Friday, December 09, 2016

Book: Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer


This here is a classic self-help type book written by George Horace Lorimer to his son. I skipped some of the long winded stories but generally found the book be a very worthy read.

Here are some quotes, some of which I wanted to capture purely for their turn of phrase and wonderful use of the english language:
  • What we’re really sending you to Harvard for is to get a little of the education that’s so good and plenty there. When it’s passed around you don’t want to be bashful, but reach right out and take a big helping every time, for I want you to get your share. You’ll find that education’s about the only thing lying around loose in this world, and that it’s about the only thing a fellow can have as much of as he’s willing to haul away. Everything else is screwed down tight and the screw-driver lost.
  • I didn’t have your advantages when I was a boy, and you can’t have mine.
  • Some men learn the value of truth by having to do business with liars; and some by going to Sunday School. Some men learn the cussedness of whiskey by having a drunken father; and some by having a good mother. Some men get an education from other men and newspapers and public libraries; and some get it from professors and parchments—it doesn’t make any special difference how you get a half-nelson on the right thing, just so you get it and freeze on to it.
  • ...it isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts.
  • I can’t hand out any ready-made success to you. It would do you no good, and it would do the house harm. There is plenty of room at the top here, but there is no elevator in the building.
  • I can give you a start, but after that you will have to dynamite your way to the front by yourself. It is all with the man.
  • I got two dollars a week, and slept under the counter, and you can bet I knew just how many pennies there were in each of those dollars, and how hard the floor was. That is what you have got to learn.
  • Good-by; life’s too short to write letters and New York’s calling me on the wire.
  • I think you’ll find it safe to go short a little on the frills of education; if you want them bad enough you’ll find a way to pick them up later, after business hours.
  • Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible.
  • Of course, I knew that you would make a fool of yourself pretty often when I sent you to college, and I haven’t been disappointed. But I expected you to narrow down the number of combinations possible by making a different sort of a fool of yourself every time.
  • ...in the office your sentences should be the shortest distance possible between periods
  • ...some things that are laying mighty heavy on my mind this morning.
  • ...the fellow who’s got the right stuff in him is holding down his own place with one hand and beginning to reach for the job just ahead of him with the other. I don’t mean that he’s neglecting his work; but he’s beginning to take notice, and that’s a mighty hopeful sign in either a young clerk or a young widow.
  • ...you must write before eight or after six. I have bought the stretch between those hours. Your time is money—my money—and when you take half an hour of it for your own purposes, that is just a petty form of petty larceny.
  • Very few men are worth wasting time on beyond a certain point, and that point is soon reached with a fellow who doesn’t show any signs of wanting to help.
  • It isn’t the little extra money that you may make for the house by learning the fundamental business virtues which counts so much as it is the effect that it has on your character and that of those about you,
  • Yours of the 30th ...strikes me all wrong
  • I don’t like to hear you say that you can’t work under Milligan or any other man, for it shows a fundamental weakness. And then, too, the house isn’t interested in knowing how you like your boss, but in how he likes you.
  • But all that apart, you want to get it firmly fixed in your mind that you’re going to have a Milligan over you all your life, and if it isn’t a Milligan it will be a Jones or a Smith, and the chances are that you’ll find them both harder to get along with than this old fellow. And if it isn’t Milligan or Jones or Smith, and you ain’t a butcher, but a parson or a doctor, or even the President of the United States, it’ll be a way-back deacon, or the undertaker, or the machine. There isn’t any such thing as being your own boss in this world unless you’re a tramp, and then there’s the constable.
  • When a packer has learned all that there is to learn about quadrupeds, he knows only one-eighth of his business; the other seven-eighths, and the important seven-eighths, has to do with the study of bipeds.
  • There’s nothing helps convince some men that a thing has merit like a little gold on the label.
  • I accepted him at par
  • I am a little slow to trust my judgment on my own
  • The fun of the thing’s in the run and not in the finish.
  • Beauty is only skin deep, but that’s deep enough to satisfy any reasonable man.
  • A real salesman is one-part talk and nine-parts judgment; and he uses the nine-parts of judgment to tell when to use the one-part of talk.
  • ...you will never become the pride of the pond by starting out to cut figure eights before you are firm on your skates.
  • Never run down your competitor’s brand to them, and never let them run down yours
  • I don’t want to bear down hard on you right at the beginning of your life on the road, but I would feel a good deal happier over your showing if you would make a downright failure or a clean-cut success once in a while, instead of always just skinning through this way. It looks to me as if you were trying only half as hard as you could, and in trying it’s the second half that brings results. If there’s one piece of knowledge that is of less use to a fellow than knowing when he’s beat, it’s knowing when he’s done just enough work to keep from being fired. Of course, you are bright enough to be a half-way man, and to hold a half-way place on a half-way salary by doing half the work you are capable of, but you’ve got to add dynamite and ginger and jounce to your equipment if you want to get the other half that’s coming to you. You’ve got to believe that the Lord made the first hog with the Graham brand burned in the skin, and that the drove which rushed down a steep place[…]
  • You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction. You’ve got to eat hog, think hog, dream hog—in short, go the whole hog if you’re going to win out in the pork-packing business.
  • They started me out to round up trade in the river towns down Egypt ways, near Cairo.
  • As I first remember Josh, he was just bone and by-products. Wasn’t an ounce of real meat on him.
  • Buck up!
  • ...when you’ve soaked up all the information you can hold, you will have to forget half of it before you will be of any real use to the house. If there’s anything worse than knowing too little, it’s knowing too much.
  • Tact is the knack of keeping quiet at the right time; of being so agreeable yourself that no one can be disagreeable to you; of making inferiority feel like equality. A tactful man can pull the stinger from a bee without getting stung.
  • When you make a mistake, don’t make the second one—keeping it to yourself. Own up. The time to sort out rotten eggs is at the nest. The deeper you hide them in the case the longer they stay in circulation, and the worse impression they make when they finally come to the breakfast-table. A mistake sprouts a lie when you cover it up. And one lie breeds enough distrust to choke out the prettiest crop of confidence that a fellow ever cultivated.
  • Some salesmen think that selling is like eating—to satisfy an existing appetite; but a good salesman is like a good cook—he can create an appetite when the buyer isn’t hungry.
  • Doing the same thing in the same way year after year is like eating a quail a day for thirty days. Along toward the middle of the month a fellow begins to long for a broiled crow or a slice of cold dog.
  • But it isn’t enough to be all right in this world; you’ve got to look all right as well, because two-thirds of success is making people think you are all right. So you have to be governed by general rules, even though you may be an exception.
  • I dwell a little on this matter of appearances because so few men are really thinking animals. Where one fellow reads a stranger’s character in his face, a hundred read it in his get-up.
  • Now, I want to give you that tip on the market. There are several reasons why it isn’t safe for you to trade on ’Change just now, but the particular one is that Graham & Co. will fire you if you do. Trading on margin is a good deal like paddling around the edge of the old swimming hole—it seems safe and easy at first, but before a fellow knows it he has stepped off the edge into deep water. The wheat pit is only thirty feet across, but it reaches clear down to Hell. And trading on margin means trading on the ragged edge of nothing. When a man buys, he’s buying something that the other fellow hasn’t got. When a man sells, he’s selling something that he hasn’t got. And it’s been my experience that the net profit on nothing is nit. When a speculator wins he don’t stop till he loses, and when he loses he can’t stop till he wins.
  • When I sell futures on ’Change, they’re against hogs that are traveling into dry salt at the rate of one a second, and if the market goes up on me I’ve got the solid meat to deliver. But, if you lose, the only part of the hog which you can deliver is the squeal.
  • ...the fellow who can’t read human nature can’t manage it.
  • It makes me mighty sick to think that we’ve been sitting back on our hindlegs and letting the other fellow run away with this trade.
  • A manager needs an assistant to take trouble from him, not to bring it to him.
  • There’s a point where economy becomes a vice,
  • ... while I’m too old to run, I’m young enough to stand and fight.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Sunday, December 04, 2016

xkcd comic - metabolism

Quick, make plans to move your business elsewhere

The current political climate of making Britain/America 'great again' seems to involve the government providing assistance (e.g. tax breaks, hand-outs, protective promises, etc) in order to keep relatively inefficient jobs in place - sorry, I mean't 'to save great, fantastic jobs that are under threat by foreigners'.

I'm fully against these policies and yet if I ran a business, it would be unjust to see the scales tip to favour my less efficient competitors, so the 'unintended consequence' is that I too would try to get my snout in the trough.

So, if you operate a reasonably sized business, it's probably worthwhile making plans to exit a portion of the local workforce in favour of hiring cheaper workers abroad, and then making these plans public as 'something we are seriously thinking about doing'. This will provide you with some good ammunition to go hunting for support.

Don't get the current 'pro-business' political stance confused with capitalism and the free market.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

More Load on the Arch - Personal Development

Here are some insightful quotes from a Art of Manliness article titled 'More Load on the Arch'

- "Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. ... I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium…a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him…" - Quoting Viktor Frankl in Man's Search For Meaning

- The operative phrases in Frankl’s argument are “worthwhile goals” and “freely chosen.” Most of the burdens and tensions of our lives meet neither of those criteria.

- We think we want rest and relaxation – the absence of all labor and responsibility – but what we really crave is the presence of meaningful work and interests. We don’t want a complete lack of tension, but a different variety of it. We don’t need less stress, but more of the right kind.

- In the absence of a sufficient load on the arch, we fall apart.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

We were paddling for a long time, then we caught the wave

“We were paddling for a long time, then we caught the wave,” - from John Hanke, the creator of the Pokemon Go application, interviewed in the FT

A couple of powerful snippets from this week's Economist

On climate change and the changing energy mix:

"The costs of clean energy are tumbling. The cost of batteries in electric vehicles has fallen by 80% since 2008; the bill for offshore-wind energy has more than halved over the past three years in northern Europe. Solar power is closing in on gas and coal as an attractively cheap source of power. China plans to have nearly 150 gigawatts of installed solar capacity by the end of the decade, triple what it has today as the world’s biggest solar generator.

As this week’s special report points out, such developments will curb demand for oil and coal in decades to come. Last year was the first in which renewable energy surpassed coal as the world’s biggest source of power-generating capacity (although natural gas will remain an important complement to renewables because of the vagaries of sun and wind). These are epochal changes..."

(Source)

...

On the Japanese economy:


"As commentators have noted, Mr Kuroda can print money, but not people. Overshadowing the economy is Japan’s ageing, shrinking population. With far more deaths than births, it has fallen by about 1m since 2010. Government projections say the labour force could collapse by 40% by 2060. Meanwhile, public debt has grown to 246% of gross domestic product, the highest such ratio in the world."

(Source)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Book: The Humans by Matt Haig


Matt Haig has created something rather special here.

'The Humans' is a book about the strange creature that is the human being, told from the perspective of an alien who finds himself inhabiting the body of a Cambridge mathematics professor. It's an odd premise for a book and it sounds like the story should belong in the sci-fi genre; however, it's actually more of a dramatic, dark-comedy vehicle that will appeal to a much wider audience base.

In The Humans, Haig successfully pulls off the feat of describing many of the peculiarities of the lives of human beings, as if they are being observed by a logical, rational outsider. Then, and this is where Haig skill as story teller becomes evident, the alien slowly learns about and sympathises with the human condition as the story moves on and the alien learns through direct experience. At this point, the the alien's mission starts to go off course.

The chapters in The Humans are extremely short, tending not to run past 3 or 4 pages, which makes for a very interesting format and keeps the reader turning the page.

***** (it's been some time since I last landed on a contemporary gem).

Quotes

..So, I thought to myself as I walked away, this is what happens when you live on Earth. You hold reality in your hands until it burns and then you have to drop the plate. ...Yes, I could see it now - being a human sent you insane.

Human life, I realised, got progressively worse as you got older, by the sound of things. You arrived, with baby feet and hands and infinite happiness, and then the happiness slowly evaporated as your feet and hands grew bigger. And then, from the teenage years onwards, happiness was something you could lose your grip of, and once it started to slip it gained mass. It was as if the knowledge that it could slip was the thing that made it more difficult to hold, no matter how big your feet and hands were.

'But you, you've got surprise on your side. You aren't scared of anything. All you've got to do is realise that this Theo symbolizes everything you've ever hated. He is me. He is bad weather. He is the primitive soul of the internet. He is the injustice of fate. I am asking, in other words, for you to fight him like you fight on your sleep. Lose everything. Lose all shame and consciousness and beat him. Because you can.'

She smiled but sadness quickly claimed her.

'...man can only attain his desire by passing through the opposite.' - Soren Kierkergaard.

43. Everything matters.

45. A paradox. The things you don't need to live - books, art, cinema, wine and so on - are the things you need to live.

73. No one will understand you. It is not, ultimately, that important. What is important is that you understand you.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Book: The Noodle Maker by Ma Jian


The Noodle Maker is essentially a book of short stories. The book held my interest at the start, but over time I lost interest in the various tales and I ended up discarding the book to move on to other material.

2 1/2

Quotes

... 'for a thousand days we train our troops, to use them in just one battle.'

...'he doesn't have to tax his brains, so he never experiences the dizziness, insomnia and disturbing dreams the writer suffers from....the affliction of the intellectuals'

'He is lazy by nature, and self-obsessed, and is destined to eke out the rest of his life on the poverty-stricken margins of society. He will never settle down to any serious work. There is always some obscure detail to research or mundane duty to perform, and while these provide a welcome distraction, they do also give him excuses to delay what he needs to do....'

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway


"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as young man, then wherever you for for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." - Ernest Hemingway to a Fried, 1950

Heyday of Paris literature, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Lyndon Lewis.

Following Old Man and Sea, tried one of his larger novels - written by someone else.

Moveable feast back on top form - just read some of the quotes below, understand why he won Nobel Prize in literature.

****

Quotes

I was always hungry with the walking and the cold and the working.

It was in that room that I learned not to think about anything I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time ...


I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides it was a secret.

Work could cure almost anything, I believed the, and I believe now.

...it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

If you brought up Joyce twice, you would not be invited back (to Gertrude Stein's flat). It was like mentioning one general favourably to another general. You learned not to do it the first time you made the mistake. You could always mention a general, though, that the general you were talking to had beaten.

'What do we have for lunch?'
'Little radishes, and good foie de veau with mashed potatoes and an endive salad. Apple tart.'
'And we're going to have all the books in the world to read and when we go on trips we can take them.'

..if the day was bright, I would buy a liter of wine and a piece of bread and some sausage and sit in the sun and read one of the books I had bought and watch the fishing.

With the fishermen and the life on the river, the beautiful barges with their own life on board, the tugs with their smoke-stacks that folded under the bridges, pulling a tow of barges, the great elms on the stone banks of the river, the plane trees and in some places the poplars, I could never be lonely along the river. With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it in suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and you were losing a season out of your life. This was the only true sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains killed the spring, it was though a young person had died with no reason.

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

The one who is doing his work and getting satisfaction from it is not the one poverty bother. I thought of bathtubs and showers and toilets as flushed as things that inferior people to us had or that you enjoyed when you made trips, which we often made.

But then we did not think of ourselves as poor. We did not accept it. We thought that we were superior people and other people that we looked down on and rightly mistrusted were rich. It never seemed strange to me to wear sweatshirts for underwear to keep warm. It only seemed odd to the rich. We are well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.

You did not get very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things...

I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry.  I used to wonder if he were hungry to when he painted; but I though possible it was only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry.

In Dostoevsky there were things believable and not to be believed, but some so true they changed you as you read them; frailty and madness, wickedness and saintliness, and the insanity of gambling were there to know as you knew the landscape and the roads in Turgenev, and the movement of troops, the terrain and the officers and the men and the fighting in Tolstoi.

Later he (Scott Fitzgerald) would become conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think that he could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book: The Enchiridion By Epictetus


The Enchiridion (Handbook) was written by Epictetus, a famous Stoic philosopher, around the same time Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' and Seneca's 'Letters From a Stoic',

The work is concise and offers many Stoic quotables (see below).

****

Quotes

- Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried, even with a slight tendency, towards the attainment of lesser things. Instead, you must entirely quit some things and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would both have these great things, along with power and riches, then you will not gain even the latter, because you aim at the former too: but you will absolutely fail of the former, by which alone happiness and freedom are achieved.

Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, "You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be." And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

-  ... if you are averse to sickness, or death, or poverty, you will be wretched. Remove aversion, then, from all things that are not in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control.

- Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.

- Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

- If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?

- If anyone tells you that such a person speaks ill of you, don't make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: " He does not know my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these."

- While he gives it (anything) to you to possess, take care of it; but don't view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.

- ...for your part, don't wish to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free; and the only way to this is a contempt of things not in our own control.

- When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be hurried away with the appearance. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily command yourself.

- Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don't stop it. Is it not yet come? Don't stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you.

- . These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better"; "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style.

- ... unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill? Thus you will not run the hazard of assenting to any appearances but such as you fully comprehend.

-  When walking, you are careful not to step on a nail or turn your foot; so likewise be careful not to hurt the ruling faculty of your mind. And, if we were to guard against this in every action, we should undertake the action with the greater safety.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book: Zen Master Class by Stephen Hodge


****

I rather enjoyed this beautifully illustrated compendium of thoughts of the Zen masters.

The masters' approaches to achieving enlightenment - or spiritual awakening - are highly diverse, although the general focus is on meditative practice (zazen) and focusing on acts without overlaying too much (or indeed any) intellectual analysis. By doing this, Enlightenment can be glimpsed at.  I've always struggled with the idea of going straight to the act because I tend to view the intellectual analysis as a necessary precursor to learning the act and getting lost in the flow of an activity (e.g. as Bruce Lee said, 'fighting without fighting'), but then I find the intellectual pursuit hijacks the task by providing it's own joy.

The one thing the book didn't really clarify is the definition of Zen Buddhism so I've culled some explanations from the internet as a reminder (various sources):
  • Zen is not an intellectual discipline you can learn from books. Instead, it's a practice of studying mind and seeing into one's nature. The main tool of this practice is zazen (meditation).
  • Zen is the peace that comes from being one with an entity other than yourself.
  • Zen means being aware of your oneness with the world and everything in it.
  • Zen means living in the present and experiencing reality fully.
  • Zen means being free of the distractions and illusory conflicts of the material world.
  • Zen means being in the flow of the universe.
  • Zen means experiencing fully the present, and delighting in the basic miracle of life itself.
  • Zen has its basis in the conviction that the world and its components are not many things but rather one reality. Reason, by analyzing the diversity of the world, obscures this oneness. It can be apprehended by the nonrational part of the mind—the intuition. Enlightenment about the nature of reality comes not by rational examination but through meditation and other practices designed to break through the assumptions of everyday logical thought.
  • Zen is concerned with things as they are, without trying to interpret them.
    Zen points to something before thinking, before all your ideas.
  • Zazen is an attitude of spiritual awakening, which when practiced, can become the source from which all the actions of daily life flow - eating, sleeping, breathing, walking, working, talking, thinking, and so on.
  • Zen Buddhism is not a theory, an idea, or a piece of knowledge. It is not a belief, dogma, or religion; but rather, it is a practical experience. 
  • The essence of Zen is attempting to understand the meaning of life directly, without being misled by logical thought or language.
  • Zen is something a person does. It's not a concept that can be described in words.
  • Zen sends us looking inside us for enlightenment. There's no need to search outside ourselves for the answers; we can find the answers in the same place that we found the questions.
  • Zen is very simple. It is so simple, in fact, that it's very difficult to grasp.

There also seems to be quite a few common threads of thought between Buddhism, existentialism, and stoicism, something I may look in to one day.

Quotes and notes

- Boddhidharma's definition of Zen Buddhism:
A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words and letters;
Direct pointing to the mind of man;
Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.


- ...everything that the Buddha taught what was based on what he had personally experienced rather than some revelation from God.

- He also insisted that rather than blindly accepting his words out of reverence, people should find out the truth for themselves. Try what I teach and see if it works for you, he told his followers.

- Suffering exists because all things are impermanent. ...no matter how good things are, everything is changing, from the great mountains to our everyday thoughts and emotions. Accepting this truth reduces our suffering tremendously.

- ..the Buddha taught that there is no such thing as an unchanging, independent ego-self....Clinging onto this false sense of identity leads only to greater attachment and to more suffering and frustration.

- ..ignorance entraps people in a vicious circle of desperate measures and unwanted results.

- Because our actions are charged with emotional energy, the Buddha taught that the effects go beyond the immediate results of which we are aware. In fact, every thought, word, and deed imprints some of its energy on our mindstream. Positive energy leaves positive imprints; negative energy leaves negative imprints.

- On meditation for tranquility and insight - Instead of acting as though everything is permanent, we abandon ourselves to the stream of change. ..we see that everything is interdependent.

- Some Mahayan adherents, including practitioners of Zen, believe that Enlightenment, the awakening of Buddha-mind or Buddha-nature, is our natural state, but has been covered over by layers of emotions and distorted thoughts. According to this view, Enlightenment is not something that we must acquire a bit at a time, but a state that can occur instantly when we cut through the dense veil of mental and emotional obscurations.

- On Bodhidharma:
He taught that there we two paths to paths to Enlightenment:
1) Through meditation - he taught wall gazing, intended to free the mind of concepts.
Tranquility meditation (beginner) tips: Consider light, incense, regular time of day, posture, focus (on image or breath).
2) Through practice - four aspects are involved:
- Patient acceptance: able to endure ills without rancour (anger is the most destructive of emotions). Patience with self as well as with others.
- Equanimity - A balanced attitude that avoids the extremes of aversion and attraction e.g. being overly proud, attached, etc.
- Determination - reflecting on the life of the Buddha and various practices.
- Insight - Cultivate insight as the intellectual insight awareness leads to deeper changes through practice and reflections. The insight becomes embodied when we start to live it.  

- From the Diamond Sutra: 'Let your mind flow freely without dwelling on anything'

- Attachment always creates an imbalance.

- The ideal, difficult as it is to achieve, is to meditate as though it were as natural as breathing and sleeping.

- Huineng and his successors criticised the way some people studied the scriptures because of the the tendency to intellectualize the Dharma or to regard study as an end in itself. Buddhist texts can be very inspiring, but as the Buddha taught, they are merely a raft to cross the river.

- Of all things, the mind is fundamental; all phenomena are simply products of the mind. Therefore know that all good and evil arises from your own mind. To seek Enlightenment somewhere outside of the mind is an impossibility.

- We filter our perceptions of reality through the emotions and expectations of the deluded mind, we create a psudeoreality, in which we believe that objects exist as we perceive them.

- Shenxiu: Encouraged students to focus on the thinking process itself so as to light the lamp that reveals the illusory nature of the everyday mind and its contents. ..First, we should contemplate the way that thoughts seem to bubble up from the mind itself as objects. Then, to investigate the nature of thoughts and emotions. Where do thoughts come from? Where do they abide? Where do they go? This line of investigation is designed to give insight into the illusory nature of thoughts, the object portion of cognitive experiences.
..When you notice a train of thoughts and feelings is starting to carry you away, remind yourself that thoughts have not intrinsic reality. Though they seem real, they are illusory. ..Once the objects generated by the mind have been seen for what they are - mental projections created by the everyday deluded mind - then you can start questioning the reality of that deluded, discriminating mind itself. 
 
- Skill in reading and interpreting text can be very misleading, because knowledge of the text can be mistaken for experiential understanding.

- The Buddha himself viewed his teachings as merely a means to an end, to be abandoned when they had served their purpose.

- Enlightenment is a process of emptying rather than one of filling and acquiring. ...put effort into simplifying your life and eliminating as many attachments as possible. Aim to be as spontaneous as Mazu and Zhaozhou, putting aside all prejudgments and goal-orientated actions.

- Linji: ... he instructed his disciples: "The Dharma is effortless. Just be without concerns in your daily life, as you shit and piss, wear clothes and eat food; when tired, lie down...It is just a matter of passing the time without concerns."

As he told them, if you have no expectations, you'll never face disappointment . Instead, you'll just flow with events and get on with everyday life.

'The way I see things, there's no need for anything special. Just do what comes naturally...pass the time doing nothing.'

When hunger comes, I eat my rice;
When sleep comes, I close my eyes.
Fools laugh at me,
but the wise understand.

- Any activity can be Zen when it is undertaken in the right spirit (Dogen Kigen).

- Bassui warned that there are two types of false teachers: those who are arrogantly self-deluded and those who are cynically manipulative of others.

- Ryokan was an embodiment of all that is best in a Zen Master: simplicity, kindness, and a profound love of solitude and the beauties of nature.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Book: Teach Yourself Art History


This book has received very high praise on Amazon. For me however, it was a yawn fest and I quit half-way through. I may have been expecting too much from this one; I only have a passing interest in art so leaping into a book on art history probably wasn't the wisest choice.

I did pick up a few things before abandoning:

"When we read about art or listen to someone talking about it, we need to understand that we are not getting the whole story. In fact, there is no whole story, just interpretations which have evolved..."

The status of painting as an art form has changed over time. Until the 15th century and the Renaissance painting was largely a contracted activity (vs free expression), where the status of the painter was often related to the status of the patron, who often had a high degree of control over the painter. Did patronage play a role in the rise in the status of painting? Quite likely.

Only with the likes of da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Michelangelo was painting elevated from a mechanical art (the artist gets better over time) to more of a liberal art (required theory and scholarship). Patrons included popes, emperors and the rich.

The rise of academies (later 16th century) also played a big role in raising the status of painting. In France, the King supported the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.  By 1790 there were over 100 academies in Europe.

Academies were also tastemakers, placing emphasis on drawing over colour, certain subjects over others (religious vs landscapes), establishing criteria for separating the good from the less good. Today, we are less likely to apply 'academic' standards to judge whether one painting is 'better' than another.

Our understanding and appreciation of art may be enhanced by the different ways in which we can think about it e.g. formalism (assessing the qualities of the picture such as line, shape, tone, media, and techniques), or thinking beyond the frame (where we need more knowledge than just the visual of the picture).

Western art divides periods into artistic styles. Broadly:
1300-1400 Medieval
1400-1600 Renaissance
1600-1750 Baroque
1750-1960s Modern
1960+ Postmodern

Examples of appreciating art beyond the frame:

- in relation to its historical or social context (linking this to the symbolism and imagery of the painting is called iconography)
- artistic biography and state of mind - bringing the artist's personality to the center
- topics addressed
- meanings unintended by the artist

Asking these questions and applying different lenses can raise our appreciation of a picture. However, we need to remember that the image should remain central to the investigation.

My main concern with art critics, well with most critics, in general is that they have a tendency to over analyse, which makes them sound pompous. Here's Fry and Laurie as art critics, capturing the sentiment:



And here's the script to another sketch:

Hugh With me to discuss that scene from Scorsese's new release From Here to Just Over There is the critic, critic and critic Ray Daugh. Ray you've written countless, almost worthless books on the iconography of "the bottom" in American films - in what context can we approach this piece? 
Stephen Not really, no. We knew already that "the ass" has come to ...
Hugh By "ass" you mean "bottom"?
Stephen Tremendously. You'll have to forgive my lapsing into jargon for a moment there ...
Hugh By "jargon" you mean a series of specialist phrases, or better an "argot" if you will, to describe a particular area of criticism?
Stephen In some ways yes. The bottom has come to stand for the essence ...
Hugh The spirit?
Stephen ... the essence of the individual in modern American mythology ...
Hugh The contemporary single person living within a set of folkloric beliefs in Stateside North America.
Stephen In my last book ...
Hugh A book being a work of thought or prose bound together between hard or soft covers and commonly sold in bookshops?
Stephen Broadly ... in my last book, Backside Story: A History of the American Bottom I devoted an entire chapter to the ...
Hugh A chapter meaning a sub-division in a book, of which there are perhaps twelve, fifteen, twenty, creating blocks of writing?
Stephen Often ... an entire chapter I devoted to the phrase "my ass is on the line". "The line" being ...
Hugh I think we all know what a line is.
Stephen In this case "the line" being the vestigial notion of the frontier in American folklore. Partly - (gesturing) to put his bottom on the frontier - is still the goal of the modern American.
Hugh (Copying gesture) By this you mean an utterly infuriating gesture guaranteed to put people's backs up in quite a major way.
Stephen I hope so.
Hugh Well, sadly the clock has ...
Stephen Large, circular timepiece ...
Hugh ... beaten us once again.
Stephen Flagellated, whipped us for at least a second time ...
Hugh So thank you ...
Stephen Expression of gratitude ...
Hugh Ray ...
Stephen Shaft, or beam of light ...
Hugh Very much.
Stephen A lot.
Hugh Pat.
Stephen Small slab of butter.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book: Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram


Last Night I Dreamed of Peace is the title given to the published war-time diaries of the young Vietcong doctor Dang Thuy Tram. The diary is endearing and exhausting, and importantly serves to humanise the enemy. It reminds us that for the most part we are all the same, sharing common hopes and fears and striving for a better world.

Quotes 

To live is to face the storms and not to cower before them.

Don't water this soil with tears of pity.

A thick blanket of silence.

5th April 1969
If you knew how much I yearned for you, you would be here today, sitting next to me, holding my hand in silence. Without a word, you would understand everything we want to say to each other.
Rain is pouring down. I am cold and so sad - do you know this, my dear young brother?

Always keep a smile on your lips, despite a thousand perils.

We want to encourage one another, but there are moments when our worries become clear and undeniable, and the shadow of pessimism creeps upon us.

Life is reduced to the minimum.
A horde of dangers looms over me.

My letters never tell my dear ones of all my hardships. Why make them worry even more than they are doing now? Thuan, my young brother, has brushed against death so many times. Suffering has imprinted his face deeply, the wrinkles making him look older than his years.

Friday, November 11, 2016

US politics - A few more quotes from The Economistc (12th Nov edition)

From this week's Economist:

  • Mr Trump rails against the loss of an imagined past.  
  • After the sugar rush, populist policies eventually collapse under their own contradictions.
  • The election of Mr Trump is a rebuff to all liberals, including this newspaper. The open markets and classically liberal democracy that we defend, and which had seemed to be affirmed in 1989, have been rejected by the electorate first in Britain and now in America. France, Italy and other European countries may well follow. It is clear that popular support for the Western order depended more on rapid growth and the galvanising effect of the Soviet threat than on intellectual conviction. Recently Western democracies have done too little to spread the benefits of prosperity. Politicians and pundits took the acquiescence of the disillusioned for granted. As Mr Trump prepares to enter the White House, the long, hard job of winning the argument for liberal internationalism begins anew.  
  • It is hard to think of a president-elect less versed in the workings of the world than Mr Trump; or of one more willing to upturn the global order shaped by America in the seven decades since the end of the second world war.
  • With America in isolationist mood, Britain on the way out and France paralysed, it falls increasingly to Germany to preserve the European order.

Book: A Life of Inner Quality


I didn't read this one through to the end but I did at least extract a few quotes before discarding the book, which came across as a little too prescriptive. I guess that shouldn't have come as a surprise, given that the text comprises a series of talks given by a monk to other Buddhist followers.

Quotes

The Buddha ... taught us not to treat discontent and suffering - which are effects - but to treat the causes, the deficiencies that bring them about.

... he taught the Noble truths so that people would become wise enough to rid themselves of suffering, both on the external level - family, home, society, work - and on the internal level, the sufferings that arise exclusively within the heart.

The Noble Truths teach us to be intelligent in running our lives.

The path refers to the techniques for cutting away at the three forms of craving step by step. 

The Dhamma teaches us to be grateful to out benefactors, such as our parents and our teachers. Anyone who has cared for us, we should respect and help whenever the occasion calls for it. Don't be callous, stubborn, or proud of your higher status or education. Always bear your benefactors' kindnesses in mind. ..no matter how knowledgeable we may be, we couldn't get that way without our teachers. ..Buddha teaches us to respect our parents and teachers as the first step in becoming a decent human being.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

US politics - Trump


Come on, this is a blog, it would be rude not to.

I'm not going to comment on the election results myself but I have pulled a bunch of interesting comments for your perusal:

Here's Scott Adam's (the guy behind the famous Dilbert comic):

You can expect him to adjust his tone and language going forward. You can expect foreign leaders to say they can work with him. You can expect him to focus on unifying an exhausted and nervous country. And you can expect him to succeed in doing so. (He’s persuasive.) Watch as Trump turns to healing. You’re going to be surprised how well he does it. But give it time.

... I would ask other Trump supporters to step up and be useful as well. If you helped elect Trump, you have a responsibility to calm the nerves of Clinton supporters who also have their country’s best interests in mind. Let’s all be worthy of our decisions.

...The social bullying coming from Clinton’s supporters guaranteed that lots of Trump supporters were in hiding. That created the potential for a surprise result, so long as the race was close.

...Trump’s powers of persuasion are better than I have ever seen from a living human. That made it likely that the election would be close. And people generally vote for their party’s candidate, so that too promised a close election.

...The business model of the news industry guarantees lots of “scandals” on a regular schedule. Small things get inflated to big things, and I assumed there would be plenty of them. Trump has the skill to overcome medium-sized scandals and bumps in the road. That’s all you need for an entertaining Second Act.

Here's Mary Beard:

"Trump’s policies are truly ghastly, but you have to face the fact that a very large number of people actually voted for him. What is more, resentment at “the elite” has morphed into a proud contempt for truth, expertise and knowledge – not unlike Michael Gove’s jibe at “experts” before the Brexit vote. And in the broader context of political rhetoric, the idea that he won’t be as bad as he claimed is more, rather than less, worrying. I thought that the conciliatory speech was the worst thing I had heard all evening. The idea that he could be thanking Clinton for her service to the country (“I mean that very sincerely”) and be speaking of “binding the wounds of division” – when only the day before he’d promised to impeach her and poured salt into the very wounds he was now promising to heal – beggars belief. It has nothing to do with being “gracious” (as the television pundits had it), and everything to do with words not meaning anything."

Here's Gillian Tett from the FT:

When the historians write the story of the extraordinary 2016 contest, they will find numerous economic reasons to explain Mr Trump’s apparent victory; his supporters were suffering economic pain, angry about globalisation and unhappy about cultural change.

However, aside from these tangible economic grievances, there is another way to frame the contest: this was a battle between a slick professional political elite versus the unprofessional or anti-professional class....

They feel that they are victims of events, constantly forced to improvise in a hostile, unfathomable world. So when Mr Trump acted in an inconsistent and chaotic manner, they — unlike the professional elites — do not shudder in shock. Instead, they simply view this as a sign that he is human, authentic and transparent; he, like them, makes mistakes with his words (and much else.) He is attractive to some voters because he is not stage managed; he speaks about the need for change.
Mr Trump has always instinctively understood the nature of this battle, hence his refusal to use data analysis to read the vote, teleprompter or other political tools of the trade. Indeed, much to his aides irritation, he was reluctant to even use a professional make-up artist before he went on stage — a stance that even sparked a full blown behind-the-scenes row just before the third TV debate, since his spray tan had started to fade and gave him an unhealthy looking pallor.

Mrs Clinton, by contrast, used every trick of modern political campaigning to perfection, including an army of stylists. But it made no difference — the improvised chaotic style and the call for change won over the voters. Call this, if you like, a vote for disruption, albeit not of the sort that Silicon Valley will like.

“The best thing about Trump is that he is not a professional politician,” one of his advisers said wearily shortly before the vote. “But the worst thing is that he is not a professional politician. Either way, you cannot change him.”

That, of course, is why markets and many business leaders feel so utterly terrified right now. Little wonder. After all, the problem with having a non-professional in office is not just that they lack experience; it is that it is also hard to predict how they might behave in the future. Nobody can assume that the regular rules of politics will apply; nor the rules that journalists, lobbyists, investors and business leaders have relied upon. We cannot even assume that the sketchy policy platforms that Mr Trump has already revealed will transpire. We are heading for a world where policymaking is likely to feel as improvised as the victory party in the Hilton Hotel.

While this type of disruption is terrifying for the establishment, the message from voters is clear: many of them want change at almost any cost. Hold on to your seats for a potentially wild ride. We have embarked on an era of political improvisation.

Here's  David Remnick in the New Yorker:

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

...The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve.

...decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory.

.... Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment.

Here's Aaron Sorkin in Vanity Fair (a letter to his daughters):

It’s hardly the first time my candidate didn’t win (in fact it’s the sixth time) but it is the first time that a thoroughly incompetent pig with dangerous ideas, a serious psychiatric disorder, no knowledge of the world and no curiosity to learn has. 

And it wasn’t just Donald Trump who won last night—it was his supporters too. The Klan won last night. White nationalists. Sexists, racists and buffoons. Angry young white men who think rap music and Cinco de Mayo are a threat to their way of life (or are the reason for their way of life) have been given cause to celebrate

For the next four years, the President of the United States, the same office held by Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, F.D.R., J.F.K. and Barack Obama, will be held by a man-boy who’ll spend his hours exacting Twitter vengeance against all who criticize him (and those numbers will be legion). We’ve embarrassed ourselves in front of our children and the world.

 ... personally, I don’t think this guy can make it a year without committing an impeachable crime. If he does manage to be a douche nozzle without breaking the law for four years, we’ll make it through those four years. And three years from now we’ll fight like hell for our candidate and we’ll win and they’ll lose and this time they’ll lose for good.

Here's Andrew Sullivan in the NYMag:

“To see what is in front of one’s nose is a constant struggle,” George Orwell famously observed. So what is it that we have just seen?

We are witnessing the power of a massive populist movement that has now upended the two most stable democracies in the world — and thrown both countries into a completely unknown future. In Britain, where the polls did not pick up the latent support for withdrawal from the European Union, a new prime minister is now navigating a new social contract with the indigenous middle and working classes forged by fear of immigration and globalization. In the U.S., the movement — built on anti-political politics, economic disruption, and anti-immigration fears — had something else, far more lethal, in its bag of tricks: a supremely talented demagogue who created an authoritarian cult with unapologetically neo-fascist rhetoric. Britain is reeling toward a slow economic slide. America has now jumped off a constitutional cliff. It will never be the same country again. Like Brexit, this changes the core nature of this country permanently.

This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward. He has won this campaign in such a decisive fashion that he owes no one anything. He has destroyed the GOP and remade it in his image. He has humiliated the elites and the elite media. ...We will not have an administration so much as a court.

The only sliver of hope is that his promises cannot be kept. He cannot bring millions of jobs back if he triggers a trade war. He cannot build a massive new wall across the entire southern border and get Mexico to pay for it. He cannot deport millions of illegal immigrants, without massive new funding from Congress and major civil unrest. He cannot “destroy ISIS”; his very election will empower it in ways its leaders could not possibly have hoped for. He cannot both cut taxes on the rich, fund a massive new infrastructure program, boost military spending, protect entitlements, and not tip the U.S. into levels of debt even Paul Krugman might blanch at. At some point, a few timid souls in the GOP may mention the concepts of individual liberty or due process or small government or balanced budgets. At some point even his supporters may worry or balk, and his support may fade.
But hope fades in turn when you realize how absolute and total his support clearly is. His support is not like that of a democratic leader but of a cult leader fused with the idea of the nation. If he fails, as he will, he will blame others, as he always does. And his cult followers will take their cue from him and no one else.

A country designed to resist tyranny has now embraced it.

Here's The Economist:

...points to another reason to fear Mr Trump’s populist victory. For populism involves more than policies that are at once simple and stirring enough to shout at a rally (“Build That Wall”) or print on a bumper sticker. Populism is also the politics of Them and Us, involving appeals to tribal identities, and zero-sum contests over hard-pressed resources. Populism is hardly new. What makes Mr Trump’s win different is that he so explicitly sought to cast his opponents as illegitimate, unfit, contemptible, un-American or (a favourite word) “disgusting”—and was confident that he would find an echo among his voters.



He bet everything on a strategy of nostalgic nationalism, summed up in the slogan “Make America Great Again”, precisely because his hunch was that the country is home to an underestimated mass of voters who do not want to be part of any rainbow coalition, thank you

Mr Trump was open about his plans, telling The Economist in interviews that he planned to appeal to a “silent majority” of “hard-working, great people in the United States that have been disenfranchised”. 

Book: The Pleasure of Reading by Antonia Fraser


The Pleasure of Reading is a treat for bibliophiles. The book is a compendium of entries by different authors explaining how they fell into reading and reminiscing about their favourite books. The hardback edition is exquisitely illustrated, with images that capture the magic of reading.

Most entries in The Pleasure of Reading conclude with a list of the author's favourite books, which provided me with many endless additions for my already infinite reading list.

****

Quotes

I once asked Mr Beckett who is favourite author was, and rather tetchily he replied there was no such thing. For me there is, and it is Chekhov. His stories have passed into my bloodstream, the fates of his characters as vivid to me as the happenings in my own life. - Edna O'Brien

The great thing about reading is not just the hour by the fire or on the train, but the seamless accumulation in the mind from the moments of books, the residual thrill, the way the characters swish about in our consciousness long after we have finished the tale. - Edna O'Brien

And reading became a pleasure so intense it was practically a vice. - Gita Mehta

But then I am an addict, addicted to reading by those magicians sitting cross-legged in the pavements endlessly arranging and re-arranging their stock, who lured us away from the little world of the self into whole galaxies of the imagination. ...as they shouted to us like circus barkers, corrupting us with their seductive litany of titles. - Gita Mehta

If you have taught yourself through books then every one has been chose by you, as part of a personal Odyssey, has been absorbed and becomes part of your substance. - Doris Lessing

The books I responded to then are not those I would choose as best now. You have to read a book at the right time for you..for it is key to the enjoyment of literature. - Doris Lessing


I've always felt a great sadness on finishing a book I've enjoyed. And a strong reluctance to actually close the book and put it on a shelf. I delay the moment of parting as other people might put off ending a love affair. - Sue Townsend

The first book I lost a night's sleep over was Jane Eyre. It was winter and our house wasn't heated - apart from a coal fire in the living room. I read in bed. My fingers and arms froze, my nails went blue. Frost formed on the inside of the window panes, but I could not put Jane Eyre down. ... Snow fell, a few birds began to sing, my eyes drooped, but I had to read on. Who had started the fire? Who was the mad creature in the attic? I ate my porridge reading. I walked to school reading. I read in each lesson until the morning milk break. I finished the last page in the school cloakroom, surrounded by wet gabardine mackintoshes....

Reading became a secret obsession; I would drop a book guiltily if anyone came into my room. I went nowhere without a book. - Sue Townsend

At sixteen, with my mind exploding, I thought, there is a world of books out there, and I began on the trajectories of discovery that will end when I die. - Doris Lessing

Literature is for everybody. It does not need professors and teachers. - Doris Lessing

Perhaps students should be told that an effort is required, when you start to read a serious author, to overcome menal laziness and reluctance, because you are about to enter the mind of someone who thinks differently from yourself. And that is the whole point and the only point... - Doris Lessing

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Video: What Owning a Ramen Restaurant in Japan is Like

So you think you know what hard work looks like. You don't even know the meaning of the word.