss the economic condition of the U.S. economy and the conflict brewing in Europe, and my Dad, Aaron E. Martin was born.  He has lived a life that has welcomed the stranger, clothed and fed the needy, taught the love of the universe to thousands of students of Astronomy, and modeled grace beyond that which he was shown.

Happy birthday Dad!  You are, truly one of the greats and I’m honored to be your son!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Watering Down Intelligence

I checked into a hotel room last night – the same days as the kick-off of the UN’s COP21 in Paris.  As billionaires and their political puppets convened in a city that is now known more martial law than the light of Liberty to discuss throwing trillions of dollars at the mythical beast of CO2 reduction, I encountered a series paradoxical profundities.  Next to my neatly rolled stack of three wash cloths (I seldom use any) was a sign that invited me to care about the environment by placing my used towels on the floor if they needed to be replaced and informing me that in so doing, I was making a “Green” choice.  Opposite on the counter in the bathroom were two bottles of $7.50 water offering me “crisp taste from the Tuscan countryside”.  The water was conveniently bottled in a single use, plastic container with a lovely accessorized necklace hang-tag promoting its effervescent quality.  And here’s the problem with this picture.  The hotel in which I was staying was the Omni Hotel in San Francisco California, not in, say Florence Italy.  And the unconsidered cost of shipping Acqua Panna water thousands of miles so that I could imbibe Roman goodness while contemplating my green towel choice seemed to be prima facie evidence that we live in a society that doesn’t give a shit about the environment. 

In a country where we invest billions of dollars on public utilities to insure potable water from a tap – a tap, mind you that had no water saving features about it – what are we saying when we offer “green” linens and towels but carelessly place over-priced plastic bottled water in the decision theater?  It seems to me that we’re not only stating our callous negligence but possibly something far more insidious.  I think we’re euthanizing the seed of consciousness that may deign to sprout in our lives to actually select a life that doesn’t require oil-based resin containers, multi-thousand mile logistics, and excessive consumption of cotton-based products.  During the choreographed Parisian hubris-fest, the UN and its illusionists speak of carbon reduction while the following headlines blast across the world:

ISIS Funds Terror Through Sale of Oil
Norway Seeks EU Confirmation of Arctic Energy Commitment
Dealers Cannot Stock Enough SUVs
Auto Sales Set All Time Record in 2015
Industry Giants Offer Billions for Environment

We are not serious about the environment and we’re willfully negligent in our reflexive response to the non-issue.  It is CONSUMPTION, not CARBON that is destroying us.  Communities of persistence around the world – particularly my dear friends across the Pacific – are living in a carbon balance and don’t toxify the earth because they don’t over produce nor do they over-consume.  They live in verdant abundance because they understand how to dance with the ecosystem – not lord over it.

And the deeper reality remains that our economic illusion of unfunded pensions – that ominous Depression-level event in 2017 – that will destroy nearly 23% of the discretionary spending of American seniors in 5-6 fiscal quarters poses a far greater threat to our actual living than does the U.S. and Chinese reckless fossil fuel emissions.  In a violent society in which guns settle disputes, economic hopelessness born of meaningless existence will bomb, shoot, and terrorize humanity way before the sea gets a chance to rise much more.

The leadership that is required is not the gathering of lords of land and industry.  It is the leadership from We the People who can immediately reduce our consumption and increase the utilization of all things for their ACTUAL life cycle.  And that can start with the Christmas season.  Give the gift of presence, not presents.  Imagine someone else using what you have and give it to them.  Make the Commons flow with what’s already in it rather than adding more trinkets to the excess in which we’re already drowning.  Unwrap yourself for those you love and in so doing, you may find a warming that doesn’t kill polar bears but actually gets closer to the humanity that we all still carry.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Elusive Desert Moose and Other Lies


I went for a bike ride in Southern Albemarle County yesterday afternoon.  As I headed onto Old Lynchburg Road, the chill of the late fall air sent a shock through my lungs reminding me again that riding in Virginia in the Winter is as much a test of will as it is exercise.  Before long, legs and heart pumping, I thawed myself into a steady state that drove out the cold.  By the time I turned to head east on 708, I had long forgotten the cold and was relishing the fact that I was back on my bike after weeks of travel.  And then, after cresting the third long climb I saw them.  Two zebras and a mule standing in the middle of a field on the north side of the road.  Zebras!  In a region of the country where one expects to see ostentatious horse farms, manicured vineyards, and sweeping estates, zebras are certainly unexpected.  In an instant, I pulled off the road, hopped off my bike and walked over to the pasture fence to take a photo.  As I did that, I realized my motivation for the photo was an echo across over 40 years.

On one family trip across the desert Southwest in the early 1970s, my parents got a bag of M&Ms (still the official road trip snack of champions!).  The four of us boys were told that we would receive M&Ms for being the first to spot any wild animals during our drive.  Long before iPods, iPads, and all digital manners of diversion, a great idea was to get sons distracted by a little competition that would have them focusing out the window rather than on the fact that Dan liked the seatbelt too tight or that someone was in someone else’s space.  While on the road and at rest areas, various ones saw all manner of birds, reptiles and the occasional dog in another car.  For each first, M&Ms were dispensed.  The behaviorist B.F. Skinner would have been having a heyday with this Pavlovian environmental conditioning experiment.

Late into dusk, still suffering from my M&M deficient hypoglycemia, I announced that I saw a moose.  And before I could get through with the surprise sighting, I clarified that I had been certain it was a moose because I saw its ears!  I was told that I was “lying” and was not rewarded with M&Ms.  And so, yesterday, when I saw the zebras, the little boy in me wanted to be damn sure that I had a picture to prove that, indeed, I had seen the zebra.  What I didn’t know when I was 4 or 5 was that objective truth was not objective at all – it was consensus experience.  Sure, the objective fact was that I probably saw a misshapen saguaro cactus with wide sweeping arms and little flower bud nubs (filling in for ears on my moose).  But in the shadowy silhouette, the geometry was that of a moose standing in the night air of the Sonoran Desert. 

As I reflect on this lesson – “lying” about seeing what others didn’t see – I marveled at the hypocrisy of my “truth” conditioning.  Most impactful in my childhood were stories from the Bible, a daily companion to my upbringing.  As a boy who saw and heard things that others didn’t, I often marveled at how giants could exist, how bushes could talk, how dreams could fracture ribs, how fantastical miracles could be revered if they were told in a book that I was supposed to “believe” but the same dimensions were “lies” if they were experienced by a little boy.  And as I grew older, I was supposed to accept other consensus “truths” – faith, hope, love, justice, honesty – only to see in their consensus practice evident hypocrisy and contradiction.  The same boy who saw a moose was able to decipher covert operations by the U.S. government in Central America which later became known as the Iran Contra affair.  The same boy found and helped close the second largest white collar criminal tax fraud in U.S. history; developed a mechanism to render visible assets that were off balance sheet to stabilize and grow economies; went into conflict regions around the world where corrupt corporations were bribing governments to rob wealth from countries and their people and brought light and justice to places where no one else would go; and, continues to find the elusive desert moose that others don’t see.

I’ve watched over the years as those who have been the arbiters of public “truth” – the consensus keepers – have manipulated propaganda to hypnotize the population into being fearful of their own observations.  When governments manipulate and abuse their governed selling predatory intrusion and industrial warfare in the name of security; when churches and clergy demand their tithes but build their own wealth rather than feeding and clothing the needy; when families cling to the illusion of what loving relationships could be rather than acknowledging the pain of isolation in their midst; when disease management is sold as “healthcare”; and, when financial security is built on digital records that can be eradicated in a single magnetic burst, we’ve long abandoned integrity to our own observations and we’ve long left any realm of truth.  Over the past few weeks, while terror has marched across every media feed again, weapon makers have seen their fortunes soar (Defense Sector stocks up over 5.4% while the market has been up 0.47%).  The Brookings Institute along with many others have reported that those wonderful Toyota trucks driven by mercenary forces flying black flags are financed by oil sales (that’s right, someone is buying the oil) and “venture capital” style investments from Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. 

Purveyors of fear are most often the most vocal proclaimers of “truth”.  Why is that?  Well, for one, it’s terribly unacceptable to question “truth”.  In the past, it’s led to being outcast, stigmatized, or even killed – all significant aversion re-enforcements to insure consensus thinking and acting.  Additionally, as Gregory Bateson pointed out in his work on psychological disorders, if you can get someone to doubt their own observations of reality, you can rapidly convince them that they cannot trust themselves and therefore force them into situations where they “trust” others.  The more subtle the subterfuge, the more effective the coercion.  And behind every “truth” and “fear” purveyor stands someone who benefits.  Convince people they’re in danger – no worries, the government will keep you “safe”.  Convince people that they’re sinful – no worries, the church will take your time, focus, and money in exchange for an eternal peace.  Convince people that they’re incapable of understanding money – no worries, advisors will sell you no-downside guarantees in the form of pensions and insurance which “can never go down” never telling you what they do with the “ups” they make. 

I’m going through an amazing journey in life.  Each one of the consensus illusions in my world has been held up for examination in 2015.  And each one, on close examination have crumbled into bits.  Not a little bit – entirely!  And what I’ve chosen to do is find the motivation behind each – find out who was the beneficiary of my distraction – and elected to learn from these experiences rather than judge or despise them.  I’ve chosen to live in transparency – sharing what others would see as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without any sense of concern.  I’ve chosen to live in complete and emanating love – insuring that those who are in my life receive the best from me and that I receive the best from them.  I’ve reaffirmed my commitment to give no quarter to the illusion of fear in myself or others.  Why?  Because I’ve always seen a world that includes imagination, wonder, and conscious living.  I’ve always seen the elusive desert moose.  And I choose to live in a world where I’m measured by the quality of my actions, not by my resonance with consensus.  In so doing, I’m inverting alchemy – taking gold and turning it back into humanity.  I think I’ll have a few M&Ms now cuz there’s a Little Guy who just saw a zebra!