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Archive for March, 2012

Living with best practice

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Martin Luther King Jnr

Most important leaps forward in quality of life come from a mental realignment (i.e. a change or improvement in your frame) rather than an objective change to your circumstances. For example, when a man learns Game and internalises the principle of not supplicating to women he doesn’t only become more successful with women (an observable change in circumstances) but the internal realignment of his values towards natural masculinity lead him to simply feel considerably better about himself.

Dale Carnegie devoted much of his books How To Make Friends and Infuence People, and How To Stop Worrying and Start Living to such changes in frame. For example he advised following best practice in your daily tasks:

“…the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today’s work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.”

The results of employing best practice were brought into stark relief when I first arrived in Japan and noticed everything worked. This was after boarding from Heathrow Airport where escalators were broken, floors dirty, and workers surly. Narita airport positively sparkled in contrast and this impression is continued throughout the country. Japan still has social capital so even the “dodgy” areas are nice and safe.

The Japanese pride themselves on performing their tasks to the best of their abilities whether CEO of a zaibatsu or FamilyMart sales assistant. This gives the worker purpose and pride for themselves while the air of competence and effort spreads a virtuous cycle among others. Compare this to its polar opposite – a unionised UK public sector worker such as those found in immigration, council offices, or perhaps worst of all the sprawling civil service complex in Longbenton, Tyneside. Here you find slothful, incompetent, indifference, petty jobsworths who care only about getting through the day with the minimum energy output until time arrives when a pension can be claimed.

Spotless and tidy

I’ve given thought to where I can operationalise best practice in my own life. My boxing training is an example.

I’m a high self-regulator in general and in boxing training this shows itself in my methods. I refuse to just amble into my gym and flop into a few rounds hitting the bags. I follow the method drilled into me as a teenager in my first classes – warmup, shadowbox, stretch – and each movement is performed with my attention to detail. When shadowboxing I spend the first round exaggerating the movements to free up my shoulders and hips for correct twist/extension, then in the second I’m using the mirror to constantly check posture and hand positioning while working myself into the boxing flow. I work the heavy bag like am opponent – feinting, moving in and around, mixing up shots – without letting my muscle memory fix in shoddy motions. The end result of this best practice is that I am drilling at a high level of competence (e.g. punch selection, distance, timing, guile) so when I’m tired in sparring / fighting these are the default states in my body. Had I trained with mental sloth then the moment I get tired my hands would drop, my chin raise, and my feet turn to stone.

Your life is full of opportunites to excel. Look at how you accomplish all those little daily tasks and figure out how you can do them better. Very quickly your life will become more ordered and your pride in yourself shoots up.

“Don’t be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.” Dale Carnegie

Thinking about thinking

Do you sincerely want to be right?

Note this is not the same as “winning the argument”, in which entirely different rules apply. Relationship advice often includes ways of dealing with the arguments you have with your woman and perhaps one of the first rules is that the immediate overt subject of the argument (e.g. drinking milk from the carton) is usually just a flashpoint to unload all kinds of deeper grumbles that have been building since the last argument. Thus it is wise to step back from the content of the argument and consider what you are really arguing about and deal with that issue.

I find it useful to ask myself “what type of argument an I having?” As defined by the purpose of entering the argument, is it:

  1. Inquiry – A presentation of ideas and evidence to whittle down misconceptions and inaccuriacies until a best available position is reached.
  2. Political – Rival positions are presented to an audience in order to win them over, rather than to convince your rivals.
  3. Catharsis – The participants stand on opposite mountaintops flinging lightning at each other until they both feel better.
  4. Domination – You intend to dismantle your opponent piece by piece until they are in tatters and submit to your superiority.
  5. Persuasion – You want your opponent to abandon / change their position so that they more resemble your own.

Having outlined a typology it should be obvious that each requires a different tact. For example the quality and ability of your audience will strongly determine what evidence and logic you can present in a political argument as opposed to using rhetoric and appeal to emotions. Domination requires a ruthless single-mindedness of purpose that will deeply antagonise your co-participant whereas persuasion requires you to gradually coax them along with references to their own values. Whichever argument you are engaged in, an understanding of informal logic is crucial. Before turning it upon your co-participants you should first turn it on yourself and eliminate the cloudy areas of your own positions.

Most people cannot conduct arguments with clear logical thinking, listening comprehension, and measured appraisal of evidence. It’s simply not natural. Our instincts always pull us towards defending our public reputation, our identity, our tribe. We frequently make it personal and frequently employ intellectually dishonest sleights of hand. These latter are called fallacies and interest me greatly. Here’s an introduction to some of the commonly-deployed fallacies. Learn them, remember the names, and then identify them in the field. It’ll become so much easier to dismantle foggy thinking.

Equivocation – Using the same word to mean different things without clarifying which, hoping that the word itself provides the continuity that the logic cannot. For example:

      • Pam: “John is really selfish”
      • Ken: “No he’s not. Have you seen how hard he works to provide for his children”
      • Pam: “But he is happy when they are provided for, so really he’s just doing what he wants to do, and that’s selfish”.

Here the word selfish has morphed from the common understanding meaning an unreasonable self-regard to mean simply doing what makes you happy.

False Dilemma – The range of options is unfairly narrowed down to only two. America – Love it or leave it!

Logically Black is White Slide – Proposing that because the difference between two ends of a spectrum are made up of small incremental changes (e.g. black to white are seperated by many subtle different shades of gray) that they are actually the same thing.

No True Scotsman – When counterexamples prove a generalisation wrong, they are unfairly dismissed by redrawing the boundaries to arbitrarily exclude them. For example: “Islam is a religion of peace” draws the counterexample “But what about the jihadists?” so the boundary is redrawn post-hoc “They aren’t true muslims.”

Begging the Question – Assuming the conclusion within the premises of the argument. For example “The Bible is true because God wrote it, and God wouldn’t lie”

The Heaper – Very similar to the LBiWS. When you can’t draw a clear line between two states of being you deny the difference. If you keep piling grains of sand onto a table you will eventually have a heap, but which grain of sand turns it from not-yet-a-heap to heap? Much sophistry about the age of consent relies on this fallacy.

Many Questions – You ask a question that can only be answered by assuming the truth of another (unproven) premise. When did you stop beating your wife?

Poisoning the Well – Negatively characterising a position before introducing it. “I trust you’re not one of those imbeciles you thinks…..”

I was first introduced to these ideas at university when taking a course in Informal Logic. The two core texts were Anthony Weston – A rulebook for arguments and Antony Flew – Thinking about Thinking. Both are great little books that will immediately straighten out the kinks in your processing. Get them.

Mario Bava and the golden era of Italian low-budget cinema

As a teenager I went through a phase of collecting horror / exploitation movies. This was the pre-DVD pre-internet era so I was literally tape trading VHS tapes with fellow collectors around Europe. I had a strong preference for Italian and Spanish movies, with the odd bit of Jean Rollin thrown in (best softcore lesbian vampire movies of the 1970s – an acquired taste).

Black Sunday

Like every other teenage boy with a taste for the forbidden I started out by collecting the “video nasties” made famous by the 1984 Director of Public Prosecutions list. Back then the newspapers had led a moral panic claiming horror movies on the new unregulated video format were driving kids to violence and murder. It’s a clear case of the media amplification spiral and several books document this particular shameful exercise of government meddling in the liberties of free-born Englishmen. So I was collecting low-budget grot such as Anthropophagus the Beast, Gestapos Last Orgy, Driller Killer and so on. Very quickly I realised that the Italian entrants on the list were frequently good movies from genuinely talented directors such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

It was from Bay of Blood that I stumbled onto the greatest of all low-budget genre directors – Mario Bava.

“Movies,” Bava once explained, “are a magician’s forge, they allow you to build a story with your hands… at least, that’s what it means to me. What attracts me in movies is to be presented with a problem and be able to solve it. Nothing else; just to create an illusion, and effect, with almost nothing”

His impact on the movie industry includes:

      • Directing the first Italian horror movie The Devil’s Commandment when contracted director Riccardo Freda walked out.
      • Shooting the first Peplum movie Hercules.
      • Invented the Giallo genre with The Girl Who Knew Too Much
      • Invented the Slasher genre with Bay of Blood. There’s one twenty minute section near the beginning when a group of teenagers show up at a lakeside camp which was in microcosm the entire genre when later ripped-off by Friday the 13th.

Bava was legendary among producers for his ability to wrap up competent movies on time and under budget but more impressive to me is his versatility across genres. He made gothic horrors, sword and sandal, westerns, sex comedies, noir slashers and psychological thrillers. All beautifully shot with oodles of lavish atmosphere. My personal favourites are his brooding whodunnit set with a house of high fashion Blood and Black Lace, and then the movie that inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien – the 1964 sci-fi Planet of the Vampires. Sam Ishii-Gonzales writes:

“A near abstraction on colour and movement, Blood and Black Lace is Bava’s cinema distilled to its cruel essence. This film develops with complete abandon what Bava more tentatively explored in The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La ragazza che sapeva troppo, 1962) and “The Telephone” episode of Black Sabbath. From the opening image (an unhinged sign for Christiana’s Haute Couture banging in the wind) to the last (a telephone receiver off the hook swinging like a pendulum, back and forth) we have a remorseless, inexorable movement, a dissipative force, that levels everything in its path. This movement becomes, in the case of Nicole’s murder in the antique shop, a pulsation of light, by which one means not only the neon sign which flickers off-on, off-on as the woman meets her demise with a medieval iron hook (a variation on the death mask of Black Sunday; later, Mary’s demise by way of a red-hot furnace will duplicate the searing of Asa’s flesh), but Bava’s use of primary colours which throb with an intensity all their own. That Bava’s source of inspiration was a lurid type of pulp magazine itself identified by a specific colour, giallo (yellow, the colour of terror, of fearfulness), couldn’t be more appropriate.”

Watching B&BL is like stepping into a timewarp of a Europe that never really existed where the women are beautiful, forests dark and rainswept, and offices are in gothic country homes dripping in oversaturated colour. I imagine Count Cervantes dating one of these young models.

The Italian movie industry of the 1960s-70s is a treasure trove of unusual boundary-pushing cinematic oddities. A bustling profilific era, every time a major western movie proved to be a hit then suddenly dozens of production companies would churn out hundreds of clone movies within a few years. So for example when Kurosawa made Yojimbo, Sergio Leone remade it in the American West. That movie struck gold and kicked off the whole spaghetti western cycle (which in ironic symmetry was then emulated by the Japanese chanbara movies of which Yojimbo was an example). Other examples:

      • A Man Called Horse inspired the cannibal cycle
      • The Night Porter inspired the Nazi love camp cycle
      • Emmanuelle inspired the softcore love cycle
      • Dawn of the Dead inspired the zombie cycle
      • Caligula inspired the roman decadence cycle

Truly bizarre. In this era of DVD and torrents you can easily lay your hands on obscure oddities that back in my tape-trading days often took years just to track down a grainy 5th-generation copy. Transport yourself back through time. Get some friends together, put a crate of beers on the table, and have a real grindhouse night. Here’s some sample triple bills:

US theatrical posters for Bay of Blood, Deep Red, Flavia the Heretic

1. Italian bloodiness: Bay of Blood (Mario Bava) / Deep Red (Dario Argento) / Flavia the Heretic (Gianfranco Mingozzi

2. Italian freaky atmospherics: Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Lucio Fulci) / The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci) / Caligula the Untold Story (Joe D’amato)

3. Spanish timewarp: Tombs of the Blind Dead (Amando De Ossorio) / Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (Jorge Grau) / Justine: Marquis de Sade (Jess Franco)

‘Coffee and biscuits’ video games

Video games are scorned and frowned upon by those who didn’t grow up with them, dismissing them as childish, time-wasting and somehow low-brow. When the goal of your life is happiness you learn to tune out the chatter of witless snobs and focus enthusiastically, unapologetically, on those things that make you happy. Video games please me.

As a seven year old boy I used to go to my school film club every third Thursday of the month with my brother. A couple of the popular teachers would put up a screen in the assembly hall and play kids movies and serve hotdogs in the intermission. Very happy memories. The hall would be full and the cool kids would lie on the big crash mats laid out on the far left. I fingered my first girl on that crash mat a couple of years later. But I digress…..

One night as my brother and I arrived home from the club my mother was in an inexplicably bad mood and send us through to the lounge. We were puzzled. But then as we opened the lounge door the surprise hit us – my father was standing next to a brand new Atari 2600 with PacMan playing on the screen. They’d set us up for the old rollercoaster emotion trick to heighten our pleasure of the present. Nice one. It’s a dear childhood memory of mine.

From that day on I was never without a video game console. Atari, Sinclair ZX81, Dragon32, Commodore C64, Amiga, Sega Megadrive, SNES, Sega Dreamcast… and on to the present generation. I’ve literally grown up with video games. My memories are littered with great gaming experiences both in disappearing solo into game worlds (e.g. the first night I played Resident Evil 1 for eight hours straight) or big post-pub Tekken sessions with fellow young professionals in London. There’s not a snob in the world can make me ashamed of being a gamer.

I’d go so far as to say the best quality art is now in video games. But that’s for another post.

Coffee and biscuits

Games allow your imagination a window into alternative lifestyles of which you could only experience one or two in real life. In the game world you can be a race car driver on Monday, a super spy on Tuesday, a space marine on Wednesday, a blue hedgehog on Thursday and perhaps a guilt-ridden murderer on Friday. Ok, I’ll admit it – Count Cervantes can be all of these things in real life should he choose….

and then Silent Hill 2 on Friday

One particular genre of game I enjoy are what I term “coffee and biscuits” because rather than rely on rapid reactions and constant input (e.g. a first person shooter) you can actually sit at your desktop and patiently plan your moves while leisurely sipping your coffee and dunking your biscuits. This genre includes the “tycoon” management simulations, God games, strategy and so on. Why are they so satisfying?

Men have a will to power and empires to build.

Take Civilisation, the classic world domination game. You start out as a little tribe of grass-skirted savages and must explore the world around you, settling in villages, shaping a local resource-gathering economy until as the centuries pass your country is a superpower churning out scientific advances, cross-continent trade routes and of course nuclear war. The whole time your minions are running rampant across the globe you are reclined in your favourite leather chair industriously demolishing a packet of Hobnobs.

Empire building

Speaking of minions, Evil Genuis allows you to become a James Bond supervillian masterminding a secret criminal organisation. Ever wanted to own a lair in a volcano with orange boiler-suited minions operating banks of flashing-lighted 1960s computers around a shark tank? This is the game for you. As your criminal schemes build notoriety governments send super spies to assassinate you and you must outwit them with hidden traps.

How about commanding an army and building a dynasty. Rome Total War has both a Risk-style economic / political game of intrigue but also tactically faithfull battles. How about running a business? You can have a hotel, a shopping mall, a Jurassic Park theme park with real dinosaurs or how about just running a vast capitalist empire?

These games speak to the man in you. The likes of Call of Duty channel your warrior energy but I tend to prefer the king games. If you were to sift through your gamesplaying history you could probably plot yourself on the Jungian King / Warrior / Lover / Magician grid without needing to trouble yourself with all the expense of pyscho-analysis.

And speaking of Warrior energy… nothing channels that more than Demon Souls. Oh my god, what a game!

The problem of economic calculation

An intellectual hero of mine is the godfather of the Austrian school of economics, Ludwig Von Mises. It’s a disservice to the range and power of his thought to pigeonhole him thus but it’ll serve current purposes. In 1921 he published the weighty Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis and it sent shockwaves through the intelligentsia. For decades socialism had enjoyed a charmed existence in polite circles remnants of which persist to this day. How many times have you heard someone of reasonable education and intelligence utter bland statements such as:

  • Socialism is such a good idea in theory but unfortunately it’s never been properly tried.
  • Socialism would make society so much fairer and better but there’s too many barriers to it ever actually happening.

Since the late 18th century socialism has enjoyed an Obama-eque free pass because of it’s stated (and unproven) utopianism. Proponents of socialism are taken at face value when they profess their noble ideals whereas in contrast proponents of capitalism are immediately assumed to be greedy, selfish and to be treated with suspicion. This is despite the historical record where every single socialist country was a disastrous shithole compared to it’s capitalist equivalents.

a towering intellect

Mises’ book shattered these illusions and proved unequivocally (and with arguments that haven’t been effectively answered even to this day) that socialism is not only untenable and assured final collapse, but that it necessarily creates a hell on earth that no amount of good intentions can stop. Across 1000+ pages he demolishes the ideology through detailed predictions of what society it leads to….. and this writing only 4 years after the Bolshevik revolution – before Stalin, before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Unlike Nostradamus, Mises made detailed predictions and 80 years of history proved him right.

So if you want to know not just why socialism is inherently evil but also why it can’t work and why despite this people still take it seriously, I recommend you check out his book.I’ll briefly summarise each of the three segments here.

Socialism is evil

Capitalist societies are built upon individual freedom expressed through non-coercive market transactions. Contracts are only entered into if both sides agree to the terms and thus you can’t force any customer to buy your product nor can the customer force the business to provide them a service. In this fundamental manner capitalism supports the individual right of self-determination.

Socialist societies are built upon collective responsiblity expressed through coercive central planning. Contracts are decided by a government bureau and then dictats issued forcing people to comply under threat of negative sanctions. In this fundamental manner socialism suppresses the individual at the expense of the collective.

the workers' paradise

It’s pretty easy to see why this leads to gulags, extermination camps and purges. Imagine yourself for a moment heading the Bureau of Economic Planning and the new Five Year Plan has just been signed off by the Politburo. It is now your job to cascade the Plan downwards by issuing all the orders and regulations to accomplish it. Say, for example, the plan requires X million tonnes of coal to fire the furnaces that produce the traintracks, rolling stock, cars, hammers, cutlery etc. The Plan calculated 10,000 coal miners are needed to extract this coal but currently only 9,000 exist. You need to find 1,000 extra coal miners.

Under capitalism this problem is easily solved. Mining companies calculate the labour value of miners based on the market price for coal produced less various costs. Potential miners evaluate the offered salary and those most interested will apply for the job. If there is still a shortfall of miners and thus coal, the price of the latter increases as rival customers bidding raises demand. Mining companies find it more profitable to offer higher wages (and thus bring in more staff) than to forgo the extra sales. The vacancies are filled.

Socialism has only one solution, after cajoling has failed. Point a gun at the recalcitrant workers and force them to become miners. The Plan doesn’t have dynamic self-correcting features and it is so laborious to construct that the whole thing won’t be torn up just because a few hundred labourers would rather be bricklayers or train drivers than miners. Follow the history of socialist countries and observe how quickly they default to compulsion and labour camps. It’s built into the system.

Socialism will always collapse

Mises showed that socialism cannot ever solve the problem of economic calculation. The problem, simply stated, is this: How do you calculate how to deploy the resources (labour, materials, machinery) of a society in order to produce the goods and services that best meet the needs of the population? For example, English people need tea. How does a society figure out how many cups of tea Englishmen need in 2012? Assuming this can be done, how many kettles will be needed? Is the metal / plastic combination used to make these kettles actually better used elsewhere such as in cutlery, brake discs, watch cases, screws etc?

Under capitalism no-one makes this calculation and yet still Paris gets fed the English don’t take to streets in Tea Riots. The highly devolved market system matches capital and resources to those entrepreneurs who accurately predict and efficiently serve the wants and needs of the population. If you haven’t done so already, take a moment to consider what is abundant and what is scarce in your country. The list may look like this:

  • Abundant: cheeseburgers, Budweiser, iPhones, wristwatches, leather shoes, curtains, chairs, roses, chocolate, Xbox games, books
  • Scarce: healthcare, education

Those goods and services that are supplied by the market are plentiful, cheap, and ever-improving (consider the functionality of an iPhone 4 compared to the phones of 1990). Those supplied by government are scarce, intermittent, low quality, expensive, rationed. If the government took over management of the Sahara desert there’d be a shortage of sand within weeks.

The biggest reason is that without markets you can’t solve the problem of economic calculation. Markets provide prices information that signal consumer demand and incentivise businesses to increase/decrease production and to innovate in new directions. This information is an emergent propert of millions of micro-transactions conducted by self-interested actors with no concern for the macro picture. Socialism has to perform it’s calculation based on top-down social surveys, almost like a sociologist. This causes many problems.

  1. Do you know how many pizzas you will eat next year? I certainly don’t. It’s not even theoretically possible to know because often the decision to order a pizza is made five minutes before the order is placed. You were planning to catch a live show at the blues bar in Soho with some friends but the weather turned to heavy rain so you all stay home. Rather than waste the evening you assemble in the cinema room and watch The Godfather. Stomachs begin to rumble and the women have the night off. So you confer and order pizza. This decision was unknowable more than a couple of hours in advance at most. The world is full of consumption decisions made upon a whim of circumstance that are unknowable even to the decision makers themselves. How can a central planning agency collate such information with sufficient accuracy and foresight to formulate a plan? It can’t. This is an epistemological problem that cannot be solved with supercomputers.
  2. Anyone who’s ever trained in social research (I have) knows that finding out what people think is far more difficult than simply asking them. Imagine taking out your clipboard and approaching twenty strangers with the question “How often do you masturbate?” What’s the bet you get the answers they want you to hear (if any answer is forthcoming at all) rather than the truth? Under socialism interviewees are quite aware that their answers could just as easily disappear into an unmarked draw as to critically redirect production.

The end result of these problems (Mises gives many more) is that central planning is horribly inefficient. Capital is destroyed, resources simulatneously squandered or untapped, and people’s needs unmet. This is why Soviet states had both breadlines around the block and empty stores with dreary unwanted appliances. You can still see this if you visit Cuba.

Socialism can never be eradicated

Karl Marx is indirectly responsible for more misery and squalor than any other historical figure and it all stems from a neat sleight of hand he played in the mid-nineteenth century. Essentially, Marx rebranded socialism from witless utopianism (in which form it had already been discarded twenty years earlier) to pseudo-science. In his brilliant introduction, Mises credits Marx with three rebranding successes that transformed socialism from a stupid failed idea into a stupid successful meme. Importantly, none of Marx’s arguments withstand a moment’s scrutiny but because they appeal to emotions (and particularly the human hunger for meaning) they stuck.

1. Socialism is inevitable due to dialectical materialism. Marx took the laughable “logic” of his mentor Hegel’s dialectic in which every social structure (the thesis) contains seeds of it’s own destruction (the antithesis) which will necessarily be resolved by the emergence of a radically new structure (the synthesis). Hegel used this to show the advance of the human Spirit throughout history and is hopelessly teleological. If you don’t believe me, just read him. It’s nonsensical. Marx tapped into this intellectual heritage to add a sheen of authority to his own rewriting of history in order to argue that capitalism (thesis) creates is own internal contradictions that lead to revolution (antithesis) and it’s final resolution in communism (synthesis). World communism represents a final solution to the dialectic and thus the end of history. People actually bought that. It gave great confidence to motivate socialist agitators that they were pre-ordained with victory while similarly undermining the confidence of those opponents credulous enough to believe it.

2. Socialist institutions cannot be analysed ahead of time. The utopian socialists had been savaged by political philosophers in the early 1800s as their fantasy worlds were shown to be untenable. Marx countered with the idea of infrastructure/superstructure. Put simply, the economic organisation of a society (feudal/capitalist/socialist etc) determines all associated laws, culture, knowledge, arts. People are so constrained by the ways of thinking in any given epoch that they cannot perceive alternatives. The very knowledge that we take as truth are just culturally-conditioned and specific to the form of economic organisation. Again this is ridiculous – as if the engineering knowledge that allowed aquaducts to be built in feudal Roman times suddenly became inaccurate with the shift to capitalism. After all, the aquaducts remained standing! What Marx achieved was to deny the legitimacy of any inquiry into how a socialist society would operate. You can’t know until you get there!

useful idiots

3. Socialism will correct the injustices of an epoch. People don’t like to be taken for suckers and thus if you can convince them they are being played, they’ll believe alot of rubbish (feminism succeeded with women this way). The emotional motivation for socialism is greedy, envy and revenge fantasies against those who occupy a higher social station than the socialist. Marx was able to provide a thin veneer of righteousness to socialism not by waxing lyrical about the win-win paradise of the utopian socialist but rather by justifying the indignation of the vast sea of people who are unhappy with their lot in life. His labour theory of value (which I’ll demolish in a later post) concluded that the poor are poor precisely because the rich exploit them. The riches they have are stolen and illegitimate and thus the workers have every right to take them by force. This sweetens the ugly motivation of revenge behind a pious mask of justice.

I strongly recommend Mises’ work. I’ve merely scratched the surface with this post.

Functional fitness the Indian wrestling way

Just over thirteen years ago I was working in London getting my career off the ground in a promising graduate position for a famous professional services firm. It was a gruelling three-year apprenticeship period with oodles of internal training, external training at specialist colleges, and competive exams. This on top of an already-challenging full-time job that criss-crossed London. I was pretty drained. What fitness I’d won at university through boxing and circuit training was steadily eroded until I was getting pretty pudgy and creaky.

Finally on the day I achieved my professional license, I quit and hopped on a flight to Okinawa to teach English for a year in a tiny subtropical island. The itchy feet could no longer be denied. Trading the high-pressure hustle of grey dreary London, overnight, for the balmy 30+ sunshine and beaches of a small rural community came as quite the shock, and relief. It also presented a fitness challenge.

How would I recover my fitness when there’s no gym on the island?

All I had to work with was a tatami-matted spare bedroom and my own body. I couldn’t even rely on mail-ordering equipment because everything would need to be shipped in on a prohibitively expensive two-hour ferry. This was before the internet became ubiquitous, before youtube was full of training videos. I had just a 56k dail-up modem on my Sega Dreamcast.

Luckily, I found my way into functional fitness through bodyweight exercises. Initially through a guy called Matt Furey who was touting the dinosaur training of old-school strongmen like Otto Arco, Maxick and George Hackenschmidt. He’d also recently gotten the nod from an ageing Karl Gotch to begin marketing his old catch-wrestling workouts. This was back when Furey still had good material to sell, before he branched out into some fairly questionable internet marketing off-shoots.

The Great Gama, Hackenschmidt, Solovev, Maxick

The old timers are incredible. This was the era before steriods, human growth hormone and ephedrine. Back then “bodybuilding” was called “physical culture” and was inseperable from good long-term heath. The old timers spent as long practicing deep breathing and muscle control as they did pure strength gains. I was never interested in a gym body with huge muscles and low bodyfat, having been introduced to physical training through boxing where the world “musclebound” is an insult. I wanted a body that could respond to all my daily needs with spring and vibrancy.

I trained three times a week with a hardcore session that left me so drained I could see Jesus walking on the water. I’d usually do another light session to round out the week. For one calendar year I did these workouts:

      • Variation A: Royal Court: 500x hindu squat, 100x hindu pushup, 5 minute neck bridge
      • Variation B: The Gotch Bible: work through a deck of playing cards doing the number of reps on the card face (picture cards = 10, ace = 15). Black is hindu pushups, red is hindu squats
      • Variation C: 250 Pushups: combination of push-up variations in sets of 10.

The results were immediate and significant. I became much fitter and stronger than when I’d dabbled in weights as a teenager and all round felt great. I wouldn’t particularly recommend high-rep workouts anymore but my knees are great without any soreness thirteen years after hitting them hard with 500-rep squats. I’ve since moved my training more towards kickboxing and isometrics, but encourage you all to try the Royal Court.

There’s something special about knocking out 500 non-stop squats. First time took me 35 minutes, and my peak it took 11. You’ll start off scoffing at it’s ease, then begin to feel the burn in your quadriceps as you approach 100. By 150 you’ll be wondering if you can finish and by 200 really beginning to marshall your mental discipline. By 250 you’re over the hump and beginning to zone out. 400 is the home stretch and you feel great. By the time you step off the mat at 500 you know you’ve acheived something beyond 90% of men. For months after you can look back and think “I have the mental discipline for 500 squats, so I have the mental discipline for anything.”

A watch is like a jacket

The cheapest £5 black digital watch is more reliable than a £5,000 Rolex automatic. Sorry to break it to you like this, but watchmaking was revolutionised by the quartz crystal and all those beautifully engineered luxury watches are old technology. Granted this, did you also know that the ETA organisation makes pretty much all of the internal movements found in every brand of luxury watch – TAGHeuer, Breitling, Omega, Panerai etc. Last time I checked only Rolex and Seiko made their own movements. Thus when you buy the brand you’re basically buying the case it comes in and everything under the hood is generic. Lastly, the distribution system for these watches involves huge mark-ups at every level and the watches require bi-annual servicing by official engineers (read “gravy train”) at eye-watering prices in order to maintain the resale value and warranty.

So it’s a dumb idea to buy a luxury watch, right? Nope. I love them.

Just keep in mind that you are not buying (i) status (ii) reliability (iii) investments. You are buying a cool-looking watch that accessorises your personal identity. With that in mind, you won’t have a watch for all occasions, picked for something so primitive as telling the time. You will buy a number of watches to suit different outfits and social settings.

1. Friday Night Lounge Bar

After a hard week’s graft in the office you’ll be headed to the local pub for a quick snifter with your work colleagues and then perhaps across to Soho to rendevous with your best friends for some carousing of the ladies. Chances are you’ve dressed down for Friday’s work but are closer to sunday best than casual. Perhaps dark fashionable jeans and a well-fitted semi-formal shirt. Your outfit is projecting the air of a competent high-status breadwinner ready to throw off the responsibilities of his week. In this case I recommend the Panerai Luminor Marina.

This watch balances a retro military feel with it’s chunky bezel and functional dial, together with a sheen of sophistication and leather-strapped maturity. It’s also the Rambo watch. When Sylvestor Stallone was in Italy during filming of his disaster movie Daylight he stumbled across an old vintage Panerai in a curio shop. He inquired and subsequently bought shares in the ramshackle watch company and then commissioned 50 specially-designed Slytech watches given away to his best buddies in Hollywood. It didn’t take many A-lister parties before people started noticing the watch they were all wearing and overnight Panerai could start charging £5k per item.

2. Daily Activity

It’s Sunday afternoon and you are driving over to a friend’s house for summer barbeque. Perhaps it’s Tuesday evening and you’ve packed your sportsbag before headed over to Muay Thai training. You’re in casual jeans, leather boots, and a t-shirt. A normal physically active guy going through his day with vim and vigour. Take a Hublot Big Bang.

The rubber strap gives it a sporty durable look while the exaggerated chunkiness of the ceramic bezel and brushed-steel mount fondly recall the Tonka Toys you smashed up as a young boy. If James Bond is ever assassinated by a super-spy, his vanquisher will be wearing this watch.

3. Gentleman’s Club

Saturday evening and you are in your reading room with old friends, sipping whiskey and puffing on cuban cigars. Soft jazz plays in the background, leather-bound classics line the woodpanelled walls, and you recline peaceably in a chesterfield sofa. As an older man you enjoy the refined luxuries of life. Naturally your watch musn’t overshadow the situation. I recommend the A Lange Sohne Zeitwerk.

There are few social settings in which a simple indented and worn brown leather strap together with rose gold case would not look ostentatious, but your club is were you are at liberty to feel pompous. To offset such detail I suggest simple clean lines on the face and an unusual and retro feel. This is a watch you can take back into the 1940s.

Naturally I don’t suggest you pay full retail price for these timepieces. Find an online dealer in Chinese replicas and then check the replica watch forums for his reputation. Each of these watches will set you back about $140 for a good quality knock-off. When buying replicas, pay attention to the reputation of the dealer rather than fall in love with a particular watch. I got my last few from Watch Eden.

Exposing the undercover scoundrel

There was once a dilemma among the left-leaning pollyanna hippy crowd on how to square their utopian wishes for a tree-hugging kum-bae-ya Avatar-esque society with the readily observable historical cases of surpremely nasty human behaviour such as the Japanese invasion of Manchuria or the German invasion of Eastern Europe. How are we to run a lentil-eating organic collective society without nasty things such as laws, police, and armies unless people are themselves very kindly natured?

In true left-wing fashion the dilemma was buried. Some people came out with the “Germans are different” hypothesis to explain why literally millions of German citizens were able to enthusiastically support, or at least turn a blind eye to, a reign of terror in the East. It’s their Teutonic blood, or their Prussian militarism that leads them to follow orders no matter how foul etc.

The Guardian newspaper stages a rally

To address this question Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiments on the influence of authority in making normal people commit murderous crimes. He recruited random participants to play the role of teacher in a learning experiment. This was a cover. The real experiment was in how the participants follow clearly immoral orders. An excerpt:

“Teachers” were asked to administer increasingly severe electric shocks to the “learner” when questions were answered incorrectly. In reality, the only electric shocks delivered in the experiment were single 45-volt shock samples given to each teacher…. Shock levels were labeled from 15 to 450 volts….. In response to the supposed jolts, the “learner” (actor) would begin to grunt at 75 volts; complain at 120 volts; ask to be released at 150 volts; plead with increasing vigor, next; and let out agonized screams at 285 volts. Eventually, in desperation, the learner was to yell loudly and complain of heart pain.

At some point the actor would refuse to answer any more questions…. Teachers were instructed to treat silence as an incorrect answer and apply the next shock level to the student.”

What percentage of teachers, if any, do you think went up to the maximum voltage of 450?

“Results from the experiment: Some teachers refused to continue with the shocks early on, despite urging from the experimenter. This is the type of response Milgram expected as the norm. But Milgram was shocked to find those who questioned authority were in the minority. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the teachers were willing to progress to the maximum voltage level.”

Zimbardo carried out a similar experiment in which two groups of participants were randomly assigned roles as “prisoner” and “guard” for a two-week simulation of a prison. The experiment had to be abandoned because the fakr guards quickly became violently abusive to the fake prisoners. The simple takeaway from these experiments is thus:

Despite all the outward signs of normal decent behaviour, a huge proportion of people will rapidly display brutal behaviour when situations either pressure them or make it advantageous to do so.

That next-door neighbour of yours who smiles and nods at you but you don’t quite trust? In 1990s Bosnia he’d be denouncing you to the secret police in order to steal your house. That co-worker who is unhesitatingly polite in meetings but seems to always dodge the unwelcome projects? In 1930s Soviet Union he’d petition the NKVD to send you to the gulag so he can take your job. So how can you spot these snakes in normal stable society? I have a few rules of thumb all of which involve paying close attention to the dropping of the mask.

A russian commissar at heart

1. Observe them in moments of discomfort. Even the most despicable scumbag can maintain his mask of civilisation when comfortably housed, fed and employed. It is when their comfort is disturbed and suddenly a gap opens between the right thing to do and the thing that restores comfort, that’s when you watch. That’s why you learn a man’s character in the boxing ring when you spar him. I’ve had partners bite, scratch, run, and worse show a sadistic gleam in the eye when getting the better of a weaker opponent. These are the concentration camp guards of the future. Watch your friends when you are talking to girls they fancy and those little things they do to try to slit your throat. Watch momentary hesitation as they calculate if they can get away with something selfish.

2. Watch how they treat the little people. Most scoundrels will act with due decorum and politeness when dealing with equals whose responses can affect their quality of life. It’s a rational selfish calculation. Those same scoundrels change when dealing with people who are unable to present them with consequences to their actions. How do they deal with serving staff, or secretaries, or call centre salesmen? How do they talk to a helpdesk employee when they are complaining about a problem in their service? Be very careful of those people who treat the little people as subhuman.

3. Let them talk about taboo subjects when they think you agree. Don’t stop and disagree with them, just let them talk. Scoundrels will often unleash a torrent of envious negativity and in particular will betray a habit of assigning certain groups to the collective bin of “subhuman” and then propose mistreatment. For example, the Left will often look to classify a rival as “racist” and then strip them of their right to a job, a social life, and their freedom. The vindictiveness of their persecution is something to behold. For evidence, just follow any news story when a public figure utters a non-PC statement. The only thing stopping such scoundrels from sending thought-criminals to the gulags is that we live in 2012 Britain not 1935 Russia. However, don’t mistake this with profiling based on collective factors. It is one thing to point to an observable, defendable fact (e.g. “95% of interracial rape is black men raping white women” or “almost all terrorism against the UK is commited by Islamists or Irish”) but quite another thing entirely to strip blacks, muslims and Irish of individual human freedoms simply because they belong to these identity groups.

4. Link patterns of improbable coincidence. I once met an English guy in Tokyo who had several fistfights with drunken Japanese on the last train home after drinking. I knew the wife of a friend who kept quitting / being fired because every one of her bosses was an arsehole. In each case, consider the wild improbability that these sequences were coincidence. Bad people frequently get into trouble and they can be skilled in rationalising each isolated event as not being their fault. Don’t buy it.

None of these methods are infalliable. People are complex creatures and while someone may be an arsehole at the “retail” level (never buying drinks, spouting hate etc) they may suddenly show strong moral character at the “wholesale” level (when the shit really hits the fan). Nonetheless, don’t be lulled to sleep by the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Lessons from The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas’ serialised novel The Count of Monte Cristo (Hereafter ‘TCMC’) caused a sensation upon it’s 1844 release. As relayed by Luc Sante:

“The effect of the serials, which held vast audiences enthralled … is unlike any experience of reading we are likely to have known ourselves, maybe something like that of a particularly gripping television series. Day after day, at breakfast or at work or on the street, people talked of little else”

Should you read it’s 875 pages of dense type you’ll see why. Few novels are so able to maintain a fast pace, wide scope, deep characterisations, and also suck you into their period through details. This in itself would be enough but it is also chock full of life lessons. I first heard about the book while watching Dr Paul’s “Deep Inner Game” dvd series. He used the plot as a metaphor for the rites of passage from boy to man. In bare bones:

ze Count

Boys have not yet taken the weight of responsibility upon their shoulders so they are carefree and looked after by their elders. As they advance through puberty they must develop the leadership and direction of manhood. This is not easy so most traditional societies structure the transformation with a symbolic rite of passage. The boy is metaphorically killed and the man rises from those ashes. Note there is no equivalent process for women – simply reaching physical sexual maturity is sufficient for a girl to become a woman. For men, effort and sacrifice is required.

TCMC is a literary rite of passage for the lead character Edmond Dantes as he opens the novel a wide-eyed precocious teenager full of love, trust and naivete. He is promptly betrayed by jealous rivals and locked away in a dungeon for 14 years. During his incarceration he befriends the wizened Abbe Faria who bestows upon him a full renaissance education and faciliates his escape. The now “man” Dantes dedicates his next twenty years to exacting a cunning revenge on his persecutors. Read this way, TCMC is a blueprint for masculine development and this strongly recommend to those of my readers who wish to style themselves renaissance men.

A different theme that intrigued me is that of revenge. There’s no question this is primarily a revenge fantasy and Dantes dedicates fourteen years of incarceration to plotting it then another twenty years exacting it. His net of retribution, although tightly aimed, enmeshes many bystanders who the book takes care not to position as “innocent” but are not among his persecutors. Towards the conclusion Dantes ruminates on whether he was justified in his actions (he ultimately concludes “yes”) particuarly in how he ruins the live of his faithless fiancee and also indirectly causes the death of a small, though wicked, boy.

Rollo Tomassi wrote an interesting juxtaposition advising against the cold flame of vengeance. To paraphrase he suggests the emotional energy and resources directed towards carrying out revenge would be better disposed of in making your life better i.e. living well is the best revenge.

“For so long as you consider revenge, no matter how petty, you’ll still be attached to the emotions of that rejection. Accept the rejection, move on, rejection is better than regret… beware the ‘Well-lived’ life spent in pursuit of revenge. Revenge should never be the motivation for success. Even the time and mental effort needed to consider some appropriate way of making her aware of how she made you feel are resources better spent on meeting new prospective women who will reciprocate your interest. The root of confidence is developing, recognizing and acknowledging as many personal options as possible. Any effort you’d expend on revenge is a wasted opportunity to better yourself. Indifference to detractors and personal success are a far better revenge than any one sided injury you could inflict on them in return.”

Dante’s revenge is not a buffer against rejection but rather is a settling of accounts against men who have deliberately wronged him. Also, the pain suffered by Dantes is several orders of magnitude higher than the type Rollo considers. Initially it is difficult to see why Dantes didn’t merely declare the vendetta and assassinate his persecutors at the earliest opportunity, sticking a knife in their ribs in some dark alley rather than the laborious public ruination that he actually inflicts. The reason is Providence. Dantes comes to believe he is chosen by God to punish the wicked (due to the sheer improbability of how he is furnished with the means to exact revenge) but it must be accomplished slowly to give the wicked ample opportunity to repent and thus be spared. Because of his mission he does not consider his efforts in exacting revenge to be wasted.

Personally, I’d have just murdered my enemies and then moved on to other things. A man should not allow others to take what is his. When jackals transgress the rule of law and hurt you, you are required to exact revenge in order to maintain your boundaries. Allowing the cold streak of cowardice into your heart will hobble you for life. This does, of course, assume you were significantly wronged. Having your pint spilled in a pub doesn’t count.