Project AminOwings: We’re expecting a girl!


Here Project AminOwings is demonstrating impressive fetal balance — managing an intra-uterine headstand!

Sonal and I found out this morning that Project AminOwings will be a girl. She’s due August 7, 2009. Needless to say, we are excited (and nervous). To date, we’ve thought of no names. Any suggestions may be considered. We don’t plan on deciding for sure until she is born. This is to ensure that the name fits the face — what’s a Beatrice look like, anyway?

And names that start with “B” are highly unlikely to be chosen as there is no reason to put a kid through having initials “B.O.” Though had it been a boy, Albert Owings would have been a serious contender.

“Making money is that easy . . . You make it yourself, with your friends, as you create value for another.”

http://hplusmagazine.com/…on/2009-spring/

An interesting, brief article in H+ magazine titled Hacking the Economy by Douglas Rushkoff speaks to times long gone — centuries ago when barter was the common means to transact locally and centralized currency was scarcely used at all. The author explains that the aristocracy effectively compromised this system by pushing centralized currency, which was “a way to extract value from the periphery and bring it back to the center.”

Whether things occurred as simply as Rushkoff describes is up for debate. Governments (via banks or perhaps its vice versa!) have long been incentivized to centralize the management of currency. Currencies throughout history have been based on gold and silver (as they are scarce, divisible, and uniform). However, via centralization’s corrupting influence (i.e. no checks and balances), the central monetary authority has always slowly but steadily debased the currency spurring inflation and leading to all sorts of unfortunate consequences — the most noteworthy of which is robbing the common man of his wealth.

In our modern days, we’ve gone completely to a credit-based society whereby all money is based on the assumed credit of the centralized authority. Dollars don’t represent gold or silver (though they once did). I won’t go into further detail on this here, but you should check out Rothbard’s What has Government Done to our Money? (Buy it off amazon or grab it free in pdf or audio off mises.org).

What I like about Rushkoff’s concise piece is how it makes two fundamental conclusions, both of which I happen to agree with:

  1. Centralization tends to result in perverse systems — i.e. our productive hours don’t lead to our own wealth. Money is made simply by moving electronic balances around. Finance replaces production in society (I.e. the United States’ FIRE economy).
  2. Money is easy to make. Money is merely efficient barter. No matter what happens to the general economy, the dollar, the yuan or yen or gold or silver, trade will continue on. You just better hope you have some assets to barter around, and if you don’t, you can always get creative and find things that you can trade.

Here’s a summary snippet of Rushkoff’s article found on page 37 / 38 of the online magazine. The rest of the magazine looks fascinating and I only wish I had the time to skim all its pages!

The economy we live in is a rigged game, established around the time of the Renaissance in order to promote the welfare of earlychartered corporations and the monarchs who gave them license to monopolize world business. Until that time, there were many kinds of money in use simultaneously. People used centralized currency to conduct long-distance transactions, and local currency to transact on a more day-to-day basis. . . .

Like most innovations of the Colonial era, centralized currency is a way to extract value from the periphery and bring it back to the center. . . .

A majority of the money earned under our current currency system is earned by people who don’t actually do anything. As such, all this speculation is a drag on the system. Speculators just bet on various companies’ ability to pay back what they have borrowed. . . .

The way out — as I see it — is to begin making our own money again. I’m not talking barter, but local currency. Money is just an agreement. And the more a community trusts one another, the more effi ciently the moneys they develop can function. We can create units of currency based on anything . . .

Thanks to the current economic meltdown, a restaurant in my town called Comfort has been unable to secure a loan from the bank to expand. Instead, John the owner has turned to us. We are buying “Comfort Dollars” at a rate of 1 US dollar for every $1.20 worth of restaurant food. So if I invest $1000, I get $1200 to spend at the restaurant. I get a 20% return on my investment, and — since he’s paying in food — he gets money a lot cheaper than he can borrow it through the bank.

Plus, I have a reason to promote his restaurant, invest in my town, and extend the good will. everybody wins.

Making money is that easy. You don’t get it from a corporation or a bank. You make it yourself, with your friends, as you create value for one another. This is the ultimate hack in a society addicted to the market: pretend it doesn’t even exist, and go about your business.

(H/T boingboing via Ritholtz)

How the United States will go Insolvent

http://www.oftwominds.com/blog.html

Charles Hugh Smith has a fantastic, easy-to-follow post today titled, The Road to National Insolvency. Therein Smith details the debt-rolling finance structure that the United States Treasury has employed to pay off existing debt, interest on said debt and new deficit spending. He then explains how current factors have kept a lid on borrowing costs (interest rates or bond yields) on Treasuries. Finally, he speculates on how going forward the dampened global economy and demand for yield by investors (i.e. investors will only accept marginal yields on debt for so long) will put enormous upward pressures on borrowing costs, thereby ultimately leading to much higher interest rates, sovereign debt-servicing costs and finally to U.S. insolvency.

I happen to agree with Smith, so I’m biased in that regard (Disclosure: short TLT via puts and long TBT). I think the biggest unknown is just when we hit the tipping point and yields start spiking dramatically. It could happen very quickly and with little notice. So be careful out there!

Well organized, written and worth the read in it’s entirety: the clip below is just CHS’s conclusion:

Four short years of $2 trillion deficits will effectively double the U.S. national debt and the interest it pays. The Social Security surpluses are “borrowed” every year without any notice, so the U.S. debt rose by $300 billion a year even when it supposedly ran a slight surplus; that $300 billion+ a year in new debt goes on top of the stated $2 trillion/year in deficit spending.

So the nightmare scenario is this: the debt doubles over the next 4-5 years, causing interest payments to double from $450B to $900B a year. But interest rates also double due to the global shrinkage of surplus capital and the monumental rise in demand for capital (borrowing). The $900B in interest then doubles to $1.8 trillion–roughly equal to Medicare, Social Security and the Pentagon combined.

Can’t happen? Really? With tax revenues dropping along with profits, employment and assets, then where will the political will arise to cap entitlements and other spending? I predict the U.S. will continue borrowing trillions of dollars until it is no longer able to do so.

By then, the interest owed each and every year will crowd out all other spending. With the debt machine broken, the government will simply be unable to service its debt and fund all its mandated entitlements and other programs. It will be insolvent.

Why Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan idea won’t catch on

http://www.nakedcapitalis…black-swan.html

While not quite a book review, Yves Smith of nakedcapitalism.com discusses Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan from the perspective of how likely the ideas in the book are to spreading and being widely understood and internalized.

It’s an interesting post. Even in these times where we are increasingly observing the effects of long tails and fundamental unpredictability/randomness, people still cling to the idea that the world will unfold as planned even though it’s rarely ever this way.

NNT discusses this problem within the book. In particular, the problem of hindsight bias causes us to overstate our own control over event outcomes that are fundamentally more random — particularly when it is a positive outcome. On the flipside, we acknowledge how uncontrollable things are when the event has a negative outcome. This sinister bias inflates our belief in our own predictive power. Sort of silly, right?

I particularly like Yves’ conclusion (see bolded bit). You have to love that the success of a book about unpredictability and luck is, itself, a sort of black swan. Mind, this is Taleb’s second book on randomness and unpredictability; however, Taleb’s success as a stock trader, making massive sums and achieving widespread acclaim for his correct trading of the 1987 stock market crash, is arguably a black swan event — right? Or does expecting a black swan cause the expected event to cease being a black swan?

Further still, is Taleb’s success anecdotal proof that awareness of black swans and exposing yourself to upside potential from random events, planning for the unplannable, is not only possible, but could be a wildly profitable pursuit? I tend to think this may be the case, but maybe my human control bias is creeping in.

Fundamentally, I just don’t know.

Here is Yves:

I sincerely doubt [Nassim Taleb’s ideas] will be internalized. . . . The very fact that his construct has been reduced to the soundbite “black swan” when it is more complicated and richer is telling.

What are some of the reasons? Let me speculate.

First, Taleb goes to some length to establish that he is not the first to go down this line of thinking; he has quite a few intellectual ancestors. Yet these observations never took hold.

Of course, one reason is that the implications are pretty uncomfortable for a lot of professions . . .

But second, and perhaps as important, people do not want to see the world as subject to chance to the degree that Taleb says it is. This is hugely unsettling if you really do come to terms with the implications of his argument. We like to believe we have some measure of control over our lives. . . .

Third, if our mental construct of how the world works is off in some fundamental respects, it also calls into question our ability to make good decisions. And apart from Taleb, there are reasons to question our abilities here. It has been pretty well documented in brain research that humans can only hold so many variables in their consciousness at once. Our decision-making capabilities are more limited than we’d like to believe. And confronting every situation as if it were new would be simply exhausting, That is why we rely heavily on rules of thumb (more fancily called heuristics). Now we also have certain types of analytic processes, what I like to think of as pattern recognition, that can serve us well (this was the topic of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink). The problem is that this quick pattern recognition can work very well, or be absolutely wrong, and we have no easy way of telling which.

Essentially, Taleb paints a picture of the world and human behavior that is unflattering. So as much as his work makes a fundamentally important set of observations, its success may be largely a function of luck. It came out just when the credit markets were starting to unravel and well established practices, both among traders and the broader financial community, were being shown to have serious flaws. Had his book come out at another juncture, it probably would not have been as well received.

Choosing Vegetarianism is Ignoring Human Biology

http://wholehealthsource….bout-human.html

I heartily enjoy eating meat. I consider animal products to be the ultimate human food where “ultimate” means that for me to recognize a food-pairing as a meal, it must contain meat.

My feelings on food are typical even as they are no doubt heavily-influenced by American culture. Nevertheless, I suspect that most humans feel similarly. It’s for this reason that most of us meat-eaters raise a brow, groan, or otherwise strike a perplexed pose when encountering friends, family members, or acquaintances who choose not to eat meat. We intuitively don’t get it. I believe this is because avoiding animal products fundamentally goes against our biologically-formed nature.

For sake of discussion, I lump all non-meat-eaters into the category vegetarians recognizing this fails to recognize any number of distinctive differences!

Though some meat-heads can be intolerant of vegetarians, for the most part us carnivorously-inclined humans simply resign to rolling our eyes and not asking too many questions. Live and let live, so to speak.

However, even as we can all be tolerant to differing viewpoints on nutrition and food, as we learn more about our evolutionary past, which is to say our own biological predisposition, certain conclusions become unavoidable. One of those conclusions is that human beings have been selected via evolution to eat animal products. How do we know this? Well, it merely takes looking at our evolutionary preceptors and acknowledging that if they were omnivorous or carnivorous, it’s highly probably that we should be, too.

What do we see in our past? The second closest ancestors to modern humans, the Neanderthals, managed to “stick around” (not die out) up until around 30,000 years ago — these were the now-extinct neanderthals. Did they eat only plants? No. Neanderthals “were basically carnivorous” (See Stephan’s in-depth write-up, partially quoted below). Furthermore, you have to go a very long ways back to find any preceptor to Homo Sapiens that came close to being a vegetarian — chimpanzees branched off from the Homo genus some five million years ago!

Whatever reason for choosing vegetarianism, it really doesn’t matter to the following conclusion: choosing vegetarianism requires ignoring or rejecting human biology. This doesn’t make it wrong to choose vegetarianism; it just doesn’t jive with our genetics. Avoiding animal products in your diet may put your health at risk.

The question vegetarians should ask themselves is: is it worth risking their health to maintain adherence to a life-paradigm or morality that is in direct conflict with their biological nature?

I believe we will achieve considerably more coherence within our chosen morality if that morality is built with a firm grasp of human nature. That we are intended* to eat animals is part of that nature.

If you look at the chart above, Homo rhodesiensis (typically considered a variant of Homo heidelbergensis) is our closest ancestor, and our point of divergence with neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis). Some archaeologists believe H. heidelbergensis was the same species as modern Homo sapiens. I haven’t been able to find any direct evidence of the diet of H. heidelbergensis from bone isotope ratios, but the indirect evidence indicates that they were capable hunters who probably got a large proportion of their calories from meat. In Europe, they hunted now-extinct megafauna such as wooly rhinos. These things make modern cows look like chicken nuggets, and you can bet their fat was highly saturated.

H. heidelbergensis was a skilled hunter and very athletic. They were top predators in their ecosystems, judged by the fact that they took their time with carcasses, butchering them thoroughly and extracting marrow from bones. No predator or scavenger was capable of driving them away from a kill.

Our closest recent relative was Homo neanderthalensis, the neanderthal. They died out around 30,000 years ago. There have been several good studies on the isotope ratios of neanderthal bones, all indicating that neanderthals were basically carnivores. They relied both on land and marine animals, depending on what was available. Needless to say, neanderthals are much more closely related to humans than chimpanzees, having diverged from us less than 500,000 years ago. That’s less than one-tenth the time between humans and chimpanzees.

I don’t think this necessarily means humans are built to be carnivores, but it certainly blows away the argument that we’re built to be vegetarians. It also argues against the idea that we’re poorly adapted to eating animal fat. Historical human hunter-gatherers had very diverse diets, but on average were meat-heavy omnivores. This fits well with the apparent diet of our ancestor H. heidelbergensis, except that we’ve killed most of the megafauna so modern hunter-gatherers have to eat frogs, bugs and seeds.

*As much as a blind or natural process like evolution can “intend” anything.

Positive Addiction by William Glasser

Positive Addiction by William Glasser

Finally and most important, to find happiness we need others, but an addict needs only himself. Dependent only upon himself and knowing he can pursue his addiction, he does so with a single-minded devotion that is remarkable to behold. But what if there were addictions that, instead of making you weaker, made you stronger?

Breezed through William Glasser’s Positive Addiction. At around 150 pages (the 1976 edition), it is a quick and thought-provoking overview of Glasser’s conclusion that there are activities that enable a person to achieve a transcendent, trance-like, meditative state where the mind can “spin free.” Positive addictions are activities that fairly predictably take a person to this mental state, are addictive in that missing the activity results in various symptoms of withdrawal (anxiety, depression, etc.), and are positive in that they are a creative, in-control time that endows an individual with strength in the form of both mental capacity and increased neurological horsepower. These strength gains carry over into all other aspects of life.

It sounds mystical in nature, but Glasser believes (and I have no reason to suspect otherwise) that the state of mind reached via positive addictions is natural and maybe even primal — a reversion to animalistic mental processes, perhaps).

What is the PA state? My understanding is that when you reach the PA state, your mind drifts, wandering effortlessly from random thought to observation to idea. This “spun out” or “free spinning” state is creative, relaxed, unforced, and difficult to intentionally maintain.

Though Glasser alludes to other possibly PA activities, running dominated his research which involved sending out a survey request in a running magazine. One response to Glasser’s survey helps describe the mental state:

When I am settled into my run I concentrate on running as much as possible but the mind wanders to thoughts of most anything. The state of mind is one of almost total complacency and privacy. Although you are in sight of people, cars, buses, school kids, dogs, etc., I feel a very privateness when I run. People may yell at me or a kid may bug me for a few hundred yards but due to the nature of running (it is hard and physically demanding) you are pretty much left to yourself and no one can invade your runner’s world because they physically are not able.

The above runner’s description may conjure up imagery of the well-known (Today but not when the book was written) phenomenon of a “runner’s high”. A runner’s high is the effect felt as the body releases endorphins to weaken the physical pain caused by high-impact nature of running. Though Glasser does not address this connection in Positive Addiction, given the numerous alternative means to reach the PA state, I am not convinced endorphins are fundamental — they may merely be an ancillary effect of higher-endurance activities. It seems to me based on personal experience that the meditative state achieved through repetitive, non-critical physical activity is separate from endorphin release.

Transcendental meditation is another way to acheive the PA state though Glasser concludes from his research that TM rarely becomes addictive because it tends to only induce the PA state infrequently.

Aside from regularly running, Glasser alludes to other possible methods that may acheive the PA state. His research into PA discovered subjects that appeared to be positively addicted to gardening, juggling, swinging a bat, bathing, creative but non-critical writing, and knitting. The PA state elicits in me the diminished, wandering awareness reached almost immediately prior to falling asleep; could the PA state be akin to dreaming while still awake? It also reminds me of how I (and many people I know) feel during a morning hot shower.

In Positive Addiction Glasser outlines six steps or requirements of a PA activity. If you’re looking for a potential PA, the steps as pulled from the book are:

  1. It is something noncompetitive that you choose to do and you can devote an hour (approximately) a day to it.
  2. It is possible for you to do it easily and it doesn’t take a great deal of mental effort to do it well.
  3. You can do it alone or rarely with others but it does not depend upon others to do it.
  4. You believe that it has some value (physical, mental, or spiritual) for you.
  5. You believe that if you persist at it you will improve, but this is completely subjective—you need to be the only one who measures that improvement.
  6. The activity must have the quality that you can do it without criticizing yourself. If you can’t accept yourself during this time the activity will not be addicting. This is why it is so important that the activity can be done alone.

Glasser’s default recommendation for those interested in reaching PA is to run. He cautions that getting to the point where you can run for an hour for five to six days a week could take up to six months, and even then, it may still take up to two years to get to the point where running is a positive addiction.

Self-experimentation — as I am more or less convinced of the benefits of positive addiction; however, in order to see if its something real and useful for me, I need to conduct some self-experimentation, introspection, and observation. Since I am not a runner (orjogger), I am interested in finding other means to achieve the PA state. I believe that I have reached the PA state at various times while working out. I have noticed symptoms of withdrawal when I miss workouts (See my discussion of Missed Exercise Guilt). Finally, I’ve noticed that working out with others tends to diminish my enjoyment severely even though weight-lifting often requires a workout partner (and I do suspect weight-lifting can be a positive addiction).

If you wish to follow my experimentation with achieving PA via alternatives to running, you should follow along specifically on my workout blog. Right out the gate I suspect that PA can be reached through kettlebell drills such as the kettlebell swing. Additionally, as I somewhat regularly bike (both mountain and road), I will be experimenting with positive addiction there, as well, though I’m nearly positive I have noticed the PA state while biking.

Further reading — This is the second book by William Glasser that I have read. The first was Control Theory. Glasser’s style of therapy has been termed “Choice Theory” or “Reality Therapy.” I have one other book of his that I plan on reading. I have enjoyed Glasser’s writing style and particularly his inquisitive mind and search for useful, testable and easy to apply methods to improve mental health. Working to improve your mind is something healthy individuals do not do enough. This is despite the obvious conclusion that just like it is healthy to strengthen your body via lifting weights and routine physical activity, it is also healthy to take efforts to strengthen the mind. As it is, positive addiction may increase both physical and mental well-being at the same time!

Post-script — If you are a runner, you should check out a site by a friend of mine, Serious Running. It is one of, if not, the best sites for trail running reviews, product reviews, tips, and other insights into running — all imbued with a humorous writing style. SeriousRunning.com is particularly poignant to this review as at least two surveyed applicants mentioned in Positive Addiction specifically used the phrase “serious running.”

Below are all William Glasser books that I have read to date:

  • Control Theory — the most comprehensive and useful of Glasser’s books that I have read, this one covers the basics of control theory (also known as choice theory and reality therapy).
  • Positive Addiction — a more niche focus on acheiving meditation and creative reorganization via pursuit of positive addictions.
  • Staying Together — focuses on applying control theory, the ideas of “pictures in your head” and quality worlds, and matching up basic needs (or accounting for differences in these needs) in relationships.

Kombucha Tea (Fermented Food)

http://www.blog.sethrober…#comment-275794

More from Seth Roberts in the self-experimentation with fermented foods (And satisfaction of umami/flavor cravings) comes discussion of using Kombucha Tea (a fermented tea) to test effects on overall health.

I’ve never had Kombucha tea, but apparently you can make it at home.

Anyone know how? As homemade fermented foods go, this sounds much more appealing to me than homemade yogurt.

4. My idea that we like umami tastes, sour tastes, and complex flavors so that we will eat more bacteria-laden food (which nowadays would be fermented food) is saying that we need plenty of these foods. Why else would evolution have tried so hard to make us eat them? The implication is they should be part of every diet, like Vitamin C. When someone deficient in any vitamin begins eating that vitamin, the deficiency symptoms go away very quickly, within a few weeks, usually. The changes are easy to notice. So the details of what Tucker observed – the speed and size of the improvements — support my general idea that there is a widespread deficiency here that can be easily fixed.

Stop “FHA Subprime” – Defeat HR 600 and SFDPA

http://ml-implode.com/sfdpacampaign.html

STOP HR 600: STOP 'FHA Subprime!'While flying the flag of “helping” would-be homebuyers in lower income brackets, “seller funded downpayment assistance” inflates the home price via “laundering” a downpayment from seller to buyer in order to get the homebuyer in an FHA approved loan. This process instantly puts the house into negative equity.

Not surprisingly, “SFDPA” is very profitable in fees to the companies who make it possible while stacking the cards against the “assisted” homebuyer, who research has shown, is considerably more likely to go into foreclosure.

As if putting homebuyers into instantly underwater homes that are much more likely to go into foreclosure under the “auspices” of helping them out wasn’t bad enough, when the loans default, they dump back onto the FHA and thereby the taxpayer.

So who wins in this mess of “charity?” The companies lobbying for its re-legalization via H.R. 600.

And if H.R. 600 gets passed, let there be no doubt, our elected officials have learned nothing from the credit collapse.

More on Seller Funded Downpayment Assistance and HR 600 at ML-Implode.com:

This practice has been criticized or ruled against by the FHA, the GAO, the IRS, the FBI, and even US Congress itself, which outlawed it (for the time being) in the 2008 Housing Bill. Yet those who profit off the practice are trying to revive it.

So What is it??

The contentious practice is called “seller-funded downpayment assistance” (SFDPA). It is used to allow home buyers getting Federally-backed mortgages to bypass the need for a downpayment, supposedly for charitable reasons.

On the surface, it sounds benign, but it is actually fraud and money laundering inflicted on the Federal Housing Administration (that is, taxpayers), the housing market in general, and in a sense, even the buyers!

One of these companies, Global Direct Sales (which runs the “Grant America Program”) has sued us in an attempt to stop us from revealing the existence of SFDPA and discussing it frankly. SO FAR A FEDERAL JUDGE HAS BLOCKED THEIR ATTEMPTS TO SILENCE US. (Read More about our battle here. Help us to fight this NUISANCE lawsuit which is a blatant attack on free speech!)

Jon Stewart Throttles CNBC

http://www.thedailyshow.c…inancial-advice

Jon Stewart absolutely destroyed CNBC last night on The Daily Show. The first half of the bit (Approximately the first 4 minutes) goes on the offensive against Rick Santelli who was supposed to be a guest on the show before he “bailed out.” Santelli is one of the few rational, intelligent, and authentic personalities on CBNC, frequently going against his peers’ opinions. Even so, he is still on CNBC. Since CNBC is basically a rah-rah cheerleading outfit for Wall Street, Santelli’s attack on mortgage payment subsidization (See Santelli’s Chicago Tea Party) makes him an easy target.

So that is funny, but it isn’t the best part. Stewart goes on to illustrate just how wrong CNBC has been throughout the emergence of the recession / bear market / depression / bubble bust. He does it with video clips from CNBC that pump Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia, AIG, Bank of America, and General Motors (GM). He takes jabs at Fast Money and Squawk Box — “Reasoned financial reporting that combines the raw speed of fast money with the intelligence of a box of parrots. You just had to know how to listen!”

He has clips from Wall Street executives (i.e. John Thain) where they say essentially “everything is ok!” And what takedown of CNBC wouldn’t be complete without clips of Jim Cramer? So he nails that, too.

“If I’d only followed CNBC’s advice I’d have a million dollars today provided I’d started with $100 million dollars.” How do they do it?”

And to cap off Stewart’s hilarious piece, he ends with a gut-busting clip from an interview between Squawk Box‘s Carl Quintanilla and Ponzi-criminial Sir Allen Stanford that you just have to watch yourself.

Well done Jon Stewart!

 

Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Seneca

Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Seneca

Seneca, like other Stoics, has a doctrine of nature that is remarkably close to that of Emerson or modern American environmentalists. The wise man (sapiens) will never be bored when contemplating the simple things of nature. The natural beauty of the countryside and the healthful action of the waves can have a calming effect . . . He also believed in the simple and strenuous life and the avoidance of luxury and decadence, and there are numerous passages . . . which decry the ostentatious, self indulgent practices of his contemporaries . . . Seneca has no patience for philosophy as a word game or a practice of engaging in hair-splitting arguments for their own sake. He rather sees it as a practice or way of life that all those who seek the good should investigate and adopt.

(From a helpful Amazon review)

Finished Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. I’ve only casually understood the Stoic philosophy prior to reading this book. As the above review notes, Seneca is concerned with making peace with death and living in accordance with nature. Seneca frequently cites the benefits of philosophy, which should be practical and useful. Fortune is something that should be looked on with ambivalence — neither should we get enamored when our luck is good nor depressed when bad. Happiness is a state of mind. I’m not positive, but it seems to me that Seneca originated the idiom to “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” (See the quoted bit below).

The Letters are a quick read at only around 230 pages. If you are interested in some ancient wisdom from a Roman philosopher, you would likely enjoy this book. Below are some passages I particularly enjoyed from the book.

  • “Look at the amount of punishment that boxers and wrestlers take to the face and the body generally! They will put up none the less with any suffering in their desire for fame, and will undergo it all not merely in the course of fighting but in preparing for their fights as well: their training in itself constitutes suffering. Let us too overcome all things, with our reward consisting not in any wreath or garland, not in trumpet-calls for silence for the ceremonial proclamation of our name, but in moral worth, in strength of spirit, in a peace that is won for ever once in any contest fortune has been utterly defeated.”
  • “Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen; but I do know what’s capable of happening . . . I’m ready for everything. If I’m let off in any way, I’m pleased. . . . for just as I know that anything is capable of happening so also do I know that it’s not bound to happen. So I look for the best and am prepared for the opposite.”
  • “Resent a thing by all means if it represents an injustice decreed against yourself personally; but if this same constraint is binding on the lowest and the highest alike, then make your peace again with destiny, the destiny that unravels all ties. There’s no justification for using our graves and all the variety of monuments we see bordering the highways as a measure of our stature. In the ashes all men are leveled. We’re born unequal, we die equal.”
  • “Death you’ll think of as the worst of all bad things, though in fact there’s nothing bad about it at all except the thing which comes before it – the fear of it.”
  • “For those who follow nature everything is easy and straightforward, whereas for those who fight against her life is just like rowing against the stream.”
  • “One used to think that the type of person who spreads tales was as bad as any: but there are persons who spread vices. And association with them does a lot of damage.”
  • “No man’s good by accident. Virtue has to be learnt. Pleasure is a poor and petty thing. No value should be set on it: it’s something we share with dumb animals – the minutest, most insignificant creatures scutter after it. Glory’s an empty, changeable thing, as fickle as the weather. Poverty’s no evil to anyone unless he kicks against it. Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law mankind has that is free of all discrimination.”