Saturday, April 28, 2012

Credentialed Debtors Prison – Again


Apparently I didn’t get a memo about why we’re suddenly supposed to care about student loans and the interest rates thereon.  In stunts that would be the envy of contortionists in Cirque du Soleil, Speaker Boehner and Representative Maloney exchanged ideological barbs over a conflict that is all smoke and no fire.  If you watched in slow motion, you realized that all of the theatrics around the student debt crises assiduously avoided any substantive issues on either side of the aisle and, when the lights come up, We The People will still be addicted to our debt-fueled ‘education’ system that continues to fail every aspiration upon which our expectations ride. 

Now before I get into the point of this post, it’s helpful to point out that H.R. 4628 – the successfully passed, soon to be vetoed bill – logically funds a freeze of Stafford loan interests rates at 3.4% for another few years by repealing funds appropriated for medical prevention and public health.  In short, the idea is that a less healthy version of you will be indebted less the argument goes, I guess.  Now the Senate counterproposal – S. 2343 – logically freezes the rate at 3.4% for the same period but pays for it by taxing individuals in S-corporations earning over $250,000 per year as employees with income or loss.  And in a nod to assuage the OWS contingent, it includes as taxable “professional service business” the fields of health, law, lobbying, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, investment advice or management, or brokerage services.  Because, you know that our nation’s fiscal problems are created by all those overpaid accountants and artists.  What?

However, while both H.R. 4628 and S. 2343 are equally diaphanously veiled political wolves in sheep’s clothing in a desperate attempt to indulge respective ideologues on either side of the political spectrum, their existence is prima facie evidence of a failure of EDUCATION; not merely pathetic pandering.  Tragically, this bet to buy electoral allegiance in November will work on enough people that it’s worth the price of admission at the expense of substantive analysis of the education ecosystem.

I had the good fortune to lecture to a soon-to-graduate group of Executive MBA students in Chicago on this blustery weekend.  These individuals (or their corporate sponsors) had respectively deposited about $100,000 each for a degree that will, if the thesis holds, more than pay for itself in the value that they return to their productive lives and affiliated enterprises.  According to the most recent data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, the Masters of Business Administration is the most costly category of Masters level education.  Promoting a post degree income increase ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 one could conclude that business schools are a great investment.  However with an estimated 150,000 graduates emerging with this credential in each of the past several years (a number that inflates with economic downturns), it is evident that this quantitative educational field is suffering from some serious accounting discrepancies.  Recall the recent press surrounding the Graduate Management Admission Council’s reports which suggest that MBA graduates had a median starting salary of $78,820 (not including the 42% who received signing bonuses) while PayScale research reported median starting salaries including bonuses at $61,000.  With the public vilifying Wall Street banks, brokers and other ‘elites’, I find it ironic that at the educational christening of those who are going to strive for being the 1%, the factories from which they’re minted can’t even get their own economic ROI reported in a reliable and transparent fashion.  Their own data discrepancy has an error range in excess of 21%!  If the institutions that teach business and financial leadership cannot adopt standards for transparent accountability, is it any wonder that their alumni go on to fudge economic data and become Goldman Sachs’ eavesdroppers for Galleon?

And this doesn’t address what actually happens in class.  Today I had the privilege of addressing executives – adults who are pursuing their MBA.  The room was filled with passionate, inquiring and heavily invested minds.  I spoke to them about the amoral effectiveness of Integral Accounting appealing not to social responsibility, ‘goodness’, or humanity but rather to self-serving interests and greed.  Pointing out that unconsidered consequences of geopolitical and ethnographic insensitivity actually diminishes corporate returns; that ignorance of indigenous well-being directly harms business continuity; that duration of economic returns is inversely proportional to the degree of callousness in initiating corporate endeavors; I watched a room filled with responses ranging from dismissive apathy to passionate engagement.  And, as with countless similar lectures before, I had impassioned private conversations with another small group of students who struggled mightily in their self-imposed conflict of wanting to practice greater awareness and humanity in the face of corporate behavioral inertia.  You see, even those who want to change, even those who have pursued a top-tier graduate education to enable leadership, stand on the brink of commencement naked against the prevailing incumbency.  

EDUCATION is DEAD would be the Nietzsche-esque conclusion.  He famously concluded that “large states public education will always be mediocre for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is bland.”  He is also attributed with the statement that “to forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.”  Our society has for too long pretended that ‘education’ is a pathway to Labor in a Keynesian paradox.  For as we regress towards a unit-productive mean, we will necessarily move away from the punctuated equilibrium events that unleash inspired, context shifting advances.  If we educate with an eye towards greater labor transaction inefficiency (higher wages), we will ultimately extinguish the very enterprises for whom labor aspires to sell their collective life’s purpose.  It’s time that we gain experiential wisdom rather than conformist ventriloquism.  It is time that we have a Mastery program for Consequential Engagement - an MCE.  For when our knowledge is evident rather than credentialed, than we may once again rise to a More Perfect Union.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Economics of Chocolate Custard


OR: Why "Pay It Forward" is holding us back

Measure what can be measured, and make measurable what cannot be measured.

Galileo Galilei

Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.

Professor William Cameron; Dr. Stephen Ross; attributed to Albert Einstein’s chalkboard

We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

Werner Heisenberg Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1958)

There’s a decent chance that I will miscommunicate to some of you in this posting. Those of you who really love the “feel-good” genre of movies should stop reading right now because this is not meant to be a “feel-good” post. Those of you who are all about incremental human conscious evolution should go on Netflix or Hulu and rent a movie about the triumph of the human spirit and get fired up about cheering on George Bush’s thousand points of light. And for those of you who have given up on humanity entirely, well, don’t read this either because there’s actually some hope and this post will just convince you that I’m naive. For the few of you left, let’s try this on.

Last week’s post discussed the Three Audacities, the third of which will be the bridge into this week’s observation. For those of you who missed it, I’m referring to the Audacity of Transaction. Now, we need a little Werner Heisenberg – yes the one that you all know and love for his Principle – to help us clarify a simple linguistic but complex epistemological distinction; namely, the difference between “Action”, “Transaction”, and “Exchange”. Heisenberg stated that, “the more precise the measurement of position, the more imprecise the measurement of momentum.” This observation, when applied to economics, is rather profound as our current practices and metrics reward a predisposition towards artifact (how much / what kind) rather than the nature of counterparties (transaction) or the thermodynamics of flow (exchange). We’ll revisit this at the end of my story but, here’s what happened.

On Thursday evening four of us went to Rita’s in Knoxville Tennessee a few minutes before their 9pm closing time. A well-dressed couple in their late 50s came in a minute later engrossed in a smile-punctuated conversation. Behind the counter was a young woman who was the personification of enthusiasm. I don’t know whether it was the frozen custard, the ice, or the toppings but she was effervescent.

“What would you like this evening?” she asked with a passion you’d expect from your most sympathetic friend.

“I’ll have chocolate custard in a cup with Reese’s and sprinkles,” one of my companions replied.

“That’s a GREAT choice – well done! Chocolate with Reese’s and sprinkles is fantastic,” she responded.

All the way through the orders, each of us had apparently divined the elixir of karmic bliss based on her sheer admiration for the brilliance of our selections. You couldn’t have been more validated as a human being in that moment than realizing that, for some mysterious reason, your choice of frozen custard had somehow unleashed a confirmation of brilliance and genius heretofore unmanifest.

I reveled in the moment. The couple behind us ordered two chocolate custard dishes – no sprinkles or improvements of any kind – from the other server behind the counter. No praise. No enthusiasm. No brilliance. And when the young man went to ring their order in the register, I told him to put their order on our tab.

“Do you know them?” he inquired coolly.

“No,” I replied.

“Whatever,” was his thoughtful reply as he shuffled off to close the store.

A few seconds later, our server, having completed her service with precision, began ringing up our purchase. I told her to put the couple’s order on ours.

“Do you know them?” she echoed the question that had just been asked by her colleague.

“Nope,” I replied.

“Oh my gosh,” she gushed. “That’s soooo cool! Wow, that’s awesome.”

“Don’t tell them,” I instructed her. “Just let it be their lucky evening.”

“That’s awesome,” she half whispered.

We turned to leave the store and the couple went up to pay.

“It’s already covered,” she said, beaming.

The couple exchanged glances and then looked back at her. “Thank you very much,” they said with incredulity.

Now had the interaction ended precisely at that moment, there would be no blog post. Had it ended there, I would not be about to puzzle the aforementioned people who I advised against reading this blog. In that moment, the celebration of the server’s enthusiasm for life, the anonymous action of creating mysterious goodness, and the expression of gratitude from the recipients of an unknown surprise would have been magical, playful, and what life fully lived is about. But alas, there’s a blog post, in large part, because what followed was: a) the tragedy of Transaction, and b) why our endemic behaviors (even in goodness) are so pathologically incapable of unleashing system level change.

“Don’t thank me,” she shot back, “thank them. They paid for it.”

And then the cancer of our system.

The gentleman, who up until that moment had been engrossed in a delightful celebration of affection for his companion lit by smiling faces, looked at me changing his demeanor.

“Now I suppose I HAVE TO pay it forward or something, right?” he said totally devoid of the joy that had punctuated the small time we shared together.

In this Transaction, the magic of humanity was lost. In truth, our server’s joy may well have been my inspiration for an ACT of joyful human sharing. My decision to pay for the other couple’s custard was not BECAUSE of her – she merely was filled with positive energy that was flowing and, in that environment, more positivism flowed. I was already in a great mood and may have had the impulse to surprise the couple with our without her energy (as this impulse is frequent enough in my life as to suggest that it can emerge without external stimulus). My ACTION was not in response to anything and my admonition to keep the ACTION anonymous was specifically to avert the social corruption that follows the mistaken belief that reciprocity is a necessity. To ACT in the anonymous present is human. To TRANSACT with expectation or as a reflex to external stimulus is socialization.

When the gentleman said, “Thank you,” it was appropriate to express gratitude for the anonymous impulse and, as I was present, had I desired to be involved in a social TRANSACTION, I would have heard it and would have been rewarded. In that moment, an EXCHANGE in an identity-less context would have been another celebrated moment.

It was in the server’s ‘correction’ where the EXCHANGE went off the rails and became an unfortunate TRANSACTION. By implying that his gratitude needed to be directed away from her (remember, I was thrilled with her generous goodness for which I had thanked her too) and replaced to a person who had specifically said, “Don’t tell them,” she reinforced a deep social pathology that it was unfair or inappropriate to accept gratitude perceived to be undeserved. Ironically, her impulse to correct his errant “Thank You” overrode the explicit social agreement of keeping the identify of the ACT opaque. And then, by feeling that a social contract had been foisted upon him so that he would HAVE TO pay it forward, the complete erasure of magic was assured.

Much of what stands between us and what can emerge in our systems is our enslavement to reciprocity and equivalence. Our myths are filled with causality and transaction. Even our hero stories of transcendence are told in transaction-justifying language. ‘Unconditional love’ is celebrated above Love. Generosity is celebrated above acknowledging abundant stewardship. ‘Getting’ or ‘Receiving’ “Credit” is more important than putting positive energy into flow or perpetuating that which we want to see manifest.

Which leads me back to a simple observation. Light (be it a particle, wave or something else) is NOT the property of a photon. To be Light, photons (remember, it’s plural) have to be activated and be willing at any point in time to be both progenitors and propagators of excitation. Otherwise, it’s not Light. No credit. No ego. Just always ready to BE ON. Let there be Light.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Three Audacities + One Assumption = Status Quo

It’s a shame that each one of you didn’t sit through Professor Treloar’s statistics classes with me at Ball State University. Well, come to think of it, it’s probably great that you didn’t because whatever you were doing instead probably did more to get you precisely where you are – reading this blog post – than would have been the case had you been sitting in the seat next to me. But the reason why it would have been great would have been my ability to point to the day I publicly confessed my heresy and became, well… the author of this blog post. For at least one of you, it would have made sense out of my passionate frustration with how little we concern ourselves with ourselves. To be specific, it was his class on parametric statistics – the one where we were discussing the ‘normality distribution assumption’ behind common statistics – where you would have seen my blood boil. Not only, did we learn, are we supposed to assume normally distributed frequency and scale in variables, but we’re supposed to accept that the variables ARE. Question either of these? Well, that would unravel all we KNOW (or at least the parts we know that we know).

Sitting on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall with some new acquaintances talking about why philanthropy and corporate social responsibility have been incapable of system-level transformation, I was vexed with the incapacity for social entrepreneurs to intuitively contemplate the fact that their impulse to surrogate every impulse through money IS the principle reason why their actions are rendered impotent. While the use of money (like all of the other 5 dimensions of Integral Accounting) is a helpful and at times necessary utility, if it is the sine qua non arbiter of what is good, necessary, or doable, much will be undone. But more fundamental than this utility challenge was the seeming disregard for what I like to refer to as the “Three Audacities”.

Alleging to be sentient or proclaiming the designation for humanity is bold bordering on arrogant. Much of what we do as a species makes far less sense than, say the behavior of the average fungus. Join me, for a moment, on a whimsical journey through the Three Audacities and let’s see what happens when we test a belief system we don’t even believe we believe (for belief would imply that we’ve considered it).

You and I are marooned on an island with fresh water and a banana tree. Got the picture? Now, let’s journey through the Three Audacities – those unconsidered assumptions that underpin our existence and behavior.

Audacity 1 – we presume we are entitled to act. Confronted by the impulse of hunger and seeing a banana on the tree, we assume that we are entitled to take and consume our environment. Forget concepts like proprietary right enclosure (the bane of efficiency and collaboration) or the principles of the Commons (long lost in the transactions of the Magna Carta and its companion, the Charter of the Forest), when put on the stage, we presume that we have command of the stage and the props. The consequence of this Audacity is that we fail to actively consider perpetuation of life, materials, and resources for present use and future benefit because we assume that our ability to commandeer a thing entitles us to use it… and now.

Audacity 2 – we presume to interact
. Let’s say that I know what a banana is but you’ve never seen one. When you see me eating a banana, even without knowledge or previous experience, you’re willing to eat one too. In other words, we’re willing to commute and surrogate our knowledge and experience to another and participate in consensus behavior because someone else is doing it. The consequence of this Audacity is that we mistake action for knowledge, expertise, discernment, or consideration. Michael Crichton observes that, “the characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity.” In our Audacity to interact in the illusion of efficiency or civilization, our interaction places excessive reliance on the wisdom, morality, or discernment of unnamed, unknown “others” who “must have known better.”

Audacity 3 – we presume to transact. Now the cool thing here is that we can immediately construct systems of values and even morality. Let’s say that I know that you are hungrier than am I. I can choose to give you the banana and take less or none in which case I’m establishing a value transaction that can hierarchically determine that your satiation is ‘more important’ than mine. In our transacting, we can build social and tangible credits and debits based on our ability to variously defer, cooperate, horde, and consume. The consequence of this Audacity can lead to elaborate relationships of interdependence and can also lead to the notion of fulfilled or breached social contracts – the outcome of which can be what we call civilization or strife.

And then the Assumption: We presume that, presented with a similar set of circumstances, We the People would largely act in a similar fashion. This Assumption gives us the ability to thoughtlessly and effortlessly engage in the Three Audacities in a reflexive and unconsidered fashion.

Now I am not suggesting that there’s a cosmic “right” or “wrong” with the fact of these reflexive behaviors. I’m sure that there’s ample reason to accept that some degree of these elements in combination are responsible for the species being here. But what I am suggesting is that the absence of consideration of these attributes of what constitutes our behavior on Earth is a fundamental basis for the predictable failure of our impulses to “change”. Worst of all, when we include the controlled utilities of incumbent systems – money and reliance on ‘expert’ knowledge most frequently abused – in our efforts to change our behavior or the values of systems, we are assured that the outcome will be the lowest common denominator of the weakest moral link in the system.

Let me give you an example from this week. Addressing a concern raised by a shareholder regarding equity ownership in mining company Rio Tinto, PAX World Fund was asked to clarify its position. Specifically, an inquiry was made into Rio Tinto’s participation in destabilizing communities ranging from Bougainville Copper in Papua New Guinea to Mongolia’s Oyu Tolgoi metals project in which the government of Mongolia has entered into a devastating credit agreement which could bankrupt the country. In response, PAX World Fund Sustainability Research Analyst Laura Huober (on behalf of Richard J. Badger) responded that the fund’s participation is justified at the outset because, “a great deal of our standard of living depends on metals…” That’s right. Corporate social responsibility was about picking the lesser of evils rather than calling for interactive accountability. At no point did she address any material issues confronting real people – just consolidated a justification for being in public equity metals producers and an obtuse apology for Rio being among the leaders of its peer group. Amazing! For a company that relies on injustice, conflict, and economic abusive concessions supported by “Development Banks”, they’re the best in class! Wow, why don’t I feel better now? If you’re an investor in PAX World Fund, you should realize that your expectation of investment returns for your money, unless it comes with explicit statements of YOUR accountability expectations, supports an emotional illusion preying on your belief in social justice and sustainability.

Change begins when we are willing to suspend the true opening assumption that plagues us – namely, that we actually are capable of considered, reflective inquiry. Once we build a means to question this assumption and constantly hold it in our consciousness, we can then repurpose the Three Audacities and the One Assumption and contemplate an equation that leads to transformation of ourselves and our experience together.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The JOBS (SWINDLE) Act Revisited

Obviously people who have forgotten that fallaces sunt rerum species et hominum spes fallunt (Appearances are deceiving and the hope of men is thus deceived).

I was supposed to be marginally impressed with the President’s signing of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act this week. After all, who could be opposed to something called a “JOBS Act” when so many Americans are without work. And in a world in which employment woes are impacting so many, how could anyone not be patriotic and celebrate this Act which, according to the President, addresses the “attack” on the American Middle Class and its sense of balance and fairness. Heck, even retyping these words makes my chest fill with an emotion that wants to croon, “I’m Proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…”

Having read this Act, I think it should be called the Subtle Wealth Inducement Neatly Delivering Losses to Everyone (SWINDLE) Act and given the boisterous celebrations surrounding the Act’s passage, I’m amazed at the number of advocates for change who are celebrating its signing with Hemlock-laced Kool-Aid.

The American JOBS Act is not good for our economy. In fact, it reinforces one of the most compelling sirens whose melodious songs have crashed aspiring economies around the world. Tragically, it cements the illusion of capital and wealth creation that was started in the 1930s by the 99%-friendly Guggenheim and Rockefeller families. And why we think that somehow democratizing an opaque system so that more losses can be accelerated is a good idea seems…, well…, NOT like a good idea.

A little history. Funding start-up businesses with venture capital and private investment has NOT been the magic bean that has lead to the Golden Goose. In fact, while I don’t wish to belabor a point I’ve made in the past, it was tax policy enabling the one-percenters to lose money in new ventures and deduct the losses from their ordinary income tax that seduced wealthy families into funding the technological run up to the World War II technology boom. Remember that it was 1938 E.I. Nemours du Pont Corporation President Lammot du Pont who stated that “Venture Capital” was needed address the inability for banks to meet the needs of new companies. And Congress responded by giving the wealthy tax breaks for loosing money in speculative ventures – a policy that over 70 years later justifies the adage – invest in 10 deals so that you win in 1. For the average investor, this doesn’t work. And the JOBS Act is more appropriately the SWINDLE Act because losing in one deal will crash the small investor. “Losing” in 90% of the deals in which you invest doesn’t tank the wealthy investor because he or she WINS with the tax loss!

It was military and science nationalist (I hesitate to call it what it really was…industrial collectivism with state-sponsored inducements… can anyone say socialism?) policy that took the Small War Plants Corporation legislation (1942) – the direct forerunner of the Small Business Administration – and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) authorized by the Department of Defense in 1958 and used these two government procurement incentive programs to create non-competitive consumer subsidies for small corporations who flowed their income back to the tax-incented wealthy that led to the birth of today’s venture capital. And even that was not enough. Much of the technology that was funded in the early years of the “Silicon Valley” miracle was the product of Third Reich German innovations taken as war reparations at the end of World War II and placed in California and Massachusetts-based firms. Government-backed Small Business Investment Corporations (SBIC) which, at their initiation, provided more than three times the funding than their venture capital peers were expressly enabled not by the joy of entrepreneurship but by the promotion of a pathway to generate tax deferrals and losses.

There is no question that capital access – as a utility – is vital for the creation and nurturing of new ventures. But unimaginative capital access that seeks to white-wash an ill-conceived model of tax incentives for greater wealth hording is far from something to celebrate. The JOBS / SWINDLE Act is equivalent to setting up more slot machines and Crap tables in casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and on reservations across the country and lowering the minimum bet. We are stimulating the creation of greater opacity in disclosure; promoting greater democratization of participation with lower minimum bets; and, doing NOTHING to inform the public that the system in which they’re participating did NOT make millions of people wealthy – it made millionaires and billionaires out of a few people – most of whom were already there or well on their way.

Now I know, here come all the anecdotal rotten tomatoes. “I know somebody who…”, and that’s somehow supposed to justify a system that is built on one of the greatest illusions of all times. Remember, it was not until the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 that the venture capital industry really started to soar. And that was when “professional investment advisors” industrialized taking the public’s money that came from – you guessed it, tax-deferral inducements – and pumped it into transactions which created the – you guessed it – ONE PERCENT!

What would help kick-start our economy would be legislation which would allow new ventures to partner (without tax or licensing penalties) with companies with excess capacity and get off the ground without defining their corporate status for extended periods of time. In some instances, we would find that the new venture isn’t really a stand-alone company at all – rather a component that helps build relevance in someone else’s ecosystem. What would really help would be reforms that would not tax illiquid values so that collaboration without basis could happen without creating corporate and tax burdens. What would really help is a reform of our accounting and regulatory regimes that would recognize that many ventures do not fit into Internal Revenue Code-defined structures and, as such, should be able to operate in forms that are suitable to a changing world. What would help is the ability to compensate members of an enterprise in ways that don’t have to require monetary consideration for the taxation on things that don’t involve monetary transfers. What would really help would be a government who required truth in innovation, accounting, finance, and law rather than being a party to the perpetration of fraud and illusion. But these things would help the people – yes, ordinary humans. I, for one, will not be counted among Qui tacet consentire (The silent give consent). Have the courage to stand up for a future that is built on a foundation of transparency. Send this around and get the word out!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

One Trillion is Not Enough

This is April Fool’s Day or, as my Iranian friends remind me, the Zoroastrian-inspired Sizdah Bedar (the day that celebrates that evil cannot exist in the presence of laughter and joy). One of the Persian traditions of this day is to celebrate outdoors, to honor happiness in your life, and to invoke Spenta Mainyu - the ‘Spirit of Goodness’ - to vanquish the forces of evil.

So, on this April 1, I was pondering the week-ending meeting of finance ministers in the eurozone where they concluded that the $1.1 trillion of emergency funding that they’ve assembled for shoring up their wobbling economies did not meet the IMF’s minimum security blanket of $1.3 trillion. It seems that most international markets feel that anything less than $1.3 trillion would be insufficient to support the assistance that is likely to be needed by Spain and Italy. And according to reports out of the U.S. Treasury (who failed to sell their bank investments in 6 TARP exiting banks this week at par losing money on their investment of taxpayer money) and the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. government’s $2.5 trillion of “firewall” investments – supported by international debt buyers and generous domestic currency manipulation – give little confidence that the long-term outlook for such “support” represents a good fiscal future. In the spirit of this day, however, I found that the more I focused on the illogical, empirically disproven economic plans being promoted in the eurozone, the more I found myself reflecting on Angra Mainyu – the Persian angel of darkness and destroyer of good.

Which is why I decided to spend this day departing from my typical Inverted Alchemy topics to celebrate the outdoors, to honor happiness, and to invoke the Spirit of Goodness.

First, this morning, my lovely bride of 24 years and I rode through Southern Albemarle County on our tandem. Having moved 12 cubic yards of mulch in the yard on Saturday, we were blessed with a constant reminder of the tons of weight we’d moved with each contraction of our quadriceps muscles punctuating each pedal stroke. With over one half mile of elevation and across 31 miles, we cycled through the chilly, grey morning light past sweeping meadows, rushing rivers, and blooming foliage – dogwoods, mountain laurel, redbuds and azalea. The green erupting from the towering oaks, wind-swept willows, and carpets of lilies seemed to have more vibrancy than years past. Set against the backdrop of the low grey clouds, the colors were even more pronounced. Returning home, we set our first plants out in our freshly tilled garden and then sat in the sunset watching the massive koi in the pond while listening to the chorus of frogs chanting their off-spring into the next circle of life. What an amazing place we call home!

I was reminded, during a weekend dinner conversation, how much I have relished the experience that was set in motion in the Farea Model Village in Papua New Guinea with my dear friends Clemence Kanau and Theresa Arek. The Farea Water Utility – the first community-owned and operated public utility in Papua New Guinea – is now awash in fresh water. For those of you regular readers, you will know that this project provided displaced people a new social, community and economic future having had their previous existence erased by the Exxon LNG project. However, what struck me during a conversation this weekend was something else that the Farea project delivered – joy! For those of you who do not know them, my parents are people who have lived their lives with a sense of purpose – frequently frustrated by situations that have presented more struggle than gratification. However, on the trip to Farea (as you can read in my father’s account), the community that joined together to make the miracle of water happen on the plain east of Jackson Field International Airport instilled in my parents a joy that has not yet erased from their faces nor their stories. And for this, I am grateful beyond words!

Which leads me to the Spirit of Goodness. I am the beneficiary of countless individuals who, at various times in life, have been capable of providing encouragement and motivation that have often gone unnoticed. So, in honor of the embodiment of the Spirit of Goodness, let me call your attention to a few people who, in the recent past, have infused my life with hope and light. Through their passion for Goodness, Goodness has grown in my life. Zach, Bob, Julie, Stuart, Denise, Colin, David, Adam, Katie, Colleen, Theresa, Dex, Dylan, Paul, Ray, Greg, Kim, Bill, Stephanie, Megan, Rod, Jacoby, Ken, April, Jimmy, Linda, Ian, Todd, Nick, Vaida, Josh, Meredith, Hayden, John, Clemence, Lawrence, Chip, Ditrick, Rodney, Allison, Jay, Naomi, Tim, Elaine, Dan, Cyrus, Frank, Patrick, Sandey, Peggy, Elana, Michael, Dustin, Gilson, Baagi, Nergui, Elizabeth, Tony, Moustapha, Omar, Mohammad, Connie, Dan, Mark, Sacha, Edward, Leo, Peter, Luis, Ran, Sharadha, Gustavo, Christine, Erik, Jan, Keld, Krishna, Larry, Laurent, Dori, Michelle, Richard, Leland, Lisette, Lino, Mike, Pieter, Randy, Simon, Tiantian, and so many more that one trillion lines would barely be enough… Thank you!