New Year’s resolution: make the worst possible investment, repeat that genuine stupidity often and become wealthier than ever

At the dawn of the age of artificial intelligence (AI), 2018 s the year when we should be campaigning for more G.S. (genuine stupidity).

I have been running my own small business teaching local children and adults to speak English so that they can be understood easily for seven-and-a-bit years and I have been a father for slightly longer. I have found that the key to success in both ventures is simply to be genuinely stupid by investing in things that no sane financial advisor would countenance.

The world is currently ruled by businessmen who connive at corruption, chase money and make spectacularly successful investment decisions that are based solely on the bottom line. These are the sort of people who go to bookshops and read the last chapter to save themselves the expense of buying the book.

If you want to be genuinely stupid, you have to raise your eyes a little to the lines that are above the bottom line and look at the actual story, which is the reason for the book in the first place.

My family makes enough money to have a good life. In comparison to the majority of Taiwanese, our life is exceptionally good, although they probably would not see it that way. Our bottom line is not nearly as healthy as most of the middle and working class parents whose children we teach, but the other lines are definitely a more interesting read. They tell a story of value: not profit.

We know that parents rarely add up the financial cost of children because if they did, the world’s population would not be increasing at its current rate. Parents know how to read an emotional spread-sheet properly. The key to enjoying the read is to cover the final tally with a well-placed finger. Only then, does the story make sense. In the context of today’s values, finding a way to be happy means that parents must be genuinely stupid. Artificial intelligence could never be used to understand the logic that values experiences higher than it values returns.

My family’s bottom line is the amount that we have to save for our ambitions. The entries above the bottom line testify that we have a business that provides us with enough for our current needs and wants. The details of those entries of those entries make no financial sense. The amount of money that buys the full set of the How to train your Dragon” series of books for my son would also increase a stake in a hedge fund that might give a six-fold return over a decade in the wrong hands, but that money translates as an excuse to spend a half hour each night with my son curled up beside me on his bed listening to tales of impossible bravery that send him off to the land of nod with a smile, feeling that he can conquer the world. Seeing his smile when I go in to check on him later gives me a thrill that money just cannot buy.

In those same wrong hands, our business could make double the money that it does now, but we would not have the feeling that we are at the centre of a small community that puts children’s needs above those of adults for a couple of hours each week and produces young adults who are eloquent, fulfilled and, hopefully, as happy as it is possible to be.

I have known the majority of students who have passed through this school for more than four years and a large percentage have been coming here for six or seven years. We are a part of their lives and they are a part of ours. Some occasionally bake cookies for my wife and some dream of my imminent violent demise, but they all know that we love them and my wife knows that they love her. As the author of their educational enhancement, I am the subject of occasional grudging gratitude but gratitude does not matter because I get a lot more than I give. Measuring that difference is impossible if mathematics is the lingua franca, as it is for A.I. You have to use a G.S. language that values the things that cannot be counted using a calculator.

Most lives are only money pits if you measure the input and the output in terms of the input (money and effort). If you measure the input in terms of the output (joy and illogical fulfilment), the input becomes infinitesimally small and the mathematics of G.S begin to make sense.

As business owners, we are the curators of a community of a few hundred people who all seem to genuinely care about some of the same things that we do. As parents, we are at the hub of a system of goodwill and love that really is overwhelming at times.

You can take your artificial intelligence and stuff it where enlightenment, kindness, politeness and love do not shine. This year, I’ll be taking the Genuinely Stupid approach every time.




No Santa, no manger and no alcohol: just the spirit of Christmas in eight-eight keys

Eighty-eight keys to happiness

The spirit of Christmas is alive among Daoists, Buddhists and heathens in this part of the world.

Last Saturday we all went to my son’s piano teacher’s Christmas concert in a neighbour’s living room. The eight-eight keys of an unassuming upright piano were hammered or tickled by kids of various ages and abilities stumbling through carols that they had never heard until six weeks ago and which had no spiritual or cultural relevance to them, other than as a collection of notes on a stave that had to be delivered accurately on the black and whites. There was not an angel, a manger, a turkey, alcohol, or a magus in sight and the presents were modest and symbolic in a way that paid tribute to the occasion more than any grandiose gesture could and it felt more like the Christmas of my childhood than anything that I’ve experienced since reaching adulthood.

I’ve been letting this society get to me recently. For seven months, I had all but given up going out because I’ve reached the stage where just looking at the rudeness and aggression that is paraded on a daily basis makes my blood boil. For a few months when things were really bad, I stopped going out altogether. However, last Saturday I finally realised that the people whom we elevate to social positions that are worthy of our attention are not representative of the society in which we live, just as Christmas is no longer defined by the story of an infant in a manger for more than a few of us.

Our societies are contracting around us as the spaces in between those whom we admire for their courage, kindness and patience expand to accommodate the seemingly endless supply of aggression and bad manners. Long may we preserve the bubbles of decency and kindness and banish the circling, vulgar vultures whom we cannot ignore to rightful obscurity.

A small group of decent, ordinary Taiwanese people has shown me that common decency and a good time are still possible. The secret to sustainable happiness seems to be narrow your horizons occasionally. Kindness is everywhere. Seeing it is just a matter of developing selective myopia. I wear glasses to correct being long-sighted. My New Year’s resolution is to get a stronger prescription.


Believe in the fat man: believe in yourself

Believe in him: believe in yourself

As I get older, I become more inclined to believe in Santa, even as my son, who has just turned eight, begins to show the first signs of doubt in the fat man’s existence.

This will probably be the last year that we will be putting flour footprints under tree and the last year that we will see the abandoned glee that comes with Christmas morning. Christmas does not have the importance in Taiwan that it does for the western world so this year we will have to celebrate the feast on December 24th, because December 25th is a workday and a day off school means that my son has double homework the day after, which is enough to take the shine off any holiday.

I have been thinking recently about the origins of Christmas and what it gives adults. The best way to discover the effect of something is to discover the effect of its absence and so I accidentally find myself in the ideal environment to assess the benefits of Christmas because Christmas has little or no effect here.

The Christians hijacked the pagan feast that celebrated the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen. Nobody knows the exact birth date of Jesus but early recruitment campaigns for Christianity among the pagans ran into a significant problem because they had nothing to replace the abandoned romps with which the pagans marked the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice and the arrival of the fertile abundance of spring soon after the vernal equinox. The spring romp became Easter and the new life theme of the resurrection tale was nicely symbolised by pagan eggs. The solstice celebration became Christmas and mangers with snow beneath the old pagan lighted tree lent a Christian presence to the pagan symbol.

The Christmas nativity story provided a spectacularly apt means of symbolising the cusp of new life that is the midwinter solstice. The old customs of bringing nature into the home in the form of a tree and the use of lights to signify the beginning of the end of winter darkness were deemed to be harmless and were carried over unchanged. The romps remained and the stories that could be told as families huddled at firesides were even better.

Then, in 1931, from the depths of the American depression, Coca Cola gave us our modern image of Santa Claus as a fat man with a sack that was brimming with good cheer, sugary water and, more importantly, merchandise that symbolised the aspirations of a desperate nation that was mired in unmitigated penury. Santa represented ambition. A job meant money and money meant things that made life easier and along came this benevolent vision of a Santa who was fat, bearded and expensively swaddled in fur on a cold winter night: the very embodiment of the country’s wish for itself. The birth rate began to climb again and people began to drag themselves out of the doldrums of despair and put things back together because the future seemed brighter than the past.

If you look at the world, you’ll see that the effect of this comforting image is greater than you might think. In the nations whose children believe in Santa, the populations are rising and sustainable. In developed eastern Asia, where Santa and Christmas and the beginning of the end of darkness are not celebrated, life continues in the same rut and the populations are shrinking to the point where most societies will be under severe to critical financial stress within the next decade.

Making babies is the last truly free method of making adults happy and children are a source of happiness and fulfilment for their entire lives, so why are there significantly fewer Asian babies and fewer personal nativity tales? The reason is simply that there is no feeling that the future for children is better than the past so parents who decide to procreate usually stop after one child because money is the best way avoid misery and spreading money too thinly between many children gives significantly less bang per buck. Many Asian parents see no difference between their own unfulfilling childhoods and the options that are available to children in their societies, so they seem to have summarily decided not to inflict a similar pain on the next generation by not producing it.

Contrast this with the stable growth of European populations and the unprecedented migration of humanity who have followed a hypothetical star from Eastern to Western Europe in the past decade.

Belief in Santa is belief in yourself, in a brighter future for your society and in a world in which your values, whether materialistic or spiritual, have a chance of thriving.

Now where did I put the eight-year-old that I was forty-six years ago? I think that I’ll ask my son. He is the only one who knows where everything is in this house.


Fear the TImid Man: update

Despite my best efforts, I’m still only half way through this story on December 11th,  2017. I know the plot and I know all of my characters really well but I’m really enjoying the process of writing this one in a way that I have not experienced since I wrote my first novel. There is a real urge to get this one perfect before I let it go into the wild.

Bear with me. It won;t be long.

Happy Holidays