Friday, December 30, 2016

The UN's Death Warrant for Jews

I've held off on commenting on the US abstention from the recent UN Security Council resolution.

Mostly, because I think what Obama just did is tantamount to the signing of a death warrant for a few thousand Israelis who will become victims of renewed Palestinian terror attacks. And that's the best case scenario, I fear.

With this resolution, Palestinian hardliners are emboldened to accept no compromise and since everything is "illegal," then any action is therefore justifiable. And, now, they can never "accept" anything less than full withdrawal to 1967 lines.

So, Obama's legacy in foreign policy, in my opinion, is going to be renewed bloodshed, death, and instability.  I won't even touch on Iran, Syria, Russia, China in this post.

And, in a sad twist, it's going to embolden the hard-right in Israel who now feel abandoned and will make any compromise even more difficult.

I'm so disappointed in Obama and Kerry, I can't even really articulate it.

Fortunately, Michael Eisenberg did a phenomenal job of enunciating how I think/feel about the situation. Go read it. I'll wait.

Sorry it's unpleasant heading into the New Year when we are supposed to feel hopeful and optimistic, but, for me, this is a Neville Chamberlain level of appeasement that will go down in history as an epic betrayal that ultimately leads to innocent deaths.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Meeting a Trump Voter from Alabama

While sitting by the pool at our hotel in Atlanta, I struck up a conversation with another guest.

He is a Filipino-American living in Birmingham who works as a nurse. Wife and 2 kids.

The talk turned to politics and I asked him if he was comfortable sharing for whom he voted.

"Yes, sure. Trump," he answered.

He has been in the country for 11 years and a citizen for 7 of them.

Why did he vote for Trump?

  1. He felt like Obama's economic policies hurt working class Americans in favor of people who get government handouts.
  2. He didn't trust Hillary.
  3. He believes that a big change is needed in the way that government works.

His sister also voted for Trump.

I asked if, as an immigrant, he had any qualms about voting for Trump.

"No. I'm an American. I work and pay my taxes and Trump speaks to real Americans."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CNN & Civil Rights: Atlanta Impacts the World (Day 2)

Continuing on the theme of what Atlanta brings to the world, we visited CNN center and the (relatively) new National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
At CNN, we were simultaneously blown away by the technological power of how you put on a modern newscast while having to come to terms with the immense power that the 4,000 employees of the company have to basically shape public opinion of over 1 billion people worldwide.

That's some disproportionate strength.

But then, as I looked out over the 200 people working in the newsroom doing the "research" and "fact-checking," I became keenly aware of the vulnerability of this system.

You see, those people are looking at the same web, same Twitter, same Facebook that we all have...and they are subject to the same biases.
So, it's like the movie "Enemy of the State," where you have to ask, "who is watching the watchers?"

The tour was certainly more informative and more fulfilling than the Coca Cola one yesterday and I'm glad we made it.

CNN was maniacal about not allowing pictures or videos at any point within the tour, so nothing to show here. 

After CNN, we took a ride up the big SkyView Atlanta ferris wheel (which seems to be a standard thing in cities worldwide now), but it did afford a great view of the city and enable the kids to get a pretty good bearing on how things are laid out.

Not only did we get to see Centennial Park from above, but we got to see a really cool parking lot implementation of solar panels that doubled as a shade for the cars below. Very neat.

Afterwards, we headed over to the Civil Rights Museum and, even more exciting, a chance to see one of my oldest friends (from 7th grade), Tjada D'Oyen, her husband, Joe, and their 2 boys, whom I hadn't seen in 12 years.

Together, we toured the Museum. On the one hand, it was somewhat redundant with the MLK historic site we had visited on Monday.  On the other hand, it was far more interactive for the kids in terms of the exhibits.

BY FAR...the most powerful part of the entire museum was a lunch counter where you are asked to sit, put on some headphones, close your eyes and then for 100 seconds (or as long as you can stand it).  While there, you are subjected to a non-stop harangue of verbal abuse designed to simulate the experience of doing a lunch counter sit-in.

It is intense and makes the entire price of admission worth it.
The one observation that the kids made about the museum-which was very fair-was that as a museum that focuses entirely on civil rights, it would have been nice to have more than one story represented aside from African-Americans.  
The battle for civil rights impacts many groups...Native Americans, gays, Jews, Muslims, etc.  It would have been nice to have some of them represented as well.

After a visit to the park and getting wet in the the fountains on the Olympic rings, we headed out to our last activity of the cream with a friend of more than 20 years-- Jen Pearlman.

For me, travel is always about the people you meet, the perspectives they have, and the stories they share. That's why seeing Jen and Tjada made Day 2 so special.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

MLK and Coca Coca...Atlanta impacts the world (Day 1)

For this year's winter vacation, we decided to head south and visit Atlanta.

Day 1 took us to two places of worldwide significance.

The birthplace and now National Historic Site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the "World of Coca Cola" experience.

I am going to leave aside the observation that the number of people at Coke dwarfed the number of people at the MLK site and try to avoid reflecting on what that means for humanity.

The MLK site was powerful. It's not just one building, rather a complex of buildings that houses a museum that you would expect and then a walking tour of the Auburn Ave. area of Atlanta which, at one time, was the center of African-American life in the city.

It was on that street that MLK was born and lived until age 12 (the house is there though, we couldn't enter it as it's undergoing renovation), the Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Sr. was the minister, and the reflecting pool/eternal flame area where MLK and Coretta Scott King are buried.

The museum portion has a compelling exhibit that traces the history of segregation and the civil rights movement and presents the cold, hard truth in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable and inspired.

Uncomfortable because you have to come face to face with the legacy and implication of the institutions of slavery and segregation and you can't help but acknowledge the impact. The pictures of lynchings, cross-burnings, etc. are nothing short of horrific.

Inspired because you yearn for the calm, determined leadership and commitment to non-violence based on the righteousness of a position and the passion for justice that MLK represented and, which at least for me, feels sadly lacking these days.

 We went into the nearly empty church where a recording of a Christmas service was playing and we heard Mahalia Jackson signing hymns.  The music reverberated through the structure and you could feel the sense of history in this place.  For me, the combination was powerful.

Finally, having the two Kings buried on an island within a pool of water across from an eternal flame (which has special significance in Judaism so it hit doubly home) seemed appropriate.  Together, creating a sea of tranquility, looking out towards an eternal idea.

I've been to Atlanta maybe 25 times but had never been to this site and I'm sad that it took so long, but thrilled that we made it.

The kids liked it as well. For them, there probably could have been a bit more on the interactive side, but as they have read a ton about MLK and civil rights (and we are planning on going to the new Civil Rights museum on Day 2), they got a lot out of it.

The film about MLK was great because it took a unique focused on his childhood and what he was like growing up (apparently he wasn't so organized in keeping his room neat-which made some of my kids thrilled since it proved that even though your father keeps telling you that you need to clean your room, you can still be destined for greatness!)

As for the World of Coca Cola, I have to say that I didn't really like it.

I may be in the minority overall and within my family and perhaps the juxtaposition of going from something that is so profound as MLK to something that is so commercial was too jarring, but I felt there was something missing.

I know that I am passionate about marketing. I really enjoy the art and science of it and I admire great marketing. There was some of that. The introductory movie was all about "Coca Cola moments" and it was very emotional, saying how people create emotional connections and Coke is part of it.  The "4D" movie was a fun sensory experience and the tour of pop culture influenced by Coke was also a tour through history.

Obviously, the tasting room with 100 flavors from around the world was a big winner and considering that Tonka (13) had never had a Coke until this trip and the other 2 had only had it once before, the NFO and I had rare feeling of being world-class parents, for once ;-)

But, here's the thing...

It was too much. For me, it was SO focused on making everyone think "Coke is a part of life" and "Coke makes moments special," that it lost its authenticity.

I walked away feeling sad that we had paid to get so overtly marketed to.

I prefer to hear the story of how and why Coke came into being. How did they make the decisions they made? How did Coke, for example, impact civil rights by being the first company to use African-Americans as spokesmen or whatever?

Instead, I felt a story of a company that said, "ok, let's just always figure out how to make the most amount of money and go from there."

Now, we all KNOW that's what is happening, but I didn't get that feeling.

Now, it's possible all of that could have been averted if the mere process of getting into and around the exhibit had any sort of real professionalism associated with it.

Truth be told, that's probably what did it in for me.

For a brand that is world-class and cares about "moments," the mere act of buying a ticket, getting in line, getting into the exhibit was just poor.
I said at one point, "if Disney were running this, there would be signs in 20 languages and clear instructions."

None of that was present.

We would wait in line and then, for reasons no one understood, another line of people would go ahead of us.

There would be muffled loudspeaker announcements telling us what to do, but no one really could hear them.

It wasn't total chaos, but it wasn't organized and it wasn't about "feelings" or "moments" and I think that was the dissonance.  It was inconsistent.

You can throw up a ton of advertising and super slick videos about how you care about feelings but the feelings of the people who are paying to watch the ad are somehow irrelevant.

Add to all this that the vast distribution network that Coca Cola touts as an accomplishment made me feel like "wow, there are probably plastic Coke bottles and bottle caps all over the world" (and there are).

I have infinite admiration for Coke's marketing power. I got choked up during parts of the video and loved how they evoked that in me.  They really, really think about being more than just sugar + water.  I just was disappointed that the World of Coke experience was less about the things they supposedly care about as eternal human values (connection, memory, feelings, etc.) and more about "Coke is good for your life. You should buy more Coke stuff."

You can reach the same outcome with a different path.

I suppose there was a positive outcome as it solidified my mind-frame that I don't intend to drink any soda again ever.

On Day 2, we hope to hit CNN and the Civil Rights Museum.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Secure Your Phone Number Please

As phones become the central feature of our lives, they also become targets.

Recently, a number of high profile people in the world of Bitcoin have had their phone numbers stolen right out from under them.

Thieves call AT&T or whomever and pretend to be the owner of the phone number, but have forgotten their security codes, etc.

Through clever manipulation, they manage to get the information, port the phone number and then, with that, use the SMS codes to log in to people's accounts...and steal their Bitcoin.

You can read about the full story here in Forbes.

The fix may be intense but it's worth exploring how you can lock things down. Kraken wrote it and it's pretty deep. Not sure you need to do all of it.

The point is...the phone is your central point of action/security and if you lose the number, you become vulnerable.

You may not own Bitcoin, but your phone number is pretty central to almost everything.

And, for the love of God, please use a 2 factor authentication code instead of SMS whenever possible. I prefer Authy.

It may seem like a lot of effort, but an ounce of prevention...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reinventing myself, little bets, and being ok with a 6.5

Monday night, I gave my first blockchain presentation. On a scale of 0-10, the average rating was about 6.5.

Not horrific, but not great.

But  you know what? I was expecting a 6.5 or 7.  Here's why.

Reinventing yourself is difficult. It's also scary.  I find that the best way to get comfortable with big risks (like changing jobs) is getting comfortable with small risks.

I read a book a while back called "Little Bets," which greatly influenced my thinking.

I remember a story about how when Seinfeld would have new jokes, he would go to smaller clubs that would normally never get his level, but he would go there and just work out new routines. See how they felt, see how the audience reacted. He always gave it his all, but he knew that he was deliberately testing-taking little bets- to see what would pay off and, if it didn't, it was a little bet.

I'm thinking about my presentations on the impact of blockchains in the same way (which is where the comparison to Seinfeld pretty much ends).

I'm looking to develop a book of business speaking about blockchains to corporate audiences and large groups for a fee.

However, I know that to get to that caliber, I have to take a lot of batting practice swings.

So, I'm deliberately going out to speak to smaller groups (mostly for free or nominal amounts), giving it my all, and seeing what works.

It never feels good to get a 6.5, that's for sure.  But if you know that a 6.5 is about right for were you are in the development cycle, you are being honest with yourself and therefore much more likely to take feedback.

In fact, I was honest with the audience and they (I think) respected that and were very candid in their feedback and (the best part), their desire to help me improve.

So, the lesson is...if you tell people you are taking batting practice, then will understand. You still have to show them that you belong on the field and aren't a joke (below a 5 would have been embarrassing for my host and me and I was pretty confident that it wouldn't hit that), but if you are, great things will happen.

It's almost impossible to give a presentation the first time and get a 9 or a 10. And it's almost impossible to do it without a lot of practice.

That's where I am now in the reinvention.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Coffee: Being Safely Irresponsible

I was having my 4th (or 5th) cup of coffee the other day when the person on the video chat said, "how much do you drink each day?"

I paused.

"Look," I said, "I'm a middle aged guy with a wife and three kids.  I don't smoke. I don't drink. I barely go out. I figure that drinking a lot of coffee is the way I can be a bit irresponsible and still be an adult.

Kind of like 'Safe Irresponsibility.'"

Monday, December 12, 2016

Why ObamaCare Angers Me

5 years ago, when I was a solo practitioner business, our families high-deductible HSA individual health care plan cost us approximately $420 per month.

Now, I'm on the other side of employer-provided insurance and the exact same package of coverage, and it's $1,400 per month.

Nearly 350% increase in 5 years.

What angers me about this isn't just the fact that I have to pay $16,800 in premiums and another $14,000 as an out-of-pocket maximum.  That is really bad.

What REALLY angers me is this.

I believe that long-term job growth and economic growth comes from entrepreneurship and small business. Not from government programs.

So, I see plenty of people who are sitting in jobs they don't enjoy and who want to start companies or try their hand at a business. But, when they do a bit of research, they now realize that they have a $30,000 upfront cost to healthcare, compared to approximately $12,000, five years ago.

So, they stay put, less satisfied in their jobs, understandably uncomfortable with taking on this risk, and not creating a new business to stimulate the economy.

To me, that's offensive and upsetting.

I get that 20 million people who didn't have insurance now do and I'm glad they do.  I just have to believe there's another way to do it besides Obamacare.

I saw this article in the WSJ about one possible solution which I thought was interesting. Pasted below.

The Four Legs of a New Health-Care System

The Great Recession enabled ObamaCare. Now the law’s failure makes reform possible.


James C. Capretta and 
Scott Gottlieb
Nov. 30, 2016 7:08 p.m. ET
Donald Trump announced this week that he had chosen Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.), a leader in the efforts to replace ObamaCare, to be his secretary of Health and Human Services. This is a consequential choice. Mr. Trump’s election, and the political realignment it represents, offers a generational opportunity to pursue a new direction for American health care. Mr. Price will now be leading the charge.
The new system should be fully consumer driven, empowering individuals to be the surveyors and purchasers of their care. Past reforms in this direction became stilted and ultimately incomplete, but the current moment offers a chance to truly rebuild from the ground up. If Messrs. Trump and Price want to make the most of this short window, they should keep four central reforms in mind.
1. Provide a path to catastrophic health insurance for all Americans. There’s ample evidence that enrollment in insurance doesn’t always lead to improvements in health—but access to health insurance is important nonetheless. A 2012 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found higher insurance enrollment from reforms in Massachusetts led to better results in several measures of physical and mental health.
Health insurance is also important for financial security. The ObamaCare replacement should make it possible for all people to get health insurance that provides coverage for basic prevention, like vaccines, and expensive medical care that exceeds, perhaps, $5,000 for individuals.
Those Americans who don’t get health insurance through employers, or Medicare and Medicaid, should be eligible for a refundable tax credit that can be used to enroll in a health-insurance plan. The credit would be set at a level comparable to the tax benefits available to individuals with employer-sponsored insurance plans. The subsidy would be enough to make a basic level of catastrophic coverage easily affordable for all Americans.
2. Accommodate people with pre-existing health conditions. The price of insurance naturally reflects added risk. That’s why beach houses cost more to insure than a typical suburban home. Yet there is a reasonable social consensus that people should not be penalized financially for health problems that are largely outside of their control.
So as long as someone remains insured, he should be allowed to move from employer coverage to the individual market without facing exclusions or higher premiums based on his health status. If someone chooses voluntarily not to get coverage, state regulation could allow for an assessment of the risk when the person returns to the market.
This would prevent healthy people from waiting until they get sick to buy insurance, which is one reason ObamaCare’s insurance markets are unstable. The refundable tax credit ensures that everyone, including the unemployed, can get access to at least catastrophic insurance and maintain continuous coverage. Well-run and properly funded high-risk pools can help address the inevitable cases of expensive claims for the remaining uninsured.
3. Allow broad access to health-savings accounts. ObamaCare pushed millions of Americans into high-deductible insurance without giving them the opportunity to save and pay for care before insurance kicks in. There should be a one-time federal tax credit to encourage all Americans to open an HSA and begin using it to pay for routine medical bills. And HSAs combined with high-deductible insurance should be incorporated directly into the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
An NBER study from 2015 concluded that families spent between 7% and 22% less on health care in the three years after switching to an HSA. Spending was also lower for outpatient services and pharmaceuticals, without any increase in emergency-room spending.
As millions of consumers begin using HSAs, the medical-care market will begin to transform and deliver services that are convenient and affordable for patients.
4. Deregulate the market for medical services. HSAs will empower the demand side of the market, but suppliers need freedom from regulation to provide packages of services better tailored to people’s needs. For example, those consumers who maintain HSA balances should be allowed to use their resources to purchase direct care—basic services that keep people healthy and treat illnesses and chronic conditions—from physician groups. This might take the form of a monthly fee, a practice sometimes referred to as direct primary care. Today, this could be considered an insurance premium that’s barred by law.
Hospitals and physicians should also be allowed to sell access to their networks of clinics, oncology services, and inpatient facilities as an option to be used in the event a patient is diagnosed with an expensive illness. Medicare patients should be allowed to purchase the option to consult with their caregivers by phone, videoconferencing, or email. These are only some of the needed reforms. Regulation shouldn’t be an obstacle to entrepreneurs crafting more consumer-oriented services, many of which can’t be countenanced under current rules.
American health care is teetering because it relies too much on governmental coercion. A functioning marketplace can deliver high-quality care at lower cost. Now is the time to secure a system that empowers consumers to take command of their health care.
Mr. Capretta and Dr. Gottlieb are resident fellows at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

After Sprinklr, headed to blockchain world

Executive Summary
After nearly five years of hard work, I have moved on from Sprinklr to begin the next phase of my career in the world of blockchains, decentralized systems, and crypto-tokens/currencies.

I am beyond confident in the Sprinklr's future and LOVE the people who work there. The decision has more to do with the recognition that my mission there was complete and with a passion to get back to the far edges of technological disruption.

The next Wave that I see that will dramatically impact our lives in ways we can't even imagine are blockchains and decentralized systems.

In other words, IF you hear the word "blockchain" or "Bitcoin," just have them call Jeremy. :-)

If you want to get up to speed on this technology in a big way, here's a new eBook I just published, called "Blockchains in the Mainstream."

It's still early, but I got the same feeling in my gut when I discovered blockchains as I had when I discovered email in 1991, the Internet in 1992, and social media in 2000. I began by investing in Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies (how I do it) and pulled back the layers of the onion to find the real potential.

So, it's time to go all in on this.

To that end, I've re-opened Never Stop Marketing (check out new website) with a laser focus on this nascent area.

Initially, I intend to help the companies in this arena gain market traction faster and more effectively.

Full Story
Five years ago, I received a call from a guy named Ragy Thomas.

He barely introduced himself or said hi. :-) He simply said, “I read your blog. You need to come work for me. I’m going to build a world-changing enterprise software company.”

It took me a few months to get my head around what he was saying, but after understanding the challenge and the opportunity (and visiting the small office with the really loud air conditioning unit on 30th St. in December, 2011), I said “I’m in.”

I became Sprinklr’s 30th employee.

The marketing challenge handed to me (roughly paraphrasing Ragy):
“We have the best product in the world, but no one knows that because no one knows who we are. Fix that.”

Not that we need external evidence of Ragy’s insights, but the week before I began, the first (and best) report on the Social Media Management System industry was published by Jeremiah Owyang.

It said, “Despite its growth, Sprinklr lacks market awareness due to limited marketing and
thought leadership efforts.”

“Well, it will be hard to screw that up,” I thought. ;-)

So, I jumped in...full throttle.

As you know, I certainly didn’t do it by myself. All Sprinkllr has accomplished would have been impossible without the amazing teammates, product, and clients with whom I was blessed to work.

Sprinklr is still just at the beginning. There’s a lot more that needs to get done and will happen.

For me, however, I have reached the conclusion that my specific mission within Sprinklr is complete. My mission was to help Sprinklr get into the mainstream and become a household name among the social media practitioners at large companies. We've done that...and more.

A few weeks ago, I called Ragy to share my perspective on the past 5 years.  

He was extremely gracious, saying, “I feel like I have delivered to you what I said I would. And I feel like you have done what I asked.”

He was right...mostly.

In fact, he over-delivered on what he said he would.  The challenge, the growth, the experience, the friendships. Life-changing stuff.

What I don’t want is for my departure from Sprinklr to be construed as anything about the company, the marketing department, the future prospects, the leadership, strategy, employees, or anything.

The signs for Sprinklr's continued success are stronger than ever.

In fact, I’ve exercised all of the options I’ve earned.  So, I have literally put my money where my mouth is.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity I have had, the people I've met, the skills I've gained and, most of all, for the chance to contribute to something larger than myself.

You just have to know yourself. It was just time.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Maryland's stupid anti-Uber Proposal

Here's the letter I just wrote to the Maryland "Public Service" Commission about a proposal to kick Uber out of the entire state. See article in WashPost article

If you want to email them, here's a google doc with everyone's email address.

Please tell me this WashPost article is a joke.

Maryland has absolutely crappy cab service. Horrific.  

And now, the taxi industry, which can't compete with Uber, is giving you the bogeyman of security to do their dirty work.

In the end, we all pay higher fares, for dirtier cars, with less punctuality, and worse service.

And let's not forget the thousands of Marylanders who actually make a living (and other connections) with Uber and Lyft.

Until now, I haven't cared one iota about your commission (my bad), but if you go through with this, you can be sure that at least one taxpayer in Maryland is going to have an additional goal in life and try to figure out how to get you all removed from your jobs because you don't really care about doing them and serving the public.

The real "public service" is not to make us all pay a tax so that old, bad, poorly run cab companies stay profitable because they have the ears of politicians and regulators.

Jeremy Epstein
Silver Spring, MD

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Virtual Reality and Real Boxes

It's not a big secret that Virtual Reality is another of the truly transformative technology trends that will impact us.

The other day, my friend, Aaron, brought over a VR set-up for a new venture and he let the kids and me try it out.

There's a full album of videos here and you see how immersive it is for the wearer, but this one is the best.

If you really want a vision of the Virtual Reality-enabled future, check out this article from Singularity Hub.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How to Add Meaning to Thanksgiving

For years, my parents' Thanksgiving table has been graced by a homemade "Thanksgiving Haggadah."

[A 'haggadah' is the book used during the Passover Seder that provides the order of the ceremony and it is full of stories and songs.]

The document is full of classic American songs and poetry and help us connect and give Thanks for all of the wonderful things that we cherish about this country.

Particularly this year, it seems, many families may benefit from having such a document to use at their Thanksgiving table.

Thanks to my friends, the Kelseys, who asked for it and inspired this blog post.

You can download it here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Knowledge Loop

I often blog about educational systems (and their challenges) and the changing dynamics of work.

I'd like to call your attention to this post and video, where one person I really admire (Albert Wenger) talks about the age we are living in and what it means for jobs, society and more.

15 minutes...but far better use of time than scrolling through Facebook.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Future of Work, a Strong Perspective

For a while, I've expressed my concern about the American education system and, in particular, how higher education is not preparing our youth for the future of work.

"By 2040, I’m pretty confident that every skilled worker will have their own signpost. You will be your own enterprise, in a much more meaningful way than the lip service of today."

In this article, a forward-thinking CEO with a long history in the technology industry shares his perspective on what work will look like in the future.

It is a relatively long article, but if you care about your own career future and that of your children, I think it is worth it.

Meanwhile, college students study stuff like this.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tony Romo: A Class Act

Growing up a fan of the Washington football team, Dallas was the enemy.

So, it almost pains me as much to say this as the pain that Tony Romo expressed in his press conference the other day. Just kidding.

The guy is a class act.

What he said and HOW he said it has demonstrated total class and grace...something America has been lacking for the last few months (as we all know).

So, it's befitting that a QB on "America's Team" (ugh, also difficult to say) should show the young kids of today how to be a professional. How to want something so bad on an individual level, but also respect your role on the team, in society, and as a human.

I'm not ready to say "better than Gehrig's," but this is one of the great sports speeches I've seen. (no surprise) won't let me embed, so click through.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Exogenous Shocks to the System

This is my friend, Jeremiah Owyang. On the left, a few years ago. On the right, today. 

Notice anything different?

Of course you do.

Like many middle-aged men, Jeremiah realized he wasn't a teenager anymore and he needed to get in shape.

But unlike many middle-aged men, he didn't say, 'ok, I'm going to start by reducing the glasses of wine I drink from 2 to 1 (or whatever)."

Instead, he forced a change on his entire outlook by signing up for Tough Mudder.

That goal forced him to re-orient his entire way of being.  But it was a goal that he realized that, if he could do it, it would institutionalize an entirely new way of living.

And that's exactly what happened.

In the wake of the election, we're all thinking about Change.

Obviously, the Democratic party, America, (and the world) were subjected to a completely unexpected exogenous shock to the system.

It should serve as a major wake-up call to Democrats, Americans, and the World about what's important (and I think, for many, it has).

Now, when it comes to investments of a business kind or DECIDING if you'd like to pursue a given path or not, I subscribe to the "Little Bets" theory.

But, when you KNOW you have to make a big change, I wonder if the exogenous shock to the system is the way to go?

One thing I like to say: "Better to force the change upon yourself than have the change forced upon you."

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Innovative Finland and 21st Century Education

Much like the political concept of "coattails," companies look at increase the perceived value of their brand, by associating with bigger, more prestigious brands.

So, if I tell you I have a partnership with Nike, that's more impressive than Joe's Auto Shop (sorry, Joe).

That's why I am feeling good that my kids and I are so closely associated with Finland (and Estonia).  ;-)

Finland has long been recognized for its world-class and world-leading education system and now, they are taking the next step to get their students ready for a globalized abolishing classes based on a specific subject.

You can read more here.

This goes hand-in-hand with my long-standing concern about the American education system (college and K-12), so it is good to see the leader doing something innovative.

That...combined with their emoji-driven marketing campaign (I downloaded the app- Apple + Android)....Go Suomi!

Kuwaiti-Finnish Orthodox Jewish Wedding in Israel

One of the more remarkable stories I heard on our recent trip to Israel was of an Orthodox Jew who was born a Muslim in Kuwait and married a Finnish woman whose father was a Lutheran minister.

It sounds like a joke, but it's not.

My pal, Gil, wrote the story for the Jerusalem Post. Re-printed below with his permission.

And, obviously, given our family's unique relationship with Finland, this was icing on the cake ;-)

Wedding season underway as Kuwait- and Finland-born Jews tie the knot
by Gil Zohar

With Tisha b’Av over, the summer’s wedding season began this week. And one of the most festive weddings this writer has ever attended was the nuptials of Kuwait-born Mark (Mordechai) Halawa and Finland-born Linda Brunell that took place Wednesday at Nes Harim in the Judean Hills.
Officiating was Rabbi Israel Weisel of Bnai Brak. Among the hundreds of guests were streimel-wearing Belzer Hassidim, sun-burned Swedish Lutherans who had flown in from Scandinavia in a demonstration of Zionist support and family ties, and friends from Abu Dhabi.
Halawa, in his mid-30s, spoke about the divinely-ordained path that brought him back to Judaism.
His grandmother, Ruwaida née Mizrachi, was born in Jerusalem during the British Mandate of Palestine. She married Muhammad al-Masri. a Jordanian soldier from Nablus, and the couple ended up stationed at Zarqa, Jordan. Following the 1970 Black September uprising, al-Masri – who was a high-ranking officer in Jordan’s Arab Legion - was cashiered when King Hussein purged his army of Palestinians. The family relocated to Kuwait.
Thus Halawa’s mother, whose name Mark prefers not to cite, moved as a teenager to Kuwait. There she met and married her husband, whose name Halawa similarly declines to mention. Opening an engineering and contracting business, the family grew wealthy on government contracts from Kuwait’s ruling as-Sabah clan. But the good times came crashing down in 1990 when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein occupied the tiny Gulf emirate,
Halawa’s family, which was on vacation in Spain when the invasion of Kuwait took place, became exiles. They ended up in London, Canada, where Mark studied psychology and business at the University of Western Ontario. There in a fateful meeting at the school’s library he fell into a conversation with a long-bearded professor of philosophy named Yitzchok Block. After considerable probing, the Chabad rabbi pronounced Halawa halachically Jewish by virtue of his being the descendant of a Jewish woman. Halawa protested that his is a Muslim.
But the truth won out. After much soul-searching, including years at Jerusalem’s Aish ha-Torah Yeshiva, he returned to the fold of Jewish life.
Linda Brunell’s family story is equally extraordinary. Her father Ole Brunell was born in a Swedish-speaking village on the west coast of Finland. Growing up in an insular community, he attended seminary and university in Turku, Finland, and was ordained as a Lutheran minister. After leading several congregations across Finland, he and his family relocated to sunny Australia to minister to a Finnish-speaking church in Brisbane,
But Brunell and his wife Runa began to question the theological underpinnings of Christianity. Finally in 1991 he renounced Christianity and left his job as a minister, along with its car, vicarage and status. After a long and difficult path, the family converted to Judaism and made aliya in 1996. Ole and Runa became Shlomo and Ruth. All four of the Brunell daughters have married Israelis.
Linda Brunell works as a patent paralegal with a major Tel Aviv law firm. Mark Halawa is a businessman with extensive contacts and dealings across the Middle East. He also is a speaker on the Chabad circuit in North America and Europe.
“This is the happiest day of my whole life,” Brunell said. “Mark and I share the same goals, despite our different backgrounds, of building a family in Israel. I’m very grateful to my parents for bring my sisters and I on this path. And I’m sure they’re happy to have their last daughter married off.”
“Many people asked Linda and me, ‘Where are you going to get married?’ Is there a better place than the land of my ancestors? I’m only sorry that my immediate family isn’t here, but I’ve gained a whole new family – the whole Jewish people is now my family,” said Halawa. “My dream of marrying a Jew and establishing a Jewish home has become a reality. Baruch ha-Shem.”

Gil Zohar is a Jerusalem-based journalist and tour guide and can be reached at

Friday, November 11, 2016

Post Election Thoughts

I've been very impressed by how some people have responded to this election.

Here are a few of my favorites

Ryan Shea's Twitter storm...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Job Dignity

My friend and I were talking about the future and how more and more jobs will be automated, further creating the chasm between high- and low-paying jobs.

My friend was saying, "look at that security guard. Must be so boring. What kind of job is that?"

I understood what he meant and said that, yes, part of the challenge is the economics, but part of the challenge is a societal one.

I shared a story with him of my experience in Japan.

When the Shinkansen ('bullet train") pulls into Tokyo station, the cleaning crew gets on and does their work.

Then, they disembark, line up in front of the train and bow to customers.

While they are bowing an announcement comes over the loudspeaker. It says something like "dear customers, we are honored to have prepared this train for you. Please enjoy your ride."

It infuses the job of the cleaning crew with such dignity. Some things Japan just does right.

I thought of this the other day when I received a card int he mail quoting


“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” 

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A 2000+ Year Tradition of Nicknames

Longtime readers know of my penchant and love for nicknames.

So, I took a  (very, very, very) small amount of joy at the top of Masada when we visited the section of the "lots." 

This was where the last few standing people (who had to do the terrible job of killing everyone else before the Romans arrived) drew straws ("lots") to determine who would be the final person--and thus have to commit suicide-which is forbidden in Judaism.

The sign said that the pottery shards were inscribed with both names and "nicknames."

Knowing that I am upholding a 2,000+ year old tradition gives additional meaning to my nicknaming and my efforts to instill it in the next generation.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Please, Please, Please....VOTE

For the American readers:

I know many people have already. And I know that many (including myself) are beyond demoralized by the choice we have in front of us.

Regardless, I implore you to go out and vote.

I've been in too many countries where people don't have the rights and freedoms we so often take for granted.

People would die (and have) to get this amazing opportunity.

Please appreciate what you have.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Understanding the Trump Voter... Hillbilly Elegy (Book Review)

I finally caught up with the coastal elites raving about Hillbilly Elegy and plowed through the 270 page book in under 18 hours.

I get it.

I'll admit that using Trump in the blog post title is a bit of click bait as this book goes much, much deeper than that, throwing the reader headfirst into the white working class world that spans much of Appalachia and the industrial Midwest/Rust Belt.

It's powerful and, for me, at least created empathy for the plight of many of these people in a way I had never felt before.

It also made me grateful for the opportunities and education I've had, starting with the basics of how to eat properly using the right silverware and going from there.

The book was equally castigating to the Liberal nanny-state as it was supportive of it.

Simultaneously, it highlighted the merits of the Conservative demands for individual accountability and problems associated with dis-incentivizing work compared to welfare while also chiding the lack of compassion for serious problems.

It was depressing. So many of the challenges are deeply ingrained and can't be "dealt with" by sweeping policy changes.

And it was uplifting. Here was a man who somehow was able to get himself out of a terrible predicament of drug abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and neglect and get himself to Yale Law School.  He's living the American Dream.

But he didn't do it by himself. There were special people along the way that helped him.

And, one of the key factors in his life was the US Marine Corps.

That part really resonated with me as I recalled my visit to the USS Carl Vinson, where I met sailors who came from equally challenging backgrounds and who, thanks to the Navy, had turned their lives and worldviews around.

It was inspiring and I have never felt better about my tax dollars than I did then...and when I read J.D. Vance's account of the impact that the Corps had on him.

When you read this book (and you should), you have a newfound appreciation for a whole class of people that inhabit America.

It's easy to just label them as "racist," or "ignorant," but Vance helps you understand that there's a lot more there.  There's a way of life, a code, and a culture.  In many ways, it's been turned completely on its head in the span of a generation and people are in a tailspin.

This election cycle has caused a lot of pain for many people and understanding of "the other" has suffered.

I think Vance's book, Hillbilly Elegy, can help build understanding and empathy, which is a critical first step to healing.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Meaningful Talk on Real Problems

In an election cycle devoid of real meaningful policy discussion, I take a small amount of comfort in Tony Blair's reflections on (and willingness to name) the challenge that "World leaders must stand up on Islamist extremism."

Friday, November 04, 2016

Israel 2016- Reflections On A Spiritual Friday

Anyone who has visited the Western Wall (aka the Kotel) which is regarded as Judaism's holiest place knows that it is almost always a bustling sea of humanity full of all kinds of noise.

The sounds of the muezzin from the Dome of the Rock/Al-Aqsa complex will, on occasion, also punctuate the air.

So, when my friend Jeremy (no, not talking about myself) Lustman suggested that we get up at 5am to go to the early morning service on Friday for a different type of spiritual experience, I was up for it (literally and figuratively).

The purpose of this service is to say the morning prayer at the exact first possible moment.  The particular prayer is a silent meditation and can be said roughly at the morning's first light.

As we arrived, there were probably 150+ men praying in groups of 10-15. There was a din of noise as each group moved through the introductory prayers at their own pace.

However, when the moment arrived, the entire place fell silent. All we heard was chirping of the birds.

Utter and complete silence otherwise.

It was surreal and powerful. To be in the holiest place and have total quiet.

If you ever get the chance, you should go.

On our way out of Jerusalem, we stopped at the Mahane Yehuda (central market). Another place that is usually chock full of people, noise, and smells.

Since it was so early, we were able to experience the market coming to life. Vendors setting up their stalls and being able to walk unimpeded, appreciating the world of commerce coming to life, much as we had so appreciated the spiritual world awakening only moments before.

That afternoon, we experienced another side of humankind's spiritual existence.

We learned on Thursday night that the uncle of a close friend of ours was to be buried in Israel (after flying from the US) on Friday afternoon at 2pm.

Due to flight delays, the funeral didn't begin until close to 4 and with the arrival of the Sabbath imminent, there wasn't much time for a long ceremony.

In fact, it was short. Very short. And informal. Some were wearing jeans and t-shirts.

But, as opposed to some American funerals, there was an authenticity to it due to its fast pace and, more interestingly, the fact that people aren't buried in coffins. They are buried wrapped in a simple white shroud, an act which I think makes the process even more real due to its rawness.

Obviously, when you attend a funeral, you can't help but think about mortality and ask yourself questions about how to make the time you have on earth as rich as possible.

Thanks to Jeremy Lustman, I had a day I won't soon forget and may never experience again.