Saturday, March 17, 2018

Don't Bother Your Father While He's Bankrupting You


On November 15, 2017, the Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation W. Thomas Reeder told America what I’ve been saying for several years.  The PBGC and the 40 million Americans who count on it to preserve the promises made to working Americans are out of luck.  The 840,000 people served by the 4,845 failed pensions currently managed by the PBGC have seen their anticipated benefits reduced and, by 2025, the Multiemployer Program (in spite of the Multiemployer Reform Act of 2014) will run out of money. 

When the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) was established, the PBGC was created to make good on the promises of single and multi-employer pension plans.  Ironically, the latter typically are created in collective bargaining scenarios with unions and classes of workers (eg. transportation, construction, mining, hospitality, etc.).  Massive unfunded pensions like Sears, Nortel, Avaya, Durango Georgia Paper Co. present one form of challenge while the closure of other pensions have another.  In FY2017, 1,480 pension plans ended for companies like Kroger, Accenture US Pension, Bright House Networks, INOVA Health Systems, Samsonite, Sunoco and institutions like Deseret Mutual.  The unfunded risks are self-evident.  If a plan doesn’t have assets, PBGC has to cover these costs.  But when plans are terminated, the premium income from those plans goes away.  And while the investment allocation to Public Equities returned 17.6% in 2017 helping to diminish some of the program’s deficits, the extremely low fixed income returns (0.7% in 2017 compared to 10% in 2016) spell on-going trouble for investment income.  The $75 billion deficit facing PBGC means U.S. pensioners are blindly going into an illiquid future and it was spelled out for all to see… and no one seemed to pay attention.

Oh, and one of my favorite bits from page 40 of the FY 2017 Annual Report was the adoption of new “generational mortality tables” that offered the encouraging fiscal stimulus of “shorter longevity” decreasing the presumed liability.  That’s right, part of the official statistics about when PBGC runs out of money is buoyed by the fact that new data suggests that you’ll live shorter lives!  And where you live those shorter years will matter if misery loves company.  Forty-three of America’s 50 states have pension funds that are underfunded.  Pennsylvania, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Kentucky, Illinois, Oregon and Minnesota are all vying for the unenviable position to out do each other for breaching the public confidence of their pension programs.  While the Fed plays around with raising interest rates (a few fractions of percentage points which will cause equity markets to go down full percentage points), the pension cliff these states are facing is too politically charged for policy-makers to discuss.

But if the several billions of shortfalls here and there aren’t bothersome, Brian Riedl’s The Entitlement Crisis Ignored article in the National Review (March 1, 2018) echoes the alarms that I’ve been raising in Inverted Alchemy for nearly a decade…only louder.  By adding the interest calculations on the funding of the Social Security and Medicare shortfalls I’ve discussed, he projects a whopping $82 trillion “avalanche” that will bury the U.S. economy and economies dependent thereupon.  He concludes with this ominous observation:
Frédéric Bastiat long ago observed that “government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” Reality will soon fall like an anvil on Generation X and Millennials, as they find themselves on the wrong side of the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in world history.

If you’ve made it this far into my post, you’ll also know that I find it desirable to make tangible suggestions about how to go about offering a positive outlook where most pundits see the problem.  And, despite the tone of this communique, I would offer that, as a point of departure, you’re already more solution than you know.  Like many other observations I make, this post is not drawn from my extrapolations of loosely woven strands of logic.  This is the incredulous reality that We the People are being told that the promises upon which we rely are being broken already!  By reading this, you’re at least capable of inquiring into what can be done.  But that’s not enough.

There are three approaches that we can adopt.  In varying degrees, we will whether we chose them or not.  But as with most interventions, the choice to constructively engage prior to crisis is far more desirable (albeit less frequently engaged) than waiting until calamity befalls us.

Over the past 5 years, I have established and run an investment fund – Purple Bridge Management – that provides evidence that informing investment activities with non-consensus information can lead to superior market performance.  Over the past year and a half, we’ve replicated the evidence of this in the CNBC IQ100 U.S. equity index.  In this case, by measuring what we call Innovation Alpha, we can identify companies that are capable of exceptional performance based on their ability to create, aggregate and deploy innovation.  Together with others, we’re demonstrating that financial data doesn’t tell the whole story about the prospects of companies and that measuring other factors that are opaque to the market provides a more precise way to achieve investment returns with no additional risk.  Our pioneering development of Intelligent Alpha has clearly demonstrated that consensus beta – letting the market dictate through size what is best – is a suboptimal path out of interest rate and equity market manipulated deficits.

There’s a big world beyond the reach of most of us.  It’s a world with billions of people who have been marginalized and neglected in the last 250 years of Adam Smith’s industrial imperialism.  Across Africa, Asia, and the other Americas, these people live with the capacity to influence the future of energy, agriculture, water and other essential elements of life.  Engaging with communities of diversity now will build networks of resilience for the unraveling future of the consumer-fueled industrial insanity surrounding us.  And the old models of indenturing resources through old debt and corruption are giving way to newly informed strategies of engagement.  Out of sight neither means out of mind nor out of the reach of information parity.  In short, the informed local is a new reality best met with collaboration and engagement – not with ignorance arbitrage.

And most of all – the illusion of hording for a “future” will end with this generation.  There isn’t enough to pay $400,000 for medical bills per retiree when they deposited less than $150,000 in their life.  Getting really clear on the personal responsibility each of us has to see our well-being as our own accountability rather than disease management being the public responsibility placed on others from our own neglect is the only path we can take today to get our public pensions through the next decade.  Comic isn’t it?  That the best path to financial health in the future is health today!  So, after you’ve read this post and shared it with your network of influence, get up, get outside and take a walk.  The journey to your fully living future is just beyond the doorway.  Enjoy!


Monday, February 26, 2018

Congolese Conflict Metals in Florida


There’s one metal count that the U.S. is leading.  And it’s not a good one.  Tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold (known as “3TG”) sourced from conflict regions where suppliers benefit from destitute poverty and regional violence continue to flood consumer electronics and jewelry manufacturers.  And lately, a new metal has become the latest to fuel the humanitarian carnage in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo – cobalt.  Why?  Well, if you’re reading this blog on an Apple iPhone 8, Congratulations!  You’re the winner of a genocidal abuse that places over 40,000 children in virtual slavery.  And why?  Oh, that’s right, so that your lithium ion battery is a more effective power supply for your tweets about the 17 lives recently lost in Florida.

I remember the first time I had an automatic weapon in my ribs.  I was walking down Avenida Central in San Jose Costa Rica in the fall of 1986.  As I turned the corner to head towards the Post Office to send a letter back to the States, a careless guard was coming the opposite way with his gun barrel at my chest height.  The encounter was so abrupt that neither one of us knew what to do.  The M-16 hit my ribs with such force that both of us recoiled.  He apologized.  I acknowledged the apology and went on with my day.  Little did I know that I would refer to that as “the first time I had an automatic weapon in my ribs.”  Several weeks later I was in the line of carelessness and in the line of fire when I was in Northern Costa Rica as the villages where I was working were intermittently visited by Nicaraguan, Sandinista, and U.S. combatants. 

When I heard about the Florida school shooting, my heart broke for the parents and families of those who lost their lives.  The thought of sending a loved one to school only to have them never come home is a chilling indictment on what we call modern civilization.  And those in Congress and in the White House that so ardently manipulate the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – a provision aimed at legitimizing the arming of citizens not to kill school children and teachers but to overthrow tyrannical government – should lead by example.  Show your affection for the Constitution and remove metal detectors and security at the Congress and at the White House.  Restricting gun access to both locations is an absolute violation of the 2nd Amendment.

What do these three seemingly unrelated stories have to do with each other?  The answer is quite simple.  The U.S. economy relies on death to operate.  Strum Ruger, Remington Outdoor, and Smith & Wesson all benefited from school massacres with increased sales and profits.  BlackRock, Vanguard, Fidelity and others passed some of those returns onto most of the unsuspecting public.  From Springfield Armory – named for the 1777 ammunition and arms depot established by George Washington – to Austria’s Glock to Russian, Polish, Chinese and Australian manufacturers, the business of arming the world is immense and growing.  What gave rise to the proliferation of guns in Central America?  Oh, that’s right…the Carter and Reagan impulse to spread democracy using a tangled web of Iranian militants, Columbian drug cartels, and gun runners out of Arkansas, Texas and Miami.  After pressure from Apple and others, the Dodd-Frank Section 1502 rule compelling companies to audit their metal supply chain to insure it was conflict-free was eviscerated because compliance was “too difficult”.  And while school children can demand tougher gun laws to restrict access to firearms in the moral outrage inertia in Florida, where are the same protestors when Apple continues its death march across the globe looking for impoverished governments to corrupt and looking for children to put into slave labor?  Oh, that’s right.  They’re lining up outside glass cathedrals in shopping malls and in cities across the world breathlessly waiting for their latest phone.

Oh, in case you were wondering, in response to massive community pressure Apple, Google, Microsoft, Signet and Tiffany each “contributed over $100,000 in their last full fiscal year to projects addressing a range of issues include child mining and poor safety standards for miners,” according to the Enough Project’s 2017 report.

The most recent time I had my encounter with an automatic weapon was on a tiny airstrip on an island north of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.  I was asked by the government to examine the possibility of seeking basic human rights in response to the egregious abuses inflicted on the local communities by an Australian mining company.  After holding the airplane door closed across the beautiful sea during our 40-minute flight, we landed on an airstrip and were immediately rushed by armed employees of the mine.  They demanded that I leave.  I didn’t.  They approached me with their weapons at the ready.  One mercenary walked right up to me, shoved his gun barrel in my abdomen and proceeded to tell me what he was about to do with me.  I didn’t comply with his demands and, in a rather awkward moment, I realized that we were in an existential spiral that could go only a few ways.  I suggested that he probably didn’t want to add killing me to the list of things he had done that day and, after a few tense moments, he lowered the gun barrel. 

In a world awash with gun-aided violence and intimidation, the recent terror in Florida will soon be lost in the echoes of gun-fire somewhere else in the world.  We’ll here the gunshots in suburban U.S. neighborhoods.  We’ll here about Australia’s gun ban after the mass shooting it experienced.  The U.S., Australia, Europe, China and others may periodically apply the veneer of legislative response over the gaping moral pestilence of industries that couldn’t make their profits but for guns and the loss of innocence.  But will all lives matter?  Will all dead children count?  Hell no!  Not as long as there’s money to be made and the dead are far enough away… and black.  Sure, did Australia reduce its citizens’ gun ownership?  Yes.  But did it turn a blind eye as its corporations gunned down workers in the Pacific where the dead weren’t middle class whites?  Absolutely.  Did the U.S. pass an assault weapons ban?  Sure.  But its companies exported and distributed record amounts of fire arms all the same. 

Our persistent unconsidered adoption of consumer electronics and “green” tech is coming at a massive humanitarian cost.  While we plug in our cars and text our 140-character morality, we are willfully blind to the lives that we’re consuming.  And when the focus gets too hot on the DRC and central Africa, we just find another place out of reach for the prying eyes of the inquiring concerned and repeat the carnage there.  Take it from someone who has been on the wrong end of M-16s, Kalashnikovs, AK-47s and numerous other weapons and has watched as their masters have been tamed with humanity.  If we really want to address the senseless killings in Florida, we need to activate a much larger impulse and make the profiteering on death a social and moral relentless pursuit.  Otherwise, we’ll just move the carnage to another town and hope that it doesn’t hit the news so we can blissfully ignore what we’re doing to each other!


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Generosity Knows No Need


Alright.  This post is a bit different so let’s agree to stay with it to the end.  Most of the moments of my life pass and I don’t pause to deeply reflect on them or assimilate “deeper wisdom” from them.  This is not one of those “most moments”.  This one is special.

I don’t know when human relationships started being transactional.  And try as I might, I can’t for the life of me see a rationale for that behavior.  Each day of my existence has been viewed through a simple lens.  I exist.  I exist in a context made up of others, a plethora of matter and energy, and the sum of all the experiences I and others have had and elect to share in some fashion.  And the “doing” of what I do involves perception, activation, design, conscription, action, reaction awareness, synthesis into experience and the cycle starts again.  For better or for worse, I don’t have a default that includes concepts like approval, permission, or validation as these are, in the end, notions that require the caprice of others – something that I have found largely unhelpful.

Due to my default towards self-directed action, the majority of those in my communities of influence assume that I “have all I need” and “there’s nothing that they can do to help.”  The former is almost true.  The latter is patently false.  But it’s not quite that simple. 

The value of the worldview with which I operate is a central understanding that I, and all of us, have ALL.  The notion of “need” – the very construct of the impulse that bears that name – is objectively erroneous.  We live in a world where abundance is reality and the illusion of “need” is derived from the unequal distribution of, and access to – not to the objective quantity of – anything.  (I find it fascinating that our common use of the term “need” has tripled in the last century suggesting that the industrio-consumer illusion is making us less satisfied.)  In short, when I do something, I don’t “need” anything as it is mine to accomplish the undertaking with the resources and energy I can conscript and engage. 

The corollary about nothing to do to help is incorrect.  While I’ve spent most of my life as an opportunity alchemist – in other words, taking what wasn’t visible and rendering it accessible and functional – I’ve done so in an effort to demonstrate the persistent and generative possibility of that mode of action in others.  I don’t do a thing so that others do it.  But I do do things, in part, to demonstrate that they can be done by merely engaging as a conscious being.  This distinction is important.  The motivation to act in every instance emanates from within an endogenous (internal) process.  And the action is not taken for a transactional return.  All that said, over the past several decades, I’ve been deeply saddened by the individuals I’ve experienced that come to expect benefit, absorb goodness, and neglect activating an equivalent mode of engagement in their own spheres.  When people come to expect a benefactor to “just be there” without considering the well-being of that person, resentment arises not from the absence of a transaction but from the neglect to enliven for the benefit of others.

Bottom line: there’s Enough to Go Around to quote my friend Chip Duncan’s book title.

Two parables in the New Testament of The Bible are wonderful examples of this.  The first, from Luke 17:11-19 is the story of 10 sick men who experience a healing.  The healer doesn’t heal expecting to be thanked.  He heals because he perceives the suffering of the men.  One, a foreigner, returns to thank the healer.  The other nine take and acknowledge nothing.  The other story is from Matthew 18:23-34.  In this story a debtor is forgiven a large debt by a king.  Once forgiven the debtor goes out and finds a servant who owes him money and, rather than perpetuating the mercy he’d just received, forces the servant to pay his debt.  Both of these stories (and thousands more) tell of acts of kindness, mercy, goodness, courage or generosity that are done.  Not FOR something.  They’re just done.  But the grievous offence is when the recipient of goodness does not then go on to embody and engage the same.  Goodness, like Light, just emanates.  When it’s absorbed or experienced, that’s great.  But when it doesn’t experience a propagation – NOT a reflection – then darkness builds. 

Now this is a long way to get to the beginning of this week’s post.  But you’ll see that it was worth the wait in a moment. 

Nineteen years ago, a dentist walked into my office with a polymer licensed from a regional university.  His aspiration was to use the polymer for the treatment of xerostomia – a painful condition afflicting many of his patients.  To his consternation, he learned that the pharmaceutical company selling a highly ineffective treatment for the disorder at exorbitant prices filed and owned a patent blocking a non-pharmaceutical intervention.  In other words, the drug company decided to make sure that their drug was the only solution available despite its limited effectiveness.  Holding the polymer in my hands, I suggested that the material could be used to cover burns and wounds and do so without harming the healing tissue.  The dentist and his business partner left and formed a company which today has healed the wounds of thousands.  In 2009 I was asked to develop a strategic product roadmap for the company and suggested a number of products which would address various infectious diseases and other health concerns.  One – a means of addressing the proliferation of MRSA – showed some early promise in military medicine.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter.  In it I was advised of a new commercial venture that was being considered based on one of my suggestions from a follow-up briefing in 2011.  “What would I need,” to be involved was the gist of the letter.

Yesterday, the same dentist and his wife came to my office.  As we gathered, I expressed my deep gratitude for the fact that this meeting represented the first time that anyone has returned to include me in a commercial idea that I gave them.  Billions of dollars have been made on ideas that surfaced from me.  This was the first time anyone came back to acknowledge and engage!  We sat down and had a deep conversation about the journey from 1999 to the present.  We talked about the ups and downs of the two-decade effort to build a company that now serves patients across the country.  We talked about the importance of keeping humanity in business.  We talked about the distraction and resentment that can come from being overlooked and ignored for the contributions that you make for the benefit of others.  We talked about the toll that our innovation ecosystems had placed on our families and relationships.  But most of all, we expressed gratitude for the fact that we shared common values about alleviating the physical suffering of people.  The greatest reward we both had experienced was the recognition that anonymous beneficiaries had better lives because our lives had intersected, activated and propagated goodness.

As I reflected on the conversation, I realized something quite profound.  This unsolicited impulse to re-engage, include, and collaborate ignited within me a strange new spark.  The ease with which the strategic roadmap for the new business flowed was effortless.  The provisioning for taking the first step to prototype was in place by the time the meeting ended.  By being fully human, by sharing a common commitment to hold gratitude as the cornerstone of our interaction, and by integrating whole-of-life conversations – not the B.S. that tries to keep “business” and “personal” apart – we put into motion commercial and social greatness that will keep us going for the next 20 years.

I’m the beneficiary of effervescent goodness.  I didn’t need it.  I didn’t want it.  But let me tell you what!  My life is the better for it.  Thank you, Guy and Robin Levy!


Sunday, February 4, 2018

It’s Not Debt, It’s Soviet-Style Central Planning


The last time a President and Congress combined to indebt the country like this year’s nearly $1 trillion proposed borrowing was when another President was yelling across the border taunting someone to “Tear Down That Wall!”  Funny how times have changed.  And above all, funny how those who celebrated Reagan’s badgering of the Soviet Union in how it treated its border regions are now those who are clamoring for…what’s that???  A wall!

Now, in fairness, it takes a lot of $20 billion walls to blow through a trillion dollars.  But as I watched the Super Bowl 52 (well done Philadelphia Eagles!) on my toasty Melbourne Monday afternoon what I found more irritating than the slightly over 2 minutes Tom Brady had at the game’s end to pull off a Brady come-back was the drumbeat of ads from the Australian Government in Canberra talking about the $200 billion it plans to spend on the “defense industry” in the next 10 years.  You heard that correctly.  In a world where civilized economies could be diversifying industries towards the 21st century in fields of health, food sustainability, energy and alternative utilities, the U.S. and its marsupial infested cousin to the South are going into debt to fund future conflict.  And before my holier-than-thou readers wag their heads in disapproval about what “others” are funding, let’s remember that the Treasury shows that it’s “households” that hold $1.345 trillion in Treasuries for their retirement, investment and insurance savings.  That’s right, to maintain the standard of living that you currently plan to have in your later years, you are funding a tired, conflict fueled behemoth.

Let’s unpack this a bit.  In our Soviet-style economic planning, we subsidize the industries that we use to define our national interest.  In the case of the U.S., no peacetime economy has ever lasted a generation without subsidized conflict.  Oh, and by ever, I mean since the 18th century!  From DuPont’s gunpowder to Raytheon’s missiles, we’ve decided that our ‘nation of values’ values death and destruction more than any other industry.  For the lazy reader, I’m including our obese expenditure on “health care” which spends over 30% of the TOTAL expenditure on the last year of “life”.  Dying, death, and debt are our national values!  And this year, this President and Congress are driving the hearse with NASCAR aggression. 

Now, in the case of the U.S., spending enormous sums on military technology, infrastructure and development makes sense.  We fight a lot!  And many of our policies disenfranchise the majority of the world’s population igniting hostilities in various locations.  But in the Land Warfare Doctrine of Australia, the last 40 years of deployments for armour have been in Vietnam, Somalia, Timor Leste, Iraq and Afghanistan.  With the exception of Timor (strategically important due to the oil and gas revenue “shared” with Australia), none of these conflicts were of strategic importance and none of them were fights that Australia picked.  In fact, NATO conflicts account for much of Australia’s defense “partnerships”.  That’s right!  The NORTH ATLANTIC!!!  So when the government announces $200 billion in expenditures in the next 10 years, what precisely is the Australian taxpayer getting for their money?  Security?  No.  They’re getting centrally-planned economy financial returns.  Defence of Australia (DOA) is not about the continent’s security.  It’s about maintaining global economic ties with certain allies. 

If one is to examine the present state of geopolitics, one of the highest probability conflict zones in the near future is the Northern Pacific.  Petulance between Washington and Pyongyang could ignite conflagration.  But with the inertia of history, conflict between China and the U.S. is highly probable.  Australia has 41% of its economic input coming from… uh oh… the wrong geoparadox.  Australia’s defence doctrine is unapologetic in its U.S. loyalty and its U.S. and European technological subjugation.  And when the U.S. and China are in conflict, Australia’s defence infrastructure will be pledged to the detriment of its largest customer (4 times more trade with China than the U.S.)!

President Trump’s massive debt expansion to subsidize the conflict he sees as inevitable almost makes perverse sense.  Australia’s military expansion to support that conflict stretches beyond the limits of ludicrous.  And while we’re at it, China’s offensive military capability is more likely to be in the communications and cyber infrastructure arena – not in an arena dominated by planes, submarines, and armour.  Is that the spending priority of the Turnbull government?  I’m afraid not.  In short, in a planned economy, bad decisions make bad industrial and economic policy inevitabilities.  In an unplanned, planned economy, $200 billion and the future of a nation are placed in peril.  But, never fear, according to the TV ad campaign, it’s where the jobs of the future are to be found!

Now back to the real winners.  China and emerging economies.  While the World War II allies continue their relentless descent into oblivion chasing the armored illusions of a secure past, real leadership is considering a world worth living in.  While Western-style economies have war, banking, disease management and electricity as their only levers, other parts of the world are examining alternative industrial futures independent from these legacies.  And while classically trained economists run around talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution fueled by Klaus Schwab and his parka-clad sycophants in Davos, much of the world is seeing the Internet of Things, 3-D, quantum computing virtual as a world not worth pursuing.  Rather than looking at gadgets, real leadership is examining emancipation from the impulse that gave rise to the first industrial revolution – namely, the dominion of the few industrialists over the consuming masses.  Real markets, real economies, and the potential for actual civilization will not be delivered in a 4th turning.  It will be possible when We The People start treating each other with respect and humanity.  This could be called the First Human Awakening!

Take 2 hours and check out a deeper exploration of this latest film I'm working on:  American R/evolution


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Australia Day Could Learn a Lot From a Mexican Snake


In the Yucatan Peninsula in Quintana Roo, Mexico, there is an amazing phenomenon.  In la cueva de las serpientes colgantes (the cave of the hanging serpents), yellow-red rat snakes have developed a distinguishing characteristic.  To catch their airborne food – bats – they affix themselves to the roof of the cave and, during the dusk bat exodus from the cave, they hang from the ceiling and catch the bats as they fly out for their nocturnal escapades.  Whether on the National Geographic videos or the countless YouTube posts – have a look at this amazing spectacle.  As I watch this in rapt wonderment, the following thought occurred to me.  “What if Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) had been emancipated from the Caucasian elitism of the 19th century and had been inspired in La Cueva?”

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe popularized the African proverb, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  A critic of the social consequences of colonialism from his acclaimed Things Fall Apart (1958) to his numerous essays and speeches, Achebe challenges the ethnocentrism of the domineering influences of those self-proclaimed ‘civilized’ by lampooning cultural insensitivity of the same civilized as they desecrate customary practices and traditions.  Like Darwin, Achebe builds his narrative on the pretext of competition born of callous contrast.  Both see a world in which progress is essentially a human aspiration and survival is a selection bias that favors power over all other attributes.  Those with power – intellect, linguistics, brains, brawn, guns, money, ‘gods’ – achieve their dominion by suppressing all ‘others’.  The persistence of a community (deemed “savage” by Darwin) is inferior to the cunning organized predation of the anthropologically adolescent Christian European or American.

What motivated this bigotry and arrogance?  Simple.  If you’re going to expropriate what is necessary to advance your narrow definition of progress, you must dehumanize and belittle those who stand in the way of your unfettered access.  Whether it’s the Celts, Huns, Vandals, Saxons, Goths, Mongols, Aboriginals, Cherokee, Navajo, Sioux, Palestinians, Mayan, Inca, or Rohingya, if you’re the customary residents of a place that the temporal dominant forces deem necessary to sate a selective resource extraction or access point – you’re in the way.  And to justify your dislocation or genocide, a social narrative must be constructed to make you somehow less human than the bully with the megaphone.  To compete is to be living.  To compete unfairly and with abject injustice is ‘civilized human’. 

For much of my life, I’ve experienced the tyranny of perceived scarcity.  I grew up in a world in which ‘the rich and ungodly’ were demonized for their excesses.  I was repeatedly reminded that elitist existentialism was justified by a religious narrative in which selective interpretations of “right” were the prerogative of the few.  I learned that love is divisible rather than infinitely expansive.  I experienced the noxious stench of competition.  In short, my life has been bombarded with classified exclusion.  And I know that the memes that have been in my ecosystem don’t comport with the direct observations I’ve made of systems that work in nature. 

Our dominant cultural metaphors are based on selective extinction.  That which ceases to exist in its temporal phase has “lost” and that which persisted has “won”.  From relationships to resources, progressive survival requires our story of endings and separation with an ascending “winner” prevailing (and telling the story of success).  But what if the following story was also true?

Let’s think about the serpents in the bat cave in Kantemo.  Our dominant narrative says that the snakes prey on the bats.  They’ve adapted to defy gravity in their pursuit of cunning surprise.  But what would be the implications of other versions of the story?   What if:

  1. Bats taught snakes how to suspend themselves from the roof of caves so that they could experience what it’s like to be a bat?
  2. Snakes observed the whole ‘hanging upside-down thing” and practiced it until they perfected the “living in a dark cave” thing?
  3. By eating upside-down hanging bats, the snakes experienced bat “knowledge” and intuited the whole hanging thing?

Now, let me guess.  Option 1 is simply ludicrous.  Species couldn’t share their knowledge.  Option 2 is semi-plausible.  The powers of observation and mimicry can happen…but probably not.  And Option 3 – absolutely batty!  Right?  But hold on for a moment.  If Mikhail Lomonosov and Antoine Lavoisier’s First Law of Thermodynamics is right, what makes the persistence of cognitive energy immune from consumed experienced?  Is the eaten bat entering its serpentine energy phase when it flies into the mouth of the snake?  Is the wildebeest attacked by the lion or is it transitioning from its ruminant belching, cud-eating monotony to its crazy, roaming lion phase?  And does the wildebeest knowledge teach the lion how to catch more of its kind?

Now, I’m not suggesting that this is what is happening.  But I’m asking, what if it was?  Is predation to extinction isomorphic with the way of things or is it our way of justifying our callous inhumanity to our fellow humans?  Does our saprophytic identity offend our sensibilities so much that we have to rationalize faux transcendence over the matter that we render dead and decaying?  Remember, if Darwin was right in his powers of observation, we’d expect all yellow-red rat snakes to hanging about snatching things from mid-air.  But the species doesn’t.  The ones in the cave do! 

Dawin, Constantine, Commodore Arthur Phillip, General Edward Braddock, Adam Smith, the British East India Company and thousands of others have been given our surrogated amnesia and have told us of the riches of far off lands in the only language they know – greed and suppression.  And we, the cowed masses yearning to suck at the teat of consumerism have listened in wide-eyed euphoria to the promises of El Dorado.  What we haven’t heard is the drum beats of fire dances, the deep-throated purring of the puma, or the buzzing of the synergistic honeybee.  We haven’t heard about the adaptations that local custodians have learned from the nature around them but rather we’ve bent that nature to our merciless conceit under the guise of ‘development’.  Oh, and for those of you anarchists who are swindled into the democratization siren song of crypto-currencies remember this:  no less democratized intervention has been concocted than those who, in the name of emancipation, make the “currency of the 99%” only mineable, transactable, or recordable to those with computational and electronic power and telephonic infrastructure.  Yes, that’s right!  In response to a fiat currency that most people can use, the post-modern hipster conspirators have decided to make a currency that is less accessible to the world’s disenfranchised!  So much for lions and hunters!

There’s a big world out there that has a lot to teach us.  If we learned from the bees we’d build a better system.  If we saw in our remit the propagation of other species (flowers, trees, etc) and, in exchange produced liquid sunlight in excess for all to have a more sweet existence, we’d actually be evidencing a civilized, synergistic engagement.  No boundaries.  No demands for “reciprocity” and “agreement”.  No curation of character.  Just persistent, generative and infinitely orthogonal engagement from which the nectar of life can flow.  Now that’s a sweeter song!  Let’s sing hanging upside down in the dark!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Before Satoshi Nakamoto's "Invention" Was a Human "Blockchain"... in 2007




Until All Life Is Valued

(Note: This was written in 2008)

The supply chain of human consumption is polluted.  From the dawn of industrial trade, oppression and degradation of all terrestrial life has characterized the extraction and exploitation of the earth, its people and its resources.  Seeing land, air, and sea, and their respective bounty and inhabitants as utilities for asymmetric wealth control has led to thoughtless consumption and violent oppression. 

In the face of this stain on humanity, courageous efforts have emerged to begin to address these concerns ranging from efforts to end slavery to the Fair Trade movement.  These great campaigns and their energetic supporters have raised the level of awareness that passive participation in unjust and inhumane practices merely reinforces the tyranny of the incumbencies.  And now, in the face of the global indictment of unchecked greed and consumption, humanity has an opportunity to turn over a new leaf.  We are invited to manifest Peace Trade.

Essential to Peace Trade is a fundamental belief that an informed humanity, in the main, will choose wisely if given adequate visibility.  In short, if one knows that slavery produced a cheaper product and fair wages were paid for a more expensive one, the value of human dignity will be accepted at greater cost.  If one chooses between renewable, farmed timber versus clear-cut virgin forest, the choice will be for the renewable material.  If the consumer electronics product contains metal extracted by despot warriors and its alternative comes from recycled metals, the recycled will prevail.  And if water and air were contaminated in the preparation of one product and were respected in another, a premium would be acceptable.  In short, the economics of expediency is supported on ignorance.  A call center that degrades its workers versus one that provides meaningful life status improvement will be preferred by those seeking its service.  Silver and gold would lose their luster if each coin was stained with the blood of those whose lives were lost in its minting.

The mechanics of Peace Trade involve the interaction between producer and consumer.  To achieve “Pacific Certification”, the producer bears the responsibility to tell the story of the product or service purveyed.  This can be achieved in a number of ways which have become infinitely accessible given the expansion of digital communication.  However, in its final manifestation, the Peace Trade “Pacific Certified” designation is verified when the public can access knowledge about every step of the process required to produce the good or service consumed.  While a series of community standards will emerge within the Peace Trade program, only a few are inextricable to participation:

I.          Conflict Free – all materials must be sourced from places and people who willfully, and with consent, participate in the stewardship of their local resources.

II.         Oppression Free – all extraction, processing and production must be conducted with the consent of persons who are free to choose their engagement and are not engaged under duress.

III.        Ecological – all methods and utilities used in the extraction, processing, production, and logistics must evidence active steps to transition from polluting to clean methods and must show year-on-year evidence of such transition implementation.  Further, the consumer must be affirmatively advised as to how to recycle every component of a Pacific Certified product.

IV.        Reciprocal – all end products, processes and their use must be actively shared with all participants in the supply chain allowing those at the origination of resources to learn how to manufacture, distribute and sell the by-products of their labor thereby building knowledge capacity for subsequent endeavors.

One will note that the standards set forth above relate to human and environmental Vitality, Harmony, and Prosperity – the essential standards of the Peace Trade’s Pacific Certification. 

In its inauguration, applicants for Peace Trade participation will be required to provide written and accompanying photographic documentation of the people engaged in every part of the production of the end product.  This will include a photo essay of the sourcing of raw materials and the place from which they come; the refining and processing of such materials; the preparation and packaging of the materials; and the utilities involved in bringing the materials to market (including transportation, storage, and distribution).  To achieve the designation of “Pacific Certification”, a representative from each part of the process will sign an affidavit of compliance and their signed affidavit will be made publicly available through the Peace Trade’s Pacific Certification Registry. 

Peace Trade is meant to be self-sustaining and require no grant or donor support.  As a result, a Peace Trade good or service will pay a licensing fee of 0.5% of the published retail price to use the Pacific Certification.  These fees will be used to cover administration and audit costs and any excess will be invested in sourcing communities for the development of schools and community centers.  It is envisioned that these schools and community centers will operate in partnership with the World Peace Festival’s Peace Cells initiative where education materials on the promotion of peace will be made accessible to communities around the world.

The inaugural corporation participating in pursuing the Peace Trade’s Pacific Certification is an organic farm in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea – Pacific Spices.  In recognition of their courageous leadership and in light of the fact that Papua New Guinea has been the nexus of some of the most egregious violations of human and ecological dignity, the town of Rabaul, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea has been selected as the location for the Pacific Certification Registry.  As the global headquarters for Peace Trade, it will commit to employing not less than 50% of its work force (at every level of administration) from the local community and shall serve as the location for the First Annual Meeting of Peace Trade participating companies. 

Peace Trade has agreed to work in partnership with the World Peace Festival 2010 to assist in the process of certifying that every consumer product distributed at the Festival and event supplier achieves Pacific Certification on all products and services offered to the Festival.  Fifty percent of the Pacific Certification license fee assessed to all vendors will be contributed to the World Peace Festival 2010 and will perpetuate past the Festival to support the Peace Cells initiative. 

Peace Trade will operate with a board of twelve members elected from nominees submitted by participating member companies and organizations.  Board members will serve for three year terms with one third replaced each year.  Board members may serve up to two consecutive terms but shall be required at least one year furlough before being elected to a third term. 

The management of Peace Trade shall include an Executive Director, Director of Accountability; and Controller.  These positions will be appointed by the board and will serve at the pleasure of the board. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reality…Really? What’s your 12th Sense?


 On August 17, 2017 the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatories (LIGO) in the U.S. and Europe together with 70 ground and space-based systems detected gravitational waves and light from colliding neutron stars.  And, assuming our theoretical and sensory models are correct, the U.S. Gemini Observatory, the European Very Large Telescope or VLT (yep, that’s its real name) and the Hubble Space Telescope all detected the synthesis of gold and platinum.  Conveniently named GW170817 for the date of its detection, this event was triangulated through observations made in Hanford, Washington; Livingston, Louisiana; and, Pisa, Italy.  The way that the gravitational wave is detected is by sending a laser beam down a very long tunnel to a suspended mirror.  If the light comes back in a different location, something jiggled.  This jiggle was from a portion of space about 130 million light-years away from Earth.  After triangulating the source of the jiggle, other physicists trained their instruments on the location and picked up x-rays, ultraviolet, optical, infrared and radio-waves. 

If you haven’t done so before, I strongly encourage you to pay a visit to the VLT where you can watch a live webcam image of the sky.  It’s pretty amazing stuff.  But it also raises some extremely important questions about the link between Value and Perception.  And the first paragraph is quite to critical read (so you might want to read it again) to see where this post is going.  Because, you see, the LIGO and VLT all are very expensive extrapolations of the lengths we’ll go in our quest for gold.  “Whoa,” you say!  “What do these disparate technologies have do with gold?”  Well, thanks for asking.  At about US$1.1 billion, LIGO was a very expensive observational tool designed to confirm theoretical constructs consolidated by Einstein.  And, while the news in August of last year was quite exciting to be sure, two years earlier, the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2) confused Milky Way dust for gravitational waves.  So we spend billions of dollars of terrestrial asset prioritization to confirm the existence of a theoretical construct that predicts the thing that we’re proposing to observe.  Put another way, we tell the universe how it works.  Then we carefully construct an instrument based on that theory to confirm the theory.  And then when it jiggles, we dance about celebrating that the device built on a theory to confirm a theory actually theoretically responded to what we think might have happened.  And to justify this expenditure, we point out that this explains the existence of gold and platinum on Earth…

…which it doesn’t.  Element 79 on the periodic table is an obsession for numerous reasons.  There are those who would suggest that humanity’s affinity for and obsession with gold has something to do with its ability to serve as a venerable metaphor for the Sun in malleable form.  Others celebrate its paradoxical attribute of being an excellent reflector of infrared albeit capable of conducting the electromagnetic spectrum when in direct circuit.  And while gold synthesis is thought to occur in the collision of neutron stars and has actually been synthesized by bombarding mercury (and platinum) with neutrons, the stories of how gold actually showed up on the planet is the stuff of myth.  According to the generally held narrative, most of the gold on Earth is in the Earth’s core.  The stuff that you wear, invest in, and use was delivered to Earth by asteroid impacts about 4 billion years ago. 

Now there will be those who say that the value of this ‘basic science’ is justified to help us understand the ‘origin’ of the Universe.  But as time is a theoretical construct in and of itself, even this pursuit is a self-reinforcing hypothesis.  Things must have a beginning.  Why?  Because our linear time construct says that they must.  But we choose the operating narrative that tells us that there must be a ‘beginning’ and then look for ways to reinforce the correctness of our observations through ‘data’ and ‘technology’.  But we do not, for a moment, contemplate the possibility that Einstein, Newton, Buddha, Confucius and others were informed by culturally accepted normative senses and then back their ontologies into them.

In our common narrative of reality, we apprehend the world around us through 5 classic senses.  This notion – known to be dominant since the Katha Upanishad recorded in the 6th century BCE – suggested that the body was a chariot drawn by 5 horses with the mind as the ‘charioteer’.  These senses – touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound – are each derived from and modulated through cranial nerves.  Cranial nerves are the ones that are directly wired into the brain.  Ironically, we have 12 – not 5 – cranial nerves.  Which begs two questions.  First, why have the other 7 nerves not gotten status as a fundamental sense?  And second, given the interaction of many of the cranial nerves, how is that we don’t see that sense is a triangulation of impulses – not a single impulse?  One could equally argue that we have only one sense – resonance perception – and that how we perceive the world is through the subtle integration of distinguishable dissonance, resonance and coherence. 

As a quick neural anatomy primer, the following are the 12 cranial nerves in their anatomical order.

1.      Olfactory Nerve – the shortest nerve path and responsible for our detection of chemistry through evaporation or sublimation

2.      Optic Nerve – resolution of reflectance

3.      Oculomotor Nerve – Eye movement, pupil adjustment and focus

4.      Trochlear Nerve – Visual direction and optical coherence

5.      Trigeminal Nerve -  Facial Sensation, balance, and discrimination and parasympathetic vascular response and chewing

6.      Abducens Nerve – Outward gaze

7.      Facial Nerve – Facial Expression, speaking, chewing, swallowing, salivary function, soundwave modulation.

8.      Vestibulochochlear Nerve – sound and equilibrium (balance)

9.      Glossopharyngeal Nerve – Saliva, Blood Pressure Measure, Tympanic Membrane, taste

10.   Vagus Nerve – Heart, lungs, and digestive regulation, sweating, SA node (sinoatrial node or pacemaker)

11.   Accessory Nerve – shoulder shrug, posture, head turning

12.   Hypoglossal Nerve – movement of the tongue

By selecting 5 senses, we reduce the forms of awareness that we can share.  And by normalizing a consensus view of the amplitudes and frequencies in which sensation can occur, we exclude as intuitive, psychotic, delusional, or aberrant those who perceive what others either do not or chose to ignore.  In short, we constrain the ‘accepted’ senses to ‘normal’ amplitudes, durations, and frequencies and then work to reify our models using these delimited parameters.  We define matter by its chemistry failing to appreciate its resonance and dynamism.  We define energy based on our observable utility thereof dismissing as immeasurable or unknowable that which falls outside the consensus.  Popular spiritual teachers, in an attempt to appeal to a more empathetic and sensitive social order, have further denigrated the complex resonance receptor that is the whole of the body and its field by instructing people to “get out of your head and into your heart.”  This admonition physiologically, energetically, and metaphorically seeks to limit the analytic in favor of the empathetic.  Tragically, neither science nor spirituality is encouraging us to get MORE in our heads, hearts, ganglia, and corpuscles.  Expand our aperture.  Sense more.  Why?  The answer is simple.  If humans are conditioned to reflexive response in a consensus range of social acceptability, mass consumption (everything from stuff to ideas) becomes easier.  By marginalizing an expanded range, those who perceive differently are ostracized.

While we spend billions of dollars confirming our theoretical constructs of illusions that we have projected on the Universe we cannot contemplate the extra-quantum potential of a neutron star collision altering our social valence.  For me, August 17, 2017 was a red-letter day.  On that day, I sat on the beach in Maalifushi, Maldives describing the religious and social constructs that created the energetic obstacles to my life over the preceding 50 years.  While neutron stars were colliding and synthesizing (or not) novel dense compounds a million parsecs away, here on Earth, I was synthesizing something of inestimable value – a personal narrative that allowed me to access a tranquility heretofore unknown to me.  Besides the sunburn and the conversation of August 17, did my lucidity come from a gamma ray stimulus that emerged with a gravitational wave jiggle?  Who knows.  But what I know is that I accessed something of far greater value than I could have ever imagined.  What made August 17 the day for my epiphany?  Who knows.  But I like to think that it was my sensitivity to the extragalactic collision.

In a world awash in a race towards autonomous, augmented, or virtual reality, I would like to ask us all to pause and consider the consequence of the sensory reductionism that is currently attendant these impulses.  Do we have confidence that the programmers and engineers are those who represent the widest amplitude, deepest humanity perceptives?  Do we know the wavelength, amplitude, and operational constraints built into the sensors and simulators that animate our world?  Are any of us asking the human questions about the implications of a society served on 450, 800, 1800, or 1900 MHz?  Do we understand what can and cannot be transmitted on ITU frequencies?  Do most of us even know what this question refers to? 

We have a hunch that the social systems and their technological companions and henchmen are fundamentally compromising much of what we value.  We’re pretty sure that we’re being taken for a ride with some sort of Orwellian dystopia.  But we’re complicit if we continue to fall for the illusion of the advantage of digitizing the analog human existence.  Maybe you reading this post, maybe your sharing of it, may create a gravitational wave.  Maybe a mirror at the end of a long tunnel will jiggle.  And just maybe, we’ll see things in a different light.  Wouldn’t that taste amazing?