Clarity First Newsletter,
March 19, 2021



“Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth—that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us.” – Joseph Campbell

Clarity First

A notebook about how we work, and learn, and love and live.

It’s been another week of blitzkrieg bombardment of news that does make it seem that we are living in a fiery Armageddon, the Biblical battle between good and evil before the Day of Judgment.

But simplicity doesn’t serve us. Concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ bely the beauty, elegance and natural complexity of the biological and evolutionary system we inhabit. There is no historical precedent for a ‘day of judgement’. But neither will our species live forever. I suspect that the odds makers would bet that humanity will likely follow the dinosaurs, with some doubling down that our own behavior will likely accelerate the process. And then life on planet Earth will go on until our Sun dies, and that will have nothing to do with a judgement.

But this likely outcome is millions if not billions of years away. What we are now negotiating with each other is the relative comfort and ease with which we live out our remaining time on this tiny blue dot.

I like Joseph Campbell’s perspective: “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you”.

Our opportunities lie “in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us.”

Happy Friday.


Who we come from

“New facial reconstructions of two early humans, famously known as Lucy and the Taung child, show how these two individuals may have looked when they lived in Africa millions of years ago.

“And unlike past reconstructions, which may have relied on opaque, arbitrary or even racist ideas to reconstruct the faces of our ancient relatives, the authors of the new reconstructions lay out their process transparently.”

Article: Human Ancestor ‘Lucy’ Gets a New Face in Stunning Reconstruction

Connection, Community

The quality of our relationships determines our health, happiness and chance of a long life.

In his new book, Robin Dunbar, “brings together several decades of research in the area of friendship, some of it his own, some that of anthropologists, geneticists and neuroscientists with whom he has worked. It can’t be definitive: the possibilities in this field are surely limitless. But for the reader, it sometimes feels like it is. Why do most women have a best friend? Why do many men struggle to share confidences? Why is it so painful when we fall out with our friends? … What you may feel in your gut, it will back with science. Its central message, however, may be summed up in a sentence. In essence, the number and quality of our friendships may have a bigger influence on our happiness, health and mortality risk than anything else in life save for giving up smoking.”

Book Review: Friends. Understanding the Power of our Most Important Relationships

Purpose, Community Impact, Capitalism 2.0

Letting purpose guide the growth of a business

Firebrand Artisan Breads was founded in 2008, “with just four employees in a West Oakland warehouse, baking bread and pastries in a wood-fired brick oven. In 2017, Firebrand moved to a new, larger facility, jumping overnight from a dozen to 55 employees. It now has its own cafe and hundreds of retail partners across the Bay Area, from local coffee shops and delis to four Whole Foods locations.”

Now they anticipate hiring 40 more people in April.

This is the time when a lot of founders would seek funding from a venture capital firm, who would invest with the idea of taking the idea national, and ultimately selling again to an international company like Amazon or Unilver.

“But if Firebrand went that route, what would happen to the workers in Oakland or Alameda, not to mention the families and the neighborhoods who they support? Would shareholders or corporate executives leave them behind to move production to somewhere far away for the sake of lower labor costs or land costs? How much wealth would that create for (the founder, Matt) Kreutz, a white cis man, and venture capital investors, who are overwhelmingly white cis men, while simultaneously reducing wages and upward mobility for Firebrand’s workers, who are 80 percent people of color?

“Firebrand instead worked with outside advisors and lawyers to incorporate something called a perpetual purpose trust to serve as a new parent company, and Kreutz donated 51 percent of his voting shares to the trust to hold in perpetuity. The governing body of the trust is a stewardship committee, consisting of Kreutz, Firebrand employees and external community members who work on issues affecting Firebrand’s employees.”

Article: The Bakery That’s Owned by an Idea

Corporate Social Responsibility

Getting real about diversity and sustainability metrics

“Last week Nike released its FY20 Impact Report—which detailed the sportswear giant’s progress on and achievement of a set of 2020 sustainability targets. With it, the company unveiled a set of 29 new, Purpose 2025 Targets that, according to CEO John Donahoe, “aren’t just aspirations — they outline clear goals, action plans and accountability.” As Donahoe details in an accompanying letter:

“We are redefining what responsible leadership looks like. For the first time, we will tie executive compensation to Nike’s progress in deepening diversity and inclusion, protecting the planet, and advancing ethical manufacturing.”

“Meanwhile, the week before Chipotle Mexican Grill announced that it has introduced a new Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metric that ties executive compensation to ESG goals. Starting this year, 10 percent of execs’ annual incentive bonus will be tied to the company’s progress toward achieving goals in the areas of Food & Animals, People, and the Environment — holding Chipotle’s executive leadership team responsible for making business decisions that cultivate a better world.”

Article: Trending: Nike, Chipotle Tie Exec Compensation to Diversity, Sustainability Metrics

Creativity, Design

How the sausage is made

As a kid Daniel Benney was, in his words, obsessed with puppets. The puppeteer he held in highest esteem was Jim Henson. So, when in 2003 he got a chance to visit Henson’s Creature Shop in North London he jumped at the chance. Lucky for us he took a lot of snapshots and some good notes.

Article: A Look Inside Jim Henson’s Defunct Creature Shop in London

Persuasion, Graphic Design

The visual identity of the original gonzo journalist’s campaign for office.

Thomas W. Benton’s “Patriots Arise,” silkscreen on paper, via Poster House

In 1970 “gonzo jounalist” Hunter S. Thompson, ran for sheriff of Aspen, CO.

His campaign was supported by “posters, designed and silk-screened by the artist Thomas W. Benton, a close friend of Thompson’s and a fellow Californian turned Aspen activist, fused gut-punch electioneering (‘Sell Aspen or Save It’) with visceral imagery (a clenched fist set against a sheriff’s badge).”

Sigh. Thompson lost, and today Aspen is one of the places that the ultra-rich treat as a playground while the creatives who made it cool can’t afford it anymore, just as Thompson warned. But the graphics still rock.

Article: The Great Art Behind Hunter S. Thompson’s Run for Sheriff


Most People Don’t Know When to Stop Talking, According to Science

Mental Health And Remote Work: Survey Reveals 80% of Workers Would Quit Their Jobs For This

Growing an Ounce of Pot Indoors Can Emit as Much Carbon as Burning a Tank of Gasoline

Personal Productivity, Learning

The neuroscience of the mental function that allows us to connect our goals and plans with our actions.

“Everyone experiences the struggles of difficult tasks. They have been made all the worse with lockdowns, home-schooling and other lifestyle changes due to the pandemic. Everyone experiences bouts of procrastination or work-avoidance, and the guilt that comes with them. There is no avoiding these experiences entirely, but there are some strategies that can help us stay focused.”

Article: Tips from Neuroscience to Keep you Focused on Hard Tasks


James Baldwin’s house in Saint-Paul de Vence, France (photo by Daniel Salomons via Wikimedia Commons)

“In the early 1950s, James Baldwin moved to a village in the Alps with two Bessie Smith records and a typewriter under his arm. It was there that he finished his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), which he largely attributes to Smith’s bluesy intonations: ‘It was Bessie Smith, through her tone and her cadence, who helped me to dig back to the way I myself must have spoken…and to remember the things I had heard and seen and felt. I had buried them very deep,’ Baldwin wrote in an essay.

“For the eminent American novelist and essayist, music was generative, unearthing inspiration that may otherwise remain concealed. Ikechúkwú Onyewuenyi, a curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, hopes to rouse a new generation of writers with Chez Baldwin,‘ a 478-track, 32-hour-long Spotify playlist based on Baldwin’s vinyl record collection.

“’The playlist is a balm of sorts when one is writing,’ Onyewuenyi told Hyperallergic. ‘Baldwin referred to his office as a “torture chamber.” We’ve all encountered those moments of writers’ block, where the process of putting pen to paper feels like bloodletting. That process of torture for Baldwin was negotiated with these records.’”
Playlist: Chez Baldwin 

Article: Listening to the Joy in James Baldwin’s Record Collection

Image of the Week

The Image of the Week, shot by Ed Gumuchian, is a photograph of sculptural work by Nicholas Shurey.

“The British-born, Denmark-based sculptor Nicholas Shurey creates hand-carved wooden pieces that exist as furniture, art objects, and sculptures all at once. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we took a digital tour of his minimal studio in Copenhagen to talk about his creative practice, the revived appreciation of slow craftsmanship, and the similarities between Danish and Japanese design.”

“The trained architect-turn-sculptor has a penchant for the natural material that stems from his childhood in the countryside of southwest England. ‘I have always loved wood, some of my fondest memories are set under trees or within forests,’ he tells us. ‘Working with wood connects me to these memories and gives me that sense of intrigue and adventure.’ His tactile body of work, which includes one-off sculptures along with two-meter high standing objects, is thematic in that each item features sinuous, oscillating arcs and curves that create tension between their varying masses. Creativity was always a big part of his family life growing up: ‘A couple of my siblings paint and the other does her own dressmaking, but I’m the first to have taken the plunge into living from making,’ he says.”

Article: In Conversation With Nicholas Shurey, The Copenhagen-Based Artist Making Sinuous Wooden Objects

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