Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Books Read - Q1 2021

  • The Age of Wood (4/5) "[N]ew technologies do not replace old ones, but inspire new ways to use them. In the case of copper and bronze, the major impact of the new materials was to enable people in the Old World to exploit their main structural material, wood, more effectively..." "Broad-leaved trees have more efficient water-conducting vessels than conifers and can grow faster as seedlings, so they outcompete conifers and dominate the vegetation in areas with the best climates and soils. [...] Broad-leaved forests also tend to improve the soil; the leaf litter that they drop builds up its fertility. In contrast, conifers are naturally restricted to areas with poor growing conditions, places where frost and drought kill broad-leaved trees - the cold northern reaches of the globe, high mountains, and semidesert - and areas with poor, thin soils; and their needles acidify the soil and lock up what nutrients are present. They also have a much more limited form of branching than broad-leaved trees, so their trunks are much straighter, knot free, and uniform." As a result of this: "whenever farmers colonized new regions, the first places that they settled in were those that had previously been covered in broad-leaved forest; it was simply the best, most productive land. They did not cut the trees down for firewood or timber, but to clear the land so that they had space to plant their own crops." Meanwhile, "farmers avoided conifer forests because they were an excellent indication that the land was too poor to farm:" Scandinavian forests, Alps, Canada, Pacific Northwestern U.S. "European settlers to North America were given specific advice when they were settling a new area to clear only the broad-leaved forest and leave the conifers standing." "The consequence of this pattern of settlement was that the wealthiest, most stable, and longest-lived states grew up in areas formerly dominated by broad-leaved forest. The great civilizations of Ancient Greece, Rome, and China were all based in such areas. It was the states on former grassland and desert regions, states that were fed by irrigated land, such as the Mesopotamian civilizations of the Middle East, the Anasazi sites of New Mexico, and the many civilizations around the Andes, that tended to collapse. Not only were they more vulnerable to droughts, but the irrigation water brought in salts that were left as the water evaporated and built up in the soil, causing salination and dramatic long-term falls in crop yields. For this region agriculture on the Great Plains of America, is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term..."" Also interesting - cycles of deforestation and reforestation (from changes in human activity, whether by population growth and technology or population dieoffs) cause immense changes to the amount of C02 in the atmosphere.
  • Tales from the Ant World (3/5) E.O. Wilson is the myrmecologist who said, “The foreign policy aim of ants can be summed up as follows: restless aggression, territorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighboring colonies whenever possible. If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week.” He is 90 years old and still writing. Highlights: "The general principle of evolution emerging from the military strategy of ant colonies if the following: The more defensible the nest site and the more valuable the resources it contains, the more powerful the defense and the greater the fierceness with which it is applied." Funny estimate - there are a million times more individual ants than humans, but they each weigh about one-millionth what a human does, so the total biomass is the same. A rule that has inspired his life as a research biologist: "For every problem in biology there exists a species ideal for its solution, and conversely, for every species there exists a problem its study is ideal to solve." Ants communicate exclusively with pheromones, and this has limitations: "Ants and other invertibrate animals are too small, and their brains too meager, to inch past the limits of communication which they posess. Even so, social insects in general, and ants in particular, have, somewhere among the thousands of living species, accomplished almost every other innovation with chemical communication that we are able to imagine."
  • The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness (2/5) This is a blog post that was turned into a book, so you can read the tl;dr version instead. Author Morgan Housel is a partner with a VC fund that appears to be Big Soy - they invested in two different fake meat companies.
  • JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (3/5) Thesis: Kennedy was "locked in a struggle with his national security state," and the CIA "devised and executed a brilliant setup. They has played out a scenario to Kennedy's death in Dallas that pressured other government authorities to choose among three major options: a war of vengeance against Cuba and the Soviet Union based on the CIA's false Mexico City documentation of a Communist assassination plot; a domestic political war based on the same documents seen truly, but a war the CIA would fight with every covert weapon at its command; or a complete cover-up of any conspiracy evidence and a silent coup d'etat that would reverse Kennedy's efforts to end the Cold War. Lyndon Johnson [...] chose to cover up everything and surrender..." Highlights: "In the fall of 1963, as John Kennedy and Fidel Castro sought secretly a way of rapprochement, the CIA took its own secret steps in an opposite direction, toward setting up Lee Harvey Oswald as an identifiable Soviet-and-Cuban-directed assassin of the president." "Once the CIA realized its Mexico City scenario was being questioned and could implicate not the Communists but the CIA itself in the assassination, the Mexico City station back-pedaled to cover up the false evidence. It began to say that its audiotapes of the 'Oswald' phone calls to the Soviet embassy had been routinely destroyed, and therefore no voice comparisons were possible to determine if the speaker really was Oswald. (This bogus CIA claim was being made at the same time that Hoover and the FBI were listening to their own copies of the tapes, then making voice comparisons, and reporting their provocative conclusions to President Lyndon Johnson.)" Oswald had worked for the CIA and when he came back from a double-agent assignment to the USSR he was disgruntled. "His investigation by assassinations specialist Angleton was the beginning of his end. Oswald thereby became the ideal scapegoat... From the standpoint of [the CIA], Dallas eliminated two Cold War security risks... Drawing CIA dissenter Oswald into the plot in such a way that he thought he was blowing a whistle on the CIA to the FBI would, from Angleton's standpoint, have made for poetic counterintelligence irony." The CIA's framing of Oswald was so inept that it reveals Oswald was being set up: "Just as there was once again a problem of too many Oswalds - with one working his regular ours in the Book Depository, while the other was hitchhiking with Yates - so, too, was there a problem of too many curtain rod deliveries to account for one rifle being smuggled into the building. The trail of duplicating curtain rod stories led not to a lone assassin but to an intelligence operation tripping over itself while working overtime to scapegoat Oswald." "There were too many Oswalds in view, with too many smuggled rifles, retelling a familiar story to too many witnesses. At least one curtain rods story, and the disposable witness who heard it, had to go. The obvious person to be jettisoned was the hapless Ralph Yates. The stubborn insistence on what he knew he had seen and heard, from the man he had given a ride, had to be squelched."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A few years ago i was obsessed with self improvement, no fap, studying, reading... i was just better and above the average person (not being condescending it was true)

but honestly, i felt lonely and miserable a lot.. and thought what's the point?

Then i met my gf (who was a total degenerate) and she was just so happy and positive and uncaring it made me stop caring so much about "self improvement" and care more about just being happy/positive and just living life.

As a wise man once said - self improvement is masturbation.