“Never Talk Politics”

You might have heard someone say it, you might have even thought it or said it yourself. To me, this is the worst saying ever created, I still can’t believe so many people believe it to be true. Contrary to popular belief, we as people, in fact, should always be thinking about and talking with each other about politics, at every moment, at all times.

The saying may have been attributed to Mark Twain who is quoted as saying “I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”

But first, what exactly is “politics” and why is it so awful?

Merriam-Webster defines politics as “the art or science of government”, and Wikipedia defines politics as “the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status.”

These definitions, just like the saying, are equally terrible.

Politics is not complicated, and therefore the definition should be very simple. To me, the definition of politics is “how we as people treat other people“.

Yes, it’s that short and sweet.

Now, when I say “how we as people treat other people,” you can certainly see how that saying can also become more complicated. For instance, when I say “people”, does that mean only human beings, but what about the other things in our society like our companies and property, aren’t they also included? What is the definition of “treat”, do we need provide 5-star service or just the basics? When I say “other people”, who is included in that, and do we define things differently for different types of human beings?

Unfortunately, the way that our politics work is that we try to find divisions, rather than connections, between we as people. Further, when someone doesn’t agree with someone else, they don’t want to listen to what they have to say, and they would rather try to overpower them with their words, arguments, and advertisements. To me, that is actually how “we as people are treating other people”, and therefore our politics reflective of that. And this method of treating people like this is filtered down to all of us, and we do the same thing, and therefore we are as guilty as the country’s top politicians. If we continue to elect people who act like this and expect them to behave differently this, then it’s our fault, not theirs. We should be blaming ourselves, and not the politicians, for how we as people are acting against each other. Politicians are there to represent us, the people, and they are elected based on our behavior, and their behavior is just a representation of ours.

Another reason why politics is such a cesspool, something not to talk about and to stay away from, is because most people don’t know how to actually to talk about politics. But at the same time, it’s okay that we don’t know how to talk about politics. No one’s childhood education starts with talking about politics. On the contrast, everyone’s childhood education starts with other subjects like math, reading, and writing, but there was no class on how to effectively communicate with other human beings who might have different points of view than you, so we have to go alone and hopefully teach it to ourselves. But like math, reading, and writing, politics has structure and rules, and you can’t do math, reading, and writing without knowing about or following the rules. Many people don’t want to learn or follow the rules of politics, and therefore they will fail in obtaining all the glories that proper politics has in store for all of us.

But, at the same time, even though we never learned about politics as a kid, we always learned about politics as a kid.  Even back in elementary school we learned “sharing is caring” as a way of learning how to sacrifice and allocate scarce resources across a society, we learned “do unto others as you want others to do to you” as a way of learning how to treat other people in ways that you would like to be treated, and “honesty is the best policy” as a way to learn not to lie, steal, or cheat others.  During recess we learned to “be a team player” as the key to victory is always through collaboration, sacrifice, and group effort, we learned to “shake hands after a game” as your opponent is not actually an opponent in life, but more likely someone who is exactly like you that also loves the same game you do and allows you the ability to play that game and get better at it, and we learned to “play your position” as you can’t play all positions at the same time as there needs to be order and structure in how to be most effective in playing the game. 

So you see, we always were learning politics from our earliest days, it just wasn’t branded such, and over time, we started to forget what we all learned back in elementary school.

Here is a picture of my 6th grade class. DuFief Elementary School in North Potomac, Maryland.

Speaking politics is simple, but politics is also has a structure and a process you need to follow. In order to do politics correctly, you need to first #1) speak the same language, #2) listen, #3) respond with an open ended question, and finally #4) repeat the steps #1 to #3 again.

#1) Start with speaking the same language. If I’m speaking English, and you’re speaking Urdu, we can’t communicate. The same is true with politics. We have to start with common ground, get to a language where we are both saying the same things, and then realize we are connecting and then we can further expand our thoughts and ideas where things may be different.

#2) You also can’t effectively communicate if you’re not listening, so basically talking about politics can’t be done if you can’t even communicate. Be sure to listen to what the other person has to say, you might want to respond back, but don’t. Just listen.

#3) You are in the business of obtaining information, and information is power, so continue to ask another question that gets the person to share more and more about what he or she is actually thinking. You might want to respond back at this moment, but do not, just continue to have that other person speak.

#4) Repeat steps #1 to #3 again. Make sure you’re always speaking the same language, listen to what the person has to say, and continue to ask them more questions. Don’t do any talking, just do more and more listening, and instead of creating divisions, create more and more connections.

That’s how you talk politics, and the more you follow steps #1 to #4, the more you will win at every conversation you will ever get yourself into in regards to politics. And, because politics is “how we as people treat other people,” we constantly need to talk about it, analyze it, and make sure we are always moving forward and improving.

The more someone speaks, the more they are revealing their thoughts and ideas, but at the same time, the more they speak, the more they are also concealing their thoughts and ideas because we are limited and defined by these words. We have this dilemma as human beings, as we are limited by the words we use to communicate the thoughts and ideas we have in our brains, and then others interoperate impressions of the thoughts and ideas in our brains based on those words. Speech is the most powerful thing we have as humans to both connect or divide us, and if we are not using words to positively change the world, we are not using the purpose of our words correctly.

No one should beat someone over the head, that’s not how it works. We are no longer cavemen, armed with bone clubs, who are extremely primitive, unintelligent, and aggressive. We always have to win with words, not swords. The key is effective communication.

But why do we even need to do politics ourselves when we have our two main political parties who can do it for us?

Because we as Americans are neither political party.

The biggest political party in the USA is the party of no one, as the majority of Americans are Independents, neither Republican, Democrat, or any other political party. The independent voter has no allegiance and no agenda, the independent voter just wants to make the best decision based on the best available options, like a true American capitalist. Republican and Democrat parties are for themselves, and are created for the differences between them, and not for Americans at large.

A proof of this is voter turnout, and we in America tend to not have good voter turnout is because we have these major political parties in America. Don’t blame the low voter turnout on Americans, just blame it on the political parties that create our candidates. Americans will vote when there is someone they are excited to vote for. When there’s no good options, the independent voter will not spend their time and resources for something not exciting. Just like a true American capitalist, the independent voter doesn’t to spend their resources buying something they’re not excited about. It’s very understandable, but don’t blame the independent voter, blame the Republican and Democratic party for being part of a system that doesn’t create and provide the right incentives for the best people in our nation to stand up and serve their country. Also, unfortunately, in this election, there will be millions of voters who will be very excited and motivated to vote for someone not by who they think is a good candidate, but rather who they think is a bad or even evil candidate, which is further sad to our politics and to our major political parties.

So how do we motivate the right people to get involved in politics to change it for good?

In my opinion, the most important thing is to stop vilifying leaders who want to run for office or who are currently in office. Everyone has some form of skeletons in their closets, and we have to stop making people afraid to serve because they have to go through an x-ray machine and publicly displaying and attacking everything about themselves and their families just because they want to present themselves as an option for people to vote for. This system is not allowing the smartest, most passionate people to run for office, they would all rather work in the private sector where they can be heroes and make much more money than putting themselves out there in full public display and risk everything they have established from their careers without any recourse if they lose. At the same time, we all agree there are certain skeletons that should preclude someone from running and holding office, but as of right now, to be eligible to be President of the United States of America, the highest office of the world, all you have to be is at least 35 years old, lived in the U.S. for 14 years, and be a “natural born citizen”. So no one should vilify anyone who does not meet these requirements. Now I do understand there should be more things we don’t want a Presidential candidate to be, so let’s all define it and make it a law so we are all on the same page, but if that’s not going to happen, then there’s no need for anyone to complain about it, especially if you won’t do anything about it yourself.

I would like to introduce other sayings about politics that are more inspiring and words we should all live by.

“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” In order to win arguments, instead of attacking, always give sweetness.

“No pain no gain.” That’s also very true, if there’s no pain in politics, there’s no gains. Politics is like the gym, it’s something you gotta do all the time, and it takes lots of time, and the results are not instant and to achieve results you need to go through a lot of pain.

“Practice makes perfect.” You can’t learn how to speak politics if you don’t practice it. And, the more you do it, the better you become at it.

Talk politics at all times, with everyone. 

The more you iterate something the better it gets, and the more ideas and inputs, the better it gets. Remember, politics and conflict is good, when we have politics and conflict, we have different ideas and opinions, and conflict in politics should always be celebrated.  And the more we do it the better it gets. 

The only way it will ever get worse if someone tries to overthrow our politics with unilateral dictatorship and / or group think, which is terrible.  Group think is what led to the global financial crash of 2008 when I was working at Lehman Brothers. We also do not want to solve our disagreements with war or terror, which is unfortunately what happens in our world’s history when politics breaks down.  The most repressive countries in the world repress politics and talking politics and challenging the status quo might be very dangerous, so let us all agree we live in a time and place where we have the ability to challenge leadership, share our voice, and openly express our thoughts about how we as people treat other people. 

Also, because politics is “how we as people treat other people”, there are also some things that should not be included in politics. For instance, there are many issues that are currently in political discussions, but politics isn’t necessarily about every single issue that you personally care about, it’s more about “how we as people treat other people”.

Stop using Facebook for political discussions.

There is nothing in politics that can be reduced down to a simple social media post. Everything is a proper, in-person conversation, and requires lots of time and analysis of history, different points of view, opportunities for change, and actual long-term solutions.

Facebook gets lots of money for political advertisements by political parties, so the more you comment on politics on social media, the more they can target you with advertisements, and the more you lose and the more they gain. Instead, have an actual conversation with someone you might share a different view than you, and try to listen to what they have to say, and create common ground. Remember, you won’t be able to change their views instantly, but instead of changing, try focusing on connecting. And when your focus is about connecting with someone vs. changing someone, you will always win.

It’s very sad what has happened to Facebook.

I was one of the first people to get on Facebook, in June 2004, only four months after they launched.  I was the first person to bring Facebook to Indiana University after I did my internship at Lehman Brothers in Menlo Park, CA.  Some of my friends went to Stanford University and back then Facebook was launched at Harvard University and limited to only students at Ivy League universities, before expanding to more Universities and then broadening to all users worldwide.

What started off with playful conversation with friends on Facebook in 2004 has now evolved into political arguments in 2020.  Kind of like when kids like to play, but then all the old adults are in the living room, everyone has a different point of view and no one is listening to anyone and everyone is always bickering.  As a kid you just want to go outside and play with your friends, as inside you know all the old adults are arguing and being miserable.  That’s the digital equivalent of anyone who posts politically charged posts or comments on Facebook, you might have a point, you might be saying something true, but at the same time, you are also old and miserable.  All the kids who want to have fun are on Tik Tok, where they don’t have to be exposed to you.

Talk politics at all times, with everyone, just do it in the right way.

We are all in the search for truth. Once you find truth, it spreads. That’s the special quality about truth. You don’t need to pay money to advertise truth. Once you share truth, others will share it, and it will instantly go viral. That’s how truth works. The truth is what we’re all searching for, and the truth is out there. It’s not easy to find the truth, and it’s not easy, but we all know when the truth is there, and we’ll all vote for the truth when we know it’s true.

Let us all talk about politics more often, and at all times, it’s the only way we will solve our issues and better treat each other in the same way we want to be treated. 

Tuesday is Election Day in the USA

Go vote! It’s the simplest and more powerful way to practice our political voice.  If you’ll be casting your vote in New York City in Murray Hill, say hi to me, as I’ll be working all day at the polling station at the River School PS 281, from 5am to 10pm.

The River School is an elementary school, which is very ironic. Because the place where we best conduct our politics happens to physically be at an elementary school, the source of where we first learned our education as children. I’m glad every adult has to go to an elementary school to vote, maybe adults can actually learn something about politics that is also being taught at this elementary school to kids.

To me, that is very ironic 🙂

A World Filled With Books

The #library used to be the center of #information. Now everything around us is a center of information, and everything is its own library. As we spend time #reading, even more information is created by reading the reader, and the information has become even #smarter.

Some might say #books are a thing of the past, but books will actually last longer than we do. Books are a huge business, and to that point, one of the largest companies in the world @amazon was created by selling books, and today still sells billions of $$$ of books each year. No matter how many new books with new words are printed, billions of us will still continue to read the same religious or culturally iconic texts whose words will never change. Additionally, we will still use bookshelves for our homes, our offices, and even for virtual backdrops for our @zoom meetings. Just a few days ago @joebiden virtually accepted the democratic presidential nomination with books in his background. The future is exciting for books, as never has it been easier to print and distribute and translate texts, and #authors will use technologies like augmented reality to futher bring their books to life. When you look at your #phone, others might think you look distracted, but when you look at a book, others might think you look #wise. What does that make the person who is looking at their phone who is looking at another who is looking at a book? I would say after reading this post, that person has also become wiser as well 😎 #unionleague #nyc #newyorkcity #murrayhill

Be The Best Rock You Can Be

Hello from #ShelterIsland! For those of you who have been here, you’ll know that the island is surrounded by #rocks. Rocks are heavy, can weigh us down, and keep us from where we want to be. Alternatively, rocks support us, protect us, and create foundations to lift us up. What’s more, the same exact rock can actually do both, it can both weigh us down or lift us up, and the only difference is perspective, it’s where the rock is placed in how it affects its force.

When the rock is on top of us, it weighs us down, it buries us, it keeps us from getting to where we want to be. When the rock is under us, it supports us, it anchors us, it lifts us higher.

Some might not think rocks are living, but at the same time, rocks will actually live longer on our physical #Earth than we do. Each one of us is also a rock, someone that can weigh someone down or lift someone up.

Let’s always be the rocks that bring ourselves and each other up. We don’t always have to always be the biggest rocks that always have to do the biggest things, even the smallest rocks like listening and offering words of inspiration and support are still as solid as the biggest ones. Let’s be sure to continuously be the rocks that help others, and give thanks to all the rocks around us that create foundations for our lives, support us, and lift us higher, and continuously remove all the ones from our lives that don’t. #longisland#newyork#usa 📷 @in.nycity

What’s So Perfect About Paradise?

Hello from Turks & Caicos!  Right now as you are reading this, I am immersing myself into a beautiful, pristine, pure, turquoise-reflecting water in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Many might call this place “paradise”, a spot that seems “perfect”.  But what’s so “perfect” about “paradise”?

According to Dictionary.com, “paradise” is “heaven, the final abode of the righteous” and according to Google.com it is “the abode of Adam and Eve; the Garden of Eden.”  It seems like the concept of “paradise” is linked with religion and purity.  But in today’s scientific and technologically-driven world, what exactly is “paradise”, and how can we define it in a way that everyone, no matter what our religious beliefs, can agree on?

From the basic concept, it seems we can equate “paradise” with themes of “water” and “purity”, just like me being immersed in this “pure” body of water right now.  The world’s most popular religion is Christianity, practiced by nearly 1/3 of the people on Earth.  Christians believe in immersing into “Holy Water” as a blessing and symbol of removing uncleanliness both spiritually and physically, especially through baptism and the cleansing of sins.  Islam, the world’s second most popular religion, practiced by nearly 1/4 of the people on Earth, teaches that water gives and sustains life, and purifies humankind and the world.  Wudu, an important part of ritual purity, consists of washing the face, arms, then wiping the head and finally washing the feet with water. And for all the other religions, it’s similar.  Hindus have a tradition of immersion in water as purification and cleanliness, and believe the waters of the river Ganges are sacred.  In Buddhism, water is given as part of a spiritual offering, as water is considered plentiful and free, and therefore all of our offerings should be given as freely as we would give water.  In Judaism, water has some of the most defined religious laws that date back a millenium, and water ritual is practiced in the form of hand washing before and after eating a meal, full body immersion into water for regularly cleansing the body, and even mandated immersion into purified water, called the Mikveh, before and after menstruation, ejaculation, childbirth, and even after having contact with a corpse.

And for those that do not know or practice any of these religious concepts, millions of us still naturally go to immerse ourselves into water, to cleanse and purify, both spiritually and physically.

Yet for all of these ancient and religious traditions of purity and water, the actual scientific and technologically-driven concept was not actually realized until 1846 when Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis discovered its effectiveness in preventing disease in hospitals, and was the first known medical professional to make the connection between dirty hands and deadly infection.  Before that, the medical benefits of doing simple things like washing hands were not fully practiced or understood in science.  Over the next twenty years, Semmelweis fought hard to advocate to doctors to regularly cleanse their hands, but many other doctors would not listen to him, and Semmelweis lost his job, was committed to a mental asylum, and died.  It was at that time that Louis Pasteur’s work offered a theoretical explanation for Semmelweis’ observations: the germ theory of disease, and the rest is history.  It seems like our high-tech scientific world should have taken some inspiration from religious texts long ago, as something so ancient and relatively low-tech of using water to cleanse, maintain health and purity is now one of our best and most simple scientific competitive advantages to sustaining life and fighting disease.

Today we all live in a world where we have a global pandemic and millions are suffering.  At the same time, the pandemic is making all of us as a global society more health conscious, where we care so much about our health and the health of each other.  Everywhere we go, we see people washing and purifying their hands in public, there are hand sanitation stands everywhere we go, and we are all taking extra steps to ensure that our focus on the health of another is becoming a daily part of our lives.  Water and purification are central to those efforts, and when we all focus on the things like that, we realize that no matter what our religions beliefs, we are all on the same page, and we are all like Ignaz Semmelweis and Louis Pasteur, as well as practicing all the world’s religions all at once.  Paradise doesn’t have to be a beautiful, pristine, pure, turquoise-reflecting colored water in the middle of the ocean, it’s the fact that we are all more than ever conscious of using water to cleanse and purify ourselves and each other, and the fact that we as a global society demand we do it for the health of all of us around the world.  In the past century, people on Earth have invested billions of dollars in tanks, machine guns, and bullets to kill each other, and now we are investing in hand sanitizers, masks, and vaccines to cure each other.  To me, that is much more of a “perfect paradise” we all are living in at this moment together, no matter where we are currently at on Earth.

What Happened to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Today is an unusual day, unlike many July 4th’s of years past.

What happened to all of our unalienable Rights, the ones written 244 years ago in our Declaration of Independence of July 4th, 1776, including Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

Well, maybe today is not so unusual, as never before do we have more of our unalienable Rights as we do today.

Life – we are alive, there never has been more live Americans in existence, our life expectancy and health standards have never been historically higher as human beings, and the sacrifices those are making on the front lines and the ones everyone else are making like quarantining and social distancing is helping to further increase the lives of others.

Liberty – more Americans have more liberty today than years past, and our digital connections and technologies have enabled us to further liberate ourselves and broadcast our voices in ways we’ve never had before without any physical limits or governmental restrictions.

The pursuit of Happiness – happiness is a tricky issue, as different people define happiness differently, but at the same time we have more ability today to create and maintain close relationships, do more with our free time, as well as having more access to increase our wealth, our education, our charity and acts of kindness, our health and exercise, and most importantly, our fun.

Today is our day to be as “American” as we can be, and our service today calls on us to take care of one each other, no matter if our government will or won’t, better listen and learn from one another, and bunker at home and wear masks outside. I’m sure all of our founding fathers as well as the great Americans, heroes, and soldiers of our past would have all 100% signed-up for our service in 2020 than the service they actually had to go through doing their part in defending and preserving the people of our great nation.

We also have an uncertain future ahead of us. There’s a lot Americans making their voices heard, whether its for no racism, no evoking race, no killing, no peace, no criminal behaviors, no violence, no justice, no looting, no police, no defunding police, no viruses, no inequality, no statues, no destroying statues, no anthems, no taking away anthems, no flags, no burning flags, no standing, no kneeling, as its in our DNA as Americans to stand up and say no, and protest, sacrifice, and fight for what we think is right, and against what we think is wrong, in our nation and in our world. This is Americans being Americans at its best, it’s our nature, and saying no is how we actually became Americans. We also need to always remember that no doesn’t mean we are not against each other, but with each other, as we are all in this together as one. And, when we all realize that we can say no, and that we are all together as one, we can actually connect and communicate with each other, and actually move ourselves and our country forward into an exciting new future together.

Happy Independence Day!

Our Role, Our Voice, Our Sacrifice

Today is June 7, 2020. On this day, twelve years ago, I remember when my New York City apartment burned down. It was a devastating day, and miraculously, I did not lose my life (you can read that story here).

Today I’m alive, I’m healthy, there’s lots to live for. This day serves to remind me how fragile life is.

But, for today, let’s not put anymore focus on my life.  Instead, let’s focus on the lives of others.

#BlackLivesMatter.

I think I can speak for everyone here, including me, who is in full support of bringing the necessary change needed to finally end the issues black people in America are facing and have faced in our country for 400 years, originating when black people were first horrifically kidnapped and imported here as slaves.  

I, like many of you, live in and love New York City. It’s the “Melting Pot” that brings together all the races and ethnicities of the world. It’s the “Center of the Universe”, a single spot where new ideas, creativities, and fashions come together. It’s the “Capital of the World”, the celebration of commerce, embracing success and entrepreneurship with companies from around the world introducing new and innovative products into our marketplace.

What was the first major product introduced to the brand new and exciting marketplace of New York City? The black African slave. Brought here by the Dutch West India Company in 1626, one of the most “entrepreneurial and successful” companies of its day.

Everything we enjoy in today’s new “Digital World” is built on code that run our computers and algorithms, but back then, our “New World” was built on the backs of slaves who were coerced, intimidated, brutalized, and dehumanized into forced human labor.

Each slave, a unique human being, was packaged as a product, and marketed to serve his or her master with his or her own unique abilities and skill set. Each slave was sold at auction to the highest bidder. That product was so successful, that by 1702, it was estimated that 42% of all households in New York City had a black slave.

Why did so many households have black slaves?

Think about all the Apps and appliances we have in our new “Digital World” that provide endless services to us within our home. Amazon Alexas take notes of our errands and deliver things to us. Google Nests monitor our home’s security, help us manage our busy schedules, and remind us of important things. Handy schedules household cleanings. Seamless orders fresh breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All our appliances like vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and laundry machines clean our homes, dishes and clothes. But back then, in the “New World”, we could have had all those services combined, and much more, with a single black slave.

I cannot imagine how horrible life was for them.

Even though I reference New York City, the issue of black slavery was not limited to America, it infected many other countries all throughout Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, South America, and North America, and even Africa itself. Horrifically, there are also place still to this day that still allows slavery and a slave trade.

One hundred fifty years after the first blacks were brought here as slaves, America declared independence from Britain in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence stating that “all men are created equal” with rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Two inspiring and truly revolutionary concepts, written at the time by one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, a man who would also serve as our third President, and an owner of 600 slaves himself. But, we all know these phrases still didn’t apply to most Americans, especially black people, as blacks were thought to be racially inferior to whites. The mindset of racial slavery being a right or a wrong could be understood by Thomas Jefferson himself who later said “We have the wolf (i.e. the black slave) by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”

After we declared independence, things started to change. A year later, in 1777, Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery, with other states slowly following suit.  

But still, eighty years later, there were only 19 free states in the North, with 15 slave states still in the South. I am from one of those southern slave states, Maryland, right below the Mason–Dixon line, which divided the northern free “Union” states, from the southern slave “Confederate” states.

Why was there a divide?

In today’s Internet and Social Media World, “Content is King“, a phrase first coined by Bill Gates in 1996, and rings more true today than ever. Think about all the $ billions of dollars invested globally in resources, time, and capital for the creation of content.

Back in the mid-1800’s, “Cotton was King“. Cotton was the #1 main industry in America, it was our top money maker and #1 exported product, accounting for 50% of all our exports. Americans spent decades eradicating the peoples and the lands of the Native Americans and replaced them with black slaves and cotton plantations all throughout the southern states. The slaughter and taking the lands of the Native Americans legally commenced with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and it was lead by Andrew Jackson, our seventh President, who is also pictured on our $20 dollar bill.

Harriet Tubman, a black woman born into slavery, was a hero who risked her life in pursuit to free other black slaves secretly from the south and into the north via the Underground Railroad. Her portrait was slated to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill in 2020, but the plan was indefinitely delayed by President Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Donald Trump has both a portrait and a sculpture of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, the only man being depicted there twice.

Both the Northern and Southern states were heavily profiting from the cotton industry, and it helped lead our young country into greater real estate expansion and financial growth and flexibility, enabling our government to also borrow money from abroad.

In other words, America economically went from zero to hero.

The Northern states provided the services needed to maintain the industry, including the banking, insurance, legal, marketing, shipping services. The Southern states provided the actual cotton products needed to maintain the industry, including the massive agricultural land and human slave labor necessary. It was estimated that 1 million black slaves were sent from the north to the south to fuel this growth, with 4 million black slaves in total, 1/3 of the population. The invention of the Cotton Gin enabled even greater productivity to this industry. As the value of the industry continued to increase, so did the necessity of the institution of black slavery.

By then, 1861, there was a complete stand still on the issue of slavery. America was so politically and economically divided on slavery that all that tension exploded into what is called the Civil War.

North vs. South. Union vs. Confederate. American vs. American.

The Civil War ignited immediately after the election of President Abraham Lincoln, the first president of the brand new Republican party, whose mission was to end slavery. Believe it or not, it was the Republican party that was created as the anti-slavery party, and, it was the Democratic Party that was created against the abolition of slavery. After the Civil Rights era is when we get to the parties we know of today, which I’ll get to).

Every institution of the south was tied to slavery, including economically, culturally, institutionally, legally. The end of slavery was perceived to be the end and destruction of the southern way of life and livelihood by the north. Since the northern states were more economically and culturally a service oriented society, they viewed slavery more as an individual and micro issue, as historically the black slave in the north was typically a household servant vs. the south that saw slavery as the most critically important macro driver of the engine of their economy and their entire way of life.

It might make sense then, as to why, immediately after the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Confederate southern states succeeded from the Union northern states, elected their own President, Jefferson Davis, who established a new country, the Confederate States of America, with its own constitution and currency, waving a new Confederate “Battle Flag” (you can read my own personal story of my first encounter with a Confederate flag here), organized an army, and invaded the Union via the Battle of Fort Sumter in South Carolina – the “Pearl Harbor” moment of its time.

It’s very hard for me to actually conceptualize what happened, why it happened, and how it happened, as the slave issue was so polarizing.

But if I can just make a comparison to what happened in 1861 like what happened in our most recent 2016 Presidential election. It’s a terrible comparison to make, as it has no truth. But, let’s say the Democratic party which lost the election of 2016 acted like the Confederacy in 1861. As a comparison, remember, this is a bad comparison, after the Democrats lost in 2016, they would have declared their states are no longer part of the United States. They would have renamed themselves as a brand new country, with a new flag, constitution, and even currency. They then elected a new president, who then directs troops be organized, and then declares war against the Republican states, and immediately sets course to invade and defeat those states. The goal was total military takeover, and anyone standing in the way was to either be part of the new nation or be killed. Troops on both sides would immediately be organized to defend and wage war against each other. I’m not talking about a Twitter war of words between Republicans and Democrats, but an actual war of organized military, firearms, and death. I am not advocating for any of this to happen, remember, this is all just one big bad comparison just to help put it into our context.

As shocking as all this might sound, it’s not the end of it.

For four gruesome years, the northern states and the southern states fought, and by the end of the Civil War, 655,000 Americans were killed.

To give even more context, more Americans died of their desire to free black slaves or maintain black slaves than all those Americans who died from all our major wars with all our foreign adversaries, combined. Revolutionary War (25,000), WWI (116,000), WWII (405,000), the Korean War (36,000), the Vietnam War (58,000), and the Afghanistan & Iraq Wars (7,000). When you add it all up, 647,000 Americans killed in 56 total years at war.

What a tragic fact we have in the history of America.

Americans killed more Americans in America due to the issue of black slavery then all Americans killed in defense of American against every major foreign enemy America has ever faced in our nearly 250 years in existence as a country, at a daily kill rate 14x higher than all the other major wars combined (56 years for the all other wars vs. 4 years of the Civil War).

Americans killing Americans inside America > Non-Americans killing Americans outside America.

We had so many Americans killed in the Civil War that the U.S. federal government in 1864 even had to create its own national cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, just to provide a plot of land large enough to bury many of these dead. Yet, still to this day, there are more who died in the four years of the Civil War than those actually buried at Arlington National Cemetery throughout its entire history of over one hundred fifty years.

Even thought this is the most tragic chapter of American history, and it happened over one hundred fifty years ago, our country has still not gotten over the Civil War.

Americans still honor and celebrate the Confederacy all across America.

Here is just one example: monuments, statues, state flags, military bases, the names of our cities and schools. I am in no way am I saying that this is the only proof that we still haven’t gotten over it, it is just one example out of many, and there are still many other examples.

There exists thousands of monuments, statues, state flags, military bases, and schools in honor of the Confederacy. The existence of the Confederacy lead to the most deaths we’ve ever had as a nation, and yes, we still honor them. Further, here’s a list of all the statues that honor and schools that are named after Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, enemy #1, leading killer of Americans in America, with Confederate “Battle Flags” still being sold as bumper stickers, t-shirts and symbols all across the U.S.

Would we build statues of Adolf Hitler and sell bumper stickers of the swastika after we fought in WWII? Would we build statues of Kim Il-sung, the founder and first supreme leader of North Korea (and great grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un), after we fought in the Korean War? Would we use our tax money to maintain statues of Osama Bin Laden and fly the flags of Al-Qaeda and ISIS after 9/11 and our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Would we even create commemorations for COVID-19, which has lead to the recent killings of over 100,000+ Americans?

NO.

The obvious answer to this question is no.

HELL NO.

But, one of the greatest beauties of our country is that we’re actually free to do so. We can still legally display these statues and symbols, as they are all protected under the 1st Amendment. But, just because we’re able to do so, that does not mean it’s right to do so. We can all agree that’s not how we want to communicate who we are and what we believe in. And that’s also a reason why we as a country are still dealing with this issue.

Why can’t we just bury it into the ground and move on?

When a right or possession of ours at one point was legal, like slavery, and then we make it illegal, it’s extremely difficult for us as a country to bury it into the ground and move on. Take gun control, prohibition and alcohol, and drugs like opioids.

Likewise, when a right or possession of ours at one point was illegal, and then we make it legal, it’s extremely difficult for us as a country to bury it into the ground and move on. Take same sex marriage, abortion, and drugs like marijuana.

April 15th is the day we all know as Tax Day, the day our federal income taxes are due. But on this same date back in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Our first President to be murdered in office was killed because of his leadership to finally abolish slavery in the U.S.  Three weeks after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Civil War ended, and later that year in December, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, which finally ended slavery.  

Digressing for a moment, February 12th is the date of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It’s a birthdate I share with him, and I have always thought there was no better birthdate than to be born on the same date as this amazing human being and leader that can serve to all of us as an inspiration.  Each one of you is also invited to my birthday party next year.

February is also celebrated as Black History Month in the U.S. In elementary school, I was asked to present my favorite black inventor to the class.  Today, we all have Google to help us with this search query, but back then, you had to flip through many many books to research and find your answer.  My pick was Garrett Morgan, who among his many inventions, created the first automatic, electric traffic light.  Yes, that same red, yellow, and green traffic light that everyone knows and relies on all around the world.  This is just one contribution of countless others the black community has contributed to our society.

Sorry for the sidetrack. Now, back to the story.

After slavery was abolished in 1865, we all know things didn’t end there.  

Instead of allowing blacks to live under the phrase “all men are created equal” as its written in our constitution, another system was created for blacks, which was known as “separate but equal“.  This segregated blacks from whites, and greatly limited their abilities to enjoy everything that this country has to offer, including liberty, education, and economic growth.

They are called the “Jim Crow” laws.

Today we have “social media influencers” who provide us with highly entertaining content with a click of a button. Back then, there was no internet, no TV, no radio. Instead, our country had “minstrel shows” which consisted of comedy skits, variety acts, dance, and music performances that were performed by white people in blackface. These minstrel shows traveled all around the country and their characters were as well known as any A-list celebrity of today. One of the most famous minstrel show actors was Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a white man in blackface, whose character was “Jim Crow.”

Even though slavery was abolished in the south, absolutely every aspect of society became legally segregated, including schools, parks, transportation, stores, restaurants, restrooms, and even drinking fountains. After COVID-19, we will be seeing lots of signage in places like these with sayings like “Maintain Social Distancing” and “Stand Six Feet Apart”. Back then, we would have seen lots of signage saying “Whites Only” and “No Blacks”.

American was still very far from a land resembling “freedom”.

It then took another one hundred years for the Civil Rights Movement to finally be realized in the 1950’s and 1960’s, which was an organized effort by black Americans to finally end racial discrimination and gain equal rights under the federal law.  Activists and leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. (who advocated to work within the legal framework and for blacks to work with whites) and Malcolm X (who dismissed the legal framework and advocated the superiority of blacks over whites) helped lead the movement, albeit from different extremes. This movement lead to more federal laws and judicial verdicts that finally ended legal segregation and discrimination in the U.S. The most well known being the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended racial segregation.  

Activists like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were also assassinated, with Martin Luther King, Jr. being the most well known and celebrated leader of the Civil Rights Movement. In the U.S., the 3rd Monday in January is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which honors his birthday and his leadership, as he is best known for advancing civil rights through his inspiring words and speeches, like “I Have a Dream“, promoting nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his religious beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi, who helped free India from colonial British rule (who also was assassinated).  

The assassinations didn’t stop, next was Robert F. Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s younger brother (President John F. Kennedy was the latest President to be assassinated in office), who was slated to potentially become the next President of the U.S. in 1968 and was celebrated as being able to even further advance the issues of civil rights.

Unfortunately, our history books end the Civil Rights Movement in 1968, this same year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were killed. The former football stadium of the Washington Redskins, a stadium I went to as a kid was named RFK Stadium, in honor of Robert F. Kennedy. It was also at this time that what we think of now as the Republican party became the Republican party, and what we think of now as the Democratic party became the Democratic party, with Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northern states becoming more reliably Democratic.

Since our founding, we have not stopped dealing with race serving as our biggest issue diving this country.  

This is such a weird concept to both Americans and non-Americans a like, as America is supposed to be the “land of the free and home of the brave“, a phrase we recite from The Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem, and the land of the “tiredpoor.. masses yearning to breathe free,” a phrase inscripted on the Statue of Liberty.

Yet, we all know that even though black people make up a strong minority of our country (42 million people, about 12% of our population), they still face a strong majority of the issues people in our country face, especially with issues in regards to financial and economic security, education, personal liberty and freedoms, as well as with police brutality, criminal justice, and incarceration.  We also know that even things that shouldn’t be tied racism at all like COVID-19 is still killing black people at a disproportionate rate.

And still unfortunately, only a couple weeks ago, on May 25, 2020, we have all seen the shocking and horrific murder of George Floyd by a group of Minneapolis police officers, shared on social media.  His “crime”, using a fake $20 dollar bill.

Here’s what a “fake $20 dollar bill” may look like, it looks pretty legitimate to me. The U.S. Treasury should finally commence printing this $20 bill in honor of George Floyd.

I also remember seeing my first murder by police, shared on social media. It happened on July 17, 2014 in Staten Island in New York City, when Eric Garner was horrifically put into a chock hold and killed by a group of NYPD officers.  His “crime”, selling a loosie, a single cigarette sold out of a cigarette pack, probably for a $1 dollar bill.

But even 65 years ago, we had other names, like Emmett Till, who on August 28, 1955, was a 14-year-old boy who was taken from his bed, beaten, shot and dumped into the river by a group of white men, all of whom were later found innocent by an all-white jury.  His “crime”, whistling at a white woman.

These are just three names, out of countless others from our past who were victim of police brutality and lynching.

I’ve heard people ask whether the true motivating factor of these murders was racism. It’s a good question, since none of us actually know. Since we are not actually the killers, we don’t actually know where their actual minds are at.

So, even though all the victims were black, and the perpetrators were not, let’s just completely remove race from the picture, and let us just all agree upon the basic facts…

  1. A group of people who held a more superior status in society forcefully took possession of another person.
  2. They restricted that person’s ability to move, inflicted extreme pain and suffering upon him, and ultimately killed him.
  3. To the victim, any efforts to save his life failed. He might not even have known he was in grave danger and that he was going to die until it was too late.
  4. To the killers, there were indications that the victim was in extreme pain and may even die, but no one from the group changed the course of their actions or had shown any mercy.
  5. The magnitude of the horrific method of murder doesn’t match the magnitude of the actual “crime” the victim may have actually committed.

To put it another way…

Will I, Jon Harari, ever be in a situation where a group of powerful people, forcibly take possession of me, inflict extreme pain upon me, and kill me without any mercy for the “crime” of using a fake $20 bill, selling a loosie, or for whistling at a woman?

NO.

The obvious answer to this question is no.

HELL NO.

To deal with everything going on right now is absolutely unprecedented and complicated. And, if you’re still reading this, you may be thinking to yourself what’s the answer, how can we change this?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. I don’t have the magic potion.

All I know is that there is a bright side.

There’s always a bright side.

I know for certain, is that each and every one of us possess two of the most powerful tools to create an impact.

We all have 1) our voice and 2) our ability to sacrifice.  

1) Our Voice

When we see something we don’t like or agree with, we have a voice.  

When we see something we support, we have a voice.  

There’s many ways to use our voice.

As human beings, we are all empowered to communicate with our voice, including our actual vocal cords which allow us to speak, our fingers which allow us to write and type, our body and movements to non-verbally communicate, and our actions which inspire others.

There’s also lot of technologies in the world the empower us to communicate our voice, which include internet technologies like the emails we send, the images and videos we share on social media, and the content we share on websites.  There are more artistic ways we can communicate our voice through art, theatre, tv, and film.

That’s just a small sample of the options in how we can use our voice.

For those of you that use your voice, and there’s no one single textbook that teaches us how to best communicate. We just need to use our voice, and the more that we use it, the more we learn how to use it.

2) Our Sacrifice

When we see something we don’t like, we don’t have to sacrifice for it.

When we see something we do like, we can sacrifice for it.

There’s many ways to sacrifice.

Some of us sacrifice our time. We work, we volunteer, we help others, we attend meetings, we stand in protest, we stand in support.

Some of us sacrifice our wealth.  There’s many ways to donate and financially support things we believe in.  It’s so easy now with the internet to click and support, even just by sharing a link.

For those that sacrifice, there’s never any amount that’s too small, and there’s never any amount that’s too big.

Some of us even make the ultimate sacrifice, our lives in pursuit of what we believe in.  I, in no way, advocate for anyone to sacrifice their lives.  I just recognize that there are many people that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for standing up for what they believe in.

So, what’s changed? How is this moment different than those from the past?

The sacrifice has been there, that’s clear from our history, and there are so people continuing the sacrifice.

The different now is the voice, never before have so many voices been heard.

Given today’s technologies, more people are given more ability to project and amplify their voice in ways that have never been achieved before.  

That’s what gives me hope.

We all possess the most powerful tools that we have for positive change, and I hope we can all continue to use them to make a positive difference in our lives.  We all have our roles.

At the same time, we also see in our history where our voice and our sacrifice is used not for good, but for evil. We always need to be careful of those that use our most powerful tools for the wrong purposes.

That being said, I 100% believe that the issues like racism that we still face as a country can 100% be solved.  Remember, we are all >99% the same, we’ve known that now for a long time. To anyone getting a grade on a test, we all know that getting 99% is an A+, it’s like getting a 100% perfect score. We’re all pretty much the same on the inside, no matter what we look like on the outside, and we all know that none of us wants to be judged by how they look on the outside when we all want to be judged is by who we are on the inside.

And I look forward to the day when our future generations look back at us and mock us.

Just like we might look back at past generations and say how terrible it was that they had to use fire, instead of electricity, just to light up a room. How terrible it was that they had to use donkeys, instead of vehicles, to transport themselves. How terrible it was that they did not believe in washing their hands as a way of cleaning themselves.

Future generations will also look back at us and say how terrible it was that people in our lifetime had suffered from racism because we did not have the proper technology to share our voice.

Let’s also quickly address some other issues at this moment.

First and foremost, this is a story of all lives mattering. Black, white, blue, and every single color and shape and size you can find.

I feel for all those affected by COVID-19 and all the lives globally that have been lost. I have family on the front lines, and know friends that have had their love ones lost.

I also feel for all those who have economically lost. 35,000,000 million are unemployed in the U.S. I have friends who work and own restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, real estate, and businesses that have all completely shutdown.

It is heartbreaking for me to see the windows of the stores in New York City and around the country being smashed, the stores being looted, and retailers being boarded up. As CEO & Co-Founder of WindowsWear, the beauty and celebration of window displays is what our company was built on. I also feel for the brands, their employees, and stakeholders.

Everyone has their own struggles and challenges, and we cannot all change everything we want to change in the world.

Instead, we all have the power to, at the very least, change ourselves, and potentially help change someone else.

All I know is that our most powerful tool is that a) we are all alive b) we all have a voice and c) we all can sacrifice for what we believe in.

We do not possess all the reasons why others use their voice or make their sacrifice. 

All I know is that our role is to listen to their voice, and be inspired by their sacrifice.

My Father: The Hero of Hummus

I hope you are all well, and that you and your family are safe and sound!

I, like many others, have been quarantining at home. At home, I love to cook, but like me, are you also at home cooking often? If so, do you feel that the more you cook, the more creative you want to be in how you cook?

If “yes”, then you also know that it’s wonderful to have millions of recipes at your fingertips online. You can find extremely entertaining top rated chefs with impeccable images and tantalizing video tutorials, but what about all those hidden recipes you can’t find online but can only be revealed through your parents and your family heritage?

Since today is May 13, the official international day of hummus, I’ll share with you my hummus story, and my father, Oded Harari, who to me, is the hidden hero of hummus. At bottom of the article below, I also include a link to my father’s 3 minute audio recording on how to make “the best hummus you can eat,” which is also “is very simple” to make.

It started back in the the late 1970’s, when my parents immigrated from Israel to the U.S.

Back then, you couldn’t find hummus anywhere in America. People never heard the word “hummus” or even knew what it was, it was just a weird sounding dip from a tiny region of the world.

Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., one of the most ethnically and racially diverse areas of the U.S., there was no hummus.

But, this would not deter my father, who loved hummus very much. But, in order for my father to eat hummus, he had to make it hummus, from scratch. Not having hummus to buy wouldn’t stop him from eating hummus, and my father took a lot of pride in his hummus-making abilities.

Why was hummus hard to find?

Hummus had many challenges for an American consumer culture that craved popular brand names and familiar packaged products. People just thought hummus was just the most odd-looking and odd-sounding item to consume. Even though hummus was popular in countries like Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and the Middle East, hummus was an underdog in the U.S.

Why?

1. Hummus looks like mud.

I remember my friends and their parents found it strange that my father would take vegetables and dip them into mud. Remember, this was over 30 years ago, and no one knew hummus. The more normal and American thing to take was a potato chip or nacho and dip it into a more normal thing like ranch dressing or salsa dip.

As a kid, I remember witnessing adults dip vegetables into hummus for the first time of their lives. No one ever seemed to know what to do with assorted fresh vegetables and a bowl of mud dipping sauce when my parents put them on a plate when entertaining guests. My father had to explain to them it was a Middle Eastern dish and told tell them it’s perfectly okay and healthy to eat, even though many were reluctant to do so at first. The way hummus looked was suspect to so many people.

2. “Hummus” sounds horrid.

Hummus never sounded appetizing to anyone who knew what it actually was.

Americans love names that sound good. Out of all the things to eat, this sounded like the most disgusting option. “Khoo-mus”, with leads with that Hebrew and Arabic sound “KHEH”, didn’t sound appetizing to the average American.

3. Hummus didn’t have a cool brand or fun packaging.

It was cool to buy or to eat foods made by brands with cool packaging. With hummus, there was nothing cool about the brand or packaging of garbazno beans (the check peas, which hummus is made of, and tahihi, toasted ground hulled sesame). Snack foods like Pringles, Ruffles, Lays, Tostitos, and Fritos had great brands. Hummus did not.

4. Fresh vegetables weren’t trendy.

As mentioned previously, snack foods with great brands and packaging were cool, vegetables were not. Vegetables just came unbranded from the produce section of the grocery store. My father didn’t go for the snack food brands with cool packaging, he instead went for the unbranded vegetables without any packaging.

My father also knew how to pick vegetables, as only the best vegetables were to be used for dipping into his hummus.

He also knew how to inspect each vegetable and how each should feel.

Others in the produce section would just take into consideration how the vegetable visibility looked. They would quickly go through the aisle picking the best vegetables which were the best looking with the least visible flaws.

My father, on the other hand, would spend hours in the produce section. He spent a lot of time picking up, looking, touching, and analyzing each vegetable. I thought it was unusual for my father to be touching and feeling vegetables.

To me all these vegetables all relatively looked the same and it didn’t matter to me which were better, it wasn’t that important. To my father, picking the best vegetable from each bin was very important, even if it took more time to do so. He would pick them up and put them down, when ever other adult was just using their eyes, my father would use his hands.

Every time I went to the grocery store with my father, we were always in the produce section for the longest amount of time out of everyone else in the store.

5. Hummus is weird to make.

Hummus is made with blenders, and blenders are marketed to Americans to make fun things like milkshakes and smoothies, using exciting ingredients like ice cream, strawberries, and chocolate.

My father, on the other hand, would use his blender to blend chick peas, tahini, and garlic. While the parents of my friends used their blenders to blend desserts, my father used his blender to blend assorted vegetables.

But now, hummus is everywhere.

I cannot believe the triumph of hummus in the past 30 years – going from nowhere to everywhere.

It went from looking weird and sounding weird, to trendy and cool. It went from only being eaten by a tiny population in a tiny part of the world to now eaten by people all over the U.S.

Hummus is in every grocery store and can be found at a restaurant in every city in the U.S. Hummus hits on all the recent food trends like organic, gluten-free, vegan, healthy, etc. In New York City, there are even restaurants named Hummus Kitchen and Hummus Place.

Hummus should be one of the great American rags to riches stories.

Here’s Jamie Oliver introducing Americans to how to make hummus with a blender using garbanzo beans, just like my father did 30+ years ago.

Hummus also now has a cool brand, called Sabre. They have even introduced their own hummus condiment to compete with ketchup and mustard.

I also have friends like Dana Arschin and Lauren Epstein that are such lovers of hummus that even have their own Instagram posts or accounts dedicated to hummus.

View this post on Instagram

First time making homemade hummus and it was a huge success!! ✅ There are SO many ways to make hummus, but here’s what I did. First I emptied a can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas into a strainer and rinsed them. Then I steamed them for about 20 min. Then I threw them in a food processor with half a cup of tahini, one garlic clove, a few spicy chile peppers and some water (I just poured a little in, but not a specific amount). After it was all blended together, I poured the hummus on a plate and added some chili powder and red pepper spread on top. The red pepper spread (@tuttocalabria from @wholefoods) is marinated in a spicy oil which added a nice extra kick. Some other suggestions to add flavor to your hummus: add salt to your liking, lemon juice, EVOO, paprika, parsley or other spices. In my opinion there’s nothing like warm homemade hummus!! 🙌🏼 #ChowOrNever #DISHcover #NYC

A post shared by Dana’s NYC Food Journey (@chow_or_never) on

What was weird is now normal.

Think about all the challenges hummus had to overcome to be so widely available in the U.S. and the heroes like my father to make them from scratch and introduce them to Americans for the first time.

My father’s story taught me that we all have our unique qualities and experiences that differentiate us, and to be who you are and do what you love, no matter how it appears to anyone at moment.

I also love how hummus has built common threads between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, taking an ancient dish and making it modern, all the while promoting health and wellness.

Listen to my father’s “Best Hummus You Can Eat” recipe!

Ingredients:

  1. Two cans of chick peas
  2. 1 jar of tahini
  3. 2 lemons
  4. 1 clove of garlic
  5. Extras: olive oil, salt, paprika

My father’s 3 minute hummus recipe:

  1. Take the two cans of chick peas, put them in a pot, and heat them on the stove (don’t boil it, just heat it so the chick peas become soft)
  2. Blend the chick peas in a blender
  3. Put half a jar of the tahini in the blender
  4. Squeeze the lemons into the blender
  5. Put half clove of garlic in the blender
  6. That’s it!
  7. You can serve the hummus with olive oil, salt, and paprika

It also makes me think, what food or drink exists out there, that has been around in a different part of the world for a while, that millions of people in the U.S. will love, that’s just not quite there in our hands yet.

Which one will be next?

Happy New Year!

Wow, it’s 2020!  As a kid, I envisioned the year 2020 as marking the start of a new & futuristic world.  In this future world, I was convinced that we would be visited by aliens that ride in spacecrafts.  

Maybe it’ll happen one day, but for now, we’re not there.  And, instead of engaging with lifeforms from outer space, we have all of us humans, right here, right now.

And, for the success of our new & future world, I want to wish that each and every one of your dreams will come true in 2020, and want you to be extremely successful with whatever makes you the most passionate.  The more success you achieve, the more you will shine a light upon yourself and onto others, making the world a better place for all of us.  But, dreams are dreams, and some come true, and others do not.  Therefore, even if you do not realize each and every one of your dreams, you still have the power to help others realize their dreams.  And sometimes, it is actually more fun and enjoyable when we focus on helping others realize their dreams as well.

So, instead of a world of aliens and spacecrafts, we have a world full of our dreams and achievements.  I am looking forward to seeing you realize your dreams and helping others realize their dreams in 2020.  The world of the future is waiting for them.

Happy In”Dutch”pendence Day!

Today is July 4th, the Independence Day of the U.S. As an American and New Yorker, I would like to give thanks to our amazing country. And on a day like today, I also like to reflect on who we are and where were we came from. But with all the differences between us, is there really one place, one point on a map, where we can all say yes, this is who we all are and where we all came from?

There are many different places to chose.

Are we British? We speak English and lots of our heritage comes from there, including those that originated from the 13 original colonies.

Are we Spanish? Many of us speak Spanish and are from Hispanic and Latin descent. The Spanish also colonized southern states like Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Are we French? At one point, half of America was the colony of Louisiana (New France), extending as south as New Orleans and as north as Hudson’s Bay in Canada.

Are we German? It’s very American to eat hot dogs (“wieners” & “frankfurters”), hamburgers (named after Hamburg, Germany) and drink our beloved “American” beers like Budweiser (Eberhard Anheuser & Adolphus Busch), Coors (Adolph Coors), Pabst Blue Ribbon (Frederick Pabst), Schlitz (Joseph Schlitz), and Yuengling (David & Frederick Yuengling).

Are we Italian? It’s also very American to eat pasta, pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti & meatballs.

And that’s just naming several of the European places. How about all the Native Americans who were here before the Europeans, and how about those that descended from the slaves from Africa, and all the people who descended here from Asia and other places?

Can there really be one country, one place, that everyone can point to and say yes, this is who we are and where we all came from.

Yes, there is.

For anyone living in America, and especially New York City, there is a place that we can all point to, no matter what differences there are in our ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds.

It is a country called The Netherlands.

The Dutch influence in America is actually the biggest hidden and most interesting historical secrets of the U.S. and especially New York City.  It’s one that has daily and consistent influence in our lives, also one that is rarely discussed or mentioned in any of our history books.

Believe it or not, by the time you read the rest of this story, it’s impossible to not be convinced. And if you’re an American (and certainly for anyone who is a New Yorker), maybe you’ll also be convinced you may also be a little Dutch too.

A Land of Economic Opportunity

The Dutch came to the New World strictly for one reason, to create economic opportunity.

Unlike the British who came to the New World to escape religious intolerance and set-up their own distinct religious communities, like the Puritans in New England, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Catholics in Maryland, and the Baptists in the south. And the Spanish and the French to the New World to further extend the influence and reach of their kingdoms.

New York City (previously known as New Amsterdam), was actually settled by the Dutch West India Company. Therefore, was strictly a business decision to come to the New World and create economic opportunity for its company, employees, and stakeholders. Those that came to New Amsterdam did so from different cultures, ethnicities, races, and religions backgrounds to work together for a common purpose and for the corporation. Anyone who wanted to conduct business was welcome.

How many hundreds of millions of people have since come to America and New York City for that same value of economic opportunity.

A Land of Immigrants

We have a value in the U.S. that that anyone can come here from anywhere and work hard, and they can succeed, no matter who they are or what their background is. That value first originated in the U.S. from the Dutch West India Company when it settled in New Amsterdam. As long as you came to work hard, they would have you, no matter who you are or where you came from. Within the first year of the New Amsterdam settlement, it was reported that over 18 languages were spoken.

Since then, millions have immigrated to the U.S. from many different places around the world, with hundreds of millions of people in America holding that same “American” value.

Freedom of Religion

Since the Dutch colony in America was founded for trade, and not for religion like the British colonies, when the colony tried to recruit settlers, they realized that religious intolerance would keep many prospective settlers away. Because of that, New Amsterdam was more tolerant of those with different cultures and religions.

The First Amendment guaranteed freedom of religion when it was adopted in 1791, but it was actually about 150 years earlier in New Amsterdam that allowed Jews to worship and own land.

This Land is your Land, This Land is my Land, From California, to the New York Island.

In many countries, and even still to this day, the king or the government owns the land. It’s not your land, it’s their land. The same was true about places like England, Spain, and France.

But in The Netherlands, this land is your land, and this land is my land.

Since the land is below sea level and it is also very flat, the land tends to flood, rendering it useless to live on. It is due to this natural geographic condition that forced the Dutch people to invest their resources in creating infrastructure that served not only their own individual interests, but also for their community.

The Dutch were innovators at creating dams, bridges, dikes, and canals.  All the big budget infrastructure projects we have including highways, bridges, airports, and in the future it’ll be universal WiFi, 5G, and the internet of things that connect us all.  Those connections and building infrastructure for all of our common use is what helps makes America and New York City great.

Corporate America

There are millions of Americans working for Corporate America, and when we think America and New York City, we think about big companies doing big things. Well, the biggest company in the history of companies doing the biggest things in the world was actually the Dutch East India Company back in the 1600’s and 1700’s.

The Dutch actually created the concept of a corporation with the Dutch East India Company being the world’s first and biggest multi-national corporation. They also created a Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam to trade with the New World.

Since the Dutch organized labor and investments through corporations, the salaries and profits did not necessarily go through a king like in other countries, and therefore, capital would be more evenly distributed among the middle and working class. Start-ups and new companies can also more be easily formed. The Dutch East India Company was also the world’s first publicly listed company, allowing anyone to invest and own a part of the company.

That being said, these Dutch corporations did serve a dreadful role as they also dealt in the slave trade.

Wall Street

Wall Street originated from the Dutch word “de Waalstraat”, which was the name of the street that was derived from a wooden wall on the northern edge of New Amsterdam, built to protect against Native Americans, pirates, and the British. That street later became the home of the New York Stock Exchange (the Dutch also created the world’s first stock exchange).

In New York, places like the Hudson River, Coney Island, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Harlem, are also named after Dutch people and towns.

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus right down Santa Claus Lane

How American is our annual Santa Claus tradition? Indeed, it was the Dutch explorers in American who dedicated their first church in New Amsterdam to “Sinterklaas”, and the story of Santa Claus coming into town, asking children if they’ve been naughty or nice, and riding around town giving gifts to children has continued its Dutch tradition in America (when the British took control of New Amsterdam, they merged Sinterklaas with Christmas).

On a day like today, you will probably be eating cole slaw “koolesalade” (Dutch for “cabbage salad”), and maybe even cookies “koekje” (Dutch for “little cake”) or doughnuts (Dutch for olykoek, meaning “oily cake”) for dessert, all of which are Dutch.

You also are probably celebrating today because your boss (“baas” is the Dutch word for master) gave you the day off, or you’re still in school (“school” is the Dutch word for a school of fish).

If you’re reading this far, do I really need to continue, or can you see how if you’re an American and / or a New Yorker, you may also be a little Dutch, too.

Death of the Yellow Page Directories

Do you remember the yellow pages?

Believe it or not, exactly 10 years ago today, on May 29, 2009, marked the death of the yellow page directories with the bankruptcy of R.H. Donnelley, one of the largest yellow pages publishers in the U.S. with 80+ million directories circulated across the country.

For years, R.H. Donnelley was one of the main clients I worked on as an investment banking analyst at Lehman Brothers (yes, which is also now bankrupt).

Just before it collapsed, R.H. Donnelley was worth billions of dollars. But, I knew it was only a short matter of time for R.H. Donnelley to go south. With both R.H. Donnelley and Lehman Brothers now gone, let me share you my story and the details of the exact moment I knew something was wrong.

But first, why were yellow page directories like R.H. Donnelley worth billions of dollars?

From the time of the invention of the telephone, over a century ago, yellow page directories were virtually a monopoly. As the telephone served as the only technology that can be used to contact anyone in the world in real-time, the telephone number listing and organization of all the services in the world were only accessible through the yellow pages. They were the company’s online website, Google.com, Craigslist.com, HomeAdvisor.com, Relator.com, Cars.com, and every other [Service].com directory search engine, combined.

If you had a business, you just had to list yourself in the yellow pages, it was the single and most basic and important way to advertise yourself. If you missed out in being printed in the annual yellow page directory, it was as if you didn’t exist for the entire year. For those loyal advertisers who continued to feature themselves year after year, they would get added benefits like being listed above their competitors or even have larger sections in the directory. If the advertiser ever stopped paying, it could mean that they lose these benefits to their competitor.

For the consumer, when they received their free yellow page directory, they kept it in their home in a safe place, as the yellow pages served as a valuable reference for every possible service that someone may need. Even though the book was very large and heavy, they never would throw it away as it served as an important resource.

What happened to R.H. Donnelley?

Since the company had historically stable revenue with large profit margins (all you had to do a print a large book with the names of all the people that paid you each year and mail it out to everyone which also served to reinforce the marketing of the yellow pages), the company was able to take on billions of dollars of debt to purchase other yellow pages companies and increase its physical footprint as each yellow page directory served a specific, localized market (i.e. the yellow pages in Cincinnati, OH were different than the yellow pages in Washington, D.C., and each had their own print production, market distribution, advertising clients, and sales staff).

In the years before its collapse, R.H. Donnelley continued to double down on buying more and more yellow page directories, increasing its physical footprint, but not spending any money investing in its digital footprint or offering new products and services (at the time of its collapse, R.H. Donnelley had over 600 different directories across the U.S and a massive sales staff of 2,000 people). As a result, from 2002 through 2007, R.H. Donnelley’s debt grew from $2 billion in 2002 to a whopping $10 billion by 2007 (yes, that’s a ton of advertisements that would need to be sold just to cover debt).

As an investment banking analyst at Lehman Brothers, in 2005, I worked on R.H. Donnelley’s biggest deals like R.H. Donnelley acquiring one of its main competitors, Dex Media, in a $9 billion dollar deal, and the year thereafter, in 2006, I then worked on a $1.1 billion secondary equity offering of R.H. Donnelley’s stock of two of its largest shareholders, Carlyle Group and Welsh, Carson, Anderson, & Stowe. Here is my Lehman Brothers lucite (i.e. deal trophy) from the successful closing of this deal.

Looking back at it today, it would seem rather crazy for a yellow pages company to spend all their time and money buying other yellow pages directories and not investing in their own technology, continue to operate its legacy business model, and do nothing meaningful in regards to digital innovation.

In the his last quote as Chairman & CEO, David Swanson stated that the company’s “growth-through-acquisition strategy never anticipated the cataclysmic collapse of the U.S. economy and the local advertising market.” It seems that Mr. Swanson’s final statement and legacy was to put the blame on all of us (the entire U.S. economy), and his clients (the local advertisers), and not on R.H. Donnelley’s strategic direction or business model.

Simply put, the death of R.H. Donnelley and all the other yellow page directories is due to one simple thing: the internet, and not adequately adapting to it quick enough. The company may have a little more time to figure out its internet strategy, but remember, the company took on 5x more debt over the course of 5 years so it really didn’t have any added time or cash to focus on anything but paying down debt given its existing business model.

When did I know that R.H. Donnelley would be in trouble?

As I mentioned, I was part of the deal that helped sell $1.1 billion of stock of R.H. Donnelley which was held by two of the company’s largest shareholders that took place in New York City in the Fall of 2006. With all the investors that are physically located in New York City, this served as an important opportunity for the $1.1 billion secondary stock offering.

To make this happen, I helped put together the roadshow. A roadshow is a term used to describe the process in which the executive team travels across the country to meet with investors and pitch to them the terms and benefits of the offering (“road” as they are traveling around to meet investors and “show” as the company needs to put on a great show to then get those investors to invest in the company).

It was also a relatively fun experience for me because many times I had to work on the presentation but never got to see how the presentation would actually be presented live at the roadshow. In regards to this roadshow, this would be the opposite, as the roadshow presentation was already completed and I was just there to help organize the actual event.

On the day of the roadshow, my boss invited me to sit next to him in the audience. I was very excited and honored, and for a moment it did not seem like I actually was working, as now I got to experience the roadshow for myself as a member of the audience, just like all the other investors who were seated around me. I was also excited to listen to a seasoned CFO who ran a billion dollar company performing on stage, trying to rally investors in raising money for the company.

The CFO did a great job walking through lots and lots of slides highlighting how great the yellow page business model was, especially how it was very stable and consistent like a utility company. These companies had strong valuation multiples because of their consistent earnings so that was a key highlight for investors.

But, there was only one slide dedicated towards R.H. Donnelley’s internet strategy.

I found it puzzling to focus so much attention to a yellow pages directory and not talk about the future in digital and online listings. During the presentation, the CFO showed us one page and talked about how they would have an add-on for each advertiser (remember, R.H. Donnelley had over 600,000+ advertisers at the time) that would charge an annual fee of $50-$100 to maintain their website listing on the R.H. Donnelley website.

Believe it or not, the average advertiser of R.H. Donnelley spent $3,500 per year in the physical yellow pages directory (yes. that’s 600,000+ total clients paying on average $3,500 per year, which equated to about $2.1 billion in annual revenue in that physical yellow pages directory each year).

How can you justify this price? Well according to Ben Braun, a friend who read this article, states “many successful small businesses that have been around for decades, built their business almost exclusively on Yellow Page directories.”

The CFO argued that the physical yellow page directory would continue to be the company’s most important asset, and the digital online listing was just a small add-on.

I found this was odd for a number of reasons.

First, it was 2006, and any business at the time could create a free website listing on their own website, on a search page like Google or Yahoo, or even on social media like Facebook (and not have to spend a whopping $3,500!). I found it strange that they would also want to charge their advertisers an extra fee for this essentially free service.

Second, I found it odd that even if the advertiser didn’t pay the additional fee of $50-$100, then R.H. Donnelley’s online website would be weaken as it would essentially contain less content (I also could not imagine anyone paying $50-$100, let alone any price for this service). It seemed like they actually needed to list as many advertisers as possible on their website to actually make it useful (even for free). But, at the same time, R.H. Donnelley would struggle to get paid for this, because the advertiser could do it free online and with all the other new website competitors. It seemed like the value proposition of simply posting that your business existing, which is all what the yellow pages really did, would be exterminated by the internet, and R.H. Donnelley had not articulated a solid strategy of how they were going to tackle this during the presentation. It seemed to me that their internet strategy might just be dead on arrival.

As I was listening to the presentation in the audience, I made some quick calculations. Even if all 600,000 advertisers paid $100 per year, it would equate to $60 million, which is nothing as compared to the total debt of $10 billion, it would take them 167 years just to use all that revenue to pay down their debt every year. They really needed to figure out a strong business model to maintain a customer base of 600,000 advertisers paying $3,500 per year or things would not be very good for them.

At that moment, I felt like I was back at The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, listening to an interesting case study. I had graduated only a couple years prior and I was now seated in the audience. So, I raised my hand and to ask him a question about their proposed internet strategy.

Even though everyone else was asking questions about the other things he highlighted in the presentation, my question was focused on the one quick slide I felt most important, the internet.

I raised my hand and got excited when he, the CFO of a multi-billion dollar company, actually called on me.

I asked him about the validity of their internet strategy and the incremental value R.H. Donnelley would have to give vs. other free sites on the internet to make people want to actually pay for the service, and when everything goes online, what would then happen to the future of the print directory they relied on so much.

I could see he was taken aback, as he answered in a fumbled way.

I said to myself, wow, I actually asked a smart question in a sea of other, older, more experienced Wall Street investors. I took a risk and it paid off, as asking a question could have been embarrassing to me if it sounded stupid.

But, as he was answering, it didn’t seem like he had a strong strategy or even knew how to articulate a good answer. After addressing my question, I had some follow-up, as his answer did not seem complete, so I raised my hand again as he was finishing his response to ask a follow-up question.

When I was in school, I was encouraged to ask smart questions. I was also taught there was no such thing as a stupid question.

But, it was at that same exact moment when my senior banker, my boss, and a person I very much admired and actually had invited me to attend the presentation and sit right next to him, forcibly grabbed my arm and pulled it down.

He was one of the most happy and exciting bosses I have ever had. He was a very carefree and fun guy. But as he looked at me, there was anger and rage in his face.

As I locked eyes with him he categorically says to me: “STOP EMBARRASSING THE CLIENT!”

I was taken aback.

I thought to myself, what did I do to embarrass the client? I do not want to harm anyone here, and I certainly did not come here to embarrass anyone.

I was shocked and puzzled, what did I do wrong?

The entire rest of the presentation I could not focus my attention on anything other than to understand what had happened and I was constantly reliving the moment, tracing my steps back and forth wondering what I did to embarrass the client.

It was at that moment that it suddenly clicked.

R.H. Donnelley is our client and we are their banker. The goal of this roadshow is for our client to raise as much money from the investors in the room. My question and his response could harm that, as it was not in our position to challenge the client. It was the role of the investors, not the bankers, to ask questions and figure out what stocks they want to buy or sell.

I looked around. I saw a sea of people much older than I was.

These investors were probably not as sophisticated with the internet. They probably had no idea what an internet strategy was and how to even compare what he was saying with the realities of an online offering.

It was at that moment I realized that asking a smart question was actually stupid.

Further, I also realized maybe it was smart to be stupid.

We did not want to lose a client, and we ultimately wanted our client to succeed. Banks like Lehman Brothers could also make at least a 1%+ broker fee from the total offering, which at $1.1 billion was $10+ million in fees. Yes, get paid $10+ million to make the client look good while keeping your mouth shut.

I always was taught the phrase that there were “no stupid questions”. At this point, yes, I did realize there is a carve out for stupid questions when raising those questions actually go against your interests.

As a 24 year old, it seemed like the realities of business were now more complicated. Now I have to think about the ramifications of the questions I ask, as if I would have to build a decision tree to understand what questions I may ask and to whom I can ask them. I was naturally curious about my question to the CFO, but now I realized I could not ask the questions I wanted to.

In 2007, R.H. Donnelley’s top executives got paid millions in total compensation. The two owners who sold their 26% stake in that secondary equity offering I worked on in November 2006, Carlyle Group and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe sold their stake for $60 per share, and got paid $1.1 billion. As the executives made millions and these owners made billions, for that next year, my question did in fact seam stupid, as R.H. Donnelley’s stock hit a high of $67 in July 2007.

But then in 2008, R.H. Donnelley started cutting costs by firing 10% of its employees, then in September 2008, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, and in November 2008, R.H. Donnelley started to freeze pension plans, and then a month later, on the last day of 2008 on December 31st, the New York Stock Exchange suspended the trading of the company’s stock, rendering it worthless. The CEO made millions and these owners made billions just a year prior to the employees and long-term shareholders getting nothing.

In June 2008, I left Lehman Brothers 80 days before it went bankrupt, my apartment burned down in a fire, and I joined a hedge fund, Aurelius Capital Management, that solely focused on specializing in investing in bankrupt companies (all these events happened in that single month in June 2008). I found my calling as no more a banker, but now as an investor. When asked why I wanted to leave Lehman Brothers, the hedge fund loved my R.H. Donnelley story in my interview, and very much valued people asking critical questions to make smart, analytical decisions.

Did I want R.H. Donnelley or Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt, of course not, no one did. Too many people lost too much, and both companies had been in operation for over a century.

But, smart questions always need to be asked, and in life, things always change. Both R.H. Donnelley and Lehman Brothers are now bankrupt, and I do think there is a correlation. At the end of the day, being silenced is stupid, and asking smart questions is the key to success.