The Daily Show agrees with me…

In my last post, “The Value of things…“, I talked about the housing crisis and what drivers are making home ownership more difficult. I called out a group that probably makes a lot of people upset:

The multi-home investor, individual or corporate, is the single greatest challenge to affordable home ownership. 

This week my last post became timely as The Daily Show tackled the housing crisis as part of their “If You Don’t Know, Now You Know” series:

Trevor Noah talks about the housing crisis.

The value of things…

I’ve never really been a great capitalist.

When I was younger, people would say things like “you don’t know the value of a dollar” or “you don’t know what it’s like to have to work for money” like it was a faulting of privilege or an impairment for having never been starving. As I got older, as life happened, I was fortunate to never starve, but there have been times I’ve been hungry.

Looking back at this now, my mindset with money comes from more from neurodivergence than any kind of privilege or poverty. I know what a dollar can get me, and I know the numbers in my accounts have real world meaning, it’s just these things are all abstractions until they aren’t. To make them real, I ascribe my own value to them, usually based on return on investment of dopamine. How much for this level of happy?

Over time, as I made more money, this made to larger and larger amounts for larger and larger pools of dopamine. I went through hobbies, places, and people, chasing after higher highs, not putting as much in long term investment. Where’s the dopamine hit in a savings bond?

I think there is something to be said for life experiences. I know I have a ton of them now I wouldn’t have had, and some of those influenced personal growth, inspiration, and creativity. I hope to make some money with that at some point, and maybe that’s the real long term investment.

The thing is, life experiences, dopamine, and long term financial stability are all on this flat plane for me. I know things must be done for all of them, but prioritizing any one of them for too long is hard. So, I have to think about all three… or at least, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Now that I’m aware of it, I know that awareness will drive its own change in priorities for me. I perceive it as a risk, and even a flaw, that I don’t always prioritize long term financial security. Why start a business when I can work for a perfectly decent one for a while? Why monetize something I’m doing when I’m just doing it for the joy (read: Dopamine) ?

It’s another step in unpacking my midlife ADHD diagnosis.


I’m in month three of my break from work. I’m not hurting, but I’m starting to feel the ding of finances at my door. My lease is coming up, I know I need to make a final decision about relocating. I know I’ll need to have some proof of income when I do, or at least I think I will… I worked for so long I don’t know how people get established without a job. The thought has never crossed my mind, but I’m sure any freelancer or contract worker who had to relocate in uncertain times has run into this problem.

So it may stand that I’ll need to look for a job or some sort of income not for need of money, but for need of establishment. Legitimacy. It’s not a thrilling concept for me.

Looking back at my time at Apple, it was a revolving dopamine machine for me. Crazy fires at work fed the dopamine. I’d get rewarded in more crazy things and more pay. The more pay on paper wouldn’t have meaning to me, but the dopamine that would get me did. It was a cycle until ironically, the crazy things at work shifted from problems I could solve to something I couldn’t – a reduction in stimulation. I was half shelved and bored.

Many people look at my career at Apple and see someone with drive and ambition, when I was just chasing the next level of dopamine. The more chaotic it got, the more I loved it and the more I gave into it. While on one hand this makes me wonder if I should do startup work, I also don’t think that’s healthy. There should be some dopamine in day to day work, but not chasing the fires like I did before. I’ve learned that’s not healthy, even for me.

I realize I haven’t written at all about my time at Facebook. From a work perspective, it was a positive, healthy time. I don’t have anything bad to say about my personal experience or my team there, from hiring to leaving. Most of what I have to say about that company is about its products, upper leadership, and social impact, all of which I may or may not write about in the future.


So the value of things for me historically has been driven by the dopamine. I’m an addict. It’s why I never got hooked on cigarettes, drugs, or other stuff. I’m already hooked on my own good-good juice and it’s just a means of optimizing the delivery system.

Thankfully, I have healthy things that ground me with this. I have positive relationships, I have time and ability to meditate and have a spiritual practice, and I have learned developing skills and talents have long term rewards. I have benefited from the experience of building a life or three and doing it well.


Recently I read a phrase in the book Polysecure which talked about people going through major life events associated with sexual or spiritual discovery as having a crisis of deconstruction. That term has rolled around in my mind the last few days. Have I been going through a crisis of deconstruction the last several years? It would seem so, given the work I’ve done and progress I’ve made. I’ve deconstructed close to everything.

If so, when does reconstruction begin? Has it already started? Was rebirth begun during the death? I have this feeling of being near wholly empty, yet having already come so far. While in this time of quietness, I feel the fires of creation most, worried if I’ll hold my form or be scorched away in the process. Depending on the metal, there can be a thin line between malleable and melting. Which am I right now?


So I’m not a good capitalist because I don’t do things for money. At best, money is an awesome byproduct, but I’m motivated by challenge and action than by even getting something which can get me more dopamine. More and more, I want to do things that leave a positive impact on the planet and people. I was challenged with that at Facebook, and moreso when it became Meta, which is a whole other story.

I also don’t like that others have to do things for money, and that it has to be a predominant thought on most people’s minds. There is abundance for all when our focus isn’t on material or monetary wealth. There’s no reason we should have people going bankrupt for medical bills, or not be able to afford a home somewhere near where they would like to live or work.

The rent is too damn high because our policies encourage hoarding and capital investment. They don’t encourage the working class to buy and own their homes long term, and by that I mean multi-generational. Think about it.

John goes to work at a factory and takes a job earning just enough to qualify for a 30 year mortgage. On his income (laughably), he can support his nuclear family to buy exactly one home, own two cars, and ostensibly put one child through college. He has a pension at work and when he retires, his home is paid for, his child is through college, and he has the pension and some savings along with social security.

This laughably idyllic scenario sounds like a win, but then things fall apart.

The pension fails from corruption and bad investment, or maybe a corporate board takes it away. John didn’t plan for social security to cover it alone, so takes another hit. Along comes a reverse mortgage company, and John sells his house back to the bank in payments that favor the bank.

When John dies, he has no savings, no assets, and his house is back at the bank. His kid never realizes the wealth from the house, and never builds on it.

The only winner here is the bank, who got John coming and going. Banks don’t profit from long term, multi-generational home ownership. They profit from new mortgages and new investment. We talk about numbers of home ownership in the country as a benchmark, but really we’re talking about the number of mortgage agreements. Move to the next place! Buy a new home! Bigger! Better! Modern!

We’re at the point where anyone who isn’t in on this ponzi scheme is a victim of it. The multi-home investor, individual or corporate, is the single greatest challenge to affordable home ownership. This self-assured, if-I-can-do-it-you-can-too upper middle class and above is when capitalism goes from stock abstractions to the real deal – they own something of value which will yield earnings. They’re your landlord, your Airbnb superhost, or maybe even your parents. They’re the ones the system has worked out for, and really, the minimum line requirement for long term financial success now.

So this is why I’m a bad capitalist.

I know that line for minimum financial success. Two mortgages, one you live in, one a rental property. I’ve seen that line for about ten years now. I’ve had access to get in that line for at least five years. Yet, I haven’t. I’ve had no interest in doing it. Part of it is because there’s no dopamine in it for me, the other is I want to prove it’s possible without working that formula. Spite. Yay for self-awareness.

What I want increasingly now is a way to change the game. I hate that game. It’s not that I’m not competitive, it’s that it’s loaded, and it’s loaded against regular people who fall victim to it at no fault of their own. It’s what’s driving our growing homelessness. It’s what is driving rising income inequality.

I’m a bad capitalist because I see the game, but I don’t want to participate in it.

Maybe this is where the crypto bros’s pitch comes in. Maybe that strain is what appeals to people who dive into crypto. The thing about crypto is as currency it’s another media for the same style of economy. There’s some cool tech there, and I’m sure there are more interesting things to do with it than pump and dump schemes, long or short term.

I think we need a new vision. I don’t want to be a landlord. I don’t want to run an airbnb. Yet that is where the economy drives us.

I’m open to ideas and thoughts in comments. Keep ’em respectful, please.

Fixing divisions

Today is my 44th birthday.

Hearing the sound of my 4 year old singing Happy Birthday first thing in the morning is one of the blessings I’m happy I’ve lived to receive. There are many others the last few years particularly I’ve been blessed with. Travel. People. Given the circumstances, even survival.

This year I lost my father, although really it was last year because of politics and disagreement. The things that tend to divide people right now are important yet dumb things to be divided about. Common ground is found easily enough when you stop a moment. Most of us want a peaceful life, a warm home, a full belly, and to be surrounded by others important to us. We get lost in the details of how we get there, and how much we acknowledge and ascribe these same concepts to others.

Don’t get me wrong, my views and my politics are still there. I got opinions. Lots of them. I think there is space to have them while acknowledging commonality. That’s the only way we find our way to some sort of harmony.

It’s easy to point fingers at another person or group. “We could live good lives if not for those people over there.” “Why can’t those people stop doing whatever shit they’re doing that is pissing us off?” Barring active harm to others, that’s what most of this squaring off is about, manufactured by others still to further division, discord, or maybe just to get views.

Our world, our media, our platforms and services and ways we share haven’t been working for us. Not in ways that bring us together. I know the irony and even hypocrisy in me writing this, as I’ve had my own part, and carry my own culpability in where we are now.

A few months ago I started trying something different. I stopped the direct confrontation about views. I stopped posting out of anger and frustration. I stopped showing anger or contempt online for whatever my feed or my news sources had been showing me that day.

I started engaging people without judgement of them. In discussions, I started just stating where I stood without frustration with others. I started treating others with a little more space and care for where they are, because another thing we all have in common is we’re all tired and frustrated and angry and sad and confused, and just trying to figure out the best way to get through this life with the people we love.

It doesn’t stop the anger. It doesn’t stop the discord. It doesn’t change the daily messages coming in that the world isn’t going the way we want it to.

Giving people more space does change our conversations. It changes the way we connect with people. It changes the burden we carry of people we alienate or feeling of otherness from saying “things would be fine if not for those people over there”. We don’t have to share opinions to talk about them. We don’t have to be on the same side of the political, economic, social, religious, or ethnic view to get along with each other. We only need to recognize our common humanity, dignity, and needs. That’s universal. We can all still be heard. We can all still be listened to. We can’t expect it to start with our leaders, or the media, or our apps or platforms or employers or anyone else but ourselves, and how we conduct our own lives.

I started. I’ve given it a shot. I’ve still talked about my opinions. I’ve still listened to others who have disagreed. I still get angry and frustrated and upset, but I’m walking away from more conversations feeling better about how they go, and feeling we actually listened to each other a little better than before. 

If I had learned this lesson a few months earlier, my father may not have died alone in a hospital room in Philadelphia with us never reconciling. So if I can use this pain, this weight, this thing I’m carrying from that for any good, it’s to encourage any of you or all of you who have read this far to start thinking about how you defy the messages of division from wherever you are, stop saying “but for them” and figure out how you can start changing the conversations around you. Wars have been fought for the worst of reasons. The worst reason is to fight one when ultimately you want the same thing.

It’s hard to change what you’re doing, to look at the same thing one day differently than you did the day before, the week before, or the 43 years before. I’m not asking you to change what you believe, or think, or watch, or identify with… I’m asking you to consider how you move through the world. This wild west of a hyperconnected, brain bending, propaganda laden, fake news, talking heads world that we’re all having trouble navigating. 

If you’re struggling with this, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling hesitant, blocked, challenged, or some other kind of way about it, let’s talk. Even if we haven’t in a while. Even if the last time we did it didn’t go so well. Even if I called so-and-so a something or you just can’t see why this is even a thing to begin with. It’s ok. Things change two people at a time. 

With peace, balance, and harmony;

Alex

This post is public for reshare. Do as you will. 

Where have I been?

I logged into WordPress today to make a comment signing an open letter for the UN’s COP26 conference next month when I realized this blog was still dutifully up and running. The letter is important to me, and from its topic, content, and fellow signees, there’s been notable changes in a few things for me in the years since my last post.

I don’t write here anymore, although I do write quite often, and have started a path of creativity and art I didn’t know or understand the first part of my life. With my family, partners, and others, I’ve navigated the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Apple, and a myriad of other changes which have set the course and tone for the next few decades. Rather than an exhaustive post outlining them all, which is less interesting to read, I’m leaving this post as an end cap, at least until such time is suitable to pick this blog back up, or continue an open journal elsewhere.

Until then…

Balance and Harmony,

Alex

On a nuclear North Korea

I woke up this morning to feed our five month old son and saw the news of North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test. While we have known for some time of North Korea’s nuclear plans, and watched their increase in rhetoric and testing, today’s news will solicit a stronger reaction than before. Today North Korea’s nuclear threat got much more deadly.

My initial response is to think about my family. I am angry I live in a world where I have to consider my family’s safety from the power plays of a far away dictator. My gut reaction is to raise my voice to encourage a harsh, swift, and violent end to the Kim regime in North Korea, and return the country’s technology to an earlier state of human existence. A big part of me wants to see the North Korean nuclear threat eliminated at any cost, turning a blind eye to any consequences but my own family’s safety.

It’s easy to have such a response. We are engineered for survival, and eliminating things which threaten our survival is what we do by nature. The gutteral response to strike first when under imminent danger is a survival mechanism unto itself.

However, this is more than just about me or my family. Across South Korea and Japan are fathers and mothers with similar fears as me today. Maybe they are all having the same response, I don’t know. However, the threat to those in closer proximity has to have a dual edge. It’s easy to think about lobbing nuclear bombs back across an ocean, it’s another to consider the possibility of nuclear war on your own continent. There is no scenario for them where a nuclear first strike against North Korea is a safe bet.

I then think about the other set of mothers, fathers, and children we don’t see — the people of North Korea who have been ground under the heel of the Kim family for decades. They’ve been told we want them dead, that pursuing nuclear enablement was for their own survival against an unfriendly world. Maybe they are being told that if they don’t launch a first strike against their enemies, their children will not be safe. If we (the US) strike first, maybe that just reinforces what they’ve been told all their lives.

So my gut response this morning isn’t the right solution. Yes, it could keep my family safe, but at an ultimate cost to other innocent families. We need something that works for the people of South Korea, Japan, and yes, even North Korea. One despot has endangered millions. We need to be the voices of reason.

About the “N word”.

I’m going to talk about the “N word” a moment.
 
It’s a word of hate. A word of oppression. A word of separation. It has peers — words used to describe other races, nationalities, ethnic groups, sexualities, and gender identities which should never be used to describe others, yet the word and its ilk live on, and will likely continue to in some form for the duration of language and the differentiation of one person to another.
 
Here’s the thing:
 
Sometimes, among the descendants of its victims, the word is a form of bonding, and a part of the culture resulting from enslavement and segregation. From generations of being told they are lesser. From being told what they can and cannot do. From being told what things are supposed to mean.
 
Many of the comments I’ve read resulting from this video, and a sentiment I’ve seen and heard expressed in some form all of my life, is that the word should never be spoken by anyone. That the word would have died out long ago if black people stopped saying it. That it’s ok for others to say it because black people say it to each other.
 
The irony of this sentiment is: if only for a brief moment, in having the roles switched, in being told there is something non-blacks cannot do that black people can, they are experiencing the smallest slight upon their own self-expression and rights which black people experienced hundred-fold for centuries. The anger in their comments, the sense of injustice felt, should give them a sense of the strain and powerlessness blacks have felt in having their destinies dictated to them.
 
So if you are upset about one word you are told not to say, one word which means something different when you say it than when others do, and you’re demanding to be treated with equality — maybe that’s the lesson. These were people who were ascribed that word and meaning to them by others. Black people had no control over what it meant. Taking back that word is taking back the means to define themselves, or at least dull the memory of its original intent.
 
As I said earlier, the n-word is not alone. It has brethren used to describe anyone different — white, black, man, woman, gay, straight, etc. Socially, the rules are different on what can be said without insult depending on your own group identification. Personally, I acknowledge there are some words which would have a worse meaning coming from me than from others. That’s the nature of these words. For me to try to force the victim of one of these words to never say it is adding insult to the injury.
 
It is best to leave the words which don’t apply to you alone. There are plenty of better words in life to think about.

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