“The Long Telegram” by George F. Kennan

“In atmosphere of oriental secretiveness and conspiracy which pervades this government, possibilities for distorting or poisoning sources and currents of information are infinite. The very disrespect of Russians for objective truth–indeed their disbelief in its existence–leads them to view all stated facts as instruments for furtherance of one ulterior purpose or another. There is good reason to suspect that this government is actually a conspiracy within a conspiracy, and I for one am reluctant to believe that Stalin himself receives anything like an objective picture of [the] outside world. Here there is ample scope for the type of subtle intrigue for which Russians are past masters. Inability of foreign governments to place their place squarely before Russian policy makers–extent to which they are delivered up in their relations with Russia to good graces of obscure and unknown advisers whom they will never see and cannot influence–this to my mind is the most disquieting feature of diplomacy in Moscow, and one which western statesman would do well to keep in mind if they would understand the nature of difficulties encountered here…

…We must see that our public is educated to realities of Russian situation. I cannot over-emphasize importance of this. Press cannot do this alone. It must be done mainly by Government, which is necessarily more experienced and better informed on practical problems involved. In this we need not be deterred by [ugliness?] of picture. I am convinced that there would be far less hysterical anti-Sovietism in our country today if realities of this situation were better understood by our people. There is nothing as dangerous or as terrifying as the unknown. It may also be argued that to reveal more information on our difficulties with Russia would reflect unfavorably on Russian-American relations. I feel that if there is any real risk here involved, it is one which we should have courage to face, and sooner the better. But I cannot see what we would be risking. Our stake in this country, even coming on heels of tremendous demonstrations of our friendship for Russian people, is remarkably small. We have here no investments to guard, no actual trade to lose, virtually no citizens to protect, few cultural contacts to preserve. Our only stake lies in what we hope rather than what we have; and I am convinced we have better chance of realizing those hopes if our public is enlightened and if our dealings with Russians are placed entirely on realistic and matter-of-fact basis.”

George K. Kennan, “The Long Telegram.” wilsoncenter.org. February 22, 1946

Looking & Acting Bad

““Do you want material that looks bad before it acts bad, like shingles or clapboard, or one that acts bad long before it looks bad, like vinyl siding? A whole philosophy of maintenance falls one way or the other with the answer.”

-Stewart Brand, “How Buildings Learn.”

True of maintenance, true of life.

In 1997, the BBC aired a three-hour documentary based on Stewart Brand’s book, How Buildings Learn. Brand has posted the whole program on YouTube in six 30-minute parts: part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six. Below, it says it is unavailable, that is just the first one if you aren’t in the right country, copyright-wise. You can either switch your country using a VPN to the United Kingdom or start with part two.

h/t The Prepared and kottke.

The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

“Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The dragon stood taller than the largest cathedral, and it was covered with thick black scales. Its red eyes glowed with hate, and from its terrible jaws flowed an incessant stream of evil-smelling yellowish-green slime. It demanded from humankind a blood-curdling tribute: to satisfy its enormous appetite, ten thousand men and women had to be delivered every evening at the onset of dark to the foot of the mountain where the dragon-tyrant lived. Sometimes the dragon would devour these unfortunate souls upon arrival; sometimes again it would lock them up in the mountain where they would wither away for months or years before eventually being consumed…”

-Nick Bolstrom, “The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.” nickbostrom.com. Originally published in Journal of Medical Ethics, 2005, Vol. 31, No. 5, pp 273-277.

And now, almost 17 years after the publication of this fable, there appears to be the first weapon against the dragon tyrant of the tale:

“Senolytic vaccination also improved normal and pathological phenotypes associated with aging, and extended the male lifespan of progeroid mice. Our results suggest that vaccination targeting seno-antigens could be a potential strategy for new senolytic therapies.”

-Suda, M., Shimizu, I., Katsuumi, G. et al. Senolytic vaccination improves normal and pathological age-related phenotypes and increases lifespan in progeroid mice. Nat Aging 1, 1117–1126 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43587-021-00151-2

I’d guess probably 20 years until this is a regular feature of clinical therapy.

PSA: Tics, lol

There has been plenty of discussion of verbal tics: such as standpoint modifiers, fillers, endpoint modifiers, softeners, up talk, fast talk and vocal fry. The funny thing about that kind of discussion is that it normally assumes the speaker is not aware of what they are doing and/or it reflects the speaker’s internal emotional state.

But, I have some of these problems. Sometimes, I’ll use a “softener” because the person I am talking to doesn’t like conflict. The reality is sometimes you do these things out of consideration for others, not unconsciouslessly or because of personal anxiety, insecurity or whatever.

However, I recently noticed someone that uses “lol” after every sentence in an online forum. I’ve known a few people that do that, and I’m sure you do too. It’s generally a very clear sign that there is no point interacting with that person beyond a surface level, and there isn’t much interesting they are going to say. Perhaps that is unfair, but it seems true. It’s the first writing tic that I have noticed. Now, I want to start discovering others.

Questions About Technology Investment: CharaCorder

“The CharaChorder is a new kind of typing peripheral that promises to let people type at superhuman speeds. It’s so fast that the website Monkeytype, which lets users participate in typing challenges and maintains its own leaderboard, automatically flagged CharaChorder’s CEO as a cheater when he attempted to post his 500 WPM score on the its leaderboards.

It’s a strange looking device, the kind of thing Keanu Reeves would interface with in Johnny Mnemonic. Your palms rest on two black divots out of which rise nine different finger sized joysticks. These 18 sticks move in every direction and, its website claims, can hit every button you need on a regular keyboard. “CharaChorder switches detect motion in 3 dimensions so users have access to over 300 unique inputs without their fingers breaking contact with the device,” it said.”

-Matthew Gault, “This Keyboard Lets People Type So Fast It’s Banned From Typing Competitions.” Vice. January 6, 2022.

Open Question: What is a good “investment” in technology?

Let’s imagine you have a child that it at the age they are starting to use a computer and a QWERTY style keyboard. Do you spend $250 and get them this kind of peripheral knowing:

  • It’s a new technology that likely will not be around in 20 years
  • It seems likely that in 20 years or so that the main input with computing will be via voice and/or video
  • It is even possible that in 20 years everyone will have a brain-computer interface.

Personally, I think it is useful to learn how to use new devices, even if they turn out to be novelty devices. It’s easy to see that certain popular devices that became obsolete have paved the way for the evolution for the subsequent devices that come later. Examples:

  • Mainframe computing led to personal computing which led to mobile computing
  • Blackberry, PalmOS, iPods were the precursors to Android and iPhones
  • Every few years, someone makes a new chat app, from ICQ and IRC to Telegram and Discord.

Familiarity with the previous version can help you transition to new variants. So, it’s probably a good idea to get familiar with technologies, even if you don’t think they will last.

Zuihitsu: 2021-12

Technically, zuihitsu are longer reflections than what I tend to collect. But, the general idea is right. Here’s this month’s installment. If you want the complete set, please download the fortune file.

  1. Patience is also a form of action.–Auguste Rodin
  2. Do I need to insert myself into this conversation?
  3. The grass is always greener on the side that’s fertilized with bullshit.
  4. Be good. If you can’t be good, be careful.
  5. Quality is remembered over price.
  6. Only bet on unknown unknowns near the frontiers of human tenacity and creativity.
  7. Nothing by halves.
  8. Most people listen to the grass, awaiting news of the harvest.
  9. Break the cycle.
  10. Change your thoughts, change your life.
  11. Literatures over papers.
  12. Taste is complicated and no one is the same person all the time.
  13. Develop images for tomorrow.
  14. The question: does X affect Y? is always yes, and is thus useless.
  15. All human creatures are divided into two groups. There are pirates, and there are farmers. Farmers build fences and control territory. Pirates tear down fences and cross borders. There are good pirates and bad pirates, good farmers and bad farmers, but there are only pirates and farmers.
  16. Be regular and orderly in your everyday life so you can be violent and original in your work.
  17. Take ideas from one place and put them somewhere else and see what happens.
  18. Old narcissists are rarely happy.
  19. A bird cannot land only once on a great tree and claim to know it.
  20. Our methods of measuring resist precision.
  21. Make them choose or lose; don’t be plan B.
  22. Context is scarce. Bridge into larger, different contexts and see what new aspect can be seen.
  23. Demilitarize language.
  24. We all owe something to someone.
  25. State the problem. State what needs to happen. Offer to help.
  26. Always get the listing.
  27. No matter how dark it is, there’s always some light. No matter how much light there is, darkness is still nothing.
  28. Take hold of the future and the future will take hold of you.—Patrick Dixon
  29. Consciousness is written in the laws of nature.
  30. The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technology.—E.O. Wilson
  31. Science, like art, is not a copy of nature but a re-creation of her.—Jacob Bronowski
  32. Stories form human beings. Be careful with your story.
  33. Work with small groups with similar concerns.
  34. Get a mentor; be a mentor.
  35. Death is the only horizon, with numberless ways to get there.
  36. Do the next right thing.
  37. Painful things are often what give substance and meaning to life.
  38. The rough stuff is just gravel on the road to where you are going.
  39. Disagreement is often a sign of rigor. When everyone agrees, something is probably missing.
  40. Pay attention to the outcasts.
  41. All happiness attracts the Fates’ anger. Great happiness attracts its opposite.
  42. Real systems, like the world, are not perfect: you must tolerate and manage some level of garbage.
  43. What intellectual provocations are you engaged with?
  44. What is your time horizon? Stop working on the status quo (horizon 1). Start designing innovations (horizon 2). Iterating on innovations to get us to that future world (horizon 3).
  45. Someone has to leave first.
  46. Embrace the glitch.
  47. Play with expectations.
  48. Love does not mandate forgiveness.
  49. What good is the oath that doesn’t cost anything?
  50. A true friend is to be treasured.
  51. No reward without risk.
  52. Compromise is an exercise in mastering your pride.
  53. Shift from ‘just in time’ to ‘just in case’.
  54. We’re part made by circumstance and part what we wish to be.
  55. The tree remembers, the ax forgets.
  56. The young are willing to try things those with more experience won’t ever consider.
  57. The functional is a much smaller domain of the possible.
  58. Whose work is it?
  59. The burden of labor can ease the burden of life.
  60. Find a form that accommodates the mess.—Sam Beckett
  61. Not everything is something.
  62. Five percent conspiracy; ninety-five percent is incompetence.
  63. Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.
  64. Don’t settle for a synthetic substitute.
  65. With self-knowledge comes the risk of self-destruction.
  66. Things will change.
  67. Law is an abstraction, the imperfect map of justice.

Over the Long Term: Good Market > Good Team

“These data points made me think about an important piece of advice that a well respected hedge fund manager once told me — most of your financial returns will come from the markets you select to invest in, rather than the actual securities you decide to hold. Another way to think about it is through the lens of entrepreneurship advice “When a good team meets a bad market, the market wins. When a bad team meets a good market, the market wins.”

So much of compounding is predicated on the idea that a high rate of compounding will continue for decades. If you’re successful in finding one of these markets, the challenge won’t be in making many good decisions, but rather in having the discipline and emotional control to avoid making any decisions at all. This is ultimately where I think bitcoin is at the moment. It continues to compound at an impressive rate. You just have to be patient enough to outlast everyone who can’t think long term.”

Anthony Pompliano, “Warren Buffett, Bitcoin, and Compounding.” pomp.substack.com. December 14, 2021