Saturday, December 31, 2011
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Not only is the world too complicated but so is basketball.
All of a sudden the LA Clippers are contenders to make a playoff run. Ron Artest (on the Lakers) the former poster child for angry, has changed his name to Metta World Peace. Lebron James, one of the most gifted 26 year old athletes on the planet, has become a villain for making a perfectly reasonable career move to Miami...I am baffled by it all.
Watching the action I feel like I am watching rabbits scramble and I can barely see where the rabbit was. I cannot figure out why fouls have been called, or even follow the ball. I have no idea why Lamar Odom was ejected from the game the other day or why he married Khloe Kardashian. My New Year's resolution for this year is to tune into women's basketball. I think the slower pace will suit me...less baffling.
Not only are the world and basketball too complicated but so is contemporary art.
This week we (including my bro-in-law, Billy, who is a walking art encyclopedia - which makes museum going with him fantastic) walked through the permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Here's my take away - I am a convert to the notion that the world would be way better off if we passed a global rule that from now on only women can be in positions of political power. I had this thought when I saw side by side works by Mark Rothko and Agnes Martin. Both use simple horizontal fields of colors. Both have been compared to the experience of looking at natural landscapes. Rothko is muscular - his colors heavy and strong - he paints with a brutish willfulness. Martin's horizontals are pastel - soft and inviting. They whisper compassion and consolation.
I think an Agnes Martin world makes a whole lot more sense than a Mark Rothko world. Or maybe not, who knows? Anyway, Happy New Year and World Peace.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
My friend, David, is such a terrific writer I could not resist posting another piece he wrote. (His is the immediate prior rough fractals guest post as well).
This one in response to my describing to him my experience this past week visiting old friends who recently moved near Yosemite in north central California to start a "community". By community I mean that they bought a large enough parcel (70 acres) to build a number of small houses which they are hoping friends and neighbors will do. The current main house will then serve as a central community center. Right now they are using the main house as a Bed and Breakfast for "seekers" - that is to say anyone who would like to spend a few days in a beautiful area to meditate and contemplate (and visit Yosemite). Having moved there 18 months ago many of the locals have joined in the pursuit. When I was there there were blessings before meals and regular group meetings. On Tuesday night ten neighbors came over and after a short meditation we discussed the topic of friendship. For some, the discussion was philosophical for others, personal. We have known each other for 40 years and despite our different paths our friendship has been sustained and when we spoke of that in the group there were a few moist eyes (mine among them).
Below is David's reaction to what I described. He is always smart and has a way of writing that makes neither too much nor too little of the subject matter. I wish I could do that - I always seem to ricochet between the two. (By way of background David is a public interest lawyer who works in health care).
"Sorry I couldn't respond sooner, but on this side of the moon I was preparing for a hearing that I did yesterday. I think I told you about it, surgeon who left his patient in the OR and, in another case, concocted his own stent and implanted it into his patient. Since I worked all last weekend preparing, I'm giving myself today off.
It's been irresistible to compare our respective experiences on the two different sides of the moon. I've been sunk to my eyes in the realm of bad motives and bad acts, the lies that cover them and the hard work it takes to reveal them. And, of course, what it does to me for that to be my work and the world I live in. Meanwhile, you're in a sunny garden world where the locals are trying to recreate Eden. To sharpen the contrast, I spent the morning watching a move called "Saint Misbehavin'," a lovely documentary about Wavy Gravy.
I have to fight against the notion that those folks out in the garden are good hearted Eloi, and I'm just a debased Morlock. In truth, I'd make a pretty bad hippie, although I'm far from immune to the attractions. After some consideration, I think the core difference between the two worlds is more scale than substance, the fact that one is large enough to require institutions and the other isn't and doesn't. I think it's as simple as this: big city, big needs (in this case, health needs), big and complex hospitals arise to serve the needs, norms and rules arise to make sure it's done right, fallible and otherwise imperfect humans contravene the rules and much ugliness ensues.
All of that is at the "Duh" level of obviousness -- so why recite it? Well, part of it is defensiveness on my part. I want to show that there is some necessity for people to do the work I do and I'm not just a dope not to live in the garden. But it also helps me understand some resistance I feel to the tendency of at least some of the Gardeners (yes, let's call them that) to feel that they have hit on something of world transforming relevance. It's not just that they're making their world, but that they sometimes act like they are remaking The World. I see arrogance and lack of perspective in that attitude. If the underlying values have merit -- simplicity, generosity, tolerance, balance -- as they certainly do, it's fine to emphasize them. But even we Morlocks esteem those values, but we also know that they are only part of the prescription for living in a complex world.
Now, that I've justified my existence, I'll proceed on my Morlock way."
(I sent David's response to my friends who agreed with everything he wrote. Their choices are not about saving the world or even suggesting trying to. I think it is about questioning the paradigm for themselves, their friends and their community. Artists, scientists, social activists, inventors, innovators have always been outside. Someone's gotta do that.)
PS: On further thought about this, David added a post script wondering about the tendency to think that others' lives mean something about our own. That they stand as critiques or confirmations or something to be aspired to. Often taking the form of envy. I am not sure he is right about that. Envy seems to me to usually have a built in reservation, a bottom, bottom line belief that the choices we make are, despite our doubts and our envy of the conviction those we aspire to be like seem to hold, the best we could do. That might be denial or it might be honest but either way, there is something to the notion that we all are right where we need to be - that everyone is doing the best they can. Put another way, maybe there are no Eloi and Morlock, no "us" and "them". Not ever. Not deep down.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Watching the Republican debates and seeing the likes of Perry, Cain, Bachmann et al. I have the same feeling I get when I go to the DMV or to Costco, or to the post office or to a third world country - a feeling that there is a flaw in the design, though given the setting, the dysfunction seems organic and culturally interesting - the result of certain parameters that dictate behavior and expectations that require you to suspend disbelief and accept the lunacy. As my friend, Alexis, commented the other day (I am paraphrasing, she said it better, less caustic)- it's as if Palin opened the barn door of stupid and now stupid is seen as a positive. They should rename them the Banana Republic Debates.
We have learned that Steve Jobs put off cancer treatment while first pursuing fruitarian therapy. Very bad unscientific decision coming from a genius. Alexis and I wondered if this means that his Apple genius might have been less genius and more about finding the right market for his obsession. There are lots of examples of really successful people believing in really wrong things. It takes a certain delusional obsession to take the big bets that can lead to becoming a zillionaire. And like the Palin effect - once crazy works, crazy no longer seems crazy (often the dazzling hedge fund managers of one or two years crash spectacularly the next). Once you are wildly successful in business, cinema, religion, politics (anything?) it seems that going forward it can be challenging to be rigorously honest about your own character defects and personal moral inventory. Let's just say that no matter how many true believers a guru might have I would find it hard to use the words "enlightened being" and "chain smoker" in the same sentence.
Anoher example that presses my skeptical button is the guy who founded PayPal, Peter Thiel, a billionaire with some odd notions - universally lauded as a genius. PayPal was a brilliant secure on-line payment program that filled a need in internet commerce - (Thiel made $50 million when he sold PayPal to eBay - he then invested, on a lark, $500,000 in his friend, Mark Zuckerberg's, Facebook start up - that stake is now worth an estimated $1.7 billion) but does that combo of luck/genius/timing outweigh being a born again libertarian whose latest project (along with Patri Friedman, grandson of Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman) is called SeaSteading - investing in sea worthy free standing oceanic platforms as autonomous experimental communes in international waters?
Day to day life in the trenches doesn't stand a chance.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
" throughout all of human history up until 2003 we created 5 exabytes of data (five billion gigabytes). We now create that much every day. In 2011, we’ll create 1.8 zettabytes of data (a zettabyte is a 1000 exabytes) and we’ll be creating over 20 times that by 2020."
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
I am living, I remember you.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Rev. Dean Brackley, 65, Dies; Served in El Salvador
By PAUL VITELLO
The Rev. Dean Brackley belonged to an order of priests, the Jesuits, sometimes referred to as “God’s Marines,” because of a 16th-century founder’s military background and because of their long tradition of intellectual rigor as teachers and missionaries.
Father Brackley, who died on Oct. 16 in El Salvador, imbued that nickname with some literal meaning in 1990, when he left a teaching job at Fordham University to take up residence in the San Salvador university dormitory where six Jesuit priests and two women had recently been killed by government military forces.
He admitted to being scared. But the job description for replacements of the slain priests, all of them faculty members at the Universidad Centroamericana, seemed to have his name on it: “They wanted a Jesuit. They wanted someone who had a Ph.D. in theology. They wanted someone who spoke Spanish,” he told a friend. “I started looking around and realized there weren’t that many of us.” He said he would return in four or five years.
Father Brackley remained in the job for the rest of his life. A spokesman for the university said the cause of death was pancreatic cancer. He was 65.
His decision to go to El Salvador was not the first time Father Brackley had taken the road less traveled. In 1980, after completing his doctorate in theology at the University of Chicago, he had several teaching offers from colleges around the country, said the Rev. Neil Connolly, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Manhattan and a longtime friend.
Instead, Father Brackley took a job with a church-sponsored community organization in New York called South Bronx People for Change, where he worked with drug addicts, helped tenants organize and acted as a go-between in tensions between residents and the police.
He had been there almost 10 years — and begun riding his bicycle to Fordham University to teach ethics and theology classes — when the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter were killed on Nov. 16, 1989.
Inquiries determined that the killings were carried out during an extended battle between left-wing insurgents and government forces, part of the country’s decade-long civil war. American-trained government soldiers, who considered the Jesuits leftist sympathizers, dragged the six priests from their beds in the university dorm, ordered them to lie on the ground outside, shot them in the head and then killed the women as potential witnesses. Nine soldiers were charged, but only two were convicted in connection with the executions; both were released in a general amnesty in 1993.
When Father Brackley told friends that he was asking the Jesuit order to send him as a replacement, Father Connolly remembers flinching.
“We didn’t exactly ask him not to go,” he said. “We just said, ‘Gee, Dean, you could do an awful lot of good right here. Why not stay?’ ”
“Father Brackley said ‘he felt called to continue the work’ of those slain,” Father Connelly said, though he told a New York Newsday columnist in 1990 that in some ways he was torn: “My body began to factor it in before my head — I found my knees shaking, without really knowing why.”
He was joined by five other Jesuit priest volunteers at the campus residence in El Salvador, including one other American, the Rev. Charles J. Beirne, an academic administrator who later became president of LeMoyne College in Syracuse. Father Beirne died last year.
Joseph Dean Brackley Jr. was born on Aug. 9, 1946, in Wynantskill, in upstate New York, the oldest of four children of J. Dean and Inez Brackley. He was ordained in 1976. He is survived by his mother; two brothers, Douglas, of Glen Burnie, Md., and Richard, of Mechanicsville, Va.; and a sister, Jane Davis of Brentwood, Tenn.
Father Brackley wrote frequently for the Jesuit weekly magazine America and wrote two books about Catholic theology and priestly discernment while teaching at the university in San Salvador and ministering to a rural parish about 50 miles away.
In the months immediately after the massacre, government soldiers were frequently stationed at the campus, ostensibly as guards. Their presence created an atmosphere of apprehension more than safety, Father Brackley told friends. But as it turned out, the killings had marked a turning point in the war, attracting worldwide attention and Congressional investigations. A peace accord was signed in 1992.
Throughout the 1990s, Father Brackley was the unofficial Jesuit greeter for waves of official and unofficial delegations of visitors to the killing site. Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, was then a staff investigator for Representative Joe Moakley of South Boston, who was chairman of one of the House investigating committees.
“It was a very dangerous time, emotions on all sides were very high, and Dean brought this peacefulness to the situation. He would greet the delegations and tell them the history of the war and the story of what happened at the UCA,” he said, referring to the university.
Every tour concluded with a viewing of the eight rose bushes planted in memory of the victims, and an introduction to the man who tended them, the father and husband of the two women killed.
Eugene Palumbo contributed reporting from San Salvador.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
At first I thought the passage below was kind of not interesting but the more I read it the more intrigued I am by it and the more pressing the question it poses seems.
"We've changed the way we think of ourselves as citizens. We don't think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities. We do still think of ourselves as citizens in the sense of being beneficiaries–we're actually conscious of our rights as American citizens and the nation's responsibilities to us and ensuring we get our share of the American pie. We think of ourselves now as eaters of the pie instead of makers of the pie. So who makes the pie?"
... from David Foster Wallace's posthumously published novel, The Pale King, set mostly inside the hallways and cubicles of an IRS audit center.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Saturday, October 15, 2011
By CARL RICHARDS
(Carl Richards is a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah. His web site is BehaviorGap.com.)
After many years of talking with entrepreneurs, a calling that seems to appeal to the creative side of people, I’ve come up with what I define as the Unified Theory of Capital Management.
It goes something like this: We all have at least two types of capital that we should be managing: our personal human capital and our financial capital. In simple terms, human capital is the ability we have to earn money. Financial capital is our savings or investments.
So why should this matter to you?
Based on my experience and talks with entrepreneurs, I believe everyone, not just entrepreneurs, needs to manage these two types of capital differently than they do now. So I came up with some strategies to help you manage these two distinct, but connected, resources.
For personal human capital, you want to do three things:
For financial capital, you want to do two things:
The majority of entrepreneurs express a strong desire to focus on things they can control, or have at least some control of. For example, I’ve noticed that it’s hard for entrepreneurs to invest in the stock market because they have no control over the outcome.
I remember meeting with a friend of mine whose family had owned a fairly prominent real estate development company that was successful over multiple generations. Behind my friend’s desk, the same desk that his grandfather and father sat at, there was a framed stock certificate.
When I asked him about the stock certificate and why it had such a prominent place, he replied that it was the first and last publicly traded stock that the family ever bought. When the stock started to go down, it proved too frustrating for the family because they couldn’t do anything to fix it. They couldn’t paint the fence, change the zoning, remodel or come up with a new marketing plan. Things seemed completely out of control. So they made a decision to focus on those things that they were good at, in this case real estate development, and then protect the money they made.
Again and again, I’ve heard successful entrepreneurs say that their success came from similar focus on personal human capital and those opportunities where their creative skills, relationships and experiences can mitigate potential risk. But once they make their money, they protect their financial assets by investing far more conservatively than you might think given their propensity for making risky business decisions.
One thing that I’ve heard over and over is that the way to become wealthy is through focus and concentration, while the way to stay wealthy is through diversification and protection. To that end, you do not have to be a creative entrepreneur to benefit from the Unified Theory of Capital Management.
Everyone can focus on improving personal human capital — compounding it — by looking for ways to take on a side job, increasing salary and improving skills and education. Then, look for ways to protect the money through diversification using conservative investments.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts
The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur?
There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.
To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;
And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;
Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full
And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,
You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,
You are humped higher and higher, black as stone?
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.
(from "Harmonium," 1923)