Later On

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Kimchi-inflected red-cabbage kraut

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Los Tres Amigos, ready for their Big Adventure

A new batch of fermented vegetables is now underway. Here’s what’s in it:

• 1 large head red cabbage (This time I discarded the core.)
• good-sized chunk of daikon radish
• 1 enormous Cosmic Crisp apple, halved vertically
• 1 large red onion, halved
• 2 large jalapeño peppers, including core and seeds

All of the above were thinly sliced (see below).

• 6 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

Next three items were pulverized in my spice & herb grinder.

• 2 guajillo chiles
• 2 ancho chiles
• 1″ piece of ginger root, chopped reasonably small

Finally:

• 60g coarse grey sea salt (Celtic is what I have)
• 1 packet Cutting Edge starter culture, hydrated before adding

Cabbage, radish, apple, onion, and jalapeños were slicked using my OXO large handheld adjustable mandoline, with the adjustment set at “1,” the first line after the “Lock” position (photo at right shows the adjustment dial). From a catalog entry: “It has an adjustable dial with 7 thickness options from 1mm to 4mm with 0.5mm intervals.” Thus my slices were 1mm thick.

I removed core and seeds from the guajillo and ancho chiles, toasted them in a skillet, then tore them into pieces and put them into my spice & herb grinder along with the chopped ginger, ground all that to a damp powder, and added it to the bowl of sliced vegetables and chopped dates, along with 60g of coarse sea salt. All that filled the largest bowl I have heaping full, but the vegetables collapsed a fair amount as I massaged them.

I massaged them for 5-10 minutes — going not by the clock but massaging until everything was well-mixed, the cabbage had become soft and supple, and liquid gathered in the bottom of the bowl. I then added the water with the starter culture and mixed that well with the bowl contents for a couple of minutes, still massaging.

Lesson learned: I though the daikon radish slices would break apart as I massaged the mix with the salt. They didn’t. Next time I’ll quarter the daikon lengthwise and then slice: small pieces. The apple did break up pretty well, but I think next time I’ll also quarter that before slicing.

I used 60 grams of salt because the total weight of ingredients was 3030g (6 2/3 lbs!). (I weighed the empty bowl before I began and subtracted that from the weight of the full bowl.) I took 2% of the ingredients’ weight and used that much salt. (TBH, I used 57g because I’m trying to ease up on salt.)

I tried to leave more room at the top in the three jars (two 1-liter, on 1.5-liter), but they were pretty full by the time I had packed them will all the kimchi/kraut mixture. They are firmly packed: I have a kraut packer that works well.

I distributed the liquid left in the big bowl equally among the packed jars, added spring water to barely cover, put a fermentation weight into each jar, and then screwed on a pickle-pipe fermentation airlock and took the photo above.

In two weeks I’m going to have a lot of kimchi-ish kraut. This homemade stuff is sweeter than store-bought, probably because of the apple (and, this time, the dates) and also perhaps because I don’t ferment it so long as commercial krauters do. 

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2022 at 3:13 pm

“Multitasking Isn’t Progress—It’s What Wild Animals Do for Survival”

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Ted Gioia writes:

I plan to write a series of posts outlining some unconventional or dissident conceptual frameworks I’ve found useful in understanding contemporary society.

These aren’t the usual tired ideas or dead metaphors already familiar to us. I won’t even mention those stale truisms, because you already know every one of them—in fact, we would all probably be better off forgetting them.

Fewer things are more destructive than a dead-end concept. They are much like dead-end roads—they take you on a trip to nowhere. They provide an illusion of motion, but actually bring you further away from any useful destination.

The concepts I’m sharing are less familiar, and all the more valuable for that reason. They have forced me to look at everyday situations in new ways, requiring me to challenge some of my own preconceptions and attitudes. Even when they fail to encompass all of a particular reality, they still add value by disrupting the labels and assumptions that I use—and all of us use—to navigate through day-to-day life.

In this installment, I want to focus on Byung-Chul Han’s concept of the Burnout Society.

Han is one of the most significant German philosophers of our time, but his background is unusual. He was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1959, and studied metallurgy before moving to Germany to immerse himself in philosophy, theology, and literature. He received his doctorate in 1994, writing his dissertation on Martin Heidegger. His philosophy career didn’t start in earnest until his forties, yet he has now published at least twenty books.

Until recently, Han gave no interviews. In a celebrity-driven culture, he refuses to play the game, remaining stubbornly reluctant to discuss his own life and personal background. But that hasn’t prevented him from gaining a large audience, much broader than you might imagine a German philosopher attracting in the current day.  His lectures draw a capacity audience, and his ideas are now crossing over into other disciplines. In particular, a number of people in the art and culture world have started to pay close attention to his concepts and opinions.

Those who have read my book Music; A Subversive History may recall my use of Han’s aesthetic concepts—notably his view that the cult of smoothness is the defining quality of contemporary art. He applies this concept to everything from the design of the iPhone, with its comforting smooth contours, to the Brazilian bikini wax, which aims at a similar endpoint on our bodies.

In this instance, I want to focus on a different concept, namely Han’s notion that we are living in a “Burnout Society” that causes a wide range of characteristic dysfunctions and ailments. These are difficult for society to address because the assumptions built into our inquiries are actually causing these problems.

What follows below is mostly from Han, but reframed and focused by some of my own ideas.


.
THE BURNOUT SOCIETY

Everywhere around us we see the signs: depression, burnout, hyperactivity, anxiety, self-harm. Sometimes the disorders get classified as medical syndromes with impressive acronyms, such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) or BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder).

In other cases—a suicide or fatal breakdown, for example—things have gone too far for even medical intervention. All the acronyms in the world won’t help you then. But in every instance, something similar can be seen: the victims are at war with themselves.

That’s misleading, Han would say. They only seem to be the instigators of their problems, which are coming from . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

This reminds of something I’ve come to realize in recent years. FOMO (fear of missing out) is pointless because you (and I and any individual) will miss out — inevitably. There is too much in the world — and even too much in human culture or even just in our own particular culture — to absorb. You (and I) will miss out on many more things than we don’t miss out on.

I blogged recently about two brief videos about areas of knowledge and activity on which I’ve totally miss out in the sense of having concrete and specific knowledge, experience, and skill: making movies and making small airplanes. I watched those two videos with fascination because they showed me how much i’ve missed out on in just those two specific areas.

I’ve made my peace with that, and I focus on enjoying (and doing as well as I can, which is generally far short of expertise) things I do encounter and like. Rather than being frustrated by all that I’m missing, I luxuriate in all that I have. That seems the sensible choice, given the ineluctable realities of life. I leap joyously into those things I am not missing out on, and I continue to pay attention to what I encounter, and occasionally seize onto something new (fermenting vegetables, for example).

I believe it’s a big mistake to miss what you actually encounter because your attention is focused on worry about things you’re missing. We taste but a tiny sliver of what life has to offer, so it’s important to enjoy the slice we get.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2022 at 12:13 pm

Rejoice! Bookworms live longer!

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Rhea Hirshman writes in the Yale Alumni Magazine:

The next time you talk to a clinician about how you’re taking care of your health, you might want to include a discussion of your
reading habits.

Although sedentary activities are not usually regarded as promoting health, a recent study by Yale researchers showed a significant link between book reading and longevity. (The work was published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.) Researchers examined data from 3,635 individuals who have been involved over several years in a nationwide health study of people over age 50. Based on their answers to the question “How many hours did you spend last week reading books?” respondents were divided into three groups: those who read no books, those who read books for up to three and a half hours, and those who read books for more than three and a half hours.

The study showed a marked advantage for book readers. Over 12 years of follow-up, those who read books for up to three and a half hours per week were  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2022 at 10:24 am

A discovery regarding appetite

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I have read about “intuitive eating,” but don’t really know much about it. I think the idea is to eat only when hungry and to do that by paying attention to your body’s cues. That sounded to me a lot like it meant to eat when I felt like eating and, unfortunately, I find I frequently feel like eating, which makes maintaining a healthy weight difficult.

The other evening I was thinking about this, and I recalled something from one of the books that  I find myself repeatedly recommending, namely A Life of One’s Own, by Joanna Field (the pseudonym of Marion Miller — the book has been republished with Miller shown as the author). Here’s the passage:

The first hint that I really had the power to control the way I looked at things happened in connexion with music. Always before, my listening had been too much bothered by the haunting idea that there was far more in it than I was hearing; but occasionally I would find that I had slipped through this barrier to a delight that was enough in itself, in which I forgot my own inadequacy. But this was rare, and most often I would listen intently for a while and then find I had become distracted and was absorbed in the chatter of my own thoughts, personal preoccupations. Impatiently I would shake myself, resolving to attend in earnest for the rest of the concert, only to find that I could not lose myself by mere resolution. Gradually I found, however, that though I could not listen by direct trying I could make some sort of internal gesture after which listening just happened. I described this effort to myself in various ways. Sometimes I seemed to put my awareness into the soles of my feet, sometimes to send something which was myself out into the hall, or to feel as if I were standing just beside the orchestra. I even tried to draw a little picture to remind myself of how it felt. [drawing is shown in the text – LG]

In my notes I find:

Last Wednesday I went to the opera at Covent Garden, Rigoletto. I was dead tired and could not listen at first (sitting on the miserably cramped gallery benches), but then I remembered to put myself out of myself, close to the music – and sometimes it closed over my head, and I came away rested in feeling light-limbed.

At this time also I began to surmise that there might be different ways of looking as well as of listening.

One day I was idly watching some gulls as they soared high overhead. I was not interested, for I recognized them as ‘just gulls’, and vaguely watched first one and then another. Then all at once something seemed to have opened. My idle boredom with the familiar became a deep-breathing peace and delight, and my whole attention was gripped by the pattern and rhythm of their flight, their slow sailing which had become a quiet dance.

In trying to observe what had happened I had the idea that my awareness had somehow widened, that I was feeling what I saw as well as thinking what I saw. But I did not know how to make myself feel as well as think, and it was not till three months later that it occurred to me to apply to looking the trick I had discovered in listening. This happened when I had been thinking of how much I longed to learn the way to get outside my own skin in the daily affairs of life, and feel how other people felt; but I did not know how to begin. I then remembered my trick with music and began to try ‘putting myself out’ into one of the chairs in the room (I was alone so thought a chair would do to begin with). At once the chair seemed to take on a new reality, I ‘felt’ its proportions and could say at once whether I liked its shape. This then, I thought, might be the secret of looking, and could be applied to knowing what one liked. My ordinary way of looking at things seemed to be from my head, as if it were a tower in which I kept myself shut up, only looking out of the windows to watch what was going on. Now I seemed to be discovering that I could if I liked go down outside, go down and make myself part of what was happening, and only so could I experience certain things which could not be seen from the detached height of the tower…. One might have thought that after the discovery of such a new possibility I would have been continually coming down to look at things. Actually, however, with the press of a daily work which demanded thought, not feeling, I seem to have forgotten the fact of this new freedom, also I think I was afraid of it and loth to leave the security of my tower too often.

So as I was sitting my chair and thinking about getting something to eat, I remembered that passage and decided to put my consciousness into my body — specifically into my gut. When I did, I felt no urge at all to eat. in fact, I felt quite satisfied.

That was odd, because I had definitely been thinking about getting something to eat, so I tried putting my consciousness into my mouth — and there it was. I suddenly had a clear and distinct desire for food in my mouth: a salad, cold and crisp and crunchy; or a hot meal with softer textures, like mushrooms sautéed with butter and onions and some cooked grain; or perhaps some cold spicy veggies, like a bowl of the Other Vegetables or Spinach that was in the fridge. I definitely felt like ating.

Then I switched my consciousness back to my gut, and again the urge to eat vanished. I felt satisfied and didn’t really want anything. I found that interesting (and I did not eat anything more that evening.)

It seems clear that my mouth likes stimulation, and eating food is just such an activity. So my mouth enjoys food a lot, and is always ready for more. In contrast, my gut seems to desire food only when it needs food, and otherwise it wants to be left alone to go about its business and not be bothered by taking on more work.

It’s like my mouth is flighty — easily aroused, readily distracted, never satisfied — so it’s important that i pay attention to my gut, a more reliable guide to my need for food. My mouth is always up for food and is easily distracted into wanting food, so I must it keep it on a short leash. It can have its fun only when my gut wants food — not nearly so often as when my mouth wants entertainment.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 10:08 pm

The Spacing Effect: How to Improve Learning and Maximize Retention

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An interesting post in the FS blog. (The idea of spaced repetition is built into Anki’s (powerful, free) flashcard system.) The blog post begins:

We are not taught how to learn in school, we are taught how to pass tests. The spacing effect is a far more effective way to learn and retain information that works with our brain instead of against it. Find out how to use it here.

“Every perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”

— Gerald Edelman, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge

The most important metaskill you can learn is how to learn. Learning allows you to adapt. As Darwin hinted, it’s not the strongest who survives. It’s the one who easily adapts to a changing environment. Learning how to learn is a part of a “work smarter, not harder” approach to life—one that probabilistically helps you avoid becoming irrelevant. Your time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it on something which will just be forgotten.

During the school years, most of us got used to spending hours at a time memorizing facts, equations, the names of the elements, French verbs, dates of key historical events. We found ourselves frantically cramming the night before a test. We probably read through our notes over and over, a gallon of coffee in hand, in the hope that the information would somehow lodge in our brains. Once the test was over, we doubtless forgot everything straight away.1

Even outside of formal education, we have to learn large amounts of new information on a regular basis: foreign languages, technical terms, sale scripts, speeches, the names of coworkers. Learning through rote memorization is tedious and—more important—ineffective. If we want to remember something, we need to work with our brains, not against them. To do that, we need to understand cognitive constraints and find intelligent ways to get around them or use them to our advantage.

This is where the spacing effect comes in. It’s a wildly useful phenomenon: we are better able to recall information and concepts if we learn them in multiple, spread-out sessions. We can leverage this effect by using spaced repetition to slowly learn almost anything.

It works for words, numbers, images, and skills. It works for anyone of any age, from babies to elderly people. It works for animals, even species as simple as sea slugs. The effect cuts across disciplines and can be used to learn anything from artistic styles to mathematical equations.

Spaced repetition might not have the immediacy of cramming or the adrenaline rush of a manic all-nighter. But the information we learn from it can last a lifetime and tends to be effectively retained. In some ways, the spacing effect is a cognitive limitation, yet a useful one—if we are aware of it.

In Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language and Never Forget It, Gabriel Wyner writes:

Spaced repetition…[is] extraordinarily efficient. In a four-month period, practising for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. These flashcards can teach you an alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation. And they can do it without becoming tedious because they’re always challenging enough to remain interesting and fun.

In Mindhacker, Ron and Marty Hale-Evans explore further:

Our memory is simultaneously magnificent and pathetic. It is capable of incredible feats, yet it never works quite like we wish it would. Ideally, we would be able to remember everything instantly, but we are not computers. We hack our memory with tools like memory palaces, but such techniques required effort and dedication. Most of us give up, and outsource our memory to smartphones, cloud enabled computers, or plain old pen and paper. There is a compromise…a learning technique called spaced repetition which efficiently organizes information or memorization and retention can be used to achieve near perfect recall.

“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.”

— Edgar Allan Poe, Marginalia

The Discovery of The Spacing Effect

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909), a German psychologist and pioneer of quantitative memory research, first identified the spacing effect. After earning his PhD in Germany, he traveled to London. Like so many people, he found his life forever changed by a book.

The work in question was

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 8:46 pm

Newsletter Natural Selection

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Slime Mold Time Mold has a very interesting post, which begins:

Apparently, Substack wants to destroy newspapers. And maybe that would be good — maybe it would be good for journalism to be democratized, for bloggers to inherit the earth. Of course we’re bloggers and not newspapers, so maybe we’re biased.

Obviously it would be great if someone came up with a set of blogging and newsletter tools that were just amazing, that were the clear front-runner, that outperformed every other platform. We’d love it if the technical problems were all solved and we just had a perfect set of blogging tools.

But if everyone ends up on the same platform, well, that’s kind of dangerous. If one company controls the whole news & blogging industry, they can blacklist whoever they want, and can squeeze users as much as they want.

Even if you think Substack has a good track record, there’s no way they can guarantee that they won’t squeeze their writers once they control the market. Even if you trust the current management, at some point they will all retire, or all die, or the company will be bought by wesqueezeusers.biz, and then you’re shit outta luck.

Substack just can’t make a credible commitment that makes it impossible for them to abuse their power if they get a monopoly. You have to take them at their word. But since management can change, you can’t even really do that. They just can’t bind their hands convincingly.

But there may be some very unusual business models that would fix this problem. 

On the Origin of Substacks

Imagine there’s a “Substack” company that commits itself to breaking in half every time it gets 100,000 users (or something), creating two child companies. Each company ends up with 50,000 users. All the blogs with even-numbered IDs go to Substack A, and all the blogs with odd-numbered IDs go to Substack B. The staff gets split among these two companies, and half of them move to a new office. Both companies retain the same policy of breaking in half once they hit that milestone again — an inherited, auto-trust-busting mechanism.

(Splitting into exactly two companies wouldn’t have to be a part of the commitment. They could equally choose to break up into Substack Red, Substack Blue, and Substack Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition.)

In addition, a core part of the product would be high-quality, deeply integrated tools to switch from one of these branches to another. Probably this would involve an easy way to export all your posts and a list of your subscribers to some neutral file format (maybe a folder full of markdown, css, and csv files), and to import them from the same format into a new blog. If you end up in Substack B and you want to be in Substack A instead (your favorite developer works there or something), the product would make it very easy to switch, maybe to the point of being able to switch at the push of a button.

To help with this, the third and final commitment of the company, and all child companies, would be to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall. And it’s intriguing — and something a company could easily do.

What I like is that it harnesses the power of cultural evolution in a way that supports the common welfare.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 5:25 pm

Situation Report: Killing off the Libertarian Hellscape Timeline

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Dave Troy’s Situation Reports are always worth reading. Here’s the latest.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 5:04 pm

Two brief videos that showed me again the magnitude of my ignorance

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I know so little of what the people in these videos know.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 2:23 pm

Highest Break In Shoot Out History | Mark Allen

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The snooker shoot-out format is a timed contest with its own rules:

Snooker Shoot Out Rules

This isn’t like other tournaments. The Shoot Out has several notable rule changes, though the introduction of the snooker shot clock is perhaps the most influential.

Frames are capped at a duration of 10 minutes. For the first five minutes of a frame, players have a maximum of 15 seconds to play a shot. In the second five-minute chunk, players have just 10 seconds to hit the cue ball.

This obviously hurries the spectacle along. There’s no time to ponder safety shots. Failure to hit the ball in time results in a five-point penalty or for the value of the ball which was ‘on’, whichever of the two is greater.

Similar to pool, players must also either pot a ball or hit the cushion with any ball whenever they take a shot.

Again, failure to achieve this results in a five-point penalty or a penalty for the value of the ball which was ‘on’, whichever of the two is greater.

Here’s Mark Allen setting the record for the highest-scoring break:

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games, Snooker, Video

An exchange on Quora

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This morning I responded to a comment on my answer to the question “What is the best way to disagree with someone?” My answer, shown at the link, was

[Originally Answered: What is the classiest way to disagree with someone?]

I like H.L. Mencken’s approach. Mencken was a reporter and writer in Baltimore who did not suffer fools gladly (and who considered much of the public fools). Outraged readers who wrote to H. L. Mencken would receive in reply a preprinted card:

Dear Sir or Madam:

You may be right.

Yours sincerely,

H. L. Mencken

More here: “You may be right”

I’ve received a variety of comments on my answer, including one thanking for the link (which does take one to an interesting article). The comment this morning was:

More seriously, be respectful of their opinion. Just because they don’t agree with you doesn’t mean they’re idiots. Try to understand their viewpoint.

My response to his comment:

I absolutely agree. One of the 7 habits of highly effective people that Stephen Covey discusses in his book of that name is Habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” the idea being that unless you show a willingness to listen, to display what some call “cognitive empathy,” in which you are able to view the issue from their perspective, most people will not listen to you or make an effort to understand your perspective. If you don’t seek to understand, most will feel that you just don’t get what they’re saying, and instead of listening to you, they will try again to explain their view.

So it’s helpful to listen to them and ask clarifying questions until you can state their position even better than they can.

I do confess, though, that if their opinion, clearly stated, is that they refuse to be vaccinated because the CIA has worked with Bill Gates to create tiny 5G nanochips that are mixed with the vaccine, then I fall back on “You may be right” and get away as quickly as I can. Experience has taught me that people so far gone into a fantasy require more help than a conversation can deliver.

Nowadays I am often reminded of Don Quixote, who read so many novels of knight-errantry and was so steeped in those fantasies that he no longer viewed the world as others perceive it: instead of windmills, he saw giants, instead of flocks of sheep, he say armies, instead of a discarded barber’s basin, he saw Mambrino’s Helmet, disguised by an enchantment.

His delusions, which certainly made his life more interesting and were comical, had also a tragic aspect. I was told of a high-placed Spanish official who said, back in Franco’s day, that so long as people read Don Quixote and laughed, all was well, but if they read it and cried, then trouble was coming.

Looking about the world today, I believe that reading Don Quixote would be an interesting exercise. (FWIW, in my blog I have written both about Covey’s book — Covey’s 7 habits — and a fair number of posts about Don Quixote — for example, Reading Don Quixote and crying. Searching the blog on “don quixote” will find more.)

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 11:32 am

How a New Hampshire libertarian utopia was foiled by bears

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This Vox report by Sean Illing is from just over a year ago — published in December, 2020 — but it deserves some recognition and reading:

Every ideology produces its own brand of fanatics, but there’s something special about libertarianism.

I don’t mean that as an insult, either. I love libertarians! For the most part, they’re fun and interesting people. But they also tend to be cocksure about core principles in a way most people aren’t. If you’ve ever encountered a freshly minted Ayn Rand enthusiast, you know what I mean.

And yet one of the things that makes political philosophy so amusing is that it’s mostly abstract. You can’t really prove anything — it’s just a never-ending argument about values. Every now and again, though, reality intervenes in a way that illustrates the absurdity of particular ideas.

Something like this happened in the mid-2000s in a small New Hampshire town called Grafton. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, author of a new book titled A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear, says it’s the “boldest social experiment in modern American history.” I don’t know if it’s the “boldest,” but it’s definitely one of the strangest.

The experiment was called the “Free Town Project” (it later became the “Free State Project”), and the goal was simple: take over Grafton’s local government and turn it into a libertarian utopia. The movement was cooked up by a small group of ragtag libertarian activists who saw in Grafton a unique opportunity to realize their dreams of a perfectly logical and perfectly market-based community. Needless to say, utopia never arrived, but the bears did! (I promise I’ll explain below.)

I reached out to Hongoltz-Hetling to talk about his book. I wanted to know what happened in New Hampshire, why the experiment failed, and what the whole saga can teach us not just about libertarianism but about the dangers of loving theory more than reality.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

How would you describe the “Free Town Project” to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

I’d put it like this: There’s a national community of libertarians that has developed over the last 40 or 50 years, and they’ve never really had a place to call their own. They’ve never been in charge of a nation, or a state, or even a city. And they’ve always really wanted to create a community that would showcase what would happen if they implemented their principles on a broad scale.

So in 2004, a group of them decided that they wanted to take some action on this deficiency, and they decided to launch what they called the Free Town Project. They sent out a call to a bunch of loosely affiliated national libertarians and told everyone to move to this one spot and found this utopian community that would then serve as a shining jewel for the world to see that libertarian philosophies worked not only in theory but in practice. And they chose a town in rural New Hampshire called Grafton that already had fewer than 1,000 people in it. And they just showed up and started working to take over the town government and get rid of every rule and regulation and tax expense that they could.

Sean Illing

Of all the towns in all the world, why Grafton?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

They didn’t choose it in a vacuum. They actually conducted a very careful and thorough search. They zeroed in on the state of New Hampshire fairly quickly because that’s the “Live Free or Die” state. They knew that it would align well with their philosophy of individualism and personal responsibility. But once they decided on New Hampshire, they actually visited dozens of small towns, looking for that perfect mix of factors that would enable them to take over.

What they needed was a town that was small enough that they could come up and elbow the existing citizenry, someplace where land was cheap, where they could come in and buy up a bunch of land and kind of host their incoming colonists. And they wanted a place that had no zoning, because they wanted to be able to live in nontraditional housing situations and not have to go through the rigamarole of building or buying expensive homes or preexisting homes.

Sean Illing

Wait, what do you mean by “nontraditional housing”?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

As the people of Grafton soon found out, a nontraditional housing situation meant a camp in the woods or a bunch of shipping containers or whatever. They brought in yurts and mobile homes and formed little clusters of cabins and tents. There was one location called “Tent City,” where a bunch of people just lived in tents from day to day. They all united under this broad umbrella principle of “personal freedom,” but as you’d expect, there was a lot of variation in how they exercised it.

Sean Illing

What did the demographics of the group look like? Are we talking mostly about white guys or Ayn Rand bros who found each other on the internet?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

Well, we’re talking about hundreds of people, though the numbers aren’t all that clear. They definitely skewed male. They definitely skewed white. Some of them had a lot of money, which gave them the freedom to be able to pick up roots and move to a small town in New Hampshire. A lot of them had very little money and nothing keeping them in their places. So they were able to pick up and come in. But most of them just didn’t have those family situations or those 9-to-5 jobs, and that was really what characterized them more than anything else.

Sean Illing

And how did they take over the local government? Did they meet much resistance?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

When they first showed up, they hadn’t told anyone that they were doing this, with the exception of a couple of sympathetic libertarians within the community. And so all of a sudden the people in Grafton woke up to the fact that their town was in the process of being invaded by a bunch of idealistic libertarians. And they were pissed. They had a big town meeting. It was a very shouty, very angry town meeting, during which they told the Free Towners who dared to come that they didn’t want them there and they didn’t appreciate being treated as if their community was an experimental playpen for libertarians to come in and try to prove something.

But the libertarians, even though they never outnumbered the existing Grafton residents, what they found was that they could come in, and they could find like-minded people, traditional conservatives or just very liberty-oriented individuals, who agreed with them on enough issues that, despite that angry opposition, they were able to start to work their will on the levers of government.

They couldn’t pass some of the initiatives they wanted. They tried unsuccessfully to withdraw from the school district and to completely discontinue paying for road repairs, or to declare Grafton a United Nations free zone, some of the outlandish things like that. But they did find that a lot of existing Grafton residents would be happy to cut town services to the bone. And so they successfully put a stranglehold on things like police services, things like road services and fire services and even the public library. All of these things were cut to the bone.

Sean Illing

Then what happened over the next few years or so?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

By pretty much any measure you can look at to gauge a town’s success, Grafton got worse. Recycling rates went . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and indeed, there’s the book.

It strongly reminds me of Don Quixote, who spend so much time and study in reading his books of knights-errant that those became his reality, so that when he encountered things in the real world, he could see them only through the warped lens of his reading, so he attacked the windmills as though they were giants and the flock of sheep as though they were an army. He could no longer see things as they were, but only as his books and readings told him they should be.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 4:44 pm

An old Virginia plantation, a new owner, and a family legacy unveiled

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The story the rabbi told provides an example of how the past can suddenly become attached to the present. This account by Joe Helm in the Washington Post is another example. (The link is a gift link: no paywall with this link). It begins:

GRETNA, Va. — There was so much Fredrick Miller didn’t know about the handsome house here on Riceville Road.

He grew up just a half-mile away and rode past it on his school bus every day. It was hard to miss. The home’s Gothic revival gables, six chimneys, diamond-paned windows and sweeping lawn were as distinctive a sight as was to be seen in this rural southern Virginia community. But Miller, 56, an Air Force veteran who now lives in California, didn’t give it much thought. He didn’t know it had once been a plantation or that 58 people had once been enslaved there. He never considered that its past had anything to do with him.

Two years ago, when his sister called to say the estate was for sale, he jumped on it. He’d been looking, pulled home to the place he left at 18. His roots were deep in this part of Pittsylvania County, and he wanted a place where his vast extended family, many of whom still live nearby, could gather.

The handsome house set on a rise had a name, it turned out. Sharswood. And Sharswood had a history. And its history had everything to do with Miller.

Slavery wasn’t something people talked much about in this part of Virginia when Miller was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. And other than a few brief mentions in school, it wasn’t taught much, either.

The only time he remembers the subject coming up was when Alex Haley’s miniseries, “Roots,” was broadcast in 1977.

“For a lot of us, that was our first experience with what really happened during slavery,” he said. “It just wasn’t discussed.”

Miller assumed his ancestors had been enslaved. But where and when and by whom were questions that were left unasked and unanswered.

“People didn’t want to talk about this stuff because it was too painful,” said Dexter Miller, 60, a cousin of Fredrick’s who lives in Java. “They would say, ‘This is grown folks’ business.’ And that’s how some of the history was lost.”

Teaching America’s truth: How slavery is taught in America’s schools

Another cousin, Marian Keyes, who taught first in segregated schools and later in integrated schools from 1959 to 1990, said that for a long time there was little teaching about slavery in Pittsylvania County.

“We weren’t really allowed to even talk about it back then,” said Keyes, who turns 90 this year and lives in Chatham. “We weren’t even allowed to do much about the Civil War and all of that kind of stuff, really.”

Even outside of school, when she was growing up, Keyes said, the subject of slavery was avoided.

“I just thought everything was normal,” she said, “because that was the way of life.”

But the unspoken history left a gulf.

It wasn’t until after Fredrick Miller bought Sharswood in May 2020 that its past started coming into focus. That’s when his sister, Karen Dixon-Rexroth and their cousins Sonya Womack-Miranda and Dexter Miller doubled down on researching their family history.

What neither Fredrick Miller nor his sister knew at the time was that the property had once been a 2,000-acre plantation, whose owners before and during the Civil War were Charles Edwin Miller and Nathaniel Crenshaw Miller.

Miller.

That Fredrick Miller and so many members of his extended family were born and grew up in the shadow of Sharswood was a clue to perhaps a deeper connection. It wasn’t uncommon after emancipation for formerly enslaved people to take the last names of their enslavers. But establishing the link required more research.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, History, Memes

Matt Stoller’s Open Thread: Have You Ever Been Through a Merger?

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Matt Stoller has an interesting open thread, which he introduces with this:

Last week, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan and Department of Justice Antitrust Division chief Jonathan Kanter announced they are going to revise merger policy, and they want public input before doing so. Therefore, today’s open thread for paid subscribers is about mergers. Have you been through a merger? Orchestrated a merger? Dealt with a customer or supplier going through a merger? What was it like? Do you have any broader observations about corporate combinations?

Here are my experiences.

In my first job out of college, the tiny company at which I worked went through a merger. This was during the dot com boom, and we were floating on venture capital trying to find a business model. Our CEO came upon a small but profitable company that made accounting software in a niche area. The founders wanted to get out of the business because they had been running the company for twenty years and sought to retire, and we seemed like a good energetic group who could take over. So we bought it, and instantly became profitable.

You’d think this would be a great situation. But with little industry background, we flailed around for a year, enraging customers and partners. Our product ‘upgrade’ made the software worse, which became clear when we had to deal with significant customer service issues involving bugs, incompatible systems, and just bad accounting. As a 23 year old, I ended up being told to fire seven people that year, including people 20 years older with more wisdom and insight (as well as more responsibilities).

We eventually cleaned up the mess, but the experience stuck with me as I learned more about antitrust and corporate strategy. Since the 1980s, economists have come to believe that mergers are nearly always good, that the combined firms are more efficient. When I learned that the bedrock assumption behind antitrust economics is that mergers are nearly always efficient, I thought it was a joke. But it’s not.

The merger I went through was a best-case scenario. It involved a small firm passing from one generation to the next, without any real problems involving monopolization. And yet there was a massive loss of efficiency if only because the new team had to learn the business. For bigger mergers, and mergers involving private equity-type transactions, mergers are often value-destructive. In 2018, for instance, AT&T fought the government’s antitrust division for the right to buy Time Warner, and won. The combo turned into a giant turf battle among executives, management consultants crawled all over the place, sucking out cash, and finally three years later, AT&T is undoing the transaction on which they wasted tens of billions of dollars. That’s the usual story (plus the $400M golden parachute for the Time Warner CEO, which is unfortunately also quite common).

But some mergers are far worse than just a waste of resources. I encountered one of these when I was a staffer in the Senate. When Office Depot and Staples were trying to merge, the CEO of a 150-person firm that sold to office supply stores came to my office and asked for help stopping the deal. The buyer who dealt with his particular product category at Staples was a 25 year-old kid who didn’t like him, and wanted to source from China. If Staples got control of Office Depot, his business would die. He told me most of the office supply industry agreed with this assessment, but all of them were too afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation. He begged me to keep the visit a secret. Fortunately, a judge blocked the Staples-Office Depot combination.

But this kind of weird uneconomic transaction, where large amounts of power are put in the hands of random unqualified corporate actors, is  . . .

Continue reading. And comment.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 2:42 pm

He Survived The Holocaust Because Of A Stranger’s Kindness

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Listen to this great story — less than 4 minutes.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Daily life, History

The mask conundrum: A dialogue

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Kevin Drum treats us to a Socratic dialogue. He writes:

There’s a fundamental problem with our campaign to get people to wear masks. It’s pretty obvious, but here it is:

Socrates: Our greatest healers and physicians are united in urging us to wear masks in order to fight the plague that runs rampant among us. Do you believe their advice to be sound?

Glaucon: Why yes.

Socrates: And what evidence do they offer that you find so persuasive?

Glaucon: It is obvious that masks reduce the expulsion of bad airs from breathing and coughing. If I am suffering from the plague—but still out in the agora because I am not yet feeling any ill effects—it diminishes the number of malignant corpuscles that I introduce into the world.

Socrates: So when you wear a mask, you do it to help other people, not yourself?

Glaucon: That is so. It is not perfect, but it is still beneficent to the good health of Athens.

Socrates: And you consider this a virtuous act.

Glaucon: Indeed I do. A respect for the good of society is one of the highest virtues.

Socrates: Quite so. But you’ll admit that not everyone thinks as you do.

Glaucon: Unhappily, all my experience among men teaches me that you are right.

Socrates: So on the one side, we have your fellow citizens of virtue. They are the most likely to heed the advice of our physicians, are they not?

Glaucon: I cannot disagree.

Socrates: And being virtuous, they have probably already visited a physician and procured for themselves a potion that protects against the plague?

Glaucon: Indeed, I myself have done so. I believe it was called a “vaccine.”

Socrates: And what does this “vaccine” accomplish?

Glaucon:  . . .

Do continue reading. Drum points out a paradox we need to solve.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 1:36 pm

New batch of rosemary salt, and new lessons learned

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Today’s batch of rosemary salt

A new batch, and new lessons. I’ve updated the main post (which contains the recipe) with the lessons learned this time, which are:

  1. Use the weighted recipe. Rosemary springs — and sage sprigs — vary greatly from package to package. The only reliable way to ensure correct proportions is to weigh the rosemary and sage (and other ingredients as well, if you want, but those seem less problematic).
  2. Process the rosemary and sage in stages. Put a small portion of rosemary and sage in the processor, process that until it’s finely chopped, add some more, process that, and so on. Somewhere in the middle of the process, add the garlic and lemon zest. (I at first put all the rosemary and sage in the processor, but it was too much and wouldn’t process. So I took it out and processed in stages.)
  3. Add salt after the other ingredients have been thoroughly processed. Then process some more. The result is be somewhat fluffy — and very tasty. Photo above is today’s batch.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 1:31 pm

Abandonment of new music and clinging to old: Sign of decline and imminent fall?

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It’s a bad sign when a society/culture/country/civilization clings to past glories and turns its back on the present. It shows a reluctance to face current reality and in the extreme you get Don Quixote. Ted Gioia had a recent column on how old music is killing new music, and that column is well worth reading. Even more interesting is his follow-up column, in which industry trackers and insiders point out that it’s even more extreme than he thought.

Read those, and think also of those in Britain who still cling to the idea of the great British Empire (now gone), on which the sun never set (until it did). 

IS the US starting to crumble on all fronts?

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Memes, Music

Best Food to Prevent Common Childhood Infections

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Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 11:08 am

The roots of Libertarianism

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Libertarianism has never made any sense at all to me, though I do understand some people find its ideas attractive and its logic irrefutable. The fact that it doesn’t work doesn’t bother them because, dad-gummit, it should work. (You may detect aspects of Don Quixote in this attitude, and if so, we we are in agreement.)

But where did this strange delusion originate? As it happens, there’s an excellent history that’s available as a PDF. Here it is:

From that document:

The more people got to know about LeFevre’s libertarian program, the more they started calling it out as an elaborate swindle hatched by wealthy interests, designed to talk the public into dismantling their own government power and institutions the only power that protected the public from the sort of corporate abuse that had brought on the Great Depression.

The purpose of Freedom School’s teachings, it was becoming increasingly clear, was to turn the American public against their own government, to free up corporations and the rich to do as they pleased, by selling it as “freedom” and to tarnish the forces that impeded corporate power government, democracy, labor unions as “tyranny.”

Read the whole thing.

And see also this previous post. (Libertarian Texas power grid)

And this one. (Libertarian destruction of Sears)

And this one. (Libertarians take over and destroy a city in Texas)

And this one. (Libertarians take over and destroy a city in New Hampshire)

And this one. (Libertarian naïveté)

Oh, heck: here’s the whole list. (blog search on “libertarian”)

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 11:04 am

The Unbearable Poopness of Bookstores

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I’m told that many people are relieved to learn that this is a thing. Jonathan Jarry writes for the McGill University Office of Science and Society:

Imagine you have been walking the aisles of your favourite bookstore [or library – LG] for an hour, letting your gaze gaily hop from one spine to the next. You smell the ink and the paper. You hear the dulcet tones of a piano over the PA system.

And then it hits you, like a cannonball dropping in your lower abdomen.

The acute, undeniable urge to evacuate your bowels.

As you make a run for the nearest public washroom, you think to yourself, “Not again!”

The scenario above will divide our readers. Some will be left scratching their head, wondering why I cooked up such a strange story. Others will be blushing. They will feel seen.

Indeed, this peculiar confluence of events—feeling an overwhelming urge to go #2 while visiting a bookstore—has been reported time and time again, mostly in Japanese media, and it even has a name: Mariko Aoki phenomenon, after the young woman who inadvertently wrote it down in the annals of history.

Sure, there had been mentions in literary work as early as the 1950s, and the occasional discussion on radio and television, but it was the February 1985 issue of Japan’s Hon no Zasshi (which translates to Book Magazine) that blew the lid on the phenomenon. The magazine printed a short letter from a woman named Mariko Aoki, who had realized that wandering inside a bookstore triggered this urge to relieve herself. Following publication, the magazine received several reports from readers who regularly experienced the same. Their next issue had a 14-page feature article on this unsolved mystery. The horse was out of the barn: the Mariko Aoki phenomenon was apparently, according to Book Magazine’s sensationalistic headline, “shaking the bookstore industry.”

Taking a crack at finding the cause

The Mariko Aoki phenomenon is a case study in how easy it is to generate hypotheses to explain something strange that makes little sense at face value. After all, what could possibly explain the intense—some have even said apocalyptic—urge to drop the kids off at the pool, but only specifically when inside a bookstore? Well, the brain abhors a vacuum, and when it starts speculating, it can be hard to stop.

One leading theory points the finger at  . . .

Continue reading.

In my early teens I looked for books at the library, not in bookstores, but I certainly noticed the phenomenon. I attributed it to my having to squat often to peruse titles on the lower shelves. YMMV

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life

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