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?


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Handwriting on the Wall


 One of the delights of my work in the capital markets is the tireless (and often, thankless) effort to educate investors on the dynamics of capital markets.  Behind this effort is a long-standing commitment to be part of a solution to the opacity that has been profligate since the birth of the industrial rent extracting economy dominance in the late 18th century.  In the dominant socioeconomic model, “understanding” money and markets is too elusive for the average citizen who is coerced and seduced into trading their time for money and surrogating their later (“non-productive”) years to the professional management of investments in the form of pensions, life-insurance and other annuities. 

I recently received an e-mail from a reader of my blog who offered a “gotcha” moment critique of a post I wrote in December 2015 in which I stated:

And the deeper reality remains that our economic illusion of unfunded pensions – that ominous Depression-level event in 2017 – that will destroy nearly 23% of the discretionary spending of American seniors in 5-6 fiscal quarters poses a far greater threat to our actual living than does the U.S. and Chinese reckless fossil fuel emissions.

The reader astutely pointed out that 2017 ended the year with the markets soaring.  Therefore, the thought was, my ‘prediction’ must be off.  And, if Donald Trump and the Republican Congress have their way, this reader – like hundreds of millions of others – will take the bait and fall for the illusion that my December 2015 post was wrong and the headlines are right.

Unfortunately, the observation (not prediction) I made in 2015 played itself out.  And we’re now living in the cartoon reality when Wile E Coyote runs off the cliff onto the air and keeps running… until he looks down!  Throughout 2017, the public was informed that the unrecoverable cliff edge had been passed.  The Milliman 2017 Corporate Pension FundingStudy  showed that heading into 2017, corporate pensions were operating at a nearly 20% shortfall of their terminal obligations.  While the stock market surge in 2017 was an undeniable financial asset gain in 2017, the tiny problem was that pension allocations to equities was around 1/3 of portfolios while fixed income (highly correlated to rates set by Central Banks) was over 44%.  So did the economy improve?  No.  Did the market gains offset the Central Bank rate suppression?  No.  And are pension managers desperately aware of what their members don’t know?  Hell yes!  What’s the evidence?  Well, going into 2017, pension risk transfers (think the CDS products that tanked the banking sector in 2007-8) was at an all-time high.

Since 2002, pensions have been operating at a funding deficit with the exception of 2007.  Combined with the impact of interest rate suppression, this puts investors (that’s right, you the reader) in a position where you don’t actually have what you expect you have. 

“But Dave,” you say, “the average consumer didn’t spend 23% less in 2017.”

Not so fast.  According to the most recent Federal Reserve Consumer Credit data (the G.19 Report published on December 7,2017), since 2012, we’ve added nearly $1 trillion in revolving consumer credit to our private consumption behaviors.  Yes, we’re spending a lot but we’re not paying for the things we’re buying with cash.  And most alarming, the biggest spender is not the individual consumer but the Federal Government with an outstanding consumer credit exposure of $1.14 trillion (nearly twice the levels seen in 2012).  When you add the credit spending to the investment picture you find out that the reason why my reader puzzled over my ‘error in prediction’ is because there’s a frenzy of tricks that are kicking the metaphoric can down the road. 

And here’s a note.  I don’t predict things.  In my funds, in my credit underwriting, and in my other activities – mine is not the business of prediction.  What I do is look at the facts that are public but not generally known or discussed.  I figure that if there appears to be a cover-up, there probably is.  And rather than falling for the convenient headline, I look.  The ease with which I (and others) could exploit ignorance arbitrage is self-evident.  But instead, I continue to attempt to point out the writing that’s on the wall.  And for those of you who don’t know the derivation of the metaphor from Daniel 5: 24-28, the conclusion in the metaphor matches the present financial situation.  Days are numbered and the kingdom is already divided.