A Folk Novel of China

Seven Taoist Masters (translated by Eva Young) is a classic novel by an unknown author that infuses Taoism in a narrative style which is very lucid and clear yet adventurous and articulate. Six men and women go through the tribulations and finally achieve their immortality by constant Taoist practices expounded by masters. What got my attention is the style and weaving of characters and situations to bring readers attention to detail of obstacles every one faces in their practices. The use of disguised mental disease is adopted by the 1st Taoist adept  to attain seclusion within the confines of his house to practice Tao. Given our times, this method has to change to suit modern days, as anyone disguising the above method may end in a mental asylum and be overdosed with drugs lest they should be smart to conceive newer methods, perhaps a distant profession or other alternatives that may suit their pursuit. The lady adept gets rid of her beauty is telling in that she had the guts to pursue this path by self-inflicting wounds to change her appearance from a beautiful women to one who is detested and never pursued for beauty – a remarkable feat to do the unthinkable to pursue Tao.  Time and again the story brings to attention how fate joins genuine and ardent pursuers with masters – be it physically by being nearer and helping them with timely lessons or in modern days where there’s no such master-disciple culture, perhaps introducing the right books to educate and right circumstances to materialize the path to pursue is comparable. Akin to mystic lore, story is replete with a master who can foretell his demise early on and instructing his disciples the place and time for his burial. Charlatan and snake oil sellers are present since time immemorial and there’s a duel where the impostor challenges the real adept for a 3 day nonstop meditation session and loses on day one to real one and was also unable to explain the alchemical principles of exotic Tao.  A quite interesting aspect of story is cave digging, 72 instances of such, and giving it to sages for their meditation and finally finding his final spot on ledge near a cliff and in it daily hangs himself to practice and returns back end of the day to have food. One adept among the six, who had more sexual craving decides to go to a brothel to understand more about his craving and ultimately gets rid of it. During his stay, he is visited by Bodhi dharma and also does a feat of heating food in his tan-tien when there was no firewood and it was cold outside. The lady adept was protected by heavenly spirits when two men pursued to violate her by flash floods and lighting that appears from nowhere. Finally one adept gets anointed by emperor to teach Taoism. In conclusion, a gentle read those who want to know more about Toa in the narrative. The following excerpt catches the main principles of Taoism and it’s practical method of attainment.

Taoism and it’s Practical Method – Excerpts

“If you want to get rid of the sickness of spirit and body, The primary cause of ill health is none other than must get to its cause. Craving creates the obstacles to health. These obstacles the cure. are desire for liquor, sexual desire, greed for riches, and bad Those who wish to cultivate health and longevity must first remove these obstacles. Sever all attachment to external Then the internal illness will disappear and the root of ill health will be eradicated. Once health is regained, the cultivation of the Tao and the attainment of immortality are possible. “First, let us discuss the obstacle of liquor. Many people know that liquor can disrupt reason and therefore want to abstain from it. Others abstain because they are persuaded to do so by friends and relatives. Yet others abstain because the law forbids it. However, when they see liquor or when they see others drink, they desire it. Even if no liquor has touched their lips, the very craving shows that they have not overcome the obstacle. Craving originates in thoughts. Even before the thought becomes action, craving already exists and the damage has been done. Getting rid of the obstacle of liquor requires the absence of craving in thought as well as in action. “Now, take sexual desire. Many people know that sexual desire drains the generative energy and want to abstain from it. However, when they see an attractive person they fantasize about having sex or secretly desire sexual company. When these thoughts arise, even if one is not engaged in sex physically, one is already prey to the obstacle. You now understand that the cause of craving after liquor and sex lies in the mind. If you want to remove these obstacles, you must start with eradicating the thoughts of desire from your mind. Tame the heart [mind], and the intentions will not run wild. When the heart is emptied of desire, the cause of ill health will disappear. Cut the attachments externally, and the internal injuries will be healed. Your heart should be clear and calm like a still lake reflecting the light of the moon.

If ripples appear on the water, then the image of moon will be distorted and the Tao will never be realized in you “How does one go about eradicating the desire for liquor and x? The ancient sages offer this advice: If it is not propitious do not look at it. If it is not propitious, do not do it. If it is in front of you, behave as if you saw nothing. If it is spoken to you behave as if you heard nothing. The Buddhists teach: “Forget the other, forget oneself, forget everyone.” The Taoists teach: “Look but do not see it; hear but do not listen.” That is, if you are not attached to the liquor or the sexual attraction, those things will lose their attractiveness. Attraction is not in the object itself but in the attitude that we carry around with us.] If you can do this, then you will have eradicated the desire for liquor and sex. “As for riches, this is a difficult obstacle to overcome. There are those who are poor and need to work hard to earn a living for themselves and their family. Therefore, they do not have much choice but to focus their attention on acquiring money. People in this condition must live with their karma and wait for another lifetime to relinquish their ties with money. Then there are those who crave riches so that they may display their wealth and earn the respect and admiration of others. Yet further there are those who crave riches for a life of luxury and waste. And then there are those who accumulate riches because they wish to exploit misfortune and see others suffer. It is these latter kinds of craving for riches that prevent one from discovery of the Tao.

“Temper is the result of emotions running wild. There are positive and negative feelings. Positive feelings like compassion, empathy, and humility are to be cultivated, but negative feelings such as anger, bad temper, and cruelty should be dissolved. Bad temper is the result of self-importance. Bad temper is harmful to health because it creates bad ch’i in our bodies. Verbal arguments, competitiveness, aggressiveness, impatience, frustration, annoyance are all manifestations of bad temper. How can people with these dispositions attain the Tao? “If you wish to eradicate the bad temper and the desire for riches, listen to the sages. They give good advice. The Confucianists say, ‘Riches that do not rightfully belong to me I see as as the floating clouds. Take control of your reason, and will not lose your temper.’ The Buddhists say, ‘Do not crave rewards. Virtue comes from the ability to resist provocation.’ The ‘Know the illusion of material goods. Cultivate Taoists say, compassion, and your temper will be calmed.’ Take these words of advice and you will be able to eradicate bad temper and desire for riches. “To eradicate the four obstacles to health—liquor, sexual desire, riches, and bad temper—one must cultivate the heart. Once the heart is tamed, the cause of ill health will disappear. The Confucianists tell us to ‘awaken.’ The Buddhists tell us to ‘understand.’ The Taoists tell us to ‘act intuitively.’ First, we need to awaken to the fact that we have fallen prey to the obstacles. Second, we need to understand what the obstacles are and their causes. Lastly, we need to act intuitively, that is, to act spontaneously from a heart that is tamed of desire and craving.

If you can do these things, then you will have no problem attaining the Tao.” Ma Tan-yang and Sun Pu-erh asked about meditation. Wang Ch’ung-yang said, “In meditation all thoughts must cease. When the ego is dead, the spirit emerges. When you sit, sit on a cushion. Loosen your clothing. At the hour of tzu (11:00 P.M.), cross your legs gently and sit facing east. Clasp your hands together and place them in front of your body. Your back should be straight. Strike your teeth together and swallow your saliva. Place the tongue against the palate of your mouth. You should be alert in listening, but do not be attached to sounds. Let your eyes drop, but do not close them. Focus on the light that you see in front of you and concentrate on the Lower t’an-t’ien. In meditation it is very important to stop thinking. If thoughts arise, the spirit will not be pure, and your efforts of cultivation will come to nothing. In addition, you should drop all feelings. Once feelings arise, the heart will not be still, and the attainment of the Tao is impossible.” Wang Ch’ung-yang continued, “Sit on a cushion and you will be able to sit long and not feel tired. Loosen your clothing so the movement of internal energy will not be constricted. The hour of tzu is when the first ray of yang appears. Face east because the breath of life flows in from the east at the hour of first yang. Clasp your hands in the t’ai-chi symbol, because it symbolizes ness of form. Sit with your back straight, because only with vertical spine can the energy rise to the head. Close your and place the tongue against the palate so that the internal energy cannot dissipate. The ear is associated with generative energy. Being attached to sound will dissipate this energy. Do not close your eyes, for they let the light in to shine on your spirit. If you close your eyes, the spirit will be dimmed. If you open them too wide, the spirit will escape. Therefore you should lower the lids but not close them. Concentrate on the lower tan t’ien as if to reflect the light of your eyes on it because here is the mystery of all things. Minimize speech, as this conserves vital energy. Rest your ears, as this conserves generative energy. Dissolve thoughts to conserve spiritual energy. When all these energies are not dissipated, then you will attain immortality.” Ma Tån-yang and Sun Pu-erh thanked Wang Ch’ung-yang for his instructions. Wang Ch’ung-yang added, “Staying on the path of the Tao requires discipline. should take this knowledge seriously and practice it all the time. Otherwise, even though you know what to do, you will accomplish nothing.”

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Charlie Munger – The Complete Investor

Anything Charlie always piques me, given his success, wisdom and candor. Being one of the wealthiest and greatest thinkers of our time, he has an opinion on whatever he touches and an associated wisdom that can be imbued in our lives on similar or different acts. So this book simply a no brainer to read and I think the wisdom is unlimited lest it needs to be applied. In these times of crypto-currencies shunned by every central bank and cautioned by Munger and Buffet that it’s a Ponzi scheme is something to be take not e and be wary of. Unless you have invested in them in its infancy, it is windfall now but investing now is a windfall for others at your expense. This book by Tren Griffin is a collection of thoughts and wisdom from Charlie Munger in a succinct way. Some high points & excerpts to keep note:

The Principles of Graham Value Investing:

  1. Treat a share of stock as a proportional ownership of a business – I think with substantially large investment makes sense but even for miniscule investors like me too I suppose.
    Pointers
    John Maynard Keynes defined speculation as “the activity of fore- casting the psychology of the market.” Keynes went on to say that the speculator must think about what others are thinking about, what others are thinking about the market (and repeat). In what is now called a “Keynesian beauty contest,” judges are told not to pick the most beautiful woman but instead to pick the contestant they think the other judges will choose as the most beautiful. The winner of such a contest may be very different than the winner of a traditional beauty contest. Keynes said this about such a contest: It’s not a case of choosing those [faces] that, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those that average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees. —JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, GENERAL THEORY, 1936
    How some promoters have learned how to manipulate this process can be illustrated with a story: Once upon a time, a man and is assistant arrived in a very small town and spread the word to the townspeople that the man was willing to buy monkeys for Sloo each. The people knew there were many monkeys in the nearby forest and immediately started catching them. Thousands of monkeys were bought at a price of $100 and placed in a large cage. Unfortunately for the townspeople, the supply of monkeys quickly diminished to a point where it took many hours to catch even one. When the new man announced he would now buy monkeys at a price of $200 per monkey, the town’s resident’s redoubled their efforts to catch monkeys. But after a few days the monkeys were so hard to find that the townspeople stopped trying to catch any more. The man responded by announcing that he would buy monkeys at $500 after he returned with additional cash from a trip to the big city. While the man was gone, his assistant told the villagers one by one: “I will secretly sell you my boss’ monkeys for $350, and when he returns from the city, you can sell them to him for $500 each.” The villagers bought every single monkey, and they never saw the man or his assistant ever again. Howard Marks advised that Graham value investors focus on what they know now and not where they are going because, rather obviously, your data about the present is extensive while your data about the future will always be zero. Like Marks in making investment decisions, Munger is focused on what is happening in a given business right now. Projections about the future are scrupulously avoided. Buffett put it this way: “I have no use whatsoever for projections or forecasts. They create an illusion of apparent precision. The more meticulous they are, the more concerned you should be. We never look at projections but we care very much about, and look very deeply, at track records. If a company has a lousy track record but a very bright future, we will miss the opportunity.
  2. Buy at significant discount to intrinsic value to create a margin of safety
    A margin of safety is achieved when securities are purchased at prices sufficiently below underlying value to allow for human error, bad luck, or extreme volatility in a complex, unpredictable and rap- idly changing world.
  3. Make Mr. Market your servant rather than your master
    Falling in with the crowd will put you under the sway of Mr. Market because Mr. Market is the crowd. If you are the crowd, then you can- not, by definition, beat the crowd. Munger believes that short-term price movements are not rationally based, based on always-efficient markets, or predictable with certainty. The best advice is simple; Buffet says, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. “14 This is easy to say but hard to do, because it requires courage at the hardest possible time.Over many decades, our usual practice is that if [the stock of] some- thing we like goes down, we buy more and more. Sometimes some- thing happens, you realize you’re wrong, and you get out. But if you develop correct confidence in your judgment, buy more and take advantage of stock prices. Graham’s value investing system is based on the premise that risk (the possibility of losing) is determined by the price at which you buy an asset. The higher the price you pay for an asset, the greater the risk that you will experience a loss of capital. If the price of a stock drops, risk goes down, not up. For this reason, the Graham value investor will often find that price decrease for a given stock is an opportunity to buy more of that stock.
  4. Be rational, Objective and Dispassionate

The Psychology of human misjudgment – to be avoided in judging a stock

  1. Reward and Punishment Super response Tendency
    Reward and punishment super response tendency relates to what psychologists call reinforcement and what economists call incentives. A classic example of this tendency causing problems in investing may happen when a financial advisor is able to earn a big sales commission for selling clients offerings, such as certain types of annuities. The financial incentives available to the advisor can turn an otherwise kindly, churchgoing, community-minded person into a perversely motivated shark. This misalignment of incentives is why it is wise to retain a fee-based financial planner and to make sure that he or she is not receiving hidden rebates and sales commissions. Munger gave another example: Everyone wants to be an investment manager, raise the maximum amount of money, trade like mad with one another, and then just scrape the fees off the top. I know one guy; he’s extremely smart and a very capable investor. I asked him, “What returns do you tell your institutional clients you will earn for them?” He said, “20 percent.” I couldn’t believe it, because he knows that’s impossible. But he said, “Charlie, if I gave them a lower number, they wouldn’t give me any money to invest!” The investment-management business is Insane.
  2. Liking/Loving Tendency
    Munger believes that people tend to ignore or deny the faults of people they love and also tend to distort facts to facilitate that love. He believes we are more influenced by people we like, and perhaps more importantly by people who genuinely like us. There are obviously positive aspects to this tendency for society, but they rarely have a place in making investment decisions. You may like or even love your friend or relative, but that does not mean that you should trust him or her with your money. Loaning money to relatives is fraught with danger. It is usually a far better idea to simply give away money to needy friends and relatives—or, if you do make a loan, to never expect it back. Relatives and friends in receipt of your money as a loan too often acquire a short-term and fuzzy/selective memory. Another example of this tendency arises when people fall in love with a company and make investing mistakes about that company as a result of that love. Even if you love your employer, it is very risky to have too much of your savings in the stock of a single company. One way that some companies leverage this tendency is to have their salespeople sell to people they know at parties. Tupperware parties are a classic example of this principle in action. One valuable check on this liking/loving tendency is to seek out wise people who are not afraid to disagree with you. Munger likes to say that a year in which you do not change your mind on some big idea that is important to you is a wasted year.
  3. Dislike/Hating Tendency
    The disliking/hating tendency is the inverse of the previous tendency. Munger that life is too short to do business with people you don’t like. He also refuses to invest in certain companies that sell goods and services that he does not like for ethical reasons. As an example, Munger and Buffett avoid investing in casinos. Munger believes that the disliking/hating tendency can sometimes be dysfunctional even if you ignore the ethical aspects. For example, the fact that a job candidate attended a rival college of your alma mater should not influence your hiring decision. Taking a factor like that into account is simply not rational. In other words, Munger it is sensible to pass judgment on a company or person for ethical reasons, but one must be careful not to pass judgment on a company or person based on irrational associations. Family mem- bers do not fall outside of the disliking/hating tendency. Munger quoted Buffett on this point: “A major difference between rich and poor people is that the rich people can spend more of their time suing their relatives.” Compliance professionals, including some politicians and religious leaders, have learned to manipulate people into making decisions using this tendency. If someone attempts to manipulate your behavior, you should stay rational and separate how you feel about one thing from how you feel about something else that is related. If someone seems to like or admire you, it may be a ruse to secure your compliance with something they desire. The skill needed to sort out whether a person is genuine is acquired with experience
  4. Double Avoidance Tendency
    Researchers believe that the doubt-avoidance tendency exists because a brain’s processing load can be substantially reduced if a person rejects doubt. Daniel Kahneman considers doubt-avoid- ance tendency to be a System 1 activity, which Michael Maubous- sin described as follows: “System 1 is your experiential system. It’s fast. It’s quick. It’s automatic and really difficult to control. System 2 is your analytical system: slow, purposeful, deliberate, but malleable.” When it comes to investments, avoiding doubt can get a person into serious trouble. One example is the people who thought, “Why investigate an asset manager like Bernard Madoff when avoiding doubt is so much easier? After all, he managed money for many important people. Surely they looked carefully into his operations and background.” The confidence of entrepreneurs bolstered by doubt-avoidance tendency creates positive benefits for society in the aggregate by generating productivity and genuine growth in the economy, even if legions of entrepreneurs may fail. Nassim Taleb put it this way: “Most of you will fail, disrespected, impoverished, but we are grateful for the risks you’re taking and the sacrifices you’re making for the sake of the economic growth of the planet and pulling others out of poverty. You’re the source of our antifragility.
  5. Inconsistency Avoidance Tendency
    People are reluctant to change even when they have been given new information that conflicts with what they already believe. Inconsistency-avoidance tendency is another often-useful heuristic because starting each day with a fresh mind about everything requires too much processing power. Unfortunately, as is the case with every heuristic, what is mostly helpful can sometimes be harmful. The adverse effects of this tendency can be made worse when it appears in combination with the previously discussed doubt-avoiding tendency. The desire to resist any change in a given conclusion or belief is particularly strong if a person has invested a lot of effort in reaching that conclusion or belief and/or if the change will result in something that is unpleasant. This is a major reason why progress in many professions tends to advance “one funeral at a time.” An example of this phenomenon can be found in the many companies which refused to recognize that personal computers or mobile phones were a threat to their business. Absence of the inconsistency-avoidance tendency among some people operates to benefit society. For example, company founders who are not wedded to old ideas can sometimes create innovative new businesses more easily. As another example, an executive may cling to an idea he or she has publicly advocated, even after facts come to light proving the idea false. One way to avoid this problem is to be very careful about what you say in public. Also, be aware that once you say something in public, you may be blind to disconfirming evidence. Mark Twain’s statement comes to mind on this tendency: “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.” Some entrepreneurs often don’t know enough to think that something can’t be done, so once in a while they actually do something that is completely unexpected. As the old saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
  6. Curiosity Tendency
    Many things in life involve tradeoffs. source of what is good in life can also be a source of is bad in life. That inevitable tradeoff applies to curiosity—and there is nothing like failure and mistakes to teach a person the right approach to curiosity. The wise investor will acquire a sort of muscle memory about curiosity based on actual experience. Curiosity about life and restraint about difficult decisions are part of Munger’s approach to life. Seeking more information about a topic, even though it has no present value to a person, is a natural human drive. One can speculate that having this information has option value. However, the price of too much curiosity can be high. Finding the right balance in things involving tradeoffs like curiosity is a key part of acquiring wisdom.
  7. Kantian Fairness tendency
    The craving for perfect fairness causes a lot of terrible problems in system function. Some systems should be made deliberately unfair to individuals because they’ll be fairer on average for all of us. Tolerating a little unfairness to some to get a greater fairness for all is a model I recommend to all of you. Humans will often act irrationally to punish people who are not fair. In other words, investors may react irrationally when presented with a situation that they feel is unfair. For example, some people would rather Iose money in an investment than see another person benefit from unfairness. Another way this tendency may arise is when people sometimes reject systems that arc not fair to an individual, evcn though the system in question is best for a group or society. Munger points to such a rule in the U.S. Navy which dictates that your career is over if you make a big mistake.
  8. Envy/Jealousy Tendency
    The idea of caring Chat someone is making money faster [than you] is one of the deadly sins. Envy is a really stupid sin because it’s the only one you could never possibly have any fun at. There’s a lot of pain and no fun. Why would you want to get on that trolley? Missing out on some opportunity never bothers us. What’s wrong with someone getting a little richer than you? It’s crazy to worry about this.
  9. Reciprocation Tendency
    “People will help if they owe you for something you did in the past to advance their goals. That’s the rule of reciprocity.” 8 The reverse is also true if you have done something that negatively affects a person. The urge to reciprocate favors and disfavors is so strong that even someone smiling at you is hard not to reciprocate. The indebted feeling that humans have when they receive a gift tends to make a person feel uncomfortable until he or she can extinguish the debt. The urge to reciprocate in some way so as to cancel the debt is so strong that it can even make people give up substantially more than they would if the process was fully rational. In other words, the desire to reciprocate often results in an unequal exchange of value. Compliance professionals have learned to use this feeling of reciprocity to their advantage. For example, a Hare Krishna fundraiser has been trained to give away a “gift,” like a flower, when he or she approaches a person for a donation. The free weekend at a time-share condominium has a similar purpose for the salespeople who offer it to potential buyers. The investment promoter who gives away a “free” lunch wants the person who attends the event to reciprocate in a very disproportionate way. As an aside, a person who enjoys the free lunch and does not take the bait and buy the investment may be disparaged by the promoter as a “plate licker.”
  10. Influence-from-Mere-Association Tendency
    Humans are programmed to be pattern seekers. They look for patterns to obtain what they believe is guidance about how to make decisions. For example, when a well-known actor pitches an investment firm’s services on television, it is likely that the actor knows next to nothing about investing; yet people tend to respond positively merely because the actor may be associated with something positive, like acting skill. Unfortunately, people can be misled by mere association too easily, and that can lead to investing errors. This tendency is similar to the liking tendency, except only association is required. Liking tendency is more about being blind to the faults of people we like. With association theory, the compliance professional is trying to get you to do something like buy a financial service because it is endorsed or used by a famous actor. Because compliance professionals know this human weakness, advertisers spend huge amounts of money to associate their products and services with favorable images.
  11. Simple, Pain-Avoiding Psychological Denial
    A projection prepared by anybody who stands to earn a commission or an executive trying to justify a particular course of action will frequently be a lie—although it’s not a deliberate lie in most cases. The man has come to believe it himself. And that’s the worst kind. Projections should be handled with care, particularly when they’re being provided by someone who has an interest in misleading you. Failure to handle psychological denial is a common way for people to go broke.
  12. excessive Self-regard Tendency
    People tend to vastly overestimate their own capabilities. This is a problem for many investors and a major part of the reason staying within a circle of competence is so important. This hook has made the point repeatedly that the most effective way to genuinely reduce risk is to know what you’re doing. Part of being a genuine expert is to know the limits of your own competence. Unfortunately, this is far too often not the case. Daniel Kahneman believes: “Confidence is a feeling, one determined mostly by the coherence of the story and by the ease with which it comes to mind, even when the evidence for the story is sparse and unreliable. The bias toward coherence favors overconfidence. An individual who expresses high confidence probably has a good story, which may or may not be true. ” ” In responding to a survey, 70 percent of students said they were above average in leadership ability, and only 2 percent rated themselves as below average in relation to their peers.12 In rating their athletic skiJJs, 60 percent saw themselves above the median and only 6 percent below the median. Companies are not immune from this excessive self-regard tendency
  13. Over-optimism Tendency
    In the 4th century B.C., Demosthenes noted that “what a man wishes, he will believe.” And in self-appraisals of prospects and talents it’s the norm, as Demosthenes predicted, for people to be ridiculously over-optimistic. Investor over-optimism—and its evil twin, over-pessimism—are what make Mr. Market bipolar. The good news for people who can keep their level of optimism at rational levels is that the unpredictable but inevitable gyrations between these two states create opportunities for Graham value investors. Staying rationally optimistic as the market gyrates is very difficult.
  14. Deprival Super-Reaction Tendency
    People tend to be too conservative in seeking gains and too aggressive in seeking to avoid losses. The most important point to remember about this tendency is that it causes investors to do things like sell stocks too early and hold on to them for too long. It is very common for investors to hold on to losing stocks in the hope that somehow the price will vise and they will somehow break even.
  15. Social Proof Tendency
    Social-proof tendency is one major cause of financial bubbles. Social-proof tendency is often used by fraudsters. For example, Ber- nie Madoff was a master at using social-proof tendency to get inves- tors to give him their money. He worked hard to make it known that he managed money for famous people who were considered to be “smart money.” One odd fact of life is that people tend to follow famous investors into deals even though the famous person is not even remotely famous for his or her investing skill. Learning to ignore the crowd and think independently is a trained response. Munger is a big proponent of independent thinking in investing. In thinking independently, it’s wise to remember Seth Klarman’s view that a Graham value investor is a marriage between a contrarian and a calculator. Falling in with the crowd due to social proof means it is mathematically impossible to outperform the market. Independent thinking can be an opportunity to arbitrage the tendency of people to follow the crowd. Profit can be made by sometimes zigging when the crowd zags if you see a wager in which the odds are substantially in your favor. It is not enough to be contrarian; you must also be sufficiently right in terms of the magnitude of the positive outcome that out perform the markets.
  16. Contrast Mis-reaction Tendency
    Munger points to real estate brokers who may first show clients unattractive properties at inflated prices in order to increase the probability that clients will buy a subsequently viewed property at an inflated price as an example of this tendency. In other words, if your real estate broker starts the tour with a dog of a deal, they are very likely trying to train you to buy what is coming next. No one should buy an investment merely because it’s better than the lousy one you just saw or owned. Similarly, when you buy an asset, it should be the best investment of all the investments that are available to you anywhere. For example, the fact that Y is a better stock than X is not enough information to make an investing decision. Is Y the best investment of all the investments you could possibly make anywhere? Thinking about the world through an opportunity-cost lens is a simple but often-ignored idea.
  17. Stress-Influence Tendency
    Some level of stress can actually increase a person’s performance. However, people under too much stress tend to make really lousy decisions. For example, a salesperson with highly developed compliance skills can cause people to make big investment mistakes by putting the sales prospect under stress. One of the more infamous examples of this sales approach is the sale of a time-share in a resort condominium. Often, a friendly salesperson operates in tandem with a person who specializes in applying stress (this is known as a “good-cop/bad- cop” approach). I would rather drop a cinder block on my foot than accept a free weekend in a time-share condominium. Do not make decisions while under stress. It’s just that simple.
  18. Availability-Mis-weighing Tendency
    The great algorithm to remember in dealing with this tendency is simple: an idea or a fact is not worth more merely because it’s easily available to you.
  19. Use-it-or-love-it Tendency
    This tendency is pretty simple to understand; a skill degrades unless it is practiced regularly. For example, flying an airplane is not something you should do once in a while. If you’re not flying often as a pilot, you should not be flying as a pilot. Similarly, investing is not something you want to do once in a while. In the context of investing, it is both a out an appliance than picking an investment or investment fund. To be a successful investor, a person must regularly devote the necessary time and effort. Even if you once felt that you knew a lot about invest- it does not mean your skills are current. Maintaining a circle of competence requires constant work and diligence. As a 2014 study concluded, We find that interventions to improve financial literacy explain only 0.10/0 of the variance in financial behaviors studied, with weaker effects in low-income samples. Like other education, financial education decays over time; even large interventions with many hours of instruction have negligible effects on behavior 20 months or more from the time of intervention.
  20. Drug Mis-Influence Tendency
    Three things ruin people: drugs, liquor, and leverage. Sense-scene
  21. Mis-Influence Tendency
    Munger’s own life IS support for the view that if have the right genetics and consciously hard to remain physically and men- tally can stay sharp as age. Luck certainly plays an important part in outcomes related to aging, but there is no excuse for not working to do the best you can with the luck you have. Staying is essential to mental and physical health. As just one example, nothing is more fun for people like Munger than learning—and nothing helps learning more than reading. When it comes to health, do not be passive. As an example of Munger not accepting deteriorating health passively, when he was confronted with a diagnosis that he might lose all of his sight, he began studying Braille. It is far better to wear out from work than rust out from inactivity.
  22. Authority Mis-Influence Tendency
    You get a pilot and a co-pilot. The pilot is the authority figure. They don’t do this in airplanes, but they’ve done it in simulators. They have the pilot do something where the co-pilot, who’s been trained in simulators a long time—he knows he’s not to allow the plane to crash—they have the pilot do something where an idiot co-pilot would know the plane was going to crash, but the pilot’s doing it, and the co-pilot is sitting there, and the pilot is the authority figure. 25 percent of the time, the plane crashes. I mean, this is a very powerful psychological tendency. People tend to follow people who they believe are authorities, especially when they face risk, uncertainty, or ignorance. Professor Cialdini described the authority tendency this way: “When people are uncertain…they don’t look inside themselves for answers—all they see is ambiguity and their own lack of confidence. Instead, they look out- side for sources of information that can reduce their uncertainty. The first thing they look to is authority.” Compliance professionals have learned to convey their authority before they start working to influence people. For example, they will talk about their professional degrees, awards, and achievements.
  23. Twaddle Tendency
  24. Reason-Respecting Tendency
  25. Loollapalooza Tendency

The Right Stuff for an investor

  1. Patient
  2. Disciplined
  3. Calm but courageous and decisive
  4. Reasonably Intelligent but not misled by their high IQ
  5. Honest
  6. Confident and non-ideological
  7. Long-term oriented
  8. Passionate
  9. Studious
  10. Collegial
  11. Sound Temperament
  12. Frugal
  13. Risk Averse

The seven variables in the Graham value investing

  1. Determining the appropriate intrinsic value of a business
  2. Determining the appropriate margin of safety
  3. Determining the scope of an investor’s circle of competence
  4. Determining how much of each security to buy
  5. Determining when to sell a security
  6. Determining how much to bet when you find a mispriced asset
  7. Determining whether a quality of a business should be considered
  8. Determining what business to own (in whole or part)

The right stuff in a business

  1. Capital Allocation Skills
  2. Compensation systems that create alignment with shareholders
  3. Moat-widening skills
  4. Management already in place with integrity
  5. The Rare exceptional manager

Anesthesia

Excerpts from Counting Backwards – A Doctor’s Notes on Anesthesia by Henry Jay. This book caught my attention just to know more about this medical procedure which provides amnesia during invasive procedure on the body.

History
The inventions dates back to Jabir Ibn Hayyan, a resident of Persia in 8th century who nearly synthesized ether by combining Sulphur and alcohol. It still remains a speculation but he was a prolific author and said to have written some 3000 books and inspired a word ‘Gibberish’ (Geber being Latinized name of Jabir). In 1540, Valerus Cordus, a German physician combined fortified wine and sulphuric acid to form what he called oleum dulce vitriol – sweet oil of vitriol but was recognized for its anesthetic properties yet. Another 2 centuries later inhaling gases as a means of therapy flourished – by inhaling fumes of ether, this ether frolics provided relief and euphoria. In 1842, A Georgia doctor, Crawford Long brought ether frolics to his community and found during a fun party, some inhalants who got bruised never reported pain during its ‘subdued time’ and later one of his acquaintance sought his advice to remove a lump and as he dreaded pain, a novel idea was hatched and implemented, a towel saturated with ether was held under patients nose and asked to breathe and surgery was completed painless and safe. It went undocumented. On Oct 16,1846, Morton demonstrated publicly this method of inhaling gas for surgery and published a patent and called the procedure “Letheon” after river Lethe in Greek mythology which when its water drunk causes loss of memory. A month later, the term “Anesthesia” Greek for “without sensibility” was coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes (suggested via a letter) stuck and used now. Right now Sevoflurane is the choice of anesthetic gas compared to desflurane and isoflurane. Comes in variety of scents – bubblegum, cherry, strawberry or orange. 

Tools of the Trade
Anesthesia machine is CPU weighing many hundreds of pounds and stands about 5 ft high with 3 ft square base with 6 inch wheels anchored to a sturdy iron base. It has dials , switches and buttons to regulate gas flow and switch between modes of breathing. Plus a screen to monitor gas composition, rate and volume of breath. Also during anesthesia, patent’s airway needs to remain open and unobstructed that’s no snoring. Endotracheal tubes that help arrest snoring along with Laryngoscope which lights the path through the mouth to the vocal cords. IV anesthesia medications, narcotics for pain relief, relaxants for temporary paralysis (succinylcholine), Atropine/Epinephrine to speed up heart and antibiotics. Suction catheters to remove mouth secretions and a backup to the backup – the Ambu Bag – when squeezed, pushes a breath to a desperate patient in need – this is useful when gas flow or the electrical supply has failed and revert to manual mode.

Anesthesia and Its Adjuncts – The 5-As
The term anesthesia does encompass all goals of care, there are more adjuncts that are added to ether for full care and these side medicines create 5 effects called as 5-As of Anesthesia:

  • Anxiolysis, relieving stress created by an upcoming surgical procedure
  • Amnesia, preventing memory formation during anesthesia care
  • Analgesia, relieving pain during the procedure and after to include acute and chronic pain relief
  • Akinesia, preventing a patent’s movement during a procedure
  • Areflexia, stopping adrenaline surge and swings in blood pressure and heart rate while under anesthesia

Railroad Tracks
Anesthesiologists dream railroad tracks, no doubt, that’s what they want for a patient during their care. The rails are ticks and dots representing the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate as recorded during the progress of anesthetic care without variance. From “Your Patient is ready” – the comment made at that first painless surgery in 1846 and still used today – to “I’m finished” is to achieve the railroad tracks before handing over the patient to physician to take over.

Nothing by Mouth
First death due to anesthesia happened in 1848 the moment a patient inhaled the gas and an autopsy later revealed the patient’s lungs were found to be congested with blood and fluid. Possible caused could be heart related but also might be due to aspiration – stomach contents finds its way into wind pipe, trachea leading to “dry drowning”
The separate paths leading to the stomach and the lungs work on the either/or principle. Only one path may be open at a time, and eating and breathing are kept separate through a series of coordinated actions including muscles and reflexes. The vocal cords at the entrance to the trachea snap shut when food or drink enters the mouth. This reflex, the laryngeal adductor reflex, is beyond our active control and prevents any- thing in the mouth from going down the wrong pipe. To swallow, sphincters made of muscle in the esophagus relax and the contents of the mouth slide down into the stomach.
Gastroesophageal reflux—commonly referred to as GER D (for “gastroesophageal reflux disease”) and also known simply as heartburn—occurs when these sphincters fail and the stomach contents rise in reverse back up the esophagus. Silent aspiration results when the laryngeal adductor reflux fails. Food and drink entering the trachea can block the airway, preventing oxygen in the air from entering the bloodstream. Aspiration also pre- disposes a person to pneumonia.
Everyone experiences aspiration occasionally by accident. Either excited or impatient, we sometimes fill our mouths with too much food or drink, or too fast, or with a full mouth, and on a startle the contents go down the wrong pipe. Instead of passing down the esophagus into the stomach, the oral contents slide past the vocal cords and into the trachea, the windpipe. The system of protection that keeps the lungs clean and clear has failed. This is aspiration.
Acid is the anesthesiologist’s enemy. The stomach is capable of withstanding the acid it produces as an aid in digestion. But other tissue is not immune to this acid. Herein lies the risk of anesthesia, which relaxes muscles and turns off reflexes. The cinched esophageal sphincters relax, allowing the contents of the stomach to flow to the mouth while the laryngeal adductor reflex no longer guards the entrance to the trachea. To prevent aspiration under anesthesia, the stomach must be empty.
Nil per os. “Nothing by mouth.” The pre-anesthesia routine in decades gone by was to write and order: “NPO after midnight.” With first-scheduled cases in the morning, this worked fine. For afternoon cases, the patient might be left dehydrated. Today, a kinder, gentler sliding timescale is used, depending on the procedure schedule and the type of food or drink. Clear fluids are frequently allowed up to two hours before anesthesia; they don’t fill the stomach with acid and might actually aid in passing its contents out and along the intestines. Fatty foods produce the greatest amount of acid, requiring eight hours to clear acid from the stomach.

Amount of Anesthetic Agent
THE DOSE OF THE ANESTHESIA gas is measured as a percentage of the overall inhaled gases (as mixed with air and oxygen). The minimum alveolar concentration (MAC) is the percentage of gas inhaled that prevents fifty percent of patients from responding to a painful stimulus. Whether it’s a mouse, red-tailed hawk, monitor lizard, elephant, or human, regardless of species or size, the percentage of inhaled gas necessary to achieve the state of chemical coma is remarkably similar. Greater change exists with advancing age than between species: once you hit maturity, the older you are, the less gas you need. The same cannot be said for the anesthesia drugs administered by injection. Differences in species alter the IV (intravenous) or 1M (intramuscular) dose of the drugs necessary to provide anesthesia. More to the point, the required amount of drug increases as the level of oxygen consumed increases. Small species tend to consume oxygen in amounts that are magnitudes higher per pound or kilogram than the amounts that larger species consume and, as a result, anesthetizing small species requires larger doses of drug. The dose per pound of an anesthesia drug injected into a human might kill an elephant but leave a mouse unfazed and staring at you, wondering what just happened.

Pain Relief as a Right to be Sought
His call – paraphrased:
Most anesthesiologists had failed to understand or treat pain in non communicative patients. Those unable to speak for themselves had no advocates for comfort. Their families were either incapable of understanding them or, like most anesthesiologists, fearful of overmedicating. Hence, change from being a reactive analgesic administrator—depending on others beyond the patient to provide guidance for pain relief— to an activist, making pain relief as an important decision, with every intent to prevent as much moaning as possible. Instead of steering clear of overdosing, define its limits with greater precision.

Mr. Parkinson and the disease that bears his name

The key to start this blog has been the inspiration after reading Michael Faraday’s biography in which I learnt about his very humble beginnings, struggle for proper schooling,  attending lectures and learning from borrowed books, he can later become one of the greatest scientist to usher in the electrical revolution. His life long passion is to learn and having poor memory always wanted it to be recorded for future reference. And this record keeping in the form of a blog has been continuing since long and hope to keep up for foreseeable future to at least an entry per month.  Similar to M. Faraday, next quintessential English gentleman that I admire and respect is Parkinson. He has similar thought process and background, worked very hard meet ends, was an active advocate for freedom of expression, universal suffrage and stood for abolishing dynastic rule. Being a medical practitioner, he was also interested in paleontology and fossils and a literary figure of his own making by publishing political propaganda and later tomes on medical and fossil science. Reading his biography ‘The Enlightened Mr. Parkinson’ by Cherry Lewis was an eye opener about this great English apothecary who had written about ‘physical tremors’ with great detail based on his careful and penetrating observations, that this disease bears his name. A great testimony to his service to medical science and its appreciation back. Let’s look at some excerpts from this book that I want to record that will be useful for those who want to pursue the book to find out more – a teaser of sorts:

Political Advocacy
Daniel Isaac Newton was the publisher of Hog’s Wash which ran for 60 numbers between Sep 1793 and Mar 1795, and it was renamed to Politics of the People – a sort of political propaganda for freedom wishers in England. Partly original material, partly excerpts from other works, and enlivened by satire, irony, humor and verse, the magazine was hugely successful. throughout the series ran an irregular , but al;ways ‘to be continued’ ‘Sketch of the Most Memorable Events in the History of England from the Landing of Julius Caesar, to reign of William the Conqueror’. Written by Parkinson masquerading as Old Hilbert, it was a clever parody of the Government, using examples from history to illustrate its current failings. Throughout, both Eaton and Parkinson advocated votes for all, annual parliaments, peace among nations, education of the poor, and unfettered discussion on politics and religion.

Trials and Tribulations
He was interrogated by Prime Minister and host of judges for sheltering a friend who committed treason. Possibly as Parkinson was a familiar face in the literary and magazine world and he not actually publishing his work may have prompted the then government not to punish him as his publishing friends. He did escape unscathed on all possible charges and emboldened to write about it and finally he withdrew from  London Corresponding Society that provided a political front for his literary proposition and started focusing on his career and writing.

Writings

  • Medical Admonishments – a 2 volume tome
  • The Villager’s Friend and Physician – aimed those who could not afford the above
  • The Way to Health – fireside easy reference
  • Hints for the Improvement of Trusses – especially for manual laborers to stop hernias
  • The Chemical Pocket Book – assemblage of chemical facts
  • Organic remains of a Former World – ultimately a textbook in geology
  • An Essay on shaking Palsy – (Eventually) About Parkinson’s Disease
  • Outlines of Oryctology – a text book on fossils

Child Welfare
Parkinson was also concerned for the welfare of working children and was moved to act when a child apprenticed in an adjacent parish was murdered by her mistress. The Vestry was responsible for some 70 orphans, most of whom were required to work, but those apprenticed in other parishes were often left to the almost unrestrained caprice of their masters or mistresses, ‘no law existing by which the duties of the master are defined, or any inspectors of his conduct appointed’. Parkinson proposed the introduction of a register of poor children seeking employment and advocated measures to monitor their working conditions, suggesting they were ‘visited by a committee of the trustees and overseers of the poor twice every year’. The Vestry appears to have accepted his recommendations, as a panel of inspectors was immediately appointed to make regular visits to the homes of apprentices. They checked that the children were being adequately fed and clothed, that they were not made to work excessive hours, and that they were being trained in work that would enable them to earn a living when the apprenticeship expired. Six months later the first inspections had been completed. The accompanying report illustrates how Parkinson’s concerns about ill treatment had been fully justified with the committee finding itself under the ‘painful necessity of reporting a ‘shocking instance of seduction and depravity’. A young girl had been seduced by her master, a married man and father of six children. On discovering that she was pregnant, the master ran away, leaving the young girl to deliver her child in the workhouse; tragically, both mother and child died shortly afterwards.

Parkinson served on the new committee set up to oversee these children and made detailed reports of his visits; these show that he called on no fewer than 72 houses each year, spread over a wide area of the parish. He then established a set of regulations governing the apprenticeship of these children, which included not allowing the children to work on Sundays and making sure that they went to church at least once every week. No child could be apprenticed before the age of twelve and they were not allowed to ‘work longer than twelve hours in any one day, and not before six in the morning, nor after nine o’clock in the evening’. Their masters were expected to furnish the children with new clothing on the first day of May each year, and no more than two children were permitted to sleep in a bed. Finally, each child was to be given a copy of the regulations — even though many could not read — and the name of someone in the Vestry to whom they could apply if they were mistreated. Six years later the committee noted that things were much improved: ‘Mr Parkinson reported that the Officers, himself and several of the Committee, visited the children apprenticed and found them in general comfortably situated.’

Pursuits for Children
The antidote to hazardous pursuits, Parkinson recommends, is to sit quietly at home reading a book, learning by rote ‘some little geographical table . the characters of some plant, or the natural history of some animal’, or examining the night sky ‘bespangled with suns and other worlds’. The micro- scope was also a source of endless instruction, demonstrating how ‘works of art are exceeded by those of nature’, and pro- viding far more amusement than ‘two or three of those foolish toys which are often destroyed weekly’. And if exercise was required, what better than a game of shuttlecock? ‘It is truly curious to see, in this sport, that almost every muscle in the body is called into action and that the whole might of a man may be employed to combat four feathers and a cork,’ he muses. We can well imagine Parkinson playing shuttlecock with his children in the park opposite their house. Despite his deep concern for the well-being of his children, he was nevertheless quite a disciplinarian, as was common at a time when a strict code of etiquette controlled social behavior, and children who misbehaved could ruin the reputation of their parents. Thus he entreats parents to regulate their infants’ passions and teach them to distinguish between right and wrong, lest the child becomes a ‘wretched nuisance’ which would ‘render him odious to all around him’. At the same time, it was important to administer restraint with mercy

Gout Prescription
Observations on the Nature and Cure of Gout was published in 1805, while he was following his self-prescribed diet and treatment, and in a period of remission. It relates a number of case histories, including his father’s and his own, and details the cure he had found in the hope that his observations might benefit his fellow sufferers. He opens the book with the statement that ‘gout is a hereditary disease’, notes correctly that men are more subject to the disease than women, and that it ‘seldom attacks those who live on a spare diet’. He therefore advises ‘that acids of every kind should be used with great moderation; spirituous liquors must never be drunk wines, particularly those of foreign production, and even malt liquors, must be avoided with equal care’. He may not have fully understood the origins of the disease, but careful observation over the years had shown him that insobriety, luxury, indolence and voluptuousness’ were likely to bring on an attack and should be avoided at all costs. Attempting to address what, exactly, gout is, he explains that it involves the deposition of a ‘concrete saline substance, which sometimes accumulates in considerable quantities, particularly on the joints of the fingers and hands’, and recalls that in 1797 Dr. William Wollaston had reported to the Royal Society that this ‘gouty matter’ contained a ‘peculiar lithic acid’. Six months later, Dr. George Pearson, also in a communication to the Royal Society, had recommended that lithic acid be more accurately termed uric acid. Today gout is known to be caused by an excess of uric acid in the blood, which crystallizes and settles in the joint spaces causing swelling in joints.


Shaking Palsy
James Parkinson’s treatise, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, published in 1817 when Parkinson was 62, has deservedly become a medical classic.l Original copies of the work are now rare, although facsimiles have been reproduced from time to time and scanned versions of the original can be found online. Its significance lies in the fact that Parkinson was the first to identify and describe the symptoms that defined the shaking palsy, known to us today as Parkinson’s disease. The Essay opens with Parkinson’s famous definition of the shaking palsy, in which he captures the very essence of the disease:

SHAKING PALSY. (Paralysis Agitans.) Involuntary tremulous motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts [limbs] not in action and even when supported; with a propensity to bend the trunk forward, and to pass from a walking to a running pace: the senses and intellects being uninjured. As with so much of Parkinson’s work, it was not only his acute observational powers and attention to detail that enabled him to provide such an insightful commentary on the shaking palsy;

It was not until the 1860s that Parkinson’s Essay became widely cited. Daniel Maciachlan in his book A Practical Treatise on the Diseases and Infirmities of Advanced Life, written in 1863 refers to ‘Mr. Parkinson whose interesting essay must ever be referred to, as giving a faithful account of the symptoms of the disease from beginning to the end, and is still the best work on the subject’.8 Two years later, William Sanders, in a paper on an unusual case of nervous disease, which he called ‘pseudo-paralysis agitans’, also referred to Parkinson’s work and implied others were now following Parkinson’s classification of the symptoms. When going on to discuss a more appropriate name for the shaking palsy or paralysis agitans, Sanders refers to it as ‘Parkinson’s disease’, but in doing so he means the disease as described by Parkinson, and is not suggesting it should be called that. Along with several alternative names, he does propose paralysis agitans Parkinsonii, but this rather cumbersome mouthful did not catch on.9 It was more than 50 years after publication of Parkinson’s Essay before anyone seriously turned their attention to the disease, as Thomas Buzzard pointed out in 1882:

The disease ‘shaking palsy’, or ‘paralysis agitans’ … was first regularly described by our countryman Parkinson in 1817. Parkinson was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and his Essay on the Shaking Palsy presents so graphic and admirable a description of the disease that comparatively little has been left for subsequent observers to add to his account.

In our time Charcot has also made the disease the subject Of clinical investigation. In 1872, when giving a lecture on paralysis agitans, Charcot explained to his students that ‘The first regular description of it only dates from 1817; it is due to Dr Parkinson who published a little work entitled Essay on the Shaking Palsy’ .15 He also remarked how existing names for the disease were inappropriate since patients were not markedly weak or paralysed (paralysis agitans), but neither did they always have tremor, so the term shaking palsy was also unsuitable; it was then he suggested using the term maladie de Parkinson to describe the condition. ‘Parkinson’s disease’, he considered, was a much more appropriate name.

Accolades
Within weeks of the publication of Outlines, Parkinson received a most welcome surprise. Back in 1800 the Company of Surgeons had been granted a Royal Charter, becoming the Royal College of Surgeons, as it is still known today. Two years later the College established an Honorary Gold Medal to be awarded for ‘liberal acts or distinguished labors, researches and discoveries eminently conducive to the improvement of natural knowledge and of the healing art’. After twenty years, they still had not found anyone of sufficient caliber to be its first recipient, so it was to Parkinson’s great astonishment that a letter informed him the first Honorary Gold Medal would be awarded to ‘Mr. James Parkinson of Hoxton Square’,

… in consideration of his useful labors for the Promotion of natural Knowledge, particularly that expressed by his splendid Work on Organic Remains — and of his liberal and valuable information, when called upon by the College, in its Research for facts relating to its scientific Designs:

Accordingly, and appropriately on Parkinson’s 68th birthday,s he was made an Honorary Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and decorated with its Gold Medal. Sir William Blizard, the College President, delivered the oration, praising Parkinson for having provided the College, whenever asked, with information about fossils, for allowing other naturalists to consult his collection, and for the general ‘tenor’ of his scientific life. In particular, he considered that Parkinson’s work on both characterizing fossils and identifying the means by which they had been altered over long periods of time would prove invaluable not only to understanding the ‘physical Changes of this Globe’, but also to the sciences of anatomy, physiology and chemistry. Furthermore, by inspiring others to take up the subject, his work would live on. Sir William then conferred the medal on him: Mr. James Parkinson: by the Authority, and in the Name, of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, I deliver to you this Honorary Medal … And may you long enjoy the sweetest Solace of life, Reflect[ing] on your useful Works. Mr. Parkinson stood up and thanked Sir William, modestly protesting that the council had overestimated the value of his work. He went on to explain how his interest in fossils had been sparked by having seen Hunter’s collection almost 40 years ago, but he felt obliged to point out that solving some of the problems in paleontology would not necessarily contribute to a better understanding of anatomy and physiology, because the fossil remains of extinct species were so different from animals living today. Having thanked everyone for their favorable opinion of his exertions, Mr. Parkinson withdrew while the council finished its business.
Before the dinner could commence it was necessary for the council to suspend its regulation which prohibited ‘any member of the College in actual practice’ to dine with council members, which they accordingly enacted. It was an exceptional honor. Once the meeting was over, Parkinson sat down to dine with Sir William and eighteen members of council, which included all the great surgeons of the day: John Abernethy, Henry Cline, Sir Astley Cooper, Sir David Dundas, who had been physician to King George Ill; Sir Anthony Carlisle, then Surgeon Extraordinary to George IV; as well as his predecessor Professor Thomas Chevalier and twelve others. It was a magnificent gathering. 

AzureSql as Json Serializer : Blazing fast microservice

The startup site I was working, dubbed the educational network, lists courses from partners. To amplify engagement with users, we needed an elegant but simple commenting system.  Users when logged in can comment on a course they have taken and providers can reply to it – akin to airbnb or expedia site.
Before we shape this requirement into a microservice, lets see what Martin Fowler’s take on this: to quote him: One reasonable argument we’ve heard is that you shouldn’t start with a microservices architecture. Instead begin with a monolith, keep it modular, and split it into microservices once the monolith becomes a problem. (Although this advice isn’t ideal, since a good in-process interface is usually not a good service interface.) So we write this with cautious optimism. So far, we’ve seen enough about the microservice style to feel that it can be a worthwhile road to tread. We can’t say for sure where we’ll end up, but one of the challenges of software development is that you can only make decisions based on the imperfect information that you currently have to hand.)

As most startups’ backend architecture starts as a monolith API with an eye for future scalability, our startup site treads the same path but with two stern demands.

  1. design for exit, so that a future standalone microservice from monolith is a easier transition
  2. extract the max out of the given cloud resources and make this API as scalable now and then.

We’ll explore how we accomplished the above two tenets using AzureSql and ASP.NET Core tweaking ‘design & infra’ choices. We utilized a 5 eDTU 2GB Sql Server Db (costing $5/month, cheapest hosted db in azure) and a spare windows VM that can host this microservice. Backend was EF Core with hierarchical LINQ & Newtonsoft as Json Serializer. Performance was dismal and this necessitated a redesign to use AzureSql’s native JSON capability to hierarchical-ize and serialize results. Artillery.io proved nifty in load testing the API and triage the problem areas and achieve our goals.

Conclusion: Core 1.1 with Dapper can achieve 300+ API calls in a minute with a total throughput of 4MB data returned with median response time of 101 ms using merely one 5 eDTU SQL Server database (the very basic entry level db in azure)  hosting ~3 million comments and a million users.

This blog article can can also be used as a walk through to recreate the whole experience yourself – essentially you need a Azure Subscription and local SQL Server! It covers the use case – Disqus like Comment/Reply System, design methodology, query design, issues encountered and SQL db Json Serialization technique, Artillery.io API testing tool and all important load test results. The code is hosted @ github

What the business wanted? – “Comment & Reply” Requirements:

  1. Logged in users be able to comment on each course/service
  2. Course/Service Provider can reply to those comments
  3. Ability to have hierarchical comments but for now restricted to 1 level
  4. Multiple comments on a course/service by users allowed (no hierarchical – comment on comment)
  5. Provider can reply to a comment and alter it (no reply on reply)
  6. While browsing a course, able to see comments by users and replies to them by their providers if any

Entity Design

Table Utility
Users Users registered in the system
Courses Services provided by Users (registered as service providers)
Comments Comment for a course/service: Rating, Title, Remarks, CreatedOn – for which CourseId
CommentSnapshots First and Last Comment for User/Service combo

The above ERD depicts a run down version of the actual entities involved in the design, all attributes avoided for confidentiality. These attributes suffice for a base design of the problem we are discussing.

The idea to snapshot first and last comment is to provide a quick way to retrieve a comment by a user with intermediate comments are retrieved on demand – this is useful when comments per user is viewed either by an Admin or by user.  Also it’ll be useful to limit the search whether a user has really made at least a comment for a given service rather than searching the entire comment history in comments table to ascertain that. Again there could be even a better design but we started off with this which fulfills all the requirements outlined above.

We avoided having foreign keys as the system is destined to be compartmentalized and modular microservices is the final implementation where in each entity will be in its own domain and have their own services.

Infra Choice

DB
Being a Azure shop, we decided to use a Azure SQL Server with the very basic offering: a 5 e-DTU 2GB db at USD5 per month.

App Backend
Windows 2016 VM with 2GB RAM and SSD with ASP.NET Core Web API and IIS, We started with core 1.1 and also tested the solution using Core 2.0, the latest release to compare performance.

Data Prep

To test this system realistically, we’re looking at 1 million customers, 30k services/courses with ~2.5 to 3M comments. To create the customers, restore BigTestData.bak into a local SQL database from BigTestData.rar (refer to my GitHub dataspring/Retail and look for Getting started – Environment: Windows 7 and above with SQL Server Express 2012 and above – Steps to Generate Data)

  1. Create Comments database –> run 01-DataPrep-CreateDb.sql
  2. Create Functions and Indexes –> run 02-DataPrep-CreateFnsAndIndexes.sql
  3. Create ~1M Users –> 03-DataPrep-CopyUsers.sql
  4. Create ~2M Comments & ~1M Replies –> 04-DataPrep-FillData.sql (takes a while…..)

The gist of data generation:

  1. Pick Users with user id (<50000) to be providers (aka assumed -registered as providers)
  2. Create 40000 courses with providers iterated from a specific id of users
  3. Use a random user ID (between 500K to 1M) to create 15 comments for each of the 40K course
  4. Capture 1st and last comment in to CommentsSnapShot
  5. Create Reply for each of the comment
  6. Also randomly vary the content in the Title and Remark to be realistic
  7. Ensure all 15 comments have sufficient and proper chronological order
 ASP.NET Core & EF.Core – Some Thoughts

ASP.NET Core benchmarks are astounding given there was a blog before that I read and not sure it’s ‘use case’ is relevant but the load test we’re planning to do due course (as explained below) is a practical test with pragmatic data though.  Always micro ORM like Dapper keeps beating EF Core to the core as in this blog and I wanted to try Dapper as well in the load test.

Coding the API

Fire up your VS 2017 community and look for ASP.NET Core 1.1 Web API template and create your Web API project – Core1dot1Service and save the resulting solution as CoreBenchMarks. You can copy to entire code @ github and follow along as well.

I was contemplating on the final requirement (point 6.) and started off with the EF core and LINQ but there wasn’t lot of examples to do hierarchical queries in EF as clearly and succinctly on the web.
So I headed to do on my own and created a http get method with this LINQ query:

[HttpGet]
[Route("method/jsonfromlinq")]
public async Task<List<CommentBlock>> GetFromLinq(string ratingType, int courseId, int? userId = null, int skip = 0, int size = 10, int skipThread = 0, int sizeThread = 10 )
{
	return await
	_dbContext.CommentSnapShots
		.Where(r => r.CourseId == courseId && r.UserId == (userId ?? r.UserId) && r.CommentType == ratingType)
		.Join(_dbContext.Users,
		 r => r.UserId,
		 u => u.UserId,
		 (r, u) => new CommentBlock
		 {
			 UserDisplayName = u.DisplayName,
			 UserRating = r.LastRating,
			 Comment = r.LastRemarks,
			 UserLastUpdate = r.LastUpdate,
			 Comments = _dbContext.Comments.Where(c => c.CourseId == r.CourseId && c.UserId == r.UserId && c.CommentType == ratingType)
									 .Select(cm => new Comment
									 {
										 CommentId = cm.CommentId,
										 Rating = cm.Rating,
										 Remarks = cm.Remarks,
										 CreatedDate = cm.CreatedDate,
										 Reply = _dbContext.Comments.Where(rp => rp.ParentId == cm.CommentId && rp.CommentType == (ratingType + "Reply"))
												 .Select(ply => new Reply
												 {
													 Remarks = ply.Remarks,
													 CreatedDate = ply.CreatedDate
												 }).FirstOrDefault()
									 })
									   .OrderByDescending(o => o.CreatedDate)
									   .Skip(skipThread)
									   .Take(sizeThread)
									   .ToList()
		 })
		 .OrderByDescending(o => o.UserLastUpdate)
		 .Skip(skip)
		 .Take(size)
		 .ToListAsync();
 }

Hierarchical Design:
For a given Course ID/Service ID and Rating Type (‘Course’) :

  • extract Last Comment from ‘CommentSnapShots’ table (if a user ID is provided, filter by it)
    • and then all Comments reverse chronologically from ‘Comments’ table
      • and replies for every comment if any from service providers

and return whole set as hierarchical json object. As proved and expected LINQ queries are notoriously inefficient and so happened that during the load tests, no data were returned, as we can see in the next section which covers load testing.

Load Testing : Abandon VS Load Testing Tool & Embrace Artillery

Since I had VS 2013 Ultimate, wanted to give a try to see how good the load testing can be. It’s intuitive to record if you have an GUI for your APIs or you have to manually do your GET requests and record it in IE to be captured. With Windows 10, you have Edge but VS Load Testing recording still depends on IE and hence you got to install additional stuff. There was no great way to do POST API calls easily and randomizing data inputs, reading data from text files and integrating into the test was a pain that I had to abandon the whole exercise and move to best alternative – open source – Artillery.IO fits the bill fantastically and I was able to learn the whole thing within few hours. It was such a pleasant thing to do load testing on APIs with a simple and easy to understand yaml file and NodeJS.

Ensure you have latest Node and just follow getting started with Artillery.io. Create a solution folder under Solution called and ‘Artillery.LoadTests’ . Now there are 2 steps, generate random data to use and create load test script:

Just generate the data and copy it to folder where artillery yaml file is located

Select Top 5000
[SnapShotId]
,[CommentType]
,[CourseId]
,[UserId]
,[Skip] = [dbo].[Random_Range](0,3)
,Size = [dbo].[Random_Range](2,10)
,SkipThread = [dbo].[Random_Range_With_Default](0,1,0,8)
,SizeThread = [dbo].[Random_Range](2,10)
from [dbo].[CommentSnapShots]
ORDER BY NEWID()

If you’re hosting the .NET Core wherever, accordingly change the target.

config:
  environments:
      AzCore11:
        target: "http://comments.avantprise.com"
      AzCore2:
        target: "http://comcore2.avantprise.com"
      local:
        target: "http://localhost:43182"
  #target: "http://comments.avantprise.com"
  phases:
      - duration: 30
        arrivalCount: 10
        name: "Warm up phase"
      - duration: 60
        arrivalRate: 1
        name: "High load phase"
  processor: "./proc-functions.js"
  payload:
      path: "./testData.csv"
      fields:
          - "SnapShotId"
          - "CommentType"
          - "CourseId"
          - "UserId"
          - "Skip"
          - "Size"
          - "SkipThread"
          - "SizeThread"
      #order: "sequence"
# scenario definitions
scenarios:
  - name: "Stress Test JsonFromLinq API - where JSON is returned from LINQ"
    flow:
    - get:
          #----------- just for a given course ID -----------------------------
          url: "/api/comments/method/jsonfromlinq?ratingType={{CommentType}}&courseId={{CourseId}}&skip={{Skip}}&size={{Size}}&skipThread={{SkipThread}}&sizeThread={{SizeThread}}"
          afterResponse: "logResponse"
          #think: 5
    - log: "jsonfromLinq api call : ratingType={{CommentType}}, courseId={{CourseId}}, skip={{Skip}}, size={{Size}}, skipThread={{SkipThread}}, sizeThread={{SizeThread}}"

We’re using a simple loading pattern to start with:

  • A phase which generates a fixed count of new arrivals over a period of time : 10 users in 30 seconds
  • A phase with a duration and a constant arrival rate of a number of new virtual users per second : 1 user / second for 60 seconds
  • In total : 70 requests in 1.5 minute or 90 seconds

As you can see the below performance snapshot, EF Core LINQ is very performant on the Laptop (perhaps spec is good) but when ported to Azure VM with 5 DTU Auzre SQL, simply doesn’t work!
To mitigate this performance issue, we have to redesign the whole data access and perhaps relinquish the abstraction which LINQ provides and need to go bare metal – to database level and unravel how far we can stress the system to be performant. Options available to accomplish this are both from code and infra:

  1. Scale Azure SQL to 30 or more DTUs
  2. Use a 3rd party Json Serilaizer with existing LINQ query
  3. Partition LINQ query into individual queries in option 2
  4. Abandon LINQ and go bare metal on SQL : Stored Proc and Json Serializatioin in SQL Server

We embarked on option 4 which provides cost effective solution and can be quick win if we need to scale within budget.

LINQ query was redesigned as stored proc with TSQL’s powerful JSON capability to hierarchical-ize and serialize the result and return json text.

Proc Design – Version 1

	SELECT u.displayName
	,c.courseId
	--,c.UserId
	,c.commentType
	,c.lastTitle
	,c.lastRating
	,c.lastRemarks
	,c.lastUpdate
	,c.lastCommentId
	----------------------------
	,(
		SELECT t.commentId
			,t.title
			,t.rating
			,t.remarks
			,t.createdDate
			---------------------------------
			,(
				SELECT r.commentId
					,(Select top 1 displayName from Users usr where usr.UserId = r.UserId) as displayName
					,r.title
					,r.remarks
					,r.createdDate
				FROM Comments AS r
				WHERE r.CourseId = t.CourseId
					--AND r.UserId = t.UserId
					AND r.CommentType = t.CommentType + 'Reply'
					AND r.ParentId = t.CommentId
				FOR JSON PATH, INCLUDE_NULL_VALUES
				) AS reply
		----------------------------------
		FROM Comments AS t
		WHERE t.CourseId = c.CourseId
			AND t.UserId = c.UserId
			AND t.CommentType = c.CommentType
			--AND t.ParentId = 0
		ORDER BY t.CreatedDate DESC
		OFFSET @SkipThread ROWS
		FETCH NEXT @SizeThread ROWS ONLY
		FOR JSON PATH, INCLUDE_NULL_VALUES
		) AS thread
	---------------------------
	FROM CommentSnapShots AS c
	INNER JOIN Users AS u ON c.UserId = u.UserId
	WHERE Isnull(c.CourseId, '') = Isnull(COALESCE(@CourseId, c.CourseId), '')
		AND c.UserId = COALESCE(@UserId, c.UserId)
		AND c.CommentType = @RatingType
	ORDER BY c.LastUpdate DESC
	OFFSET @Skip ROWS
	FETCH NEXT @Size ROWS ONLY
	FOR JSON PATH, INCLUDE_NULL_VALUES

SqlServer as Json Serializer is achieved using the FOR JSON construct and iterating the design through its options makes the result nearly similar to what you get from LINQ based hierarchial results serialized by Newtonsoft serializer.

Issues in Version 1 and Mitigation:

  1. TSQL has a nice feature called COALESCE function which comes handy if any of the filter fields are null or not provided, we can easily manage the WHERE clause but it hurts performance hugely and either you have to use a dynamic SQL or altogether remove COALESCE function in the WHERE clause.
  2. Key Lookup is a costly affair in the SQL execution which is evident from peeking into the execution plan, hence you need to have a corresponding non-clustered index fields matching the query WHERE clause fields and Include columns matching the selected fields…great example here.
  3. Yet another aspect is to accept dirty reads – which I’ve not tried here but worth if a slight marginal error is acceptable. You can use NOLOCK which his functionally equivalent to an isolation level of READ UNCOMMITTED. If you plan to use NOLOCK on all tables in a complex query, then using SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL READ UNCOMMITTED is easier, because you don’t have to apply the hint to every table.

Version 2 removed coalesce and created a handful of non-clustered indexes with INCLUDE columns to remove all key lookups and literally leap-frog query performance including selected columns in the indexes themselves. Final stored proc code is here and the corresponding Web API is using json string pass-through to send teh results back from db without attempting any .NET Core level serialization.Check out the code below.

[HttpGet]
[Route("method/jsonfromdapper")]
public async Task<ContentResult> GetFromDapper(string ratingType, int? courseId, int? userId = null, int skip = 0, int size = 10, int skipThread = 0, int sizeThread = 10)
{

	using (var connection = new SqlConnection(ConnectionConfig.DefaultConnection))
	{
		connection.Open();

		DynamicParameters dp = new DynamicParameters();

		dp.Add("@RatingType", ratingType ?? (object)DBNull.Value, DbType.String);
		dp.Add("@CourseId", courseId ?? (object)DBNull.Value, DbType.Int32);
		dp.Add("@UserId", userId ?? (object)DBNull.Value, DbType.Int32);
		dp.Add("@Skip", skip, DbType.Int32);
		dp.Add("@Size", size > 20 ? 20 : size, DbType.Int32);
		dp.Add("@SkipThread", skipThread, DbType.Int32);
		dp.Add("@SizeThread", sizeThread > 20 ? 20 : sizeThread, DbType.Int32); ;

		var results = await connection.QueryAsync<string>("GetComments", dp, commandType: CommandType.StoredProcedure);

		List<string> jsonResults = new List<string>();

		return Content(string.Join("", results.ToArray()), new MediaTypeHeaderValue("application/json"));
	}

}

Load Test Results
Armed with the optimized stored proc that also does JSON serialization, next is to really test this to ascertain how much the minimum infra can withstand when goes live. It seems the App VM wasn’t the bottleneck but the DB in the end. A simple yet comprehensive load testing regime was used here to compare and contrast and conclude.

Following were the versions tried:

  1. API as such with LINQ query – with ASP.NET Core 1.1 & EF Core 1.1
  2. API with optimized Stored Proc (that hierachial and serilizaes results within) – with ASP.NET Core 1.1 & EF Core 1.1
  3. API with optimized Stored Proc (that hierarchical-izes and serializes results within) – with ASP.NET Core 1.1 & Dapper (the best ORM out there)
  4. Point 2 & 3 – with ASP.NET Core 2.0 and EF Core 2.0

Load Pattern: Ramp-up with 10 users/calls in 30 sec and add 1 user/call every sec for next 60 seconds

Results are here:

Pattern with Random Data: Ramp-up with 10 users/calls in 30 sec and add 5 user/call every sec for next 60 seconds and the results, as you can see data throughput more or less same :

The conclusion is clear, winner is Core 1.1 with Dapper and can achieve 300+ API calls in a minute with a total throughput of 4MB data returned with median response time of 101 ms using merely 5 eDTU SQL Server database hosting ~3 million comments and a million users.

Test results are available @ Github for console outputs and json results during artillery load testing.

 

Pareto, Elites & Unequal Distribution

A fantastic book that repudiates classical and neo-classical models of economy which has led to countless busts and never was able to predict those busts and still clamors to be the best out there. These are the economyhths which are decimated in the book and a new order and model is what is required to counter the unknowns is enunciated but still this is not foolproof as we can never predict the next earthquake but lest be prepared. Some pages were fascinating and one such excerpt is the one below that I connect with is worth giving here to induce interest in this book Economyths by David Orrell. Happy reading!

It’s not that many young people do not have aspirations. It is that they are blocked Such elitism is unjust socially And it can no longer mark economically. Alan Blilburn MP (2009).

Economists are taught that, in principle at least, a well-run market economy is fundamentally fair, so while luck and random effects may be involved, our actual chance of success depends only on merit. The whole point of a competitive market, after all, is that everyone has an equal shot. This belief in an underlying equality influences everything from taxation policy to the pay packages of CEOs. Yet in recent decades, the income distribution has become increasingly skewed, with most of the benefits of increased productivity accruing to the top few per cent of the population. Ibe reason, as this chapter shows, is that markets are not fair and balanced, and the rich really do get richer.

Economic models in general have continued to shy away from distinguishing economic agents based on power, influence, access to information, connections, gender, race, class, or any other characteristic. As Norbert Häring and Niall Douglas note in their book Economists and the Powerful, such imbalances are ‘defined away by standard assumptions of most mainstream economic models’. Milton Friedman even argued that properly functioning free markets would automatically render them irrelevant: ‘there is an economic incentive in a free market to separate economic efficiency from other characteristics of an individual. A businessman or an entrepreneur who expresses preferences in his business activities that are not related to productive efficiency is at a disadvantage compared to other individuals who do not. Such an individual is in effect imposing higher costs upon himself than are other individuals who do not have such preferences. Hence, in a free market they will tend to drive him out.’ According to theory, sexism, racism or any other form of discrimination is inefficient, so in a pure (i.e. symmetrical) market it wouldn’t exist. Economic transactions are more or less the same, regardless of who is involved or when they take place. It is amusing to compare this picture with the highly ritualized, Vatican-like hiring practice standard in economics departments, which according to one sociological study is characterized by elitism, hierarchy, networking, and male-bias.) Of course, no economist would claim that the real economy is perfectly fair or stable, or that each participant has access to exactly the same information.

As seen with the subprime crisis, though, these assumptions soon begin to look ridiculous when you compare them with the real world. Markets aren’t just slightly asymmetric, they’re totally out of whack. Is it really OK to assume that Goldman Sachs and subprime mortgage holders are competing on a level playing field and have access to the same information? Is Wal-Mart versus the local corner store really a fair fight? And does it really make no difference where you are born, who your parents are, what schools you went to, who your friends are, or what your history is?

Circulation of the Elites
The French statesman Georges Clemenceau is attributed with the saying that ‘Any man who is not a socialist at age 20 has no heart. Any man who is still a socialist at age 40 has no head.’ Following a similar kind of trajectory, perhaps, neoclassical economics started off in an idealistic vein. aim of people like Jevons, Walras and Pareto was to put economics on a rational basis, and thus improve the living standards of the general population. Jevons was brought up in a Unitarian tradition concerned with social conditions, and spent much of his free time walking the streets of the cities he lived in — Sydney, Manchester, London — observing the conditions of the poor and contemplating the connections between poverty and economics. Walras inherited his socialist ideals from his father, and spent a number of years working in the cooperative movement before taking up his professorship at Lausanne.

As a young man, Vilfredo Pareto was a dedicated democrat, and took pleasure in- attacking the Italian government for corruption and corporatism. After the May 1898 riots in Milan, which were organized by the Italian Socialist Party and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, Pareto offered his home in Switzerland to socialist exiles and leftist radicals. Even by 1891, though, when Pareto was 43, it appeared that his head was pulling in another direction. He wrote to Walras. ‘I give up the combat in defense of liberal economic theories in Italy. My friends and I get nowhere and lose our time; this time is much more fruitfully devoted to scientific study.’  He began to believe that his youthful passion for leftist ideals had been based on emotion rather than logic, and that all human societies were inherently corrupt and irrational.
Pareto’s cynicism about human motivations was no doubt fuelled in 1901 when he returned home from a trip to find that his wife had run off with the cook and 30 cases of possessions. Under Italian law, Pareto couldn’t get a divorce. He had inherited a large sum of money from an uncle in 1898, enough to make him financially independent. In 1907 he resigned his university position and retired to his villa near Lake Geneva, where he lived with a woman 30 years his junior called Jeanne Régis, a large stock of the finest wines and liqueurs, and eighteen Angora cats (the house was called Villa Angora).

Pareto continued to blast off incendiary books, articles and letters, but his aim switched from trying to change society, to analyzing it from his detached vantage point — rather as an entomologist might analyze the social goings-on of an anthill, but with more spite and irony. In his million-word tome Treatise on General Sociology, he argued that human behavior is driven by irrational desires, which are then justified by particular ideologies. To understand society, one therefore had to focus on the underlying irrational desires, which he classified into six types. The most important were innovation (Class I) and conservation (Class Il). Everyone was motivated by a mix of these classes, but one could nevertheless speak of ‘Class I’ types, who are clever and calculating, and ‘Class Il’ types, who are slower, more bureaucratic, and dependent on force.

Pareto had earlier discovered the power-law distribution of wealth (the 80-20 rule) in Italy and other countries, and wrote that it ‘can be compared in some respects to Kepler’s law in astronomy; we still lack a theory that may make this law of distribution rational in the way in which the theory of universal gravitation has made Kepler’s law rational’. Today, we would describe it as an emergent property of the economy. In his retirement, Pareto came to see this highly-skewed power law as a kind of snapshot that revealed the underlying dynamics of any society.

At the top is a small elite consisting of a mix of Class I and Class Il people who are engaged in a Machiavellian struggle for power. There is always a degree of social mobility, so the composition of the elite changes as people enter or leave. The balance between the two classes therefore varies with time, in a process Pareto called the circulation of the elite. If too many innovative and intelligent Class I people (Machiavelli’s foxes) get in power, then the conservative Class IIS will plot a takeover. If the elite is dominated by Class IIS (Machiavelli’s lions), then it will become overly bureaucratic and reactive and the Class Is will make their move. This process can be smooth and gradual; but, if the circulation becomes blocked, so that ‘simultaneously the upper strata are full of decadent elements and the lower strata are full of elite elements’, then the social state ‘becomes highly unstable and a violent revolution is imminent’.
Pareto demonstrated his argument with numerous case studies. Perhaps the best illustration, though, was the coming to power in Italy of Mussolini’s Fascist government. Mussolini liked the idea of powerful lions taking over from foxes grown corrupt and ineffectual, and appointed Pareto Senator of the Kingdom of Italy. In 1923, Pareto finally managed to obtain a divorce and marry Jeanne Régis, before dying the same year.

How to get Rich
While Pareto’s sociological arguments have dated a bit in the last hundred years, his observation that wealth is distributed according to a power law has remained accurate — except that the elite has grown relatively smaller and more powerful. figure below is a summary of how the world’s wealth was distributed among the total 3.7 billion adults in the year 2000, according to a United Nations report. Adults required a relatively modest net worth of 2,138 to count themselves in the wealthiest 50 per cent To be in the top 10 per cent (370 million adults) they needed S61 This group owned over 80 per cent of the total wealth Anyone with $510,000 was in the top I per cent (that’s 37 million adults)- Together, this small sliver of the world population controlled 40 per of the world’s financial assets. Contrast that with the bottom half, who collectively controlled about 1 per cent of the wealth. Someone born into the world at random would stand a 50 per cent chance of ending up in that group of 1.85 billion adults. (As discussed in the update on page 216, wealth distribution in many countries has become considerably more skewed in recent years.)
Rather impressively, the power-law distribution of wealth extends all the way up to the world’s richest billionaires. In 2009 the world’s richest person was Bill Gates, with a net worth of $40 billion. To put that in perspective, suppose that you made a plot of the wealth of everyone on the planet, in order from richest to poorest. If you continued the plot up to the 99th percentile, then the vertical scale of the graph would have to be around half a million dollars (this will have changed slightly since 2000). But if you wanted to contain Bill Gates, or his friend Warren Buffett, then the vertical scale would need to expand by a factor of about 80,000.

image
Bar graph the wealth distribution in Yr 2000. The top decile (10 per cent) controls 80 percent of the total wealth. Deciles 6 through 10, which represent the bottom 50 percent of the population, control about 1 per cent in total

Wealth is also of course not distributed evenly in geographical terms. In 2000 the USA and Canada together had 34 per cent of the wealth, Europe had 30 per cent, rich Asian-Pacific countries had 24 per cent, and the rest of the world including Latin America and Africa held 12 per cent. This mix is changing as countries like China, India and Brazil continue to experience explosive growth and claim a larger share of the world’s economic pie. From these data alone, one can therefore conclude that the world economy is highly asymmetric. A small number of people enjoy a huge proportion of the world’s wealth, while billions live in poverty. same kind of pattern is seen repeating itself fractally over different scales. Every city has its own local elite, as does every country or region. Tie sprawling metropolis of greater Säo Paulo, Brazil, for example, now has some 500 helicopters, more than any other city in the world. The rich find them a good way to avoid traffic jams that can extend for over a hundred miles.ll Also they’re hard to steal.

Apart from his discovery of the power-law wealth distribution, another aspect of Pareto’s work to have passed the test of time was his insistence that humans act primarily on the basis of psychological, motivations, and justify those actions on the basis of ideology. Ellie ruling elite always has a very good argument as to why it should be in charge and have most of the wealth and be flying the helicopter. Today, that argument goes by names such as the invisible hand, the efficient market, or mainstream economics.

Broken Symmetry
Adam Smith’s concept of the invisible hand is usually taken to refer to the price mechanism. However, his first use of the expression, in his 1759 work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is on the subject of wealth distribution: ‘The rich divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal pro- portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.’ The invisible hand refers here not to the magic of the market, but to an early version of trickle-down economics.
Since the economy has patently failed to align itself with this happy picture, at the level of individual countries or the entire globe, one might ask what forces have created such a skewed distribution. According to Smith’s later work The Wealth of Nations (1776), free markets tend to drive prices towards ‘The natural price, or the price of free competition’. That applies to the price of labor, so it follows that an individual’s earnings should reflect the person’s inherent value to society. Efficient market theory similarly argues that markets allocate resources efficiently, and that includes wages. If Quetelet’s picture of the ‘average man’ is correct, and our abilities are randomly distributed according to a normal distribution, then one might expect wealth to be symmetrically distributed in the same way — most people would be in the middle, and there would be only a few who are very poor or very rich. The reality in most countries is obviously very different, so either our financial elites are incredibly talented, or something else is going on. One prevailing economyth is that the economy is inherently stable and at equilibrium i.e., it is symmetrical in time and so history doesn’t matter. However, there is the old saying that ‘the rich get richer’, and it certainly seems that to make a lot of money, it helps to have some in the first place.

Imagine as a thought experiment that a city-sized group of people are given a windfall of $100 each, under the condition that they must keep it invested in a rather volatile and unproductive stock market. Each person makes their own investments, with an average real return of 0 per cent and a standard deviation of 5 per cent. After one year, most people’s nest eggs will be in the range $90 to $110, and will be distributed according to the bell curve with a peak at 100 and a standard deviation of 5. As time goes on, though, the distribution becomes increasingly skewed. If we follow the worth of the investments as they are passed down through generations for 150 years (about the age of economics), then the resulting wealth distribution looks like a figure, which is quite similar to the actual wealth distribution in above figure. Obviously this is not a serious model of how wealth changes with time. It only tracks the value of imaginary investment port- folios, and ignores other kinds of economic transactions (more realistic agent-based models can be constructed, if desired). However, it does demonstrate the simple fact that, left to their own devices, investments will tend to concentrate themselves in fewer and fewer hands. To use the physics term, it is an example of symmetry breakings At the start of the simulation, everything is perfectly symmetrical. Each person has exactly the same initial amount of money. also have identical chances of success with their investments -— no one is assumed to be more talented at picking stocks, But over a period of time, some start to pull ahead of the pack reason is that there is a positive feedback effect at work A person whose sum has grown already from the initial $100 to $1,000 can hope to make another $I00 in the coming year. They might instead lose that much, but at least they have the opportunity, Someone whose savings fund has shrunk to SIO can only hope to make another dollar.
As the simulation is run for more years, the wealth becomes increasingly concentrated, until eventually only a few people are left gambling with the entire wealth of the community. If a person were born at random into such a population, their chance of being in the elite would be negligibly small. So even though the laws that govern this toy economy are symmetrical and non-discriminatory, the system tends to evolve towards an increasingly skewed state. Time matters.

Britishisms and Americanisms

English English EE, American English AE, Some excerpts from “That’s not English” by Erin Moore. Hope with this, you may enjoy buying and reading this book.

QUITE
EE: quite means “rather” or “fairly”, and is subtle way of damning with faint praise. An English author receives an editorial letter from her American editor who “quite” likes her new book (Insult!) AE: quite simply means “very” and amps the adjective. No subtlety there. An American student finds it impossible to get a job in UK based on glowing recommendation letters submitted by her professors, whose highest praise is “quite intelligent and hard-working” (Shock!). An English houseguest confesses to being “quite hungry” and is served a steak of punishing size by an oblivious American friend (Horror!)

MOREISH
An adjective describing the quality of certain foods that make one want to keep eating them.English snaffle.Typical English snack sizes are smaller than Americans. Peanut butter are of size that can fit into a shoe whereas Americans are bucket sizes. American snacks may be labelled “family-size” but conveniently, the size of the family is not specified. American potato chips come with health claims: low-fat, gluten-free, no trans fats, calcium-enriched whereas in England its not so but sometimes came with small packet of slat to be added or with a claim “ready salted”

MUFTI – An Indian English word which means plainclothes, irrespective English love uniforms whereas Americans nope.English children wear uniforms from age 4 and there’s broad agreement, crossing political lines and class lines, that uniforms are a good idea improving discipline and focus and leaving class distinctions. Fewer than quarter of American schools have uniform policies. Americans are less comfortable with the idea of uniforms than the English, and when objecting to them, they often invoke the ideal of defending individual freedom and rights to expression. English always wonder given this line of thought why Americans always wear same jeans and T-shirts? Americans are in their “fanny packs” (fanny is slang for vagina in EE) whereas in AE slang fanny is vajay-jay. in EE, it’s called “bum bags”. England’s fashion to some extent is foppish and retro compared to American in certain items.

GOBSMACKED – figuratively to be flabbergasted, astounded or amazed

TRAINERS – fitness differences
Running shoes in AE is called “sneakers” and in EE is called “trainers”. Americans are joiners and appreciate the social aspects of shared workout experience and love their gyms – and not just because extreme weather and unwalkable suburbs make outside exercise difficult in many places. The English are more often head outside for their exercise. Outdoor activity is a huge part of English children whereas American schools are dropping their PE programs and cancelling recess, English schools are fanatical about games, and getting children outside in all weather. A rhyme often repeated to young children in shorts, as their knees turn blue is:
Whether the weather be fine, Or whether the weather be not
Whether the weather be cold, Or whether the weather be hot
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not

Fit or not, English love their countryside. Within minutes by car or train of any town or city, one can reach-instead of strip malls and big-box stores as far as eyen can see-unbroken stretches of walkable land – a testament to England’s devotion to county walking.

SORRY
A dozen inflections of the word sorry exists in EE and only one of them really means sorry! Here are just a few of the many moods and meanings these two syllables convey:
”Sorry!” (I steeped on your foot)
”Sorry.” (You stepped on my foot)
”Sorry?” (I didn’t;t catch want you said)
”SOrry.” (You are an idiot)
”SORRy.” (Get out of my way)
”SorRY.” (The nerve of some people)
”I’m sorry but….” (Actually I’m not at all)
”Sorry….” (I can;t help you)

TOILET
It’s rare that a word like “scunner” crosses nationalities, but we have a winner in “toilet”. It is generally, though by no means universally, unloved on both sides of the moist, moist Atlantic. (another most hated word is moist – due its connotations to body fluids, etc.) Americans use bathroom in homes and restrooms in public. British have their own loo and lavatory.

CHEERS
The English have a reputation for being passive-aggressive because they seem not to be saying what they mean—at least, not with words. In English culture, an anodyne word like sorry takes on shades of meaning that someone from outside will not be able to discern with any degree of sophistication, especially if he is from a culture that is more comfortable with confrontation, or one that condones a wider range of small talk among strangers. The English use sorry to protest, to ask you to repeat yourself, to soothe, and to smooth over social awkwardness as much as – if not more than – they use it to apologize. But most of the time, their object is pointlessness of a particularly English kind, to wit: politeness as refusal.
English courtesy often takes the form of what Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson have called “negative politeness”—which depends on keeping a respectful distance from others and not imposing on them. Its opposite, positive politeness, is inclusive and assumes others’ desire for our approval. Only the Japanese—masters of negative politeness—have anything even approaching the English sorry reflex. No wonder visiting Americans are so often caught off guard.
Although Americans and the English have different drinking customs and habits, cheers has been used as a toast in both countries for nearly a century. It comes from the Old French chiere, meaning face. Cheer later came to mean an expression or mood, and later a good mood, In England by the mid-1970s, cheers had become a colloquial synonym for thanks. Cheers has been used that way by the English ever since, and is a remarkably flexible word, It is, for one thing, a great class leveler:

Practically everyone gays it, and it is appropriate to say to anyone (with the possible exception of the queen, and yet the younger royals surely use it).Where does this leave cheers? Perhaps because of visits to England, or the influence of English novels, television, journalism, Americans have begun to adopt the “thanks/good-bye” meaning of late. As one American said, “I enjoy hearing [cheers] instead of the worn out ‘later’ or ‘see ya later.’ Like it or not,the Yanks and the Brits are cousins, and that’s that. Cheers!” Need less to say, not everyone shares his enthusiasm.

An English banker living in New York groused, “I’m getting sick of my clients saying cheers to me. Americans say cheers like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, with too much enthusiasm. It  must be delivered laconically.” Delivery does counts The English say “Chis” out of the sides of their mouths when they mean thank you or good-bye. Americans do not pickup on this, and say cheers the same—toothily, hitting the r a bit hard and implying an exclamation point—whether they mean it as a toast or a casual good-bye. Some Americans are just as irritated by their compatriots’ appropriation of cheers.

BESPOKE
The word bespoke is virtually unknown in America, which is astonishing because you would think that the American advertising industry would love to get its grubby mitts on a classy word like that. But just because the word is seldom heard and the typical American man wears mostly khakis or jeans and sneakers doesn’t mean America lacks the concept. “Having it your way” is considered a birthright by Americans, who bring a curatorial zeal to almost everything they do.

Clothing may not be bespoke in America, but want to know what is? Sandwiches. No one behind the deli counter will raise an eyebrow as you order to your eleven exacting specifications. Then, they will make it, fast, with no eye-rolling. Did I mention this is also cheap? When I went back to America, after a long absence, I was a little miffed when my roast (NOT honey roast) turkey, Swiss cheese, spicy mustard, light mayo, pickles, tomatoes, no lettuce, on whole wheat had gone up to $6.50. However, when it arrived it was not only a work of art, but a truly intimidating size.

The shops in England that offer the most choice today are actually borrowing the word bespoke from Savile Row: bespoke cakes, bespoke sandwiches, bespoke coffees. Everything is spoken for now. The dumbing down of the concept of bespoke in its native country would make Mr. Collins, haberdasher, of the USA, want to stick a needle in his eye. It may sound a bit silly, but it represents a level of choice that is actually new for England.

FORTNIGHT
Americans and the English have very similar attitudes toward time. Both cultures value punctuality and hard work and live by the clock. They share a sense of time as a resource that can be saved, spent, or wasted, though perhaps only an American would express the opinion, in earnest, that “time is money.” They do have subtly different ways of expressing the passage of time, but these are never sources of lasting confusion. The English write their dates starting with the day first, followed by the month and then the year. Americans start with the month. The English use a twenty-four-hour clock, in which 4:30 P.M. is expressed as “16.30” whenever precision is called for, such as scheduling (pronounced sheduling) meetings or talking about train or flight times. With the exception of their military, Americans go by a twelve-hour clock. Americans say “four thirty” or “half past four.” The English do, too, but they also might say “half four.”

The English have a special word, fort- night, that means two weeks. Americans just say two weeks. TWO weeks—one bloody fortnight—is the amount of time the English are appalled to hear that Americans “only” have for holiday (vacation) each year. This is perhaps the one point of true divergence when it comes to English and American attitudes toward time. The English get—and take—at least twenty days of vacation, plus public holidays (called bank holidays), amounting to a full month of paid vacation each year. Twenty days is the minimum allowed under European Union rules, and England is surrounded by countries where people take even more vacation than the English do. The French get about nine weeks, and even the Germans have eight, which does not seem like something Angela Merkel would have signed off on. Paid vacation is therefore seen as a human right, not a privilege, and the English feel fully entitled to take advantage of it.

SMART
Americans have an ambivalent relationship with the word smart. Listen to the way they use it, and you might question whether they think being smart is really such a good thing after all:
“I’ve had it with your smart-ass comments.”
“No one likes a smart aleck.”
“Don’t get smart with me! ”
In America, it’s perfectly fine to be a show-off if you are a talented athlete, or musician, or entrepreneur, but it’s not cool to be too intellectual. The brightest kids in school are rarely the most liked or popular, and this can last into adulthood if they don’t figure out where braininess is welcome and where it isn’t. No one wants smart people lording it over them. It’s why people who go to top universities won’t mention them by name in mixed company. “I went to college in Boston” is code for “I went to Harvard, but please like me anyway.” Americans don’t like elitism—and they associate intellectualism with elitism. This has been one of Barack Obama’s recurring challenges as president. His critics look for every opportunity to prove he is, as The New York Times reported, “a Harvard-educated millionaire elitist who is sure that he knows best and thinks that those who disagree just aren’t in their right minds. Never mind that Mr. Obama was raised in less exalted circumstances by a single mother who needed food stamps.

In England, like America, playing up your intelligence is just plain bad manners—not because it’s uncool to be bright, or because it’s considered elitist, but because it’s showing off, and as Sarah Lyell asserts in her book, A Field Guide to the British, “boasting … makes you seem aggressive, ambitious, self-regarding, puffed up—verging on American. The evils of those things are ingrained in them at school, where they are discouraged from saying they are better than anyone else, even when they are.” Even Oscar Wilde, one of the biggest show-offs the British Isles ever produced, knew this. He made valiant attempts at self-deprecation, but never really carried it off, once saying, “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”

DUDE
Americans think that all English people sound posh, and they won’t let the English forget it. Those who spend a lot of time in America, especially British expats, aren’t thrilled about the constant compliments they get about their accents, and some find them intrusive. There are more than sixty-six thousand members of a Facebook page called “I hate the way Americans think us English people all speak dead posh.” (Dead can be used in English English to mean “completely,” as it is here.) In England, accent is a strong indicator of one’s place in the class hierarchy. Many people grow up feeling self-conscious of what their accents reveal about them, whether they are posh or not, and compliments can make them feel a bit uncomfortable.

The English are constantly exposed to a variety of American accents and vocabulary through television and movies. Americans’ less-enunciated accents, and tendency to speak louder than the English are used to, make them sound brash, confident, and a little sloppy. American slang contributes to this impression, cutting across socioeconomic and gender lines far more than English slang, which is stratified. For example, to the English middle and upper classes, something they like will be “brilliant,” and if they agree with something you say, they may do so by saying -Quite.” A working-class person from London or Essex, seeking agreement, will use the question tag “innit” at the end of a sentence, in the same way an American might say “amlright?” It is harder to tell Americans’ social class from the words they use, and as a result Americans of all classes can sound similarly unrefined. There is no word that typifies this phenomenon more thoroughly than dude. Dude is a word that—no matter how often they are exposed to it—the English will not adopt. It is one of the most American-sounding words there is. And the story of dude is also the story of how American slang can become universal and classless in a way that is hard to imagine happening in England. Ironically, this aggressively casual word that, in today’s American English, might refer to a person of either sex.

PROPER
This definition, while not entirely unknown, is not the primary one in America. If an American hears “a proper cup of tea,” he is apt to picture a pinkie-lifting exercise in etiquette— not the strong and hot brew this phrase calls to the English mind. All the most common American uses of the word proper are about conforming to convention, being respectable and appropriate, formal and sedate. When Americans call something proper they are thinking refined, virtuous, boring. Being proper means likely having to pretend to be something one isn’t. Being genuine, or “real,” is far more desirable in American society than being proper. What Americans might not realize is that when the English say proper, genuine and real is precisely what they mean.

SCRAPPY
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can get you into real trouble. Whether you mean to insult or compliment, you’d better first make sure that the word you choose means what you think it means. For example, if something is cozy and comfortable in England it might be called homely. In America, homely means ugly. In England, a muppet is a foolish or incompetent person. In America, a muppet is a character from the beloved TV show by Jim Henson. Someone (or something) described as scrappy in England is untidy or poorly organized, whereas in America, someone who is scrappy is determined to win or achieve something, often in spite of mitigating circumstances. In America, scrappy is a compliment that carries the connotation of the underdog.

PULL
Imagine for a moment you are learning English as a foreign language. What would you make of words and phrases like pull, snog, pick up, make out, and screw? Do these sound like events in the World’s Strongest Man competition? Lesser-known Olympic sports? Things that might happen at a Monster Truck Rally? (SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! BE THERE! BE THERE’. BE THERE!) Courtship slang in English is anything but dignified. Of course, there are words in English for perfectly innocent activities, like retrieving golf balls from practice ranges, that are just as strange. Does ball shagging sound like something it ought to be legal to pay a young boy to do? Pull, snog, and shag are the English synonyms for pick up, make out, and screw. 

How well have we mastered ‘the science of teams’?

Startups and established teams face tremendous pressure to deliver. The breakneck speed of changes in languages and framework ecosystems, delivering code well thought out and written for maintainability and scalability adds another dimension to this pressure.  But the one that stands most out is level of interaction and collaboration within the team and outside. As we manage this chaos with routine practices like recruiting good talent, enticing with good options, equipping with best infrastructure and software tools, training and orienting in best practices, pair programming and team building to enhance group interactions may not be sufficient in short and long term.

Personally, I have been through lots of drab team building activities – paintballs, movie togethers, charity activities, dinner and dances, laugh it throughs, corporate self-help trainings, Da Vinci Code themed hunts on taxi hops, etc.  Take a moment and name those you have attended so far and my question is – has it really improved your outlook of working collaboratively, boosted output and understanding of your peers and sneers?

A stream of questions arises. Does your team have the requisite team dynamics, energy and camaraderie to act in unison to deliver what the company wants out of them – orchestrated by the program/project lead? Is team cohesion and communication superb or subpar? Also, is there a practical, genuine and approachable way to rejuvenate and maintain the team spirit? Has our mastery of ‘the science of teams’ adequate to meet these challenges?

‘The science of teams’ answer needn’t be high octane. Enter the Board Game.

boardgame

You might think I’m silly and guess what? a board game is a family activity for leisure and fun, full of name calling, commotion, laughs, benign barbs, teasing, strategizing and winning. But it’s more than that.  There’s no sense of loss even when you lose the game – all that matters, is the journey. It’s full of fun, camaraderie, surprise and ample talk and that’s what we need for teams in team building – gentle yet reinforcing. The corporate driven, high octane team building activities isn’t going to help in anyway. Conversely, it benefits only event companies, and drains the ‘must be spent’ budget.

When I joined this gaming enterprise’s data team that had a close-knit group of developers, artists and learning designers, I was skeptical of what playing a ‘Board Game’ can bring to the team which is already developing 3D games (using Unity) for their bread and butter. I was wrong, it did wonders. We have ‘Board Game’ time every fortnight sandwiched between the last hours of work time and the evening. We start our sessions around 5pm and end around 7pm, so the team members are not disrupted of their routine commute. There’s a choice of drinks for every other person – beer, wine, coffee and sodas. Of course, depending on the budget – some healthy finger foods and pizza. Obviously, the game master is the one who has supposedly gone through the rule book and is expected to be familiar with the game by either playing it her/himself, or watching it explained from YouTube videos by the game provider. We take turns to be the game master to save time and guide rest of the team to be effective, extracting maximum fun out of the play. Ideally the board should support at least 4 or 6 players. If the team size is 8, then others can join to form groups within. Those who are really not interested in participating can be spectator supporter for a player still. Those who were reluctant initially became active players subsequently.

What I noticed and witnessed for myself during game play: people talk freely (over their choice of drink and food), discuss their strategy, question, cheer and tease other players. Every dice throw is fun in anticipation of their desired number to catapult their position in the game. With constant conversation around rules, booties won and lost, twists and turns the game – takes you through a journey of fun, anticipation and interaction – hence camaraderie & respect develops. This breaks the ice, and starts conversation that flows beyond play time into work time. The fun is amplified, when the winner decides who the future game master is and new game to play next time from the repertoire of board games in stock, sometimes even proposing a new board game to buy. Every year our budget is to acquire 6 new games in the $100 to $150 price range with older ones given away to employees. On a side note, the game master has to really understand the rules of the game well, read through the cryptic rule book and decipher the nuances to instill the gaming spirit.  Be the gate keeper on errant players, gently nudge them to participate, benevolently whip the procrastinators into action and take leadership in steering the gameplay.

No wonder, as we’re 3D gaming company ourselves, being emboldened in our physical board game play, we wanted to create our own board game. It was in the true spirit of startup and experimentation, we recently released our own on Kickstarter, called Avertigos. I humbly encourage you to take a look at it and see whether you can turn your team building activity into something genuinely fun, indoor, refreshingly new and authentic; not only with Avertigos, but with any board game of your choice. Be mindful of the game genre, and give it a try. It can do wonders. It did for us.

This could be one simple step in mastering the science of teams and certainly helped on aspects discussed in this ‘the science of teams’ article for us.

Debate Tips from The Intelligent Conversationalist

This English language Cheat Sheet gives you some strategies to come out champion of any conversation. We first focus on an A to Z of impressive words to throw into your chat now and again. then follow these up with a few one-liner get-outs and steer-aways to ensure you can dig yourself out of any holes you may find yourself in.

Disarming Words: Meaning I’ll leave it to you find out:

Avarice, Borborygmus, Connive, Disestablishmentarionism, Erudite, Fractious, Gluttony, Hauteur, Inverterate, Jabberwack, Kismet, Lackadaisical, Malapropism, Nadir, Obtuse, Panacea, Qoph, Repudiate, Sycophant, Truculent, Umbrage, Vex, Wanton, Yack, Zenith

The next sets of phrases are there to get you out of a tight spot, for sometimes we all find ourselves a little out of our depth. Every single television personality has a tell, a filler word or phrase they employ while they try to figure out what to say on air without looking like a muppet. One of the most successful cable news hosts I’ve ever worked with uses exactly. My get-out-of-jail card is to say “on some levels, yes.” It buys enough time for me to figure out, under the X-ray that is the TV camera, how I’m going to steer the conversation to an area I want to talk about. And this is worth repeating: Never use the words like or you know. You are not an ignorant fool; you are an intelligent member of society. To buy time while you figure out how to respond: • Repeat the question. Use pauses and remark “good question” or “interesting point.” Direct the question to someone else.

Be vague if you’re unsure:

  • “Recently”—could mean at any point in the past few years.
  • “In my opinion.”

Counterpunches:

  • “You’re being defensive.”
  • “Surely it’s no coincidence that the word listen is an anagram
    of the word silent.”
  • “I don’t have an attitude problem. You have a perception
    problem.”
  • “Frankness is usually a euphemism for rudeness.”

To win a debate with a conservative:

  • “A conservative is a politician who wants to keep what the
    liberals fought for a generation ago.”

To win a debate with a liberal:

  • “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone
    with no heart. show me’ an old Liberal and I’ll show you
    someone with no brains.” —Winston Churchill
  • “The principal feature of American liberalism is sanctimoniousness
    ” —P. J. O’Rourke

When you’ve won a debate:

  • “Sarcasm is just one more service we offer.”
  • Shortest complete sentence in the English language is
    ‘Go.’ Shall we go to the bar?”

When you’re sinking:

  • “Don’t take life too seriously, you won’t get out alive.”
  • “Being right is highly overrated. Even a stopped clock is right
    twice a day.”

To end the debate and come out with some of your reputation intact:

  • “Talk is cheap because supply exceeds demand.”
  • “After all is said and done, more is said than done.”

On the very rare occasions you initially appear to have lost:

  • “You can’t learn anything while you’re talking.
  • “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should
    be. Be one.” —Marcus Aurelius

WISE WORDS

I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree
with me, that’s not their job.
—Margaret Thatcher

SOCIAL SURVIVAL STRATEGY

Argument:
“After all is said and done, more is said than done.”
The above phrase will shut everyone up, but avail yourself of it
sparingly. You don’t want a reputation as a killjoy, you want to be
known for your sparkling chitchat.

Crisp Fact:
The word xenon may save you at Scrabble one day.
Always important to commit a few good Scrabble words to memory; not using your phone to cheat will always be admired, if not
appreciated.

Pivot:

“I think we should all just follow Marcus Aurelius: ‘Waste no
more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.’ ”
Take the high road—this is cocktail conversation, not a GOP primary.

Zen Stories that caught my Attention

As I was reading “Zen masters of China”, it started off with Bodhidharma and traced most of the lineages that taught Zen Buddhism with little but piercing stories full of wisdom. Two stories that caught my attention, copied here:

CAOSHAN BENJI
During his time with Dongshan, Caoshan received the “Five Ranks,”and these became the basis of his own teaching. The work he did in passing on this tradition eventually resulted in the establishment of the largest of contemporary Zen traditions, the Caodong school. Its name is taken from the “mountain” names of these two masters. In Japanese, where the teachers’ names are Sozan Honjaku [Caoshanl and Tozan Ryokai [Dongshan], the school is known as Soto. Caoshan composed the following commentary on the five ranks: “The absolute is not necessarily void. The relative is not necessarily actual. There is neither turning towards nor turning away. When mental activity dies down and both the material world and emptiness are forgotten, there is no concealment. The whole is revealed. This is the relative within the absolute. Mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. No names; nothing can be compared. This is the absolute within the relative. Clean and naked, bare and free, the face in full majesty. Throughout heaven and earth, the only honored one. This is coming from the absolute. The ear does not enter sound. Sound does not block the ear. The moment you go within, there have never been any fixed names in the world. This is arriving in the middle. No mind, no objects; no phenomena, no principle. It has always been beyond name or description, beyond absolute and relative, beyond essence and appearance. This is unity attained.”

GUIZONG ZHICHANG
The governor of Jiangzhou Province once visited another disciple of Mazu, Guizong Zhichang, in order to discuss a passage he had found in one of the Buddhist sutras regarding Mount Kunlun (Mount Sumeru, the mythical peak at the center of the world). “It’s said in the sutra,” the governor said, “that there’s a poppy seed within Mount Kunlun, and that within that poppy seed is Mount Kunlun. Now I can understand how there could be a poppy seed within the mountain, but it’s nonsense to suggest a poppy seed could contain a mountain!” Guizong said, “Governor, I’m told that you’re a well-read man.” “I believe I am,” the governor admitted. “I’ve been told you’ve read as many as ten thousand books.” “That’s very likely true.” “But your head is no bigger than a coconut, how could it possibly contain the contents of ten thousand books?” The governor had no reply.