Can’t Afford the Gas to Cook

(Lots of money talk in the UK today as the Chancellor of the Exchequer° has released his ‘spring statement'°).

The Telegraph°:

….surging inflation will [cause] the biggest fall in living standards in any single financial year since records began in 1956.


An anecdotal tweet coming from a Daily Mail journalist° isn’t the most trustworthy combination. But still, this quote speaks volumes about just how expensive gas and electricity is in the U.K. right now:

…some food banks are rejecting potatoes and root veg because people ‘can’t afford the energy to boil them’.

Also°:

I was at food bank in Leicester recently and heard of someone who when given fresh food commented they would now need to switch the fridge back on.


Also the Telegraph°:

The packed lunch is back. As office workers return en masse, John Lewis (for my non-UK readers, John Lewis is a shop, not a person by the way haha) reports that sales of plastic food containers are up 64 per cent on the same week last year.



Tolkien, Orwell and Simple Living

Darcy Moore° looks at the surprising similarities between George Orwell and J.R.R. Tolkien.

And I really like these two quotes by them:

“Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening, especially vegetable gardening. I like English cookery and English beer, French red wines, Spanish white wines, Indian tea, strong tobacco, coal fires, candle light and comfortable chairs.”

— George Orwell

“I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanised farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food, but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms; have a very simple sense of humour; I go to bed late and get up late.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien



Little Links & Notes

Good afternoon everyone. It’s a beautifully mild and spotlessly sunny lunchtime in southern England right now and here I am with this instalment of Little Links & Notes. A few long reads this time – but as always, they’re there because they’re worth your bandwidth. Enjoy them and your evening. – elliot


‘How Putin’s Oligarchs Bought London’ (The New Yorker / Patrick Radden Keefe°)

[Britain became] a no-questions-asked service provider to the crooked élite, offering access to capital markets, prime real estate, shopping at Harrods, and illustrious private schools, along with accountants for tax tricks, attorneys for legal squabbles, and “reputation managers” for inconvenient backstories. It starts with visas; any foreigner with adequate funds can buy one, by investing two million pounds in the U.K. (Ten million can buy you permanent residency.)

[…] The oligarchs “feel free to buy Belgravia, kill dissidents in Piccadilly with Polonium 210, fight each other in the High Court, and hide their children in British boarding schools.

[…] According to an investigation by BuzzFeed News, U.S. intelligence believes that at least fourteen people have been assassinated on British soil by Russian mafia groups or secret services, which sometimes collaborate, but British authorities tend not to name suspects or bring charges. (Instead, they have concluded with an unsettling frequency that such deaths are suicides.) In an interview with NPR in late February, Bill Browder was asked whether he would name Russian oligarchs who had not yet been sanctioned but should be. “I live in London,” he said. “So it’s very unwise to name names.”


‘The Case for Induction Cooking’ (New York Times°)

Reasons to go induction include: it’s easier to clean, doesn’t heat up the kitchen, you can be more precise with the temperature, it doesn’t pollute the planet and it also heats pans via electromagnets, which is insanely cool.

Also: “For children who live in a home with a gas stove, the increased risk of asthma is on par with living in a home with a smoker.”


A look at the “color bar” – a form of segregation – in Britain’s pubs of the past and one mans attempt to end it. (Good Beer Hunting / David Jesudason).


‘The Diderot Effect: Why We Want Things We Don’t Need — And What to Do About It’ (James Clear°)

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.


Starbucks is planning to phase out disposable cups (CNN Business°). This is the right thing to do. Customers and staff alike are going to hate it for a while, I’m sure. But it’s the right thing to do.


If you’re in the UK you should know that “Taboo” starring Tom Hardy is now on Netflix (it’s on Hulu if you’re in America). It’s an underrated, dark gem and a favourite of mine. It is long overdue a second season, but don’t let that put you off.



Little Links & Notes

Ran Prieur° on not choosing suicide:

“But I think the most universal reason to keep living is the beauty of small moments. If you look for them, you can find them all over, and think to yourself, I’m glad I’m still here to see this.”


I immediately dislike any website that has a non-standard scrollbar or does anything funky with how scrolling works. I find it unnerving and it plays havoc with my muscle memory.


6% of Ukrainians (2.5M people) have now left the country. (The Economist°)


The cover of this weeks New Yorker° is very beautiful, and very sad. Side note: I don’t really buy magazines, but $8.99 seems very expensive for a weekly magazine to me?


Live Intentionally: The Results – trms (Lorenzo Gravina)°:

Last week, I resolved to stay a day without Internet, and I said I’d let you know how it went. Well, I did as promised, and here are the results.

One result I was expecting, and which felt particularly good, was the complete eradication of gray areas… I call ‘gray areas’ those times when you’re just zombie-ing through online content, not fully conscious about what it is you’re doing. Well, since there is no “online content” to speak of, those times were gone too.

As a result, I was always doing something consciously. This is the best part about the Internet-free day, and why I’m thinking about making it a weekly occurrence. Unplugging from the Internet won’t increase your productivity, it’s not about that. I still did things I’d consider a “waste of time.” But it will make you more conscious about what you’re doing.


“The most serious problem facing any organization is the one that cannot be discussed.”

Marc Andreessen (@pmarca)°



Legs Look Weird

Alan from the Hangover has freaky and weird legs

Jerry Seinfield has talked about how there’s something about certain jokes that for whatever reason get deep inside of you and you think about them all the time.

Lines from movies can be like that too. And there’s a line in the Hangover where Alan is asked to put some trousers on because his legs look “weird” and “freaky”.

And I must think about that line weekly. It really speaks to me. Because for me nearly all legs look weird somehow.

Especially mens legs. For example, how many men actually look good in shorts? A tiny amount can pull the look off. Even if they’re good looking chaps and have nice legs most of the time wearing shorts makes them look almost chickenlike. Shorts can even transform a cool person into someone totally uncool.

I notice this on screen too – yes, the-legs-are-weird phenomenon affects movie stars too. Because not only do legs look weird, but they often move weird too.

Have you ever experienced this: you spend half the movie watching a badass character from the waist up doing badass things. But then just for a moment or two you see a wide shot, properly showing them from the waist down for the first time, and the badass illusion is shattered. They somehow move with all the grace of an arthritic middle-aged man.

There’s plenty examples of this.

There’s the famous Steven Seagal running compilation (though in this particular instance it’s more his arms than his legs that make him look uncool).

And what about Scarlett Johansson running in the Avengers:
Scarlett Johansson running in the Avengers

The most recent one I noticed was whilst watching True Detective. Matthew McConaughey has an intense conversation with Woody Harrelson where he comes across totally cool:

But then afterwards he rather awkwardly walks off:

For whatever reason legs do just look weird and it’s seemingly very tough to move them in a cool way. No wonder movie stars are actually trained how to run.



Low Birth Rates and High War Deaths

Wrong Side of History (Ed West):

It’s hard to imagine but back in the 1970s one of the most-read books was Paul R. Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, which contained the alarming claim: ‘The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.’

It now appears that out-of-control population growth is something we don’t have to worry about too much. Nearly all countries that move from ‘developing’ to ‘developed’ see their birthing rate slow down and often their population actually starts to decline.

So, running out of food isn’t quite the problem we thought it would become. But what are the problems and side effects of an increasingly aged world?

There’s the obvious things of course. Cruise ships and business' in the health care industry will see more sales and health issues like dementia will become a bigger problem. But it might effect war too:

Most wealthy countries have median ages of over 40, and middle-aged people don’t like starting fights. We have responsibilities and worries, our frontal-lobes have made us cautious, and our testosterone levels are in terminal decline.

In the 1930s, when Spain erupted into war, the median age was half of what it is now. In the early 1990s the median age in Bosnia was less than 30, while today it is over 40. When Lebanon’s civil war began the average Lebanese man would have been one of six children and three brothers. Today he is one of just two siblings. That is at least partly why recent political instability and financial crisis has not led to a repeat of the war. [Author Paul Morland] cites ‘studies of decade-long periods reveal that there is almost no civil war in countries where 55 per cent or more of the population is aged over thirty.’

‘While it cannot be said that youthfulness “causes” war,’ he writes, ‘or that maturity “causes” peace, a society’s age structure creates background conditions against which other things either do or don’t spark conflict.’

And what about the Russo-Ukrainian War that’s currently raging. How does ageing populations effect that? Well, the byline of the article is ‘why Russia can’t afford to spare its young soldiers anymore’, and the author says:

If the Russians turn out to have no stomach for this fight, it will probably be for the simple fact that the country does not have enough men to spare. The majority of those poor young men killed for Russia’s honour will be their mother’s only son, in many cases their only child…

Right now I think Russia does have plenty of young men left to sacrifice in this pointless – though relatively small-scale – war with Ukraine. But they will certainly run into real issues if the war drags on (which is likely) or expands in fronts and the ferocity of its fighting. Because it’s doubtless true that Russia can’t afford the long term consequences of losing too many young men in this war.

Russia has the worst of both worlds. They having an ageing population – their birth rate is lower than it was following WWII when they lost around 40% of their adult men. And Russian men also die young – 25% before the age of 55.

And the life expectancy of the men who do survive this war isn’t going to go up. They’ll likely come back not just with physical injuries that shortens their life, but also mental ones like PTSD too. One of the big reasons Russian men die young is their over-consumption of vodka. And booze related deaths will go up even higher after the war, as ex-soldiers are more likely to suffer from alcoholism.

So to summarise. Russia doesn’t have an abundance of young men. Those they do have are currently being sent to die in a war in increasing numbers. Those that survive the war will be too injured or drunk to work. And those that can work won’t have a job to go to due to the likely collapse of the Russian economy. Resulting in them – like their injured colleagues – also being more likely to die young, due to either vodka or suicide.

This war in Ukraine has already caused Russia to suffer enough economic sanctions that it will take them a generation or two to financially recover. But if you add to that a protracted war that will result in a large amount of deaths of their young men – men that aren’t being replaced by births – it’s likely to result in a total catastrophe that will take Russia close to a century to recover from – if ever.


Here’s a few other tidbits from the article I found interesting:

In China… by 2050 there will be 150 million [people over the age of 80].

More than a quarter of major Japanese start-ups… involve care for the elderly.

Europeans once expressed alarm about encroaching dominance by the world of Islam, but most Arab countries now have moderate if not low fertility.

As fertility has declined, so various governments have changed their attitudes to family size. Singapore’s official advice in the 1960s was ‘Stop at Two’ but by 1987 it was ‘Have Three or More (if you can afford it).’

Older people tend to vote for their own self-interests… Voters with pensions and homes opt for lower growth and restricted housebuilding, further raising the cost of home ownership for the young and so pushing down the fertility rate still further.



Economic Sanctions Cause Discomfort in a Very Comfortable Modern World

The Nazi’s preprepared their economy for the inevitable sanctions and supply chain issues long before they invaded Poland in 1939 – they even went as far as doing things like inventing synthetic rubber. The Russian’s have done no such thing.

It was always going to be hard for them to prepare for the inevitable economic war following them starting an actual war, when they’re trying to convince their citizens and soldiers that a ‘special military operation’ is going down, not actual said war. But the few higher-up Russian’s who did know what was about to happen haven’t even done the bare basics in preparation. And by the sounds of it their citizens are going to be out of everything from paracetamol to IKEA Billy bookcases in no time at all. And what happens then?

I’ve always suspected that a revolution or overthrowing of a government by citizens is very unlikely to happen in developed countries in this day of age. Placated by movies, fast food and fancy modern conveniences, people are just far too comfortable and have too much to risk to attempt a revolution – even if their government is a nightmare.

Modern life is in a way subjugating. It was probably much easier to find the motivation to get out there and join a revolution in times of old when you don’t own a home, your child has died due to lack of medicine, you haven’t eaten for three days, and you’re just generally uncomfortable.

But by the looks if it Russian citizens could sadly start experiencing such motivating hardships very shortly. And the question is what happens next? Will they be happy tucked up in their houses watching state propaganda television rather than Netflix, browsing government Telegram updates on their Phone rather than Twitter and YouTube and getting by on rationed food rather McDonalds and KFC? Or will their discomfort motivate them to do something drastic? Only time will tell.



Enablers of dirty Russian money in London + What's an 'Unexplained Wealth Order'?

Simon Kuper (Financial Times)°:

French economist Gabriel Zucman estimated in 2014 that 52 per cent of Russian wealth was held offshore — surely the largest-ever exportation of elite money.

Kleptocrats appreciate Britain’s rule of law as long as it leaves them alone. The kleptocratic cycle is “steal, hide, spend”… Local beneficiaries range from accountants to sex workers, bankers to dog walkers, and bodyguards to universities.

Britain’s ruling party swims in Russian money°. Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband was a minister under Putin, has given the Conservatives more than £2.1mn° since becoming a British citizen. In 2014, she paid £160,000 to play tennis° with London’s then mayor, Boris Johnson.

London’s enablers use many self-justifications, some of them true. Everybody does it. Russian money boosts London’s economy. If it didn’t come here, it would go elsewhere. Enablers see themselves as skilled, non-ideological technicians, almost like dentists: a London lawyer friend boasted to me about the complexity of the tax shelters she designed.

This “discretion” is a marker of enabler language, writes American anthropologist Samuel Weeks. Enablers protect their clients’ “privacy”, say “international” instead of “tax haven”, and use modern diversity language to suggest that anyone who questions Russian money is racist.

“Russians accused of corruption or links to the Kremlin” have bought £1.5bn worth of British property just since 2016, reports Transparency International°, while admitting that this estimate is “the tip of the iceberg” since many purchasers use shell companies.

In the first two-and-a-half years of Johnson’s premiership, the UK issued precisely zero Unexplained Wealth Orders° to investigate the origins of suspicious funds. Now, hurriedly drawn-up rules will catch more of Putin’s friends.

I hadn’t heard of an ‘Unexplained Wealth Order’ before.

Essentially it allows law enforcement to say to a judge ‘look, we have no hard evidence of any criminal activity or money laundering. But, on the balance of probability this person is a dirty crook and their money is equally dirty.’ And it then allows the confiscation of property if the person can’t prove that their money is clean.

I don’t like the sound of any of that, as it puts the burden of proof on the accused rather than the government. And the law could quite easily be abused by a dictatorial regime.

However, it looks like it was implemented in 2018 in direct response to the accusation that the UK is a ‘hub for dirty money’. And it isn’t really intended for ‘normal people’, like the many construction workers in the UK who don’t declare their income to the tax office and then use their money to buy house after house and become a land baron (a separate issue – though one that effects me directly more than Russia money in London).

And it hasn’t really used been used anyway:

having only been obtained nine times relating to four cases as of February 2022. None have been obtained since the end of 2019. Source°.

Only four cases in 2018 and none since 2019. I expect there to be quite a few more than that in 2022. And right now I’m sure that the British government is mighty glad that this law exists. Russian oligarchs holed up in their Chelsea flats? Probably less so.



Just pay Russian soldiers to surrender?

Ukraine is offering° Russian soldiers currently involved in the Russo-Ukrainian War° around $48,000 to throw down their weapons and surrender.

Bryan Caplan sees some issues° though:

  • The soldier has to somehow slip away from the Russian army.
  • They have to hope the Ukrainians don’t kill them (even after surrendering).
  • If Ukraine loses the war they will end up being charged with desertion by the Russians.
  • What if Ukraine wins the war but is so broke that they can’t pay the soldiers?
  • As part of a peace agreement they could be transferred back to Russia.

So he suggests a slight alteration:

The EU, in cooperation with Ukraine, offers $100,000 plus EU citizenship to any Russian deserter.

But won’t that be too expensive? Apparently not:

Even in a magical scenario where all of the roughly 200,000 Russian troops in the vicinity take the deal, $100,000 per soldier is a mere $20 billion. That’s less than one-fifth of what Germany now plans to spend on defense in 2022 alone.



'Why the Russians Are Struggling'

Summary:

  • Conscripts do just a 12 month term. Which is no where near long enough to learn to become a solider.
  • The front in Ukraine is simply too wide. Eventually, if/when the Russian converge into the central parts of Ukraine the various fractions will be able to support each other. But right now the Russian’s are spread far too thin.
  • The Russians were expecting a blitzkrieg, so they haven’t implemented the logistics necessary for a longer conflict. Some of their vehicles can’t even fill up their petrol tank.

National Review (Mark Antonio Wright):

As I have written before, urban combat is hell. And as the Russians are learning, fire can come from all sides. The fog of war becomes all-enveloping… In urban combat, units tend to drift towards the path of least resistance and “easy” avenues of approach such as major roadways — which can play right into the defenders’ hands by funneling the attackers into overlapping fields of fire.

It takes tremendous courage and discipline to initiate a “movement to contact” operation in an urban setting. It takes effective communication both within a unit and with the units on your left and right. There can be no shortcuts. […] As the Marines say, “Movement without suppression is suicide.”

The Russians do not appear to be good at the details, and their failures at the operational and tactical levels have made an inherently difficult task much, much harder. This is why they are struggling. It’s why they will now turn to brute force to try to smash their way into the capital.



“Humanity is just not what I think it is.”

Louis Theroux has a new TV series out called “Forbidden America”. In this week’s episode he looked at the business of porn in the post-MeToo world.

One of the people he interviewed was a woman named Jen Mondello (AKA Jennifer Steele), who was raped by pornstar Ron Jeremy.

When telling the story to Theroux she said that right after the assault:

“that was when the switch flipped, of… humanities just not what I think it is.

That moment is one that too many people have to sadly go through at some point in their lives. And it causes a real shift in sensitivity. From optimism to pessimism. From mostly happy to mostly sad.

Before that moment, you’re aware of the horrors of the world. You read news stories about it and hear it second hand from others and reply “that’s awful”. But it’s distant somehow. It never really connects.

But then an event occurs that changes that. It could be something huge and horrific, like a sexual assault. Or a relatively smaller thing, like witnessing animal abuse.

Some have that moment as a child. Others not until an adult. And the lucky majority never have it.

But for those that do, something clicks and then breaks. A noticeable and sizeable shift happens. And from then on a sadness lingers and your perception of the world is tainted. A miasma descends and doesn’t leave.

And all of a sudden sad things aren’t simply just sad anymore. They’re devastating reminders of that moment and how everything has changed forever (and that’s one of the biggest realisations: the permanency of the change. That things have changed for good. Innocence is lost and not returning).

And going forward there’s always that brittleness and sensitivity inside of you that has to be catered for. You might cater to it via simple steps like avoiding negative news stories and not watching depressing films. Or more involved ones such as seeing a therapist and totally changing your lifestyle. Or you might go in that other more tempting direction and take up alcohol and drugs (those substances hit different after the moment. They transform into an all too attractive tonic to forget and to cope).

But either way, special compensation has to be made. Because otherwise the now evidently miserable world will engulf you entirely.



Highly anticipated experiences are often underwhelming

Morgan Housel°:

Going to the moon is the coolest thing humans have ever done.

You’d think it would be an overwhelming experience. But as the spacecraft hovered over the moon, Michael Collins turned to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and said:

It’s amazing how quickly you adapt. It doesn’t seem weird at all to me to look out there and see the moon going by, you know?

Three months later, after Al Bean walked on the moon during Apollo 12, he turned to astronaut Pete Conrad and said “It’s kind of like the song: Is that all there is?” Conrad was relieved, because he secretly felt the same, describing his moonwalk as spectacular but not momentous.

Most mental upside comes from the thrill of anticipation – actual experiences tend to fall flat, and your mind quickly moves on to anticipating the next event. That’s how dopamine works.

Expectations also shift and goalposts move faster than you can imagine. Collins once said of Aldrin: “He resents not being first on the moon more than he appreciates being second.”

[…] Jim Carrey once said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

[…] You think you know how it’ll feel. Then you experience it firsthand and you realize, Ah, OK. It’s more complicated than you thought.



'My first web3 webpage'

Interesting blog post by Dries Buytaert°.

And after reading it I had a serious poke around web3 for the first time. It’s not for me – right now anyway. Everything is so difficult, manual, complicated and expensive to set up (to an almost hilarious extent). If I was 15 again I’d probably have the energy to explore further, despite the annoyance (in fact the annoyance would be half the fun). But I’m too old to be an early adopter of this sort of stuff now. I just don’t have the energy.

But I do like the Wild West nature of the blockchain right now. That’s what new tech should be about, while everyone tries to work out what it can become and do. And let’s be honest, web 2.0 is too clean, siloed and boring these days. We need something new to revitalise the internet.

So I can’t wait to revisit web3 in a few years once things become a little easier and see what’s become of it. I’m sure my slowness means I’m going to miss out on the elliot.eth domain and some other early adopter benefits, but I’m okay with that. I’m just looking forward to what exciting and cool things will be accomplished. See you again in a few years web3.



February 26th, 2022

I don’t have an opinion on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Nor any knowledge on them. However, it’s so plainly obvious to me that there’s a media witch-hunt against them. I mean, I rarely read newspapers. And when I do I do my best to avoid the sections and headlines about things like celebrity culture and royal news. But even I’ve noticed the blatant witch-hunt. It’s glaring and not subtle in any way. I don’t know why they media have a bee in their bonnet about the couple. But they are openly bullying them. And it’s disgusting.


I haven’t put any photos of myself onto the web for years now. This is done quite purposefully. Because there are companies out there like Clearview AI who scoop up hundreds of millions of images featuring peoples faces and analyse them and do creepy things. The web has gotten so bad that just putting a photo of yourself onto your Twitter feed will guarantee your privacy is invaded. I mean, by uploading a photo you’re of course implicitly losing some privacy in the the respect that any person with an internet connection would potentially see it. But a person. Not a machine. I’m okay with people seeing my photo and judging it. But I’m not okay with machines seeing my photo and judging it. I’m uncomfortable enough with the fact that Apple analyses my photo library for faces and objects. But the last thing I need is some company who offer facial recognition tools to the police to be doing the same thing.



A Trip to Windsor Castle

I visited Windsor Castle° yesterday. It was surprisingly good.

Firstly, I shocked by the weapons and armour on display. I was expecting lots of stately rooms and paintings, but the sheer amount of guns and swords took me by surprise (a very welcome surprise though).

Secondly I liked how it was a ‘working’ castle. It didn’t feel like a museum. There was administrative staff knocking about, and The Queen actually spends time here – it’s one of her actual homes. And it was nice wondering around a room knowing that in a few days time the Queen could actually be sitting on that chair drinking a cup of tea. It gave me a closeness to her that I haven’t experienced before.

And because the Queen spends time there it’s important that it doesn’t feel like a museum to her. So there was a real lack of protective casing and descriptive placards, which I loved. Again, it made it feel like an actual living castle, rather that a tribute.

And it was just overall very beautiful. The splendour of it all was expected, but still surprising in the flesh. Everything was intricate and stunning.

Tickets cost £25 per person and I would say that that’s a fair value. I would go again.

More pictures below…



Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

I’m drinking coffee in bed. The rain is pouring down outside, as Storm Eunice° gives out its death rattle. And I’m watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

I have an interesting relationship with it. When I saw it in the cinema for the first time I’d heard it was fantastic, so went in with very high hopes, and found it pretty awful. Just dull and mostly confusing.

But then a year or so later when I rewatched it at home, I found it rather fantastic. Totally engaging and well put together. A thoughtful masterpiece.

But then the next time I rewatched it I found it a bit slow and ponderous again, so gave up watching it about half way through after getting distracted by something else.

And well right now I’m rewatching it again. And it’s flip-flopped back to being that masterpiece again. God it’s good.

And whatever you think of the it you have to appreciate it as a film, because they don’t often make them like this anymore.

It demands a decent amount from the audience – and doesn’t offer up details on a platter. And it’s just so very assured of itself. With every part of it confidently put together. It’s very ‘adult’.

Also, side note, I feel like you can get a good gauge of how well-made a film is by the quality of its photoshopping of photos of characters when they were meant to be younger (or ideally no photoshop at all and an actual recreation instead). And Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does it well:

5/5



Friday, February 18th, 2022

‘The Dubai debt trap’ – The Economist°. On Dubai’s terrible judicial and prison system (long read, but worth it).


‘Book Review: Sadly, Porn’ – Astral Codex Ten°. I’m always glad for in-depth reviews of books that sound interesting, but too odd and/or dense for me to actually bother to read. Here, Scott Alexander sums up what sounds like a curious, sprawling mess of a book.


14:55: This morning has been one of those good ones. The caffeine in my coffee hit just right and I’ve actually had some focus. Not enough to write. Of course. Never enough focus to write. My ADHD – or whatever I have – won’t allow that. But enough focus to actually sit at my desk solidly and read lots of articles, and mostly without the temptation to open up new tabs and wander elsewhere on the web ‘for a break’.

Outside, Storm Eunice is raging – yesterday we had Storm Dudley, a hilarious name for a storm. And there’s also builders in the house right now. When there’s workfolk inside I always turn the heating off to give them a more comfortable work environment. Partly for selfish reasons of course. If they’re comfortable they’ll do better work I believe, and not cut corners.

But the downside of the lack of heating and the also fact that my desk is posted right next to a leaky window – which is currently letting in 8% of Storm Eunice – is that I’m a tad cold. But I daren’t relocate. The moment I get up I’ll lose my focus and won’t be able to get it back. I’m even putting off going to the toilet. Though that’s only partly to keep said focus, as it’s mostly partly to avoid coming across said said workfolk. Reading continues. Though I should probably eat soon. Lunch is likely mackerel and rice with some peas.

Damn mackerel is good. One of the few fish that I find eating isn’t an active challenge. Like all fish though I never know quite what to pair it with, carb wise. I hate new potatoes. Rice is not my favourite thing. Pasta is okay I suppose. Tuna and pasta with a drizzle of olive oil on top is a beautifully simple and tasty dish and a staple of my summer diet. Though I vaguely remember having mackerel with pasta and find it merely okay. Anyway, today I’m pairing it with egg fried rice (packet, of course, cooking rice scares me) and peas.

I’ve been trying extra hard these past few weeks to improve my diet, in the hope that it would help my M.E. And for some reason – maybe because they’re frozen – in my head peas aren’t as healthy as things like broccoli. But looking at the nutrition label the other day I realised I was wrong. Peas have an insane amount of protein and fibre in them (not sure about the vitamins). They’re also always on hand thanks to well, being frozen. And they’re also really easy to eat lots and lots of. And they also pair nicely with all sorts. I have them with chicken and chips, roast dinners and today, mackerel and rice. They’re a very versatile thing. I prefer the petis pois variety myself.


15:10: Is it lucky or unlucky to be a slow metaboliser of caffeine? Okay, actually there’s an easy answer: unlucky. The fast folk get an instant hit and a higher high. They also can then have another cup a few hours later for a similar result and all without it effecting their sleep too much.

The slow folk get a more stable, longer high, though it’s less euphoric. And they can also only really have one cup a day to avoid sleep issues. And it also has to be upon waking and even then it can effect their sleep negatively.

Honestly though, it’s worth figuring out if you’re a slow metaboliser of caffeine. And you don’t need to do a DNA test to work it out. It should be pretty obvious (though it might be complicated if you’ve been a imbiber of caffeine everyday for years). It won’t give an immediate and strong high, but a more gradual and lengthy one. And you’ll also struggle to get to sleep most nights.

I seriously believe that slow metabolisers having caffeine is an extremely underrated health crises that causes a lot of problems to millions of people.

They have a two cups of coffee a day, so can’t sleep and only get 6 hours of (REM disturbed) rest. When they wake up they’re tired. So they have coffee. Rinse and repeat. After a week or so of this they’re a wreck. But people continue this for years.

I regularly take breaks from caffeine to avoid this issue. I treat caffeine like the drug it is. And I consume it with its side effects in mind. If you happen to be a slow metaboliser you should do the same. Treat it like alcohol. Just as booze messes up your sleep, so does caffeine. And it’s not something you should be drinking every day.


‘The Healing Power of JavaScript’ – Craig Mod, Wired°.



'Evolutionary anthropologist Herman Pontzer busts myths about how humans burn calories—and why'

According to the evolutionary anthropologist Herman Pontzer the amount of calories a human burns each day is very similar, with low activity Europeans and Americans burning just as many calories per day as African hunter-gatherers who walk 14 km a day.

How is that possible? Science.org°:

Pontzer thinks hunter-gatherers’ bodies adjust for more activity by spending fewer calories on other unseen tasks, such as inflammation and stress responses. “Instead of increasing the calories burned per day, the Hadza’s physical activity was changing the way they spend their calories,” he says.

Also, humans burn a hell of a lot of calories compared to apes:

Subsequent doubly labeled water studies of apes in captivity and in sanctuaries shattered the consensus view that mammals all have similar metabolic rates when adjusted for body mass. Among great apes, humans are the outlier. When adjusted for body mass, we burn 20% more energy per day than chimps and bonobos, 40% more than gorillas, and 60% more than orangutans, Pontzer and colleagues reported in Nature in 2016.

Why? Mostly, it’s our big brains:

But humans have an added energy expense: our big brains, which account for 20% of our energy use per day.

He also confirms something that’s very important to know if you’re currently trying to lose weight. And that’s that exercise doesn’t really help you lose weight:

Pontzer’s findings have a discouraging implication for people wanting to lose weight. “You can’t exercise your way out of obesity,” says evolutionary physiologist John Speakman of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “It’s one of those zombie ideas that refuses to die.” Already the research is influencing dietary guidelines for nutrition and weight loss. The U.K. National Food Strategy, for example, notes that “you can’t outrun a bad diet.”

Fascinating stuff. Read the whole article°.



The Chronicles of the Rings

(.mp4 copy of trailer)

Well the trailer for the new Amazon Lord of the Rings TV show is out. And it doesn’t look promising.

It suffers from the same visual flatness that so many modern superhero and fantasty productions suffer from. There’s just no texture at all to the image. It’s just not a good look. Superhero can often get away with it. But fantasty, not so much. And the lighting always makes the costumes look cheap.

I think this reddit user° sums it up nicely:

…looks like a bad Chronicles of Narnia movie.

And let’s talk about the costumes, hair and makeup in the trailer. They do not look great. Once again, too clean. Nothing looks lived in. All the hair looks like it’s a wig. Costumes are stiff, dry cleaned and lacking character.

Overall, I’m not too hopeful for the show. But you never know. I thought the Witcher looked like garbage based on its trailer and production photos but that turned out… okayish.

Here’s the only three good shots from the trailer:





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