Sunday, 17 May 2020

What I've Been Reading, April 2020


Above the Fold

  • Bypass paywalls on popular online publications for free, by 7 Labs.
    There is a lot of important information out there that is behind paywalls, many requiring expensive subscription to overcome.
  • Economic growth is an unnecessary evil, Jacinda Ardern is right to deprioritise it, by Jack Peat, The London Economic
    I can't help wondering how far Ms. Ardern can go in this direction before running afoul of some very powerful people.
  • Sam Harris Has a Problem, by Johnathan Rash, Medium —ARC
    "This is what it looks like when a public intellectual doesn’t know what he’s talking about."
  • Universal Basic Income Is Silicon Valley’s Latest Scam, by Douglas Rushkoff, Medium —Basic Income
    "As appealing as it may sound, UBI is nothing more than a way for corporations to increase their power over us, all under the pretense of putting us on the payroll. It’s the candy that a creep offers a kid to get into the car or the raise a sleazy employer gives a staff member who they’ve sexually harassed. It’s hush money."
    "Whether its proponents are cynical or simply naive, UBI is not the patch we need. A weekly handout doesn’t promote economic equality — much less empowerment. The only meaningful change we can make to the economic operating system is to distribute ownership, control, and governance of the real world to the people who live in it."
  • Overpopulation, by Jason Godesky, Medium
    "This is the true response to eco-fascists: not that overpopulation isn’t real, but that they have utterly failed to understand the problem, and they’ve leapt to the most cruel and awful conclusions purely out of their shocking lack of imagination. Overpopulation is the crisis of civilization itself: of agriculture and the hierarchies and elites it allows for, of the connected systems of exploitation that it is made of. Fascism seeks to create even more of those things, the very things that created the problem in the first place. While the food race goes on, mass murder is just another step along the track. Overpopulation is a problem, perhaps even the problem — and fascism makes it worse."
    But read the whole article, the author has a lot of things right, maybe a few wrong, but on the balance it's pretty good stuff.
  • The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months , by Rutger Bregman, The Guardian
    "When a group of schoolboys were marooned on an island in 1965, it turned out very differently from William Golding’s bestseller, writes Rutger Bregman"
    I am not surprised. The idea that humans are selfish has been spread to justify the selfish behaviour of the elites, and simply isn't based on reality.
  • Just Because It’s Natural Doesn’t Mean It’s Moral: A Conversation With Alan Levinovitz, by Alex Ronan, The Nation
  • The Best Solution to Capitalism in One Word: Subsistence, by Wyatt Edward Gates, Medium


  • A Love Letter to My Curmudgeonly Big Brother, by Steve Friedman, Outdoors
    "A Pessimist and an Optimist Hike 28 Miles in the Woods Together"
  • The Evolution of Grand Parents, by Rachel Caspari, Scientific American
    "Elders play critical roles in human societies around the globe, conveying wisdom and providing social and economic support for the families of their children and larger kin groups.... Research my colleagues and I have been conducting indicates that grandparent-aged individuals became common relatively recently in human prehistory and that this change came at about the same time as cultural shifts toward distinctly modern behaviors—including a dependence on sophisticated symbol-based communication of the kind that underpins art and language. These findings suggest that living to an older age had profound effects on the population sizes, social interactions and genetics of early modern human groups and may explain why they were more successful than archaic humans, such as the Neandertals."
    "...have shown in their studies of several modern-day hunter-gatherer groups, grandparents routinely contribute economic and social resources to their descendants, increasing both the number of offspring their children can have and the survivorship of their grandchildren. Grandparents also reinforce complex social connections..."
    Note: for the purposes of this article, "modern" starts about 30,000 years ago.
  • Grandparents 'give humans evolutionary edge', The Telegraph
    "After examining a large body of evidence from traditional human societies the evidence suggested that the presence of some grandparents can substantially increase the chances of a child surviving during the high risk period of infancy and childhood."


The New Fascism, and Antifa

I hear a lot of well educated people saying that the people some of us are calling fascists don't meet all the criteria for being "real" fascists. Others have even accused us of calling anyone we disagree with a fascist. I predict that a few decades from now those same people will be saying they wish they hadn't been quite so fussy with their definitions, and had acted sooner to oppose these "new fascists", even if they weren't identical to the fascists of the twentieth century.

Resource Depletion, formerly (and still including) Peak Oil

The change in title stems from the fact that it's not just oil that is peaking.

Economic Contraction and Growing Inequality


Hazard and Risk


  • The Secret World of Radishes, by Karen Bertelsen, Lee Valley Tools
    I tried this articles recommendation of planting radishes one inch deep, fully expecting to have them not come up. A week and a half later and they are up and doing well.

Recipes and Cooking

Genetic Engineering

Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that this section was paid for by Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its product. Millions of dollars are spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.

  • Panic-free GMOs, A Grist Special Series by Nathanael Johnson
    "It’s easy to get information about genetically modified food. There are the dubious anti-GM horror stories that recirculate through social networks. On the other side, there’s the dismissive sighing, eye-rolling, and hand patting of pro-GM partisans. But if you just want a level-headed assessment of the evidence in plain English, that’s in pretty short supply. Fortunately, you’ve found the trove."
    A series of articles that does a pretty good job of presenting the facts about GMOs. I plan to include one article from this series here each month.
  • Genetically engineered food: Allergic to regulations? , by Nathanael Johnson, Grist

Practical Skills

  • How To Make Your Own Sugar, by Stephanie Dayle, The Home Front
    This is a pretty crunchy article, as shown by the author's concern about GMO seeds.
    I have actually tried this, and I would say that there is no need to cut the beets so fine, but I would put the cooked mush in a bag and press it to get more of the liquid out. If you boil it too long, it goes from a thick syrup to a burnt mess very quickly. 40 to 45 degrees above boiling sounds way to high to me.
    The article is full of what I have often called "mother Earth News enthusiasm". Actually you will find the syrup is quite bitter and has pretty rustic flavour. It could hardly be called sugar at all, but if you had no other sweetener, you'd still be glad for it. The syrup can be treated to get rid of the compounds causing the bitter flavour, but that would probably be going beyond "kitchen chemistry".


  • Chomsky, Wolfe and me, by Daniel Everett, Aeon
    "I took on Noam Chomsky’s ideas about language and unleashed a decade of debate and ridicule. But is my argument wrong?"

Debunking Resources

These are of such importance that I've decide to leave them here on an ongoing basis.

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

Intelligence and Consciousness

Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI, Health Care, Affordable Housing


These are great times for political satire.




  • Behind the Urals, by John Scott
    "An American worker in Russia's City of Steel"
  • The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, by Benjamin Friedman
    Finally finished this. Written by a conventional economist who doesn't even seem to know what causes economic growth, or what its consequences really are, it is pretty tough going. Important to know how the other side thinks, though, I guess.