Saturday, December 31, 2011

Right Scenario, Wrong Waterway

Over the past six weeks oil prices and their inextricable correlated dollar cousin have been allegedly responding to the reported threat of Iran’s interruption of the Straits of Hormuz. As tired as this war-game scenario is, for some inexplicable reason, it still seems to scare globally myopic investors into playing volatility games with currency and energy. Actually, the explicable part of the scenario is the timeless adherence by Evangelical Christians and their apocalyptic allies to manifest their desire to see certain horseman bridled for some prophetically mandated showdown in Israel. And given the number of Prince-of-Peace advocates who fantasize about the bloodbath orgy that will usher in their new earth – a fanaticism that cannot be discounted given how many prayer breakfasts portend would-be tactical launch code initiations – the relevance of the geography in the global economic scheme of things is correlated to religious blinded ‘gundamentalists’ (a term coined by my dear Egyptian friend Moustapha Sarhank). While I have long ago tired of trying to tackle this sociopathology, I find it amazing that the global markets are overlooking the true waterways that could truly disrupt global trade.

One of the most problematic contributors to global economic instability are marginalized – frequently financially disenfranchised – communities who, in desperation fueled by the world’s collective blindness to their plights, turn to asymmetric violence to gain recognition. And while the number of groups thus defined are too numerous to count as we continue to ignore ever widening swaths of humanity, there are a few geographies that, unless we awaken to their destitution in 2012, will be catalysts for epic instability in the near term. So, on this first day of the New Year, let me encourage you to wake up and at least figure out where these places are. Better yet, learn about the people that live in the vicinity and see what you can do to make a difference for them before they make an explosive difference for the world.

Somalia. Now if it weren’t for the collective intelligence and media co-opting during the Bush-Cheney regime, we would all be conversant about the increasing volatility coordinated by individuals – armed by Europeans, Russians, MENA interests, Asians and, yes, military suppliers from the U.S. – who have callously seen the starvation and torture of their fellow countrymen as expedient tactics to build allegiances built on terror aimed squarely at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Al-Shabaab and their extensive sectarian adherents and competitors continue to expand while we spent hundreds of billions chasing our Congressional and CIA-supported (yes, remember when we were arming ‘Freedom Fighters’ during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan before they turned into modern-day, al-Qaeda militants) ‘enemies’ into the hinterlands of Pakistan, Afghanistan and countless other countries. Had we invested a bit in feeding Somalis and insuring that starvation caused by infrastructure failures wasn’t such an effective recruiting tool for militants, we could have lessened the risk now posed in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Rather than the Straits of Hormuz, the more relevant risk is expanded technical sophistication – proven in the successful U.S.S. Cole attack – in Yemeni and Somali operatives who, armed with unmanned undersea vehicles can disrupt 30% of global shipping and well over 50% of energy shipments from the Middle East. Do something as a blog reader? You bet. Look at who is arming the conflict and who’s benefiting from the East African instability – particularly the banks that are funding deals in the region and become a voice to inform your investment managers and your friends.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore. No place in the world represents a greater single point failure than the Straits of Malacca. In the relatively accessible areas of the waterway – like Rupat, Alor Gajah, and Meral Tebing – well placed naval strikes could not only disrupt seafaring trade but could profoundly disrupt key economies that rely on transshipment – Malaysia and Singapore. Sinking freight ships or blowing up LNG or CNG vessels thereby creating massive kinetic and thermal damage would have a long-tail effect on the flow of trade into and out of the Bay of Bengal, the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. While the security infrastructures of Singapore and Malaysia are acutely aware of these geopolitical risks, little is being done to address growing micro-insurgency in Indonesia and the growing ties between them and other disaffected groups. Once again, failure to address factors that contribute to recruitment now will spell disaster later. And since there’s no radio preacher in Virginia or Texas yapping about the return of a savior in this part of the world, we’re ignorant of issues impacting this region at our collective peril.

California. Whether it’s the unmanned subs transporting drugs from Mexico and Central and South America or the undetectable, anti-cavitation, silent propulsion subs owned by Pakistan and other nations within range of the Pacific, the West Coast of the U.S. is remarkably vulnerable. While we’ve focused unfathomable naval attention on the Middle East, we’ve largely ignored our vulnerability in Southern and Central California. Drug dealers can penetrate our defenses with narcotics and guns. It wouldn’t take much to have other payloads onboard and, for the right price everything from Long Beach to San Francisco is in range.

Our government – at every level – has demonstrated remarkable blindness to our real vulnerabilities. We’ve got more Achilles’ heels than we have feet which is not a good position in which to find ourselves. This leads me to my recommendation that we very publicly, very intentionally focus conversations and attention on matters that are camouflaged by 24-hour talking head media puppets of the regime. Companies are entering their season of Annual Meetings. They all ship goods and energy through the waterways of import. They all rely on goods and services that transship these regions. They all have supply chain vulnerabilities that are impacted in material ways by these issues. And you, some of whom are shareholders who get anonymous proxy statements and invitations to Annual Meetings can become active in asking the questions that we all ignore at our collective risk of great instability and destruction. The system isn’t too big to address. It just needs a few people with the courage to pose the question nobody is asking. Be one of those people. Understand the supply chain of the companies in which you’ve invested BEFORE you blindly return your pro forma proxy and ask questions about what your investments are doing to mitigate the human factors that, if ignored, will spell calamity for more than just the markets. In this New Year, make a resolution to be informed and act on that information. Maybe we can dodge the bullet meant for the Archduke Ferdinand. Look it up!

Images courtesy of Google Earth

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Seeing Red

This post needed to wait until the reports of the Christmas Day meeting needed to be made public. Expect another post on the New Year!

As most of the Occident celebrated the 4th century fiat which misplaced the lambing season (the reason why shepherds would be in the fields with their flocks for those of you without an agricultural background) at the Roman winter solstice – Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – a star was rising in the East if you were a Wiseman looking for such a thing. Somewhat ironic that the Roman church – the same Rome that reportedly executed the venerated New Born – chose this day less as a celebration fit for buying plastic imports from Asia and more as an affront to the pagan traditions of, well, here it gets a bit circular, Rome. And while we’re at it, I am intrigued, in light of last week’s post, about the near silent astronomer geeks (silent, save the little whirring sound made by the minute gears in their telescope mounts) who try to figure out what the Iranians (Persians, Magi, etc) saw that was the “star in the east”. One of my favorites is the work of University of Notre Dame’s theoretical astrophysicist, Grant Mathews who suggested that the ‘star’ wasn’t a star – rather the April 17, 6 B.C. alignment of the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn in the Constellation Aries sandwiched by Venus and Mars. So ironic that so much of our consumer based economics revolves around a capricious date when a shepherd to the poor and outcast was allegedly born in abject poverty. Uh oh, I may be sounding a bit Scroogy!

But back to the real star of December 25, 2011 – the meeting of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister (for now) Yoshihiko Noda in Beijing. Marking the epiphany of their 40th anniversary of normalized relations in 2012, these two men announced their intentions to move the economic fulcrum of the globe Eastward while most Americans and Europeans were pickling themselves in eggnog – carbo-loading for the post Christmas sales orgy. This largely dismissed meeting is more symbolic than substantive in the minds of most Western-educated (and compensated) economists. And, in the near term, there may be some truth to this. However, as one of the few people who has been sounding the horn for nearly a decade about the structural instability of our Bretton Woods inspired system, I must, yet again, remind you that this is NOT to be taken lightly.

The disintermediation of the dollar happened precisely as I had forecast. As of this agreement – entered into in 2011 – China and Japan have agreed to formally demote the dollar as a conversion or clearing currency. However, of greater import is Japan’s agreement to buy Chinese bonds. It is this latter point that is more likely to keep modern-day Herod’s awake in their bed chambers. Because if you want to go out and exterminate future threats, this bond exchange in the East is the real long-term currency and economic threat. Japan’s relevance as the postwar reconstructed manufacturing behemoth is gone. This position has been taken by China, Vietnam, Thailand, India and, to a lesser extent, Korea. However, its currency reserves of $1.2 trillion are being tactically deployed to insure that it still has influence in key markets. And it’s placing its bets on China, India, and Korea.

At this time, it would be prudent for those who find themselves uncomfortably jittery about what feels like a collapsing empire to look to the Oriental Star and see where it’s moving. You may find a swaddled baby or you may find a newborn power that will shape generations to come.

Wake up! There’s more than a New Year coming.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Following A Star

Amelia Earhart started the year with the first solo flight from Hawaii to California in January. Beer was canned in the United States for the first time in the same year. The no-fly zone over the White House went into effect while Franklin D. Roosevelt was putting the finishing touches on the New Deal’s 3 Rs: Relief, Recovery and Reform. Social Security was born and, in December, so too was my father, Aaron Martin. Within his life time, many of the technical barriers that were surmounted in his natal year have been vaporized. So it is slightly ironic that 76 years later, on this day, FDR’s Social Security and New Deal – in their modern form – are as ill-advised as they were when they were born. In his nomination acceptance speech, Roosevelt was indistinguishable from politicians today – same rhetoric and same empty logic.

“There are two ways of viewing the Government's duty in matters affecting economic and social life. The first sees to it that a favored few are helped and hopes that some of their prosperity will leak through, sift through, to labor, to the farmer, to the small business man. That theory belongs to the party of Toryism, and I had hoped that most of the Tories left this country in 1776.”

“But it is not and never will be the theory of the Democratic Party. This is no time for fear, for reaction or for timidity. Here and now I invite those nominal Republicans who find that their conscience cannot be squared with the groping and the failure of their party leaders to join hands with us; here and now, in equal measure, I warn those nominal Democrats who squint at the future with their faces turned toward the past, and who feel no responsibility to the demands of the new time, that they are out of step with their Party.”

“In the years before 1929 we know that this country had completed a vast cycle of building and inflation; for ten years we expanded on the theory of repairing the wastes of the War, but actually expanding far beyond that, and also beyond our natural and normal growth. Now it is worth remembering, and the cold figures of finance prove it, that during that time there was little or no drop in the prices that the consumer had to pay, although those same figures proved that the cost of production fell very greatly; corporate profit resulting from this period was enormous; at the same time little of that profit was devoted to the reduction of prices. The consumer was forgotten. Very little of it went into increased wages; the worker was forgotten, and by no means an adequate proportion was even paid out in dividends--the stockholder was forgotten.”

“And, incidentally, very little of it was taken by taxation to the beneficent Government of those years.”

“What was the result? Enormous corporate surpluses piled up-- the most stupendous in history. Where, under the spell of delirious speculation, did those surpluses go? Let us talk economics that the figures prove and that we can understand. Why, they went chiefly in two directions: first, into new and unnecessary plants which now stand stark and idle; and second, into the call-money market of Wall Street, either directly by the corporations, or indirectly through the banks.”

Anybody up for occupying something or somewhere? We could, in this moment, conclude that within my father’s life, we have done little to advance our state of affairs. And if you want to come to that conclusion, you can look at this weekend’s failed WTO intransigence where the zombie Doha-round still refuses to die.

However, if you’d rather not find yourself beset with the hopelessness of our long-bankrupt sense of socio-economic advancement evidenced by a life-time or more of redundant colossal inequities and injustice punctuated by ill-advised wars promulgated in the name of freedom to promote our infantile, imperial quest for the resources stewarded by others, than there’s a lesson in the stars that merits telling in advance of nativities and Persian astrologers.

I was standing in the morning sun at Zama – the Mayan walled city misnamed by the Spaniards Tulum when mistaking the Mayan word for “wall” as the name for the city – taking in the another deep drink from the cenote of wisdom that punctuates the Yucatán. My love affair with the legacy of the Inca, Maya, and Aztec is directly attributable to my father’s amazing life and his most enduring Muse – his love for the heavens. Throughout most of his life (and all of mine) my Dad has stood under night skies in wide-eyed amazement peering into the expansive astral canopy. As a college teacher, he transmitted his transcendent love for the heavens to thousands of students. While I’m incapable of anything but casual observations of a few planets and a handful of constellations, there is no night sky that doesn’t immediately transport me to my amazing Dad. My father, like the Mayans who built their great temples and observatories, understands something that neither FDR nor any current occupant of either the White House nor the halls of Congress can comprehend. And it struck me, standing on the cliffs perched atop the crystal blue water of the Caribbean Sea, that I owe much of my capacity for insight to that thing that both seem to embody and teach. Namely, that to understand a thing, you need to put yourself in the right place removed from the pollution of human illumination, understand your role as a participating observer, and take in knowledge through triangulation.

Let’s unpack this a bit more. First, finding the right place. Many ethno-sensitive historians postulate that the Mayan’s valued astronomy and mathematics – including quite critically, geometry – as much, if not more, than most other human civilizations. Their fanatic obsession with time – not our petty hours or Gregorian days and years – was to insure their participation in the rhythm of the universe. Understanding when to plant, when to harvest, when storms may be coming, when eclipses warranted the revitalization of sacred myths. To inculcate knowledge into millennial records, they built temples and erected stones to illumine with the equinoxes and solstices thereby mapping the dance of the heavens INTO their everyday lives. Rather than trying to enclose nature to serve them, they placed themselves IN nature to live at a cosmologically appropriate scale. It wasn’t lamps and torches that lit their path to knowledge – it was the celestial keepers of time and seasons.

The Mayans, like my Dad, did not wait for someone to tell them the mysteries of the world. They ground stones, polished rock, understood optics, and undertook massive civil engineering projects – like my Dad hand grinding his first telescope mirror at his farm in Pennsylvania – so that they could actively participate in observation. Over the past 76 years, and notably, in the past 76 days of discontent about the injustice of our economy, how few have actually engaged in UNDERSTANDING what’s really going on? We know that there’s something amiss but we complain about being neglected rather than engaging in deep understanding about the systems that impact our lives.

And finally, all wayfarers, both then and now, understand that confidence comes through triangulation – not through the careless observation of a single point. In her amazing work with island navigators of the Pacific, Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey was taught the synthesis of multiple factors including stars, horizon lights at dawn and dusk, wave patterns, the movement of living things and the sounds of the water during her sojourn in Satawal with some of the esteemed remnants of our world’s wisdom keepers. Like their Mayan counterparts, they knew that hunches could be birthed by individual impulses but navigation required the integration of multiple perspectives. My Dad and Mom lugged their troop of young sons to the great Aztec pyramids for the total solar eclipse in 1970 to experience the 3 minutes 28 seconds of darkness in which we learned so much about light. Climbing Teotihuacán’s steps (many of which were as tall as me), some ancient spirit must have pulled my still beating heart out of my chest and replaced it with a passion for as much breadth of experience as any life could hold. Throughout my life, my Dad and Mom invested heavily in literally moving us around and – in so doing – gave us a world of vantage points from which to triangulate our course through life. We would all do well, should we wish to Form A More Perfect Union, to get out of our myopic redundant environments and embrace perspectives as divergent as possible. In so doing, we just might find our way.

Happy Birthday Dad! Thank you for teaching me so many tools to navigate a path through life. And, by the way, Happy Anniversary tomorrow, Colleen. One more year until our quarter century and – just think, that’ll be on the eve of the Mayan’s 2012! Here’s to the return of the winged serpent!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Buffett a Buck?

a.k.a. Why Warren reminds me of my mom

a.k.a. Congressional Bribes Suck

In the early 1970s, I remember my mom and dad debating whether we should fill up our car’s gas tank for $0.33 a gallon or drive a little further because the price might be $0.31. At the time, we were driving an American-made gas guzzler that would have had a curb weight of well over 3,000 lbs – not including the six occupants. During this time, my dad was an employee of the State of California and as such, a family of six living on a teacher’s salary in California did not push you over the poverty line very far so saving a few cents here and there made sense. Then, as now, food & gas – the products where most families spend much of their income – didn’t count in the CPI calculations and that wouldn’t much matter anyway.

This past week, while President Obama was extolling the financial merits of extending the Bush-era tax reductions on the much ballyhooed ‘middle class’, media outlets were reprising Warren Buffett’s ‘tax the wealthy’ faux challenge. Democrats and Republicans were exchanging barbs across the aisle trying to figure out who can pander to an electorate who has, since the installation of the Bush-era financial accountability deferral malfeasance of 1992 (complete with over 70 targeted tax breaks), evidenced a willingness to sell out the country for an extra $1 thousand bucks of somebody else’s money. Whether it is saving a few bucks at the pump in the 70s, getting a few bucks back on tax returns at the expense of the nation’s economy, or saving a few bucks at Wal-Mart, the single worst enterprise that has hit the consumption universe since humans evolved opposable thumbs, or at Buffett’s Dollar General, we seem to think that ‘a deal’ is something to which we’re entitled regardless of how that ‘deal’ came into being. For some reason, the generation born between 1930 and the Baby Boom, seems to share a rather extraordinary post-Depression frugal sense of acausal, synchronistic entitlement that seems to be resurging of late.

Which leads me to consider why Warren Buffett reminds me of my mom. It seems that both are eager to look for a deal. It seems that both are willing to consider a sense of shared responsibility in which there is room for generosity within a frugal self-discipline – both of them are extraordinarily willing to use their resources to help numerous others. By the way, whether it’s my mom’s work with Habitat for Humanity and similar causes, her tireless volunteerism or Warren’s philanthropic gestures (to say nothing for the generosity he’s encouraged in his children), I find this attribute most admirable and inspiring. And, while moderately aware that there are structural forces at play that make the system appear to be unsustainable, both seem to operate with a perspective that frankly puzzles the heck out of me. How on the one hand can social awareness be relatively high while consequence is so illusive? My parents work with future homeowners to build houses for the marginalized or under-employed – many of them displaced laborers who lost their jobs when U.S. manufacturing was sent overseas – yet they can still extol the merits of frugal shopping at the very stores that drove the production overseas. Warren can call for a tax on the rich to have ‘everyone pay their share’ yet Berkshire Hathaway’s largest public equity holdings are rife with corporations that are optimized for U.S. tax avoidance. Once financial resources are in their respective hands, they both do great things. But there seems to be a missing puzzle piece between frugal stewardship and the macro-system that is expanding economic imbalance at a remarkable pace.

In October 1973, during the U.S. airlift arming the Israelis during the Yom Kippur War in a program known as Operation Nickle Grass, OPEC countries decided to impose an oil embargo. They did so because they knew that Americans had become complacent with bloated oil supplies. To shock America into realizing the folly of its airlift, they reasoned, they’d discontinue or greatly curtail the supply of oil. Mind you, the Nixon Administration’s departure from the Bretton Woods Gold Standard accord had already added plenty of instability into the OPEC countries. Neither the Israeli-policy nor the oil-dependency lesson was learned. Part of the reason for this educational failure was due to the simple fact that Americans then, as now, live in remarkable ignorance of the interdependencies that support the supply chain for our consumptive excess. And while, for political expediency we decided to rename the Anglo-Persian Oil Company to the more palatable British Petroleum or BP by the end of the 70s because a certain friendly someone was no longer giving away his country’s wealth for the benefit of a few investors, we didn’t get more aware as a society.

Now, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has done well holding a big chunk of Exxon. And his Exxon holdings have, in a significant fashion, contributed to a modern political quagmire in Papua New Guinea where Exxon’s LNG program has fed on government corruption, forced community dislocation, and this week’s political unrest. Warren can be indifferent to this as he lives in Omaha – far from the people he’s raiding. And my mom is working to help take care of some of the Exxon displaced persons – corporate refugees. And for that effort, I salute her. But, until we realize that it is our duty as human beings to understand the cost WE place on this planet – including the mini lottery winnings we get from slashed prices and discounts – we’ll have more corporate refugees needing water in PNG and houses in Georgia and North Carolina.

Which leads me to my extreme disappointment in Congress. First of all, millionaires don’t create jobs, so enough with the blatant lies about tax breaks getting people employed. You want to buy votes from your constituents and donors. That’s fine but call it what it is. You want the “Silent Generation” and their Baby Boom and Generation X off-spring to fall for a few shekels when we all know that we’re already fiscally bankrupt. News flash… we know that opaque consumption got us into this mess. While your pandering may work for card-carrying AARP members, there are millions of us that are not suckered into your illusion so shape up. Why don’t you have the courage to stand up and tell us that the country is broke, that entitlements will be raided and curtailed, and that without a return to productivity, we’ll all be worse off than we were in 1973? Let all the Bush-era cuts expire. Starting with your own appropriations, start paying the country’s bills and ask us all to do our part.

And, Warren, here’s a better suggestion that would show that you care about this country. Why don’t you make an investment policy that mandates that EVERY Berkshire Hathaway public equity investment is predicated on insuring that no off-shoring of assets or revenues evade one dollar of legal tax collection or tax liability. You see, once the money gets to you, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. But if you had the courage to encourage corporations to build wealth (and have it taxed) in the U.S., you could really make a difference. So there it is – are you part of the Silent Generation or can you find the audacity to defy the odds and call for accountability where profiteering has enriched you?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dark Matter Generation – Faster than the Speed of Light into Infinite Mass

Maybe it was waking up early this morning and looking out over the frigid Wasatch Mountains dusted with a thin layer of snow on my bride’s birthday. Maybe it was contemplating heliocentricity’s bitter struggle with incumbent knowledge that held the Earth and Man at the core of created order. Maybe it was my compulsive accounting that accompanies the end of each Gregorian succession in which I assess the consequence of my actions and inactions – for good, indifference, or ill – as I observe the temporal serpent consume its tail only to reemerge in the coming of the new cycle.

I can’t put my finger on what centered my first thought this morning but I certainly know what it was. I want you all to know about my friend, Michael Richardson-Borne. I met Michael one late afternoon in Los Angeles as I was preparing for a presentation at a nameless, faceless convention center. Together with his friend (and now a friend of mine) Jeff Bellsey, he came to eke out a brief meeting sandwiched between my frenetic schedule. For some time before our meeting, Michael had been struggling to rationalize his impulse to convene a massive celebration of humanity’s potential – what he called ‘Summer of Heart’ – with the Hydra of monetary sponsorship. How, he asked, can you call forth transformation without giving up the soul of the impulse for the demands of funders? In a series of e-mails and phone calls, I offered little solace. Instead, I asked him to acknowledge his life’s abundance at the time he had the impulse to create ‘Summer of Heart’ and, rather than looking for the illusive ‘other’ resources, honor those that were in his path when the idea first coalesced. Rather than hearing a rejection for his vision, Michael set out on a journey that will be a vital part of our collective story. And his story is…, well, his. But what he’s stewarding is ours. And it’s that piece that draws my attention.

Michael has launched The Renaissance Project. This initiative invites the flirtatious floral impulses of the 60s into the gritty digital interconnected world. Hosting a venue for borderless voices to share creativity, art, and humanity, he has transformed his event-based artifact into a utility for global creative engagement. In short, Michael found that, in reflecting on his first impulse, his destiny in the moment of inspired animation was less about the muscle and more about the blood. After all, the heart, while getting entirely too much emotional attention, is important. But, its importance is manifest by delivering the vital oxygen and nutrients to the active cells throughout the body. In our effort to awaken humanity to its higher potential, our medieval impulse is to focus on the center of power – the contracting, driving muscle. However, the awakening now, as it was in the 14th century, was the decentralized exchanges that took place by those red blood cells that traveled to the furthest reaches and returned knowledge nutrients to the mind of Europe, then seated in Italy.

The lexicon of The Renaissance Project is a treasure-trove of wisdom. There are three terms that have ‘shown up’ in Michael’s project that I’d like to highlight for deeper consideration.

First, in his introductory video, Michael speaks of ‘Generation’. Now here’s a shock. According to the frenetic cultural anthropologists, a bizarre Moore’s Law acceleration has happened which has allegedly separated Michael and me by THREE generations. Oh, for the nostalgic Dark Ages days when generations were at least 20 to 30 years! This made me reflect on the birth of the term generation (no pun intended). “Generation” was first used in the transition from Old English to Middle English in the 13th century. Derived from the Latin generatio which meant ‘to bring forth’ or ‘to birth’, the notion that generation was a term to divide groups was introduced around the same time that our current view of humans being time-limited production assets was born. In the spirit of reclaiming Michael’s impulse, here’s one 60’s baby that is standing shoulder to shoulder with the age agnostic to call for the ‘bringing forth’ of a new story. Taken together with Joshua Gorman’s passionate efforts in Generation Waking Up, Todd Goldfarb’s Worldwide Tipping Point, Dori, Emily, Dustin… the extended family of the San Francisco guild, I see phenomenal potential rising from the erasure of time as a unit of division but rather as a utility of perspective and wisdom.

Second, I’m intrigued by the reclamation of the concept of Renaissance. There is no philosopher that more embodied the polymath of the Italian social movement than Pico della Mirandola, author of the courageous De hominis dignitate in 1486. Della Mirandola, unlike the artists who sold their creative souls for the patronage of the banking and clergy elites, had the audacity to stand before the establishment of the Church and boldly proclaim that both Mosaic and Christian teaching, along with Persian, Greek and ‘ancient’ theologies, all showed that humanity had the potential for inspired greatness. While I encourage all readers to taste the wisdom of this amazing mind and orator, I am struck, in particular, with the following passage in which an Italian philosopher tries to explain to conceited intellectuals of his time wisdom that defied their intellects:
“…the magic of Zoroaster is nothing else than that science of divine things in which the kings of the Persians had their sons educated to that they might learn to rule their commonwealth on the pattern of the commonwealth of the universe.”
For any of us from any period in time to actually find our higher purpose, we must realize that it is in the synthesis of wisdom that the seeds of cultural awakening germinate. Renaissance, then, is a companion to Generation. What Michael is offering is the birthing room for a reawakening – a remembering of that which humanity has known, understood, and for far too long, forgotten.

Third – and my personal favorite – he describes members of his community of artists and contributors as ‘Seers’. There is the witness aspect of this term – one who sees and documents – which is as vital to the Arab Spring and the OWS movement as it was to the Civil Rights marches, Kent State, and the etchings of the Martyrs Mirror. But, beneath the surface, a seer is far more than a witness. From Nostradamus to the Patriarch Joseph in Egypt, the ability to receive prophetic impulses and share them in a manner that can be seen and understood is a human trait that is sorely needed in our time. Ironically, in our post-modern science induced stupor, we can marvel at birds that change their flight patterns in advance of tsunami. We can accept that indigenous traditions can move in advance of volcanic eruptions by divining signals from nature. But we have become so digitally addicted that we’ve lost our powers of observation in the infinite orthogonality of the cosmosystem in which we live. A Seer is not an oddity. Rather a Seer is a soul unencumbered by consensus optics – someone or something that can perceive and communicate that to which others are willfully or culturally blinded.

I honor Michael for a host of reasons. First, he chose to Act. Emboldened by an impulse to follow his passion provisioned by the Abundance that was in his ecosystem, he rallied people, resources and passion around his vision and it became reality. Second, having been despondent after chasing financing for an artifact of an event, he found out that this phase of his journey needed HIM, not somebody else’s money. Few modern, young entrepreneurs have the capacity to untether their vision from the incipient paralysis associated with ‘funding’. Finally, as evidenced in the care with which he’s constructed the language and the framework for The Renaissance Project, he’s giving us all navigational cues so that we can find the song that sings us home…. (Thanks, Elizabeth and the elders for that one!).