Monday, October 24, 2011

Tipping our hats as he goes

Steve Jobs left quite the impression on me and billions of us on this planet...his brusque management style; his intuitive genius; knowing the right remedy and understanding truly the problem that gave rise to it...perhaps actually creating the problem that preceded the solution he foresaw. Synching the world with his efforts based on his self-synching with a true and whole spirit, he created a magnetic resonance of hope. We can do anything, anything is possible with the self-trust needed to tap into our inner resources and imagination.

Invention, mass marketing of products that have become commonplace... who does that anymore? Products and inventions are the culmination of years of effort of a team of visionaries nowadays... It is surprising that we can owe such creation to one human being. But we have to remember on this earth today exist the Galileo's, Einsteins, Edison's, Curie's etc. all at the same time. Jobs reminds us with his legacy that if opportunity is provided to all, we can overcome many of the burdens that continue to plague us including those attributable socio-economic stratification. Jobs had the vision to see that computers would become a household appliance if not a workplace basic. I have lived through this evolution. Typing on a normal typewriter, I took typing in eighth grade in '75. Once proficient, I thought with my fingertips even back then through Wellesley and my first two law degrees. The modern keyboard really helps speed up thought and its reflection upon the white (or black if that's your preference) of the screen. I revelled in the PC when it came around in graduate school. What did everyone do before 'cut and paste'? Write much better out of necessity or much worse because of editing constraints? Now you can't get through high school without a computer, preferably a Mac, nevermind college.

Jobs also created and saw beauty in simplicity. Leave it to a complicated man to do that. The insides of his beautiful devices, the accessible and transparent programs were reflected in the aesthetic outside of the product. How to appeal to more with sophistication? Elegance for the masses...thin, metallic opaque, or white sheen envelopes over simple iconic clicks learned when accessing the ipod, the mobile music revolutionizer of our era. And this from a man who ate the simplest food, and lived in sparse surroundings based in some non-materialistic ethos (Hindu-Bhuddhist based) focused on the output of his efforts. It wasn't about the money... it's hard to create and do something beautiful if it is about the money after all. Note the cardinal temptation that has seized humanity in the course of this cycle of being. If we are about running after something, then we are hard pressed to create and we lose our beauty; that beauty that only shines through when we are driven to a purpose of whole-scale execution and we become execution itself. Delivering the ultimate product, one to be marveled at as much as it becomes a marvel. I look for that in the legal domain and keep working on it. In this field it is built on trust; client's trust in the delivery of the product and mutual trust in its deliverability and faith that the system will enable the just outcome for those that stand by right not might. So yes, Jobs is inspiring and can be applied!

Then there are those great movies... not just for kids, these technological pioneers transformed the screen into a 3D vision into which we all travelled willingly. Stories that anthropomorphized somehow more realistically the plight and emotional life of animals or toys suspending all disbelief and took us with them into another world. Perhaps these worlds really exist somewhere else in the surreal realm of the cosmic experience Jobs has now entered. Given his eternal drive and ingenuity, I am sure he continues to conquer...

An iconic legacy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten years ago - 9-11

Ten years ago .... That day, I awoke late, off to the 42nd floor of the Conde Nast Building from across the twin towers, in an apartment rented in NewPort, New Jersey. I was sleep deprived all the time in those days. Trying to tackle that second draft of a doctoral dissertation sometime between midnight and 7 or 9 am in the morning when work started again at Skadden, Arps. By the time I got outside my apartment building, evacuations in the buildings around me had already begun... I was late, it was after 9am.

I went straight into the subway station and had the choice of taking either train on most mornings (one went straight into the world trade center, the other to the 33rd street station). This morning I was told that I could not take the one heading into the world trade center. I saw shock on most faces around me, heads shaking, folks trying to figure out what was going on. I had no coffee in me yet (and I ran on it in those days)... but I quickly came to, perked up at the sounds of 'terrorism'. Thinking this was normal New York paranoia, I scoffed and started to ask questions... until screaming started and more bodies streamed into the subway, fearing that the roads outside were not safe. "Another plane", something serious was going on and people needed help. We were not safe. Planes had been flying into buildings. I could not make out if there were misdirected small aircraft (to my mind, these often crashed) that had accidentally fallen or exactly what was going on. As I pieced together the actual threat... I wanted to get on a train and get into work before I could not move anywhere. This was the last train that left that station to 33rd station. Once I got on it, the subways all shut down and nothing could go into, or come out of Manhattan.

When I got up above, complete pandemonium greeted me... people were running in streams through the streets, and lining up at phone booths. I began to cry... and flashed back to a childhood in which bombs went off all around and we huddled into bomb shelters in the backyards at home and at my Aunt's house in Jammu (in the midst of the India/Pakistan war over Kashmir). There was no way to make any sense of this... then or now. When I got to our building on 42nd street, an evacuation was already under way, but I went straight up to my floor anyway. I thought it was the safest place. Having understood better the threat and knowing that the two tallest buildings in the world had been slaughtered taking with them all they contained and all that surrounded them, I thought statistically, it was unlikely we would be hit... my assistant and others around us, were glued to news channels and tried to piece together all that went on. Soon we came to hear two more planes were headed for and crashed short of targets in DC. Brenda, my assistant, also a photographer, took the photos from our perch... while we all filed into a partner's office directly overlooking the tragic undoing/crumbling of the towers as each one slowly fell in a pile of smoke.

All air traffic had now been stopped everywhere. All flights canceled... no chances would be taken now till security could be assured. All planes were a danger. The second set of planes should never have taken off. But like me, authorities were having difficulty facing an invisible enemy. It was attacking without notice (allegedly, as it appears the CIA had some knowledge but like the SEC with Madoff and other cases, did not act on information). Suddenly there were some helicopters and jets flying outside our windows and we frightened that another one was coming for our building. We rushed to the windows to know the truth (prepared for anything on a morning capable of unimaginable atrocity). Fighter jets circled to ensure our safety and helicopters surveyed the city to assess damage and understand the state of the things.

I phoned my children who were at our home just outside Boston(having been sent home from school) with my mother who was minding them. Friends called from all around the world to check in and make sure I was okay. What became more apparent in these conversations was that there was a targeted attack with particular goals, the first two those towers. But others unfolding before our eyes.

That day, I grew more and more afraid for my children, because of the terrible realization that there was a Boston/New York connection here. These planes were the ones I was taking most every week back and forth between these two cities while I worked at Skadden. I remember Brenda and I looked at each other, and she indicated I could easily have been on one of those planes coming in from Boston. What was even scarier Osama Bin Laden's family apparently lived in and around Boston, and rumors of possible poisoning of water around Boston were circulating. My children were scared and I was not with them. Not a good situation. I stayed with a colleague that evening in Manhattan, we did not sleep. We were glued to the TV for news and went out to greet restaurant owners and others in the middle of the night... it seemed no one could sleep and everyone needed community. The stench from the explosions, the tragedy, the brutal attack/act filled the air, and worry, pain and sadness was palpable in all the spaces between.

At some point that night, I made a decision to leave, and not return to work until I was ready. I simply needed to leave. I thought it was not good for me to stay in this place, and that I must be with my children. So at noon when the subway opened up, I got on, and did not look back. I knew that roads heading out of NYC would be clogged. But I made my way back to Newport, NJ, and to the nearest rent a car and drove without stopping till I got home to our place (few people knew actually existed) surrounded by 8 acres of woods. And there, I felt safe and able to breathe again. And my children and I, and my mom talked and cried, and worried and pained together about this catastrophe. Knowing full well from our time in Kashmir, that these things, these terrible, irreconcilable things happen, across all borders, boundaries, breaching all of our understanding of security and trust. Kashmiri Pandits, and all real Kashmiris (Muslim and Hindu) had been violated by and dealing with these same mercenary forces of terrorism coming over and disrupting life and killing the Hindus (I lost 3 family members to this same hatred in Srinagar) and now it had made its way here to the U.S., a place we thought so removed from this violence, taxing imagination. How, when, why did this conspiracy start? Fundamental to human history and action are cycles. What cycle(s) of action and reaction did this shock belong?

I also understood in tearful frustration that no law firm, no lawyer, no law can stop this from happening. And if there was anything that began my quest to try to understand and learn why, how and what our regulating and enforcing systems of rules are about, it was the fact that I originated in the cradle of such violence in Kashmir. And here I was on the precipice of completing my doctorate but no closer to understanding how I could do something about it. The damage was done and being done all around me and I along with the world stood helpless against it.

I realized that in that most vulnerable moment, when all has been lost, we can only recreate and rebuild by regrouping into each other, into family and into community, with love and care, nothing else. One brick at a time, one namaste at a time, one handshake at a time, one hug at a time, the tears must be shed, and shed, so that changes can occur in each one of us, in our families and in our communities to help us deal with the shock of this horror. The ripples of that love and care will not only transcend and honor those lost, and the losses we bear, but also forge the foundations of a new transformative trust capable of rebuilding the systems needed to change the nature of humanity so that such hatred (an unnecessary crutch for our insecurities) is amputated from the wholeness of our being.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Creating Community in the Hospital Waiting Room

My mother was in the hospital for almost four months - till late March. It has been, mildly put, a trying time. For a week, after her third brain surgery, she did not come to or respond. All boundaries were transcended in that time. Emotions, time, body, work, self, other, all were a blurr. All that counted was that she came to. In that time most of all, but other times too, close friendships and giving surfaced so easily between the families waiting in the hospital,for good news. There were four families in particular that were tough cases, three tumors and one stroke. Ours was a tumor. And it was ours, we carried it with our mother, grandmother, wife, sister. The family came together, unsure and awkward at first, but poised in moments of action.

So who was there, a Vietnamese man of 78, a Jewish Swiss fellow of 55, and a Phillipino woman in her early 70's. Both the Vietnamese man and the Phillipino woman wore papery thin skin, gaunt, their faces pushing forward pronounced cheek bones and eyes smiling filled with tenderness and worry all at the same time. The Vietnamese man, gentle and watery with his frailty, exhibited too a profound spirituality and empathic experience. The Jewish Swiss fellow, round and jovial with red hair and a balding head, wore a yamukah (skull cap) in black, and spoke with his heart. His wife had previously been operated for the same condition, brain tumor and he was a veteran. He lit up when he learned I had worked in Geneva at the UN. And then painstakingly, he confirmed for me the positive signs of my mother's responses to the operation when there was no way to know. And even after his wife had been discharged, he came back to check on me and to see how my mother was doing. By then she was responding verbally, Thank God. The Phillipino woman, gripped by the most difficult situation, her husband's ambivalent responses to treatment for his stroke, left her at times defeated, but her nursing background gave her the experience to persevere. She had been through this before, when one of her sons similarly suffered from a stroke due to an aneurism early in his life, and she had to care for him ever since.

Amazed at the resilience of the human spirit as I looked around me, I could not fathom how these people had been through what they had, supporting their loved ones, family members and others, day after day in a life that met with so many challenges. Was there so much love in this world? If there was, how did it elude the others? Those who took the wrong path, a path of treachery, betrayal, abuse, and criminality. It was hard to put both together on the same planet - these people of ultimate maturity, and those others who like children steal from others, or trample on their hearts and souls without care or regard.

Like them, I too would be tested. In those days and weeks when my mother's fate rested in the hands of the intensive care medical team, there were days when only tears would stream down my face, and I could not eat or sleep. But these great souls looked after me at night and during the day. Brought me food and drink, told me to sleep, and more importantly told me to smile, so that things could get better. Staying in the hospital day and night... I grew close to them and let their silence and talk nourish my spirit to a height I did not think possible. I let them lead me to a place of belief, shelter, and light where anything was possible, including the miracle of healing and strength that it was incumbent on me to transmit to my mother. In addition, hundreds of clients and colleagues wrote their prayers of strength too... an amazing testament to the kind of community that can develop not only around crisis, but around the empathic resonance of human bonds and ties that we all understand - that of mother and child.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Commodification of Disaster

A tsunami in Indonesia, earthquake in the Himalayas, a sheet of rock splitting open the middle of Haiti, the BP oil spill, and yet another quake creating Tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan... the foundation to the risk that in legal doctrine is known as Force Majeure. It is either my imagination or force majeure is starting to hold a more coveted place in our risk management strategies when it comes to legal and asset management. Deal agreements of all kinds will and are being affected and should undergo some overhaul as we confront transactional disputes and cooperation alike moving forward. I am told the earth's axis is shifting, the planet rotates a bit faster, the day is growing, however infinitesimally, shorter. The plates on the earth's surface are growing somewhat closer together, adjusting to the changes set in motion, so to speak. Other plates are growing closer too... note the middle east uprisings. Political and social plates are sliding us to new terrain slipping tensions into new crevices and connection.

We humans are creators, mimicking the earth. Fictions unimaginable, sprout from our psyches onto a page, a structure, an institution, a piece of paper or metal printed upon, known to the world to represent a measure of worth that we all believe in, or at least, we are all suppose to believe in until that fateful moment we are overwhelmed by disaster. That fiction is money - currency - even gold, used to value a segmented series of actions, products, processes, services, commodities, resources. What happens to the value of oil when it is spilled? What happens to the value of micro-chips when the plant in which they are manufactured disappears? What happens to an entire industry, like the nuclear industry, when signs of its holocaust
are visible on the horizon? We have created markets which trace exactly what happens, which symbol -stock or other- representing that commodity rises and which one falls?

Humans need security and hence, covet stability and hate risk. Risk is not
rewarded unless of course you are able to predict it and can show such prediction by shorting the particular commodity or representation of the same. If the timeline of disasters continues, more and greater reward will bestowed on those who can predict. A new industry of seers will erupt as in the days of old. "Mad Money" is only the beginning. Religion - even newer kinds - may hold a stronger grasp on our hearts and minds. And what would become of the value of disaster itself within our current fictions? Think a little about Project Redd to undo decades of deforestation in the Amazon, or the staggered carbon pollution created by industrial revolution and its parade of development, and the new markets created in response. If India and China thought about it long enough, yet another carbon or development market specifically geared to their situation would sprout. We are valuing at least man-made disasters (even as we are making them) over a longer timeline quite highly... highly enough to form new markets of healing, kind of like the charitable markets of aids, cancer, malaria etc... in the pharmaceutical world that are double edged. The edges are helping a larger segment of humankind with the cure, and the nearer form of financial
commodification necessary to bring in the money close to the dichotomy between brand and generics. Disease is after all a form of disaster.

War is another form. Uprisings like those blanketing across the middle east present a case in point. These commodify the sale of consultancy in political arrangements, the support and identification of opposing parties, the formation of parliamentary and other democracies, the establishment of democratic constitutions. Political and violent upheaval, like the kind involved in the drug trade, assist us in commodifying arms and the black market of illegal substances, in some ways assuring the outlawed nature of both. South American and Mexican governments bandy about with American and Chinese supports, formal and informal of their politics, their illegal industries, and their corruption and illicit assets. The people in these countries cry out for stability in their currencies, government programs that might support their multitude of poor citizens. The instability created in these countries is in some cases temporary with a permanent structure that promises more freedom to the peoples being governed if not more prosperity. The prosperity for middle east people may in fact take longer as assets and resources are fought over on a higher political terrain between the strongest powers - the most useful and prized of these assets being oil not democracy. In other cases, the instability is more permanent as it sustains corruption in local governments while the stronger powers reign over the resources, distracting the locals with short term self- interest often at the expense of their own people.

In fact the commodification of disaster on the one hand belies an old tale, an old story in which disaster (in the guise of political upheaval) acts as just another distraction to enable the monopolizing of far away resources; and on the other infiltrates our risk adjustment analysis and increased need for in/reass/urance from sub-prime crisis to Japanese tsunami.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Conceptions of Belonging and Legal Relationships In a Changing World

I don't know where my home is... in my mother's womb, in my self-created house, within my family unit, my academic or professional community, city, town, state or country? It is increasingly up for grabs as I connect to others far away and disconnect from myself and my immediate present through my crack-berry, telephone, computer. Confusion is resulting not only in my own life, but in the lives of my clients and colleagues. Non-US investors into world-wide ponzi schemes are connected to others thousands of miles away and to ostensible U.S. protections, protections that dissipate as soon as fraud and loss are uncovered. One kind of loss has a way of resulting in other losses...strangely enough, aspects of belonging we thought we had can vanish with the wind. But loss engenders human connection too, at least on informal levels. Formality does not appear to befriend loss... requiring the insertion of litigators; requiring changing interpretations of existing legislation in view of changed circumstance.

To me, home is a conception of belonging, a form of acceptance of self as is, recognizing its fragility, strength, and the weaknesses attached to a specific spirit embodied uniquely in one human form. Where do I feel I really belong? Does anyone really care what I believe about my own sense of belonging... care in the sense of validating that belief with some formal power within the larger community so that obligations and rights can issue from my own sense of belonging? Or must I be done to? I am born into a family, into a town or city, into a country and told what I believe and indoctrinated into the program of a specific country, unless of course, I am a military brat or have otherwise been carted all over the world through any number of scenarios mongrelizing my programming. I am allowed to cast a vote if I happen to be a citizen of the country I also happen to live in (a privilege I have not owned for some 17 years now) so I can impact the rules made by legislators at the various levels of my belonging.

Other conceptions of belonging (literature on the "commons") address the widening meanings of community and arguably widening rights or possibility of impacting those rules and rights but not necessarily the shrinking and loss sustained in self. As my sense of belonging changes, I lose parts of my self as much if not more than I gain. Take the role of technology I touch upon above. For that matter, consider how much more I touch cold hard steel and keys on a board these days than fruit, skin, heat attached to another human or animal... does that change what/where I may sense my belonging. I belong in my head much more than in my skin? How do I connect now? In the same way or differently?

I chat/skype/call with others far away and sometimes I conduct whole transactions with people I have never met... investing thousands of dollars with them, even my entire life savings, often counting on other espoused experts (advisers) to counsel me and tell me that my money is insured, protected by government agencies. Perhaps the dollars are the real connective tool, formal in the sense of trust represented by the guaranteed exchange, often even connected to the spiritual or a higher power (note 'in God we Trust' or symbols of monarchs and inspirational figures). Money lost and won, connects us to others across borders. Professionals too can be positioned to create communities and transactions in a positive way. I find myself for instance at the center of community creation through value based and integrating litigation that assists in the processing of grief and loss toward a place of hope and eventual recovery validating the experience of belonging of clients around the world connected by fraud.

There are rules that allow for these fraudulent transactions to take place, agencies placed in positions of oversight, managers emboldened by government backing and support because they have attracted the funds necessary to be considered significant. Technological advances in place allow these connections to take place, but also allow innocents to fall prey to sociopathic predators. The Madoffs and Stanfords of the world are phantoms devoid of spirit and heart, leeching off families, elderly and innocents for the sole purpose of sustaining themselves and their unending appetite for material gain. The widening of a heart based commons (which includes legitimate rights and obligations of law-abiding individuals and entities), based on these same technological advances supports these financial vampires' cross border empires too. Clearly I have a problem seeing such predatory behavior as some attempt at regulatory arbitrage. Any support of such criminal behavior by countries denying protections to innocent cross-border investors condones and creates pariah models for upcoming generations (perhaps we should take note of the increasing number of vampire based TV shows).

Inevitably and from the rooted outset, home represents stability, familiarity, a certain exchange of power and comfort too... and involves one's heart. Formal and informal rules are integral to the exchanges of the home. Home does not need borders... just as one's family can extend to close friends, lovers, close colleagues, and even pets... home can extend to all the places where close and significant ties and contacts have been placed. The trust placed in the extension into such significant ties warrants a mutual recognition and assertion of one's rights in those other lands.