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The Paleo Manifesto” by John Durant, published in 2013. Rating: 5/5.

Most books on the paleo diet follow a set pattern: An inspirational story about how the author wrecked his health with junk food or vegetarianism before the caveman came riding on a white horse to the rescue; an explanation of why, contrary to the popular expression, almost anything is better than sliced white bread; a long and exhaustive guide to the do’s and don’ts of paleo with plenty of scientific explanations; and finally, a list of recipes and suggestions for further reading.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still get a solid idea of how to eat, move, and live by paleo principles from John Durant’s THE PALEO MANIFESTO. But at its core, this is no diet book.

It is a bold attempt to situate the paleo lifestyle within the “Big History” of human biosocial evolution, which is divided into four distinct “ages”: Paleolithic, agricultural, industrial, and information. Each of these ages was characterized by diets that created new problems, problems that were in turn partially mitigated by solutions specific to the very age that spawned them. This is a narrative that evokes a whiff of historical materialism, though John Durant is far more of a neo-reactionary than a Marxist.

Well aware of its pervasive violence and cultural backwardness, Durant does not unduly glamorize paleolithic life. (Nor does virtually anyone in the movement, strawmen set up by paleo’s detractors regardless). But one can’t escape the physical evidence that hunter-gatherers were far taller, stronger, and healthier than the early agriculturalists hunched over their hoes. An anthropologist shows off a male specimen who was 5″10 (175 cm) tall and weighed 150 pounds (68 kg), despite having a musculature that would put the vast majority of modern humans to shame. Average heights decreased by 5 inches after the transition to agriculture, and tooth and bone health deteriorated drastically.

The Bible tells the story: Man took up farming and began eating bread, and then cities appeared, famine and disease stalked the land, and childbirth became painful and dangerous. But childbirth also became more frequent, and the vast (if low-quality) caloric surpluses from grains enabled farmer populations – armed with metal weapons and commanded by literate elites – to gradually displace the world of Enkidu. That world might never have been paradise on Earth, but it “probably seemed like the Garden of Eden” compared to the lives of early farmers.

Agricultural civilization, over time, evolved sociobiological antidotes to the new ills it had spawned – first and foremost, disease. Wine and hot tea appeared as substitutes for (filthy) water. Spices, which have antimicrobial properties, became a universal staple of southern cuisines. Fermented foods and beverages negated some of the poisons inherent to the new diet. Early fertility cults and promiscuous attitudes gave way to patriarchal structures that enforced heterosexual monogamy – a natural adaptation to the appearance of STD’s.

In a stunning insight, and highlight of the book for me, Durant argues that Mosaic Law can be interpreted as one of the most comprehensive – if unintentional – disease prevention guides in history. Cleanliness was associated with godliness; taboos appeared against cannibalism, and eating (potentially spoiled) meat after the third day; leprosy sufferers were to be shunned. Only virgin women could be captured, while all the others had to be killed (the past is a foreign country). The entire “kashrut” system of “clean” and “unclean” animals rested on a valid scientific basis. Vermin, shellfish, and most insects were disease vectors; pigs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, bird of prey and carrion, and cats – which were worshipped in Egypt! – gobbled the former up. In contrast, no plants are forbidden – even though many of them are poisonous – and nor do primarily plant-eating insects such as locusts, whose consumption would provide a double benefit in terms of both protein and fewer crops destroyed. All these strictures were backed up by severe punishment for transgressors, on both the early and godly plane; disease control was a matter of “life and death for the entire community,” and could only be effectively carried out with the cooperation of the entire community.

Industrialization brought a whole new set of nutrition problems. Sailors died like fleas from scurvy on long voyages; obesity started appearing in Britain in the 19th century as sugar became a staple; rickets increased in frequency as people stayed indoors for longer on what was an infamously sunless island in the first place. Instead of religious commandments, this time it was science and technology that constituted the solution. Limes and lemons were packed on ships in addition to the traditional salt pork and gin; in 1863, a formerly obese Englishman called William Banting published the world’s first diet book, based on restricting sweet and starchy foods (see a pattern?); in 1933, the US government started fortifying milk with Vitamin D to combat rickets, and a few decades later celebrities and sunbeds made sun-tans cool again. “Again, we learned how not do die.”

We are now entering the age of biohackers: The Pareto Principle followers, the fox thinkers, Qualified Selfers, the n=1 experimenters who are seeking novel and individualistic ways of improving their health without waiting for formal science – which advanced “one funeral at a time,” as Max Planck so eloquently put it – to catch up. They try to take a big view of the progress and pitfalls across the ages, and adjust their diets and lifestyle to get the best of all worlds: The paleo diet intrinsic to humans for 99% of their existence as a species; the cultural traditions against disease and recent-adaptations like lactose tolerance of the Agricultural Age; the soaring successes and arrogant foibles of the Industrial Age; and the wealth of individually-tailored data and analytical tools now available on the information highways. For the first time ever, optimal health is within our grasp.

The second and third sections deal with the details of the paleo lifestyle, and as such is much closer to the content of most books on the subject. It’s all pretty much standard: Avoid grains and legumes, eat meat (from tail to tail), vegetables, fruit, nuts, and insects (both the familiar oceanic and unfamiliar land versions). Don’t fear saturated fat; the French Paradox is no paradox. Mimic a hunter-gatherer or herder diet. Follow ancient culinary traditions (experiment with broths, fermented and raw foods, organ meats, etc.) and practices (e.g. fasting). Move naturally – humans are evolved to stand, walk, squat, lie down, and occasionally sprint; they are not evolved to sit or do moderate jogging (check out CrossFit and MovNat). Running was traditionally done barefoot, which enables a more natural and less stressful action; consider that or getting a Vibrams. Do cold plunges and saunas. Don’t fear the Sun – the risks of getting skin cancer from it are negligible compared to the warding effects it gives from depression, other cancers, and a multitude of other ailments.

Nonetheless, we still find some clever insights – as well as controversies. For instance, I liked how he destroys the Whole Foods-shoppers’ worship of organic and whole foods over processed. He points out that “organic sugar is still sugar,” and that the absurdity has even spread to “organic tobacco,” while processed foods can be both very healthy (e.g. cooking, fermentation) or very unhealthy (e.g. Coca-Cola, Mars bars).

He does a good job of defending the ecological role played by responsible hunters – though I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say lion burgers are a good or valid way of advancing an animal preservation cause – and of rebutting vegetarian arguments. These range from the rational-seeming but factually wrong (e.g. the assertion that hunter-gatherers got most of their calories from plants, or references to T. Colin Campbell’s deeply flawed interpretation of the China Study), to politicized absurdities such as Carol Adam’s assertion in THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF MEAT that meat-eating is a mechanism to enforce “patriarchy” (in reality, hunter-gatherer tribes were far less hierarchic and male-dominant than complex, grain-based civilizations). Still, while it might be true that vegetarians are crazier than average, there was no need – no need whatsoever – to go off on that bizarre tangent about Hitler’s vegetarianism. What the hell, dude? If you’re trying to present yourself as a voice of reason against the filthy grain-eating peasants, calling on the curse of Godwin probably isn’t the smartest way to go about it.

But a few quibbles cannot detract from what is, all things said, a monumental contribution to the nutritional canon. THE PALEO MANIFESTO is eminently readable, greased along by Durant’s endearingly morbid sense of humor (he advises against cannibalism on account of modern people having a “much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids due to their grain-based diets”). There is a consistently fluid command of the relevant medical, nutritional, and anthropological literature, as might be expected of the organizer of the world’s largest paleo Meetup group. Above all, he succeeds at contextualizing the paleo lifestyle within the big story of humanity’s biosocial evolution, and his conclusions – earlier jeremiads against the Standard American Diet and vegetarianism regardless – end up acknowledging the critical importance of integrating lessons from all four of the major nutritional epochs.

Though paleo is the most “natural” way to eat, it eminently cannot feed a global population of seven billion. The agricultural system – that is, local and organic – plays a vital role in maintaining plant genetic diversity, but it probably cannot feed the world either, short of most of us returning to a hardscrabble existence in the fields. The industrial system is the caloric workhorse that feeds the world, but it suffers from “serious health, ethical, and environmental drawbacks.” According to Durant, the most realistic, sustainable, and humane way forward is to keep the industrial system, but mitigate its worst effects by drawing on the best of what the paleolithic and agricultural systems have to offer. Meanwhile, the information system that industrialism enables can continue to push forwards our understanding of optimal health and nutrition through the vision and self-experimentation of the 21st century’s biohackers.

And really, who can argue with that?

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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I have managed to find 3 polls querying people on their attitudes towards radical life extension. By far the most comprehensive one is PEW’s August 2013 Living to 120 and Beyond project. The other two are a poll of CARP members, a Canadian pro-elderly advocacy group, and by Russia’s Levada Center. While PEW and Levada polled a representative sample of their respective populations, the average age of the CARP respondents was about 70 years.

On the surface, public opinion is not supportive of life extension. 38% of Americans want to live decades longer, to at least 120, while 56% are opposed; 51% think that radical life extension will be a bad thing for society. Only 19% of CARP responents would like to take advantage of these treatments, and 55% think they are bad for society. Though a somewhat higher percentage of Russians, at 32%, want to live either “several times longer” or “be immortal” – as opposed to 64% who only want to live a natural lifespan – their question is phrased more positively, noting that “youth and health” would be preserved under such a scenario.

For now, these figures are a curiosity. But should radical life extension cease being largely speculative and move into the realm of practical plausibility – Aubrey de Grey predicts it will happen as soon as middle-aged mice are rejuvenated so as to extent their lifespans by a few factors – public opinion will start playing a vital role. It would be exceedingly frustrating – literally lethal, even – should the first promising waves of life extension break upon the rocks of politicians pandering to the peanut gallery. This is a real danger in a democracy.

Still, there are three or four strong arguments for optimism in those same polls:

First, while people may not want to live much longer themselves, their pro-death sentiment isn’t as strong towards relatives; 44% of Russians want their family members to live factors longer, versus only 32% for themselves. Americans and Canadians both assume that while they might not want radical life extension for themselves, the majority of their countrymen would. And there is widespread support for research. 63% of Americans agree that “medical advances that prolong life are generally good”; there is no identifiable line that separates those advances from radical life extension itself. 45% of Russians would support a social movement advocating for radical life extension, whereas only 33% wouldn’t.

Second, the younger demographics appear to be more supportive of radical life extension. While 48% of American 18-29 year olds think treatments to extend life by decades would be a good thing for society, the sentiment is shared by only 31% of 65+ year olds. Though the gap in personal preferences for radical life extension is much lower – 40% for 18-29 year olds versus 31% for 65+ year olds – this could partially be a reflection of young people in their 20′s thinking that they are virtually immortal anyway. This is of relevance because by the time we can feasibly approach actuarial escape velocity, the vast majority of present day 65+ year olds will likely be already dead. So their fatalism, you can say, is not an irrational sentiment. (Unless they make arrangements for cryopreservation, but this is a digression).

Third, it appears that a significant chunk of the opposition is motivated by mistaken ideas of what radical life extension is about. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the term. It gives some the impression that they’d continue aging indefinitely, slowly becoming a withered, creaking husk of their former selves. Like in those countless tales and fables where an immortality wish is granted, only for its recipient to become a ghost, or a crazy evil old man, or a metal statue. The reality is that radical life extension, in practice, means rejuvenation, or at least “freezing” the patient at one specific age. Ironically, eking out a few more years of substandard life is what the bulk of modern medical research is about. Medical research that the vast majority of people everywhere approve of. Radical life extension research, to the contrary, is mostly about identifying the aging processes, actively repairing the damage, and eventually mitigating them through genomic interventions. This is a very important distinction that was only made in the Russian poll. In contrast, one of the big two worries of elderly Canadians – apart from resource shortages and overcrowding – was that they would outlive their savings of human life was to be radically extended. This entire point is moot because if and when we pass the actuarial event horizon, the human clock will start ticking backwards and there would no longer be any need for pensions.

Finally, Americans who heart a lot or a little about radical life extension were more likely, at 45%, to say they would undergo such treatments than were people who hadn’t heard anything about it, at 32%. However, this point is weaker than the others, because presumably people who have at some point idly wondered if they could live forever would have been more likely to go Googling and stumbled across all that SENS and H+ stuff in the first place.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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RosieTheRoboteerThis conference is organized by brain health and IQ researcher Hank Pellissier, and its aim is to bring all kinds of quirky and visionary folks – “Biohackers, Neuro-Optimists, Extreme Futurists, Philosophers, Immortalist Artists, Steal-the-Singularitarians” – together in one place and have them give speeches and interact with each other and the interested public.

One of the lecturers is going to be Aubrey de Grey, the guy who almost singlehandedly transformed radical life extension into a “respectable” area of research, so it’s shaping up to be a Must-Not-Miss event for NorCal futurists.

Also in attendance will be Zoltan Istvan, bestselling author of The Transhumanist Wager, and Rich Lee, the famous biohacker and grinder. The latter will bring a clutch of fellow grinders and switch-blade surgeons with him to perform various modification procedures on the braver and more visionary among us.

Your humble servant will also be speaking. The preliminary title of my speech is “Cliodynamics: Moving Psychohistory from Science Fiction to Science.” Other conference speakers include RU Sirius, Rachel Haywire, Randal A. Koene, Apneet Jolly, Scott Jackisch, Shannon Friedman, Hank Pellissier, Roen Horn, and Maitreya One.

Time/Location: February 1, 2014 (Saturday) from 9:30am-9:30pm at the Firehouse, Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., in San Francisco.

Buy Tickets:

Tickets are on sale from November 1-30 for $35. Only 100 tickets are available due to limited seating. In December tickets will cost $40 (if they’re still available). In January they’ll cost $45, with $49 the at-the-door price.

To obtain a ticket, PayPal $35 to account # hedonistfuturist@aol.com – include your name. You will quickly receive a receipt that you can print out as your ticket, and your name will be added to the guest list.

Below is a photo gallery of everyone on the lecture list and some further details:

Extras & Freebies:

  • SPECIAL PERKS – FREE PIRACETAM & CREATINE (limited amount) + BULLETPROOF COFFEE [TM] AVAILABLE + UPGRADED CHOCOLATE
  • RICH LEE PROMISES RFID IMPLANTS AVAILABLE for stoic volunteers + he’s bringing his HALLUCINATION MACHINE (“A clutch of Grinders and switch-blade surgeons will be in attendance to perform various modification procedures. Whether it is physical, mental, or emotional, we promise this presentation will leave everyone with some kind of scar!”)
  • HANK PELLISSIER will encourage the mob to select policy for a “NEURO-OPTIMAL UTOPIA” – heated disagreements guaranteed
  • NEW GUEST – FROM HARLEM – MAITREYA ONE will rap his transhumanist Hip Hop songs
  • Brain Healthy “ketogenic” food will be available at the conference – avocados, hardboiled eggs, walnuts, olives, coconut oil, etc. Biohack and QS research will be featured on display tables, alongside transhumanist t-shirts.

Additional Questions: Contact brighterbrainsinstitute AT gmail DOT com (3 volunteers with technical skills are needed, if you can help with sound and visual equipment).

Sponsors: The Bulletproof Executive (aka IT businessman/biohacker Dave Asprey, he of the Bulletproof Coffee mentioned above) is the lead sponsor. Brighter Brains Institute and East Bay Futurists are co-sponsors.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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As you can see the site has had a major redesign, and new blog posts will start appearing as of this Monday.

Here are the major changes:

(1) Back to self-hosted, after a year and a half at WordPress.com. There will be no repeat of the pharma hack that torpedoed the old Sublime Oblivion. My security measures are much better now. And even if fate throws a wrench at my face and someone hacks the site, my new host will fix it for free.

(2) There has been a major reorganization! You can now browse not only by Categories and popular Tags (see sidebar), but also by new custom taxonomies “Themes” (the main navigation menu) and “Qualia” (e.g. Reviews, Featured Posts, Guest Posts, etc).

(3) I have finally completed the arduous but rewarding task of uploading all my book highlights – I read almost everything electronically nowadays – to my Evernote. Ready access to all the best passages from a book allows one to quickly recall its content and arguments, and to quickly pen a detailed review of it.

So expect a lot more reviews.

(4) I will have more posts on futurst and transhumanist topics (relative to HBD) in the next few months, as I’ve somewhat fallen into that crowd. Incidentally, I’ll be speaking at one of their conferences next February (my topic will be cliodynamics). Get your tickets now if you live in the SF Bay Area and wish to guarantee yourself a spot there!

(5) The new managed hosting isn’t cheap, so once you start seeing a steady stream of posts again from me please consider offsetting some of my expenses by donating via Paypal or Bitcoin.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: AKarlin.com Archives, Blogging 
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Is summarized below for each state (source) – and it shows some very interesting patterns.

us-life-expectancy-by-race

The average life expectancy of Asian-Americans (86.5 years) is 4 years higher than in Japan – the longest-lived big East Asian country. Taiwan and South Korea are at around 80; Hong Kong is at 83; Singapore is at 81. The other East Asian countries aren’t developed yet, so there isn’t much point in comparison.

The LE of Latinos is 82.8, which is 6 years more than in Mexico, 4 years more than in the longest-lived Latin American countries and even a year higher than in Spain (one of the longest-lived European countries). This is despite the fact that obesity rates among Hispanics in the US is very high – higher than those of whites.

On average American whites can expect to live to just 78.9 – the same as in Chile or Denmark (the shortest-lived Western European country). A most curious anomaly, given their higher SES and lower obesity rates relative to Hispanics.

Blacks can expect to live around 74.2 years. This is far higher than in any African country, but the comparison is flawed for obvious reasons. It is however pretty close to the life expectancy in predominantly mulatto Caribbean countries like Jamaica (73 years) or the Bahamas (75 years), countries which are more suitable for comparison.

Native Americans average 76.9 years, though they are spread out all across the spectrum – ranging from 80 in California, to 69 in Montana.

Some questions and issues to ponder:

(1) The influence of diet and lifestyle: This is pretty clear-cut in the case of the Native Americans; the groups with life expectancy at around ~70 are no doubt brought down by those of them who live in alcohol-soaked reservations. This is the same life expectancy in Russia and some other former Soviet countries, where binge drinking of spirits is likewise prevalent. But it is genuinely interesting to consider why Latinos, who are more obese than whites, nonetheless manage to live so consistently longer – both relative to white Americans, and even to Spaniards. Likewise for Asians – although Asian-Americans are inevitably more influenced by American food habits than East Asians in their own countries – which are said to have far healthier national cuisines – they nonetheless manage to live significantly longer than them.

(2) The influence of the US healthcare system: It is frequently slammed and denigrated, but how to explain that the two biggest immigrant groups – Latinos and Asians – live a lot longer than in their countries of origin (including the developed ones)? Conversely, why would white America, if it were a separate country, be at near the very bottom of the life expectancy charts compared to Western European countries?

(3) One rejoinder is that immigrants to the US are better-educated, higher-IQ, and/or richer than the average in their countries of origin. As such, they are expected to have a higher life expectancy anyway. But this is patently not the case regarding Hispanics, and only partially true regarding Asians (Chinese Americans include both low-class indentured laborers who migrated in the 19th century, as well as far more commercially successful recent migrants from the Chinese diaspora of South-East Asia; the Japanese-American community is mostly descended from low-class laboring immigrants from the 19th century).

(4) The r/K selection theory plausibly explains the Black – White – Asian life expectancy sequence, especially in the US where they all share more or less the same cultural and healthcare environment. The case of the Latinos, however, remains rather shrouded; one possibility is that Amerindians (which is what many Hispanic immigrants to the US predominantly are) are more K-selected than whites – they did, after all, branch off from the proto-Mongoloids – and thus naturally have higher life expectancies than whites.

(5) Asian-Americans and Latinos are younger than whites. This does not have a direct effect on life expectancy (unlike on crude mortality), but with a greater ratio of young people to elderly – not to mention stronger family values – it does perhaps mean that elderly Asian-Americans and Latinos get more attention and care from their family members, thus reducing stress/depression levels and enabling them to eke out one or two more years than they would have otherwise.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the best possible arguments against vegetarianism in just 1:24 minutes.

They like steak too.

Most herbivores are herbivores because their teeth can’t chew through fur and tough skin, not because they are humanitarians. (In the conventional meaning of the word). But put some little defenseless critter in front of them, and they’d be chomping down on it before you can say “moo!”

As for pigs, their omnivorous appetites are so well known that they have even given birth to a trope for body disposal, both in literature and real life. You don’t even have to be dead for them to start feasting on you – just being incapacitated would do quite nicely.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: AKarlin.com Archives, Food, Nutrition, Zoology 
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This Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Hank Pellissier, who used to work for the IEET, a futurist/transhumanist institute, and is now a blogger-journalist and amateur researcher at the Brighter Brains blog.

2013-09-15 16-59-15 - meeting with Hank Pellissier

As one may glean from the title of that blog, his current area of major interest lies in IQ and how you can bolster (or deflate) it. His most recent book is 225 Ways to Elevate or Injure IQ, the product of four years of research consisting of trawling through and summarizing the existing academic literature on the topic. In the meetup, he expounded upon his work.

Much of it was commonsense, or otherwise of no surprise to people who take an active interest in the topic. Some it was also of doubtful validity, with correlations not always being substantiated by a solid case for causation. But some of it was also new, counter-intuitive, even surprising. Certainly all this material is well worth publicizing and pushing into the public debate because quite apart from the intrinsic individual benefits of higher IQ’s it also leads to more efficient economies, higher technological growth, lower crime rates, etc.

Here is a list of most of these 225 IQ factors from Pellisier’s website. Below is a rough classification and brief discussion of some of the most important and interesting points from his research.

Commonsense/Well-known Factors

The big ones are:

Nutrient deficiencies: The important ones are iodine, iron, and zinc. Causes can include poor/unvaried diets and infectious diseases, such as malaria and intestinal worms. Has a ~15-20 IQ point impact on national IQ.

Cousin marriages have a huge observable (negative) impact on IQ. I suspect Pellissier and hbdchick would have a lot to talk about. Causes a ~10 IQ drop… which is really significant when half the population is practicing it, as in much of the Muslim world.

Not mentioned, but significant nonetheless: Racial/ethnic average IQ ceilings. Probably not worth talking at length about, since there isn’t much to do for it and only serves to turn more “respectable” people off from the very concept of IQ and the goal of optimizing it for everyone to the maximum extent possible.

Other commonsense things Pellissier mentions: Good prenatal environement; breastfeeding, preferably on demand, not a set schedule (~4 points); environment free of toxic metals and poisons (lead, cadmium, pesticides, etc); social connections and support; environments with cognitive stimulation (music, chess, computer strategy games – not shooters, learning new languages esp. Mandarin); exercise; sleep well.

Avoid bad things: Concussions, on the basis of which Pellissier is a proponent of banning American football – one study claims 14 point IQ loss after 20 weeks. Binge drinking alcohol; marijuana; smoking and smoke exposure; khat. But magic mushrooms are an exception and are apparently good for repairing brain damage from severe trauma or PTSD! Avoid obesity. Some studies claim fluoride in drinking water is bad for IQ – others disagree.

Questionable Factors

Spanking/corporal punishment; exposure to violence as a child – although its likely and commonsensical that severe child abuse would reduce IQ, I suspect its more likely that the kids who are spanked and/or disciplined more will have lower IQ’s in the first place (more likely to misbehave) and lower IQ parents – aka less capacity for reasoned argument, and readier to resort to impulsive, physical measures – and since IQ is hereditary and all… Anyway, suffice to say, spanking was near universal in Europe before the 20th century, and that certainly didn’t stop it from producing many geniuses.

Diet – junk food, skipping breakfast, sugar, etc., all claimed to reduce IQ – or do lower IQ children (aka with lower IQ parents) have these poorer dietary habits in the first place? I’m sure it goes both ways

National wealth – An obvious one… but I don’t think it matters much at all really (except insofar as national wealth can enable some basic level of nutritional and educational provision… but you don’t need a whole lot of it to buy children books and feed them. Studies in Italy and the US seem to show that the level of educational spending has next to no effect on performance in standardized tests (rough proxy for IQ).

Cold Weather – Great example of necessity of being really careful about rushing to conclusions in these matters. Is it the cold that makes IQ – or is it having ancestors that evolved in colder climes? Kinda doubt you’d up your intelligence much by moving to Kolyma.

Researchers at California School of Professional Psychology claim that “persons in colder climates tend to have higher IQs.” The theory correlates with data from the 50 United States.

Acupuncture – One small study in China indicated a ~15 IQ point gain in half the patients after “six months of acupuncture and other treatments” (so ~7 points overall?). Seems a bit too high. While I can readily testify that acupuncture really does promote relaxation and alleviate stress, I’m skeptical regarding such wilder claims.

Parental Socio-Economic Status, mother’s educational level, etc. – A myriad of studies claiming this. There are, of course, strong correlations with child IQ. But significant independent causation is quite roundly debunked in Charles Murray’s and Richard Hernnstein’s The Bell Curve.

Just correlations, not causations, and explicitly identified as such – Religion (atheists cleverer); political beliefs (liberals cleverer); monogamous males (are cleverer; aka beta males, hehe); vegetarianism (vegan hipsters cleverer than average).

Interesting Factors

Small families – On first impression, I imagined this might be a correlation, not a causational issue. After all stupid/less educated women have more children in the first place, and IQ is ~75% hereditary. But… “After adjusting for mother’s IQ, the children IQ gap is still 10 points with one vs. five or more children” (Maximizing Intelligence by David J. Armor). The theory is that IQ will be depressed when parents have to spread their attentions over many children, as opposed to just one or two.

Girls mature faster – Total cerebral volume peaks at age 10.5 in girls and 14.5 in boys; language and motors skills also mature earlier. This – my note – is a possible explanation for why girls now outperform boys in schools, but continue to underperform them later in life. They just reach their peak earlier and quicker.

Meditation – Some studies claim a very substantial gain in IQ (~8 points) while also, of course, producing other positive effects like less stress.

Wheat! – As we are fans of the paleo diet lifestyle, this I found particularly interesting. This might go some way to explaining the East Asian Exception (aka poor East Asian countries tend to have far higher IQ’s than equally poor countries from, say, the Mediterranean, where diets are grain-based):

A 2011 study of 290 Japanese schoolchildren revealed that those who ate wheat everyday had IQs that were, on average, 4.0 points lower than non-wheat eaters (i.e., rice eaters). Why? Nutritionists believe a neurotoxin in the “staff of life” – wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) – is to blame. WGA passes through the blood-brain barrier and attaches itself to the myelin sheath, the protective coating on the neurons; it’s presence there injures the growth, health, and survival of brain cells.

WGA is highest in whole wheat, especially sprouted whole wheat, and it also lurks in barley and rye. Nutritionists note that all grains contain “natural food toxins” to protect themselves from being eaten by mammals, with the average person eating about 1.5 grams daily of plant poisons. The safest grain is white rice; it’s toxic substances are largely annihilated by cooking. Japanese children who ate white rice and avoided wheat had “significantly larger grey matter volumes in several regions, including left superior temporal gyrus” and their perceptual organizational index (POI) was markedly higher.

Cholesterol-lowering statins – Are apparently a big IQ depressant, as “25% of the body’s cholesterol is in the brain, where it insulates neurons in “myelin sheaths” to create strong neural connections, an essential step in concretizing memory and learning.” Do your best not to get to the stage where you have to take statins.

Playing brain games – E.g. this one: http://www.soakyourhead.com/dual-n-back.aspx

Supplements that increase IQ

The most interesting ones:

Piracetam/aniracetam – Nootropics. Combine with choline. I can personally vouch that they do most definitely and powerfully work. However, there hasn’t been much research on side effects, so I didn’t continue using them for long.

Cocunut oil – One of the best and most accessible natural brain supplelements out there. Claimed to be able to reverse Alzheimer’s.

Deprenyl – Prescription drug, anti-aging, improves sex drive. Can be imported from Mexico.

Modafinil – Prescription only. Fights ADHD, but French military gives it to their pilots for alertness.

Gingko biloba – Most studies say no effect; one study says very beneficial effects in older people. I tried it for a few weeks and saw no effect.

Huperzine-A – Another naturally derived nootropic; as with gingko biloba, more orientated towards preservation (not improvement) and older people.

Curcumin – As in turmeric spice. Said to combat Alzheimer’s.

Tea – In general, and esp. St. John’s Wort for older people.

Creatine – Enhances short-term memory. Verbal fluency increase seen only in vegetarians (not surprising as creatine is found in meat).

Omera-3 (DHA), Alpha Lipoic Acid – It’s basically good for everything.

Caffeine – Very accessible.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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What striking about Syria is how so many people insist on speaking about it in profoundly moralistic, Manichaean terms. This is complete nonsense, given that its civil war isn’t a showdown between democracy and dictatorship, but an ethnic and religious conflict. Here’s a more realistic guide:

The Assad regime

The rhetoric: He kills his own people! He is the Evil Overlord (TM)!

The reality: That’s kind of what happens in a civil war. Abraham Lincoln also “killed his own people,” you know. It is obvious why the “regime” fights on: That is what regimes do – as a general rule of thumb, they’re fond of surviving. The rather more interesting and telling question is: Why do key elements of the population continue to back them?

As far as the Alawites and Christians are concerned, it’s pretty clear: The Sunnis have never been particularly well disposed to them, and the past few years haven’t made them any fonder. The last time the Sunnis revolted in Hama in 1982, one of the slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood was “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the graveyard.”

In the game of Homs, you win or you die – and the “you” is in its plural form. No wonder Assad has a solid support base.

The rebels

The rhetoric: Democratic freedom fighters! or, Lung-eating demons!

The reality: They encompass the entire spectrum of “morality” (to the extent such a concept is even applicable). It is reasonable to posit that at the beginning, a substantial part of the opposition fighters were basically normal Sunnis who were disenchanted with the regime – or rather, with dearth (all the Arab revolts coincided with a peak in global grain prices) married with lingering resentment over the pro-Shi’ite favoritism that is said to predominate within Syrian state structures. This is not to say there were no genuine “idealists” and “democracy supporters” – democracy as in democracy, not particularistic ethnocracy – but we have to be realistic about their true influences. Considering that opinion polls in Arab countries indicate the vast majority of their denizens want the death penalty for adultery and apostasy, claiming that they ever constituted the majority is nothing short of willful blindness.

Furthermore, it seems that on balance, the pendulum is swinging away from the Big Mac eaters to the lung-eaters within the Free Syrian Army. For a start, many rebels have started defecting back, repulsed by the more hardcore Islamists’ brutality, demoralized by the revival of the Syrian Arab Army, and enticed by the regime’s offer of amnesty. The rebellion has also become more dominated by foreign elements as the original instigators were killed off and Saudi intelligence – with its links to global armed Islamist movements – began to take a more direct hand. “War makes monsters of us all,” as some might say.

Israel

The commonsense refrain: Why would the Israelis have any interest in Assad being replaced by jihadists?

The reality: They’re not.

What they are interested in, however, is crippling Syria’s military capabilities, and – best of all – its chemical warfare capacity. That means whichever side eventually takes over – potentially after many years of internecine warfare – won’t be able to pose even a minimal threat to Israel that a CW-eqipped Syrian Arab Army once posed. A weakened Syria will also mean that Israel will be able to strike at Hezbollah depots and supply routes with that much more ease and impunity.

Egging on the US to carry out airstrikes against Assad fully fits into that position. And, as Craig Murray recently pointed out, it is most curious that it was the Israelis who detected the “incriminating” phone calls that ostensibly pointed at Syrian state complicity in the recent gas attacks, while the Brits – possessing the most advanced EW facility in the Middle East – failed to pick up on it.

The Saudis/Qatar

The rhetoric: Admittedly, even well-tuned propaganda organs have difficulty coming up with a plausible reason for why highly repressive Arab monarchies would be interested in Syrian democracy.

The reality: This is all part of the Sunni vs. Shi’ite struggle – and their broader geopolitical standoff with Iran. Bahrain in particular brutally put down a Shi’ite uprising back in 2011, with Saudi military help and the cynical non-chalance of the US – which happens to base its 5th Fleet there. Syria is a close friend of Iran.

Russia

The rhetoric: Just the Mutual Support Group of Dictators in action. Plus broken-down Russia needs all the $$$ from weapons sales to Damascus.

The reality: Which is why Assad visited Paris more often than Moscow, and used to take dinners with John Kerry before he began calling him a “two-bit dictator” and comparing him with “Hitler.” And Russia’s yearly trade with Syria amounts to just about $2 billion. This is peanuts compared to its total trade of almost one trillion dollars.

The only reasonable explanation left is that given by Putin himself:

We aren’t defending the government. We are defending something completely different. We are defending the contemporary order of the world. We are defending the modern international order. We are defending the discussion of the possible use of force exclusively within the confines of international order and international rules and international law. That’s what we are defending. These values are absolute. When issues related to the use of force are solved outside the UN and the UN Security Council, the danger arises that such illegitimate decisions could be made against anyone under any pretext…..

Needless to say Putin doesn’t say this because he is a nice and fluffy rule of law type, but because the US is strong and Russia is weak. And since the default state of the world is for strong do what they can and the weak to suffer what they must, appeals to the proprieties of international law – a sphere in which Russia has a veto via the UN Security Council – are eminently logical.

The West (aka US, UK, France)

The rhetoric: Do I have to echo Dave’s and Barry’s talking points?

The reality: As a certain friend on Facebook put it, here is the crux of Obama’s dilemma: “He doesn’t want to repeat Iraq, but it ideologically committed to liberal internvetionism – the Democratic Party’s version of neoconservatism.”

That, or he really believes his own shit. On second thought, the two positions aren’t really mutually exclusive.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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A few months late, but worth posting anyway.

racial-tolerance-map-hk-fix (from Washington Post)

The results are based on the latest “wave” of the World Values Survey, a very interesting project that tracks sociological data across countries – and which I will likely post more about in the future.

Interesting observations:

(1) The West in general is the world’s least “racist”* region – regardless of what some ideologues wish to argue. Regarding the US in particular, even many European countries – widely considered to be more “liberal” – would balk at the affirmative action policies in place there.

(2) France is a curious exception, though not perhaps altogether surprising in light of the popularity of the National Front. A far right party enjoying the support of about a third of the population is, indeed, pretty unique for a developed country. Is it something specific about the French? Or have they just had more opportunities to get fed up with multi-culturalism in general?

(3) Rates of consanguineous marriage (and associated clannishness) all correlate closely with rates of “racism.” Compare the map above with the map below of the rate of consanguineous marriage – considering the inherent vagueness of the questions asked in the WVS, the fact that the territories of the former Caliphate, India, and Indonesia are clearly delineated is nothing short of remarkable.

consanguineous-marriage-islam

(4) Pakistan is a big – and surprising? – exception to the above pattern. What’s the deal with that?

(5) That Japan and East-Central Europe (bar Russia) are as non-”racist” as they appear probably isn’t so much an indicator of widespread tolerance there as the simple absence of significant troublesome racial minorities there.

(6) Russia and China seem about right to me.

* Why the apostrophes? Because how, exactly, is this a valid indication of racism? These polls are just people exercising their natural right of freedom of association, if only in oral form. But it’s still a convenient shorthand.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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caveman-computerFirst you couldn’t have more than 10% fat in your diet, then carbohydrates became the source of all evil*. Slow-Carb waged war on the various Schools of Paleo. But the Food Pyramid continues to loom over them all like some kind of Eldritch abomination.

Weight machines were once all the rage, but then free weights became king. Then Tsatsouline brought kettlebell back into fashion, while others urged us on to condition ourselves with our own bodyweight, like convicts.

Eggs, coffee, and long-distance running caused perennial headaches to gurus all round.

So how does the layman observing this cacophonic monkeyhouse deal with all the noise? Simplify. Simplify the shit out out of all this crap and reduce it all to the following basic question:

Would you have been doing this 10,000 years ago?

Diet fads and exercise methodologies come and go, but the human body remains constant – at least on the timescales that matter. Apply the Caveman Test – and you are unlikely to go very far wrong.

Should you count calories? Erm, lolzwut? No caveman would know what a calorie even is. Forget all those Weight Watchers programs that would have you obsessing over that extra 5 calories you ingested at lunch.

How often should you eat? Did hunter-gatherers eat 6 carefully portioned meals a day – or did they alternate between bouts of fasting and feasting in-between their hunts? There you go – intermittent fasting. Feel free to give breakfast the finger if you’ve never liked it anyway.

Did you eat grains? No, they ate root tubers. When humans started eating grains, life expectancy plummeted relative to the levels of the Paleolithic Age. But here’s the thing: Humans have adapted. Partially adapted. Some human groups have adapted more than others. East Asians have been cultivating and eating rice for more than 10,000 years, and it remains a major staple of their diet to this day; but they nonetheless boast some of the world’s lowest morbidity and obesity profiles**. It is not an unreasonable hypothesis that their physiologies have evolved to better process grains. Reinforcing it is the observation that some of the world’s worst obesity crises are among peoples that have only very recently adopted grain heavy modern diets – the Ameri-Indians, the Samoans, etc. If you are East Asian, you shouldn’t worry much about eating rice. You were doing it 10,000 years ago, after all. If you’re Europea, approach with caution – rice only arrived in Iberia only a millennium ago. And if you’re Ameri-Indian, flee for the hills. Other forms of grain however appear to be pretty much universally bad.

lactose-toleranceDid you drink milk? Again, no. But because its a useful trait to have, lactose tolerance independently developed among several human groups – and then spread outwards. But if you don’t come from those red and orangey areas, chances are high you are lactose intolerant. So don’t bother with it. Forget about GOMAD.

Did you eat fruit? Of course – whatever Tim Ferriss might believe. But here’s the thing: The fruits we have now are, quite literally, the fruits of labor – that is, of a long period of selection for size and sweetness. Take the strawberry. People like pretending that eating bowls of the stuff is healthy (I won’t even go into stuff like orange juice). Here is a picture of wild strawberries – that is, the genuine ones – that might change your mind on this (and don’t forget they would have all been foraged, and only available for part of the year).

strawberry-sizes-leslie-land-blog

What kind of things would you have eaten that you don’t eat much of now? Root tubers. Organs. Bone marrow.

How would you have exercised? Certainly not by lifting symmetric weights in “sets” according to a certain schedule. Anything but that.

How about:

  • Ripped rock climbers.

    Ripped rock climbers.

    Bodyweight exercises: Pressups, pullups, squats, bridges.

  • Gymnastics.
  • Rock climbing/bouldering. Seriously – have you ever seen a fat rock climber? It’s pretty much perfect as far as developing the optimal physique is concerned. Most of the muscles (except the pushup ones) are worked out from all angles and directions; there is the strongest of incentives to drop weight, which acts even at the subconscious level; and reaching the top is inherently motivational. There are now many gyms with bouldering walls.
  • Sprinting
  • Wrestling
  • Lugging about uneven weights

What else would you have been doing differently? According to Cracked, a leading scientific authority, pretty much everything: Shitting, bathing, breathing, sleeping, childbirth, dental hygiene, sitting. (Well, okay, Cracked’s articles can be quite dubious in many cases – but that one hits the mark.).

Well, you get the idea. Don’t obsess too much over one guru or another. Use your own brain – apply the Caveman Test.

Would you have been doing this 10,000 years ago?

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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I have already written on the joys of cleaning house and how less is more when it comes to possessions.

But possessions aren’t limited to the physical realm. Your digital files – documents, emails, music libraries, photos, etc. – share many features with property, especially as regards the need to keep them well organized and consistently backed up. Then there is the world of tasks and commitments. Left unchecked, they will proliferate, and come to weigh down you down as surely as a surfeit of trinkets. But most people devote nary a thought to this very important element of life, let alone approach it in an organized and systemic way.

Going paperless and streamlining everyday life certainly appeals to people. Banks, shops, and utilities companies offer electronic statements and receipts. Tim Ferriss preaches it in bestselling books. The tech giants offer clouds, companies peddle software and productivity apps, and entrepreneurial gurus hawk “systems.” But faced with this avalanche of information, many people don’t know how to bring it all together, and their work and life habits remain as ossified and unproductive as before.

I do not say I have the best or most comprehensive solution. I do, however, say that I have a pretty damn good solution, or else I wouldn’t have bothered writing about it. Even better, it is immediately actionable, and 100% free (barring your computer and cell phone). I promise you that if you implement even parts of it, you will not only see immediate increases in productivity but a newfound feeling of psychological wellbeing as automated routines begin to care of the myriad minutiae that are not immediately actionable (“Buy eggs”; “Do problem set 4″; “Write blog post on productivity”) that we nonetheless have no choice but to store up and let loose to wreck havoc in the recesses of our minds.

The end goal is to become a cybernetic paperless ninja. He is unburdened by surfeit possessions, but has exceptional access. He never looks at his calendar, but never misses a meeting or appointment. He doesn’t spend (waste) a single moment of his life reminding himself of minutiae, and instead uses his brainpower to learn and to focus on the big life goals. To paraphrase David Allen, his mind is like water.

The Power of Evernote

Download Evernote.

This is the central element of our system. Some of you might view is as just another note-taking program. We will transform it into nothing more or less than our second brain.

The one that keeps track of trivial but essential crap so that you don’t have to.

Evernote is a free program (though a paid upgrade is well worth it for power users). You can create notes there, as text files, or as images, videos, or other attachments. Crucially, these notes aren’t only stored in “Notebooks” (the equivalent of Folders) but can be linked together via “Tags.” This allows us to convert it into an exceedingly powerful task manager and organizational system. The information is stored in a cloud, which can be accessed and manipulated via a Desktop application (works offline), a web browser, and your cell phone.

evernote-screenshot

Most of the following draws from the The Secret Weapon, an organizational system developed by the Brain Toniq d rinks company. (I highly recommend you check it out yourself, especially for the explanations and philosophy behind the system, but that isn’t absolutely necessary to benefit from it).

Tasks

You create notes about tasks: “Do the laundry,” “Install such and such a program,” etc. If a task is exceedingly long and/or complicated, make it a project instead (e.g. “Overview: Moving House”), with check boxes/hyperlinks designating its associated subtasks. Now organize these tasks and projects in the following manner:

Create the following Notebooks:

Cabinet – This will contain your life notes, your documents, various clippings from the web and elsewhere, and – if you wish – a diary.

Actions Pending – This will contain your tasks, both immediate and long-range.

Completed – Upon completion, tasks in Actions Pending are transferred to this notebook. You can think of it as a tasks archive.

Now set up the following Tags.

.What – A list of broad categories (e.g. Business; Learning; Self-Improvement), specific projects (e.g., for me – AKarlin.com), or some combination thereof. In short, the activities and themes that characterize your life.

.When – Within it, create the following sub-tags: 1-Now, 2-Next, 3-Soon, 4-Later, 5-Someday, 6-Waiting, and !Daily. This allows you to organize your tasks by their priority level, so you will always know what to do next. Though you can and are encouraged to experiment around with this to see what works best, in general those tags mean the following: 1-Now refers to tasks that you want to do right now; 2-Next refers to tasks you will do immediately after the 1-Now tasks are done; 3-Later is within the next day or two or three; 4-Later is within a week or two; and 5-Someday is sometime within the next few months. The 6-Waiting tag is for things that you can’t act on at the moment, e.g. you want to get back to someone, but you can’t do it before they reply to your email.

The !Daily is for things you want to do or check daily, e.g. floss your teeth (if it isn’t a daily habit and you want to make it one). I also insert “Overview” tags onto major projects I’m working on into this tag, because it gets checked daily and I can keep close track of my progress on them.

You can also add !Weekly and !Monthly tags (I prefer to insert them as subtags within !Daily so that they don’t appear on the front page) where you can track more long-range projects, e.g. Fitness – Do 100 press-ups in one session. No point in checking it daily or even weekly, but it’s worth getting back to this goal every month or so.

.Where – Where the tasks takes place, say @home, @online, @work, @university, @London, etc. Add these as subtags. No hard and fast rules here – whatever works best for you. If you are visiting a city for a limited amount of time, and you need to do a bunch of tasks there (e.g. get document from land registry; visit such and such a friend; etc), this is well worth exploiting.

.Who – If the task involves somebody else, add them in as subtags: # John Smith, # Amanda Waters, etc. This also augments your social intelligence, as once your database gets bigger, you can click on your contacts and quickly see the interactions you’ve had with them, even if you hadn’t been in contact with them for years. When meeting you, they will feel like it hasn’t been a day since they last saw you.

.Wherewithal – This is my own contribution to The Secret Weapon. The gist of it is that much as we might wish otherwise, we only have a certain, limited stock of energy; we can’t automatically work at tasks night and day. So the idea is to give each task a rating based on the time it demands and its complexity. Insert the subtags &0, &1, &2, and &3. As a rough guide: &0 is simple and takes a few minutes; &1 takes half an hour; &2 takes an hour or two; and &3 can require a half-day to a day of focused effort (there is no need to have &4 or higher, because at that point the tasks become Projects that are best split up into subtasks).

The Cabinet

Create the following tags: .Brain, .Diary, and .Docs.

In .Brain, organize as you see best. Personally, I have the following subtags: “life”, “scribbles”, and “world.” The “life” tag has subtags on the elements of life that I’m interested in living and in developing – fitness, game, productivity, skiing, travel, etc. with notes and clippings on said subjects. The “world” tag has subtags on things that interest me but don’t directly relate to life and/or self-improvement, e.g. “history,” “languages,” “politics,” “China,” and so on. The “scribbles” tag has subtags like “books,” “movies,” “reviews,” “excerpts” (most of these are printouts of the highlights I make on my Kindle files), “notes” (notes on books, movies, etc.), “cheatsheets” (these are hand-crafted, very information dense notes on particular topics that are worth reading when you take up some activity again after a long break), “quotes,” etc.

The .Diary tag contains any notes you make about things you did today. Can be tied in to the subtags under .Brain, e.g. if I skiied today, I will tag it as “.Diary” and “skiing.”

The .Docs tag contains documents: Printouts, scans, photos, etc. I subdivide it into the following subtags: $archives (docs that are now obsolete), $cards (business cards or contact details – and are co-tagged with .Who), $core (the most important documents), $projects (docs related to specific projects, with sub-subtags for each project), and $what? (empty tag containing sub-subtags relating to the “sphere” of each document – e.g. $education, $finance, $medical, etc).

So what are you waiting for? Start scanning your documents, receipts, etc. and uploading them. You don’t need 95% of them. The only ones that really need a physical copy are stuff like passports, driving licenses, birth certificates, etc. It is possible to encrypt individual notes and this is of course highly recommended in the cases of particularly sensitive documents.

Congratulations! You are now paperless, and you no longer have Word documents with to do lists and disjointed notes on various subjects floating around on your hard drive and your email. It’s all in the Evernote cloud.

CLEAN EMAIL

Most people’s inboxes are a right mess, inundated with unreplied-to emails, subscriptions they are no longer interested in receiving, promotions, and to do tasks send to themselves for lack of anywhere better to put them in.

It’s time to clean out this bitch.

Go to a point approximately a month ago, and start mass archiving everything. Archiving removes emails from your sight, but doesn’t delete anything, so it will all still be searchable. After your finish that lengthy task… download the Evernote Web Clipper.

The Web Clipper allows you to clip text from, or an entire page, from your web browser and send it to Evernote, while simultaneously assigning it to a Notebook and tagging it. Alternatively, you can send the email to your Evernote directly, using “@” to designate the target Notebook and “#” the target tag.

From now on, perform the following test on emails:

  • Can I reply to this now/within 2 minutes? Then do it now.
  • If not, then “clip” the email and send it to your Evernote as a Task, entitling it “Reply to [Contact] (on [subject])”; putting it into the “Actions Pending” notebook; and tagging it as appropriate with the .When, .What, .Wherewithal subtags / forwarding it to Evernote directly with the above titles and tags.

Then archive it, regardless of whether you reply to it now, or leave it for later. (There is an option in GMail to automatically archive email threads that you reply to).

The end result is a thing of beauty:

zero-inbox

Second, download Boomerang for Gmail (if you use Gmail… there may be equivalents for other email applications). Boomerang allows you to (1) set up an email such that it is sent at a certain time and date in the future and (2) set up automated alerts if the recipients of your emails don’t get back to you within a certain time period – say, one week – in which you case you could send them a firm but polite nudge.

This isn’t strictly necessary for implementing Paperless Ninja, but it does largely eliminate the need for the “6-Waiting” time tag in the original The Secret Weapon system.

The Calendar is for Events, not Tasks

The calendar. It’s good to check it frequently, but many of us don’t – and end up missing out on events. Time to make this but a bad memory.

Create two calendars in Google Calendar. (This assumes you are using Google Calendar, which I recommend given its integration with Gmail).

MyCalendar – Contains “do or die” events. Well, maybe not “die,” but going to them isn’t just an option without consequences… if you don’t go to a meeting, you might get fired; if you don’t go to lecture, you might get a failing grade. You’d better go.

MyOptions – Contains events that you can go to or not depending on whether you feel like it e.g. a distant friend’s B-Day party, your Chinese language Meetup groups horse-riding excursion, a local wine tasting, that kind of thing.

Then set up the following system of notifications.

For MyCalendar, go to “Reminders and Notifications,” and click on “Daily Agenda” under the email column. This will send you an email at 5am in your time with a list of the things you are scheduled to do today. If said schedule is busy, I recommend clipping said email and tagging it 1-Now for easy consultation as the day goes on.

Second, for specific events that you haven’t yet decided whether you’ll go to or not… or which need some kind of action (e.g. an RSVP in advance, or signing up to a class), set up email reminders.

calendar-notifications

Time the email so that it arrives at about the time that the event becomes actionable on. For instance, if you wish to sign up to a class, and the window for that is 4-2 weeks before it begins, then set up an email reminder for 4 weeks beforehand.

When you get the email, use the Web Clipper on it and add on the appropriate time tags and other tags.

Clean Desktop

Here is my desktop.

clean-desktop

Much nicer to look at than some disorganized space overflowing with random folders, disjointed Word documents, program shortcuts, and to do lists – wouldn’t you agree?

There is a good place where to keep the things you’re working on at the present moment and it’s not on your desktop, which just distracts and depresses you. It’s the My Documents or Documents folder. Here is mine:

my-documents

Very minimalistic. The first four entries are concrete, currently active projects (respectively, they are my two blogs; the book I’m writing; and the media translation website that I’m developing). The Workspace is for everything else that isn’t big enough or high priority enough to warrant its own folder. The rest are just a few files that aren’t really convenient (for a few reasons) to keep on Evernote.

All the old stuff/completed projects should be archived away so as not to constitute a distraction. I prefer to file it away in my Evernote Cabinet notebook. Likewise with plans for future projects. I also store them all in my Evernote Cabinet. I can easily access them if I wish to either (1) review, (2) take up again, or (3) start working on them, but they don’t occupy “active space.”

The setup is also highly efficient and allows very quick and efficient backup. My current Documents folder is a mere 326MB. (Once upon a time, it was ~20GB).

Enter the Cloud

Everybody is talking about cloud storage, but few are utilizing it to its maximum productivity and storage potential.

Keeping your data in a cloud has several advantages:

  • Security: Somebody can steal your password and delete all your documents from the Google Drive. Or an EMP could wipe it all out. But you can also lose your laptop, or get it stolen – and if you haven’t backed up your data recently, you’re in some trouble – and only going back to pen and paper will save your data from nuclear winter (though then you might then have to burn your notebooks as fuel so the point is moot anyway).
  • Backups: Automatic and constant if there is an Internet connection.
  • Access: Not limited to your PC… you can have access to your data from any device with an Internet connection. No need to bother with tedious transfers when getting a new PC… just install your cloud programs, and let them do it for you.

Disadvantages:

  • Storage limits: Different services give you different amounts of storage space for free – we’re not really interested in paying for it, though you can – but it will surely be smaller than what you’ll get on your hard drive. This, incidentally, is another good reason for limiting the size of your Documents folder.
  • Secret state surveillance: That said, it is exceedingly unlikely they will be specifically interested if you’re a nobody like 99.9999% of people. If you are very concerned about this, there are several sites with strong encryption that claim not to have backdoors… though if you have a genuine reason to avoid state surveillance, e.g. if you are a Wikileaks member or a Deep Web baron, you’re better off eschewing it altogether.

Here is a rough schema to get you orientated:

Private Friends Public
Articles Evernote Email Blog; social networks
Documents Evernote Cloud (GD; DB) different
Music Cloud; Streaming Torrents
Photos Cloud Flickr Flickr
Videos Streaming YouTube YouTube; torrents

Articles is an all-encompassing term for things you write that are useful in some way. If they are for your own reference, keep them on Evernote; if you want to share them with family and friends, then… well, email, duh; if it’s for public consumption, then use a blog (WordPress, of course) or Facebook, Twitter, etc. (Yes, you heard that right. Anybody who is still using Facebook for things they would rather not let the rest of the world know about are… a bit naive).

Documents are things specific to your life and various projects. For personal files, there’s again Evernote. For sharing with friends, the best cloud is probably Dropbox. For public sharing, there are upload/download sites; your own hosting (if you have it); or public folders in Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.

On music and videos… to be honest, I’m not a fan of lugging about huge amounts of tunes and movies in this day and age. Cloud companies probably won’t care about if you store this material – even pirated material – on their servers, as long as you don’t share it, because (1) it’s hard to tell whether something is pirated anyway, or legitimately ripped; and (2) shafting your customers on behalf of Hollywood/RIAA/MPAA isn’t good publicity if nothing else. If one the other hand you wish to actively share your music and movies, well, I won’t tell you no of course – but I’m not expert here, so don’t ask me for advice. Use that torrents thing, I guess?

Personally, I think the future of both music and movies is streaming. It is so much easier to pay a paltry $5 or $10 per month to get access to far, far more music and movies – across multiple devices – than you could ever get in a private collection. For music, you have Google Play, which not only allows you to stream but also gives you 20GB (!) of space for your own music collection (though I have found that they have 90% of what I have anyway). For videos, you have Netflix, of course, and you also have Amazon Instant Video (which comes free with Amazon Prime, which is well worth getting if you live in the US and buy most of your things online).

Photos you had best keep on an ordinary cloud for personal use. I have made Yandex Disk – which offers a generous 10GB of free space – as my photo cloud storage choice. What is its really big advantage? You can connect you cell phone to it, so any pictures you take are automatically, immediately uploaded to there. This guarantees easy, guaranteed retrieval of any images you snap on your cell phone (e.g. that cop beating up a protester now walking up to you to confiscate your phone). For sharing with friends and the public, the best choice at the moment is probably Flickr. It offers a phenomenal 1TB (sic) of free storage, but not in a way that allows easy retrieval. So it’s not that good a choice for storage, but there’s probably nothing better for presenting your photos and albums to your friends and showcasing it to the public.

Once you’ve made your options and downloaded the cloud services you wish to use, you will want to setup a system that enables quick, automated (or semi-automated) backups.

One alternative is to just insert your Documents, My Music, My Pictures, etc. folders directly into the relevant folder on your cloud. But I see no good reason to do this… it’s not like you’re starved of HD space nowadays.

synctoy-example

Another option, which I use, is to keep all that on your hard drive, but install SyncToy, a simple program that automatically copies things between two different folders. (You can have it be “synchronized” – things are copied both left and right, which can be dangerous if for some reason one side deletes everything; “echo” – things are copied left to right, aka in this context from your normal documents folders to the equivalent folders on the cloud; and “contributions” – things are copied left to right, with no deletions). Above you can see my current setup.

Never Forget a Password

When it comes to passwords, they always recommend you to think up of a unique, hard one for each application and keep them all in a secure place.

But honestly, do you know anyone who does that consistently?

Last Pass comes to the rescue (h/t Matt Forney). This extremely nifty application:

  • Securely stores all the passwords you care to store through one master password (which really should be unique and very hard).
  • Intelligently autofills (and auto-logins, if you wish) your username and password as soon as you get to the appropriate webpage.
  • Integrates with all the major web browsers.
  • Passwords can be organized within folders, and each entry can have additional notes (e.g. some logins are more complicated than just a username/password combo).
  • Auto-fills forms.
  • For a paltry $1 a month, the mobile version is unlocked.

Lighter than Air

One of the major problems of modern life is the sheer amount of things we have to keep on top of.

Tasks big and small, urgent and longterm; documents, notes, information, and passwords that have to be kept up to date, well organized, accessible, and secure; events we have to go to or would like to go. Everything under the sun, and everywhere under the sun – notebooks, diaries, the desktop, emails to oneself…

And all this weighs down on our souls.

Now weight is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness? – Milan Kundera, in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

In other words, weight can give meaning. But what kind of meaning can said notes and tasks impart? They will just make you into an office slave.

Become a paperless ninja so you could spend your time getting weighed down by men (if you’re a chick… or a gay man, I suppose), and even loftier things like life goals and self-discovery, instead of having to be preoccupied with trivial bs.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Repost of Alexander Mercouris’ comments at Mark Chapman’s blog and The Russia Debate forum. The original compilation is posted at Mercouris’ blog.

PS. Originally, this space hosted just one of Mercouris’ comments. Now that he has taken the trouble to gather up his output, the least I could do is update it and try to ensure it gets maximum publicity.

Syria – An Illegal Attack Intended to Prevent a UN Investigation

No one should be under any illusions that the attack on Syria which will take place shortly is illegal and is intended to prevent an impartial investigation by the UN inspectors of what actually happened near Damascus. In the light of the forthcoming attack on Syria and in view of the forthcoming meeting of the Security Council later today (Wednesday 28th August 2013) and of the parliamentary debate in Britain tomorrow (Thursday 29th August 2013) I have decided to post a number of comments I have made on various threads discussing this crisis on the Russia Debate and on Kremlin Stooge that explain this and which set out my views. I have also published a comment by Anatoly Karlin to which I have responded.

Friday 24th August 2013

The reality is that (NB: contrary at that time to claims by the US government and western media reports – AM) Russia has asked the Syrian government to allow an inspection of the area where the attack was committed and the Syrian government according to the Russian Foreign Ministry and from the tone of the reports carried by Syrian government’s news agency Sana seems to have agreed to this (1, 2).

A point that western media demands for the Syrian government to “allow” the UN inspectors into the area of the gas attack wilfully ignore is that the area where the attack seems to have taken place is rebel controlled. It is therefore the rebels not the government who control access to it. The onus should therefore be on them and not just the government to allow the UN inspectors in.

I do not know who carried out these attacks but as many have pointed out if it was the Syrian government then the timing – a year apparently to the day after Obama’s “red lines” speech and just after the UN inspectors arrived in Damascus – would in that case be incredibly stupid to the point of being bizarre. As has also been correctly pointed out, an attack of this sort now when the government seems to be winning on the battlefield also appears to make little sense. By contrast one can see why the rebels at a time when they are coming under pressure might want to stage an incident of this sort that they can blame on the government. I would add that they might also feel a need to shift the spotlight back on them and away from what has been happening in Egypt.

What many people don’t of course know is that if one follows the accounts of the Syrian conflict provided by Sana then one would know that the Syrian government has been alleging incidents of use of chemical weapons by the rebels practically every week for the last few months. Obviously I have no idea how true these claims are. However I do find it depressing that the government’s claims of use of chemical weapons by the rebels get no attention whilst rebel claims (such as this one) get saturation coverage. There is no reason to give greater credence to any side in this war but there is at least some corroboration of rebel use of chemical weapons: not just the famous comments of Carla del Ponte but also an incident when some rebels were discovered in Turkey in possession of a sarin gas canister a few months ago. News of that incident was suppressed even though it was accompanied by stories that a gas attack on a Turkish town that would be blamed on the Syrian government was planned.

It also puzzles me why western commentators like Shashank Joshi (NB: In this article in the Daily Telegraph – AM) seem so unwilling to accept that the Syrian rebels are capable of carrying out false flag operations even when these kill their own people. This is after all a rebel movement amongst whose commanders is a cannibal who still commands his unit and who has come in for barely any criticism from the rebel leadership even after his activities were broadcast in a film shown internationally, which uses suicide bombers and whose members cheerfully behead children if they discover them committing blasphemy. Given how utterly ruthless this movement is why assume they would stop at false flag operations involving sarin gas?

Given that the US and its allies have been “demanding” that Syria allow the UN inspectors into the area of the alleged gas attack (something which as I have said Syria has always said it would do) one might presume that they would welcome the announcement yesterday of an agreement between the Syrian authorities and the UN inspectors for the UN inspectors to inspect the area of the gas attack. Nothing of the sort. Instead the ether last night and this morning is full of statements about how this is “too little and too late” and how a strike can now be made against Syria with UN Security Council authorisation and how such a strike will now happen within the next 2 weeks.

My conclusions? Far from being happy that the UN inspectors are going to visit the area in Syria of the alleged gas attack, the US and its allies are alarmed about it precisely because Syria’s consent to such an inspection most likely means that the Syrian authorities were NOT responsible for the gas attack. The very last thing the US and its allies want in this situation is for the US inspectors to turn round and say that it was the rebels who were responsible for the gas attack. The result is that having called for the UN inspectors to visit the scene the US and its allies are now determined to prevent a proper investigation at all costs (no investigation of a crime scene can be completed within 2 weeks. Any investigators knows that is impossible). That is why plans for an attack are being brought forward and declarations are being made by people like Hague that the agreement of the Security Council is not needed before such an attack takes place.

Does this remind anyone of Iraq and of Hans Blix and the UN inspectors begging to be given more time? Truly history sometimes repeats itself and not always as farce but sometimes as still greater tragedy.

PS: One thing I would say is that Ban Kyi Moon has rushed out a very strong statement this morning calling for the inspection to do its work without delay and without obstruction. The British media spin is that this is a criticism of the Syrian government. To me it reads more like criticism of the US and its allies. Ban Kyi Moon has been a loyal servant of the US up to now. Could this be the moment he has found his dignity?

PPS: It is very striking that one key US ally, Germany, is staying aloof from all the war talk. It is becoming a consistent pattern that Germany under any government is increasingly distancing itself from US policy and is quietly aligning with Russia and China on major international issues.

Sunday 25th August 2013

Amid all the fire and thunder of war preparations the Syrian government and the UN inspectors have now agreed the terms of the UN inspection of the site of the alleged gas attack.

What needs to be made clear is that as I said in the comment I posted on Friday 23rd August 2013 the Syrian authorities agreed to allow the inspectors access to the area several days ago. Demands that the Syrian authorities allow such access, which have been noisy on the ether over the last few days, are therefore completely misplaced. The reason the inspectors have not visited the site is because the area is rebel controlled and it is the rebels who therefore control access to it. I gather that the UN inspectors have themselves been unwilling to enter an area that is under rebel control and the sight of fighting and where they may be unsafe. What the agreement announced today suggests is that they have now been provided with the safeguards they feel they need.

All of this fuss over the UN inspection gives anyone with any memory of the Iraq conflict a dreary sense of deja vu. Then as now the US and its allies were shrill in their demands that the regime “cooperate” with the UN inspectors. Then as now the US and its allies nonetheless forthrightly anticipated what the UN inspectors would say before the UN inspectors had any chance to do their work. Then as one suspects now the failure of the UN inspectors to come up with any “evidence” implicating the regime in WMD activity was construed not as a sign that the regime was not undertaking WMD activity but instead as “proof” that the regime was “not cooperating” with the UN inspectors.

In the case of Iraq when it was all over it turned out that the regime had been cooperating with the UN inspectors after all and that its protestations that it was not engaged in WMD activity were true. One wonders what will now happen in Syria?

Sunday 25th August 2013

The latest news from Syria is that “unidentified snipers” opened fire on the convoy carrying the UN inspectors to the area where the gas attack is supposed to have happened. The convoy had to turn back to the safety of the government’s lines. Apparently a further attempt will be made to reach the area later today.

Though no one is saying so, this was clearly an attempt to prevent the UN inspectors from doing their work. Since it was the government that arranged to send the UN inspectors to the area the snipers were almost certainly rebels. That is exactly as one would expect. The Syrian government’s agreement to cooperate in full with the UN inspectors has caused panic amongst the rebels and their western and Arab backers because they know or guess that a proper, impartial investigation is likely to prove that what happened was indeed a false flag event staged by the rebels themselves. Thus everything is now being done to obstruct the UN inspectors so as to prevent an investigation from taking place whilst ridiculing the investigation (eg. by saying that the UN inspectors will be unable to say who carried out the attack – why not?- or that the crime scene has been “degraded by artillery fire” – really?) before it’s even started. This of course is the same investigation by the UN inspectors that the US and its allies pretended they were calling for.

As I think is fairly obvious, what the Syrian government’s agreement to cooperate with the UN inspectors has done, is actually hasten western preparations to attack Syria, this being ultimately the only way to prevent the UN inspectors from their doing their work.

Monday 27th August 2013

Before we discuss the implications of the attack that is now surely coming, it seems to me that it is important to clarify what is happening.

As I said in my comment on the specific thread about the alleged Syrian gas attack, it is simply untrue that the Syrian government refused the UN inspectors access to the site of the alleged gas attack. The area in question is controlled by the Syrian rebels and it is they and they alone who can grant or deny access to it. What has triggered the war talk of the last two days is (1) the discovery by the Syrian army of physical evidence that appears to link the gas attack to Saudi Arabia and the rebels and (2) the agreement on Saturday between the UN inspectors and the Syrian government for a full inspection and investigation of the relevant area to determine what actually happened.

In other words the purpose of the coming attack is not to punish or deter the Syrian authorities from using chemical weapons. It is to prevent a proper investigation by the UN inspectors that might find out what did actually happen.

That this is so is confirmed by the events of the last few days. When news of the attack first appeared Obama gave an interview to CNN in which he appeared to say that there would have to be an investigation of what happened. The US supported a decision by the UN Security Council that supported the Secretary General’s decision to carry out an investigation of the incident to obtain “clarity” about what happened. Concurrently Lavrov and Kerry both released a joint statement saying that there needed to be an “impartial investigation” to determine what happened. Contrast that with Kerry’s statement of yesterday in which, just as the investigation is about to start, he declares that it is “undisputable” that there was a chemical attack and that the Syrian authorities were behind it. What is the point of the UN and the US calling for an investigation if the US government has already declared in advance what the “truth” is? The UN inspectors might just as well pack their bags and go home.

What has clearly happened is that the US initially called for an investigation because it assumed that the Syrian authorities were responsible for the gas attack. The US accordingly assumed that either the UN investigation would confirm this or that the Syrian authorities to conceal their guilt would prevent the investigation from taking place. When it became clear that the Syrian authorities on the contrary were willing to cooperate with the investigation and when evidence started to come to light that if there was a gas attack it was most likely the rebels who were responsible, the priority abruptly shifted to stopping the investigation at all costs. That is why Kerry has declared the Syrian authorities’ guilt “undisputable”, why the US has cancelled its meeting to discuss Syria with the Russians and why an attack will now take place.

For the rest, let us also be clear that the attack that is now coming is a gross violation of international law. That this is so is clearly confirmed by the wording of the UN Charter. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter says

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.

Article 39 of the UN Charter further says

“The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Article 51 of the UN Charter further says

“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the prese nt Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

In other words the only body competent in international law to authorise military action is the UN Security Council except for the purpose of self defence. The so called “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine does not affect or limit the UN Security Council’s exclusive right to authorise the use of force in any way. Rather it simply set out certain criteria and procedures that need to be followed before the UN Security Council may authorise military intervention in the internal affairs of a Member State.

Not only will the pending attack be made without the authority of the UN Security Council, which renders it illegal under international law, but in this case the violation of international law and of the prerogatives of the UN Security Council is especially gross because the UN Security Council is already involved, having called just 5 days ago for “clarity” on this question by supporting the UN Secretary General’s intention to undertake an investigation, which is now underway. The attack is therefore being prepared in order to subvert a purpose authorised by the UN Security Council, namely to obtain “clarity” about what actually happened through an impartial investigation of the incident by the UN Secretary General’s inspectors.

Tuesday 28th August 2013

Anatoly Karlin said: “According to this article, it really was the Syrian Arab Army that launched the chemical weapons attack. The information is based on an American interception of a panicked call from a Baath bureaucrat to the officer in charge of the CW batallion purportedly responsible.

If true, this changes things substantially. If it really was the SAA that was responsible, then public opposition in the West to a strike against Syria would not be so overwhelming than if it were unclear or a false flag (done either with or without the connivance of the US/UK/France). The Iraq comparisons would likewise fall away.

That said, it is rather sad that just as Assad was about to win he will be dealt a major setback, thus necessitating a further few months of fighting than would have otherwise been the case – assuming that it’s a limited strike, that doesn’t overspill into an outright drive for regime change on the Libya model.

My response:

If it does turn out that the Syrian army was indeed responsible for the gas attack then I agree. I would also add that the stupidity of this would be extraordinary.

However, I would again add a word of caution. If this telephone intercept is the only evidence that the Syrian army was responsible for the attack, then it is interesting that the US intelligence agencies that are undoubtedly responsible for planting this story have not yet told us what was actually said. All we are told is that on the day of the attack a panicked official in the Defence Ministry telephoned a Syrian army officer to question him about what happened. This might show:

1. That there was a planned use of chemical weapons, which however went horribly wrong thus eliciting the enquiries from the Defence Ministry official. If so then the international consequences would be as you say; or

2. That chemical weapons were used but without the authorisation of the civilian leadership. If so this would be important information and might actually sway opinion against an attack here in Britain; or

3. It might be that someone in the Defence Ministry was worried that there had been an unauthorised use of chemical weapons and urgently telephoned to find out what was happening and to ensure that this was not the case. If so, then that is not inconsistent with subsequent enquiries ascertaining that this was a false flag incident. Bear in mind that in that case an inquiry of some sort by the Syrian authorities on the day of the incident to find out in the aftermath of the attack what had happened is bound to have taken place. This telephone call might just be part of that.

The other point to make is that this information has undoubtedly been shared with two people who have not been convinced by it. They are:

1. Ban Kyi Moon. It is really very interesting that for the first time in his tenure as Secretary General Ban Kyi Moon has stood up to the Americans. He came under intense pressure from the Americans over the weekend to withdraw the inspectors but categorically refused to do so. He came under more pressure from them yesterday to do the same thing. Yesterday Carney the White House spokesman said that since Syrian government complicity in the gas attack was “undeniable” an investigation of the incident by the UN inspectors had become “redundant”. It is a virtual certainty that over the course of their discussions with Ban Kyi Moon the US will have told him about the telephone call which they say makes the case against the Syrian authorities “undeniable”. Notwithstanding these comments and this information a clearly furious Ban Kyi Moon has issued a further statement today making it clear that he is not going to withdraw the UN inspectors and that the UN Security Council cannot be by passed but must be involved. Incidentally as a result of Ban Kyi Moon’s comments I understand that a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the crisis will take place later today.

2. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition here in Britain. He had a meeting with Cameron last night in advance of the parliamentary debate tomorrow at which Cameron tried to obtain his support. Again it is a certainty that over the course of their discussions Cameron would have shown Miliband such intelligence information as exists and that would have been bound to include the telephone call. There are provisions for this in the British system whereby ministers can exchange information with senior opposition leaders under what are known as “Privy Council rules”, and this would be certain to have happened in this case. Miliband was however obviously unimpressed by this information because he made it clear this morning that he wants the UN inspectors to be given time to finish their work.

My own guess is that the US did think when they intercepted the call on Wednesday that they had got themselves the “smoking gun”. That is why they were happy up till Saturday to demand an investigation by the UN inspectors. They naturally anticipated that because the Syrian authorities were responsible for the attack they would either obstruct the investigation or would be found out by the investigation. When on Saturday the Syrian authorities on the contrary agreed to the investigation doubts set in, which is why we have seen such furious attempts to stop the investigation from taking place.

The way to establish the truth in this case is to let the UN investigation take its course. If necessary the remit of the UN investigators can be extended either by the Security Council or by Ban Kyi Moon himself. What is wholly wrong is for one party in this matter to try to impose its version of the truth on all others before the investigation has taken place and to use or threaten force in order to do that. That is clearly both legally and ethically wrong. If it turns out following a full and proper investigation that the Syrian authorities are indeed the guilty party then they will have to bear the consequences. Until then unilateral action is both illegal and unwarranted.

PS: Since writing the above, I have learnt from the British media that all this intelligence including importantly this intercepted telephone conversation comes from Israel. Obviously the mere fact that intelligence originates with Israel doesn’t mean it is untrue. However given that the Israelis undoubtedly have an interest in this conflict the fact that they are the source of this information means that it must be treated with caution. As I said, the only party competent to carry out a proper impartial enquiry are the UN inspectors and they must be given time to carry out their work.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Further to my post on the remarkable failure of Scandinavian education systems to develop their students to anywhere near the levels indicated by their IQ potentials, a professor of mathematics at a Wisconsin university sent me data on the percentage of respondents in the TIMSS who gave the correct answer to the following question:

Which shows a correct method for finding 1/3 – 1/4?

A (1 – 1)/ (4 – 3)
B 1/ (4 – 3)
C (3 – 4)/ (3*4)
D (4 – 3)/ (3*4)

Below are the results. Do bear in mind that these are 8th graders we are talking about.

A B C D
Korea 2.7 6.9 4.2 86
Singapore 4.8 5.5 6.5 83.1
Taipei 2.9 7.7 7 82
Hong Kong 4 8.7 10 77
Japan 15.4 11.1 8.2 65.3
Russia 12.3 18.8 4.8 62.8
Average 25.4 26 9.4 37.1
US 32.5 26.1 10.7 29.1
Finland 42.3 29.5 8.7 16.1
Sweden 14.4
Chile 11.7

Finally, an international ratings list on which those smarmy, goody-goody Scandinavians don’t come on top! They barely do better than Chile, a country that got 421 (equiv. IQ ~88) in the PISA 2009 survey. Here is what he has to say on the matter:

One interesting fact is that among the 42 countries which tested 8th grade students, Finland had the highest percent of students who picked answer A and the third lowest percent correct. Chile had 11.7 correct and Sweden had 14.4 percent correct. The Finnish result is likely a surprise to the people who have praised the Finnish school system for their results on another international test, PISA. However university and technical college mathematics faculty in Finland will not be surprised. See [this] article signed by over 200 of them.

Anybody who suggests the progressive/neoliberal education policies of the Scandinavian countries are worthy of emulation should be presented with these figures and laughed out of the room.

The results for individual American and Canadian states:

A B C D
Mass. 21.4 20.8 9.9 44.4
Calif. 28.2 21.6 11 38
Minn. 23.5 26.3 14 35.1
Quebec 27.3 23 13 33
Ontario 27.7 22.4 14 32.5
Conn. 21.8 25.8 17.7 31.3
Alberta 34.7 23.7 12.3 27.8
(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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I had been meaning to post about this for a long time. Better late than never, I suppose.

The TIMSS and PIRLS are international assessments of academic ability in math, science and literacy that are conducted once every four years. They are similar to the PISA tests, although the latter are less purely academically focused and more a test of pure IQ.

Here are the results of TIMSS/PIRLS (h/t North Asian). And here are the results of PISA from 2009 for comparison.

As can be expected, they are highly correlated (r > 0.8 to be precise). This however makes the few differences all the more interesting. The gap between the East Asian countries and European countries, though substantial in PISA, is significantly greater in TIMSS/PIRLS. And most strikingly, both Russia and Israel go from being laggards in the OECD group to being at the forefront of the class.

Math (PISA) Math (TIMSS)
Korea 539 613
Sweden 494 484
Russia 468 539
Israel 447 516

From performing more poorly than Turkey in the PISA reading test, Russia soars to take second global position in the PIRLS.

Reading (PISA) Reading (PIRLS)
HK 533 571
Sweden 497 542
Russia 459 568
Israel 474 541

Meanwhile, some European countries, especially Sweden and Norway, plummet quite substantially.

What explains all this?

There are two possibilities. First, the TIMSS/PIRLS tests may have poorer samples than the PISA. For instance, we know from the latter that Moscow has a 10-point IQ lead over the rest of the country. If Muscovite pupils are over-sampled, then it’s quite feasible for the consequent result to be closer to say Hong Kong or Korea than to Greece or Turkey.

However, a second possibility is that the PISA-TIMSS/PIRLS gap is a proxy for differences in the quality of educational systems. It is more feasible to prepare for the TIMSS/PIRLS than it is for PISA, which is closer to an IQ test and is, as such, more difficult to improve through policy interventions. It is nowadays fashionable to lambast the ex-Soviet and East Asian school systems for “rote learning,” “stifling creativity,” and whatnot. However, the data shows that under these systems, pupils perform well above the levels they “should” as indicated by their underlying IQ levels. Meanwhile, in places where “creativity” and “self-expression” are given full bloom, where science lessons focus on the evils of plastic bags in between sermons on LGBT appreciation and the progressiveness of Islamic civilization, academic performance is somewhat less than what might expect based on the local students’ apparent IQ levels.

This all makes sense, I suppose. To be truly “creative” you first have to acquire a ton of skills and knowledge via the old method of applied hard work. Without that, “creativity” simply boils down to a sea of PoMo-waffling curmudgeons and MacBook-toting hipsters. And whoever needs that?

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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My response to Snowdengate, the new Graph Search, its inevitable integration with Google Glass? I will be minimizing my privacy settings and for all intents and purposes making my Facebook public.

So good ahead, look up my profile. Friend me. Whatever. I don’t mind.

Sounds counter-intuitive, huh? There’s a logic behind the madness. It’s now a safe assumption that in between the numerous bugs and the surveillance what you post on Facebook might as well be public. So I will treat it as public.

Which means no more denying friend requests on the basis that I don’t know you. No more purges of weirdos who happened to friend me. No more separation into “Friends,” “Acquaintances,” and other groups. No more photos of an excessively… personal nature, or confidential communications. That I believe is for email, Dropbox, and even older systems, like face to face meetings.

Some commentators are recommending people delete their Facebooks. But I find its social features to be quite useful, plus I am a publicist – so why on earth would I do that? That would just be stupid.

PS. There is also know a dedicated Facebook Page for this blog that’s automatically updated with every new post.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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So apparently an Ambassadorship costs $1.8 million per post in the US.

In virtually any other country, even where the situation with corruption is quite dismal, such arrangements would be seen as unquestionably corrupt. And yet the US scores an entirely respectable 73/100 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), leagues above say Italy which gets 42/100.

The reason I mention Italy is that I was once discussing the question of corruption in different countries with an Italian. He said that what in the US is known as “political lobbying” would be treated as a criminal activity in Italy, and indeed in most of the rest of Europe. Hence why in the Med countries you get far more cases of corruption in the form of cash in envelopes. In the US that’s against the law, but that’s not such a big deal, because the law – or rather the absence of it – allows for the same thing, just in indirect formats (expensive dinners, contributions, astronomic speaking fees, stock performances superior to those of corporate insiders, etc). But that kind of corruption is “deniable” and hence respectable, whereas the direct kind is crude and distasteful, a defining feature of disorganized Third World countries.

In Italy, regulations against corruption and weaselly dealings in general are stringent. Now because Italians tend to corruption in general, either by nature or nurture, this means that the high incidence of such endlessly knocks against their corruption ratings. In the US, however, the factual “legalization” of much of what passes for corruption in Europe allows it to remain relatively unscathed in such international assessments.

There are many other such examples. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is insanely corrupt if you think rulers siphoning off billions of dollars off the oil budget is fundamentally illegitimate (as is alleged but never evidenced for Russia’s “mafia state” and Putin’s Swiss bank accounts). But it’s all quite legal there, which is why – hard as it is to believe – Saudi Arabia scores higher than not only Russia, but even Italy in the CPI.

So the solution is simple. Just legalize your corruption, and move up to the top in both the World Bank’s Doing Business ratings and soon enough in the Corruption Perceptions Index. Don’t forget to be slavishly pro-American in your foreign policy. Investors will love you for it. Well, maybe not, at least once said investors get to know you a bit better, but at least you’ll get glowing reviews from the Wall Street Journal and Transparency International. That’s how you become a made country in Davos World.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here it is. Or just skip the graphics and download the data in Excel here.

I can’t say I care much about most of it. Of course most people everything think corruption is “increasing,” because they are a grumpy lot.

What does matter is the number of people who report paying a bribe in the past 12 months. It is as close to objective measurement as you can get in a sphere of life as indefinite and necessarily opaque as “corruption.”

Below is a quick table summarizing the results from the most notable countries (no comment where it’s pretty much “as expected”).

Paid bribe in last year? My comments
Afghanistan 46
Argentina 13
Australia 1 Acquaintance: AUS bureaucracy incompetent, but not dishonest
Brazil n/a Was 4% in last survey
Canada 3
China n/a :( Last survey was 9%, haven’t been included in this year’s GCB at all.
Czech Republic 15
Egypt 36
Estonia 6 One of two “clean” post-Soviet republics
France n/a
Georgia 4 One of two “clean” post-Soviet republics
Greece 22 By far the worst old-EU country; up from 18% in last survey.
Germany n/a
Hungary 12
India 54 “India shining” worse than many African countries. Exactly same as in last survey.
Israel 12
Italy 5 Down from 13% in last survey.
Japan 1 Down from 9% in last survey. This figure much more believable, I daresay.
Kazakhstan 34
Korea (South) 3
Latvia 19 Contrary to propaganda, of the Baltics only Estonia is truly clean
Lithuania 26
Mexico 33
Nigeria 44
Pakistan 34 Cleaner than India! :| Down from 49% in last survey.
Romania 17
Russia n/a Aw shucks… no data. ” (was 26% in last survey)
Sierra Leone 84 The record-holders this year (IIRC Cambodia topped last survey)
South Africa 47 WTF? Thought RSA, though kinda Third World, had a First World administrative structure.
Spain 2
Taiwan 36 WTF!?! Is this a statistical fluke??
Thailand 18
Turkey 21 Down from 33% last survey.
Ukraine 37 Virtually same as in last survey, when it was 34%.
United Kingdom 5 Strange… was 1% in last survey.
United States 7 Was 5% in last survey… and 2-3% in older surveys. Oh-oh…
Venezuela 27 Quite typical for middle-income country, contrary to anti-Bolivarian propaganda.

Summary:

So what’s up with South Africa? It’s corruption increased by an order of magnitude relative to the last GCB. And Taiwan?!? It’s GDP in purchasing power terms has recently soared past Japan’s, but it’s corruption levels are Third World… assuming this isn’t a bizarre statistical fluke.

A pity that there is no data for Russia and a few other key countries (Brazil, China, Germany, France). This will make the update to the Corruption Realities Index incomplete, and will leave a gap in my data series for bribery incidence in Russia. I have written to Transparency to inquire as to whether data for these countries will be forthcoming at some later date.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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(1) Just as with Manning, it is beyond dispute that Snowden broke US law. As such, the US government is perfectly entitled to try to apprehend him (on its own soil), request his extradition, and prosecute him. This is quite perpendicular to whether Snowden’s leaks were morally “justified” or not. In some sense, they were. In my opinion, privacy as a “right” will go the way of the dodo whatever happens due to the very nature of modern technological progress. The best thing civil society can do in response is to make the lack of privacy symmetrical by likewise exposing the inner workings of powerful governments, the increasing numbers of private individuals connected to the government who enjoy its privileges but are not even nominally accountable like democratic governments, and corporations. In this sense, I agree with Assange’s philosophy. That said, it’s perfectly understandable that the government as an institution begs to differ and that it has the legal power – not to mention the approval of 54% of Americans – to prosecute Snowden. But!

(2) It preferably has to do so in a way that’s classy and follows the strictures of international law. As I pointed out in my blog post on DR and article for Voice of Russia, treason is not a crime like murder, rape, terrorism, or theft which are pretty much universally reviled (though even these categories have exceptions: Luis Posada Carriles – terrorism; Pavel Borodin – large-scale financial fraud). One country’s traitor is another country’s hero; one man’s turncoat is another man’s whistle-blower. So throwing hysterics about Russia’s refusal to extradite Snowden isn’t so even so much blithely arrogant as it is stupid and cringe-worthy. Would a Russian Snowden, let’s call him Eddie Snegirev, be extradited back to Moscow should he turn up at JFK Airport? To even ask the question is answer it with a mocking, bemused grin on one’s face.

(3) It is true that the US, as a superpower, can afford to flout international law more than any other country. There is no point in non-Americans whining about it – that’s just the way of the jungle world that is international relations. Nonetheless, it can be argued that making explicit just to what extent the European countries are its stooges and vassals – as unambiguously revealed in the coordination between France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy that created a wall of closed off airspace preventing the return of Bolivian President Evo Morales to his homeland on the mere suspicion that Edward Snowden is on board – is perhaps not the best best thing you can do to draw goodwill to yourself. While European governments are by all indications quite happy to be vassals and puppets, many of their peasants don’t quite feel that way – and having the fact presented so blatantly to their faces is just going to create resentment. Why such a drastic step is necessary is beyond me. Why pursuing Snowden so vigorously, who has already leaked everything he has to leak, is in any way desirable beyond the fleeting thrill of flaunting imperial power must remain a mystery.

(4) While Snowden personally comes out as sincere and conscientious, he is profoundly lacking in political awareness. Unlike Snowden and Correa, the Russian authorities have apparently correctly guessed that the US wouldn’t balk at grounding aircraft if they suspected the fugitive was on board; hence, according to British lawyer (and occasional AKarlin contributor) Alexander Mercouris, why Correa ended backing off the asylum offer – getting to Latin America is simply surprisingly difficult. Same as regards Maduro. Russia all but offered Snowden asylum on a platter. Putin’s condition that he “stop hurting the US” was but a formality for Western consumption – considering that Snowden had already, presumably, divulged everything to Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald, and in any case it is standard practice for political asylum claimants to clear anything they wish to say with the authorities of the country offering them sanctuary so as to avoid hurting their interests.

But Snowden, perhaps driven by some mixture of personal principles as well as his perception of Russia as a non-democratic country, withdrew his application for asylum in Russia, and proceeded to send applications to dozens of other countries – including outright vassals like Poland, which wouldn’t bat an eyelid at extraditing him (the country’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski is married to Anne Applebaum, a US neocon). That was completely unprofessional, a cheap PR stunt that doubled as a slap in the face to Russia and a display of legalistic ignorance (many countries require the political asylum claimant to be physically present on their territory). I concur with Mercouris’ assessment that Snowden appears to be getting appallingly low quality legal advice from Sarah Harrison/Wikileaks, at least if and insofar as getting real political asylum is his actual goal.

(5) Where can Snowden get asylum? Russia would be the obvious choice, but he seems to have ruled that out as mentioned above. He probably regards it as a non-democratic country, and took Putin’s stated conditions of asylum – no more leaks that embarrass the US – a bit too literally. I originally thought Germany might be feasible – tellingly, it *didn’t* close off its airspace to Morales’ airplane – but then they refused anyway. Venezuela, which is now touted as the likeliest destination, is a fair choice, but it will be difficult to get there, or to Latin America in general. Giving Snowden a military escort to get asylum in a foreign country would be impractical and unseemly in the extreme for Russia. And if European countries are prepared to overturn decades of international legal conventions to – for all means and purposes – hijack the plane of a national leader, even if of a weak and unimportant country, they would have no qualms whatsoever about doing the same to commercial airliners.

An additional problem is that Bolivia, and to a lesser extent Ecuador and Venezuela, are politically unstable – with the opposition consisting of hardcore Atlanticists. Should there be a change of power in those places – be it through the gun or the ballot box – the new authorities would send the likes of Snowden back to the US within the week and apologize for their shameful earlier lack of subservience to boot. Russia too has Atlanticist elements within their opposition, but they enjoy the support of only about 10% of the population – while almost half of Venezuelans voted for Capriles in their last two elections. Besides, as WaPo’s Max Fisher points out, Russia has never extradited any Western defectors – not even during the rule of Gorbachev or Yeltsin. Finally, while being confined to just Russia for decades or even the rest of one’s life is hardly the best of prospects, it surely beats Venezuela not to mention Bolivia (no disrespect to those two fine nations).

(6) There have been calls, including from The Guardian and his dad, for Snowden to show he’s truly a whistle-blower and not a traitor or spy by returning home. The choice is presumably his, of course, but if he heeds them, then more idiot he. While it is perfectly reasonable to say that Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic or free or whatever than the US, that’s kind of beside the point; what concerns Edward Snowden specifically is whether Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic and free than a US supermax prison. And the answer to that is blindly obvious to all but the most committed freedumb ideologues. Even North Korea would win out on that one.

(7) The final thing I would say about this is episode is that it has really demonstrated the breath-taking scope of US power. Power that is not wisely wielded, perhaps, but power nonetheless. It is absolutely impossible to imagine so many European countries jumping through legalistic hoops, burning bridges with one of the world’s major economic and cultural regions, and drawing the massed ire of their own citizens at the request of any other country. And that’s assuming the US even made that request in the first place, i.e. could they have merely been trying to curry favor with their master?

At some level it has always been clear that the Euro-Atlantic West acts as a united bloc – see a map of (1) the recognition of Kosovo and (2) the non-recognition of Palestine – for visual proof of that. Or read the Wikileaks cables for an insight into how European politicians stumble all over themselves in their eagerness to tattle on everything in their country to American diplomats. Still, the grounding of Morales’ jet makes plain the sheer depth and scope of official European subservience better and more concretely than any other event or affair that one can recall. It also makes a mockery of their stated “concern” over NSA spying, deserving only ridicule and mocking dismissal. This is not a moral failing of the US, in fact it can only be commended and admired for bringing so many countries into complete political and cultural submission to it. It is only the lack of backbone and of the will to establish national sovereignty that is contemptible.

While it’s beyond dispute that the Europeans are complete doormats, it’s still worth noting that cautious, business-like China was eager to get rid of Snowden as quickly as feasibly possible – despite the major propaganda coup he delivered unbidden into their hands by demonstrating that computer hacking wasn’t just a one-way street between China and the US. Putin, too, is notable unenthusiastic. One can’t help but entertain dark speculations about the kind of dirt the NSA might have on him should he ever become too enthusiastic about that whole sovereign democracy thing. Counter-intuitively, it is Latin America – the land explicitly subjected to the Monroe Doctrine – that is mounting the most principled stand in support of government transparency and against Western exceptionalism and double standards.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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I’m a sucker for classification graphs, so I was delighted to see that “Another Reactionary Blog” had compiled a “map” of the neo-reactionary / “Dark Enlightenment” thinkers. It’s reproduced below:

dark-enlightenment-map-1.5

I’m not disappointed not to see myself there, as I blog about a lot of different things making classification quite hard.

If I had to try to place myself there, I’d probably be somewhere east of the Derb, west of Steve Hsu, and north of Taki. If I had to pick just one school, I probably best fit into the HBD community, but I’m interested in Techno-Futurism (incidentally, I met up with Mike Anissimov last week) and “Masculine Reaction” – or at least its “game” component, I don’t much care for the MRM – as well.

EDIT: The original map has been replaced with an updated one, with me included! My position there is about right.

See also A History of Reactionary Taxonomy at the Radish Mag for the most comprehensive “meta” analysis of reaction.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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While researching a different topic I stumbled upon the following 2006 report on the Internet. It contains comprehensive estimates for the prevalence of birth defects all around the world. The relevant graph is reprinted below (you can click on it to get a bigger picture).

birth-defects-by-country

What leaps out at first sight is the sheer extent to which the worst affected countries are Muslim ones. Of the 29 countries with a birth defects prevalence of over 70/1,000 births, only 5 are not majority Muslim. 9 of the worst 10 are Muslim. Furthermore, whereas those five are all very poor African nations, the Muslim ones include very rich Arab states like the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

What explains this? Is it something in the water?

Almost certainly this is due to high rates of consanguineous marriages. As hbd* chick has frequently pointed out, the institution of father’s brother’s daughter is prevalent and commonly accepted pretty much only within the historic borders of the 8th century Caliphate. This is arguably a very regressive custom: While it promotes familial loyalty, the side cost is high rates of clannishness, nepotism, depressed national IQ’s… and, as graphically illustrated above, birth defects.

The country with the least amount of birth defects per newborn is estimated to be France.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.