Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Checklisting at the Start of the Day.

Eighty percent of the time, I prepare the day and have absolutely no idea what is the single most important thing I should do that day. 

I only spot this when I review the weeks afterward. In the moment it feels like I am doing the most important thing. But because there is no disciplined process of inquiring, deciding, and applying the most important thing, often I miss the mark. And by "often", I mean "mostly". 

With that in mind, I developed a checklist that provides a disciplined approach to preparing the day. The ideal result should be a feeling of simplicity and clarity, as well as distinctly better quality outcomes in daily and weekly life. To try it you will need a scratch pad, a pen, and a written list of goals.

Here it is, then: the checklist for planning the day.

1. Get out a scratch-pad (about the size of your palm) and pen.
2. Get out your written list of goals and written definite major purpose. 
3. Ask "Whats the one thing I could do today, such that by doing it, everything else because easier or unnecessary? Write the answer in your scratch-pad, without judgment about how good or bad it is.
4. Read your definite major purpose, aloud, to yourself. Write down up to three results you notice related to that purpose.
5. Read every single goal and write up to three results related to that purpose.
6. Double your numerical estimate of the results possible. Think big. 
7. Prioritize: Put an "IMP" to important ones.
8. Prioritize: Put an "URG" to urgent ones.
9. Prioritize: Top 20% gets one star "*"
10 Prioritize: Top 4% gets two stars "**"
11. Prioritize: Top 1% gets three stars "***"
12. Down the reverse side of the scratch pad write: Who, What, Where, When, How, Next Action.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

10 Ideas for Studying Better at University Business Degrees.

1. It’s not personal. Accept that the best university business courses are run like business. The systems are not personal, but simply to improve non-personal outcomes.

2. It’s not about entrepreneurship. Accept that your fellow students will have nothing in common with you; most business students want corporate jobs. If you want to meet other business people, you will have to join professional groups such as Toastmasters or Business Network International.

3. Select your study buddies carefully. Most of the students will be children. Eighteen years of age is not what it used to be: most of your fellows will have little to no grasp of the subjects.

4. Knowledge asymmetry. Accept that you will automatically know a lot about some subjects, but know nothing about many others. Just because you are being patronised by subjects you already know a lot about, doesn’t mean you can’t learn life-changing information at the exact same time.

5. Treat it like a job. Reading, writing, and attending lectures and tutorials are subsets of thinking. The primary work is thinking. If you do not input good material, you won’t be able to think good thoughts. Take care of your inputs 80% of the time. This gives rise to a further tip:

6. Don’t worry about understanding. Just do the work.

7. Nobody has any interest in your understanding the work. They only have an interest in teaching the materials. Take responsibility for your own understanding after business hours.

8. Establish a schedule and stick to it based on general promises to yourself. For example “I will spend four hours studying today” does not specify when or how you will study, but establishes a basic structure by which to spend time that will allow flexibility as well as letting you keep your promise to yourself.

9. Deeply feel the body every single day. Instead of spinning the mind around endlessly and resorting to caffeine to stimulate it, rest the mind in the body by pursuing tactics like sports, yoga, dancing, or deep relaxation.

10. Nurture your motivation and your social life. These two areas can impinge on your learning process unless you keep them carefully in check. So balance your ego drives and social connections carefully.

Those are ten ideas for improving your business studies. Hopefully this helps you with your learning process, and helps you enjoy your studies more.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How to Read Textbooks

Here are the best and briefest tips for reading textbooks fast:

  • Mindset is important. "The hardest part about learning from a textbook isn't grasping the material; it's staying motivated."
  • Mindset. Generate the feeling that you really want to master the subject, from a personal interest. Put out of mind that you are preparing for a test. Some textbooks are friends, and some are foes. Be determined to get what you want out of it.
  • Prepare. Do the reading before the lecture and tutorial. It won't make sense without it. Treat college like a job and have set reading hours in the library.
  • Vocabulary. Learning the vocabulary - don't skip an undefined word.
  • Understanding. Ask yourself, if uncertain, what does it really mean?
  • Google for resources to fortify your understanding
  • Read out loud anything you don't immediately grasp fully.
  • Motivation. Do it every day.
  • Motivation. Incentivize progress: plan something fun at the end of each chapter.
  • Control your pacing. 
  • Take notes only in a manner that will be organized for future reference, and don't take too many notes. Consider taking notes at the end of each section or chapter.
  • Keep your breaks short. A good rule of thumb is 43 minutes study and 17 minutes rest and play.
  • Notes. Nail concepts down by doing a few homework problems.
  • Only write notes after finishing the section and then going back to write it all down.
  • Re-read and review. After the lecture, go over the material and write a short summary and key questions. Check and confirm your understanding.
  • Contemplate. Think about the concepts as you walk around and allow them to reveal themselves to you. 

5QRH -
3QHR -
Rubber duck debugging -

Friday, June 19, 2015

So you want to read Vasily Grossman's Soviet Novel 'Life and Fate'?

I first picked up Grossman's novel casually just under a year ago, during the springtime. I read 50 pages then quit.

I was baffled by the dry reportage, the lack of stage direction, and the strange alternations of bare journalistic prose with broad modern novel prose. And I didn't understand what the hell the novel was about.

Of course we all know what it's about, don't we? It's about the battle of Stalingrad, It's about the Shaposnikova family, It's about the Second World War!

But lacking the same context on these subjects as Grossman, the need for such a novel is simply not evident to the common reader. Honestly, my first impression was that I was reading a ripoff of Tolstoy's "War and Peace". And indeed there are moments when we feel a sort of de ja vous from that other, more sunlit world of Tolstoy's Napoleonic Russia. But while the connections between this novel and that other great one are fruitful, this is a separate and stand-alone novel. 

So why the need for "Life and Fate"?

Before I answer that question, let me just say that I like to read a Russian novel every winter here in Australia. Something about the heavy Russian soul makes me feel light and happy in the dark days of our tepid Australian cold season. I don't know why Russian literature cheers me up, but it does. Chekhov makes me feel smart and grateful to be alive. Dostoyevsky makes me laugh like a devil. Tolstoy makes me smile and feel astonished at the beauty of the world. And so on. They just help me. But this year I decided, "Why not go Soviet this winter? Why not read Grossman's 'Life and Fate'?"

The idea excited me. All the other Soviet literature had proven bad. Bulgakov's Master and Margarita novel had proven so disappointing, a kind of surreal Dostoyevsky time-travel pulp novel. Solzhenitsyn to be a poor man's Tolstoy, except where Tolstoy abdicated his genius to Christian cultism, Solzhenitsyn seems to have allowed politics to consume his art. And while Isaac Babel was a genius, he was as sad as a blood moon. Only Ivan Bunin had proven truly astonishing, and he was from the expat Russian crowd, less of a Soviet and more of a Russian democrat like Chekhov, and therefore of an earlier age. Of the lot of them, only Grossman remained unread. So I was naturally excited to read him.

But his novel seemed impenetrable.

I'd like, therefore, to present some short notes on reading Grossman's "Life and Fate", that enable the reader to gain entree to the novel most easily and quickly. Here they are:

Context. The Battle of Stalingrad is the biggest, baddest, and most horrible ground war in human history. And we know almost nothing about it here in the West. "Life and Fate" is about that.

Context, part two. The reality of the Eastern Front of World War Two is so alien to us here in the West, so impossible for us to imagine, that it needs in and of itself some indepth study. The single best summary and overview point is Dan Carlin's Hardcore History series. Anything else you read or see on the subject will seriously repeat the same points Dan makes here, less clearly and less effectively. It's that good. So I recommend you purchase Dan's talk on the subject, which is astonishing in almost every respect.

Context, part three. If you want pictures and a slower pace of absorption of the full horror of this historical event, you can check out this youtube playlist, or this one, or this one. The reality of the Battle of Stalingrad is the reason why this book is worth reading, first and foremost. This aint a walk in the park. The best way to prepare is to understand that Grossman was at the battle and saw it all, and so he can write with authority on this event which is almost totally unknown to us.

Structure. "Life and Fate" is a trilogy or a novel in three parts. Part one is 306 pages and 71 chapters. Part two is 289 pages and 63 chapters. Part three is 256 pages and 61 chapters. The book therefore has a total of 195 chapters.

Pace. If you read two chapters a night, you'll be reading roughly one percent of the book each day and will be done in 100 days. That will take you from the dead of winter to the end of springtime, when you should instead have been reading something French. That frankly is too long a time to spend on a novel. On the other hand, if you read five chapters a night, you'll be reading it in 39 days, just over a month. Also (let's be real here) too long a time for a single novel. No; if you want to read this novel, and not give up from boredom or simple moral and emotional exhustion, it must be done in two weeks. This means you must read 14 chapters a day, in order to get through the novel at an efficient pace. Any slower than that, tl;dr.

Pace, part two. Wanna read this novel fast? If you read 28 chapters a day, then you will finish it within 7 days. But consider reading the rest of these notes before you finish and having the character list bookmarked. Just for an idea of how much that is: the first 28 chapters take up 128 pages. Wanna go crazy-fast? Just read 65 chapters a day and you'll be done in three days. But it's gonna hurt!

Names. Every group of chapters hangs on a name, not on a plot point. Once you know whose name the chapter hangs on, then you know what the chapter means. Chapters don't exist to advance the plot (which after all is minimal; there's a lot of story, certainly, but the plot is mostly internal and limited to feelings and ideas); the characters' inner experiences in and of themselves are the plot. If you don't know the difference between story and plot check out E.M.Forster's short book on Aspects of the Novel.

Style. It would be a misrepresentation to label Grossman a mere reporter. What Russian novelist could settle for reportage after "War and Peace" anyway? But the obnoxious Tolstoyan grand essay, in the style of the Enlightenment French essayist, was already old and funky in Tolstoy's day, and no longer suits modern needs. So instead Grossman opts for an oddly Germanic style of reflection, which, however, has a subject matter which reminds me more of Proust than of Thomas Mann! The chapter I have in mind is chapter 11, where Krymov is contemplating the passing of time. Notice how clipped and precise the diction is here? There is nothing French about it, and everything reflects the stolid prose of the Germans. And yet it is about the flowing and subtle matter of time, a matter which we are accustomed to reading about in the French, but never in the Russian. Only Tolstoy evinces an interest in time, and then it is only in the light of the eternal. So Grossman's prose remains a Tolstoy in pieces, a shattered Tolstoy benighted in an apocalyptic Napoleonic War Part Two.

Theme. It would be too much to say that Grossman enters his character's heads. He doesn't. With the soldiers especially we feel ourselves hovering on their shoulders like an angel of reportage, or focused on what their hands and eyes are focused on. Naturally a soldier should be outward-looking I suppose. But the interiority of these characters is so remote, so strained and elusive, that we could almost be dealing with machines rather than men. Is this the homo sovieticus we heard so much about in the high days of the Cold War? A man without feelings, without ideas, without connection, except to the State above and alone and to the State's instruments of war and peace? If this is homo sovieticus, then it is as a nightmare Tolstoy, an inversion of the sunny Russian world of Leo Tolstoy. Soviet collectivism is a dark thing, to be sure; but there is that which is unsaid in this prose that is a good deal darker than anything we can say; things about the feeling and the heart and mind of men living in such a system, which (thankfully) no words exist to tell of.

Names, part two. We had said that each chapter is hung on a name like a coat is hung on a peg. Let's examine which names are used as pegs. Chapters 1 to 6 in the German concentration camp are hung on the peg of Mostovskoy, ending (like music) on the tone of "Let's give the Germans a run for their money!" The following war chapters are hung on four Russian officers' names, General Chukyok (7), General Krylov (8), Lieutenant-General Zakharov (8), and then a beautiful sequence of front-line chapters (10-12) hung on the note of Krymov. In chapter 13 Chukyov on the front is visited by an historical figure, Yeremenko, and the two men dance around the obvious question of "the meaning of Stalingrad", without ever saying what's really on their minds. Then we follow one Major Byerozkin into the actual warzone for an inspection of the troops inside the fighting in chapter 14. Only then, after 14 harrowing chapters which would have lost the reader unaware of the historical events, do we finally meet Lyudmila Shaposhnikova, who provides the hook for the two chapters, 15 and 16. Finally, her son Tolya takes centerstage (albeit through her consciousness as a reader) with his letter in chapter 17. Each chapter is hung on a name like a coat on a peg, yes. But we can see from this that each name is an emotional key, the key of a bit of music, and so the entire discordant mess of this book resembles nothing so much as a discordant musical quartet by Shostakovich.

That ought to be enough to get you started. These notes present my path to grasping the novel as fully as I can, as a Westerner. I wish you all the best in reading this great Soviet novel, one of the very few to have survived this terrible period of history. 

UPDATE July 9th: I quit on this book just over half way. 
All the historical and cultural interest cannot defeat the bleakness and hopelessness of the scenario of Nazis versus Soviets. 
I have heard there is a virtue in not completing things that are of lower value. And this novel is definitely of lower value to me now.
And it's also true, I believe, that one cannot judge a novel unless one has read the whole thing, beginning, middle, and end, so I will refrain from passing judgment on this novel. But I will say that Grossman's novel is of lesser importance to me now, having read 418 pages of it.  Never have I given up a novel which interested and involved me. But - you know - life's too short. I may write an appreciation of what I have read so far.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pixar's Brave and the Black Bear of Menopause.

Another day, another liberal chick flick.

Pixar's Brave is a beautifully drawn film about liberalism (that is, about the ability to choose our destiny without natural constraints). The ostensible plot is simple: the feminist teenage heroine chooses to remain single and unmarried even though she is obviously of an age to have sex and bear children...

...Never mind that she's living in a tribal society where her marriage options become grievously limited in a few years.

...Never mind that no contraception exists in Celtic Scotland to allow her the freedom to make this decision.

...And never mind that real life traditions don't actually dictate she marry the firstborn, but only to pick partners from her own class.

No, history, biology, and decency is all just so much subjective guff for this Pixarian Scotland. Why? Because feminism.

With respect to Jack London's book, we might call this film, "Call of the Uterus".

But while she is the cause of the plot, she is hardly the effective hero. No - that role is taken up by her mother. And while it's subtle, her mother's process is actually more realistic and relevant to our ageing society.

Because it's only when her mother, changed by her daughter's selfish actions into a black bear, has been returned to humanity that we see the grey lock on her forehead - the grey hairs of menopause. It's subtle, but very real. The mother's transition to maturity is the real story.

Please let me repeat this point in more detail. The real story is not one girl's foolish and ahistorical struggle against sensible social tradition and biological demands. No. The real story is about the black bear of menopause. The real story of Brave is the tale of a woman driven mad by biology and restored to sanity by her willingness to step out of the shadow of her immature husband the king and become her own individual. Pixar's Brave is a story about madness and maturity, not a tale of marriage and magic spells.

We all know something about the strong magic of menstruation. It's a far more real and solid magic than being turned into a black bear for two days. (Come to think of it, with its two day black bear of madness, the film can also be read as a allegory for a the female heroine's first period and the discovery of her sexual power.)

One of the tell-tales of this movie is the literal and metaphorical lack of blood in the film. The bloodlessness is not only in the oddly unnatural and adolescent violence, but in the almost complete lack of the color red until the rolling of the credits at the end. Here the unspoken red spot is rendered invisible and metaphorical, displaced onto the ending credits in a sort of delicate, tampon-advertisement discretion.

It about Autumn, people, not menopause!

The three ages of modern women are represented here - the free-spirited idealised elder (who spends her days memorialising the glory days of menopause by carving wood, and travels the country), the multitasking menopausal mother, and the liberal, spoilt millennial.

What is missing, however, is a genuine adult man. Where is the masculinity in Pixar's Brave?

Where have all the real men gone?

Real masculinity is only glimpsed in the spectre of the dead prince, who is the only ideal suitor for the princess. Only the dead prince could match her immature intensity with a corresponding maturity and emotional depth. But the only real man is spirited away in a puff of feminist liberty - a dream from the distant past, to be enjoyed as erotic literature on the side. All the other men in the film are, to a person, neutered, emasculated, or teenage boys in adult drag.

So empowerment in a feminist world relies on liberty. It's a lovely dream we live in, isn't it? And isn't it nice we can afford contraception to give us this brief moment of historical freedom? We can appreciate our relative freedom from almost complete bondage to biology and history which we have purchased via contraception and by our unique Christian distinction between religious tradition and state. We have purchased this historical space dearly. Today, women are free, almost 25 days of a thirty day month, to make and enjoy movies like this. It's a good deal for everyone.

Let's hope it lasts.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Entitlement Porn For Chicks - "Jupiter Ascending"

Thank God we have movies for everyone these days. I can appreciate two aspects of "films for women and gay people". First, I appreciate the sheer badness of basing films on identity politics, the way the film archly winks and smiles at a small group of people in a desperate attempt to make money. Second, just as I appreciate the bull shit of women and gay people, so I can enjoy the bull shit of art made to appeal to women and gay people. And "Jupiter Ascending" is a good example of both sheer badness and good quality bull shit.

The best way to really encapsulate the movie "Jupiter Ascending" is to call it a retard-athon. It's a string of banal, tepid, insipid, and outright moronic cliches and tropes strung together.

Imagine the movie "Twilight" combined with any of a variety of chick legal/marriage/family flicks.

No, wait, forget that.

Just imagine Channing Tatum as a... take a breath... Channing Tatum as a bare-chested winged space werewolf employed by a family of evil glittery space vampires...

As a matter of fact, we can just stop right there and ask ourselves the real question on everybody's mind: is "Jupiter Ascending" the most gayest science fiction movie ever filmed?

Magic Mike as the male lead certainly doesn't help. Making the entire incoherent plot revolve around nonsensical legal peccadildoes of "entitlement" doesn't help either. The plot involving Jupiter Jones - the main character - shows her fighting for her 'entitlements', rather than earning them, using marriage, law, family and the blood and sweat of brave men. And she gets to have her folksy US lifestyle at the end whilst remaining the Gay Princess of Planet Earth.

What is this really? It's really entitlement porn for geeky women who are brainwashed to feel unappreciated because they have disassociated emotionally from their biological instincts as women. "Jupiter Ascending" is the hot tranny mess of entitlement porn, combining geeky Scifi gaiety with sentimental images of unearned privilege.

Who else would like to see the  Israel Defence Forces beat Channing's ass?

We could excuse it by saying "Jupiter Ascending" is Twilight set in space, but - let's be honest, shall we? - there are some hilarious moments of just profound faggottry in this film. Some parts of this film must be there only to make us laugh. This film cannot be taking itself seriously in the same way the Twilight films tried to, can it?

"Jupiter Ascending" seems to complacently accepted its own gilded superficiality, its sheer badness, its dwarfish and ignoble moral ambitions. And why not? The movie is entitled to have unmerited self-esteem about its own mediocrity. Jupiter Jones, you go gurl.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Bhagavad Gita One: On Just War and the cowardice of Gandhi.

Re-reading the first half of the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, it becomes clear to me that Arjuna is not only on his own side. Rather, Arjuna seeks to transcend the duality of both sides. 

Why would a military leader order himself to stand between two armies - his own and that of his family? What's going on there?

What's he trying to do? Obviously he's literally trying to see both sides of the war impartially, but that's only the mundane way of seeing it. Arjuna is the soul of man, and in him in his chariot driving it is Krishna, the avatar and image of the divine.

Why is the soul of man placed between these two armies and with it the divine image?

We cannot say what it means without saying everything that follows between Krishna and Arjuna. We can draw general insights that are rare and valuable:

The lesson here is that far from being an obstacle to spirituality, war and worldly conflict is a rare spiritual opportunity. The lesson here is, when you find yourself taking a position on either side, or taking a non-position (and avoiding conflict, like Gandhi) then you have lapsed into either false courage - mere bravado - or into Gandhian unprincipled cowardice.

A word on Gandhi. Gandhi was put in place by the colonial authorities to prevent conflict. He was the unwitting cats-paw of Indian cowardice. And to support that Quixotic mission, Gandhi became the greatest historical perverter of the meaning of the Gita. Mohandas Gandhi's unprincipled cowardice destroyed India and his own life and then shattered the country into three - Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. Worse, however, Gandhi's perversion of the doctrine of war in the Bhagavad Gita helped explain the unmanly and defeatist narrative of the oppressed peoples of Pakistan and Bangladesh; this created a refugee catastrophe, and to this day Gandhi's cowardice threatens India with nuclear war. Gandhi may be correctly seen as a failed Socrates, in that his killing killed a failed policy rather than a successful one.

A wiser guide to the great dualities of the world-historical process is not Gandhi but the dialectic of G.F. Hegel, who locates the correct space of engagement in neither to one side as an observer nor in the fighting ranks. No, like Arjuna, we must place ourselves in the middle of the field of battle, to see and feel the battle as they really are, as a man, with courage.

More crucially, by doing this, we invite God in. We deliberately position ourselves at the position of maximum drama, and therefore maximum learning and growth.

Let's look at some basic world-historical dualities:

Arabs and Israel.
Russia and free world.
China and the West.
China and India.
India and Pakistan.
Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Isis, anyone?

If you don't know about these dualities you can hardly be expected to place yourself, personally, in the middle of them. But through interest, study and sympathetic effort, you can draw yourself near to the nature of these dualities, you are in a position to grasp and see and understand what is going on in reality.

Try it with one of the world-historical dualities. Place yourself in the middle like Arjuna.

Like Arjuna, your side is fighting your own human family.

And like Arjuna, you must grieve for their inevitable death and decline in the coming battle, or otherwise suffer your own inevitable decline and death.

If you fail, like Arjuna fears, to do your duty (your dharma), then you must pay the debt (your karma) for your cowardice. By placing yourself in the middle, however, you also invite God to be present in your life. God, it seems, loves drama. Perhaps that is why all great nations are dramatic artists.

Worldly events can  be opportunities to grow spirituality. By taking a side then moving into the middle, we can see the world-historical failure of great saints like Gandhi as they really are: personal success, devotion to the wrong ideal, marked by catastrophic failure in the world-historical scene.

If Indian affairs, and if world affairs, are ever to be governed by wisdom then they will be marked by people go take a side and place themselves in the middle with God, to hear his guidance.

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