Thursday, September 29, 2016

Racism in America – Let Justice Roll Down


I was on the Earth a year before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down.  And while I didn’t ever know him, I certainly knew of him.  My father, Aaron Martin, was active in the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship during his college days and took part in enough of the Civil Rights movement to instill in his sons a particular appreciation for race relations.  Stories of hotels refusing black patrons lodging, segregated lunch counters, and protests marred by police actions were no stranger to my young ears.  As an adult, I met many civil rights personalities who remember my dad and delight in the fact that a next-generation Martin is still in the thick of dealing with the scourge of racism in America.  Together with my dear friend Rodney Woods (founder of Diversity in Promotions), I’ve been working for years to deal with racism in the capital markets from disproportionate FDIC bank closures in traditionally black regions of the country to limited access to growth finance for robust minority owned enterprises, I’ve seen the continued injustice that mars our socioeconomic fabric.

Against that backdrop, about three years ago, I met with a number of people to whom I’d been introduced through the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council (NMSDC), Rev. Jesse Jackson’s RAINBOW Coalition, and my own business contacts to discuss the establishment of a new vision for Black enterprise in America.  While Dr. King, my dad, Rev. Jackson and thousands of others were committed to the laudable goal of opening the doors of access to persons of all races, I wondered why Dr. King’s dream didn’t seem to include industry-leading aspirations.  Since the late 60s and 70s, set-asides and quotas were seen as a concession to accommodate “disadvantage” but where were the voices suggesting that maybe, just maybe, black leaders could excel equal to and even surpassing their white counterparts?  In a world where the odds of making it to the NFL and NBA are held out as the longest odds in most diverse communities, where was the discussion of the even more improbable odds of making it to CEO, Board Chairman or Managing Partner in corporate or finance America?

Two years ago, I developed a modification to our very successful quantitative equity fund.  Rather than simply measuring the quality of innovation deployed by companies for market advantage and investing in those firms, my team at M·CAM went a step farther.  We decided to include another screen: the commitment on the part of companies to support diversity in their supply chains.  Using the NMSDC data, we modeled a fund that would invest in companies based on their innovation and their social responsibility with respect to diversity in supplier relationships.  And it turns out that using this approach, with no additional market risk, investors can out-perform the S&P500.   That’s right!  Companies committed to supplier diversity out-perform their racist or indifferent peers.  This, I thought, would be a perfect product for pensions, endowments, and institutions who want to expand their investment allocations into diversity values.

I set out to meet several of the top minority managers and principals with an eye towards offering this diversity-tilted equity product in the active management or exchange-traded funds (ETF) space.  Was I in for a surprise!  At a $9 billion dollar minority manager of pension money, I was told that a diversity product would compete with their existing managers (many of whom were underperforming the market).  At a $6 billion dollar minority manager of pension money I was told that the market “doesn’t care” about diversity and would prefer a yield-optimized S&P500 product.  One of the world’s premier minority asset managers scoffed at the notion of developing a diversity equity product saying that he wouldn’t want to associate his personal brand and reputation to something that was overtly minority focused!  And while New York, Virginia, Texas, California, Illinois and many other state teacher, police, fire, and employee pensions have mandates for allocating to diverse managers, not one actually has gone to the level of demanding that diversity actually trickle down to the Diversity Owned Companies that are actually making a difference in their communities! 

Now, last time I checked, most of the race news these days is about police shooting black men in the streets of America.  Tearful “How much longer?” has replaced the 1966 hopeful “We shall overcome.”  And the fact of the matter is that as long as economic injustice is not only tolerated but expected, there’s precious little we can expect to see change.

But, just on the eve of my frustration boiling like the pavement in Selma and Charlotte, I felt the cool waters of opportunity start to trickle.  Two very courageous men – both former NFL players – have decided to stand up and take up the challenge to lead America into a new day of race in America.  Two amazing men are studying for the Securities and Exchange Commission licenses so that they can step into a future where access is not the goal – rather it is excellence!  And like every great undertaking, the first tentative steps have just begun.  But one month from today, those first steps will be surrounded by dozens, hundreds or thousands more and before long, we’ll have justice rolling down!  And while I don’t know if I will enter the promised land where dreams of equivalent access go hand in hand with the daily news, I do know that I’ve been to the mountaintop, and from there, I’ve seen a much taller mountain worth climbing!  Thanks Charles.  Thanks Lee.  We’ve only just begun!


Thursday, August 25, 2016

EpiPens, Mylan’s Ethics Inversion, and the U.S. Government Smoking Gun


Mylan Pharmaceuticals deserves the attention it is getting.  Heather Bresch, Mylan’s CEO has every reason in the world to have the smug press photos.  After all, she’s used the mortality of millions who suffer from sudden and acute allergic reactions and heart problems to line her own pockets and those of her investors (while squirreling cash outside the U.S. for tax evasion-like purposes).  Together with Wendy Cameron (Cam Land LLC and Trustee at The Washington Hospital from 2009-2011), The Honorable (retired judge) Robert J. Cindrich (Cindrich Consulting), Robert J. Coury, JoEllen Lyons Dillon (the Chief Legal Officer for the 3-D printing ExOne Company), Neil Dimick (retired EVP at AmerisourceBergen), Melina Higgins (former partner of Goldman Sachs), Douglas J. Leech (Founding Principal of DLJ Advisors), Rajiv Malik, Dr. Joseph C. Maroon (Neurosurgeon at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), Mark W. Parrish (CEO of Trident USA Health Services), Rodney L. Piatt (Horizon Properties Group LLC), and Randall L. Vanderveen, PhD, R.Ph. (University of Southern California’s School of Pharmacy) – Mylan’s esteemed board of real estate developers, bankers, lawyers, medical educators, and corporate executives – her leadership has steered the company into the maelstrom of public controversy around the insanely expensive EpiPen®.  Forbes reported that Bresch’s compensation rose 671% in 8 years.  For this reason, Forbes and others should be doing their stories on the people I listed above – the board of directors of Mylan who were willing to endorse a business strategy as ethical as arms dealers in Lord of War. 

Let’s cut to the chase.  Bresch is at best guilty of hyperbole and at worst lying when she was quoted on CNBC saying that, “No one’s more frustrated than me.  My frustration is, the list price is $608.”  In 2011, the same product sold for $164.  In 2007, it was available for $57.  Does she really want the public to believe that she’s frustrated that the Food & Drug Administration has been propping up her company’s monopoly on a technology and drug that’s been in the public domain since the 1950’s.  Does she love to know that her firm is pocketing $1 billion for a technology that was acquired from Merck in 2007?  Does the public know that the FDA and Congress have willfully succumbed to the pressure of corporate America by ignoring their own rights to the technology

Let’s take a little journey down memory lane so that Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton and Mylan’s contemplable board can get on the same page!  When George Calkins and Stanley Sarnoff invented the EpiPen forbearer in 1973, they acknowledged that their ideas were improvements upon work commissioned for the U.S. and U.K. military emergency medicine needs in the 1960s!  That the U.S. Patent Office granted their patent in 1973 was, at the time, a bit of a stretch as it was more about a mechanical design improvement – not a real invention.  This technology, used in the military and in EMS kits around the world was the basis for their company.  As the U.S. Government was a principal buyer of anaphylaxis injector pens and funded a considerable amount of the technical improvements thereto, the U.S. government has march-in rights to use the technology at a reasonable commercial royalty rate it can set!  The U.S. Governments EpiPens don’t cost $608 per unit.  Meridian Medical Technologies – the Department of Defense’s supplier of the actual EpiPen (owned by Pfizer) – have the ability to deliver the exact same product at a price between $40 - $70.  And let’s face it, Congress knows about this.  The FDA knows this.  And the reason why Mylan gets away with this – just like they get away with incorporating out of the U.S. using the dubious inversion strategy for tax efficiency – is because powers that be love to provide liquidity to their benefactors!

The U.S. Patent Office and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have given Mylan license to rob the public based on a set of accommodations which are clearly illegal.  Pfizer’s Meridian Medical is cruising along under the radar with a very clear statement on their website stating that their technology is “Available only for use by United States military personnel.”  And Sarah Jessica Parker is keeping the Hollywood face on the whole racket unaware that what she’s encouraging parents and school districts to do is really to enrich a dubious corporation while preying on real public fear. 

Cut the crap.  This is another example of media hype around a faux well-spring of public activism around price gouging.  But let’s get real.  If we don’t want our kids to die from a bee-sting or a peanut, we should demand accountability where it’s really due – the Patent Office that granted an illegal monopoly, the FDA which props up the illusion, and a board of directors at Mylan who don’t take the time to inform themselves of their own company’s misdeeds. 


Monday, August 8, 2016

Out of Time


When the DeLorean vanishes into tire tracks of flames in the 1985 classic Back to the Future, the California license plate left spinning on the pavement is emblazoned with “OUTATIME”.  Having accelerated to 39.3395 meters per second (88 mph) the entire car was able to exploit the 0.10717 second wormhole opened by the lightning strike to blast into the future without becoming the victim of a relativity Cuisinart.  Why time travel involves extreme cryodynamics (the car reconstitutes covered with ice) is something I’ll save for another blog as dynamic temporal translocation could be more logically considered an isothermal reality devoid of friction or other exothermic physics.  On this 8th of August (88), I’d like to take the TIME to examine and refute the illusion of TIME.

Humans have reportedly observed movements of stars, the sun and the moon and have used these as indicators of auspiciousness.  Carvings in stone, slits that allow the passage of lights during equinox and solstice moments, orientations of rocks and buildings, geometric projections of precession of events, all suggest some awareness of “time” in the human narrative.  Comically, the concept of one second (which for those of you burning to know, is “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between to hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom”) and the notion of linear measure – the meter (also based on caesium 133) – are but two of Einstein’s legacies which have given us the illusion of the linear progression of time

For several weeks, I’ve encountered innumerable conversations, interactions, and high order social frictions triggering nearly incapacitating pain derived entirely from the illusion of time.  Dreams of a future, legacies of a past, the vindication of hours of training for the moment of Olympic glory, the futility of living based on aging, nostalgia, optimism, pessimism – all of these bandits robbing humanity of its authentic experience in favor of the elixir of “the other”.  Benedict De Spinoza’s Ethics courageously challenged the illusion of time when he stated that, “By substance I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself, that is, that whose concept does not require the concept of another thing, from which it must be formed.”  He also states that, “In nature there is nothing contingent,” suggesting that the only thing that exists simply exists.  Centuries later, one of my favorite philosophers, Karl Popper expanded on these notions when examining the concept of human temporal and causal obsessions.  He argued that there is no possibility of apprehending all of the conditions which manifest the present and, as such, neither an explanation of the “past” nor a prognostication of a “future” is viable in any way.  “Individual human action or reaction can never be predicted with certainty, therefore neither can the future.” (The Poverty of Historicism). 

In the past several years, the economy (and society) has suffered the fatal effects of its implicit addiction to temporal illusions.  Debauched on the addiction to time as a linear, progressive construct we insist that ontological and algebraic ‘laws’ dictate explanation and prediction.  Manipulate supply and demand, manipulate interest rates or relative employment, manipulate wage and price ratios and magically you have a managed economy.  Only it doesn’t work out that way.  Resource providers impoverished by predatory extractors rise up in revolt shutting down the mine and the mill – at times killing the operators or the opposition faction.  Central banks pump fractional currency into economies only to watch asset values bloat while real monetary flows constrict.  Progressive Regressionists (those who explain causality through their own myopic observational reductionism) are convinced of model adequacy based on post hoc rationalization only to find that none of their models hold in the next moment.  “We value most what we measure best,” becomes an aspirational justification for experts to peddle worthless advice to public policymakers bent on placating the masses long enough to feed their egotistical ideals of incumbent power. 

As I celebrated an auspicious night at the Sydney Opera House listening to the Australian Youth Orchestra’s breathtaking rendition of Gustav Mahler’s Titan Symphony No. 1 in D I was absorbed with the contours of the genius of the third movement.  The complexity of rhythms weaves a tapestry punctuated with the staccato of the cuckoo birds call (played on clarinet) and to decipher the meter of the piece is to the rational mind as elusive as the most complex metaphysical construct is to the nascent philosopher.  In fact, what makes the piece so beautiful is not its meter but its movement.  And while physics will tell you that motion is a change in position with respect to time, this definition is constrained by artifice.  The acoustical feast that Mahler serves suspends time and was described by him in its modified score as the depiction of, “a Spring without end… the awakening of nature in the early morning.” 

A Spring without end.  Idigna.  The Mesopotamian ideal of an artesian water source that ever springs and flows ceaselessly.  Inanna’s dance of fertility which acknowledged the persistent, generative, infinite interaction between lovers, land, and life.  The effortless recognition that gratitude-filled moments of recognition of the mystery that is the persistence of life and love gain nothing from a “past” and offer nothing to a “future”.  In fact, what they do is heighten the emotional and observational intelligence in each moment to more perfectly perceive the ever present, always in flux, phase of NOW.  Has your life ever improved by justifying or rationalizing a “past”?  Have you ever lost a moment of Present based on your obsession with a yet unlived and unmanifest “future”?  If the answer to either of these is yes, stop.  Recognize that if you’re reading this, you’ve made it to here, now.  Be grateful.  Now think about all that you steward – your life, your love, your resources, your encouragement, your touch, your generosity – and find a person with whom to share it.  Don’t look for them.  Don’t wait.  Act NOW.  And in the acting of every now in its perfection, recognize that the only pain you feel is your choice to hold onto time.  Step out of time and step into unconstrained living.  You may be surprised that it doesn’t hurt and you just might heal.

BTW, I’ve included two articles from the 1987 Electronics Today which will demonstrate that the more we think that time is a linear function, the more we willfully ignore our own evidence to the contrary.  Think about China trade, the French DCNS contract to the Australian Navy, and the recent expansion of the F-35 program,  and ask yourself if anything has changed?


Thursday, July 28, 2016

You Are What You Eat…or Meet


I’ve been sitting by a beautiful lake on the Pacific coast in New South Wales watching the winter sun dance in the chilly palms outside.  The occasional visit from some friendly kookaburras has punctuated the silence with their comical appearance and even more hilarious vocalizations.  I spread some wholesome grain-filled cereal on the porch rail this morning and am intrigued by the fact that, while some of the bits were gobbled up by the local feathered visitors, other bits have been left untouched.  The label on the gluten-free, vegan, raw container says that this is all good for me but apparently the birds know better!  “Full of healing benefits,” and “assists with cellular repair” do not seem to convince the birds to gobble down these morsels.  Can’t they read?  Don’t they know what’s good for them?

Traffic stops, a therapist trying to calm disturbed patients, dads, sons, friends… hardly a day goes by without another highly publicized – often videoed – shooting or murder of black man in the United States by police officers.  “I thought I saw a gun,” is now exoneration for murder.  What black motorist in his or her right mind would solve this riddle: try to escape a Zion Illinois police officer and get shot through your car or, as has happened elsewhere, get pulled over, stop, reach for your driver’s license and get murdered in cold blood only to have a judge rule that the shooting was justified months later?  Or the middle-aged woman who struggles to sleep peacefully with frequent ‘dreams’ of being unable to breathe.  When she closes her eyes, she sees a man with his hand over her mouth.  What’s he doing?  Is it a stranger, a family member?  Why can’t she remember any details?  Or it’s the man who lives with a reflex to detach from all feelings – good or bad – whenever emotions elevate because he conditioned himself as a little boy to flee the pain of corporal punishment for not conforming.  Or it’s the veteran who thought that enlisting would be the only way to pay for college.  “What’s 4 years if the GI Bill can get me through school?”  And that only way turned into killing, hiding from mortar rounds and RPGs.  Now every snapping, cracking, or popping sound brings up the images of horror etched in the mind.

Clifford Brooks Stevens – more commonly known as Brooks – was born in Milwaukee in 1911 and as a child was one of the millions who suffered from polio.  The famous designer of the Jeep, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and the Evinrude outboard motor, built a world that defines all of our modernity with his promotion of planned obsolescence.  The notion that one would “instill in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than necessary,” has permeated all of culture.  In a relationship that’s challenging – leave it.  See your neighbor’s Tesla while you’re driving your 2013 Audi – trade up!  Desire a minimum viable pathway to escape the illusionary mantra that “life is suffering” by surrounding yourself with confidants who will reinforce the righteous indignation for a life that’s not playing out the way your picture postcard looked? – hire a ‘friend’ and layer on the justification for why it’s everyone else’s fault that your life is the way it is.  How is it that we can walk right past the most generous love, life, and abundance while we focus on the fraction of life that’s “not working”? 

Have we become a society of self-centered, consumer-driven, masochists?  Are we incapable of seeing sufficiency in what is right before our eyes?  Is this a cultural phenomenon or is there something much deeper going on?  And can just the right amount of positive thinking be the cure?

Hammurabi – known in the 18th century BCE to be the codifier of civil laws – legalized the public burning of women for promiscuity and men for incest.  Senusret I in Egypt used humans as torches to celebrate military victories.  Jewish law sets forth dozens of reasons – most of them having to do with sex – that justify public burnings.  Christianity’s founder was a fan of public executions by fire or by “pouring molten lead down the throats” of those who committed transgressions.  By the 7th century, if you were accused of performing magic, desecrating what was considered sacred, or labeled as a heretic, you could be burnt in a public execution or placed in a “leather sack with a rooster, a viper, a dog, and a monkey and thrown into the sea.”  As a slave, you displease your master – public lynching.  A heretic that defies the church’s authority – a millstone around your neck and a public drowning.  Accused of witchcraft – burn her.  Failing to conform to society’s expectations – be beaten.

A growing body of evidence is showing that humans and other mammals have a particularly alarming genetic response to the experience of, and the witnessing of, inhumane treatment.  In the Journal of Translational Psychiatry, Dr. Eva Unternaehrer and her colleagues found alterations in DNA methylation (the addition of methyl groups to DNA which may repress gene transcription) in adult humans exposed to acute psychosocial stress (2012).  Interestingly, they found significant alterations in oxytocin receptors (oxytocin is considered to play an important role in social bonding and sexual reproduction) and no effect on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (considered to play an important role in memory and higher order thinking).  Work done by Dr. Roth and her colleagues showed that early-life adversity, in contrast, has a permanent and possible generationally transferrable impact on BDNF (Journal of Neuroscience, 2008).  By publicly rendering humans obsolete – through early sexual and physical abuse, traumatic separation, public shootings, hate speech, and mass media disseminated violence – have we genetically modified ourselves into beings less capable of deep social bonding and collective memory and consciousness?  Not to worry, we’ve got a therapist, a pill, a drug, a distraction, a virtual reality simulation-of-an-actual-life-worth-living experience for that!  All you need to do is pay me $300 / hour and I’ll give you the high-fructose-corn-syrup-version-of-the-life-you-can’t-have long enough to get you addicted to whatever panacea I’m selling.

I think that the police shootings, the 24-hour CNN drumbeat of violence, the terrorist du jour publicity is to our society what the witch burnings were to Salem and what the lynchings were during slavery.  I think that these acts are not sociopathic anomalies.  Rather, I think they are mass-scale epigenetic modifications which are de-humanizing us into greater dependency on externalities – no matter how heinous they become.  And I think that it’s time for a few of us to take the other road.  I think that We The People – however few of us there may be – are at a moment where we’re called to proliferate conspicuous acts of love and kindness.  And mind you, this is not just at a small scale.  Remember that even our “good” stories – Martin Luther King, JFK, Gandhi, Sadat – end with public violence.  We simply aren’t telling the stories of public goodness that don’t reinforce the epigenetic manipulation of our species. 

We are 4 millennia into the sanctioned public violation of humanity.  It’s time we step up and say, “Enough.”  We are not meant for obsolescence.  Our children are not the objects of gratification for subsequent shame.  Our families are not safe-havens for violence and abuse.  Our homes are not sanctuaries for silence.  Our communities are not shooting ranges for those who have over-refined fear reflexes.  Our countries are not agencies of militarization.  We are not worthy of extinction.  Today, in fact right now, make a public stand for goodness.  Call a family member.  Stop and help a stranger.  Offer aid to someone who is struggling… and DO IT PUBLICLY.  Show the world that there’s a humanity everywhere you go.  And never tire of doing so.  In so doing, we might find a way to heal our DNA and weave ourselves into a more perfect union.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Found What You Needed… and other myths


I am embarking on a long-awaited journey.  It was one that commenced one year ago when I spent a week of solitude at Tara Mandala in Pagosa Springs, CO.  I was the recipient of the kindness of a few close friends who knew that my life was at a point where deep contemplation could be just the right intervention to examine, and potentially address, some of the growing dis-ease I was experiencing.  Throughout my life, I’ve been thrilled to have experiences born of a world-view that is based on well-beingthe capacity for an individual to engage at liberty without diminishing the equivalent capacity for others.  For as many years, I’ve marveled at the near-universal response I encounter to my chosen path of life.  While an intrepid few are more than delighted to receive what I offer and manifest and find their own pathway to equivalently offer and manifest that which I and others can experience, the vast majority absorb and take with no recognition of the exchange and currency of well-being.  As a photon in isolation is not light until it engages in coherent energetic transmission with other activated photons, so I was finding my light illuminating far less than I thought it could.  So, my week long hermitage was a moment to disentangle from the reflectors, absorbers, and diffractors, and examine the photon that is me.

In a recent message, a dear friend made the statement, “I’m glad you have finally found what you needed.”  Today, in a casual conversation, another friend said, “It’s sure hard to find good news we need these days.”  As I was engaged in the curious human activity of selective aesthetic biome alteration (better known as weeding) in which I was removing plants that seemingly effortlessly proliferate in favor of the selected plants I want to thrive, my biome altering accomplice mused about how plants find “what they need” to survive.  Find.  Need.  There they were again.  Two words that serve as a cognitive fulcrum in my brain over the last year.  What was it about these two words that so voraciously consumed my thoughts and emotions?  How could it be that the first statement did more to confirm my friend’s lack of awareness of my essential nature than almost anything else she could have said?  And is there anything about the three comments that all converge around something that is worth considering more deeply? 

The etymology of the word “need” suggests that the term is derived from an old Germanic word signifying “danger”.  Since 1800, it’s prevalence in English literature has increased nearly 800%.  This may suggest that in about 200 years, we’ve become needier.  Ironically, need’s companion “want” is a bit less prevalent and only doubled during the same 200 year literary period.  In 1943, Abraham Maslow’s paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” published in the Psychological Review put “need” into a social model built around a “hierarchy of needs” that has become the de facto justification for nearly every enterprise or effort.  The base of his pyramid is elemental – calories, air, water, shelter – and is based on a principle of “protection from the elements”.  As though the ‘elements’ are conspiring to do you in.  From there, you get to “safety” – another term that implies an absence of a generative, caring nature.  From there love, belonging and then esteem – all needs that must come from others.   Somewhere at the top – and loosely linked to the concept of “need” – he placed self-actualization and later self-transcendence.  Tragically, Maslow succeeded in brainwashing an enormous swath of humanity to a belief that they were operating in a secular model identical to most religious dogmatic memes which place cosmology in a conflict with humanity.  Something’s out to get you.  Be afraid.  NEED, for Christ’s sake!

Do plants “find” the nutrients they “need”?  Do humans “find” partners and settings that fulfill their “needs”?  Does the 8ft ceiling in your home fulfill your “need” for shelter?  Does the job you have or the degree you earned fulfill your “need” for esteem? 

What’s wrong with “finding what you needed”?  Well, for starters, everything.  Let’s assume that you are the sum of about 724 trillion cells (give or take a few trillion if, like me, you are follicularly challenged).  Let’s assume that your amazing fact of existence is so delightfully complex that you don’t even think about your breathing, your heart beat, your digestion, your animation, or much of any of the other 7 primary organ systems in your body.  Do you have any idea what actually benefits the very systems that you don’t even know exist?  Are you sure that whatever you put in your mouth last is good for your lymphatic system?  Did you even know you had one of those systems?  Of course not!  And even if you whipped out your Wikipedia, you’d still not know if the chocolate you ate was pro-reproductive but anti-digestive.  So just eat the chocolate, enjoy it, and read on.  What’s the point?  The point is that none of us live in abject “need”.  None of live in relative “need”.  And if we think we “need” to “find” something – or think someone else does – how presumptuous can we be?  Millions of people fill their experiences of living with NEED.  Need stuff.  Need connections.  Need relationships.  Need intimacy.  Need relevance.  Need, need, need. 

Here’s an idea.  I’m starting a discipline of removing “need” from my vocabulary.  And not just my vocabulary but the vocabulary I choose to be exposed to.  The irony is that my friend who was glad I “found what I needed” never realized the joy of living in a world in which being fully grateful for the abundance that surrounds each and every moment calls forth a human impulse that never entered Maslow’s hierarchy.  There’s another form of humanity – one that inverts the pyramid of need.  One that realizes that the basis for human existence and interaction STARTS with emanating from one’s core essence.  Being the most beautiful and authentic expression of who you are and what you’re meant to manifest on this earth.  Oddly enough, starting from that point, you’ll find yourself coherent with others similarly manifesting.  And who knows, maybe they’ll become your co-conspirators to serve the world, maybe they’ll become your lovers and partners, maybe they’ll band together and give you confidence and support, and maybe they’ll share a roof, a table, a blanket, and a meal with you.  There are only tens of thousands of years of evidence showing that living in, and emanating, gratitude for abundance is persistent and generative. 

On this anniversary of my monastic journey, I’m grateful to know that there are a growing number of people who are awakening to the realization that there’s a life more beautiful than one defined by need; more beautiful than one defined by labels, titles, social conventions, norms, and all other contrivances to withhold life from living.  And I’m glad that my journey to Tara Mandala still serves to remind me to BE the person I authentically am.  Fully provisioned.  Fully equipped.  And ready for whatever and whomever comes my way. 


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Dangerous Gift: The Gift of Knowing


I am flying to Sydney Australia on United 839.  United has been one of the most important utilities in my lifetime carrying my life in relative comfort to all corners of the globe.  The flight crew was particularly helpful on this flight.  On my way back from the bathroom, I went to place my ring encrusted with the insignia of tribes in Papua New Guinea on my finger and it slipped down into the complex workings of the seat.  Fifteen minutes later, I knew more about seat 4D than I ever thought I’d know.  I also knew that M&M’s, ear plugs, and all manner of mystery lurks beneath the seats!  I don’t know when the last service crew vacuumed under the seat but I know that it’s a bit cleaner now.  I also know that I found my ring. 

We were 7 hours into the flight when this little episode happened and, fully awake, I decided to watch Concussion. This is the story of the CTE brain injury involving the NFL’s retired players’ disproportionately high incidence of significant neurological damage resulting in suicide, profound disability, and destruction of quality of life.  Near the film’s climax, Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian pathologist who was responsible for the work leading to the CTE inquiry makes an interesting statement. 

“I have a dangerous gift, the gift of knowing.”

I cared about this film for a bunch of reasons.  One of my colleagues in graduate school went on to work on brain injury and had much of his work supported by the NFL and by helmet manufacturers.  I count as many of my dearest friends current and former players, some of whom suffer from the effects of CTE.  As I’ve worked with them over the years, I’ve come to love them for the fierce elegance they bring to life and I count that experience one of life’s most cherished gifts.  I love the idea that, with greater awareness, there may be interventions that can preserve the game and preserve their lives.  I know that the NFL’s denial of evidence is driven, not by bad individual commissioners, league executives, lawyers and owners.  I know that the entertainment and gaming billions of dollars create an illusion of something that cannot survive the truth.  And tragically, many great men (yes, mostly men) cower in the face of the truth.  When billions are at stake, telling the truth is quite unpopular.

There’s a reasonably good chance that I may be suspending my writing of Inverted Alchemy for some time.  The reason is simple.  By carrying torches into crevices far darker than the NFL’s brain injury cover-up, I’ve learned the value of Dangerous Gifts.  By having unusual abilities to sense into things that are subtle traumas in the lives of others, I’ve been able to help many.  But this has come at a dear price.  It has cost me love, friendship, external validations of “success”, opportunity, credibility, and unspeakable inhumanities.  And while “being human” is routinely used as an excuse for weakness or failings, I’m at least one voice that takes the opposing view.  Dr. Omalu was fully human.  And like the intrepid fellowship of those who chose to stick to their “gift of knowing”, he paid dearly. I salute him and I salute the entire production effort behind telling his story.

But as I watched the film, it dawned on me that I wanted to write a very different blog post.  Not one that reminds us about our willful neglect of each other and our harm of our own well-being.  Not one that highlights ever more egregious examples of corruption and destruction.  No, I wanted to immediately write a thank you letter to a few people who you may not know but you should.  They are people that have decided to make this week an amazing week.  And, by the way, before I go any further, let me state that I’ll leave many great people out of this list.  That’s fine.  I’ll get to you later.  This is written for people I don’t usually mention. 

Before getting on this flight, I had a wonderful opportunity to appear on CNBC.  M·CAM was asked nearly a year ago to consider providing a metric for the “innovation economy” that would update or replace the industrial models set forth over 120 years ago with the advent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  This impulse to help measure the innovation fitness of publicly traded companies was substantiated by the great work of Hayden Luse, Pam Cole, Stuart Holman, Bob Kendall and the General and Limited Partners of the Purple Bridge funds.  But before that, the first impulse arose in conversations with Joe O’Shea while he worked at GE Licensing & Trading in the early 2000s.  During our work on the index with CNBC, a phenomenal man and colleague, David Spiegel asked us if we’d help measure the innovation fitness of private companies applying for the honor of being on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list.  Led by Dex Wheeler – one of M·CAM’s greatest unsung heroes – we came up with a scoring mechanism that contributed to this year’s rankings.  And because of David, Nikhil Deogun, Gina Francolla, and Steve Lewis, I was invited to sit on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and help unveil the metrics of the Innovation Economy.  I’ve spent 21 years preparing for those 4 minutes.  And I’m deeply grateful that this moment happened.

Just one day earlier, David Pratt, Colleen Martin, Pam and I went up to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  Those of you familiar with any of my work know that I have been the world’s most outspoken critic of the patent system and the abuses thereof.  Years ago, Jay Erstling suggested that we develop systems that could allow the world to understand the quality of patents that were being issued around the world.  On a rainy afternoon in Geneva, WIPO Director Francis Gurry let fears far more ominous than the NFL’s CTE issue overrule what ethics would dictate.  Francis knew that if the world could see the abuses of the patent system - the millions of lives that are lost to patent restrictions around health care, communication, agriculture, energy, water and so much more - trillions of dollars of corporate corruption would be at risk of being exposed.  So he buried it.  But on Monday, the Under Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of the USPTO invited me to present our work once again.  And not just in one perfunctory gathering.  We met with judges, executives, economists, and technologists to discuss how reform could come to the world of innovation.  Had it not been for the advocacy of the U.K.’s Tony Clayton, the U.S.’s Alan Marco, and the hospitality of Janet Gongola, this would not have been possible.  These individuals went to the mat for a voice that has been silenced for years.  I’m deeply grateful that this moment happened.

And I’m on this trip to meet with a number of individuals in Australia to discuss how to align the future economy of Australia with the transforming economic landscape of the world’s market.  Through the persistence of colleagues like Richard David Hames, Laurent Labourmene, Christine McDougall and Adam Jacoby, a new conversation is emerging that may hold promise for new models of public policy, academic activity and scholarship, and economic engagement.  I was sent on my way with the blessing of Colleen who has valiantly and lovingly endured three decades of living with the Dangerous Gift.  And I’ll be engaging this conversation with Kim Phillips who is standing taller each day as partner and colleague. 

There’s no question that the old adage “Ignorance is Bliss” has a siren seduction to it.  Sure, if you didn’t know, you could simply muddle your way through life.  But the “Gift of Knowing” comes with benefits far more precious than any elixir of ignorance.  The Gift of Knowing comes with the amazing act of humanity that says, “I’ll stand with you.”  And of all people, I’ve been most blessed by those few, beautiful, amazing, wonderful, souls who have borne, even if for only a moment, the most Dangerous Gift.  Napier Collyns, without your request, this blog would not have been written.  Hundreds of posts later, I want to thank you, above all, for asking me to start Inverted Alchemy in 2008!  It has been a true gift!  Godspeed, fair winds, and following seas!


Friday, May 27, 2016


Flashback to flash forward... Fulcrumage is upon us!