Levels of Friendship in Arabic

  1. Zameel – someone you have a nodding acquaintance with
  2. Jalees – someone you’re comfortable sitting with for a period of time
  3. Sameer – you have good conversation with them
  4. Nadeem – a drinking companion (just tea) that you might call when you’re free
  5. Sahib – someone who’s concerned for your wellbeing
  6. Rafeeq – someone you can depend upon, you’d probably go on holiday with them
  7. Sadeeq – a true friend, someone who doesn’t befriend you for an ulterior motive
  8. Khaleel – an intimate friend, someone whose presence makes you happy
  9. Anees – someone with whom you’re really comfortable and familiar
  10. Najiyy – a confidant, someone you trust deeply
  11. Safiyy – your best friend, someone you’ve chosen over other friends
  12. Qareen – someone who’s inseparable from you, you know how they think (and vice versa)

One interesting thing I notice is that in the Bengali language, Sahib is used as an honorific, like Sir, and I suspect that it originates from the Mughal Empire and has similar roots.

The Two Reasons People Fail

“The two reasons that people fail to attain path knowledge and fruition knowledge in this life are bad companionship and insufficient practice or instruction…Today there are many people [who] know the method but never put it into practice or are not serious in their efforts, and so they missed out on attaining path and fruition. This is insufficient practice.

-Mahasi Sayadaw, The Manual of Insight, Somerville, Mass. Wisdom Publications, 2016, pg 36.

True of enlightenment. True of life generally. Surround yourself with good people and make an effort, and many things become possible.

This July 4th, Let’s Remember What Patriotism Isn’t

Fuck every single one of these people involved in storming the Capitol and the people giving them cover. Watching this little shit show, I cannot help but marvel at the discipline of the Capitol Police and how well they stuck to the rules of engagement, and how this “riot” could have been contained Texas ranger style, if a few key people had been either pulled from the crowd and detained and/or shot from the start. It’s not hard to figure out who, many were at the front of the line, some even with megaphones. Of course, the building was cleared in 20 minutes once the guys with the heavy weapons came out, and it was clear they were prepared to use them. If that had been true from the beginning, this little farce wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

So, happy Fourth of July. If you think this is patriotism and are celebrating the beating of police by a crowd with greater numbers and when the police have their weapons holstered due to “optics” and the subsequent turning of tail when the odds start looking like they are not in the mob’s favor, I’d suggest you spend some time this holiday rethinking what qualifies as patriotism and courage.

Advice is a Dangerous Gift

“Gildor was silent for a moment. ‘I do not like this news,’ he said at last. ‘That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.’

‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo: ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.’

‘Is it indeed?’ laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship’s sake give it. I think you should now go at once, without delay; and if Gandalf does not come before you set out, then I also advise this: do not go alone. Take such friends as are trusty and willing. Now you should be grateful, for I do not give this counsel gladly.'”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring

Safe Withdrawal Rate for Early Retirees & What It Means for Retirement

* The 4% rule is actually very safe for a 30-year retirement

* A withdrawal rate of 3.5% can be considered the floor, no matter how long the retirement time horizon

-“Safe Withdrawal Rate for Early Retirees“, MadFientist.com. October 19. 2015.

I thought this was interesting because it gives you a target for retirement. According to the American Community Survey, the median household income in the United States was $62,860 in 2019. Median earnings for a worker was $41,537 (Table A-6). Thresholds for poverty for a single person are $13,300 if they are below 65 years of age and $12,261 if they are older than 65 years old (Table B-1). Let’s calculate:

  • $12,261 / 0.035 = ~$350,315
  • $13,300 / 0.035 = ~$380,000
  • $41,537 / 0.035 = ~$1,186,772
  • $62,860 / 0.035 = ~$1,796,000

Now, let’s go the other direction. How long would it take you to reach these thresholds, if you managed to save 20% of your total income?

  • $350,315 / ($12,261 * 20%) = ~142 years
  • $380,000 / ($13,300 * 20%) = ~155 years
  • $1,186,772 / ($41,537 * 20%) = ~143 years
  • $1,796,000 / ($62,860 * 20%) = ~142 years

Since we are multiplying by 0.035, it is obvious these numbers would all be around the same. Equally obvious, you either need to quadruple the savings rate or the annual salary, or double both, in order to retire after 35 years of work.

Which really brings us to the point of this exercise, the only people that can look to be an early retiree are either a) using leverage to build equity, such as real estate and renting, b) investing in some kind of investment vehicle that returns at least a 7% rate of return (using the rule of 72, this gives us a doubling of savings roughly every 10 years), or c) radically increase your savings rate by living as frugally as possible, or d) have a much higher than median salary.

Doing the calculations over with a 7% interest rate, it takes about 35 years with a 20% savings rate for every income level mentioned above to get the necessary savings to do a safe withdrawal rate that replaces income. It’s rather sobering when you work through the numbers when someone starts talking about safe withdrawal rates and early retirement. Who is this advice for?

It can be done. If you are smart enough to do this kind of calculation before you go to work, you have a relatively high income, you pool your resources with a partner, you get a sizable inheritance, you get involved with index funds early or you do real estate. These are the options. Otherwise, you are working your whole life.

Book Summary: Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

To summarize the main ideas:

Thinking is not a substitute for lived experience. The idea of being a mother, combat veteran, a disciple of a spiritual teacher – pick any experience you don’t have – and having the idea about it is not the same as having lived it. And, it is worse than that, many of the experiences we do have, we’ve replaced the experience with thoughts, so we are alienating ourselves from our own lived experience, at practically every moment.

The substitution of our ideas for our lived experience is the source of our suffering. The idea of self, preferences and aversions for certain experiences, etc., all work to alienate us from our actual experience. The way to counteract this effect is by the three trainings: morality, concentration, and wisdom.

Morality is everything we do in the ordinary world that requires judgment and planning. Concentration is the ability to settle your mind on what you wish. Wisdom comes from focusing our attention on our lived experience to the point that we see it clearly, not through abstractions. Through these three trainings, we can improve our receptiveness, our focus and these will lead to a fundamental realization of what’s real and what is mind-made.

The unreal has three characteristics: impermanence, dissatisfactoriness, and no-self. Everything is impermanent. If nothing is permanent, then the person at birth is not the same as the person you are now. This is equally true, no matter how thinly you slice time. The person you were a nanosecond ago is not the same person you are right now. It is our desire to reject that reality for permanence, of condition and of self, that gives rise to dissatisfaction.

Drop to the level of sensations. The only thing that is real is what you are experiencing in this moment, and even then, by the time it registers, it is over. Everything is a phantom – memories of the past, plans for the future, ideas about the present and even sensate experience is over before we realize it. This is why it is difficult to understand what is real.

On the path to understanding the real, there are five spiritual faculties to cultivate: faith, wisdom, energy, concentration and mindfulness. The first four can be thought of as wheels on the bullock cart with mindfulness as the driver. Balance faith/wisdom and energy/concentration. Then, strengthen and balance them again.

Awakening is achieved through seven factors: mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. The hindrances are sensory desire, ill-will/malice, sloth/turpor, restlessness/worry and doubt. Finding the right balance between focus and ease is the secret to a good life.

What makes it good? We are able to access peace and happiness by turning our minds to them. By renouncing certain aspects of life, we cut off sources of suffering. Just knowing that it is possible, right here in this life, right now, to be free of suffering is a huge relief.

These are the Four Noble Truths. You’re going to be dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction has a cause. It can end, and we have a method to end it. No need for heaven, secret teachings or being a saint. All you need to do is follow the instructions. If four is too much, all you need is one idea. Suffering can end.

There are people walking around right now that are enlightened. It wasn’t just back in Buddha’s day. You may know a person who is enlightened. If you don’t, perhaps you could. How?

Buddhists talk about the Noble Eightfold Path.

  • Morality: right speech, right action, right livelihoo
  • Concentration: right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration
  • Wisdom: right view, right intention

If you want to make quick progress, then:

  1. Do lots of practice in daily life
  2. Go on more and longer retreats
  3. Consistently concentrate and develop the ability to investigate quickly and precisely
  4. Pay attention more often in their daily activities
  5. Be morally together

The best time to meditate is any time you can, preferably right now. With strong enough concentration, our whole inner landscape becomes subject to our control.

Calling Bullshit

“Our learning objectives are straightforward. After taking the course, you should be able to:

* Remain vigilant for bullshit contaminating your information diet.

* Recognize said bullshit whenever and wherever you encounter it.

* Figure out for yourself precisely why a particular bit of bullshit is bullshit.

* Provide a statistician or fellow scientist with a technical explanation of why a claim is bullshit.

* Provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit.

We will be astonished if these skills do not turn out to be among the most useful and most broadly applicable of those that you acquire during the course of your college education.”

Calling Bullshit Syllabus

The Discourse of Loving Kindness in Sutta Nipata

What should be done by one who's skilled in wholesomeness
To gain the state of peacefulness is this:
One must be able, upright, straight and not proud,
Easy to speak to, mild and well content,
Easily satisfied and not caught up
In too much bustle, and frugal in one's ways,
With senses calmed, intelligent, not bold,
Not being covetous when with other folk,
Abstaining from the ways the wise ones blame,
And this the thought one should always hold:
'May beings all live happy and safe
And may their hearts rejoice within themselves.
Whatever there may be with breath in life,
Whether they be frail or very strong,
Without exception, by they long or very short
Or middle-sized, or be they big or small,
Or thick, or visible, or invisible,
Or whether they dwell far or they dwell near,
Those that are here, those seeking to exist --
May beings all rejoice within themselves.
Let no one bring about another's ruin,
And not despise in any way or place,
Let not them wish each other any ill
From provocation or form enmity.
Just as a mother at the risk of life
Love and protects her child, her only child,
So one should cultivate this boundless love,
To all that live in the whole universe
Extending from a consciousness sublime
Upwards and downwards and across the world
Untroubled, free from hate and enmity,
And while one stands and while one walks and sits
Or one lies down still free of drowiness
One should be intent on this mindfulness -- 
This is the divine abiding here they say.
But when one lives quite free of any view,
Is virtuous, with perfect insight won,
And greed for sensual desires expelled,
One surely comes no more to any womb.

-The Buddha's Words in Sutta Nipata

Entitativity: Thinking and Feeling Together

“Our culture and our institutions tend to fixate on the individual—on his uniqueness, his distinctiveness, his independence from others. In business and education, in public and private life, we emphasize individual competition over joint cooperation. We resist what we consider conformity (at least in its overt, organized form), and we look with suspicion on what we call “groupthink.”

In some measure, this wariness may be justified. Uncritical group thinking can lead to foolish and even disastrous decisions. But the limitations of excessive “cognitive individualism” are becoming increasingly clear as well. Individual cognition is simply not sufficient to meet the challenges of a world in which information is so abundant, expertise is so specialized, and issues are so complex. In this milieu, a single mind laboring on its own is at a distinct disadvantage in solving problems or generating new ideas. Something beyond solo thinking is required—the generation of a state that is entirely natural to us as a species, and yet one that has come to seem quite strange and exotic: the group mind…

…Neither senseless nor supernatural, group thinking is a sophisticated human ability based on a few fundamental mechanisms. First, there’s synchrony: coordinating our actions, including our physical movements, so that they are like the actions of others. Second, there’s shared arousal: participating in a stimulating emotional or physical experience along with others. And third, there’s perspective-taking, in which the group takes turns seeing how the world looks through the eyes of one of its members. The extent to which these mechanisms are activated determines a group’s level of what psychologists call “entitativity”—or, in a catchier formulation, its “groupiness.” A sense of groupiness can be intentionally cultivated. The key lies in creating a certain kind of group experience: real-time encounters in which people act and feel together in close physical proximity.

-Annie Murphy Paul “How Humans Think When They Think As Part of a Group.” Wired. June 15, 2021.