No Acronyms Allowed!

“We have to depart the LZ by 0500 so that the recon can be complete by 0600.”  That was about all I remembered from the briefing…or all that I could understand.

The briefing was given in the mess hall of a navy ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. I was part of a Marine unit that was deployed to the Middle East for six months. Given the instability in the world, the MEU Commander had to develop contingency plans for all types of situations.

These types of briefings are normal during a float. For example, if an embassy had to be evacuated, the Colonel of the deployment had to formulate a plan on how to accomplish the evacuation. Logistical complexities of such missions require that the Marine Officer would have to brief the Colonel, in a single meeting, on the strategy to employ. If any of the proposals seemed out of whack, or needed to be fixed, this was the platform where it was done.

Briefings usually lasted about an hour.  It was not uncommon to have thirty or so people presenting. Air officers, helicopter pilots, infantry officers, ordinance officers, radio specialist, etc. would all have their say. In order to make the briefings quick and keep them moving along, acronym’s were used to speed things up.  But given the number of groups inputting their perspectives and expertise, each with its own lexicon, it was like listening to a cacophony of terms that, for the uninitiated, was super confusing.

The U.S. Marines have been around for over 200 years. To their credit, they have been able to successfully orchestrate the system that brings all this diversity of information together. Luckily for me, I was able to figure out what was being said!

When I transitioned to finance and started working at an emerging markets desk, I had to once again learn a new language: this time it was “finance speak” and the acronyms used in that world.

The nature of the finance world is that it is secretive and cut throat. I did the best I could with the new language, but it was close to impossible to understand all of the jargon. In the Marine Corps, the officers would go out of their way to make people understand what they were saying (afterall, lives were on the line). But in finance, it was common for people to give vague and unhelpful answers.

Michael Burry, who made millions of dollars shorting the housing market, said one of the reasons he looked into the trades with greater scrutiny was the sheer number of acronyms and jargon used to describe the housing market. When he called bond salespersons to walk him through the details of the structures he was thinking of buying, he realized that for all of their pedigree they understood very little about what they were selling.

So, to educate himself on all the terminology, he ordered a variety of prospectuses and started combing through them to understand all of the terms. He created a dictionary of those terms and acronyms until he understood everything that was being marketed and sold to investors.  Armed with that knowledge and understanding he bet against Wall Street… knowing that the firms selling those instruments had no idea what they were doing.

Ray Dalio, the hedge fund manager of Bridgewater, does not allow any acronyms to be used in meetings or reports. Everything has to be explained down to the last detail, so that everyone within his firm understands what they are doing. He has stated that acronyms become like a code and secret language behind which people hide.

True knowledge comes from being able to explain things;  even the most complex things.

Part of the reason most of the major financial institutions went under during the last crisis was because information was hidden and guarded. Many of the employees at the banks had no idea the extent of the recklessness of their mortgage departments.  At the time, I worked at Merrill Lynch on a bond desk.  We were having a great year and had no idea the damage the mortgage department was causing. We were shocked by the amount of risk they had taken.  Be assured that had more people been informed of the risks the mortgage area was taking, the positions would have been wound down and the bank saved.

In reading memoirs written prior to the crash about working at a bank and trading for one,  what stands out for me is the lengths to which employees, as well as management, guarded their trading secrets. The mindset was, “If show people how I am making money, the firm will fire me and do it for themselves.” So the information was never shared.

Contrast this attitude with Google which gives away all of its information for free.

Part of the reason Bridgewater is so successful is because it shares its information. Bredgewater is relentless in getting at the truth…even down to the language it uses.  No abbreviations.  No acronyms. If you work for Bridgewater and want to share something, you must explain your thoughts fully…down to the last detail. Imagine if that same rigor and search for the truth had been the standard for the banking industry prior to 2008. How different our lives would be  today!

It really makes you wonder why its ever done otherwise.  Truth is inevitably revealed and when it is, it also prevails. Both companies and individuals willing to embrace that fact are the ones that will survive and prosper this time of cultural transition.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Hacking Trump

Maureen Dowd doesn’t believe in moderation. If she did, she would have written a column about the pitfalls of hubris and the learning curve that is the Presidency. Instead she came after Donald Trump with the literary equivalent of a chainsaw.

Dowd makes certain valid points about the failed process of attempting to “replace” Obamacare this week, for which Trump owns the consequences. But in her haste to take down the President, she is both obvious and unapologetic in her glee to have the opportunity to do so.

Whenever I wrote about then candidate Trump, or now President Trump, I always feel the need to set the stage: I neither supported his candidacy nor voted for him. I restate this all the time because, when finding anything remotely good about him, #nevertrump’ers immediately draw certain conclusions about my political affiliation and agenda. Its a mistake to do so since the assumptions are almost always wrong. I am now a 15 year recovering Democrat and blossoming Libertarian.

Dowd’s scathing column is indicative of a larger problem.

We no longer seem capable of seeing any good what-so-ever in people who have differing opinions from our own. Even more disturbing is the “waiting to pounce” viciousness that erupts at the slightest opportunity to condemn one another for our differences.

Diversity, like “Hope and Change” is nothing more than a bumper sticker unless we find common ground in defining it. Diversity is more than just having a person from each race perfectly positioned, in full camera view, behind a politician’s podium. Its more than making sure that a certain number of minorities are admitted to a university.

Diversity of thought is the cornerstone of a free society and the free expression of ideas is the foundation of a tolerant society. When we find it necessary to destroy, verbally or otherwise, those whose ideas or actions differ from our own, we undermine that foundation.

I am not saying that Donald Trump is a good or bad President. It would be premature to draw a conclusion either way. But while we are busy picking over the carcass, following the withdrawn Congressional vote this past week, like vultures on roadkill…where were the voices, to be quick and on the record, in praise of President Trump for a brilliant and ethical Supreme Court nominee? Those same voices, now front and center like Dowd’s, who wish to seize the moment and “take down” the President were nowhere to be found when credit was, and is, due.

If we, as a nation, were in our right mind (which as of late is dubious at best) we would dismiss the hawkers of polarization and give little consideration to those who are quick to throw the baby out with the bath water. Trump is not perfect. But he is not always wrong, either. I prefer patience and tolerance to the alternatives.

Maureen Dowd and I differ on this. Yet, I can and will say she has written many good and thoughtful columns. This was just not one of them. Such is my ability and willingness to give credit where it is due… and withhold it when it is not. Perhaps we all need to take a refresher course in diversity.                   Carole

In Support of Lone Wolves

Britain has now experienced what Israelis have been living with for years…a radicalized individual who, consciously and with mal-intent, sets out to murder as many people as possible with a vehicle and a few kitchen knives. One of the murdered was Kurt Cochran, an American and member of the Church of Latter Day Saints who was on the last day of the trip of a lifetime with his wife, Melissa, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

We call these radical terrorists “lone wolves.” I simply cannot understand why.

I understand the radicalization. What I cannot comprehend is why we liken them to wolves, lone or otherwise. Wolves are pack animals that contribute significantly to the ecosystem in which they live by having a positive, ripple effect upon other animal populations as well as plant life.  The remainder of their prey’s carcass provides vital nutrients for the soil upon which it lays.

Wolves kill for survival not indiscriminately, wantonly, or for the sheer joy of it, unlike radicalized Islamic terrorists.

More specifically, the lone wolf who is driven from the pack has been sent away, usually by a breeding  male, or for territorial reasons.  To the contrary, the radicalized Islamic terrorist is very much a part of the pack. He or she is philosophically bonded to the murderous and hate-filled mind set of all radicalized Islamic terrorists.  And they kill not for individual survival.  In fact, their barbaric sprees almost always end in their own annihilation.

Unlike even the lone wolf, they have no sense of survival.

So it always bothers me when we reference animals to describe behavior that is barbaric, inhuman and totally lacking in an inherent sense of survival of their particular species. In fact, it’s an insult to wolves specifically, and animals generally, to call Islamic terrorists lone wolves.

They are simply humans who have so ingested and embraced hate as a form of perverse nourishment, and who so willingly believe the promise of a manipulative fantasy about reward for their barbaric and self-destructive behavior, that they have disconnected themselves from rational human thought as well as the natural instinctive behavior of animals.

Let’s give the actual lone wolves back the respect they are due.  Then, let’s call radical Islamists what they are due. Barbarians.

It’s hard to be Above The Fray on this one. I keep thinking about Melissa Cochran who survived the attack. I guess my usually higher ground perspective, in this post, is on behalf of the wolves.

Carole

 

 

“Get Out” – Movie Review

Some horror films have been great in adding a spice of social commentary to the genre. The Stepford Wives was a poignant film about the feminist movement and its male backlash. District 9, which centers around the living conditions of Aliens living on earth really addressed the plight of living conditions for many blacks in South Africa. The latest in this line of cinematic social commentary is Get Out.  It lifts the veil of “post-racial” America to reveal its underlying ugliness. The dialogue is sharp and pointed…culminating in a daring portrait of American society

The story centers around Chris and his girlfriend, Rose, who are going home to meet Rose’s parents for the first time. In any budding romance the trip would be a rite of passage; but, Get Out has an added dimension: Chris is black and Rose is white. While she thinks nothing of the trip but Chris is clearly worried about what her family’s reaction might be.

Upon meeting Chris, her father seems a bit too hip, immediately addressing Chris as “my man” and making sure to point out that he “loved Obama” and “would have voted for Obama for a third term.” The father’s continued efforts to appear “not racist” makes him seem foolish. The mother, a hypnotist, seems unaffected by race but is eager to get her hands on Chris in order to hypnotize him.

The family has two housekeepers, both black. This clearly makes Chris even more uncomfortable. Both of them seem quite out of place, They are extremely subdued in their expressions and attitudes, which seem completely out of place.

Chris’s growing concern throughout the weekend becomes more heightened when a slew of people descend the second day for the family’s annual party. For the most part, the party goers are all white, successful and the take quite a liking to Chris. He is prodded and poked by the guests about typical black stereotypes such as his prowess in bed and his enhanced physical prowess to the point of absurdity.

While the director could have taken the easier and more oft-taken Hollywood route of exposing the racism of rednecks, Christians and Conservatives, he decided to target the underlying bigotry of rich, white liberals. In doing so he has made a bold and original movie. The guests don’t consider themselves racists; but, their incessant comments about how much they like Tiger Woods, Jesse Owens and Barack Obama expose how they view the world along racial lines.

As all of these incidents begin to add up, Chris decides to leave the party. In some ways , Chris’s  experience becomes a sampling of what many Black people experience in their daily lives. But the director isn’t interested in purely making a point, he’s out to make a horror film and he doesn’t disappoint. Chris, by his nature and disposition, calmly and glumly accepts the rampant racism around him before letting his anger take over. NO SPOILER here. But, the film’s combination of racism and control of others is at the heart of this horror movie.

Get Out mentions the presidency of Barack Obama repeatedly and so I want to address the director’s vision of it. Obama was elected, in some ways, as a symbolic gesture to show how far America had come…that we could elect a Black president in a post-racial society. The dialogue in the movie pokes fun at this idea through by the many comments people make about how they voted for Obama and, therefore, can’t be racist.

Some might chuckle and view the comments and message of Get Out as simplistic and far-fetched. In reality they are all too common. A few years ago when I accompanied a rich, white liberal from Boston to meet an Indian client, the head of the financial desk where we worked had to tell the salesman, “For God’s sake Billy don’t tell the client you can relate to him because you saw Slum Dog Millionaire.

Here is the irony: thinking and voting for a candidate because of his color as a testimony to your lack of concern about it. If they (we) were truly color blind, Obama’s policies would have been the deciding factor, not his race. Here is where liberal America fell short while at the other end of the political spectrum even his detractors were afraid of being called racist if  they opposed him on substantive matters.

We were so busy denying racism we made fools of ourselves committing it.

Get Out is a clever movie that speaks to all the subtle forms of racism to which we remain blind and that we dare not mention. In the end, the horror of this horror film is the real, unaddressed discomfort between races and the twisted lengths to which we go to prove it doesn’t exist.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

President Trump’s False Idol

Who someone admires tells you a great deal about them and their guiding principles. It’s why I am so disturbed by President Trump’s admiration for Andrew Jackson.

Jackson was a bully, to put it mildly. He believed in force, physical and otherwise, as a means of exercising power; he bought and sold slaves; he decimated native Americans such that they suffer to this day from the remnants of his policies; he instituted the system of civil patronage positions that remains the bane of our governmental bureaucracy; he punished by way of tariffs; he set himself up as an authoritarian, dictatorial President who destroyed his opposition while accumulating great personal wealth. Andrew Jackson was a bad President who stood for much of what Americans have come to find repugnant.

This is President Trump’s role model of choice?

I was neither for nor against candidate Trump. Mostly, I was appalled that both he and Hilary Clinton were the best we could come up with in a nation of 350 million people. And I posted my perspective, here, more than once. But once elected, I believed that respect for the Office of the Presidency warranted a period of grace to allow for fact-based evaluation of the man’s ability to act in the best interest of the nation. I want our President to succeed at moving the country in a better and more prosperous direction.

I simply don’t want us to achieve that end at any price.

With the disclosure of President Trump’s admiration for Andrew Jackson, I am deeply concerned that the price we may pay for more “prosperity” will be an almost total disregard for what originally made America great: the throwing off of the yoke of privilege, the rejection of kingship and the adherence to a system of checks and balances that made public servants accountable to each other and the People.

In 2016, enough of the country was desperate for a new direction and the resurrection of national pride that we voted into office a man who was unapologetically in support of both. But desperation causes people to act without first thinking through the ramifications of their choosing. Similarly, in 2008, half the country wanted Barack Obama as President but did not care what his guiding principles were, either. They bought a slogan “Hope and Change” without questioning what change meant to the individual touting it.

Words can mean different things to different people and actions based upon those differing definitions have corresponding consequences.

Candidate Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”; but, greatness can be defined differently depending upon your vantage point and the use of one’s greatness depends upon one’s guiding principles.

Andrew Jackson defined greatness as a means to decimate, control and bestow favor based upon his personal predilections, prejudices and lust for control and personal wealth. He is an astonishingly poor choice for a role model.

It is unlikely that now, having gone public with his admiration for Jackson and recent laying of a wreath at Jackson’s gravesite, that President Trump will change his mind about who he venerates. So it is now the job of us, the citizenry, to keep a close vigil upon our President’s definition of greatness as well as his use of the means at his disposal for getting us there.  It is just possible for the price of “greatness” to be more than the nation can afford to pay.

The Pope and Polarization

Polarization is not a political problem.  It is a human one.

As this nation turns into something just short of “armed camps” against one another… black vs. white; rich vs poor; left vs. right; Republican vs. Democrat; Trump vs. #NeverTrump; straight vs. LGBT etc., there is its global counterpart. Russia vs. the U.S.; Democracy vs Socialism; Muslim vs. Christian and now, the old canard and ultimate absurdity…the New Testament vs the Old Testament (the Torah).

In Italy, there is growing concern with the Pope’s use of verbiage and catch phrases that harken back to a time that preceded the progress made in closing the gap between Christianity and its predecessor, Judaism.

Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, the former chief rabbi of Milan, has written an open letter to the Pope expressing what he and many others have been feeling about statements by the Pope.

“The biblical dichotomy between Old and New Testaments, Laras argues, signals “the resumption of the old polarization between the morality and theology of the Hebrew Bible and of Pharisaism, and Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels.”

The rabbi also underscored the Church’s “embracing of Islam, which is all the stronger as the Christian side is more critical toward Judaism, now including even the Bible and biblical theology.” He also identified an undercurrent “of resentment, intolerance, and annoyance on the Christian side toward Judaism.”

How absurd it is that religious belief and the institutions it has spawned, should become the disseminators of the disease of polarization. Polarization spawns fear of the “other” and it is this fear which allows the few to remain in control by pledging to dominate, control or eradicate the opposing force.

Power by the few over the many is as old as recorded human history. And for all that time there has been a yearning by individuals to throw off the yoke of such control and live as we were created to live: sovereign and autonomous.

Yet, when so many aspects of our global persona are at figurative and literal war with one another, we have lost our inherent sense of oneness and succumbed to the manipulators of fear. Our misperception is what enables them to continue their control.

Only with the realization that whether it be by governmental or religious institutions, no human being was ever created to be held captive by or subservient to another…will we be set free. Only by refusing to be manipulated into intolerance of others to the point that their mere existence becomes the basis for our fears and the justification for our hatreds…will our eyes be opened to truth of oneness.

I respect the right of anyone to choose a path to God other than the one I choose. What I do not respect are religious leaders who use their bully pulpits to spread a political or biased agenda that moves people in the direction of slavery to antiquated thinking.

There are no secrets to power. There is only each individual’s awakening to the truth of free will, which is much more than a religious precept. It is the right of every human being to think for themselves and, by so doing, create a world where creativity trumps control and where polarization is an extinct concept replaced with tolerance.

There is but one unifying principle and one testament:  Love.

Carole

7 Ways To Get Smarter On Any Subject

“This product sucks and you made me lose a ton of money!” A client screamed at Alvaro for his stupidity while Alvaro listened. Then, he asked his client to come into his office so they could resolve the issue. Within ten minutes the matter was fixed. Who knows what was said? But I knew Alvaro could bewitch his clients. He knew a lot about finance…but he knew even more about influence.

Influence and sales are subjects that fascinate me. I got my start in sales, specifically financial sales. I’ ve worked in finance in various forms over the last twenty years and have read hundreds of books on the subject, gotten a masters degree,  and  read countless journals and research papers on investment opportunities. So, over the years I have developed a real expertise on the subject.

When I got into finance, I noticed many of the experts had a hard time communicating their message. Many of my analysts had all of the knowledge yet could not effectively get their message across to their clients. Since I worked in emerging markets, I worked with many analysts whose primary language was Spanish. The majority of them had a very hard time selling.

Since much of my business was dependent on the opinions of my analyst, I had to figure out ways to whittle down their verbiage to help them make their points clearer and more concise.  I would arrive at work and started reading tons of books on sales, marketing and influence. My peers would laugh at me when they saw the books that I was reading because they thought they were stupid and trite. But the techniques worked. My sales took off.

Many of the analysts used too many words when they spoke. This excess language would just make peoples’ eyes glaze over and the sale would evaporate. I noticed, sometimes a simple story or analogy was enough to bypass the sellers objection and get them to see your idea and the advantages of your offer.

Interestingly enough, there is a science fiction book called Lexicon that specifically deals with this issue. In the book by Max Barry, the protagonist Emily Ruff is trained in linguistics and uses the power of language to influence people. One of the main ideas of the book is that certain words said in a certain order have the ability to influence and manipulate people in profound ways.

I found this to be remarkably true.

Even though I became an expert in finance, I needed ways to convey my knowledge and ideas to clients. So I became a serious student of sales and here are the steps I took:

  1. Study trade magazines. I started looking at how financial advisors sell to their clients and I studied the magazine articles on closing and finding new clients. This helped me a lot because there were many articles on what was working.
  2. Answer ads. I started responding to the ads for financial seminars and conferences to better understand the products, services and sales techniques that companies used to close the sale.
  3. Find the top experts. Since I worked at a financial firm, it was not hard for me to find these people and get their insights and tips on ways to sell. Many times I would listen to their calls to see the best ways to close a sale.
  4. Read books. I read all the current books on selling; but, I also picked up books written by the old legends. For many years in the U.S., door-to-door sales was the primary means by which products were sold and the information that can be learned from direct sales experts was, and is, invaluable.
  5. Join clubs. I joined a finance club and went to different meet-ups to see what people were talking about and what they were buying. This helped me a lot because I could see what trends were developing in the market.
  6. Take classes. I took classes on finance at N.Y.U. and sales classes at the Learning Annex to learn more about my field. I noticed that many of the classes would give me new insights into the financial markets.
  7. Do your homework. I would also read the analyst reports, listen to all of the conference calls and to as many earnings reports that I could.

All of these steps combines greatly helped my bottom line. More importantly, the effort I put in has been applicable and helped me in other areas of my life. It remains the same formula I use today when I need to get better on any subject.

I hope it helps you a lot as well.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

How Informed Are You?

If you are a news junkie like me, you tend to think you know the issues. But I know this is not true. Because for many of the news stories I read, I know I am only getting a sliver of the truth.To really understand any issue takes time.

In college I read hundreds of books on military history, politics and government policy and I thought I had a basic understanding of how U.S government policy worked but I quickly realized I did not know much when I entered the Marine Corps. It was there that my true formal education began on how international affairs functioned.

I spent four years on active duty as a Marine Corps Officer and most of that time was spent in the middle east. It was there working hand and  hand with our allies did I truly begin to understand how things operated. I noticed a  huge disconnect between what I saw and read in the media an what actually took place on the ground. What I discovered to be true was that the media had a story line, a narrative to write- and looked for things to fit that story wether it was true or not.

In one particular instance, our units were in Kuwait and a reporter wanted access to one of the units in the battalion. The reporter tried to bully the Marines to get what she wanted but was stopped by one of the company commanders. He called her a lying and deceitful journalist and she slinked away not to get her story. I later found out that the company commander was well aware of her news reports and her many fabrications and he would not allow her access as he felt she would just lie about what she saw.

Later when I worked in finance, again the things I saw and lived were quite different than the way things were reported. This was most apparent during the banking crisis in 2008 when the banks were taken to task for the risks they took and the abhorrent mismanagement of their institutions. Yet the media also failed to tell the other side of the story that the root of the housing crisis was the Community Reinvestment Act which forced banks to make loans to the poorest of communities lest they lose their banking license. Most of these loans went bad and then the government sued these banks for making these predatory loans.

Even in the online space, what you are shown is also edited. When I left Wall Street and started to work in the technology space in lead generation, I became quiet adapt at Search Engine Optimization. S.E.O as it is better known is simply optimizing the content on your site so that the search engines can find you. All of the search engines have said that they reward good content as it makes their jobs easier as it lets people find the most relevant sites. But when my sites started getting ranked on the 1st page of  Google, Bing etc, I would notice within weeks my sites would be dropped into the nethers of the net. What happened? Business plain and simple. Since my sites were being found by users, there was no need for me to advertise my sites with the search engines, so they moved me out of the top spot. The point being even in the online world, know that the search engines are not necessarily showing you the most relevant sites but rather the ones that make the most economic sense to them.

But we have entered now has truly become scary.News sites are becoming smarter and smarter at feeding you things for you to click on. And as you click on the articles, the sites learn. So the next time you go that site, they feed you more of the same. Many sites are now so customized that two people might access the same site and see totally different content. This is being done to maximize the time on site and advertising dollars. In the end I might think I am informed on an issue only to realize I am only being shown only a small subset of the content.

Part of the great divide over Trumps presidency is just the sheer unbelief by many that he got elected. For them, all of their friends, news stories and cable shows all said it was impossible for him to win. In their world they were right. They could not believe it because they could not see it. They did not see the other news sites showing how well Trump was doing and the real possibility of him winning.

This is the real danger of the digital age, the continued  segmenting of audiences to maximize revenue. But what is being lost is the truth and a common ground that we can all relate to.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com