Notes on Saudi Arabia

File:Saudi Arabia map.png - Wikimedia Commons

In August, I spent a week in Saudi Arabia. I started in Jeddah, drove to Taif, drove to Abha, and then drove 600 miles to Riyadh. I wanted to go to Mecca and Medina, but as a non-Muslim, it’s haram.

Compared to my other travel writings, this one has a lot more on the history, politics, and economics of its subject. Saudi Arabia has been one of my top travel destinations for years because it’s one of the most unusual countries in the world and it’s currently undergoing a massive transformation. Four years ago, despite possessing a per capita wealth level comparable to Western Europe, Saudi Arabia had:

  • Complete gender segregation, including forced gender separation in restaurants, mandatory dress codes for women, and a ban on women driving
  • Prohibitions on degenerate Western practices, including music concerts, movie theaters, and most advertisements
  • Enforcement of Sharia law by paramilitary religious police who could freely beat people with sticks

Today, all of this stuff is gone. Most Westerners could witness the change with their own eyes in 2019 when Saudi Arabia began issuing tourist visas for the first time. Other restrictions, including complete alcohol prohibition and a ban on any religious buildings besides Sunni mosques, remain.

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Notes On The Balkans

Balkan Countries/What are the Balkan Countries? | Mappr

I spent almost two months traveling through the Balkans. In order, I went through:

  • Moldova
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Serbia
  • Kosovo
  • North Macedonia
  • Albania
  • Montenegro
  • Croatia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Serbia again

I had already been to Greece and Slovenia, so I skipped them this trip.

This is too many countries for me to write a “Notes On” post for each of them (I started trying with Moldova, but stopped), so I combined it all into one big Balkans post. Given the many generalizations I make about a wide swath of people and countries, take my observations as sort-of-kidding-sort-of-serious, and generally more facetious than usual.

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Notes on Ukraine

I spent most of April and some of May traveling around Ukraine, visiting the cities of Uzhgorod, Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Odessa.

As with my other travels, I’ll write down thoughts and observations from my experiences, conversations, and research that I found interesting. I want to say upfront that I don’t think I have any brilliant insights on Ukraine or the war. If you consider yourself fairly unknowledgeable about the war (like I was before going to Ukraine), hopefully you’ll come away with a better understanding of the nature of the conflict and what it’s like on the ground.

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Notes on the Yucatan

9 UNMISSABLE Things To Do In Riviera Maya, Mexico (2021 Update)

I spent eight days in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, primarily in and around the cities of Cancun, Valladolid, and Merida.

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Notes on the Dominican Republic

I spent eight days in the Dominican Republic, covering Santo Domingo (the capital), Puerto Plata, Sosua, and Jarabacoa. As with my other travel notes, I’ll try to avoid generic travel blogging stuff and focus on anything unusual I experienced or learned.

Dominican Republic | History, People, Map, Flag, Population, Capital, & Facts | Britannica

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Notes on Panama

I spent one week in Panama this summer. As with Spain and Peru, I took notes while I was there and will try to summarize the most interesting experiences and things I learned in this post. Unfortunately, I think I’m a bit less detailed on Panama than the other two because most of what I did was hike through jungles, which is amazing and highly recommended, but I don’t have much to say about it.

File:Panama map.gif - Wikimedia Commons

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Shadow of the Sun

Travel book review: The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski | Travel | The Sunday Times

Sometimes I want to abandon any pretense of a normal life and live like a drifter. I could drop the burden of ordinary work, friends, relationships, property, and just go to unusual places, see unusual things, and exist on the margins of civilization where society doesn’t really make sense, but is never boring. I’d have to give up on safety, stability, and the traditional building blocks of happiness (family, structure, etc.), but I’d gain adventure, ruggedness, and assuredness born from being solely responsible for my safety. I’d live by my own rules.

In other words, sometimes I wish I could live like Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Fact and fiction | Financial Times

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Notes on Peru

I spent 11 days in Peru with two friends in the Spring of 2021, during which time we visited Lima, Paracas, Ica, Huacachina, Cusco, and a few other minor towns. The following is a summary of some notes I took during the trip. As with my Notes on Spain, I’ll try to keep my accounts brief and to stay away from ordinary travel blogging observations.

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Everything You Might Want to Know about Whaling

Whaling Scene Painting by English School

I think whaling is really cool. I can’t help it. It’s one of those things like guns and war and space colonization which hits the adventurous id. The idea that people used to go out in tiny boats into the middle of oceans and try to kill the biggest animals to ever exist on planet earth with glorified spears to extract organic material for fuel is awesome. It’s like something out of a fantasy novel.

So I embarked on this project to understand everything I could about whaling. I wanted to know why burning whale fat in lamps was the best way to light cities for about 50 years. I wanted to know how profitable whaling was, what the hunters were paid, and how many whaleships were lost at sea. I wanted to know why the classical image of whaling was associated with America and what other countries have whaling legacies. I wanted to know if the whaling industry wiped out the whales and if they can recover.

This essay is the result. It is over 30,000 words long, a new record for my blogging. It’s broken into seven parts linked here:

Part I – Economic Value of a Whale

  • Breakdown of the parts of a whale which have been harvested and commercially traded throughout history
  • Description and valuations of whale oil, meat, baleen, and other resources
  • Attempts at estimating quantities of resources extracted from a single whale

Part II – Hunting

  • Breakdown of the whale hunting methods throughout history
  • Shore hunting, ocean hunting, and technological evolutions in hunting
  • The many ways whale hunting can go wrong

Part III – Early Whaling History (6,000 BC-1700 AD)

  • Overview of the origins of whaling
  • Estimated value of a beached whale
  • The commercial success of Basque whaling

Part IV – The Anglo Whaling War (1700-1815)

  • Tracking the ascendancy of British whaling based on subsidies, tariffs, and military dominance
  • Tracking the challenge of early American whaling based on innovation
  • Explanation of why American whaling triumphed

Part V – The Golden Age of Whaling (1815-1861)

  • Examination of the high point of global whaling, when whaling was one of the most important industries on earth
  • Most in depth description of the economics and experience of whaling – 50% labor desertion rate, highly inconsistent payout matrix, 6% of voyages never returned, etc.
  • Golden Age whaling did not have a significant impact on global whaling populations

Part VI – The Industrial Age (1865-1986)

  • Fall of US dominance, rise of Norway and then European competition
  • Overview of early attempts to restrict whaling for environmental purposes, and why they failed
  • Collapse of whaling population, estimated species populations before and after industrial whaling

Part VII – Modern Whaling (1987-Present)

  • Present state of whaling legality and population impacts
  • Norway and Japan continue to hunt whales for opaque cultural reasons
  • Commercial whaling can return, but I’m not sure if it should

As with my deep dive into K-pop, I advise that if you are interested in whaling, but not that interested, you should skip some sections and focus on others. Parts I and II are short and get into the fun nitty-gritty details of the practice of whaling. Parts III and IV are more about the history of the industry and how it interacted with politics, trade policy, etc, and are the most easily skipped sections. Part V is the longest and (IMO) most interesting section; it’s both an overview of American whaling and a deep dive into the economics of the industry, including crew payouts, profitability, venture earnings, and the impact of whaling on the global whale population. Part VI and VII bridge the gap between the high point of whaling and its near death in the modern age.

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The 24 Hour “Do Nothing” Challenge

12 Secret Benefits of Doing Nothing | Radiant Life Chiropractic

There’s not too much to say on this one, so I’ll keep it short.

My goal was to do nothing for 24 hours. Like everyone in the modern world, I’m hopelessly addicted to little dopamine bursts provided by algorithmically optimized technology (in my case – Reddit, video games, phone messages, and having music or tv shows in the background), so I wanted to see if I had the willpower to cut off all stimulation for an extended period of time.

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