Category Archives: Around the Watercooler

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage – Danielson & Westfahl

It’s official: I’m a club cyclist! Joined up with Victoria’s Tripleshot Cycling Club. The deciding factor when choosing between clubs is that Tripleshot offers a lot of group rides. And the rides leave early in the morning (6AM!). One of my goals has been to get up earlier. The will to cycle seems more powerful than the languor of sleep, so might as well use cycling as motivation to get a jump on the day! It’s all psychological warfare.

On the longer rides (80+km)–even those done at a leisurely pace–the first thing to give out is not the legs or the lungs. It’s the lower back. It gets sore. Not a sharp pain. Rather a sort of a deep ache that takes the fun out of the ride. It’s sort of like having a headache: you’re not dysfunctional, but you’re not having a good time either.

Online searches suggested various solutions: get a bike fit, get cleats adjusted, or increase core strength. I’ve been experimenting with the bike fit (saddle height, fore-aft, handlebar height and angle). Raising the handlebar definitely helps, but at the cost of aerodynamics. I’d like to leave the handlebar where it is: just a little below the seat. I don’t think it’s the cleats. But the argument about core strength won me over. There were some basic tutorials online for various core exercises. And a book also turned up: Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage: Core Strength for Cycling’s Winning Edge by Danielson (a pro) and Allison Westfahl (a physiologist and fitness personality).

Tom Danielson's Core Advantage Cover Illustration

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage Cover Illustration

The library didn’t have the book. But the library does have a wonderful interlibrary loan service. I’ve been using it quite a bit lately. Books seem to take two weeks to come in. The books come in from all sorts of public and academic libraries in BC. If you’re looking for a book and the local library doesn’t have it, chances are you can find it on the interlibrary loan search engine. It’s fast and it works. That’s how I got to read Core Advantage: through ILLO or interlibrary loan. Try it.

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage Back Blurb

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage offers a simple, highly effective core strength program for cyclists. This comprehensive approach shows the 50 essential core workout exercises that will build strength and endurance in the key core muscles for cycling―no gym membership required.

Professional cyclist Tom Danielson used to have a bad back. He shifted in the saddle, never comfortable, often riding in pain. Hearing that core strength could help his back, he started doing crunches, which made matters worse. He turned to personal trainer Allison Westfahl for a new approach. Danielson and Westfahl developed all-new core exercises to build core strength specifically for cycling, curing Danielson’s back problems. Better yet, Danielson found that stronger core muscles boosted his pedaling efficiency and climbing power.

Using Danielson’s core exercises, cyclists of all abilities will enjoy faster, pain-free riding. Cyclists will perform simple exercises using their own body weight to build strength in the low back, hips, abs, chest, and shoulders without adding unwanted bulk and without weights, machines, or a gym membership. Each Core Advantage exercise complements the motions of riding a bike so cyclists strengthen the right muscles that stabilize and support the body, improving efficiency and reducing the fatigue that can lead to overuse injuries and pain in the back, neck, and shoulders.

Beginner, intermediate, and advanced training plans will help bike racers, century riders, and weekend warriors to build core strength throughout the season. Each plan features warm-up stretches and 15 core exercises grouped into workouts for injury resistance, better posture, improved stability and bike handling, endurance, and power. Westfahl explains the goal for each exercise, which Danielson models in clear photographs.

Riding a bike takes more than leg strength. Now Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage lays out the core strengthening routines that enable longer, faster rides.


The book is divided into lots of chapters but really it has two sections. The first half persuades you that core strength is the cat’s meow. It also explains the theory behind core training. In a nutshell, core strength is necessary because each time you press down on the pedal, your core (esp. lower back) has to counterbalance against the force of your foot pressing down on the pedal. So cycling uses the core but does nothing to strengthen the core. If your core strength is not up to the task, the back gets sore, your form goes to mud, and you lose power.

A good way to think of it is this: when you do a leg press on the machine at the gym, your back is supported by the backrest of the machine. So you’re using your legs and not so much the core, since the back is stationary. Well, you put out force when you cycle too. But when you’re cycling, you’re not leaning your back into anything. So the core has to keep the body stable as you press the pedal. That’s why the back gets sore. The back is actually doing quite a bit of work! Imagine how harder it would be to do the leg press without the backrest?

I like all the theory in the first half. Most of it is written by Westfahl. Every couple of pages there’s a Tommy’s Take, a few paragraphs by Danielson where he translates the theory portion into real world cycling experiences. It’s a good one-two combo. Westfahl perhaps goes a little overboard in stating the virtues of core training. She never claims that it solves world hunger and is a cure for cancer, but she comes pretty close. Undoubtedly, however, core strength is important. How many bodybuilders do you know who sweep the floor and put out their back? I know a few. It’s the weight machines: by supporting the core for you, it’s actually doing you a big disfavour as now your core strength is out of proportion with the strength or your arms, legs, and chest.

The second half are the exercises and the exercise regimens. The pictures are useful. Westfahl explains the exercises and which muscles they target. There are photos of Danielson doing the exercises to make it easy to follow along. Westfahl’s focus is on dynamic core strength. The plank is among the exercises, but she prefers ones where you are moving around exercises to static exercises: you’re also training your nervous system. This approach makes sense.


I’ve been doing the core workout for three weeks now. After week two I could do some of the more advanced exercises. I’ve also been riding the bike more and more. The lower back is still a little sore after long rides, but it’s getting a LOT better. I’m not sure if it’s the exercises that are helping or just putting the time in the saddle. Probably a bit of both.

One thing that I really like are the exercises that improve posture. On long rides, it always strikes me that the bike riding posture is just very, very bad. It’s worse than sitting in front of a computer screen. A lot worse. Now, I love biking cycling, but the posture is just bad. There are exercises in the book to open up the chest and loosen up the back after it’s been hunched over for so long. I really appreciate those exercises.

So: I enjoy the exercises and plan on continuing to do them. This book is an in-depth look at core strength training and though it’s written for cyclists, really anyone can benefit from it.


One of the unfortunate things which I hope won’t tarnish the book is that Danielson was suspended for doping for six months in 2012-3 and was caught doping again in August 2015. It’s a great book but knowing about the doping makes it harder to read the Tommy’s Take sections. Those are the parts where he talks about how hard he trains and how core strength gives him the secret advantage over his peers. Reading those sections make you think: maybe it was the drugs?

But perhaps that’s harsh. I’m sure he trains hard, and that doing the core routine is an advantage. The drugs no doubt help as well. A comprehensive 2015 report costing three million Euros commissioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) suggests that doping is still rampant. It is available here. According to the ‘respected cyclist professionals’ interviewed, anywhere from 30% to 90% of the peloton is still doping.

That must be a tough question all pro cyclists face: to dope or not to dope? If you don’t dope maybe you never make it to the top. Maybe you don’t even keep your job! But if you do dope, you lose your reputation. And you bring down the people around you too. I’m sure Westfahl must have had second thought teaming up with Danielson on Core Advantage. Now her name is *gasp* attached with the doper. I don’t mind so much. But some people will.

I’m reminded of an old fable. Death, Love, and Reputation used to be great friends, journeying together everywhere. One day, they decided to spit up. Death said: ‘Friends, if you desire to see me, I can be easily found: go to the site of any of the great battles and I’ll be there’. Love said: ‘I can be easily found as well: you can find me in the castles and the courts where the princes and the ladies hold their balls’. But Reputation said: ‘Think twice before we part, because it is my nature that once I leave someone, they will never see me again’.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Cooking Soap

Last night was soap making night with assiduous first time soap-maker F! Good Planet on Fort Street sells soap making kits with everything you need. They go for $50 or so. There’s a discount on the kits if you’ve attended their soap making classes which I did last year with LH. Well, the kits have almost everything. They have all the raw materials. You supply: safety goggles, a medium pot, a thermometer that can go between 45-80C, and a whisk (or hand blender). The kit comes with the raw materials (lye, fat, essential oils, and organic colouring). They even have a pair of safety gloves. You can also add exfoliant. We picked up some poppy seeds from Market on Yates for exfoliant. Hemp hearts also work.

The first time I made soap, it was in the back studio of the Good Planet store. Tea tree oil. I’ve been using it since then. It lasts a long time. And my skin likes it much better. Commercial soaps (even the dermatologist recommended ones) leave me itchy. Writers have sensitive skin! Well no, I’ve got eczema so I’m always mindful of skin care. Did you know that some commercial soaps cannot even be labelled ‘soap’? They have so many weird ingredients that the bureau of people with nothing better to do makes the manufacturer’s call them ‘beauty bars’ instead. I’m not into hippy stuff, but I definitely am into home made soap.

How Do You Make Soap?

It’s easy as ABC. Allow about 1-1/2. Measure out water (tap water is fine) into a bowl. Whilst wearing gloves and goggles, slowly add lye to the water and whisk. It starts smoking a little bit as the water rises from room temperature to 70. It will take a little while to cool to 45, at which point you pour in the fat. When the lye/water gets close to 45, heat up the fat in the microwave until it’s at 45. While whisking, slowly pour the fat into the lye/water. Make sure not to get any on exposed skin!

It takes a while to whisk. Maybe 15 minutes. It might go faster with hand blender, but that’s just something else to clean up. And it’s good to give the forearms a workout too! As you whisk it, a chemical reaction takes place between the lye and the fat. It’s like gunpowder or cement: it forms a new substance. In this case, after the process of saponification, the lye is no longer lye and the fat is no longer fat. It’s become soap.

Soap after whisking 10 min

Soap after whisking 10 min

After a 15 minute whisking workout, the consistency (which started out like water) gets to the ‘trace’ stage. That’s when you can lift the whisk up, and the soap dripping off the whisk into the pot stays on the surface for a second before melting back into the solution. For example, you could spell out a letter (briefly) or something like that on the surface of the soap solution.

When it reaches trace stage, put the colouring, essential oils, and exfoliant into the mixture. Then pour it all into the wax lined mold:

Pouring soap into mold

Pouring soap into mold

Wrap it in a towel (to keep it warm to the chemical reaction continues) and in a day or two, you can chop it up into blocks. It’s still quite soft. Cures in three weeks. And gets better and harder with time. If you’ve used the right amount of lye and fat, no expiration date: too much fat and it will go rancid. Too much lye and you will burn your skin! As a safeguard, people usually err on the side of a little more fat than the chemical process demands. If you do this, it will last a long time. I’ve had my other soap for over a year and it looks and smells great.

After a day, voila:

Soap curing in mold

Soap curing in mold

Ready to be chopped into blocks!

Why Make Soap?

It’s good value. Good Planet sells the bars for $6. If you get 25 bars from the box, you save $100 from the individual cost (retail cost of individual bars = $150, kit = $50. If you sourced out the materials individually instead of getting the kit, you could probably gets costs down to $20.

It’s good to make things yourself. There’s a certain satisfaction. It’s going back to the roots of things. You’re in control. You feel like you’ve done something. It makes a good gift.

You learn something. Who knew making soap was this easy? And yes, now I know why Blind Willie Johnson and all those other blind blues players went blind: don’t get the lye in your eyes! Take the precautions and it’s 100% safe. Well 99% safe.

What I Learned Making Soap

Do not throw the pots and whisks right in the dishwasher. The dishwasher soap does not clean soap soap and makes more of a mess. Rinse off the soap before putting everything in the dishwasher.

The lye will discolour cutting boards. No biggie. Now I have a soap making memento!

So: if you haven’t done it, give it a whirl! You’ll be glad you did!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I like to stay clean while Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Oak Bay Bicycles Sunday Ride

A writer ought to have active hobbies. If you’re writing five hours a day and reading two hours a day, that’s a lot of time sitting around. To make things worse, a lot of times when writers get writer’s block, they break out the munchies. I have a weakness for cookies (Dad’s), ice cream (black cherry), and nacho chips (plain chips with guac or salsa). Mmmm. A couple of cookies here and there, the second bowl of ice cream: the calories add up quickly! Nothing burns calories like cycling (maybe swimming, but you can cycle longer than you can swim). Cycling happens to be my active hobby of choice. Running too, is nice. But, on a ride, you can go for longer and enjoy more outdoor sights, sounds, and smells (esp. the ocean and the leaves as we head into fall). If I want to run by the ocean or around Elk Lake, I have to be able to get there first.

I spent a lot of time on a bike as a kid. It represented freedom. When I got my first car, that felt like freedom too. But looking back, the bike was better: you power the bike. It doesn’t break down all the time. Repairs don’t cost thousands. You don’t have to fill it up. You can eat more. You feel like you’ve accomplished something by commuting. Nothing against cars. I’d get a car if it could earn its keep: if it were a delivery car or a construction truck.

For a lot of years between then and now, the bike lay gathering dust, though. Last year, I dusted it off, pumped up the tires, and went for a ride. It was fun. The wind in the hair helmet. For my 40th birthday, I treated myself to my first road bike. One with bright silver Campagnolo parts: a Ti Marinoni Sportivo. No paint, no graphics. It was plain. It was beautiful. Made in Canada to boot. There’s a surprising number of Canadian bicycle companies: Kona, Norco, Guru, Argon 18, Cannondale (owned by Dorel Industries), Brodie, Rocky Mountain, and many others. If you’re wondering, yes, my bike earns its keep: it lugs around minor building materials for use around the building (tools, paint, and hardware). It’s cash flow positive. Well, maybe that’s wishful thinking. It will be cash flow positive.

Straight Up Cycles brought in the Marinoni came in November 2014. Looking back at a post in May this year, I had said 20km was an ideal ride and that 40km was becoming painful. That’s one of the nice things about blogging: once it’s written down, you know where to look for it if you don’t remember. Lately I’ve started to ride harder and longer. TS has inspired me: he’s been riding into Victoria from Mission, BC. It’s about 100km from Mission to the ferry. And he does it on a full mountain with a 20Ib backpack! Insanity! I thought if he can do it, I should be able to as well. Lately I’ve been going back and forth between town and the ferries (~70km). Another nice ride is to Cadboro Bay beach. Get there, read a book, and head back. Rolling hills. As I worked up the miles, I wondered: could I handle a group ride?

One of the guys at Straight Up Cycles suggested that the Sunday ride at Oak Bay Bicycles might be a good fit. The Oak Bay Bicycles website advertises the Sunday ride as a beginner/recovery ride. It turns out that the hard core group rides on Saturday. To them, the purpose of the Sunday ride is to recover and relax! The route they take is roughly 77km at a 25km/hr pace. So ’bout 3 hrs. It starts in Oak Bay, cuts through Gordon Head, Mt Doug, and up towards Sidney. There’s a short washroom break just before Sidney. From there, they ride towards the airport, down along West Saanich before joining up with the Galloping Goose heading back into town. Beginner riders typically see how far they can go. When they’ve had enough, they drop out and ride home. Next time out, they go further. Repeat until you build up the endurance to do the whole thing.

At the ride last Sunday, there were eight of us in all. Usually there are more: up to 30! But this week, there were two other races happening at the same time. And there was also a big storm the night before. Many people must have been still without power. The average age was around 40. Two women and six guys. And some beautiful bikes! Mostly carbon but one Moots ti as well. Also ran into JK, an old friend from high school! Wow! High school was over 20 years ago, would you believe it! I think some of the riders must be pros or serious amateurs.

Have you ever ridden with a group? The idea is that you can socialize as well as going faster and longer. By drafting (following the cyclist ahead of you with a gap of less than one wheel diameter), you can save 20% of your energy. You’re not fighting the wind. The cyclist at the head of the pack has to do most of the work. But, by taking turns leading the pack, everyone gets a benefit. It’s the closest thing out there to a free lunch.

There’s an interesting psychology in a group ride. First of all, a big thank you to the other riders who explained how things work! There’s some excellent teachers on this ride. The first thing in a group ride is that it’s harder to see the road when you’re riding in formation. You have to trust the riders in front to point out crap on the side of the road. If you’re riding at the back, your job is to alert the others of cars coming up from behind. And if you’re up front, your job is the grunt work of cutting through the wind. Everyone has a job. It seems everyone has a responsibility to one another. It’s nice to go faster and further. But the thing that left the biggest impression on my mind is the sense of trust the riders must have in one another. That’s cool. That’s something I can learn: trust. Biking really is a team sport. I had not known that before.

When I started the ride, it was difficult to follow so close on another rider’s wheel. I was afraid. What if they braked? What if I ran into them?  After a few kilometres and some kind words of encouragement, my fear dissipated. I could get closer: maybe a wheel diameter to half a diameter away. For the group ride to work, everyone has an obligation to one another to stay close together. It’s wonderful just watching the dynamics of the group. Or hearing the sound of people’s pedal strokes: they all sound different. Some riders grind it out in a low roar. Others spin quickly and lightly. Tires sound different too. If the road changes, you can hear the road changing from listening to the riders ahead of you. The experience is altogether different than, say, a group run. In a group run, you’re still your own individual. In a group ride, you’re really part of the group. You move with the group. You react with the group.

And then it happened. On the way back, on the hills on West Saanich, I couldn’t keep up. Just out of gas. What a weird feeling that was. Watching the group pull away. I tried pedalling faster. I tried pedalling standing up. Just couldn’t do it. It’s such a weird and helpless feeling to be going all out, huffing and puffing, putting out as much as you can, and not being able to keep up. The group slowed down, but after a few more hills, I was done like dinner. Boy was I done. One of the kind riders dropped back with me and I followed him back into town drafting behind him. That was much appreciated, thank you!

What a great learning experience. Thanks to everyone for sharing their tips. I’ll be doing this again. But I’ll need to do some more hill training first. And I’ll push myself harder on the flats. And yes, no saddlebag and rear carrier next time! Going on the group ride was eye opening: this was the ‘recovery’ ride as well. I am almost frightened to think how much power is required to keep up with the group on their Saturday rides!

Still smiling at the halfway mark of the group ride

Still smiling at the halfway mark of the group ride


Here’s an ‘around the water cooler’ post for assiduous readers today on time, that familiar stranger in our lives. How did the topic come about? Every so often-which is, at it turns out, once every couple of months-I pick up some donuts and head out to say hi to the boys at my old work, Bayside Mechanical out in Sidney. For one it’s fun to catch up on how everyone is doing. And then it’s a good excuse to jump on the bike. Pedal bike that is. If only they could make cars as dependable as bicycles. A bike can sit unused for years: just pump up the tyres (notice saucy British spelling!) and away you go. Built in climate control: if it’s hot slow down. If it’s cool, push the pedal to the metal! Beautiful machines. They make life efficient. No need for gym membership! But what was I talking about…ah…time.

‘What Do You Do With All Your Time?’

One of the things my colleagues say is: ‘Man, what do you do with yourself? I wouldn’t know what to do with all that extra time! I’d go nuts’. Well, that’s not quite what they say, but something along those lines. For those readers just hopping aboard, I used to work at Bayside Mechanical full time up till November last year. The routine was: out the door to catch the bus at 6:30AM and get in the door at 6PM. All-in with the commute (and I think that’s the proper way to calculate how long work takes) that’s almost twelve hours or half the day. So the way my colleagues are seeing it, well, I have a whole lot more time on my hands!

Accounting for All That Extra Time

Let’s see how things have changed. Before I used to go to bed around 11PM and get up 5:30AM. Now it’s more like bed at midnight and get up at 8AM. So I’m sleeping 1-1/2 hours more. What else? Grocery shopping used to be once a week. A big shop on Saturday at Fairway Markets. Now I go between Market on Yates, Fairway, and Fisgard Market in Chinatown for best pricing. This probably knocks 3 bucks off the weekly grocery spend of ~$55. It wouldn’t have been worth it to do this last year, that’s for sure. Milk and specials at the Market, meat and most staples at Fairway, and fruits and veggies in Chinatown. So shopping consumes another, say, 15 minutes a day on average (shopping is not every day but since everything is being calculated by day, keeps the numbers apples to apples). Then the library. Walking to the library and back again, coming home for lunch, going back… That’s gotta be another hour a day right there. Then blogging. That’s the amazing one. Blogging is actually very time intensive. This blog right here will probably take 2 hours altogether (I work on it on and off). Actually, maybe even more. It’s getting faster with practise though. Remember Seneca’s aphorisms? Witty things like ‘upon the author crimes come back?’. Well, these didn’t just ‘come’ to Seneca. In his educational treatises, he advises students of oratory to come up with one or two sententia each day. Blogging requires practise too. And hey, blogging is good for writers. Its an exercise to get your thoughts out there right here right now as opposed to labourious writing in the ‘academic’ style that is constantly written and rewritten. So, what are we at? Almost 5 hours. 7 hours of ‘regained’ time are still unaccounted for. That must be the time I’m writing and reading. Oh, and snacking. Good thing there’s time to work out because I snack a lot more. Also cooking more at home and eating out a lot less. But really, that should be time neutral: the time saved by going out is burnt by well, going and and coming back.

The Nature of Time

The strange thing is, it doesn’t seem like there’s all that extra time. There must be something psychological in how time flows. Actually, there is. And as project managers, we know this: give a worker a task, and he will fit his day to it. Time and productivity are like a gas in a container. If the container is small, the gas will fit but be at a higher pressure. If the container is large, the gas will also fit but be more ‘relaxed’. Operating at high pressures for too long, and something’s going to blow up. Operate at low pressures for too long, and the container might even implode out of boredom. The trick is to find a happy medium.

So, for those of you fearing that when you retire, there’s going to be too much time, well, don’t worry. That’s not going to be a problem. The one thing that is hard to understand is that once time becomes your own time why its considered to be time wasted or time off the grid. Why shouldn’t time be worth more when it is your own time?

There’s a really good book that I read years ago that shaped my thinking on work and time. It’s called Your Money or Your Life. It’s by Robin and Dominguez. It’s one of the few books that I’ve read multiple times. Do you know what actually happens when you get paid? Well, you’re actually trading in your life for money, which you spend on other things. By consuming, you’re actually consuming your own life. Ever talk to the old guys? You hear they say lots of things, but have you ever heard an old guy say, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office?’. Betcha you haven’t. And if you have, I’d sure like to know why!

My Efficiency Rating

So, it would seem in hindsight that when time is my own time, I’m less efficient than before. Or that I’m underutilized. Grocery shopping in multiple places. Sleeping more. Walking more. But that’s an illusion. Sometimes you hear people saying we only use 10% of our brains. Well, that’s an illusion too, because if someone lopped out the 90% that is not being used, I’m sure the brain would not work at all! So, I’m at, taking a guestimate, 75% efficiency compared to before. But it’s in my downtime that the ideas appear: during walks, taking a break, hey, even in my dreams sometimes! And I think this is true not only of me, but also of a lot of artists and, dare I say it, scientists as well? For the Curies to have experimented enough to discover radiation or for Mendel to have come up with genetics, they must have had a lot of spare time. But really, its not ‘spare’ time! It’s ‘spare’ only in the sense of ‘we’re only using 10% of our brain’!

So, although from a purely quantitative perspective, my production is down, it is the way it has to be. A certain amount of leisure is necessary in the production of art, or *gasp* even science. But though the production seems down, my days are still too short. As Seneca said in another aphorism: no day is too long for the busy. It.s already 7:42PM and I still must finish Plato’s Phaedo and the Ion tonight and start on something else. Maybe finish Schiller’s The Robbers which has eluded me for a month now.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and there is much to do when one is Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Going Beyond Dualistic Thinking

Many thanks to diligent reader LH for asking the question in response to yesterday’s post: is it possible to go beyond dualistic thinking? The post yesterday discussed ageism in Plato’s Apology: is Socrates condemned in part because of a conflict between the old and the young? Of course, the focus on ageism is not to discount the other factors, such as the conflict between the aristocrats and the democrats. Oops, that’s another example of dualistic thinking! It’s sure hard to get away from it.

Dualistic Thinking in Philosophy

Since it’s been steady stream of philosophy books of late, what better place to start the discussion on dualistic thinking! So, what do we have in philosophy? For starters, there’s materialism (primacy of matter) versus idealism (mind over matter). Then there’s empiricism (trust sense) versus rationalism (trust logic). But that’s not all. There’s nominalism (particular examples) or realism (existence of universals) and naturalism (natural laws) and theism (God exists). Lots of examples of dualistic thinking!

Monistic and Triadic Structures

Now the question is: does it have to be like this? For example, instead of dualistic dichotomies, there could be monistic or triadic structures. Let’s start with triadic structures. Plays sometimes have three acts. There’s the Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. And of course the Trinity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Then there’s music: the triad of the root, third, and fifth form a cornerstone of harmony. What else? There’s the troika: the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF. Oh ya, and triangles too.

Then there can be monistic structures. A line or a strand is monistic. One can make patterns out of it. Celtic or Muslim arts come to mind. They weave the strand into patterns and shapes sensible to human understanding. Instead of a chord, a note is a monistic structure. One could play scales. What else? I’m having a hard time thinking of other examples.

Part of the problem with monistic structures is that there’s nothing there to oppose them. So it’s hard to define them. We don’t think about it all the time, but a lot of the time we define what something is by coming to terms with what it is not. Take a superhero. He is defined as much by his powers as by the types of villains he fights against. The negative part is half of understanding. So that’s the drawback of monistic structures: the lack of the negative element.

What about triadic structures? Well, the common denominator looking at the above list is that they’re complicated. The Trinity is just complicated a priori. Anyone been following the Greek crisis?-just look at how complicated any negotiations are with the Troika! And then consider geometry. The complexity going from a point (monistic structure) to a line (dualistic structure) isn’t doubled. It’s more like a hundredfold more complex. The same with going from a line to a triangle (triadic structure). The geometry isn’t doubly complex, it’s infinitely more complex than the line. So that’s the drawback of triadic structures: they’re very complicated.

As a matter of fact, you can have triadic structures in philosophy. Take Hegel. His logic is triadic: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. And his system is also threefold: logic, philosophy of nature, and philosophy of spirit. But can anyone properly understand Hegel? Just look at the multiplicity of competing interpretations out there of each of his ideas! Just exactly how does one get to the Absolute Spirit through synthesis and why is it possible? Through a faculty of the soul? How does he know about this?!? Could you imagine having Hegel as your professor lecturing at 8AM Monday morning on Absolute Spirit? So, like I was saying, triadic structures are like chords. The amount of sounds harmonic structures (chords) can make on, say a piano, aren’t doubly or trebly more than is possible playing individual notes but is infinitely more complex (remember there are also the harmonics of notes blending together when played simultaneously).

So, with dualistic thinking, you get the drawback of an us against them mentality. With monistic thinking, there’s ‘us’ but who’s ‘us’? This is the superhero without the villain. Finally, with triadic approaches, the complexity becomes too great for most mortal minds to handle. It’s not very accessible. Opportunity cost. Always opportunity cost.

Another Approach

One thing that’s been of interest of late is the question of monism and dualism as it pertains to consciousness. Dualism would say that there is the body and the mind and that the mind (or consciousness) is something separate from the body. Monism would say that consciousness arises from the physical properties of matter. So, in a way, the philosophy of the mind or the philosophy of consciousness is dualistic in nature. And since the monist and dualist views have been duking it out since Plato’s time (with Plato expounding dualism and Lucretius monism-there is a specialized type of atom making up the Lucretian soul), it’s likely that the solution will not come from within philosophy itself.

This is where science comes in. This is the approach that will allow us to go beyond dualistic thinking. If the scientists can come up with a hypothesis of consciousness and devise a proof of concept (through artificial intelligence, perhaps), then the debate between monism and dualism (not to be confused with dualistic!) can be solved once and for all. And until science steps up to the plate, the debate between monism and dualism will never be solved by reason alone. Either consciousness can arise from matter or it can’t. Now, given that the brain is the most complicated machine in the whole universe, it’s going to be a tough go for science to find out it’s secrets. But there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be able to one day in the future. Monism can be proved if a physical basis can be found for consciousness. And dualism can be proved if there was a way to separate consciousness from the body. Like they do in the movies when the lawnmower man uploads himself into the internet. A self aware machine could also prove dualism.

My take is that dualistic structures have drawbacks but something in the deep structure of how we think (from fight or flight instincts, etc.,) makes them appealing. Triadic structures are too labourious for all but the most hardy intellects. And monistic structures lack the negative portion of a definition. Dualistic structures can be transcended, but not by thought alone, which, for all the things it does has limits. If philosophy with its love of dualistic structures is going to be transcended, it’s going to be by the slow trial and error process of science. Philosophy is that area which science has not figured out yet. As science progresses, it does so at the expense of philosophy, whose domain is becoming ever more encroached upon.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and there’s no dualistic roadblocks in my single minded pursuit of Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Bonus dualistic comic! Materialism vs idealism–

Dualistic Comic Marx vs Descartes

Dualistic Comic Marx vs Descartes

Amphitryo – Plautus

The goal this morning was to read 3 plays by the Roman comedian Plautus: AmphitryoThe Pot of Goldand A Three-Dollar Day. The first two I had before; the last was brand new. What a day! I got through the first play: Amphitryo. The other two will have to wait till later tonight or tomorrow. That’s ok though. I got in a good session painting my walls. I’ve been living here 8 years now and painting has been on the ‘to do’ list for the last year. Painted a hallway and half of the open loft area. Ah, the sweet smell of paint: a reminder of childhood, moving to a new house, the feel of ‘freedom’ in being able to choose the colour of the bedroom.

Of the ancient Greek and Roman comedians, Plautus is my favourite. Aristophanes’ themes are too fantastical. Plus he’s sort of vulgar for people with puritanical sensibilities. Too many references to bodily functions. And too many references to carrots and radishes. If Aristophanes is too fantastical, Menander is too formulaic. Maybe that’s why the ancients considered Menander to be second only to Homer: like Homer working in the oral tradition, the writing of Menander is also rather formulaic. Plautus is just right. It’s fantastical enough to generate suspense. But the characters are formulaic enough that it’s easy to follow (e.g. the clever slave, the spendthrift son, the kind hearted courtesan, and so on). No Being John Malkovich here thank goodness. An easy but entertaining read. Just my cup of tea after a day of physical labour.

Who’s Plautus?

Here’s the back blurb from the Penguin edition translated by Watling:

The plays of Plautus (c.254-184 B.C.) are the earliest complete works of Latin literature we possess. Plautus adapted for the amusement of Roman audiences the Greek New Comedy of the fourth century. His wit is clever and satirical and his entertaining portrayal of slaves firmly set the style for the ‘low’ characters of Elizabethan comedy, of Moliere, and many others.

Another reason why it’s so nice to be reading Plautus is that it’s like an encounter with an old friend. In 1st year Latin class at UVic, the edition Professor Bradley used was the ‘Cambridge Latin Course’. To teach students Latin, the reading book used dumbed down excerpts from Plautus’ Amphitryo and The Pot of Gold. They were entertaining back then, even in their simplified versions. I remember the thrill of ‘getting a joke’ in Latin. For me, Plautus is forever associated with those ‘good old days’.

That Plautus reminded me of the ‘good old days’ made me think: in your different stages of life, did you encounter books you would read that made perfect sense to read at that time but at any other time would have been an unappealing read? Today, I think if I read Hesse’s Demian or Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther for the first time, I wouldn’t like them that much at all. But I remember stumbling on those book in my late teens and they were dynamite reads that changed the way I looked at the world.

Other books, however, seem less vulnerable to, what shall I call it, ‘time selection’, maybe? Homer’s Iliad was good back then (early twenties) and I think if I were to read it for the first time today (40 years old) it would just be as dynamite. Plato I didn’t like at all back when I was younger, but he seems to be growing on me as I get older.

Ah the occupation dangers of being a writer! Not only do you have to find the right reader, it may be that your right reader has to be in a certain stage of life to appreciate what you’ve written as well!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and revisiting Plautus has made Doing Melpomene’s Work a joy today!

Memory and Writing

Memory, Cell Phones, and the Invention of Writing

There’s an old story about memory that’s valid in today’s age of cell phones and other devices that make the memory superfluous. At least superfluous until the device breaks down. I remember the story, but not where it’s from. Maybe Plato? That would suit him since memory plays a large role in his philosophy, which he claims is hard wired into the brain: one simply has to remember how it works. It would be easy enough to look up where it’s from, but that would be cheating! It goes something like this: in the old day before there was writing, people simply remembered things. It was an oral tradition. Travelling rhapsodes could remember the whole of the Iliad and recite from memory. In case you’re wondering how impressive that is, well, it’s LONG as the Iliad itself is long. Hence the popular expressions ‘an Iliad of trouble’ means a LOT of trouble. Maybe its one of those popular expressions that no one knows… At any rate, people in general had very good memories. Even dates involved remembering who won the Olympiad, since they didn’t say ‘in 450 BC’ but rather ‘in the second year after so and so won the Olympiad’.

But anyway, one day Thoth invented writing. He was showing off his new invention to Ptah or one of the other gods claiming that writing is the best thing since they invented sliced bread. ‘Look, you can write it all down now!’, he would say. Ptah replies, ‘What will happen to people’s memory?’, and walks away, unimpressed. I could just imagine his reaction to the iPhone.

Memory and Writing

It occurred to me while working on Paying Melpomene’s Price today how crucial memory is. I’m currently working on the section juxtaposing tragedy with history. One of the tasks is to note how tragedy downplays the importance of history and vice-versa. Well, in one of Goethe’s tragedies one character attacks another by telling him ‘he should be a historian’. But I was having a hard time finding a history writer who belittled tragedy or tragedians. The best was Tacitus’ A Dialogue on Oratory where the orator Maternus gives up the bar to to become a tragedian. His fellow orators question the use of tragedy, glorifying the importance of the lawyer life in the public eye. The example wasn’t a good fit to my thesis. But since I couldn’t remember anything else, I stretched it into the Procrustean bed of the argument. It wasn’t pretty. First of all, although Tacitus is a historian, he’s really talking about tragedy versus oratory, not tragedy versus history. And it’s almost as though he takes Maternus’ side in the debate. Aper, the fellow he argues against, is a bit of an unlikable hothead. Anyway, I argued that although it was oratory versus tragedy, orator stood in for history since it was active in a sense. After all, a lot of histories are just one speech after another speech, or, in other words, oratory. It wasn’t a pretty argument.

But hey, in another post I argued that when a writer gets stuck, the best thing to do is to keep going: you’ll find a solution down the road. It turns out this time the advice works. So today I was reviewing Polybius’ The Rise of the Roman Empire and what do you know: there’s a passage that begins, ‘the task of the historian is the exact opposite as that of a tragedian’. Bingo! So I excised the paragraph on A Dialogue on Oratory from the text and inserted Polybius. But the funny thing is that in my edition of Polybius, many years ago I had marked up that section! Not only had I marked in up, I had written little notes in the margins. Well, I had completely forgot! If I had remembered, it would have saved a considerable amount of time. And that’s what got me thinking on how important memory is to writers. I mean I could make a rolodex or some kind of spreadsheet of where everything is, but it’s hard to know ten years in advance what sort of information you’ll need in the future! Can you plan ten years in advance? So memory remains important: you can carry it around until its required.

Writers Who are Masterminds at Memory

Boethius is the first name that comes to mind. In the 6th century, the Emperor Theodoric threw the philosopher in jail on possibly trumped up charges of treason. Without his books, Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy to comfort himself. In the book, Lady Philosophy visits Boethius in jail, and helps him find consolation by recalling the philosophical precepts which he had forgotten (since he had been gallivanting around town with the poetical Muses, of course).

In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius quotes Plato (he’s a neo-Platonist), Homer, Herodotus, Cicero, etc., And not just little quotes: there’s some substantial block quotes thrown in there. That’s just the sort of memory a writer needs.

I used to think writing was an art. Something based on inspiration. Still do. But it sure helps to have a good memory. If you can’t remember, you can’t be inspired. But if you happen to remember at the right time, the world’s your oyster. That’s probably why so many writers recommend walks. Walks stimulate the memory into remembering old patterns. Nietzsche said that ‘any thought not originating from a healthy walk is not worth a dime’ (or something like that). Nietzsche liked the ‘superman’ type of walk: there was a certain mountain he would go up and down each day. That’s sort of surprising given his poor health. Goethe was also a big walker. So was Beethoven, who loved his woodland hikes. Think of the famous bird call played on a flute in the Pastoral Symphony. Showers work in the same way. Elon Musk of Tesla Motor and Space X fame has spoken of the virtues of the tub.

Memory Techniques (or Mnemonic Techniques)

Yoast SEO gives me extra points if I use the keyword many times. Guess what the keyword in this article is? Yes, I have shamelessly used it even when a better word was available. That’s my journalistic integrity for you!

Poetry used to be a good way to work out the memory. The mind must be sort of like a muscle (though it’s not). But like a muscle in that if you work it out it pumps it up. And, considering the mind is the most complicated thing in the universe, it seems a shame not to use it to the maximum. I’ve been thinking of committing parts of the Iliad to memory. Once, on an exchange trip to Germany, there were all of us young kids and one retired doctor. I can’t even remember his name but I can see his face. When I told him I studied Classics, he started reciting the beginning of the Iliad. In Greek. When he was a lad in grade school, they still taught Greek and encouraged students to memorize large portions of the texts. Memory might have even been its own subject back then. But much more than it is now. He could still remember the lines. And he spoke it with such feeling that it was amazing to hear.

Another mnemonic technique is ‘the house’. I learned this one from Professor Charles Fornara. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to encounter genius. In my life there’s maybe two people whom I have met that might have fit that word. He was the first one. Anyway, in class one day he told us the ancient technique. If you have something to remember, make a house in your head. It helps if you’re familiar with the house. Start somewhere: a hallway or a room. Say you start with a hallway. Next time you have something to remember, stick it somewhere in the room: on the wall, behind the painting, under the matt. You pick. And each time you have something else to remember, put it somewhere else. Do it until the room is full. Then move on to the next room. Keep going.

The technique is interesting since it seems to be in accord with how the mind works. It’s almost like a computer files, which are set up along the same lines. You might not remember what’s in a spreadsheet, but you can remember the path of folders and subfolders to get there. Professor Fornara did this technique for years, but eventually abandoned it after it got too big: the housekeeping was enormous and it was ‘getting up to be the size of the universe’, as he said. I tried it too. For a few months. It works. They cool thing after a few months is that you can start wandering through the house, finding things as you go. Yes, sometimes you have to do some light dusting to refresh the memory about what is where. Try it out and let me know! It might make you a better writer!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I am Doing Melpomene’s Work in the muggy summer heat.

Lysistrata – Aristophanes

As part of the ‘final kick’–to borrow a term from long distance running since this has been a long distance project– been reading comedies, histories, and philosophies. Why?–the goal in the final chapter of Paying Melpomene’s Price is to define tragedy by setting its worldview in opposition to the other genres. On the weekend I read Four Plays by Aristophanes. The Clouds and The Bird are translated by Arrowsmith, Lysistrata by Parker, and The Frogs by Lattimore. The translations are quite liberal. For example, at some points extra lines are added so that a modern reader can ‘get’ the joke. This edition is more for modern readers interested in guffaws rather than historians researching the cultural milieu of Aristophanes. The comprehensive footnotes, however, justify the translator’s liberties and explain what was in the original text.

The other thing that was going on during the weekend was the referendum in Greece. You know, the one where the Greece votes on whether it should accept the terms of the ECB/IMF bailout. As I read Lysistrata, I couldn.t help thinking how a popular play it could be if it were to be restaged today. Well, maybe not in North America. But it could provide some comic relief in Greece and Europe.

Synopsis of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata

Actually, it might make more sense to begin with what’s been going on in Greece.

Events Leading up to the Greek Referendum

Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza party, became prime minister of Greece in January 2015. He campaigned on an anti-austerity platform. Austerity had been imposed on Greece by the European Commission, the IMF, and the ECB as part of two earlier bailout packages in 2010 and 2011. Loans of 240 million Euro were given to Greece at extraordinary low interest rates (2-3% when the best rates Greece could get in the open market ranged from 10-15% on average) in exchange for promises to get its finances in order. The getting its finances in order included cutting back pensions, laying off government workers, and raising taxes: in other words, austerity.

Tsipras and his finance minister, Varoufakis, have been saying that you cannot cut spending and hope to grow the economy. That.s true: it would be very hard to cut spending to produce more!

Facing off against Tsipras and Varoufakis are German chancellor Merkel and her finance minister Schauble. They’ve been saying that if going to be lending money, of course it comes with strings attached. That.s true: if tax dollars collected from Europeans are sent over to Greece so that Greece can pay its pensioners and its’s bills, the lender should be expected to see an excel spreadsheet every so many months showing how the structural reforms in the economy are improving things. Otherwise it would be just bailout after bailout. What.s the point?

To this, Tsipras and Varoufakis reply that they want to see things get better as well. Austerity is hard and who wants to be in perpetual austerity! They would like to get rid of debt by spending more. They like to cite Roosevelt’s New Deal in which government measure stimulated the economy into firing on all cylinders. Once the Greek economy is going, then they can slowly pay back their creditors.

But the thing is that other EU members have very recently gone through painful bouts of austerity. Italy, Ireland, and Portugal have gone through austerity in the last five years and now have come out ahead. Why should Greece get a better deal, say Merkel and Schauble. The EU is a rule based community. If Greece gets a better deal, then why couldn.t Italy, Ireland, and Portugal have gotten better deals? They made it, after all.

Then there is all the finger pointing. Varoufakis, a university professor, has taken to lecture his European colleagues on what he perceives to be economics. One look at Schauble and you can tell the grumpy bastard doesn.t need a Varoufakis lecture. Here.s a telling anecdote on how poisonous their relationship has become: as they emerged from another failed negotiation, one said, ‘Well, we agree to disagree’. When the other emerged, he retorted, ‘We don.t even agree to disagree’. Basically, you can see why their negotiations aren.t going anywhere!

In the meanwhile, people are suffering from the uncertainty all over the place. Money that could be invested into different ventures to make the world better (cleaner energy, cure for cancer, better sliced bread, etc.,) is fleeing into safe haven bonds. Credit controls are playing havoc with the ability to Greek consumers to get basic necessities.

Synopsis of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata

The comedy Lysistrata was produced in 411 BC. Later on in that year, the century old democracy in Athens (funny thing, one of the reasons why the Greek people think they deserve better bailout terms today is because they gave democracy to the world back in the ancient days…) would be overthrown in an oligarchic coup. Also, in 413 BC, the Sicilian Expedition went awry. Over two hundred ships lost in an ill-conceived venture. It was like the loss of the Spanish Armada for Phillip II of Spain years later. So Athens was going down in the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. It was not a good year. In fact, it was even worse back then in Greece than it is now. A few years after Lysistrata, Sparta conquered Athens. At least the creditors aren’t invading. At least not a military takeover!

The central character in the play, an Athenian woman by the name of Lysistrata, calls a meeting of women from all over Greece affected by the Peloponnesian War. She calls the meeting to organize a sex strike: unless the men can agree to a truce, no sex for anyone!

The predictable comic elements don’t deter from its ability to draw out laughter. The ribald women complain that they just want to get laid. The men walk around trying to conceal their swollen members (during the negotiations: ‘is that a concealed weapon you’re carrying under that toga?’). The women attempt to get past Lysistrata’s watchful eye, making up lame excuses if they’re caught: ‘I have to pop home to get my weaving…’. Sure you do. So do I!

But in the end, the sex strike works and they sign the peace accord to END THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR!


Do you know where I.m going with this, diligent readers? If the negotiations between the Troika and Syriza are in tatters, maybe what needs to happen is for the men and women of Europe (it would have to be men and women because some of the politicians today, unlike in ancient times, are women: Merkel, Lagarde, etc.,) go on a sex strike until their elected politicians are able to come to terms with one another!

Hmm, who would this effect most? That would be too prurient for me to report in my PG13 blog!

Ah, that.s what I love about the ancients! The stuff they write is too old to go out of style! I should have my own referendum. Yes or No: is Lysistrata is the best solution to the Greek debt crisis?

Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I.m Doing Melpomene’s Work by reading Thalia’s works.

Patronage & The Arts

As the commission ‘The Dead Man’s Hand’ nears completion, it seems a good opportunity to blog about patronage and the arts. It.s a vitally important question for art aficionados and artists: what sort of culture produces what sort of art? Or is there a system that produces the best and most exquisite art? If so, then this is something that can be aimed for.

‘Patron’ is an unappreciated term these days. Perhaps it.s associated with ‘patronizing’, which is definitely pejorative: images of a patron standing over the artist.s shoulder giving pointers. When drafting the contract for the commission, the standard language between the parties in online sample contracts is that of ‘Artist’ and ‘Collector’. In the contract for ‘The Dead Man’s Hand’, I changed it to ‘Artist’ and ‘Patron’. I like the patronage system. Why? Well, the cover of Paying Melpomene’s Price didn.t absolutely have to have artwork. Lots of books have text in a sort of a captivating design. That works too. But I had the idea of the dead man’s hand poker combination as being a visual analogue to the idea of the unexpected (which is one of the focus points of the argument). So an illustration was a way for the book to advertise itself among the sea of all the other books. That was one reason. The other was that the commission was an interesting way to connect with the community. Patronage is community based. It is different than mercantile art (I am not using this term in a pejorative fashion) which sells finished art at a fixed price.

In the process of making the commission happen, I had a chance to go out to galleries and art schools, talk with art collectives, talk to artists, and see what sort of art people are making. People would talk about how their galleries functioned and teachers would talk about their techniques. Once the project started, I had a chance to go out and talk to various locales where the photography could be staged: restaurants, lounges, theatres, coffee shops, and so on. I had to sharpen my pitch (instead of ‘Can I do a photo shoot?’ it quickly became, ‘Can I book a party and oh, by the way, we will be doing some camera work’.). In the process of finding models for the photo shoot I connected with friends I hadn.t talked with in too long. And then, it.s been a fantastic experience watching the artist in her studio bringing the concept to life. Old friendships reacquainted, new friendships made, and people coming together for the sake of art. That is what I mean by saying patronage is community based. Mercantile art (finished art for sale at a fixed price) meets the needs of the artist for income and perfect self-expression but at the expense of losing something of roots in the local community.

Patronage in the Past

Patronage is a tried and true system that leads to great art. Beethoven wrote pieces for Count Rasumovsky (the three Rasumovksy quartets) and Waldstein (piano sonata). Haydn wrote and performed for Prince Esterhazy and would summer at his cottage along with other symphony members (the ‘Farewell Symphony’ was written as a protest to an extended stay: players left one by one until only one instrument was left playing; the Prince got the message and let the players go back home to their families). Pope Julius II ‘patronized’ a young Raphael, who produced in their partnership ‘The School of Athens’ among many other works. Michelangelo also was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel under his watch. Durer likewise was busy doing altarpieces at this time. In the theatre world, Corneille could count on the patronage of Cardinal Richelieu. Racine wasn.t initially so lucky: he would dedicate his plays to would be patrons but it wasn.t until after he dramatic career was over that he found a patron.

How Art is Created Today

Art seems to be mostly mercantile these days. Art aficionados can go online or to galleries where finished works are for sale. Painters, for example, can work in solitude and produce enough to hold bi-annual shows. Growing up, my friend MC.s dad was an artist. He.d spend his days painting and also had a home based picture framing business on the side. Twice a year he.d have shows. Since he had won a bunch of awards, it.d be a who.s who of business owners at his exhibits. There would be a little price sticker on each piece and pieces which had won awards at juried competitions would fetch five or six times more.

If you don.t have enough pieces to have your own show, then the trick is to get your stuff displayed in a gallery. From what the gallery owners are saying, this is a tough sell: they get lots and lots of artists coming in showing them their portfolios. A lot of good artists get turned away.

The other way artists can make a living is to apply for grants. I don.t have much knowledge here but basically there are various government organizations who award funds to promising looking applications. Could be music, writing, performative arts, plastic arts, or painting.

Patronage is still around but the patrons have changed. Patrons are always changing. In the heyday in Italy, it was first powerful local families (i.e. Medici), then the popes, then the foreigners. Today corporations are probably the best patrons. Like the Medici family or the popes, they are the ones today with the deep pockets.

How art is created today is quite different than the patronage system of old. In the patronage system of old, if you wrote a string quartet for a patron, it was expected that the patron would perhaps play a part himself. If you did a painting for a patron, he would give you tips on the subject, size, location, theme, and so on because it would probably be part of his family altar. Today, if you are doing mercantile or grant art, the artist is also the audience. There is no mediating force between ‘something that works in the real world’ (i.e. the patron.s suggestions) and the artist.s ‘inspiration’. And with the corporate patronage of today, there is a mediating force but it.s some corporate entity, not a real person. So it.s not quite the same.

So, part of the decline in art–if there is a decline in art, future generations will pass judgement on that–is due to changes in the patronage system. That.s what argued for a long time.

But perhaps it.s time for a change of opinions. The old patronage system that I like so much undoubtedly created a lot of masterpieces (my favourites). But it.s not coming back. A large part of its raison d’être was to create religious works: altarpieces and other objects of devotion. Faith and art were intertwined. An economist, when asked what the economy of the Middle Ages was, replied that it was based on building cathedrals and singing hymns of praise to God. He wasn.t far off. In such an economy, there would be lots of opportunities for paintings of the Madonna and altarpieces. The world has become secular since then. A large part of the raison d’être of the old patronage system was to show off (i.e. ‘look, my altarpiece is bigger than your altarpiece’). Today, we can buy the Porsche GT3. Or the house on the water.s edge. Or the shinier Rolex. Everyone knows Porsche = made it. Even if you don.t play that game and equate Porsche with douchebag, you know the meaning behind the prancing horse. If you got a sculpture from a famous sculptor, not everyone would know its worth. So there are easier ways to show off than by purchasing art. So right of the bat modernity takes away two of the pillars upon which patronage stands.

The Future of Art without Patronage

It.s hard to make predictions, especially about the future. But since been blogging and looking around at other sites, noticed that a lot of them are really beautifully designed. Art is on the move. But as technology and modernity evolve, so does the idea of art. The Renaissance or the Romantic idea of what art should be is giving way. Art is going electric. Cinematography, graphic design, and maybe even coding: these are the forms art takes today and tomorrow. This is what a Beethoven or a Michelangelo would be working on if they were alive today. They would be too busy making art to lament the death of art.

Patronless though I am, I am still Edwin Wong and, as always, Doing Melpomene’s Work!

PS come to think of it, instead of writing a book for dramatists, perhaps I should do what Michael Tierno has done and write something like Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters!

Passive Income Part Six – FAQ and Philosophy

Well, this it it, the final post in the Passive Income series! To recap, here are the talking points leading up to the grand finale:

Passive Income Part One discussed what investing can and can.t do for you

Passive Income Part Two illustrated the importance of keeping costs low

Passive Income Part Three gave three sample portfolios based on your attitude towards risk

Passive Income Part Four surveyed types of investment accounts and how to open them

Passive Income Part Five showed you how to trade

In Part Six, I.ll answer some frequently asked questions and lay bare thoughts on how the market works.

FAQ #1 I opted for a 70:30 equity/bond asset allocation. What do I do with subsequent deposits?

Congratulations, that.s the same equity/bond asset allocation that I use. My parents’ portfolios (since more risk averse) are set to 35:65 in favour of bonds. If decided that a 70:30 equity/bond asset allocation is right for you, top off future investments to maintain a 70:30 equity/bond asset allocation. And if you need to sell (hopefully never), sell whatever.s gone up the most to maintain the preselected ratio. This process is called rebalancing. It forces you to buy low and sell high. And it takes the emotion out of it.

FAQ #2 The news is saying bonds are going to get thumped when interest rates rise. Why should I hold bonds?

Bonds are the ballast in your portfolio. When you batten down the hatches and they don.t hold (e.g. 1987 Black Monday, 1999 tech bubble, and 2008 Great Recession) you.ll be glad you had them. No one knows for a certainty when the next stock market collapse will happen. You don.t hear of many (if any) people who make a living short selling stock market catastrophes: the reason is that, well, unknown events are unpredictable! And by the way, the ‘experts’ have been saying interest rates will rise since 2010. been wrong five years running. I.m sure they.ll be right one year but even a broken clock gets the time right twice a day.

FAQ #3 I heard that there are dividend or low-volatility based ETFs that outperform the traditional market-cap based ETFs

The vehicle for Canadian stocks I recommended was the BMO S&P/TSX Capped Composite Index ETF. It has a MER, or combined expenses, of 0.09% a year. I bet these other ‘smart beta’ products cost five or six times more, with MERs ranging from 0.6% up to 1%. Even if better, they have to overcome their higher costs. Different investment types will, over time, either outperform the broad market. But nothing can outperform the market forever, since if it does so, it simply becomes the market. So safe with going with a traditional market-cap based ETF such as ZCN. VCN from Vanguard Canada is also a good choice.

FAQ #4 I hear that stock markets are high right now. Should I wait to invest?

Who knows? To me, the best time to invest is when got money. I.m constantly in an ‘all-in’ position. That is to say, if I have money, and the stock market is at an all-time high, I invest. And if the stock market is plunging to new lows every day, I invest. Basically, I have my asset-allocation of 70% stocks and 30% bonds and I invest to maintain that ratio. It doesn.t really concern me too much what.s going on in the news. If the market is at all time highs, my new investments are going to be more expensive. But my existing investments will be worth more. If stock markets are hitting new lows, I.m happy that my new investments are bought ‘on sale’. Ignore the noise; maintain your asset allocation.

FAQ #5 Why should I listen to you?

I have a no nonsense approach focussed on keeping costs low. The theory of asset-allocation and broad market based index investing is backed by modern portfolio theory and the efficient market hypothesis. Modern portfolio theory basically says not to look at your individual holdings, but to look at the risk profile of your portfolio as a whole: the name of the game isn.t to make the biggest returns, but to have a responsible asset-allocation that is commensurate with the amount of risk happy with. The efficient market hypothesis basically says that it.s no use trying to time investments. The price of a stock or a bond is set by the aggregate intelligence of all market participants. If you think it.s under- or over-valued, making a bet against the whole market. Unless you have access to classified information (which you shouldn.t) no one else has seen, you can.t do better than the market and will likely do worse. Furthermore, the investment philosophy presented keeps transactions to a minimum. And what is more, no continuing research into this or that stock is necessary, freeing you to to what you want to do with your time.

FAQ #6 How did you get started?

I talked my folks into opening my first brokerage account when I got my first job at age 14. It was a tough sell since to my dad the stock market = gambling. The first investment was the Cundill Value Fund, an mutual fund overseen by Peter Cundill, a legendary value investor. It was after getting this that I learned that superior past performance does not necessarily translate into superior future performance.

As my investments grew (mainly from me putting more money into them from the dishwashing job), I sought the advice of expert financial advisors at RBC. They steered me into gold and tech stocks. When BRE-X collapsed in 1997 and the tech bubble blew in 1999, I started to get the feeling that the experts were not so expert after all. just salespeople. The experience turned me off investments for many years. In fact, though I didn.t sell them, I no longer looked at them.

In 2005 while working on my masters at Brown University, I happened to take a look at my fallow portfolio. It had grown. But I hadn.t been doing anything. It occurred to me that maybe it was by not doing anything that was the key to success. I did some more research and discovered the efficient market hypothesis and index investing.

Instead of writing my thesis, I read books such as Malkiel.s Random Walk Down Wall StreetThis was my investing renaissance: with portfolio theory, index funds, and the efficient market hypothesis, I could see how to invest in a way in which I understood and that I was perfectly comfortable with.

The big test was the stock collapse in 2008. Some of the indexes (S&P 500 and emerging markets) collapsed by 50% or more. I stuck with the asset allocation and kept plowing hard earned money into what was dropping the most. By 2012 or so it had payed off: a lot of the hard hit indexes more than doubled from their lows.

FAQ #7 Is there something I can read to learn more?

Absolutely! An excellent beginner.s book written in a story-telling style by the Princeton Economist Burton Malkiel is how I started. A Random Walk Down Wall Street is a great read and one of the few books read and re-read with pleasure. It.s now in it.s eleventh edition. Read it! It.s in the library too, if you want to keep costs low!

Random Walk Down Wall Street

Random Walk Down Wall Street

So there you have it! This concludes the Passive Income series of posts. Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I am Doing Melpomene’s Work.