11th June 2013: Picks & Pans

Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks by Oliver James (New York: Vermillion, 2013). (TS-3). A winner-takes-all environment, flawed incentives design, and ‘tournaments’ for managerial roles means that proficiency in office politics is often necessary for career prosperity. James first examines four toxic types in professions and organisations: Psychopaths, Machiavels, Narcissists, and Imposters. In-depth advice is given on a range of skills including: acting, astuteness, virtuosity, and handling dirty tricks. Authenticity, insight, mindfulness, playfulness, and fluid, two-way communication are suggested as ways to reframe office politics in a more productive, and perhaps even initiatory, manner. Office Politics is useful reading if you aspire to climb the corporate ladder, and want to avoid the White Magic of organisations, and the of co-workers.

 

The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi by William Scott Wilson (Boston and London: Shambhala, 2013). (TS-3). Miyamoto Musashi’s influential Book of Five Rings (Gorin No Sho) discusses sword-fighting skills as one path to self-mastery. Wilson combines a biography of Musashi; an analysis of the development and life circumstances of Musashi’s philosophy; and a consideration of Musashi’s influence on Japanese martial arts, and on global popular culture, such as film portrayals and Wall Street traders. Kenji Tokitsu’s book Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings (Boston and London: Weatherhill, 2012) (TS-4) provides a parallel history of Musashi’s life, documents his pre-Gorin No Sho writings, and examines his School (Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu), and its relationship to Budo.

 

Balancing the Mind: A Tibetan Buddhist Approach to Refining Attention by B. Allan Wallace (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2005). (TS-4). Wallace was a monk in Buddhist monasteries in India, and Switzerland, and has translated for H.H., the Dalai Lama. Balancing the Mind is a commentary on ‘Small Exposition of the Stages of Path to Enlightenment’ by the Buddhist Vajrayana monk Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), which outlines an Indo-Tibetan methodology for using introspection (samprajnya) and mindfulness (smrti) to cultivate meditative quiescence (samatha). Wallace discusses parallels with William James’ study of religious experience, Theravada Buddhism, and contemporary neuroscience research. A helpful glossary translates specialist terms in English, Sanskrit, and Tibetan, and an extensive bibliography is included for further research. Gareth Sparham has also translated Tsongkhapa’s ‘An Explanation of Tantric Morality Called “Fruit Clusters of Siddhis”’ available with commentary in Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005) (TS-3). Tsongkhapa’s perspective on Root and Gross Downfalls in the Kalacakra System has insights for the periodic crises and shocks that have occurred in initiatory wisdom schools.

 

Omniscience and the Rhetoric of Reason: Santaraksita and Kamalasila on Rationality, Argumentation, & Religious Authority by Sara L. McClintock (Somerville, MA Wisdom Publications, 2010). (TS-4). McClintock is an Assistant Professor of religion at Emory University. She examines in detail the discussion of the Buddha’s omniscience (a “state of infinite, all-encompassing knowledge”) in the Tattvasamgraha (written by the Buddhist monk Santaraksita in the 8th century) and the Panjika commentary (by Santaraksita’s direct disciple, the monk Kamalsila), and its influence on “the metaphysics, epistemology, soteriology, and practical rationality” of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Santaraksita and Kamalasila’s analysis highlights the pivotal role of a Buddhist “rhetoric of reason” in order to eliminate human ignorance (avidya) that is a barrier to potential omniscience (sarvajna). McClintock provides a glimpse of argumentation in the Indo-Tibetan religious tradition.

 

Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei translated by Thomas Cleary (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2000). (TS-3). The Blue Cliff Record is an influential collection of Zen Buddhist teaching stories and koans. Cleary has translated commentaries by Hakuin Ekaku (1685—1768) and Tenkei Denson (1648—1735), reflecting the Rinzai and Soto sects, respectively. For Cleary, the commentaries illuminate how the Blue Cliff Record text is “specially designed to assist in the activation of dormant human potential . . . [that] are intended to foster specific perceptions and insights whose absorption in experience enable the mind to work in a more coherent and comprehensive manner than conventional education can produce.”

 

Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by Peter Godfrey-Smith (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003). (TS-3). Godfrey-Smith developed this primer on the philosophy of science from his lectures at Stanford University. He clarifies the foundations of scientific theory-building; the role of logical empiricism and the different types of explanatory inference; the Popper-Kuhn-Lakatos-Feyerabend debates of the 1960s and 1970s; and recent challenges from the sociology of science (Bruno Latour), feminism, natural philosophy, scientific realism, and Bayesian-influenced probability. Godfrey-Smith will help you to understand the difference between deductive and inductive logic; the influence of Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions; and the recent work in causal explanations and mechanisms. This is a general book if you have a general interest in logic and the scientific method; and perhaps an introductory book if you are going to work regularly with the natural approach to the objective and subjective universes.

 

Machine Learning: The Art and Science of Algorithms That Make Sense of Data by Peter Flach (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). (TS-3). (MAM-3). Flach defines machine learning as “concerned with using the right features to build the right models that achieve the right tasks.” Machine learning uses descriptive, predictive, and probabilistic models to build learning and rules-based analysis of computer data, from your email’s spam filter to search engine algorithms. This book is an introduction to how computer science is using machine learning: it is an accessible introduction to the machine learning field (when compared with other relevant literature); but might be a more specialist text if you are unfamiliar with probability, tree and rule models, and concept learning. Machine learning informs complex decision-making and knowledge discovery in computer science, e-commerce choice selection, search engine optimisation, quantitative hedge funds, and pharmaceuticals research.

 

Relational Knowledge Discovery by M.E. Muller (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). (TS-4). (MAM-4). Muller is a Professor of computer science at the University of Applied Sciences, Bonn-Rhein-Sieg. Formal methods for knowledge discovery are the basis for algorithms, rules, and pattern recognition capabilities in artificial intelligence, data mining, and machine learning. Muller defines learning as “acquiring the ability to discriminate between different things.” This book provides a graduate level introduction to data-driven hypothesis testing; set theory; inductive logic; ensemble learning; knowledge representation, and other techniques that underpin algorithms in data mining and machine learning. A primer on how creating/limiting decision pathways might be modelled using information theory.

 

Knowledge Automation: How to Implement Decision Management in Business Processes by Alan N. Fish (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). (TS-3). (MAM-3). Knowledge automation lies at the intersection of decision management (using predictive analytics and business rules for decisions); business process management systems (activity sequences); and service-oriented architecture (loosely-coupled reusable software as a service). These areas provide C-level managers with the capabilities to automate many business functions, and to change the staff and skills profile in contemporary organisations (which can lead to office politics, change management, and restructuring). Fish provides a guide for senior managers, information architects, and business analysts to model business processes; identify and redesign process decisions; and to develop decision services using business rules, algorithms, and predictive analytics. It remains to be seen whether Fish’s vision of decision management will occur, perhaps aided by knowledge discovery and machine learning, or whether it will suffer the fate of early expert systems from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

 

Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life by John H. Miller and Scott E. Page (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007). (TS-3). (MAM-3). This primer on complex adaptive systems (CAS) draws on the research expertise of the Santa Fe Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Michgan. CAS can emerge from the interaction of individual actors or agents. This book discusses major features and dynamics of CAS including: modelling, emergence, automata, and CAS insights on complex social dynamics such as cities, economies, financial markets, and societal evolution. An accessible introduction to what computational models reveal about collective and mass social dynamics.

 

Investing: The Last Liberal Art (2nd ed.) by Robert G. Hagstrom (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013). (TS-3). (MAM-1). Hagstrom is a value-based investor who is deeply influenced by Charlie Munger (vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway); Benjamin Franklin; Edward Thorndike (a student of William James); James Burke (Connections); and John Holland (the Santa Fe Institute). In this book Hagstrom attempts to understand how Munger thinks about investment and acquires ‘worldly wisdom’ via Thorndike’s ‘connectionionist’ model of learning, and the ‘latticework’ of discipline-specific ‘mental models’. Hagstrom examines lessons from eight fields of knowledge: physics, biology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, literature, mathematics, and decision-making. He also includes the St. John’s College reading list of philosophy classics: “How does one achieve worldly wisdom? To state the matter concisely, it is an ongoing process of, first, acquiring significant concepts—the models—from many areas of knowledge and then, second, learning to recognize patterns of similarity among them. The first is a matter of educating yourself; the second is a matter of learning to think and see differently.”

 

The Asylum: Inside The Rise and Ruin of the Global Oil Market by Leah McGrath Goodman (New York: HarperCollins, 2011). (TS-3). (MAM-3). In late 2012 and early 2013 new scandals swept Wall Street and global financial markets. The new scandals involved the manipulation of the London Interbank Overnight Rate for inter-bank lending, and a probable European Union (EU) investigation into the global oil market. Goodman’s reportage provides some historical context for the EU investigation if it proceeds; the founding and evolution of the Nymex oil markets; the transition of pit traders from ‘open outcry’ to computer-driven, high-frequency trading markets; and the battles within the enforcement division of the US-based Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Asylum also includes pit trader, market-maker, and enforcement division reactions to the high-profile collapses of Enron and Amaranth Advisors which traded the global oil, gas, electricity, and commodities markets with disastrous results. “These scandals don’t surprise me at all,” one trader told me, “of course financial markets are manipulated!”

 

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2011). (TS-5). In May 2013, the US-based Internal Revenue Service was engulfed in scandal when media outlets revealed that the IRS had targeted right-wing political groups for taxation audits. The IRS scandal would not have surprised readers of David Foster Wallace’s final, unfinished novel, about the initiation of trainee David Foster Wallace in the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois. Wallace spent nearly a decade researching accounting and taxation audit systems whilst working on the novel, which explores themes of individuality, mindfulness practice as a method to train attention, and the search for human happiness amidst contemporary boredom. The University of Texas’s Harry Ransom Center is expected to house the original drafts and supporting material from The Pale King.

 

An Introduction to Systematic Reviews by David Gough, Sandy Oliver, and James Thomas (London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2012). (TS-3). A systematic review is a structured, analytic process, undertaken as part of a research literature review or project, in order to understand or to evaluate a knowledge domain. The results from a systematic review may identify gaps in current knowledge, biases or errors to be addressed, or may be the first step in the synthesis of new knowledge, such as theory-building. This book discusses how to do a systematic review, and the methodological issues that arise during the process, from information management and the selection criteria for relevant studies, to specialist techniques like database analysis and statistical meta-analysis. The authors are affiliated with the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre, in the Social Science Research Unit at London’s Institute of Education. The Cochrane Collaboration, an international network involved in the systematic reviews of healthcare, also shaped this book.

26th December 2012: Picks & Pans

Antifragile: How Things Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (New York: Allen Lane, 2012). (TS-5) (MAM-5). Taleb (Fooled By Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes) is a former options trader and philosopher who focuses on the ontology and epistemology of uncertainty. Antifragile develops a via negativa philosophy about things that benefit from disorder and shock: vega and long gamma exposure in stock markets; post-traumatic growth in medicine; and cultivating ‘optionality’ and the ‘barbell strategy’ as ways to deal with Hazard, chance, and life stressors (preferably of short duration followed by recovery). Taleb rails against ‘fragilistas’, ‘touristification’ and details a range of Black Swan errors that humans and social institutions can fall prey to. He constructs a dense personal, subjective universe that needs its own glossary to decode. Antifragile’s mix of analysis, critique and personal memoir would have benefited from an editor but is filled with Taleb’s philosophical insights. For a specialist view of vega and long gamma see Robert A. Schwartz, John Aidan Byrne and Antoinette Colaninno’s Volatility: Risk and Uncertainty in Financial Markets (New York: Springer, 2011) (TS-4) (MAM-4). For an historical counter-view to Taleb on vega and risk see Aaron C. Brown’s Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012) (TS-3) (MAM-3).

 

Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max (New York: Viking, 2012). (TS-3). David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) was a United States novelist, short story writer and essayist best known for the maximalist novel Infinite Jest (New York: Little, Brown, 1996) (TS-5). D.T. Max’s autobiography is a cathartic and confronting exploration of DFW’s development as a humanist, philosophical writer, his impact on academia and popular culture, and his personal demons. DFW struggled with depression and nervous breakdowns at Amherst to write the Wittgenstein-influenced novel The Broom of the System (New York: Viking Press, 1987) (TS-3). Infinite Jest combined a critique of popular culture with DFW’s experiences in Alcoholics Anonymous, and brought him major critical acclaim and commercial success. In some ways this could be interpreted as de facto Recognition (‘the most influential writer of his generation’) which DFW was unprepared for, and which attracted criticism from Bret Easton Ellis and other writers. Max is unflinching about how DFW dealt with this disproportionate success and includes some reflective correspondence with Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen and other writers. DFW would spend over a decade writing his unfinished novel The Pale King (New York: Little, Brown, 2011) (TS-3) and struggling with Buddhist mindfulness practices. He articulated this philosophical shift in his commencement speech ‘This Is Water’ delivered at Kenyon College in May 2005 and available on YouTube. Perhaps what DFW missed was a balanced initiatory sense (which developed from Infinite Jest to The Pale King) and the appropriate psyche-strengthening resources and skills to overcome his suicidal ideation. DFW’s papers are now housed at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places by Michael J. Mauboussin (rev. ed.) (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). (TS-3) (MAM-1). Mauboussin is Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management and Adjunct Professor of Finance at Columbia Business School. More Than You Know is a guide for investment strategists to find alpha (actively managed returns in excess of a performance benchmark — or, philosophically, what is psyche-enhancing in your life). It is an accessible guide – influenced by Edward O. Wilson’s ‘consilience’ integrative approach – to current thinking about behavioural finance, market microstructure (how market design and transaction costs impact price activity), portfolio management, and how the emerging sciences can be applied to investment management, idea generation, and decision-making. The essay structure in More Than You Know also highlights the importance of metacommunication in conveying new insights to different audiences: this is a book about how the exploratory search for investment and trading ideas can lead to new applied knowledge and can refresh strategic thinking. For an overview of Mauboussin’s interest in the emerging sciences, fitness landscapes, and economics see Eric D. Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics (New York: Random House, 2006) (TS-3) (MAM-3). For an in-depth conceptual and historical account of model-making in economics, game theory and macroeconomic simulations see Mary S. Morgan’s The World In The Model: How Economists Work and Think (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) (TS-4) (MAM-4).

 

How Much Is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky (London: Penguin Books, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). In 1928, the economist and philosopher John Maynard Keynes spoke to Cambridge University undergraduates on ‘economic possibilities for our grandchildren’. The Skidelskys set out to examine how and why Keynes’ forecast has failed to occur. This book generated a sustained public debate about consumption, work productivity, and income inequality in London’s Financial Times and other media outlets. The ‘insatiability’ of work, Faustian and self-interested economics, and shifts in global attitudes to wealth are considered. The Skidelskys debate the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth World-3 simulation forecast and its ‘overshoot and collapse’ scenario; happiness economics; and what a ‘good life’ consists of. They conclude that a philosophically-oriented worldview that cultivates the Good is healthier than a consumption-oriented life. For the historical context of the shift from Keynes to Faustian and self-interested economics, and the key personalities involved, see Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (New York: Vintage Books, 2011) (TS-3) (MAM-3). If you aspire to the 1% then Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012) (TS-3) (MAM-3) might convey why this was a highly visible socio-political issue in 2012.

 

The Stewardship of Wealth: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors by Gregory Curtis (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Curtis is founder of the wealth advisory firm Greycourt & Co. The first third of this book explores Curtis’s views on creative capital, wealth management, government policies, capital and financial markets, and risk. The second third deals with advisors, family investment decisions, and trusts. The third deals with asset allocation and portfolio decisions including equities, international markets, real estate, fixed income, and alternative investments (including hedge funds and private equity). Curtis addresses money managers, tax minimisation strategies, investment policy statements, and the myths of wealth, the rich and happiness. A website has further chapters and resources. If you are considering a career in private wealth management then you might consult G. Victor Hallman and Jerry S. Rosenbloom’s Private Wealth Management: The Complete Reference for the Personal Financial Planner (8th ed.) (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009) (TS-4) and Harold Evensky, Stephen M. Horan and Thomas R. Robinson’s The New Wealth Management: The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Managing and Investing Client Assets (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2011) (TS-4) which outlines the CFA Institute’s approach.

 

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction by Nate Silver (New York: Penguin, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Silver is a United States statistician and ‘sabermetrics’ (sports statistics analyst) whose blog FiveThirtyEight (currently hosted by The New York Times) achieved a highly accurate forecast of the 2012 United States election outcome. The Signal and the Noise outlines Silver’s Bayesian approach to forecasting and prediction, including under what conditions these may fail. His methodology uses Big Data, model building, probability, analytics, inference testing, and other tools. If you grapple with uncertainty or to use statistics insights in organisational management, Silver’s book may be a useful introduction to a rapidly growing field. Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society (New York: Basic Books, 2012) (TS-3) argues for the use of induction, randomised trials, and experimental social science in government, political administrations, and the diffusion of social innovation.

 

Market Sense and Nonsense: How the Markets Really Work and How They Don’t (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Schwager is a futures market expert whose four volume Market Wizards interview series (1989-2012) have status amongst traders as mouth-to-ear initiation. Market Sense and Nonsense collects Schwager’s insights on capital preservation; market experts and the investment media; why he feels the Efficient Market Hypothesis doesn’t always work; and lessons on evaluating past returns, volatility, risk, hedge funds, mutual funds, and portfolio management. A strategic primer for new investors to understand how capital and financial markets work, and how to critically evaluate advice, media, and other information sources.

 

Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story by Greg Smith (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). On 14th March 2012, The New York Times published Smith’s op-ed ‘Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs’. In the NYT op-ed and this follow-up book Smith adopts a ‘whistleblower’ stance about the cultural change he believes the investment bank Goldman Sachs has undergone from client-oriented service to extractive rent-seeking and proprietary trading. This rushed-to-publication book doesn’t live up to the promise of Smith’s op-ed and “muppets” claim about how Goldman Sachs views its clients. However, it can be read as a firsthand, somewhat initiatory account of Smith’s transformation from idealistic intern in 2000 to disaffected sales trader and manager in 2012. Were there ethical dilemmas, shadow projection, or a combination? The reaction to Smith’s book particularly from NYT Dealbook editor-at-large and CNBC co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin offers lessons in framing and metacommunication about ethical dilemmas. For an historical and contemporary overview of Goldman Sachs and its investment bank culture see Charles D. Ellis’s magisterial The Partnership: A History of Goldman Sachs (New York: Allen Lane, 2008) (TS-3) (MAM-3) and William D. Cohan’s reportage Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came To Rule The World (New York: Penguin Books, 2011) (TS-3) (MAM-3).

 

Octopus: Sam Israel, The Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con by Guy Lawson (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). I first heard about the Octopus power elite conspiracy from parapolitical researcher Kenn Thomas and later from open source intelligence advocate Robert David Steele. Octopus resurfaces in this biography of Bayou Group hedge fund founder Samuel Israel III who had $US117 million in debts and trading losses. Israel attempts to enter a purported high-yield bond debt ‘secret market’ involving the Rothschilds and other elite banking families. The first third of the book deals with Bayou’s Ponzi scheme; the second with how Israel becomes ensnared with conspiracy theorist Robert Booth Nichols; and the third with the fallout involving international prime bank fraud. This is a cautionary tale of multiple cons and marks; the ‘medial’ conspiracy netherworld; and the failure of reality-testing. Israel might have benefited from Mark Schindler’s Rumors in Financial Markets: Insights Into Behavioral Finance (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007) (TS-4) and Jeffrey A. Winters’ Oligarchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) (TS-4).

 

The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World by Jonathan Powell (New York: Vintage, 2011). (TS-3). Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff from 1994 to 2007. The New Machiavelli is a defence of applied Machiavellian realpolitik from The Prince and The Discourses that draws on Powell’s unpublished diaries and his political administration experiences. Powell discusses the Blair Government’s rise-to-power; Cabinet, Chancellery, and Civil Service negotiations; the importance of multi-stakeholder decision-making and strategic thinking; and how the Blair Government dealt with Europe, geopolitical crises, scandals, and war. For Powell, Blair was a leader who benefited from both Fortuna and also from heeding Machiavelli’s insights about people, persuasion, and leadership. For a comparative analysis of Machiavellian leadership and statecraft in the contemporary era see Carnes Lord’s The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need To Know (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) (TS-3) which considers states, regimes, elites, and the various levers of national power (such as economics, diplomacy, force, intelligence, education, and strategic culture). Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power: Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2010) (TS-3) considers power in organisational culture and leadership.

 

Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination by Frank Partnoy (New York: Public Affairs, 2012). (TS-3). Partnoy is the George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance at the University of San Diego and a former investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Wait examines evidence and insights from diverse sources—sport, high-frequency trading, neuro-marketing, information economics, and fighter pilot training—that delaying our decisions can give us situational and strategic advantages. This book is pitched at a Malcolm Gladwell audience but with more substantive research and interviews. Partnoy introduces ideas that have become very influential in their fields, such as George Akerlof’s ‘market for lemons’, and John Boyd’s OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) which is situated in Grant T. Hammond’s The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2001) (TS-4). The late Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman’s work on cognitive biases and decision heuristics is detailed in Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Penguin Books, 2011) (TS-1) (MAM-1).

 

Willpower: Why Self-Control Is the Secret to Success by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (New York: Penguin, 2011). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Baumeister is the Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Willpower is the first popular account of Baumeister’s influential research program into emotional self-regulation, self-control, cultivating will, and the danger of ego depletion: perhaps the key to world-building. Baumeister and Tierney discuss current psychological research on will; the design of personal productivity tools; decision heuristics; self-help programs; parenting; dieting; and other topics. This is a gateway to academic research by Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs and others about self-control and experimental social psychology — where the insights and writing can surpass Tierney’s journalistic account here.

 

The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotion by Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012). (TS-3). Panksepp is a Professor at Washington State University and this book presents his affective neuroscience research program for a broader audience. Panksepp’s research examines how deep brain systems and affective consciousness can affect humans and animals, and might be part of the neuro-evolutionary roots of archetypes, legends and myths. He has identified several deep brain systems—seeking (expectancy), fear (anxiety), rage (anger), lust (sexual excitement), care (nurturance), panic/grief (sadness), and play (social joy)—that shape the neuro-biology of the core self. This book considers how the frontier research on brain emotional systems can affect our mental life and philosophy. Panksepp’s popular account here is supported by a growing number of highly cited academic research papers and collaborations.

 

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Timothy Ferriss (Las Vegas, NV: Amazon Publishing, 2012). (TS-3). Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) is a raconteur who shifted from self-promoting author to popular blogger and adviser for entrepreneurial start-ups and venture capital. The 4-Hour Chef is Ferriss’s guide to accelerated learning using cooking as a domain of expertise. Ferriss’s framework of DSSS (deconstruction, selection, sequencing, and stakes) and CaFE (compression, frequency, and coding) is a distillation of techniques that Richard Bandler, John Grinder and Robert Dilts developed for Master Practitioner courses in Neurolinguistic Programming, and that were previously outlined in Leslie Cameron-Bandler, David Gordon and Michael Lebeau’s The Emprint Method: A Guide to Reproducing Competence (Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1985) (TS-3). However, Ferriss is able to use metacommunication skills to reach a broader audience: this is a book to be closely studied for how Ferriss distils and presents information, as well as his advice on transferring competence. For two comparative models on developing expertise see Brett N. Steenbarger’s The Daily Trading Coach: 101 Lessons For Becoming Your Own Trading Psychologist (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009) (TS-3) and Robert Greene’s Mastery (New York: Viking, 2012) (TS-3). Cook Ferriss’s recipes at your own risk—and remember to send me some ‘food porn’ photographs.

 

The Net Delusion: How Not To Liberate The World by Evgeny Morozov (New York: Penguin, 2011). (TS-3). In a former life I edited an alternative news website and was a senior researcher on the sociology of the internet for a university research consortium. Morozov’s Net Delusion and his Twitter feed (@evgenymorozov) are one of the wittiest, scathing critiques of the democracy-internet nexus promoted by Wired, Fast Company and Red Herring magazines and by TED’s popular talks. Morozov in the past has been funded by the Open Society Foundations funded by George Soros. Amongst the book’s insights are an exchange between Aldous Huxley and George Orwell about oligarchical social control; how authoritarian regimes use the internet and social networks; how ‘internet freedom’ can have propaganda elements; and the technological determinism embedded in many internet histories. Morozov’s next book is To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (New York: Public Affairs, 2013).

 

The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran by David Crist (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012). (TS-4). A possible conflict between Iran, and Israel and the United States was a highly visible geopolitical scenario in 2011 and 2012. Crist is a United States historian who spent over a decade researching this eye-opening exploration of United States diplomacy and low-intensity conflict involving Iran, from the Carter to the Obama Administration. The “Iran Problem” involves the Middle East, oil, religion, nuclear weapons development and other complex national security issues. For author and defense historian Thomas Ricks, The Twilight War “is the secret history of the last three decades of American foreign policy in the Middle East”: it provides the historical and institutional context to understand current geopolitical debates, forecasts and pundits. Crist’s contribution is to capture the multi-sided decision-making that occurs in a national security confrontation which lies below the escalation threshold of declared physical war.

 

Tantra by Geshe Tashi Tsering (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2012). (TS-3). Tsering is a guiding teacher at London’s Jamyang Buddhist Centre and this is the final volume in his very accessible Foundations of Buddhist Thought series (which might be regarded as vital for Buddhists and are useful metacommunication guides on how to present religious doctrines and practices to a broader audience). This book explains with model clarity the Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices of the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools with a Madhyamaka or Middle Path emphasis: initiation and vows; deity, guru, and kriya yoga and visualization practices; highest yoga tantra; the generation and completion stages; and the physiology of esoteric practices involving the subtle body. Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoche’s Principles of Buddhist Tantra (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2012) (TS-3) explains the Middle Path of spiritual illumination in greater detail, whilst Lama Yeshe’s Becoming Vajrasattva: The Tantric Path of Purification (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2004) (TS-3) explains Vajrasattva purification and retreat practices.

 

Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1998). (TS-3). Feuerstein (1948-2012) was a major scholar on Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and yoga. Tantra provides an accessible, clear introduction to Hindu Tantric cosmology, the major Hindu deities and their religious significance, the subtle body, and the practices of mantra, mudra, and yantra. The chapter ‘The Transmutation of Desire’ quotes from Kaula and Left Hand Path scriptural sources, discusses the panchamakara or 5 Ms (madya, mamsa, matsya, mudra and maithuna); and examines how the ritualised practice of maithuna or sexual intercourse differs from the Western Neo-Tantra derived from the Kama Sutra. Feuerstein dispels many of the myths and misunderstandings in Western contemporary occulture about the panchamakara and maithuna, in particular. Feuerstein also makes comparisons where relevant between Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist forms of Tantra, their religious practices, and cultural transmission.

 

Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion by Hugh B. Urban (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). (TS-4). Urban is a Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University and an expert on the historiography and sociology of Tantra. Tantra posits that Tantra arose through the interplay of Western and Indian encounters and the ‘medial’ battle between scholarship and the popular imagination, and political elite and social non-elite practice. Urban examines the contributions and debates over Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Mircea Eliade, Sir John Woodroffe, Chogyam Trungpa, Osho, Aleister Crowley, and the popularity of ‘sex magick’ in contemporary occulture. Urban concludes that although Tantra is an “imagined category” it can also be reimagined in new ways. This book is an academic theory-dense gateway to the historically contested Vamachara (Left Hand Path) and its influence on Western contemporary occulture.

 

Sinister Yogis by David Gordon White (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). (TS-4). White is professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sinister Yogis examines the esoteric writings of yogis in Hindu Tantra, their development of siddhis (special powers), and cross-cultural encounters with the West. Yogis had a far more sinister reputation in Hindu religious and occult circles before Colonialist discovery, and the modern yoga and Neo-Tantra industries which White traces to B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1930s. White includes a wealth of information and translated texts on the ‘immanent’ Vamachara (Left Hand Path) that contextualises yogic practices involving inner space, apotheosis, self-willed death, and siddhis. Gordon’s earlier books on Tantra and Yoga are highly recommended.

 

The Taming of Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism by Jacob P. Dalton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). (TS-4). Dalton is Assistant Professor of Tibetan Studies at University of California, Berkeley. This scholarly study examines the Tibetan ‘Dark Ages’ period or “age of fragmentation” (842-986 AD) and how socio-political upheaval shaped the subsequent transmission of Tantric Buddhist doctrines in the 11th and 12th centuries. Dalton focuses on Tantric manuscripts found in Dunhuang that explore the taming of Rudra and other Tibetan Buddhist demons; Buddhist warfare doctrines; the 19th century debate about early Tibetan blood sacrifice rites; and transgressive ethics in Vajrayana Buddhism. How early Tibetan Buddhists dealt with the “age of fragmentation” violence had profound effects on its cultural transmission as a religion.

 

Understanding Sarkar: The Indian Episteme, Macrohistory, and Transformative Knowledge by Sohail Inayatullah (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002). (TS-5). Inayatullah is a Professor at Taiwan’s Tamkang University and an Adjunct Professor at Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast. Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (1921-1990) was an Indian spiritual philosopher, social activist, founder of Ananda Marga, and conceptualised Progressive Utilisation Theory (PROUT). Understanding Sarkar is the book-length version of Inayatullah’s PhD that situates Sarkar’s neo-humanist, macrohistorical contribution in the context of Hindu Vedic and Tantra frameworks as initiatory, transformative knowledge, and the Yugas as historical cycles. Sarkar’s social cycle and sadvipra leaders (“the spiritual intellectual”) offer a way for social and civilizational transformation in the Kali Yuga, which Inayatullah compares with Sri Aurobindo and other Indian thinkers. Inayatullah also compares Sarkar to other macrohistorians including Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, Khaldun, Marx, Pareto, Mosca, Comte, Vico, Hegel, Toynbee, Spengler, and others. Inayatullah concludes with an analysis of Sarker’s laws for social change, and contrasts this with Krishnamurti, Foucault, Galtung, Wallerstein, and other contemporary religious and socio-political thinkers. For a background on macrohistory see Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah’s Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social, and Civilizational Change (Westport, CN: Praeger, 1997) (TS-4). Further Sarkar-related analysis can be found in Sohail Inayatullah and Jennifer Fitzgerald’s Transcending Boundaries: Prabhat Ranjath Sarkar’s Theories of Individual & Social Transformation (Maleney, Australia: Gurukula Press, 1999) (TS-3) and Sohail Inayatullah’s Situating Sarkar: Tantra, Macrohistory & Alternative Futures (Maleney, Australia: Gurukula Press, 1999) (TS-3).

 

The Teacher-Student Relationship by Jamgon Kongtrul The Great (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion, 1999). (TS-3). The institutional challenges of Dakshinachara or Right Hand Path religions in the West often relate to abuses of power rooted in Vedic-derived brahmacharya or guru and wisdom teacher yoga. This excerpt from Tibetan teacher Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge provides a Vajrayana Buddhist perspective on the Master or Wisdom Teacher and the Student, the criteria for selection, dangers of the Vajrayana path, and the mind-to-mind transmission of Dharma teachings. Kongtrul’s text provides Dakshinachara insights into the X crisis in the Church of Satan and the Xem crisis in the Temple of Set, and into scandals involving Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Chogyam Trungpa, Adi Da Samraj, and other guru-like teachers.

 

Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal by Jeffrey J. Kripal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). (TS-3). Kripal is the J. Newton Razor Professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University. Mutants and Mystics is an historical and thematic analysis of the ‘daemonic’ Super-Stories and mythemes in the occult, paranormal and superhero literature, and their interplay with ‘medial’ subcultures and the individual Quest for higher consciousness and self-actualisation (Divinization or self-godhood). Kripal’s framework distinguishes between Orientation (East-West cultural transmission and fusion of religion, and mythological framing); Alienation (the impact on consciousness of cosmos awareness, an expanded space-time continuum, and UFOlogy); Radiation (how the discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum and quantum physics led to speculation about metaphysical energy and ‘siddhis’ or special powers); and Mutation (Eros as a vehicle for evolutionary transformation). For Kripal, this is an initiatory dynamic in which the individual has Realization awareness (they are being ‘authored’ by contemporary culture) and then Authorization enactment and experiences (in which individuals ‘author’ their own Divinization using elements of Orientation, Alienation, Radiation, and Mutation mythemes). Kripal discusses many authors including: Charles Fort, Wilhelm Reich, Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, Michael Murphy, George Leonard, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Philip K. Dick, John Keel, the remote viewing debate, and how Gopi Krishna and Sri Aurobindo influenced Western contemporary occulture.

4th October 2012: In A Lonely Place

In A Lonely Place (1950)

 

We had broken up for about a year when I saw Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place (1950). I had restarted a ‘lapsed’ undergraduate degree at La Trobe University, majoring in cinema studies and politics. I thought of you during Dr. Geoff Mayer’s class on Pre-Code cinema when he examined the origins of Hollywood’s ‘fallen angel’ image, and its influence on contemporary femme fatales. It was in Mayer’s film noir class that I saw In A Lonely Place. Afterwards, I saw our relationship in a new light.

 

In A Lonely Place explores the rise-and-fall arc of a brief, romantic relationship between screenwriter Dixon “Dix” Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and neighbour Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). Steele is suspected of murdering nightclub girl Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) and his relationship with Gray unravels. Ray deals with popular themes in film noir: early Cold War paranoia; Hollywood cynicism; the dark heart of some personal relationships; and the suspicion of major characters as unreliable narrators. Today, In A Lonely Place is regarded as a film noir classic.

 

Ray’s film evokes a larger truth about the Romantic ideal of living with a writer versus its day-to-day realities. Significant others might initially approach this as the opportunity to live with a cultural creative or to be their muse. Gray and Steele’s initial whirlwind courtship reinvigorates their creative work and they become a dyadic couple. But the Atkinson murder investigation makes Gray suspicious about Steele. Writer’s block also shatters their domestic harmony: both Gray and Steele suffer from decision regret. Steele never develops a habitual routine to write. A writer stuck in their material can become irritable, moody, and withdrawn to live with: absent. D.T. Max’s recent biography Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story (New York: Viking, 2012) evokes these feelings about the late author and critic David Foster Wallace, who struggled with depression, and self-loathing about his giftedness and family.

 

Our relationship spanned an early, formative period of my academic and journalism career (publications). We met and started dating as I wrote a New Journalism account for Perth’s REVelation Magazine (now a film festival) of Noam Chomsky’s 1995 lecture tour in Australia. In the next three years, I wrote eight published articles on topics ranging from profiles of maverick quantum physicist Jack Sarfatti and computer scientist James Martin, to a roundtable on artificial intelligence and an influential profile of memetics in advertising. I had other, then-unpublished material, including profiles of the progressive rock band King Crimson and author Philip K. Dick (in archive boxes and not available online yet); a rejected profile of roboticist Hans Moravec; and private, initiatory self-work (in the Gurdjieff Work and the Temple of Set). We broke up soon after REVelation and 21C both fell apart. I had an interview with Terence McKenna accepted for REVelation; and an interview with space migration exponent Marshall Savage edited for 21C. During our break-up and its aftermath I finished a profile of designer Jeffrey Veen. Collectively, the published work was around 40,000-50,000 words with a similar amount of unpublished material.

 

All writers can suffer from the cognitive bias known as ‘positive illusions’. It’s us versus our emotions, thoughts, and a blank page: being in a (potentially) lonely place. As Gray discovered about Steele, we can carry our in-progress writing around as a projective identification onto others. We enter a liminal, subjective state that can be superimposed on others and the objective world. If not inspirational muses then we may look for initiatory allies and significant others to share in the unfolding creative process, to read our work, and to keep us tethered to the everyday world. At its extremes, a writer can venture deep into their material and may not come out of it. David Foster Wallace spent a decade writing drafts and redrafts of his novel The Pale King before he committed suicide in 2008.

 

You were disinterested to read what I wrote. Fine, I thought, you don’t know or care who guerrilla ontologist Robert Anton Wilson was, when I interviewed him for REVelation. You were not going to read or do the exercises in Prometheus Rising. But we had common, shared experiences and polarities. At that period of my life, I wanted to share the exploratory promise of self-change with you and others. When the self-change occurred it wasn’t what I wanted or had hoped for: I learned that you can help to create the conditions for change but that personal growth is different for each individual. Eventually, you found a new fiancé: an ‘indie’ musician who was more emotionally direct and expressive with you than my writing was.

 

In A Lonely Place taught me that creative work and its choices will usually have personal costs. Gray and Steele’s relationship did not survive the rumours and suspicions about Atkinson’s murder. Director Nicholas Ray and actress Gloria Grahame’s marriage fell apart during filming. I have mixed feelings about the creative work from this period: you felt I became absent and did not pay you enough attention. 21C’s print edition had cultural cachet: to be published in my early twenties alongside cultural critics like Greil Marcus and Mark Dery was an honour. It’s one reason why Richard Metzger (now running the popular blog Dangerous Minds) asked me to write for the alternative news site Disinformation in 1998 and how I became its site editor in November 1999 (1998-2003 site archive). But you didn’t stay for this journey. You decided beforehand that pursuing these dreams was not feasible when the publisher cheque never comes, your credit card defaults, the telemarketing stop-gap job becomes too unstable, and the realtor sells out your rental house from underneath you. After some difficult experiences I agreed with Richard Metzger to “Find the Others” (quoting Timothy Leary) in new, emerging internet subcultures.

 

REVelation, 21C, and Disinformation gave me the opportunity to do deep background research on the countercultural topics of interest in my early-to-mid twenties. I got to work with leading writers, editors, designers, marketers, and publishers. Disinformation made me part of the dotcom era’s internet history and I had to create a public persona to deal with fans’ expectations. The reality was that I sat in rooms for eight years with computers as the site changed and the company evolved. I made new friends and gave lectures at This Is Not Art (TINA) between 1999 and 2004: the youth arts festival we had heard about one afternoon on Triple J radio (as TINA’s precursor, the LOUD Festival). I took our break-up and turned it into my first peer reviewed academic article on the Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile (1999).

 

Most importantly, I served an ‘apprenticeship’ period — 10,000 hours of deep/deliberate play/practice — to develop expertise. Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson articulated this approach to talent development whilst Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Geoff Colvin‘s Talent Is Overrated, and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code popularised it. REVelation, 21C and Disinformation gave me the opportunity to discover who I was as an emerging writer. TINA enabled me to share these insights with others. I learned about meso-cosmoi; how cultural transmission works; the creative synergies of high performance teams; and the significance that writing can have on your audience. I helped attract an audience for Disinformation’s other book and DVD projects, and promoted the Disinfo.Con 2000 ‘happening’.

 

Recently, I calculated the content and value I created during this ‘apprenticeship’ period versus the actual income earned. It was a sobering valuation exercise. (Read Valuation, Sources of Value, or Value Maps for more details.) My freelance journalism period occurred mainly from late 1994 to early 1998: 1500 hours on magazine articles ($A750 to $A1750 per article), interviews, and two book proposals. I did two editorial stints for Disinformation (November 1999-August 2002 and April 2003-February 2008) at $US100 per week salary, or $US42,000 in total. Over 8 years, I spent between 6,000 and 8,000 hours on editing the site; writing articles, news items, and a daily newsletter; responding to emails; handling site redesigns; representing the company in interviews; and from 2005, participating in weekly teleconferences. Add several thousand hours for two Masters degrees, and you get Ericcson, Gladwell, and Coyle’s 10,000 hour target to develop expertise. The per-hour salary of $A6.67 for freelance journalism or $US5.25-$US7 for Disinformation was on par with an entry-level administrative or sales job. However, the body of work produced continues to be of interest and value to others.

 

The downside was a lesson in offshore economics and cost reduction strategies that many white collar jobs will face in the hyper-competitive future. I left money on the table: I could have negotiated better deals; not signed away rights and potential royalty streams; used process redesign to manage time and task; and not have overestimated the length of my publishing career. Some other mistakes: The ‘standard’ magazine contracts controlled reprints, ancillary markets, and new technologies. For Disinformation, my editorial salary was fixed no matter how much content I produced whereas freelance contributors received $US50 per article or dossier. The salary also remained constant over 8 years. As an offshore contractor, I lost money on currency exchange rate fluctuations and inflation; and did not get end-of-year bonuses, salary benefits or superannuation. Disinformation’s successful expansion into book publishing and DVD distribution meant I had a continued salary but I never had an equity share in the company (so I didn’t share in its growth). I failed to translate my internet work into regular contributions to book anthologies, successful book proposals or projects with other publishers. When I became a university researcher on internet futures my bosses became anxious about Disinformation instead of leveraging this relevant industry experience.

 

For some of Disinformation’s core audience there was always a tension between its countercultural ideals, its marketing image, and its existence as a profit-oriented entertainment company. I got and responded to email flak about this. Today, I have taken the lessons from this period into providing research management advice; a PhD project (2011 proposal); and using event arbitrage, behavioural finance and market microstructure analysis to trade a small Australian equities portfolio. Some disgruntled Disinfonauts view this as a sell-out but it’s more an evolution from this earlier period. I changed who I collaborated with; I set writing limits; I found exemplars in academia (Alastair Iain Johnston, Jack Snyder, Marc Trachtenberg, and Robert Jervis); and investigative journalism (William D. Cohan, Steve Coll, and Lawrence Wright) to carefully study and model. You might have seen the baseball film Moneyball which is really about competitive advantage, negotiation, and valuation. Oakland A’s coach Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) turned a career arc from being a hopeful ‘star’ and then a ‘failed’ baseball player into a second act: mistakes became an invaluable learning resource.

 

Every day, I try to do the same.