Jo-Ha-Kyū [Free Verse]


jockeying for position,

playing with the distance
through subtle shifts,

then testing the distance,
engaging in exchanges

Thrust - Parry - Retreat - Repeat

moving faster,
the interval of exchanges 
ever shortening

then --
in one instant --

it's done.

BOOK REVIEW: Introducing Game Theory: A Graphic Guide by Ivan & Tuvana Pastine

Introducing Game Theory: A Graphic Guide (Introducing...)Introducing Game Theory: A Graphic Guide by Ivan Pastine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

This book is meant to provide a non-mathematical introduction to the basics of game theory, using examples that make the subject readily intuitively grasped. With this objective in mind, the book does a great job. Game Theory is an interdisciplinary subject that seeks to explain behavior in strategic games, a strategic game is one in which all players make decisions that can influence the outcome of the game. Let’s clarify, using a literal “game.” In chess, it’s meaningless to ask what the best move is without considering what the opponent has done and is likely to do – i.e. one’s best move must always take into account what the other player has done. This is in contrast to games of skill or chance (like a running race or roulette, respectively,) in which one doesn’t really need to respond / adapt to what the opponent has done (or will do) in order to win.

The reason I mention using an example that is literally a game is that Game Theory is used in a wide variety of domains, from military to business strategy, most of which don’t involve “games” in the common use of that word. The book draws from many disciplines, usually the ones where the concept at hand was initially developed – e.g. nuclear weapons strategy or marketing. While the book is a bit more heavily loaded with examples from the business world, it doesn’t ignore contributions from other sectors. Many of the games discussed will be familiar to the general reader at some level from the outset (e.g. the Prisoner’s Dilemma, Chicken, Battle of the Sexes, etc.) but one should finish reading with a better understanding of ideas like payoffs, equilibria, efficiency, sequential play (v simultaneous,) and coordination – all of which are crucial to applied strategic decision-making.

If you are interested in a starter book about strategic decision-making, this one is worth reading.

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BOOK REVIEW: Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction by Antulio J. Echevarria II

Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions, #523)Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction by Antulio J. Echevarria II
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

This concise guide to military strategy is well-organized and can be readily understood by an amateur reader. The book provides an overview of the domain of military strategy by comparing and contrasting related pairs of strategic paradigms.

After an overview chapter (ch. 1) that broadly defines the subject and lays out the organization for the rest of the book, chapter two explores strategies of annihilation and how they are similar to and different from strategies of dislocation. Chapter three investigates attrition and exhaustion, strategies that deal in destroying warfighting resources and will to fight, respectively. Chapter four elucidates how the threat of force can be used to keep the enemy from making a move (deterrence,) or force them to make a desired move (coercion.) Chapter five looks at strategies that rely on instilling fear to change an opponent’s behavior, including aerial bombardment and terrorist tactics. Chapter six considers different approaches to using selective targeting to achieve strategic goals: i.e. decapitation and targeted killing. The penultimate chapter (ch. 7) contrasts the various approaches to cyber warfare with cyber-power, more generally.

The final chapter (ch. 8) briefly examines the determinants of success and failure of military strategy.

The book is straightforward and uses historical cases to provide clear examples of each type of strategy. It doesn’t go much beyond definition and some classic examples, but it is an excellent starting point for organizing one’s thoughts on the topic in preparation to learn more.

If you’re in need of a concise overview of (or refresher on) military strategy, this is a fine guide to consider.

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The Jujutsu Murders, Plus Some Brain Science


Imagine you’re a detective in Edo Period Japan (1603-1868), and you’re told to investigate a case in which three highly-trained practitioners of one of the most well-respected jujutsu schools have been stabbed to death. Each of the three bodies has only one mark on it–the lethal stab wound. The wound is on the right side of the abdomen in all three cases. There are no signs of a prolonged struggle, despite the fact that each of the three had many years of training and none of the men was an easy victim. The stabbings happened independently, and there were no witnesses to any of the killings. So, who or what killed these three experts in jujutsu?


Nobody knows who killed them, but a rigid approach to training contributed to what killed them. As you may have guessed, the killer took advantage of knowledge of the school’s techniques, i.e. their “go-to” defense / counter-attack for a given attack. It’s believed that the attacker held his scabbard overhead in his right hand, and his weapon point forward in a subdued manner in his left. All three of the defenders must have instinctively responded to the feigned downward attack as the killer stabbed upward from below with the unseen blade.


It’s a true story. I read this account first in Jeffrey Mann’s When Buddhists Attack. That book offers insight into the question of what drew some of the world’s deadliest warriors (specifically, Japan’s samurai) to one of the world’s most pacifistic religions (i.e. Buddhism–specifically Zen Buddhism.)  Mann cites Trevor Leggett’s Zen and the Ways as the source of the story, and Leggett’s account is slightly more detailed.


This story intrigues because it turns the usual cautionary tale on its head. Normally, the moral of the story would be: “drill, drill, drill…”


Allow me to drop some brain science. First, there’s no time for the conscious mind to react to a surprise attack. The conscious mind may later believe it was instrumental, but that’s because it put together what happened after the fact and was ignorant of the subconscious actors involved. (If you’re interested in the science of the conscious mind’s stealing credit ex post facto [like a thieving co-worker], I refer you to David Eagleman’s Incognito.)  Second, our evolutionary hardwired response to surprise is extremely swift, but lacks the sophistication to deal with something as challenging as a premeditated attack by a scheming human. Our “fight or flight” mechanism (more properly, the “freeze, flight, fight, or fright” mechanism) can be outsmarted because it was designed to help us survive encounters with predatory animals who were themselves operating at an instinctual level. (If you’re interested in the science of how our fearful reactions sometimes lead us astray when we have to deal with more complex modern-day threats, I refer you to Jeff Wise’s Extreme Fear. Incidentally, if you’re like, “Dude, I don’t have time to read all these books about science and the martial arts, I just need one book on science as it pertains to martial arts,” I just so happen to be writing said book… but you’ll have to wait for it.)


So where do the two points of the preceding paragraph leave one?  They leave one with the traditional advice to train responses to a range of attacks into one’s body through intense repetition. Drill defenses and attacks over and over again until the action is habitual. This is what most martial artists spend most of their training effort doing. A martial art gives one a set of pre-established attacks or defenses, and it facilitates drilling them into one’s nervous system.


Of course, the astute reader will point out that the three jujutsu practitioners who were killed had done just what was suggested in the preceding paragraph, and not only didn’t it help them but–arguably–it got them killed. I should first point out that the story of the three murder victims shouldn’t be taken as a warning against drilling the fundamentals. As far as their training went, it served them well.  However, there’s a benefit to going beyond the kata approach to martial arts. One would like to be able to achieve a state of mind that once would have been called Zen mind, but–in keeping with our theme of modern science–we’ll call transient hypo-frontality, or just “the flow.” This state of mind is associated with heightened creativity at the speed of instinct. (If you’re interested in the science of how extreme athletes have used the flow to make great breakthroughs in their sports, I’d highly recommend Steven Kotler’s The Rise of Superman.) Practicing kata won’t help you in this domain, but I believe randori (free-form or sparring practice) can–if the approach is right.

BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Ninja [The Bansenshukai] Trans. by Anthony Cummins and Yoshie Minima

The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja ManualThe Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai – Japan’s Premier Ninja Manual by Antony Cummins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

The Bansenshukai is a 17th century manual of ninja tradecraft and fieldcraft compiled by Fujibayashi Sabuji. If you’re doing related research or are a geek about historic warriors and / or spies, you’ll likely find this book intriguing–and parts of it even fascinating. However, it’s important to note that this translation’s title The Book of Ninja may conjure up expectations of stories of derring-do and assassinations set in medieval Japan. This isn’t that book. This book contains an extensive discussion of morals, guidance as to how commanders should employ ninja, how to don a disguise and impersonate your way into enemy territory, technical discussion of how to infiltrate long-obsolete fortifications, insight into how to pick medieval Japanese locks, and instructions for how to make torches and rope ladders. This book won’t teach you how to be a ninja. (a.) I suspect no book could do that, b.) This one holds back a lot of secrets, and c.) Most of the information is obsolete from a practical stand point. (However, it’s likely to have many ideas of a strategic or philosophic nature that one might find thought-provoking.)

Why is this book important and interesting (though–as I’ve suggested–some of its content seems patently boring)? We live in an era of information overload, and it’s difficult to fathom how little is truly known about the ninja of medieval Japan. We live during a time in which even the most secretive agencies document everything always (even if they sometimes manage to shred or burn that information.) In their heyday, the ninja weren’t big on writing down true and interesting information for fear it would fall into the wrong hands. Lack of documentation and false documentation were key elements of security. There are only a few manuals like this one in existence, and the Bansenshukai is considered by many to be chief among them by virtue of being the most extensive. (FYI- The other well-known manuals are the Shoninki and the Ninpiden, both of which also have English language translations available. Beyond these manuals, there are some surviving familial scrolls.) It should be noted that these manuals were written after the warring states period (though before the Meiji Restoration) when there was a fear that this information might be lost precisely because it was historically conveyed via word of mouth. And, it should be noted, throughout the work there are frequent statements to the effect of “there is an oral transmission”—meaning that key parts haven’t been written down and are only to be taught in person by hands-on instruction.

The Bansenshukai is organized into 22 volumes. The first volume is background and introductory information. The second and third volumes are more philosophical, dealing with achieving the “correct mind,” the former dealing with morality and the latter offering perspective on life and death.

The fourth through seventh volumes are designed to educate military commanders about how they might get the best use of ninja.

The next group of volumes (8 – 10) cover Yo-nin, which is the act of infiltrating enemy territory in the open through use of disguise and deception. The Japanese term yo is the same as the Chinese term yang, or sunny side—as opposed to yin (in in Japanese) which means the shady side. So these volumes offer advice for operating out in the open—in the light of day, so to speak. The previous volumes are contrasted with the next set of volumes (11-15), the In-Nin, which deals with covertly breaking into enemy houses and castles. Together the Yo-nin and In-nin chapters are likely to be the most interesting to the general reader–excepting the last of these (vol. 15, which deals with lock picking.) While I said that this book isn’t full of stories of legendary exploits, I don’t mean to suggest Fujibayashi didn’t use vignettes to reinforce his points (there are plenty of them)—just that these stories aren’t told to entertain but to educate.

The next two volumes are entitled Tenji I and Tenji II, and they discuss what the author considered the opportunities bestowed by heaven. The first of these chapters is mostly Chinese astrological hokum in painful detail. The second is a primitive primer on meteorology—which I suspect is a mix of good and bad advice based on the science of that time and place. (These people were exceptionally observant but the product of superstitious times, and so one can imagine fact and fiction being muddled together.) At any rate, I found the second chapter to have some quite interesting information of which I’d like to know more about the veracity.

The final set of volumes are on ninja tools (i.e. ninki.) These include chapters on climbing tools like rope ladders, water crossing devices like inflatable seats, breaking and entering tools, and many recipes for incendiary and explosive materials. Like the chapter on locks and lock picking, these chapters will mostly be of value to individuals with a heavy interest in the history of technology—with a particular focus on Japan and / or East Asia. In many ways the ninja were by necessity technologically advanced by the standards of that time in Japan’s history (keeping in mind that because of literally centuries of war, Japan wasn’t at the cutting edge of a spectrum of technology in the 17th century as they are today—though they made swords that at least rivaled if not surpassed those anywhere else in the world, but swords were on the way out or passé by that time in many places.)

There’s an additional text on strategy that forms an appendix to The Bansenshukai. To the front, there’s an explanation of Japanese locks of the time, written by a historian of such minutiae. There’s also front matter by the translator, providing valuable background material. Each chapter is heavily endnoted. These endnotes are generally explanatory in nature. While the text is quite readable given its era, there’s much that requires further explanation. Sometimes the notes elaborate on a statement in the text and sometimes they suggest that an explanation is unknown—either way that information can be quite beneficial. The graphics are simple drawings (I believe they come from the original text), and in some cases they wouldn’t be useful without the explanation of the text.

One will note a heavy Chinese influence in The Bansenshukai. There are frequent references to Sun Tzu and many of the vignettes use to illustrate points involve tales from China—though there are also many that feature Japanese warriors as well—e.g. Kusunoki Masashige, a samurai famous as a paragon of loyalty but who was also known for his use of ninjutsu and unconventional tactics, features prominently throughout the work—though it’s unknown how many of these tales are fact and how many legend.

If you’re still curious about the contents of this book after hearing what it is and isn’t, I’d highly recommend it. There’s a lot of thought-provoking information in the book, and if you’re doing research on the subject this book is essential reading. I should also point out that while I’ve suggested that much of the information is obsolete in the modern era, it’s not all so. There are some interesting perspectives on strategy, tactics, philosophy, and ethics in this book. [Plus, if you want to be the office ninja, it’s a must-read along with Machiavelli’s The Prince.]

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BOOK REVIEW: Pirate of the Far East by Stephen Turnbull

Pirate of the Far East: 811-1639Pirate of the Far East: 811-1639 by Stephen Turnbull

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Unfortunately, the first thing one notices about this book is what seems like a typo in the title. Instead of “Pirates of the Far East,” it’s Pirate of the Far East, which suggests piracy wasn’t so much of a problem in the region because there was only the one pirate—and that the author isn’t a fan of either definite or indefinite articles. I’m sure this was done intentionally, but it does read oddly and sounds tinny.

This slim book is a typical edition of the Osprey military history series. All of these books are less than 100 pages, illustrated, and focus on a specific class of warfighter over a defined period. In this case, the book presents a class of pirates called wako for the period from 811 to 1639. Wako literally refers to Japanese pirates, but–in fact–these marauders of the high seas were often mixed nationality crews. The book also provides information about counter-piracy activities and those groups of warriors, such as Shaolin monks, who fought against piracy back in those days.

This book covers a range of topics including: the life of a pirate, pirate ships, strategy, tactics, and weapons—as well as the history of these groups. The book has five actual chapters, but there are short units providing important information that would usually be appendices, e.g. a chronology, a discussion of museum exhibits, and an annotated bibliography.

The illustrations are mostly drawings, but include maps and photographs as well. Some of the art is drawn in the present-day by the illustrator Richard Hook, but some are historic pieces from art collections. The photographs also include some present-day photos of locations that were once bases of piracy, as well as photos of museum exhibits (e.g. topographic and other models.) The graphics are helpful in showing how pirates dressed/armored and were armed. The maps and drawings are particularly helpful.

I’d recommend this book, but I do think it’s overpriced at full price. At a mere 64 pages—a pamphlet more than a book–paying $10 or more seems a bit pricey despite the useful graphics and the fact that the author is among the most renowned authorities on Japanese warriors and medieval military tactics. All that said, there are relatively few books on the topic, and it’s not easy to get this information from other sources.

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Dueling Mantras: Competing Tactical Tenets in Martial Arts

There are many rules of thumb that are used to convey useful generalizations to martial arts students. One that I’ve heard for years is:

“Use as big a movement as you have time for.”

The idea is that big movements are more powerful and, thus, more likely to be effective in damaging/dissuading the opponent–if they land. Big movements use major joints and muscle groups, and allow one to put one’s body-weight into the target. There is, of course, a trade-off that’s recognized in the latter part of the tenet, and that’s that big movements are slower movements and slower movements are less likely to succeed. (i.e. One needs to streamline one’s big movements.)

Like any generalization, this tenet can be valuable only as long as one recognizes where its truth falters. I think this rule of thumb is great as long as the student does sufficient sparring / randori (after they’ve learned the basics.) If one doesn’t (e.g. if one only practices forms,) one can easily develop a false impression of how much time one has against an opponent who doesn’t practice the same art–and how big a movement one can make work. In other words, one’s enemy may dance about pummeling one about the head and neck as one lunges with big (futile) movements.

The aforementioned tenet isn’t the only way of looking at the question of whether to favor big (long/slow) or small (short/fast) movements.

One might also suggest:

“Use as small a movement as will sufficiently damage the opponent.”

Again, there’s a trade-off. While small movements offer relatively high odds of success–they are hard to see and counter–they aren’t as likely to achieve a much sought-after coup de grace (meaning a fight-ender, not necessarily a killing blow.) The risk one faces if one follows this second tenet too blindly and without sparring is becoming extremely fast while unable to punch one’s way through a wet paper sack. This is kung fu movie style martial arts, very impressive to look at but not so so effective in a combative sense.

I would argue that one should take advantage of any opportunity to deliver substantial damage with small movements (quadrant IV of the first graph), but be aware that these opportunities don’t grow on trees. How does one defy the trade-off? As an example, I have found that moving an elbow into the line of attack of an incoming limb can destroy said limb’s effectiveness briefly, offering one an exploitable opportunity. This is extremely hard for the opponent to see and respond to once they are committed to an attack.


Size v Damage


So the ultimate question is whether one favors big/slow/low probability/high consequence movement over small/fast/high probability/low consequence movements. As per my second graph I would suggest one finds a way to employ tactics that are as close to quadrant II as possible, while realizing they’re a tall order in a combative situation.

Likelihood v Damage


Figuring out how to manage these trade-offs requires a journey to the intersection of accuracy and power.  It’s extremely difficult to be precise in a combative environment, everything is in motion and time isn’t aplenty. However, as one  fine-tunes one’s technique, one should consider what trade-offs are being made and how one can increase power without sacrificing accuracy and vice versa. Ultimately, it all boils down to practicing conscientiously, constantly, and with as much realism as is safe.


Now I know what you are thinking, “What kind of nerd puts three graphs in a martial arts blog post?”

This kind [Jutting both thumbs in my own direction simultaneously.]

Kalaripayattu and Single Point Origin Myths

I just began my study of Kalaripayattu this morning. Kalaripayattu is an Indian martial art that is named for the training space (kalari) in which it is conducted. It’s a very different martial art from others I’ve studied, and is a great learning experience—as well as an excellent workout. Kalaripayattu is said to be one of the oldest formal martial arts that has survived into the modern era. I have no reason doubt this. The art is documented in the 11th century by a historian who attributes its development to wars between the Chola and Chera kingdoms.

However, there’s another common claim that is much more controversial, and that’s that Kalaripayattu is the “mother of all [Asian] martial arts.” With all due respect, I’m skeptical of this claim—even if we don’t take it in the literal sense (i.e. Asia is a big place and there are almost certainly places where martial arts were established before contact with the Buddhist diaspora.) I obviously don’t base my skepticism on what I have been taught—as that is, at this point, a miniscule portion of the most basic of basics.

While I can offer no definitive proof to discredit the claim, I do have specific reasons to be skeptical. The theory of Kalaripayattu as the origin of martial arts is based on the legend of Bodhidharma. The legend says that the famous monk shared martial arts with the monks of Shaolin in conjunction with the Zen (Cha’an) form of Buddhism, and from Shaolin as Buddhism spread so did the martial arts. I’ve read myths about the origins of the Japanese martial arts that I’ve studied that place the beginnings of their ancestor arts with Chinese Buddhists fleeing persecution during the T’ang Dynasty (as well as later periods.)

The first problem with this theory is that historians have found it to be unsubstantiated and dubious. While the belief that Bodhidharma introduced the Chinese to martial arts is one of the most widely believed and cited pieces of martial arts lore, Meir Shahar in his book The Shaolin Monastery [] states that the evidence doesn’t support this popular belief. Specifically, the only historical documentation of this theory is a document that was written in the 1600’s that the author claimed was “discovered” from an earlier time—the problem is that the language usage isn’t consistent with the claim that the document was from a much earlier period, and there are many verified mistakes in the document.

Even if Shahar and other historians are wrong, the evidence that Bodhidharma came from southern India and that he studied Kalaripayattu specifically seems to be non-existent. There is at least one popular theory of Bodhidharma that puts the origin of this famous spiritual leader outside of India altogether. If the aforementioned Indian historian was right and Kalari developed during 11th century wars, then it’s late for the life of Bodhidharma by some 500 years.

The challenge is that it’s difficult to compare the modern martial arts and see definitive evidence of historic connections. Some will say, “But Kalaripayattu doesn’t look like Shaolin Kung fu (or any other subsequent arts) at all.” While it’s not true that they don’t look anything alike, it’s true that they look very different. However, what one has to keep in mind is not only did Kung fu continue to evolve in order to optimize to its circumstance, its predecessor system (whether Kalaripayattu or otherwise) would have continued to evolve as well. The Kalaripayattu of today most likely looks quite different from 11th century Kalaripayattu, but we can’t know how so in any detail. This could make for some pretty rapid divergence. Others may say, “But, hey, I do see the similarities in kicks and postures and so forth.” This may be true as well, but can one be sure that one of those commonalities is causal of the other? What if it’s just the constraints of the human body that make all martial arts similar at some level of granularity?

My intent is neither to destroy origin stories nor to discredit any martial art. Obviously, Kalaripayattu has a long history, and the fact that it survived to modern times is a testament to its value over that time. Combat is a harsh evolutionary environment, and things that don’t work for the situations they face are likely to die with the people who practice those systems. However, I think it’s important for warriors to not succumb to false fables because they must see the world as it is and not as they wish it to be.

Can India Compete With China?

IMG_0131There’s perennial hope in the West that India will succeed. Having won the Cold War, advocates of democracy and rule of law aren’t eager to replay it and have a Communist country win–not even one that yields to market forces in large part.  Citizens of democratic nations want reaffirmation that democratic rule and rule by law, not men, is the superior paradigm. We acknowledge that such a system is rarely easy, but live with the words of Winston Churchill ringing in our ears:  

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

When I found out that I was moving to India, I read all that I could find on India in magazines I subscribed to, such as Foreign Affairs, National Geographic, and Wilson Quarterly. Needless to say, there was a lot to read. Besides India’s nuclear programs, both energy and weapons, I hadn’t followed its role in the world. These articles took me on a roller coaster ride. If one went back many years, no one expected much of India. Then, a few years back, massive enthusiasm blossomed that India was going to rocket off and leave India in its dust. Then I got to the most recent articles, which did yet another turnabout–saying that India’s growth had been ephemeral and no one should expect much from the country in the near future.

India has a number of advantages. Almost everyone who is capable of publishing is fluent in the de facto international language of business and academic publication–namely English. India has as abundant a supply of cheap labor as anywhere. Indians have a culture that values education. They are building a first-class university system by, in part, having sent students to the very best of academic institutions globally. Their universities are attracting foreign students. This, in combination with such a big population, has given them the potential to build impressive student bodies.

So, why isn’t India competitive? The first thing that should be stated is that things are never as simple as they appear in aggregate. In some domains, India is competing quite nicely–and not just with China. Here in Bangalore, it’s apparent that large IT companies see big advantages in doing business in India.

I made a recent trip to Hampi and was amazed to see how successful India was in building up wind power generation in central Karnataka. India is 5th in installed wind capacity overall. Many democracies have difficulty getting traction with wind because the public views the turbines as an eyesore.

Still, India has its problems. Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) surveyed business leaders about Asian bureaucracies and found India to be the worst bureaucracy in Asia.  On a 1 to 10 scale, where 10 is the worst possible, India rated a 9.21. This isn’t a surprise in the least. It seems to be common knowledge that business leaders who move to India do so in spite of India’s governance, not because of it.  India’s bureaucracy hasn’t embraced the IT-revolution. It’s interesting being in Bangalore, where IT-companies are state-of-the-art, and being asked for the same copies of documents a half-dozen times because the information is only stored on non-networked PC hard-drives–and paper files are collected but don’t seem to be organized in any way.

An ethos of corruption is ubiquitous in India. Police officers have been known to sit in parks and solicit “admissions fees” from tourists. I’m pretty sure I saw a shakedown in progress this past week when our car went through a toll booth on a toll road we had already paid for and two guys standing outside in front of the toll-taker insisted that our driver pay for the toll that he had already paid not ten minutes before. Being from a country where corruption is punished severely, I’m ignorant of the process of bribes. (I suspect this is why I’ve had so little success in getting anything done that involves the Indian bureaucracy.) For a less anecdotal experience, one can turn to the “Corruption Perceptions Index,” which places India in the bottom half among all nations.

One may wonder how a democracy retains a culture of corruption. Usually, citizens of a democracy get fed up and start voting their disapproval. At the Bangalore Literature Festival, I heard an interesting policy panel featuring a politician, a retired general, and a policy pundit. It was said that there is a high degree of apathy among the Indian middle class. Indian voter turnout rates are generally below 60%. There’s a belief that those most capable of affecting change are relatively happy and, thus, unwilling to rock the boat. I don’t know how true this is, but it seems that India is having trouble defeating some of the problems that wither on the vine in the face of a politically active public.

It also seems that there is a segment of the population who are completely cowed. This is a legacy not only of colonial repression but also of caste repression. While castes have been done away with, there remains a large segment of the population who are accustomed to doing just as they’re told without questioning and without making moves to get ahead.  Perhaps, because they believe they exist in a world in which there’s no getting ahead.

India’s abundance of cheap labor may be a curse as well as a blessing. While cheap labor has brought in foreign direct investment, it has also contributed to a business culture that doesn’t seem to value increased productivity. As an example, if one goes into a small shop in Chicago or Copenhagen or even Beijing, it’s likely that a single salesperson will show one merchandise, ring it up, and bag it. If it’s a big store, there may be a two person interaction–salesperson and cashier. In an Indian store, a salesperson will show one merchandise, a clerk will write up an invoice, one will take that invoice to a cashier, that cashier will take one’s money and hand one a carbon-copy of the “paid” stamped invoice and direct one to a pick up window, a bagger will bag your purchase, and  a “checker” will check your receipt and hand you the bag. I love specialization as much as the next economist, but this is a Rube Goldbergesque approach to retail operations.

If India wants to be a first-rate power, it needs to take on corruption, bring its bureaucracy into the 21st century, and its population needs to realize they can have a more satisfying life than waiting around for someone to need them for a momentary job. The citizenry needs to value good governance, and businesses need to figure out how to increase productivity.

10 Tips for Averting Tiger Attacks

As with mean drunks, never interrupt a drinking tiger

As with mean drunks, never interrupt a drinking tiger

I was working on a short story that involved a tiger attack, and–knowing almost nothing about the subject–I did a little research. I found some fascinating factoids. Here are some important tips to keep in mind in tiger country:

1.) Avoid squatting postures as it’s thought that many tiger attack victims are cases of mistaken identity. That is, sometimes an individual crouching to do his business or whatnot is mistaken for a tastier species. Apparently, tigers don’t realize that humans are the only creatures that wear clothing. Despite attempts by missionaries to educate tigers on biblical stories such as that of Adam and Eve, tigers continue to see themselves as god’s favorites.

2.) Avoid wearing leather, it makes you smell and taste like cow. While cows are sacred in India, tigers have denied receiving that memo. Or perhaps tigers are like members of PETA and are attacking those wearing animal hides to make a bold statement… but I doubt it.

3.) Avoid carrying meat in your pockets. Enough said.

4.) If one is attacked, don’t immediately counter-attack. Some tigers are just trying to express their passionate feelings on the subject of breakfast cereal, and one would not like a needless fight to ensue. One should only partake in needless fights when one has a good shot at winning– no offense to any one who has ever fought Manny Pacquiao.

5.) Don’t leave your dead out and about. Apparently, human is an acquired taste that tigers will find a fun exotic treat once they get used to it. We are the Rocky Mountain Oysters of the tiger world.

6.)  Be aware of your surroundings, and–as with Zombies–CARDIO-CARDIO-CARDIO. Tigers can run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56km/hr.) for short bursts, but have the stamina of a pack-a-day smoker. If you can keep them from getting close to you, they’ll lose interest.

7.) Stay in the city. Tigers almost never go into the city because they tend to attract unwanted attention. The average tiger weighs about 400 pounds (180 kg.) and the orange and black stripe pattern that camouflages surprisingly well in wild sticks out everywhere except Paul Brown Stadium or the lingerie section of an inner-city K-Mart.

8.) If you are attacked, the tiger will leap up and put its fore paws on one’s shoulders to push one over onto one’s back so that the cat can leisurely crush one’s neck in his or her mouth. When the tiger rears up on its hind-legs you may either try a kick to the crotch or to engage the predator in a foxtrot. The former offers a 1 in 10,000,000 chance of success. The latter has never been tried before, and so no one can rightly speak to its likelihood of success, though it’s suggested that one not try to lead (You must recognize that–at that point– you are the tiger’s bitch.)

9.)  Because humans aren’t ideal tiger food but we are slow, weak, and are skilled in disciplines like “managerial analysis” rather than hunting or survival in the wild, man-eating tigers tend to be the old and infirm cats that find gazelle and antelope both too fast and jungle savvy. Because only the oldest of cats tend to attack, a sure strategy is to get your attacker talking about how things were back in his day and how the current generation of tigers are all misfits and hooligans.

10.)  If you’re attacked, make loud noises and violent “shooing” gestures with your arms. You’ll still be eaten, but you will appear quite brave on the video in comparison to those who go fetal and poo themselves.

Best wishes and be safe out there.