La So Mi Re Do ? The markets are steppin’ and a-trippin’

The equity markets have been doing a march-in-place in even time for the last week, almost staccato-like. Of course, in the week prior to that, markets danced a graceful glissando in a quick climb through their scales (arguably 7 levels-notes of resistance/support on the charts; 5 if I leave out two minor levels).

One wonders if the current ranging may be a marking of time before rising to a further crescendo. Or perhaps a halt is being called on a short-term top; and we may be seeing the start of a downward stepping through the scales.
If so, rather than down through the 7 notes/levels, this return may take the faster path through the 5 pentatonic tones of traditional Chinese music :

宮 商 角 徵 羽
Do Re Mi So La

Here is a famous tune based on the simple arrangement of stepping down the traditional chinese musical scale:
(first line is an even stepping-down, 2nd line a rescaled stepping-down, 3rd line slows with a repetitive range before the obligatory returning rise)

La So Mi Re Do
Mi Re Do La So
So La So La Do Re Mi So

[The above tune/song is from the Tsui Hark movie, “The Swordsman“; based on the Jin Yong novel, 笑傲江湖 (The Smiling, Proud Wanderer).
Music composed by Jim Wong. Song title is 《滄海一聲笑》 or A Laugh at the Sentient Seas.

There is an interesting story behind how the composer came up with the music+lyrics for the song. Will add later.

{Song is sung above in the Cantonese dialect, which is one of the Chinese dialects still allowing a full enunciation of the traditional five tones used in Chinese music, lyrical and poetry verse for thousands of years. Note that PuTongHua or Standard Mandarin uses only 4 tones (though there exist a fifth light tone); many Chinese traditionalists, especially of the arts, have lamented the loss of the all-important fifth tone in the modern Chinese world of increasingly predominantly Standard Mandarin users}


Tabula rasa and nature vs nurture

Just read these very interesting posts on an interesting site:

Reminds me of a very vigorous debate and discussion my junior college class (16/17 years old) had so many years ago, regarding the very contentious issue of nature vs nurture. The issue was a particularly sensitive and personal one for my class, seeing how more than half of the 20-odd students came from the seven-year Gifted Education Programme and with a handful of Asean (+Hong Kong) scholars. Adjudicating over the weeks-long discussion (individual and group research, internal discussions, interim and final presentations, debate and rebuttals…) was our General Paper tutor (the class was sort of an English and Sociology class rolled into one), a President’s scholar and at that time, the resident recruiter/interviewer for her Oxbridge alma mater.

This was one of the more memorable discussion topics we had in that GP class; though personally, my favourite was the one on political and social philosophy and systems (I got Plato, Descartes, Hobbes and Locke) and my delving into the grittier aspects of the criminal justice system.

Not that every General Paper class in the country or even my school got to conduct their GP classes in this manner; my class was lucky to have our GP tutor, who was unorthodox to say the least. She steadfastly resisted all attempts by the Department to run the normal weekly comprehension and essay composition drills; at the end of the two years, we submitted only a handful of comprehension and essay work, spending almost all our time on research, discussions and the odd afternoon-matinee movie outings (Thelma & Louise !).

Will always remember Ms. N fondly, who was never meant to be a teacher. She was a President’s scholar with an anti-establishment streak, who was given the choice between serving her 8 years bond in the government intelligence unit or the unlikely option as a teacher.
I’m glad she chose the latter.
[Always remember her defiance and passion. She used to say:
There are only two kinds of people in the world. Queue-followers, who line up docilely in long endless waiting lines outside the Temples of Establishment. Or queue-jumpers, who are throwing molotov cocktails at the Establishment.]

Got carried away reminiscing…
Here’s the original philosophical novel on tabula rasa or blank slate, written by the Avicennist scholar, Ibn Tufail, the Hayy ibn Yaqdhan or Philosophus Autodidactus/The Self-Taught Philosopher.

Completeness — Via Negativa


It was a lovely evening, the sky was clear and in spite of city light, the stars were brilliant; though the tower was flooded with light from all sides, one could see the distant horizon and down below patches of light were on the river; though there was the everlasting roar of traffic, it was a peaceful evening. Meditation crept on one like a wave covering the sands. It was not a meditation which the brain could capture in its net of memory; it was something to which the total brain yielded without any resistance. It was a meditation that went far beyond any formula, method; method and formula and repetition destroy meditation. In its movement it took everything in, the stars, the noise, the quiet and the stretch of water. But there was no meditator; the meditator, the observer must cease for meditation to be. The breaking up of the meditator is also meditation; but when the meditator ceases then there’s an altogether different meditation.

It was very early in the morning; Orion was coming up over the horizon and the Pleiades were nearly overhead. The roar of the city had quietened and at that hour there were no lights in any of the windows and there was a pleasant, cool breeze. In complete attention there is no experiencing. In inattention, there is; it is this inattention that gathers experience, multiplying memory, building up walls of resistance; it is this inattention that builds up the self-centred activities. Inattention is concentration, which is exclusion, a cutting off; concentration knows distraction and the endless conflict of control and discipline. In the state of inattention, every response to any challenge is inadequate; this inadequacy is experience. Experience makes for insensitivity; dulls the mechanism of thought; thickens the walls of memory, and habit, routine, becoming the norm. Experience, inattention, is not liberating. Inattention is slow decay.

In complete attention there is no experiencing; there’s no centre which experiences, nor a periphery within which experience can take place. Attention is not concentration which is narrowing, limiting. Total attention includes, never excludes.*[…]

The purity of the otherness is its immense and impenetrable strength. And it was there with extraordinary stillness this morning.

-K, Notebook

*addendum: continuing from the above below (where the faint trace of the via negativa lies)

With Usura, from The Cantos — Ezra Pound

From the prior thoughts on hubris, debt and eventually bankruptcy, thought it may be worthwhile to hear Ezra Pound’s litany against usury;
his With Usura, from The Cantos:

With Usura (Canto LXV)

With usura hath no man a house of good stone
each block cut smooth and well fitting
that delight might cover their face,

with usura

hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
harpes et luthes
or where virgin receiveth message
and halo projects from incision,

with usura

seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines
no picture is made to endure nor to live with
but it is made to sell and sell quickly

with usura, sin against nature,
is thy bread ever more of stale rags
is thy bread dry as paper,
with no mountain wheat, no strong flour

with usura the line grows thick

with usura is no clear demarcation
and no man can find site for his dwelling
Stone cutter is kept from his stone
weaver is kept from his loom


wool comes not to market
sheep bringeth no gain with usura
Usura is a murrain, usura
blunteth the needle in the the maid’s hand
and stoppeth the spinner’s cunning.

Pietro Lombardo came not by usura
Duccio came not by usura
nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’ not by usura
nor was “La Callunia” painted.

Came not by usura Angelico; came not Ambrogio Praedis,
No church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit.

Not by usura St. Trophime

Not by usura St. Hilaire,

Usura rusteth the chisel
It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
It gnaweth the thread in the loom
None learneth to weave gold in her pattern;
Azure hath a canker by usura; cramoisi is unbroidered
Emerald findeth no Memling

Usura slayeth the child in the womb
It stayeth the young man’s courting
It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
between the young bride and her bridegroom


They have brought whores for Eleusis
Corpses are set to banquet

at behest of usura.

-Ezra Pound, With Usura, from The Cantos

Hear Pound reciting With Usura:
as youtube audio here;
(or here with an interesting video montage of Pound but with weak audio);
or in mp3 here, and with his brief concluding remark on “usury and interest are not the same thing”.

A rubric rose by any other name

Special Providence
American Exceptionalism
Manifest Destiny
Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere
Deutsches Reich
The sun never sets on the British Empire
Old Imperialism
In the name of “God, gold and glory”
Mongol Hordes
Pax Romana
Expansionist Han Wudi
The ‘First’ and ‘Immortal’ Emperor Qin ShiHuangDi, enforcer of uniformity, burner of books
*The Great Wall of China, proud bankrupter of at least two dynasties
The melded multiple-nation Achaemenid empire
Assyrian Nineveh
Babylonia, once and again
Tower of Babel
The Great Ziggurat of Ur
The even greater ego of Gilgamesh, not satisfied with being two-thirds god and still seeking after immortality

Neverending Hubris (followed only a shadow away, by its twin spirit — Nemesis).

And the result in every case, always:
mene mene tekel upharsin
(numbered weighed, found wanting — divided).

Between chess gewalt (violent force) and a sharing of black & white

A delightful post above on chess gestalt (wholeness), speaking of the idiosyncratic leanings of each individual chess piece.
And Mr Glazier is probably right about the difference between chess and its cousin-games, Go or Weiqi and Checkers, in this respect.

One core difference between chess and Go/weiqi (and also that other similar-looking black & white game, Othello/Reversi), is that chess has as its singular objective the capture of one single chess-piece, the king. For Go/weiqi and Othello, winning and losing is determined by a counting of points or stones (captured stones and territory) after both players mutually agree to stop.

The design and singular objective in chess has its interesting parallel in Clausewitzian asymmetrical dialectics, his attritive ‘friction’ and his emphasis on gewalt (violent force).

Conversely, the very design and nature of Go/weiqi and Othello, necessarily brings to the centre the concept of tactical ‘sharing’, for the player engaging in strategic game-play. The strategic ‘sharing’ of space, territory, stones are integral to these games of homogeneous black & white; indeed it is almost impossible to achieve a shutout win (that is, capturing or turning ALL of your opponent’s pieces) if proper handicapping have been carried out beforehand.

[Many times have an Othello player seemed likely to be cruising to an overwhelming 4:1 (ratio of # of pieces) win with bruising attacking play in the early-game, only to run out of tactical space (or strategic depth), and be forced to watch his opponent overturn the table in the last moves to snatch a win by a few agonizing points.

And indeed, in Go/weiqi, the most masterful and gracious win is not by crushing with an unassailable lead; but in ‘sharing’, deflecting, leading, controlling your opponent just enough to end the game with a half or one point win.

{This is somewhat akin to the philosophy and moves behind some of the soft internal martial arts.
In taichi, the opponent’s force or strike is never met head-on, but deflected, guided and controlled for dissipation or a takedown at the opportune moment.

In aikido, for example, one may intercept a shomenuchi-overhead strike to the head and subsequently step into/behind the opponent to control with iriminage turns and turns and turns… until the opportune takedown. Alternatively, control may be effected with an immobilization lock like ikkyo (wrist+elbow+shoulder) before takedown.}

Mr Glazier’s chess-piece gestalt “psychological types” are most delightful and recalls to mind some of the colourful names a younger self invented for the tactics and positions played in Othello, as a youngster with an over-active imagination:

1.[Openings]:The Dragon’s Spine (or The Great Wall of China)


2.[Openings]:The foundation of the builder’s T-square


3.Defend the Fort (resist all temptations to lower drawbridge or enter the moat); or
Hold the 3rd parallel (enter not the DMZ/no-man’s-land)


4.Force the enemy to attack with a siege-ladder; then storm across the moat over the ladder and establish a beach-head



5.Lay a mine in a hole in the wall (tick-tock gambit)


6.Single paladin attack backed up by heavy trebuchets (foregone for the enemy — many variations)


7.Forced march of lemmings (with an eventual complete turn)


8.False dawn at the edge of the world


9.Avoid the hell-holes/Force enemy to play the hell-holes
10.Endgame bait and switch

and many more.

Kierkegaard: NEITHER a leap NOR ironic

Don Chu
March 13, 2009 at 4:58 pm

It took a gentle nudge from Kierkegaard’s seemingly mild treatises on Dread, Despair and Fear, sheathed within his characteristic (yet razor sharp) Irony, to slice away my tightly-clenched gordian knot;
and accept his reasoned invitation of, ‘a leap TO faith’
[as the only recourse/reconciliation in this world of freedom (free will) and responsibility (values)]

While I dare not aspire to a faith like Job’s, and like yourself, I am in more ways a cynical Candide;
I do hope that as we march on towards our alloted three score and ten years (though I’m less than halfway yet), I can do a reverse-Candide and have my crusty cynicism diminished gradually, until I’m a woolly-headed but optimistic seventy year-old.

After all, the world could do with more Don Quixotes.


Don Chu on July 18, 2009 5:10 pm

Hi Mr Dimick,

The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, wrote his thesis/first work on “The Concept of Irony”; an understanding of which is crucial towards reading Kierkegaard and his masterful crafting of irony within the content, form and structure underlining his entire corpus of works. Essentially, Kierkegaard wrote under pseudonymous authorship (more than ten), in order to portray different ways of thinking and to allow ‘indirect communication’ to surface.
Irony — razor-sharp when used judiciously — slices away illusions to reveal truth.

A finer appreciation for Irony may allow one to have a better grasp on the cut-and-thrust of another’s communication/expression; like where the above commenters are coming from…
[Of course, Ironists should restrain themselves from cutting others too deeply with their iron(ic) knives]

Far from a simplistic Either/Or, but struggling, in Fear and Trembling:

…Kierkegaard’s description of the “double movement of faith” performed by Abraham (in the ultimate test of faith — the sacrifice of Issac); where Kierkegaard had painted several ‘fractal’ possibilities/scenarios of how Abraham moved through joy-fear-resignation-acceptance-obedience-sacrifice-murder-hope, to a ‘real faith in the absurd’…

At home with 陶朱公/TaoZhuGong (范蠡/Fan Li)

A little background on Fan Li:-

Towards the end of the Spring and Autumn Period (circa 496 BC); a time of internecine warfare between several autonomous states/kingdoms vying for hegemonic overlord-ship under the fast-fading veil of the Zhou dynastic court.
After a string of victories, the over-confident King of Yue suffered a crushing defeat by Wu and faced seeming death and the elimination of his kingdom. His loyalist adviser, Fan Li, implored the Yue king to humble himself to the point of humiliation in front of the king of Wu, to preserve his life and the hope of reviving the Yue kingdom.

The brazen Wu king spared the Yue king’s life and took him back to Wu as a slave; Fan Li followed his king to Wu as a conquered slave. For the next twenty years, Fan Li, together with the loyalist former minister of Yue, Wen Zhong, worked to restore their deposed king and the kingdom of Yue — devising the famous stratagems:

Nine Tactics to Restore Yue and Destroy Wu

Ten years to grow Yue’s population and strength, ten years more to heed past lessons and to train; in twenty years, Wu can only perish/be reduced to a swamp

[One of the stratagems used by Fan Li to entice and weaken the Wu king, was the beguiling charms of a Yue woman, Xishi — one of the Four Beauties of ancient China, whose name has been synonymous with beauty in chinese consciousness.]

Finally, after helping the Yue king destroy Wu, restore the kingdom of Yue and being conferred as Grand General, Fan Li promptly resigned his duties and left Yue for the state of Qi.
From Qi, he wrote to Wen Zhong the following letter:

When all the flying birds have been shot down, even the best bow and arrows will be put away. When all the sly rabbits have been caught, even the best hunting dogs will be cooked for their meat.
The king of Yue is a cautious but suspicious man; one may share woe and suffering with him, but not weal. Why do you still stay ?

In Qi, Fan Li used the moniker 鸱夷子皮, a very crude name; meaning leather-wine-pouch or the double-entendre 鸱夷皮子 — the leathery-wine-pouch-fellow.
But a closer examination may suggest Fan Li did not choose this name carelessly. The “鸱夷” was a leather pouch which could expand or contract accordingly to its contents and when empty, may be folded up and tucked away and carried anywhere on one’s self.
Some have suggested that Fan Li has attained true emptiness, and is able to truly 能屈能伸 — to bend/contract or stretch/expand oneself according to the environment, and to be at ease anywhere in the world.
And of course, this coarse but disarming name also proved to be very useful in Fan Li’s new chosen profession, as a trader.

Eventually, Fan Li-as-鸱夷子皮 amassed a huge fortune and became one of the wealthiest man in Qi; the king of Qi invited him to be Qi’s prime minister.
Later generations respectfully referred to the wealthy Fan Li as 陶朱公 or 朱公 — Lord Zhu/Chu (TaoZhuGong).

Which brings 陶朱公/TaoZhuGong to my house…

As a child growing up, apart from the watercolours and a couple of oil paintings hanging on the walls, there was a calligraphy piece of twelve neat columns done in the ancient chinese script (clerical script – lishu). I couldnt understand what the words meant then, but I could recognize the characters at the end indicating the author — 朱公. Which to me meant Grandfather Zhu or Ancestor Zhu, my family name.
As I gradually learnt the meaning of the words and lines, which are aphorisms in trading and business, I actually grew up thinking these wise words were penned by some illustrious ancestor of mine, who had passed his wisdom down through generations of Zhu/Chu.
[not too wild an assumption for a child actually, growing up with a businessman father who started in commodities trading; and learning about sugar futures, crude palm oil spot and freight scheduling during dinnertime]

Here are the 《陶朱公理財十二則》 or TaoZhuGong’s Twelve Business Principles, which had been hanging on the wall in father’s study for so many years:


Some English versions are here, but does not fully correspond to the above.

A search for salt and iron leads to Needham’s tomes, and back home again to 陶朱公/TaoZhuGong

After referencing Alain Badiou’s quotes of the 盐铁论/YanTieLun/Discourses on Salt and Iron, was seized by an irresistable urge to read the two thousand year-old Chinese text in full. Swinging by the national reference library, located one copy in its original 古文/ancient Classical Chinese text, with its own complete concordance; very useful for this particular text.

But 古文 or ancient classical Chinese texts (roughly denoting all chinese texts from antiquity to the end of the Han Dynasty – 220 AD) are difficult to read, whatever form or discipline they come from. The 盐铁论, being an official court document with many technical –economic/mining/production/consumption– descriptions, seems especially obtuse. Interpretations of the text into 白話 or modern vernacular chinese are available, but only at the library’s repository section (off-site), and reservations+delivery will take a few days.
Undaunted, one turned to English translations, but could only turn up one title by Esson Gale (cited by Badiou), which the library regrettably does not possess.

Sigh, the delight and pain of obscure texts…

The apologetic yet resourceful librarian then suggested possible derivative references, and pointed towards noted British scientist and sinologist Joseph Needham (who took a chinese name! – 李約瑟) and his magnificent 27-volume magnum opus, Science and Civilisation in China.
Spent a glorious afternoon poring over Needham’s take on various diverse subjects, from 2000-year-old mining economics to ancient millitary technology to the fundamental underpinnings of Taoism and Confucianism in the history of Chinese science.

Needham’s references to the Discourses on Salt and Iron are less than exhaustive; but what he said definitely whetted one’s anticipation of reading the actual text, with references like:
The tone of the debate is surprising, with the debaters freely trading insults: ‘bigoted Confucians’ versus ‘decadent toadies’.
…suggested that rain might come if Sang Hongyang (the Imperial Counsellor) were boiled alive.
and allusions to Josephian-like cycles of rain/drought/famine.

One passing remark in speaking about “industry is among the proper concerns of the state” stood out particularly:
the reference to 陶朱公/TaoZhuGong, the exemplary scholar-trader of the Spring and Autumn Period (circa 500 BC).
陶朱公/TaoZhuGong is of course also more famously known as 范蠡/Fan Li, the eminent general/adviser/economist/strategist/loyalist to the King of Yue; as well as being the lover of XiShi, one of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China.

More on 陶朱公/TaoZhuGong… …

The State and the Masses: Setser, a couple of fish and Badiou

Interesting comment on Brad Setser’s economics blog:

August 3rd, 2009 at 11:29 am
Twofish responds:

bsetser: Not quite sure how this “It is for the citizens of the investing country to hold their gvts accountable” is possible in a world where many funds are managed by unelected govs without clear ways for the citizens of said country to hold the gov. responsible.

In the case of China, it’s relatively easy, there is this agreement between the people and the government. You give us our money, and we don’t riot. If the banks collapses, we’ll beat you up if you are lucky, and if you are unlucky we shoot you.

I think when people talk about accountability people have an “election’s fetish.” It’s possible to have elections that are useless, and it’s possible to have accountability mechanisms that don’t have anything to do with elections.

It’s also ironic to me that people talk a lot about democracy when the major institutions that run the world economy aren’t particularly democratic. The Communist Party of China is far, far more accountable to the Chinese population, than the World Bank, IMF, WTO, Goldman-Sachs, Harvard, or the Federal Reserve.

bsetser: And a host of financial firms in OECD countries get significant fees for helping said funds invest …

And then they take some of those fees, form political action committees which hire lobbyists and give campaign donations to politicians so that they can run 30-second ads to convince people that they really have some choice.

It’s actually not a bad system. If you have a couple of thousand people that have an interest in financial transparency, it’s not that hard to create a PAC and hire lobbyists. The problem is finding people who make money off financial transparency.

The Communist Party doesn’t have to worry about elections but it does have to worry about mobs with pitchforks. Same thing for the big Wall Street banks. One reason everyone did whatever they could to prevent the financial system from collapsing was that if the system did collapse, then the mobs start screaming for banker bonuses and massive and intrusive state regulation of the financial industry. As it is, things are rapidly going back to business as usual.

The above commentator wields his iron(ic) knife deftly, slicing away illusory scales. Rather keen eyes and insight.

Here’s another perceptive account of the millennia-old relationship between the Chinese state and its masses, as a veritable resonance (an unisolable superposition) between Equality and Terror.

Alain BADiou, threading a fine parallel between the Maoist reaction to Stalinist objectivism in the 1950/60’s, and the vigourous debate during the Han Dynasty in 81 BC between the Legalists seeking state activism and the Confucian conservatives advocating immutability (Badiou quoting from the Discourses on Salt and Iron, itself an important treatise on “power and economy, agriculture and industry and commerce, production and consumption”):

This truth is the following: political decision is not fettered by the economy. It must, as a subjective and future-oriented principle, subordinate to itself the laws of the present. This principle is called ‘confidence in the masses’. Now, this is also what is advocated by the Legalist advisors of the emperor Wu, despite their constant appeals to implacable law and repression; even though, quite obviously, the stakes of confidence are entirely different, or even opposed. The Confucian scholars defend the immutable cycle of peasant production and oppose all novelties in artisanship and trade. They argue that all is well when ‘the people devotes itself body and soul to agricultural tasks’. The (Legalist) Great Secretary retorts with a vibrant encomium for commercial circulation, voicing complete confidence in the multiform development of exchange. Here is an admirable monologue:

If you leave the capital to travel through peaks and valleys in all directions, through the fiefs and principalities, you will not find a single large and handsome city that is not traversed from one end to the other by great avenues, swarming with traders and grocers, brimming over with all kinds of products. The wise know how to profit from the seasons, and the skilful how to exploit natural riches. The superior man knows how to draw advantage from others; the mediocre man knows only how to make use of himself. […] How could agriculture suffice to enrich the country, and why would the system of the communal field alone have the privilege of procuring the people what it needs?

In these lines we can make out a singular correlation between will and confidence, rupture and consent. It constitutes the kernel of a trans-temporal political truth, of which Mao’s meditations on Stalin of 1959 and the Great Secretary’s diatribes against the Confucians in 81 BC are instances: forms of its appearing in separate worlds. But what is worthy of note is the fact that there corresponds, to these totally distinct or even opposed instances of a kernel of truth, a recognizable subjective type, that of the state revolutionary. This type too may be read through the four terms of the generic correlation (will, equality, confidence and terror). I will show this now with regard to the classical pair equality/terror, discontinuous instances of which we could also find in the likes of Robespierre or Thomas Müntzer.

The Legalist advisors of the emperor Wu are known for their apologia for the most ferocious repression in the implacable application of laws:

The law must be implacable in order not to be arbitrary, it must be inexorable in order to inspire respect. These are the considerations that presided over the elaboration of the penal code: one does not flout laws that mark with red-hot iron the slightest of crimes.

The Confucian scholars counter this repressive formalism with the classical morality of motive:

Penal laws must above all take motives into account. Those who stray from legality but whose motives are pure deserve to be pardoned.

–Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds