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.

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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. 

Great Books of China

A list of books from China and I think every reader should strive to read and know what this 3000 year old civilization can offer for minds and bodies. It starts from “Oracle Bones” (1600 – 1046 BCE)  to Dao de Jing by Lao Tzu to Plum in Golden Vase to Travels of Lao Can and on, but I’ve restricted it until early 20th century. Time elapsed provides majesty and grandeur to a work of literature which contemporary works can’t garner and hence celebrated as classic. Again a book also need to deserve one and that’s why not all make it. This list comes from ‘The Great Books of China – From Ancient Times to Present’ by Frances Wood. I want to prepare one for India too. Both nations of great civilization since time immemorial.

Booklist

Book Author PUBLISHED or Author’s Year
Book of Songs
She jing
Unknown 1000–600 BCE
Book of Changes
Yi jing
Unknown 1st millenium BCE
Classic of the Way and of Virtue
Dao de jing
Lao Tzu 6 to 4 century BCE
Zhuangzi Zhuangzi 4 century BCE
Analects
Lun yu
Confucius 6 to 3 century BCE
Mencius Mengzi 4 century BCE
Master Sun’s Art of War
Sunzi bingfa
Sun Wu 544 – 496 BCE
Almanac
Tongshu
Unknown
Proper Ritual
Yi li
Unknown 206 BCE – 9 CE
The Grand Scribe’s Records
Shi ji
Sima Qian 150 – 86 BCE
Nineteen Old Poems
Gu shi shiju shou
Unknown 25 – 220 CE
Records of Buddhist Kingdoms
Foguo ji
Fa Xian 337 – 422 CE
Lotus Sutra
Sad dharma pundarika Sutra
Unknown 3 to 5 century
Diamond Sutra
Vajra cchedika prajna paramita Sutra
Unknown 5 century
Poems Li Bai, Du Fu, Li Shangyin, Li Qingzhao 8 – 9 century
The Story of Yingying
Yingying zhuan
Yuan Zhen 779 – 831
Master Dong’s Western Chamber Romance
Xi xiang ji
Wang Shifu 1189 – 1208
The Orphans of Zhao
Zhao shi guer
Attributed to Ji Juanxiang 13 century
Three Character Classic
Sanzi jing
Attributed to Wang Yinglin 1223 – 1296
Twenty-Four Exemplars of Filial Piety
Ershi xiao
Attributed to Guo Jujing 1279 – 1368
The Water Margin
Shuibu zhuan
Attributed to Shi Naian or Luo Guanzhong 1396-1371 or
1330-1400
The Story of Three Kingdoms
Sanguo zhi
Attributed to Luo Guanzhong 1330 – 1400
The Story of Lute
Pip ji
Gao Ming 1305-1370
The Classic of Lu Ban
Lu Ban jing
Unknown 15 century
Journey to West
Xiyou ji
Attributed to Wu Cheng’En 1500 – 1582
Plum in Golden Vase
Jing ping mei
Unknown 1582 – 96
The carnal Prayer Mat
Rou puttuan
Attributed to Li Yu 1657 or 1610 – 1680
Travels of Xu Xiake
Xu Xiyake youji
Xu Xiake 1587 – 1641
Tracks of a Wild Goose in the Snow
Hong xuan yinyuan tuji
Lin Qing 1847 – 50
The Craft of Gardens
Yuan ye
Ji Cheng 1582 – 1643
Exploitation of the Works of Nature
Tiangong kaiwu
Song Ying Xing 1637
Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting
Jieziyuan huazhuan
Unknown, Preface bu Li Yu 1610 – 1680
The Peach Blossom Fan
Taohua shan
Kong Shangren 1699
Unofficial History of the Grove of Literati
Rulin waishi
Wu Jingzi 1750
Three Hundred Tang Poems
Tang shi sanbai shou
Sun Zhu 1763
Strange Stories from the Liao Studio
Lioazhai zhiyi
Pu Song Ling 1766
Dream of the Red Chamber
Hongloumeng
Cao Xue Qin 1715 – 1763
Six Records of a Floating Life
Fusheng liu ji
Shen Fu 1763 – after 1807
The Travels of Lao Can
Lao Can Yu ji
Liu E 1903

Wolfgang von Goethe

I had the opportunity to be with Goethe through his creative and turbulent times from the translation by David Dollenmayer of Rudiger Safranski’s Goethe: Life as Work of Art. A great read about the literary genius of Germany and to know how he was inspired and lived life to its fullest. From his anointed beginnings with rich imaginative story telling in his childhood, his mother’s unconditional love till her end, his flair of artistic and creative genius which we were inborn and spontaneous portraits the life of a great poet, scientist, administrator and story-teller.

His maiden flight to fame happened by capitalizing his depression which he warded off by intensively writing the famous novel – Wilhelm Meister. It became as best seller of his yester years.  Being  a drop out of Leipzig and unconsummated love affair with Gretchen didn’t deter the young Goethe and he moved on to Strasbourg where he made it for his Lawyer degree and returned to Frankfurt but to pursue his literary passion. by chance of providence moved to Weimar at the invitation of young duchy Carl August to be his companion, court poet and administrator. He wrote numerous poems, novella, elegies, essays and a scientific treatise on colors of light – which describes color’s affect on eyes and how it perceives it – a more physiological investigation rather a scientific postulation. His big inspiration and breaking of Weimar boredom and inner clash got sorted when he rushed to Italy on artistic sight seeing trip on a long leave from his official duties. A man of prodigious literary output culminated in the celebrated classic Faust – an epic battle between good and evil. One should not miss his autobiography – Poetry and Truth and writings on Italian Journeys. Goethe had an active court, family and literary life during which following interacted – Anna Amelia (Carl August’s Mother), Katharina Elisabeth (his mother), Christiane Vulupius (his wife), August (his son), Otillie (his daughter in law), Schiller, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Charlotte von Stein (his distant lover and mail-mate), Zelter (final year friend), etc.

A few excerpts that I think others may like from Goethe’s life from the above book:

On Goethe’s aesthetic expression:
Goethe opposes the principle of imitation of nature with the principle of creative expression. But since the principle of imitation applies not just to concrete natural objects but also to the traditional forms of representation that one should emulate as well, the critique of imitation has a double significance: art needs to be liberated both from conventional forms and from dull realism. With his Götz as well as his nature and love poetry, Goethe was attempting exactly that. Whoever ties art to the imitation of nature assumes the goodness and beauty of nature, Goethe claims, and quotes Sulzer, who says of nature that it touches us “through pleasant impressions.” Goethe answers, Are not raging storms, floods, rains of fire, subterranean infernos, and death in all the elements just as true testimonies to its eternal life as glorious sun- rises over ripening vineyards and perfumed orange groves? Goethe denies that beauty in nature only needs to be imitated, and in the fervor of his polemical dismissal adopts the extreme counter- position: beauty must be forcibly wrested from a cruel nature. Far from following the example of nature, art must resist it. He advances an entirely novel thought: art is precisely the counterforce, it arises from the individual’s struggle to maintain himself against the destructive force of the whole. From this vantage point, he ventures a daring look at the culture of the future. Humanity, he writes, is in the act of closing itself off in a cultural palace behind walls of glass. A century later, Dostoevsky would define modernism in exactly the same way.* The young Goethe anticipates him en passant and also suggests Dostoevsky’s conclusion that the glass palace, the artificial world that has been wrested from nature, becomes a site of complacency. The powerful assertion of self against nature morphs into luxurious relaxation. Decadence threatens. Man, Goethe writes, gradually becomes softer and softer. How was such decadence to be avoided? The reviewer can answer even that. Since art and culture owe their existence to the resistance to nature, one should ally oneself with this resistive power and not simply take it for granted. One should pay attention to the difficulties artists have to overcome and the power that allows them to do so. That is how the creative impulse is fortified—nature pays it tribute. Yet the artistic power of anti-nature that is here invoked is, in the final analysis, itself nature, and the young Goethe knows that too. What else could it be? There is a kind of natural impulse to oppose what seems complete and finished in nature. Or, according to the traditional formulation, “natura naturans,” creative nature, opposes natura naturata,” incarnate nature. In another review, Goethe defines this power of natural anti-nature as genius. It is our firm belief that genius does not imitate nature, but rather itself creates, like nature. His early aesthetic is concentrated in this sentence. There is one more review that deserves to be quoted at length. Goethe wrote it after he had already moved to Wetzlar. He used a review of a trivial, conventional love story to describe a pair of lovers who would truly deserve to be depicted:

O Genius of our Fatherland, let a young man flourish soon who, full of youthful strength and high spirits, would be first the best companion for his circle . to whom the of friends, choose the best games, sing the happiest little songs . best dancer would joyfully give her hand … let him find a girl worthy of him! When more sacred feelings lead him from the bustle of society into solitude, let him discover a girl on his pilgrimage whose soul is all goodness and whose form all gracefulness, who has had the good fortune to develop in a quiet family circle of active, domestic love. Who is the favorite, friend, and support of her mother and the second mother of her home, whose always affectionate soul irresistibly wins every heart for her, from whom poets and wise men would willingly learn and take delight in her native virtue, prosperity, and grace.—And if she feels in hours of solitary peace that with all the love she broadcasts she is still missing something, a heart that is as young and warm as she and would yearn with her for more distant, more hidden joys. Firmly yoked to his invigorating company, she would strive toward all the golden prospects, eternal togetherness, lasting union, eternally entwining love. Let the two of them find each other. At the first approach they will sense, darkly and powerfully, what an epitome of bliss each is taking hold of in the other. They will never leave each other…. Truth will be in his songs and living beauty, not colorful soap-bubble ideals like those floating about in hundreds of German songs.

But do such girls exist? Can there be such youths? The reviewer has good reason to think that such a girl and boy really do exist, for he himself is the boy and the girl is Lotte Buff, and what happens between them takes place half in Wetzlar and half in a dream.

His poetic erotica – Roman Elegies:
He was able to connect his lovemaking with his memories of romance in Rome. Having read Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius, he realized that he could ennoble the subject by deploying forms and motifs from Roman antiquity. Throughout 1789 his friends received bulletins about erotics or entertainments in the style of the ancients. He continued to work on them until the spring of 1790. On April 3 he wrote to Herder, I believe my elegies are finished; there is almost no trace of this vein in me anymore. And no wonder, since at the time he was in Venice, far from Christiane. The “Roman Elegies” were finished, but Goethe had no intention yet of publishing them. Herder advised against it, as did the duke, who was certainly no prude. He feared there would be talk, and it would be better to avoid trouble. Such things were only for the cognoscenti, not the general public. The “Roman Elegies” were not published until four years later, at the urging of Schiller, who was looking for something engaging for his cultural journal Die Horen. Goethe sent a version that deleted two of the elegies, and they were finally published in 1796. The elegies tell the story of a little love affair with a beautiful widow. They begin with Goethe ironically making fun of his own assiduous appetite for cultural enrichment: Tell me, oh stones, and speak to me, lofty palazzos! / Streets too, utter a word! Genius, not yet astir? /.. . / Certainly you are a world, oh Rome, but unless there be love, / Then were the world not a world, Rome then would not be Rome. Not until his Roman lover joins him in bed does Rome come alive. First, however, her vigilant mother must be propitiated with generous gifts: Mother and daughter enjoy their guest from the northern lands / And the barbarian rules Romans, body and soul. The third elegy is devoted to the theme of the unexpected. It is beautiful when things go quickly—not the lovemaking itself, but the preliminaries: Do not, Beloved, regret that you surrendered so quickly. / Know that I think nothing low, think nothing mean of you. Christiane is discernible behind the portrait of the beloved, especially in the description of her hair: Once she appeared to me, a nut-brown maiden. Her hair / Fell, a cascade rich and dark over her brow and down. / Shorter locks made ringlets round her delicate neck. / Waves of unbraided hair fell from crown to shoulders. And then the famous fifth elegy. Goethe’s contemporaries were surely asking themselves if the subject of the poem was a fictitious Roman lover or the very real Christiane. The question remains unanswered. 

All the night long, however, it’s Amor who keeps me busy.
       If I only learn half, lam doubly amused and
Do I not learn, after all, by tracing the lovely breasts’
      Forms, by running my hand down the beautiful hips?
Only then do I grasp the marble aright, I think and compare,
      See with a feeling eye, feel with a seeing hand.
If my beloved steals a few hours from my day, she
      Gives me hours of the night—compensation enough!
Kissing is not our sole occupation. We talk and reason,
      And if she falls asleep, I lie awake with my thoughts.
Many’s the time I’ve lain in her arms and made poems,
       Counting hexameter’s feet, fingers quietly tapping them
Out on her sleeping back.

Answering Schopenhauer:
Flowing from the pen of the young philosopher: “I know with absolute certainty that I have provided the first true theory of color, the first in the entire history of science. Recall that Goethe thought the Theory of Color was the work with which he had gained superiority over many others, that made him feel like a Napoleon of the intellectual empire. And now an unknown philosopher still in his twenties claims to be the one who first elevates this work to the level of a theory and also—the height of impertinence!— claims that to do so was a minor matter. Goethe had been working on the Theory of Color for half his life and this young philosopher had the gall to write, “Except for a few weeks, I too always treated it as a minor matter, and carry around in my head theories entirely different from that of color.” Goethe’s reply is remarkable in its amiable equanimity and sovereign irony. Alluding to Schopenhauer’s philosophical subjectivism, he writes, Whoever is himself inclined to construct the world out of the subject will not dismiss the observation that the subject, in its appearance, is always only an individual, and therefore needs a certain amount of truth and error to maintain its singularity. There is nothing, however, that divides humans more than the fact that the portions of those two ingredients are mixed according to various proportions. Schopenhauer was unwilling to accept that, with this sentence, Goethe’s judgment of the entire matter had been pronounced and nothing more was to be said. But what did Schopenhauer expect? Did he think Goethe would write him and say, Yes, you have elevated my scattered observations into a genuine theory. It is astonishing, young man, the way you’ve managed to crown my life’s work in just a few weeks. I shall hasten to make your work—which for the first time allows the full sun to shine upon my work—available to the public? Perhaps Schopenhauer really did hope for some such reply. At least’ he hoped that his treatise on colors would receive the blessing Of hi ersatz father. Goethe did not accept the proffered role. But he respect this pupil even though he was too eager to appear as the teacher.

Challenges of Love: Elective Affinities:
How free is love? How much natural compulsion does it involve? These are the challenging questions the novel sets out to answer. Goethe explained his title in the advertisement released by the publisher: It seems that the author’s continued exploration of physical nature caused him to choose this strange title. He would like it noted that in natural history one often makes use of ethical similes in order to bring closer something far removed from the circle of human knowledge; and so, in this story of a moral crisis, he was pleased to restore a chemical simile to its spiritual origin. What does it mean in this case when a chemical simile is restored to its spiritual origin? The chemical elements that form new bonds have no choice in the matter. And yet it looks as if they do. When humans form new bonds, they choose to do so. But does it only look that way in their case too? That would then be the origin of the simile. Both times—in the chemistry of the elements and in the chemistry of human interactions—there is necessity and what at most appears to be freedom, freedom as a simile, not as reality. The novel’s figures themselves discuss this problem. Charlotte protests against absorbing the human world into the natural realm. But after all, man is so many levels above those elements, and if in this case he was somewhat generous with the lovely words “choice” and “elective affinities,” he would do well to look inside himself and reflect on the value of such expressions on this occasion. For Charlotte, to reflect on their value means to reserve the expression “choice” for the human sphere and remove it from the realm of nature. But that is not what Goethe thinks. He says in a letter that he wants to show how traces of murky, passionate necessity are constantly infiltrating the realm of cheerful freedom and rationality and can be completely extinguished only by a higher hand, and in this life perhaps not at all. The novel is set up as an experiment to examine the relative power of freedom and necessity in erotic interaction. It begins with a mature couple, bound together by a gentle love and living a with- drawn and protected life in their manor house and garden, free of all obligations and in a situation that allows—but also constrains—them to find satisfaction in themselves and each other. The story begins at the moment that this previously idyllic, closed world is opened up.

How should a mother be and slip quietly:
Goethe did not immediately inform his mother of his marriage to Christiane or of the birth of his son. She first heard about both events from others. And yet she bore her son no grudges, and when she called Christiane his “bedmate,” she by no means meant it disparagingly. She regularly sent large packages of presents to her grandson and adhered to a principle she once described to Charlotte von Stein: “I like people very much … never get preachy with anyone —always try to find their good side—leave their bad side to Him who created man and knows best how to file down their sharp corners.” She took an active interest in Goethe’s literary works, read and commented on them, and proudly gave them as presents to her Frankfurt friends. She also kept him up to date on the Frankfurters’ opinions of their celebrity son, and since she was out in society and often attended the theater, there was much to tell. In one of her last letters, she calls the first volumes of the Cotta edition of the complete works “heartwarming” and praises in particular the ballads “The Bride of Corinth” and “The God and the Bayadere.” She always liked his erotic works best and was not one to take exception to the “Roman Elegies.” In her last letter, shortly before she died, she put in a good word for August: they shouldn’t “plague” him with demands to write letters to her. Young people had other things on their minds, so please, no “thumbscrews” for her sake! Goethe had the exact circumstances of her death described to him. Katharina Elisabeth had proved to be as plucky and witty at the end as she had been all her life. The coffin maker had appeared at her bedside to take measurements, and she expressed her regret that had already been arranged and he had made the trip for nothing. She slipped away quietly soon thereafter.

Final thoughts – are they repeatable in every epoch?
The unassailable conviction formulated in a letter to Zelter:

Young people are much too easily excited and then swept away in the maelstrom of the times; wealth and speed are what the world admires and every- one strives for; railroads, express letters, steamships, and every possible facility of communication—that’s what matters to the educated world: to outdo and out- learn one another and thereby remain stuck in mediocrity.

As so often in the late letters, this is followed by defiant self-assertion: Let us cling as much as possible to the attitudes with which we grew up; perhaps with a few remaining others, we shall be the last of an epoch that will not soon return. 

If you’re not a genius, perhaps this is how you should be?
Karl Friedrich Zelter, recipient of this famous and oft-quoted letter and, as we have seen, Goethe’s best friend after Schiller’s death, was a marvel of vitality. He had learned bricklaying from the ground up and led one of the most successful construction companies in Berlin. He was the head of a large family, well-to-do and influential in the city, robust and decisive in his person, and possessed of native Berlin wit and common sense. Intelligent, straightforward to the point of earthiness, a good judge of men, and not easily intimidated, he could also be tender and sensitive. He liked difficult mathematical problems and appreciated emotional subtlety in works of art. He also loved music, which, as was his habit, he learned from the ground up, studying composition with the court composer Karl Friedrich Christian Fasch, Frederick the Great’s music teacher. In the summer, he set off on foot at three in the morning for his lesson with Fasch in Potsdam, so that he could be back at his construction site in Berlin by noon. By the 1790s Zelter was known for his lieder and choral compositions, and it is not surprising that spiteful tongues (the Schlegels for instance) made jokes about the bricklaying composer. But envious jibes from starveling intellectuals slid off Zelter’s broad back. In 1791, he played a Substantial role in founding the Singakademie in Berlin; it soon became the leading bourgeois music organization in Germany and a model for the numerous song circles and men’s choruses then springing up. Zelter did much to help make nineteenth-century Germany a nation of singers. He was ten years younger than Goethe and at first admired the poet from afar. He set several of Goethe’s poems to music, and the poet praised the results: if my poems have given rise to your melodies, then I can certainly say that your melodies have awakened me to many a song. Zelter’s admiration grew into respectful cordiality, and the two became very close, Goethe desiring the intimacy as much as Zelter. They soon corresponded with increasing trust, sharing the joys and sorrows of their daily lives, and in the last twenty years of his life, there was no one in whom Goethe confided so unreservedly. Any trace of patronizing disappeared entirely, and frequently it was Zelter who acted as Goethe’s adviser and helper. Zelter’s varied experience had enriched him; he retained an innate curiosity, had a ready enthusiasm, and was always eager to learn. He was no genius, but did everything with solid workmanship—as the head of his household, as a builder, composer, organizer of musical events, and for a time as a member of city government. Zelter was a man after Goethe’s own heart: multitalented, always active, yet calm and collected. While correspondence with other friends often slowed or stopped altogether, the exchange of letters with Zelter only grew more frequent, and Goethe could not get enough of it.

Idleness to Subtle yet Profound Thougths

Yoshida Kenko or Kaneyoshi was a Japanese monk of 12th century (1283 – 1352 AD) to seek seclusion and isolation from city life to pen this classic poems under ‘Essays in Idleness’ which is a celebrated classic in Japanese Literature, along with The Pillow Book and Hojoki. This reminds me of the musings by an equally creative French philosopher Michel de Montaigne who wrote on similar genre. Writing without a topic in mind and not methodically but write about random topics that entertain, inform, cajole, interest the author (posthumously the readers) during his lifetime which may capture practices, customs, incidents, popularities and teachings of their time. There’s always timeless advices to heed and benefit from reading this genre.

Excerpts from translation to prose which excited and piqued me and which may be beneficial to those want to get a gist and glimpse of this sage’s writings. The full book is available @ http://djm.cc/library/The_Miscellany_of_a_Japanese_Priest_Gusa_Porter.pdf. I find the Penguin Classics – Kenko and Chome – Essays in Idleness and Hojoki, Translated by Meredith McKinney – a better translation than the online one.

On Love
Nothing so distracts the human heart as sexual desire. How foolish men’s hearts are! Aroma, for instance, is a mere transient thing, yet a whiff of delightful incense from a woman’s robes will always excite a man, though he knows perfectly well that it is just a passing effect of robe-smoking. The wizard priest of Kume is said to have lost his supernatural powers when he spied the white legs of a woman as she squatted washing clothes. I can quite believe it — after all, the beautiful, plump, glowing flesh of a woman’s arm or leg is quite a different matter from some artificial allurement.

On Women
Beautiful hair on a woman will draw a man’s gaze but we can judge what manner of person she is and the nature of her sensibility even by simply hearing her speak from behind a screen. A mere unintended glimpse of a woman can distract a man’s heart; and if a woman sleeps fitfully, and is prepared to endure impossible difficulties heedless of her own well-being, it is all because her mind is on love. Yes indeed, the ways of love lies deep in us. Many are the allurements of our senses, yet we can distance ourselves from them all. But among them this one alone seems without exception to plague us all, young and old, wise and foolish. So it is that we have those tales of how a woman’s hair can snare and hold even an elephant, or how the rutting stag of autumn will always be drawn by the sound of a flute made from the wood of a woman’s shoe. We must discipline ourselves to be constantly prudent and vigilant lest we fall into this trap.

On Reading
It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met. As to books — those moving volumes of Wenxuan, the Wenji of Bai Juyi, the words of Laozi and Zhuangzi. There are many moving works from our own land, too, by scholars of former times.

On Boundless Ambition
What prevented the lay priest Chikurin In,838 who was a Sa-daijin, from being promoted to the rank of Prime Minister ? He simply said, ‘ It is not a prize that I wish for; I intend to stop at my present rank and entered the church. But DöIn, who was also a Sa-daijin, was so impressed with this, that he too gave up all desire of becoming Premier. They say that the dragon who has reached the heavens fears (a fall). The moon when full begins to wane ; where there has been increase there is bound to be decrease ; and in every case he who has reached the very front soon gets a set-back.

On Deceit
No human heart is quite guileless; there is some deceit In al But why should there not be the occasional person who is honest and upright? One may not be without guile oneself, but it is human nature to envy others who are wise and good. Really stupid people who come across the rare wise man, however, will hate him. ‘He turns up his nose at small gains because in his heart he hopes for bigger ones,’ they sneer. ‘It’s all a hypocritical pose, intended to impress and make a name for himself.’ Such a man scoffs so contemptuously because the other’s nature differs from his own, but this only reveals what he him- self is like — a born fool, who has no hope of transcending his own nature. Even the pretense of turning down a chance Of some small gain would be beyond him; likewise the merest imitation of wisdom. If you run about the streets pretending to be a madman, then a madman is what you are. If in pretense of being wicked you kill a man, wicked is what you are. A horse that pretends to fleetness must be counted among the fleet; a man who models himself on the saintly Emperor Shuni will indeed be among his number. Even a deceitful imitation of wisdom will place you among the wise.

On the Difficulty of an Easy Task
A man famed for his tree-climbing skills once directed another to climb a tall tree and cut branches. While the fellow was precariously balanced aloft, the tree-climber watched without a word, but when he was descending and had reached the height of the eaves the expert called co him, ‘Careful how you go! Take care coming down. ‘Why do you say that? He’s so far down now that he could leap to the ground from there,’ I said. ‘Just so,’ replied the tree-climber. ‘While he’s up there among the treacherous branches I need not say a word his fear is It’s in the easy places that mistakes will always occur’ Lowly commoner though he was, his words echoed the warnings of the sages. Apparently one of the laws of also states that if you relax after achieving a difficult kick, this is the moment when the ball will always fall to the ground.

The Accomplishments of a Gentleman
One’s education must first of all be directed to a thorough knowledge of the classics and an understanding of the teachings of the sages. Next, you should learn to write with a fine hand, even if you don’t make a specialty of it, as an aid to learning. After this, you should study the medicinal arts. Without these, you cannot look after your own health, help others or perform your filial obligations. Next, you must devote some time to archery and horse riding, skills which are listed among the Six Arts. A knowledge of the classics, the martial arts and medicine is absolutely essential, and no one who studies these can be accused of a useless life. Next is food, ‘man’s very heaven’, as the saying goes. The knowledge of how to concoct fine flavors must be deemed a fine virtue in a man. And next is fine handiwork, which is useful in all manner of ways. Aside from these, it is a matter of shame for a gentleman to cultivate too many accomplishments. Skill in the art of poetry and music is the acknowledged path of the truly refined sensibility, esteemed by ruler and subjects alike, but in our present age they have clearly grown increasingly unrealistic as a means of governing the country — just as gold, for all its glory, cannot compete with all the practical uses of iron.

The Necessities of Life
Any one wastes time in worthless pursuits must be called a fool or Obligation compels us to do many things for the sake of lord and nation, and we have little enough time left ourselves. Think of it like this: we have an inescapable need, first. to acquire food. second, clothes, and third, a place to live. These and these alone are the three great necessities of human life. To live without hunger or cold, sheltered from the elements and at peace — this is happiness. Yet we are all prey to sickness, and once ill the wretchedness of it is hard to bear, so we should add medical treatment to our list. Thus, we have four things without which a man is poor, while a man who lacks none of these is rich. It is sheer self- indulgence to pursue anything beyond these four. With these four in moderation, no one could be said to lack anything in life.

Against Leaving Property After Death
A sensible man will not die leaving valuables behind. A collection of vulgar objects looks bad, while good ones will suggest a futile attachment to worldly things. And it is even more unfortunate to leave behind a vast accumulation. There will be ugly fights over it after your death, with everyone determined to get things for himself. If you plan to leave something to a particular person, you should pass it on while you are still alive. Some things are necessary for day-to-day living, but one should have nothing else.

On Ominous Incident
When the now-deceased Tokudaiji Mlinister of the Right; r was Superintendent of Police, he was one day holding court at his central gate?’ when the ox of one of the officers, Akikane, broke loose, got into the court room, scrambled up on to the Superintendent’s seating platform and there settled down to chew its cud. “lhs was deemed a disturbingly untoward event, and everyone present declared that the beast should be taken off for Yin-Yang divination to determine the meaning.  However, when the Superintendent’s father the Minister heard of this, he declared, ‘An ox has no understanding. It has its four legs which can take it anywhere. There is no reason to impound a skinny beast that happens to have brought some lowly official here.’ He had the ox returned to its master, and changed the matting where the ox had lain. There were no ill consequences from the event. It is sometimes said that if you see something sinister and choose to treat it as normal, you will thereby avert whatever it portended.

On Married Life
The one thing a man should not have is a wife. One is impressed to hear that a certain man always lives alone, while someone who is reported to have married into this or that family, or to have taken a wife and be living together, will find himself quite looked down on. ‘He must have married that nondescript girl because he thought she was something special,’ people will say scornfully, or if she is a good woman they will think, ‘He’ll be so besotted that he treats her like his own personal Buddha. The impression is even more dreary when she runs the house well. It is depressing to watch her bear children and fuss over them, and things don’t end with his death, for then you have the shameful sight of her growing old and decrepit as a nun. No matter who the woman may be, you would grow to hate her if you lived with her and saw her day in day out, and the woman must become dissatisfied too. But if you lived separately and sometimes visited her, your feelings for each other would surely remain unchanged through the years. It keeps the relationship fresh to just drop in from time to time on impulse and spend the night.

Books that fascinated writers

Popular ‘By the Book’ feature in The New York Times enthralls readers and creates much of the anticipation to see which writers will be the subject of the feature and yearn to read them possibly to invest  their money where it lends the purest pleasure and satisfaction for reading the best. An anthology of opinions about literature and their life by authors – is all in this book titled ‘By the Book – Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review’.
The main idea is to know what others, writers themselves read to inspire and change our perspectives and kindle that exalted chat rather the forgotten watercooler chat and ultimately be informed of what possibly we can read that might interest us.  Give a chance for serendipity through this inquisitive conversation,

I’ve given a selected list of authors and the books that fascinated them, perhaps a journal to revert for good reading suggestions:

Reading List

WRITER/OTHERS Book COMMENT
David Sedaris Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
– Barbara Demick
a real eye opener
Lena Dunham The Private Diaries of Catherine Deneuve
elegant and superb
Drew Gilpin Faust Thinking: Fast and Slow
-Daniel Kahneman
Being Wrong
– Kathryn Schulz
my night stand book now
Advocates doubt as skill and praises error as foundation of wisdom
Elizabeth Gilbert Wolf Hall
– Hilary Mantel
dazzles and not sure how she put this magnificent one
Richard Ford A writer at War
– Vasily Grossman
Riveting and immensely humane
Ira Glass The Big Short
– Michael Lewis
scene after scene about mortgage crisis with a great climax
Junot Diaz Behind the Beautiful Forever’s
– Katherine Boo
4 years reporting on Mumbai slum garbage collectors
Michael Chabon A journey to the End of the Millennium
– A.B. Yehoshua
best book on Judaism
Jeffry Eugenides The Love of Good Woman
– Alice Munro
story telling and characterization overwhelm their attention
JK Rowling Team of Rivals
– Doris Kearns Goodwin
truly great book and put it down with glazed eyes
P.J. O’Rourke Jane Eyre
– Charlotte Bronte
The secret of happy marriage is to have a burning house fall on you
Lee Child The Lost
– Daniel Mendelsohn
a book of the decade – awful breathtaking tragic suspense
Francine Prose One Hundred Years of Solitude
– Gabriel Garcia Marquez
convinced me to drop put of Harvard
Jared Diamond The Measure of a Nation
– Friedman
compares five individual and national security: health, safety, education, democracy and equality
Sheryl Sandberg Discover Your Strengths
– Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton
Conscious Business:How to build value through Values
– Fred Kaufman
Best business books – developing talent at Facebook
Caroline Kennedy The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the 12th Century
self-help book recommended by author
Anna Quindlen Middlemarch
– Eliot
A perfection
Hilary Mantel Religion and Decline of Magic
– Keith Thomas
Complete works of Shakespeare
a monumental book with a living treasure in each page
Jeannette Walls Peter the Great
– Robert Massie
kicked off my obsession of Russian history
Dan Brown The Firm a great thriller must also contain at its core a thought-provoking ethical debate or moral dilemma
Curtis Sittenfeld Far from the Tree
how as a society we define disability and react to differences – tap reservoirs of patience unknown to us
Jonathan Lethem Wisdom of Insecurity
– Alan Watt
The help I need now
Richard Dawkins A.C. Grayling, Jared Diamond, Matt Ridley, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Rees, Jerry Coyne, John Brockman

Advice to Young Scientist and Avoid Boring People
– Peter Medawar & James Watson

all share honest commitment to real world truth
Malcom Gladwell Janet Malcom & Michael Lewis even while sketching a scenery, you know something wonderful and thrilling is about to happen
bringing social science and business principles is easy, doing that and telling a compelling story is next to impossible
Amy Tan Jing Ping Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase) The unexpurgated edition is instructional – it’s a book of manners for the debauched
Michael Connelly The Giving Tree
– Shel Silverstein
everybody should read before they die

What would you recommend President Obama to read?

Author Book COMMENT
David Sedaris Is there No place on Earth for Me?
-Susan Sheehan
about a young schizophrenic
Lena Dunham The Guide to getting it On something to offer for everyone
Neil Gaiman American Gods down to earth
Elizabeth Gilbert My Life
– Bill Clinton
Study guide on how win next term
Colin Powell The Best and the Brightest
– David Halberstam
People – it’s all about people and not plans that fail
Sylvia Nasar Grand Pursuit  
JK Rowling Justice
– Michael Sandel
This is for Cameroon
Dan Savage End This Depression Now
– Paul Krugman
one book he should read now
James Patterson Two Cheers for Democracy
– E.M. Forster
Bossy Pants
– Tina Fey
help him surround people who think they know everything about everything
Andrew Solomon Random Family
–Adrian Nicole
masterpiece of relentless close-up journalism – on trajectory of poverty and its corrosive compulsions