Tuesday, December 31, 2013


So yesterday I completed an exercise that few have done 'a sketch a day' for a whole fucking year. I kind of can't believe I did it, because it's the kind of long term project one doesn't even notice hip hop happening while everything else is going on.

In terms of building a discipline of literally drawing every day, it was a failure, it was always going to be. I built in enough flexibility for myself to actually get it done from the outset. But the fact remains that I have done 365 sketches in one calendar year and now, on January 1st I don't have to do any to complete the task. There is a sketch for each day of 2013.

With it, ends my overcommitment of time (hopefully, though it's hard to see your overcommittment when you are committing them). When you add to 365 sketches, the 150 drawings I did for the thanxhibition, and the 30 drawings I did for the colour exhibition, and the 20 I did for the live exhibition, plus commissions and gifts, and don't even include the unpublished pages of comic books I drew, I produced close to 600 images in one year, almost two a day.

What that means for this year is: relax. It's time to move back from quantity to quality. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Picking Your Battles

Book 1: The Death Dealing Sword

This year, it has come to my attention, that I was born, and raised, and trained, and schooled to thrive on conflict. To seek it out, to introduce it. In the past I've written about my distaste and suspicion of the popular school 'sport' of debating. To rehash briefly though - it teaches kids that values are arbitrary and the most important thing is winning. Such that I now think it is grossly irresponsible to teach kids the sport of debating.
But I've also written in the past about the 3-phases of being a foreigner in Japan, and without rehashing I want to transpose those phases into a learning cycle that may or may not pre-date me that I call exuberence-rejection-acceptance. I'm further stealing the three book titles from Yagyu Munenori's martial treatise 'The Life Giving Sword' to talk about conflict.

See as a plucky young adolescent, it was simply all about winning. Debating taught me how to argue, how to win. I would ride a bus from Ballarat to Geelong, speak for 4 minutes, watch for half an hour, listen to the adjudication and feel robbed and cheated and stay up all night replaying the debate in my head and thinking of what I should have said but it was too late. I had many sleepless nights following lost debates. My ego couldn't stand it.

Eventually, with experience and the right team mates, we started winning. I became an award winning speaker and then my team had an undefeated home season - losing alas, in the first round of the finals. The thing was, that back then I would argue with anyone. Nobody was undeserving of my scathing intellects bite. What was important to me was that everybody knew who the smartest douche in the room was. I would argue with anyone over anything. The important thing, was winning.

I had skills to get my way all the time. (Not all the time, I lost a bunch of times) But I thought there was this holy grail of being unbeatable logically.

I was over exuberant about intelligence, intellect, logic. Even though it would be almost a decade later that I actually first learned about formal and informal fallacies, rational debate and what an argument consisted of. I just had this clear cut path - fight my way to the top.

Because the emphasis and sole measure of success was on winning, defeating your opponent. I call this mindset 'the death dealing sword' a purely destructive tool - for destroying opposition, resistance.

Book 2: The Swordless Sword

I started debating in year 8, I would have been 14 at the time. I kept doing it until I was 18, at that stage a fifth of my entire life. I don't know when, but eventually my EQ started speaking up and noticing that sometimes people weren't impressed. They resented my aggression, responded with dislike, started treating me as unapproachable.

In a true blessing, I eventually realised that the people that were impressed by my argumentative nature were wrong. I would later learn of the psychological experiment that found in any conversation between strangers the best impression was created by the person who spoke the least. Some reflection as well that I'd never myself walked away from an argument thinking 'gee it feels great knowing how wrong and stupid I am!'

So I gave it up, (as much as I consciously could). Turned at some point, anti-debating. Decided that values aren't arbitrary, and bad causes should lose because they are bad, not because they are argued poorly. Good causes should win out, even if it's me opposing them.

And thus I entered my 'conflict rejection' phase.

The thing is, that some people, some cats never get to this phase, importantly they never realize the distinction between the competitive domain of debating and how things work in real life. There are four types of conflicts (broadly speaking) I define by their outcomes win-win, win-lose, lose-win, lose-lose.

Inside the context of debating, you have win-lose, lose-win outcomes. The positions are neatly mutually exclusive, one teams win is at the expense of the other. Simple. But artificial.

Outside of debating, you get lose-lose and win-win far more often.

Book 3: The Life Giving Sword.

I can't even recall what or when or with whom it happened. Whether it was on my behalf or another's. Which is strange. But eventually I had an epiphany in a situation where the very skills I had rejected became useful and constructive.

I do recall, miraculously getting my arse handed to me, and actually walking away thinking 'gee it feels great knowing how wrong and stupid I am!' I was literally overjoyed and freed by the experience of getting demolished. I like to think I lost that argument quickly and gracelessly.

But here is the thing. I once in a different context posed the question 'when losers win, are they no longer losers?' a fun little word game. But one that has come back to me very recently and struck me as entirely relevant. Perhaps a key to life.

Some people, unwittingly, unknowingly and through no fault of their own where born and raised to lose. They have learned self destructive behaviors, ones that not only hurt themselves but those around them. When these people win, when they get their way over certain matters - when their self destructive nature wins out - everybody loses. (lose-lose)

Here you have a context where if they defeat you, if they introduce or prevail in the conflict, not only do you lose - they lose as well. It's in their own best interests to lose.

Some people, unwittingly, unknowingly and through no fault of their own where born and raised to win. They have learned self promoting behaviors, ones that not only uplift themselves but those around them. When these people win, when the get their way over certain matters - everybody wins, even the 'losers'. (win-win)

Picking your battles is knowing when your victory's are at the expense of others and yourself. If there's a way to fuck up the battles you pick, it's when you stand to lose if others win (lose-win). But really the only fight to pick, the essence of the life giving sword is win-win. You practically have a moral imperative to introduce conflict.

But this knowledge is an artform in itself. fools rush in.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Malcolm Gladwell's Next Book

I finished David & Goliath, a couple of days ago. This isn't a review.

I'm currently reading Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb a former subject of one of Malcolm Gladwell's articles in the New Yorker. I bring NNT up, because on a page I read this morning he talked about how professional journalists took his book 'Fooled By Randomness' and misrepresented his message.

I think David & Goliath is an important follow up to Outliers, because I think heaps of people read outliers and came away with the incredibly stupid '10,000 hour' rule. Again I don't know if NNT will comment on this in his upcoming chapters on the fragilistas, but it's the kind of thing fragilistas will misconstrue and trumpet on about.

I hate the '10,000 hour rule'. Not the rule itself, but the phrase. Short distinct and memorable, as opposed to the less memorable qualifier, that those who followed it - loved what they did. Loved what they did so much as to pursue 10,000 hours without really evaluating the probabilities of success or costs of failure. Gates to Gretzky they didn't so much as do the 10,000 hours but were availed both the disposition and opportunities to get 10,000 hours.

What I imagine, is Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother's everywhere pointing at a copy of Outliers and saying 'now stop playing and go practice violin!' then under their breath 'waste of motherfucken time...' or in other words, the 10,000 hour rule as misconstrued is employed as license for child abuse everywhere.

I don't like it. Paradoxically, I'm going to call the 10,000 hour rule lazy. It's just plain lazy to believe you can work hard and you will be absolved of risks and yet somehow the world will reward you for it.

So David and Goliath is a nice frustrater for fans of Outliers. Outliers though is a truly excellent book, as was Blink and the Tipping Point. David & Goliath is perhaps that first 'difficult second album' to the mega-hit of Outliers. I think it won't sell as well, won't be talked about as much and thus, a naive 10,000 hour rule will persist. Because Tiger Mother's can make their kids do 10,000 hours of violin practice but they can't make their child a dyslexic options trader, or trial lawyer. Hopefully though, the very notion that their child is not encountering enough adversity will frustrate their natural inclination to try and insulate them from all adversity.

So Gladwell's next book? What's it going to be? I have no fucken idea. But I think he like NNT (unashamedly) and Michael Lewis (unashamedly) are writing about markets as a consistent theme. And I think he touched on a viable theme to actually continue a thought into a whole new book - the full court press.

He simply asks why the full court press hasn't caught on, after it got an inexperienced coach to the national finals in his first season coaching a junior girls basketball team.

So you have the tipping point, about the spread of ideas, and then you have this story in David & Goliath and you have this interesting question of why some viable, proven, good ideas don't spread.

I just assert, with no evidence, (and no real understanding of how NNT's fat-tail investment approach really works) that as the world becomes increasingly globalised (flat world thinking) the more effective contrarian strategies will be.

Contrarian strategies are simply strategies that assume the majority can be wrong, they bet against the momentum of the market waiting for a correction they feel are inevitable. I don't know any unashamed examples, and despite Buffett saying 'our strategy is to be fearful when the market is greedy and greedy when the market is fearful.' and some such, and being a student of Benjamin Graham's 'Mr. Market' he denies he is a contrarian.

So I don't know if  being contrarian strictly means you are mechanically contrarian 'I must assume the contrary position' as John Cleese might say, a reflexive 'no it isn't' strategy. Or whether one can set about trying to make intelligent bets, and wind up being contrarian due to the collective stupidity. A de facto contrarian maybe.

Gladwell, could do a book about why good ideas don't prevail. I guess in a way NNT has done 4 books about why good ideas don't prevail. Michael Lewis kind of does the David & Goliath stories, which explain how good ideas can prevail (Money Ball & The Blind Side) but he hasn't really looked into why the bad ideas are so prevalent to begin with... ah... I can't make that call, I actually haven't read any of Michael Lewis' books. Liar's Poker is on my 'to read' list.

Gladwell though, can tell stories, and people have learned to listen to them. He (perhaps) presents empiric findings in the form of anecdote which sadly sway people more than raw data and empiric experiments. Gladwell can tell the story of Henry George, and why his economic model never caught on. Or the story of risk homeostasis. Or why lottery isn't used to select members of parliament/congress.

I think why good ideas don't catch on their proven merits is a most interesting subject for a book. Stories must abound on the theme.

Friday, December 13, 2013


"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck." ~ the duck test.

Actually the wikipage on the duck test is pretty amusing, largely because a potent picture-caption combo.

The duck test is a heuristic, a rule of thumb. It may lack the precision of say, DNA testing, but it's good enough.

What is good enough? Something that works often enough to be useful, and when it goes wrong it's of negligible consequence. A heuristic survives because of it's imprecision, because it has a bunch of exceptions, it gets naturally selected out if these exceptions are actually of any concern.

Go ahead, try and imagine a situation, a dire situation where not knowing if something that looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, is of dire consequence?

Notice, that the duck test is not for example going to get Elmer Fudd confused betwixt firing at a duck or firing at his own daughter, or even confusing a duck for a rabbit for that matter.

As Douglas Adams parodied:

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands."

Now I'm sitting with my friend Rod and he is talking about the launch of the Apollo mission. If the trajectory is off by 1 degree, just 1 degree, the rocket misses the moon by some hundred-kajillion-billion-miles. 

What's the solution?

I facetiously suggested you launch rockets in 180 directions, so one of them is bound to hit.

The answer though, is (hopefully) obvious. You build a rocket that can adjust it's course. 

I'm sure the apollo missions had a more specific trajectory than 'up' but essentially, when you are able to adjust that's really all you need.

NNT would cite domain dependent thinking, in that while it seems obvious to build rockets that can adjust course and cars with steering wheels and ships with rudders and pencils with erasers. There's times when we strive to an ideal of perfection, precision, as if the best approach to the problem is simply to get that trajectory absolutely right.

What are Carl Thompson's secret's to making the worlds best bass guitars? 'Use Good Wood.' not particularly helpful, but I think if you come across a number of master craftsman, practitioners, artists, chess masters you'll find they just have broad principles to convey. No specific technique like Kung Fu Panda's Wu Shu finger hold.

While presumably there's a lot of skill in balancing a bass so it sits right on the body, and placing frets so they achieve the right harmonic frequency, Carl Thompson pointed out the hazard of overdoing such precision work - he'd seen bass builders pet a fret board on that was thin as paint, so that it got scratched and was impossible to remove because the veneer was so masterful. Or wiring up the pots so the wire was the perfect length, then one of the pots busted and you had nothing to play with, nothing to cut away so you had to rewire the bass rather than just replace a knob or pickup.

NNT divides these principles into a dichotomy of being 'approximately right' or 'wrong with infinite precision'. Delicious.

Let's recap on what has been covered in this blog before.

So Miyamoto Musashi arrives late at Ganryu Island by boat, where he has carved a 'bokken' wooden practice sword from an old oar in the bottom of the boat. Sasaki 'Ganryu' Kojiro whose day goes badly enough for an island to be named after him is furious at Musashi's tardiness for their duel. According to legend, Kojiro drew his sword 'The Drying Pole' and threw his scabbard away.

Here remarked Miyamoto Musashi 'You've lost.'

What makes the legend plausible, is if you read the Book of Five Rings, I can't account for what is lost in the original language, but from the translations I've read, Musashi's confidence is about as complete as one could get. I can totally see the author calling a fight for himself, to his opponent as it is being engaged.

Assume the legend to be true then, Musashi knows none of the details, couldn't possibly know, how the fight would go down. He just applied a heuristic, a man who throws away a perfectly good scabbard doesn't expect to win. A victor would make sure to keep their scabbard, for being alive, they would need it to sheath their sword in.

The other (perhaps) heuristic or reverse heuristic to apply is that a man that turns up with a wooden oar handle to face a Japanese katana doesn't expect to lose (or even be hit).

Move past Musashi's voice in his book of 5 rings and you'll find it filled with vague hueristics, including his 'body of a rock' untouchable defence. I think it's a not-unreasonable inference that rather than some mystical technique that hardens Musashi to stone, the principle was to not get hit at all by an opponents weapon - based on the fact that Musashi in legend would fight naked blades with wooden practice swords, sticks, fence posts, scabbards etc.

Switch over to his contemporaries in the Yagyu clan, who devised the 'no-sword' school of kenjutsu, and their invincible defence breaks down to getting a good judgment of your opponents range and never letting them get in range.

I share all this to point out that those adolescent minds that seek out esoteric martial arts treatises for secrets to hidden human potential are often dissappointed that far from specific actionable techniques to dominance, the martial arts treatises are usually just a collection of heuristics.

But that in itself is telling. Because martial memes are subject to the same darwinian forces that apply to biology. Ineffective martial memes kill their host organism when stressed.

Sun Tzu's art of war contains no concise, comprehensive strategy of dominance. Just a set of rules that evidently over the ages and abstracted to other contexts work 'well enough' most of the time. The Art of War breaks down to a collection of duck-tests.

Get to the battlefield first and you'll win.

Take the higher ground and you'll win.

Always punish deserters and cowards.

Don't eat provisions provided/discarded by your enemy.

And so on for a bunch of pages, of which I'm sure history would find exceptions that would reject every single thing discussed in the Art of War as a hard and fast rule. But I guess that's why it's called the 'Art' and not 'Science' of war. These are just generally good strategies and tactics to adopt. They work well enough that they are a good basis to adjust from. And if you are aware that they are fallible, then they actually help you see that the problem is not as straightforward as it first appears.

Because what makes a rule of thumb smart, is that they have a built in stupidity, they are fallible. They inspire a different kind of confidence to say Modern Portfolio Theory - it's genuine confidence - the willingness to take risks rather than hubris - a belief in riskless-profit.

As President Ike quoted 'Plans are nothing, but planning is everything' as good a military heuristic as there is. Nothing goes to plan, planning allows you to recognise what isn't going to plan.

I also like the heuristic 'you know you've won when the enemy conforms to your strategy' you don't need to know the details, you can't know the details, you just need them to start behaving like you want them to.

I haven't read far enough into NNT's book Antifragile, he certainly included the memorable phrases of 'approximately right' vs. 'wrong with infinite precision' in the futile attempt to eliminate all risk from life. But I'm sure he's coming to the fragilista's and could predict that they will never use heuristics, or if they do, won't treat them as soft general principles but hard and fast rules - subject to 'insults from reality' as Sam Harris would say, an author I suspect NNT doesn't respect much.

Anyway, due to my current reading, I learned a new word, a word central to who I live my life and interact with my environment.

Precision is at best a training exercise. Heuristics are for going live.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


I've had reason to think about the few truly failed relationships I've had over the years. By truly failed I mean they are, as of this writing over. There are people I can go a year standing on my head without speaking to or seeing, but the relationship isn't over, it's secure. It is ever present simply waiting for the time when it will be activated again.

My Japanese family might be a good example of this, we don't communicate much, until I go to Japan, and then they smoothly supplant my social life here. They are the people suddenly that I text daily, spend all my downtime with, laugh and joke with. I feel sorrow at our parting, but we both resume our lives for a few years until we meet again.

The failed relationships are also secure, they are firmly established as over. I have one, truly failed relationship. A friendship that ended because I was inspired to never exert energy to repair it. Then I have a few teetering on the edge.

I notice though, a pattern.

I have long felt that the surest way to misery is to keep score. My most disdainful and hated phrase in the whole English language is: 'I've worked hard.' In my view an almost equivalent statement to 'I took no risks' to which the only fitting response is 'duh!'.

What characterised my at-risk/failed relationships, is a form of this score keeping. The relationships I struggle to maintain are where people have become invested in a set of rules to deliver ... I don't know, happiness, respect, love, recognition etc. And the tension is all from the failure of these rules to meet expectations, the insults from reality.

Almost all the animosity, I feel, is directed at my (and often, everyone's) failure to play by the rules.

Here is the only rule, I feel, worth playing by:

No matter how much effort, or sacrifice you go to to obtain a certificate of greatness, understand a certificate of greatness is not a recognized qualification in greatness.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Listen Up Good Mother Fuckers

Last week I met with a wise man, a man I once said of 'if by his age I have half his knowledge I'll consider it a life well lived'

He is one person that has manhandled me, flung me around like a rag doll and just obliterated all my defenses. It was one of the most powerful and most enjoyable experiences of my life, I shall ever be grateful for it.

Anyway, I was explaining to him a situation, dilemma I was in, a central tension in my life. I have a question that plagues me which is 'how do I act with integrity?' I am fortunate to be experiencing remorse from one situation where I didn't as another near identical (but crucially, not identical) situation plays out.

That dilemma I might write about another time. 

But this post, this post isn't about me. It's about you.

The wise man said to me 'remember how I said love and hate are the two sides of the same coin: the coin is passion?' and I did both our brains are wired up like elephants. He said 'well helping and hurting are two sides of the same coin. What's the coin?' It took me two or three guesses before I got close enough for him to just tell me. 

The coin is empathy.

I don't want to steal a wise man's thunder, so instead I'll just say this very insight is very present in my favorite Lauryn Hill track - Ex-Factor note in particular the contrast between 'No one loves you more than me, and no one ever will.' and 'No ones hurts me more than you, and no one ever will.'

Now I was walking through New York looking for a shoe store lost and getting sucked again and again back into Mid-town, arguably the worst place on earth, truly the arsehole of Manhattan proving once again that the perfect body doesn't exist.

But I digress.

I overheard this lady on her cellular phone speaking to somebody she was out of sorts with and she kept repeating to my delight: 'Now you listen, and you listen good...' in a delightful ebonic accent. How I wish somebody would speak to me that way.

But I mention that to say this. So you listen, and you listen good mother fucker. I am trying to reach you, YOU directly because if I have one Christmas wish for peace and love and harmony it is this. Pay attention. Are you ready? Open up your mind and lower your defenses. Here it comes:

Asphyxiating infants aren't saved by asphyxiating infants. They are rescued by big strong fire fighters who are trained and equipped to rescue people in these dangerous situations even if they don't always succeed.

Drowning people aren't saved by drowning people. They are rescued by big strong life guards who are trained and equipped to rescue people who are drowning even if they don't always succeed.

Broken people aren't saved by broken people

It's a fairy tale, a fucken myth, an old wives tale. Moreover it's actually really dangerous. And just like an asphyxiating infant is more likely to have other asphyxiating infants around them than firefighters, and just like a drowning person is more likely to be surrounded by other drowning people than surf-life-guards, so too are broken people likely to keep the company of other broken people. 

Which is dangerous and bad enough. But please, please, please, please I am talking to you - STOP PUTTING THEM TOGETHER. The act of omission is bad, one I am now struggling with. An act of commission I hope to never ever have on my conscious.

It's a suckers game. Broken people will empathise with eachother 'He really understands me' are famous last words, because anybody who can recognise the self-destruction in another that they feel themselves is going to finally, be able to turn that destructive potential on somebody other than themselves, and be destroyed for it.

So let's be clear - absolutely clear. Asphyxiating people know how to asphyxiate. Drowning people know how to drown. Broken people know how to break. They have nothing to teach each other, they can just combine their expertise to amplify and accelerate.


Okay, so let's bring it back to my conversation with the wise man. I'm still really immature, this wise man can teach me. I can see the gaps in my understanding. I'm excited by it, it fills my future with potential and promise. My future looks bright.

What is empathy

Now you know, it's value is greatest in it's ability to travel. Somebody identical to you empathizing is almost useless to you, as their percentage of time experiencing empathy approaches 100% they are simply going to make the exact same moves as you are. When somebody exotic and foreign to you can empathize with you, temporarily they can inform themselves, correct for your weaknesses and make them irrelevant, amplify your strengths and move you closer to theirs.

That's what my wise man points out with his helping/hurting coin. A skilled firefighter knows the mistakes an infant is going to make, understands how they will panic, how their intuitions and instincts will betray them and can correct for them, maximizing their chances of survival. A skilled surf-life-rescue volunteer will know what goes through a drowning mans head, how their family are going to react, what panic will do to them and correct for them, maximizing their chances of survival.

The point is, that empathy is useful when you can actually choose which face of the coin comes up. When you have the skills and the training to choose between helping or hurting, cruelty or kindness then and only then can you really engage these situations.