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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Reflections on Having a Bad Idea

A few weeks ago, a friend came to me with a bad idea.

He wanted us to start a dietary supplement and nootropics company together. We would use dropshipping to offload most inventory and management costs, then go to a mutual friend for cheap web design, and then tap into our networks for some surprisingly good sales and endorsement opportunities.

He acknowledged that I have no formal biology background besides AP Bio and watching House. He also had no formal background. This might lead an objective observer to conclude that we were not the best qualified individuals for selling other people chemicals to put in their bodies.

But… we had both started and run businesses successfully. He had had been using supplements and nootropics on a daily basis for years, and had put an impressive amount of effort into understanding them as evidenced by his ability to rattle off chemical components and mechanisms with the slightest prompting. He also had unique access to people who could promote and sell our product.

Most importantly, the entire supplements/nootropics field was in the “Wild West” (his words). Entrepreneurs all over the world were putting out bundled nootropic supplements with names like Alpha Brain and Brain Force Plus, and so if we, in the spirit of scientific adventure, put our heads together and actually tried to run a legitimate company which used only the most scientifically verified substances, we could pass the low bar set by the current market, and then rely on marketing skills and connections to carve out our own little chunk of a two billion dollar industry.

This was a really, really bad idea.

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The Blind, Alone, and Confused for 24 Hours Challenge

For 24 hours I will be blind and alone in my apartment. I eventually want to try being blind for a week, but I’ll need seven days with no other obligations, and I won’t have that for a while. For now, I’ll suffice with a smaller-scale experiments with a few extra provisions for added difficulty.

Rules:

  1. I must leave my blindfold on for 24 hours.
    • If I remove the blindfold, I have failed the experiment
    • If the blindfold falls off or I can get partial sight, I have failed the experiment.
    • I am only allowed to readjust my blindfold if I can see light.
  2. I must not be in contact with any other people for 24 hours.
    • I cannot answer my phone or any other messaging system.
    • I cannot receive in-person visitors.
    • If someone knocks at the door, I cannot answer verbally or physically.
  3. I will set an alarm for 24 hours. I cannot set any other alarms or use any other means to ascertain the time.
    • It is up to me to keep my phone charged so the alarm goes off.
  4. I cannot leave my apartment.
Continue reading “The Blind, Alone, and Confused for 24 Hours Challenge”

Thoughts on Meaning and Writing

I was once at a dinner party and someone was telling me about her recent trip to Arizona. One of the highlights was visiting a biodome project where scientists had attempted to achieve a totally self-sustained structure in preparation for the colonization of other planets. I told her that Steve Bannon used to run that place. She didn’t believe me. I obnoxiously pulled out my phone and showed her Bannon’s Wikipedia page.

Steve Bannon has lived a fascinating life. That’s not an evaluation of his politics or morality, it’s a statement of fact. Witness Bannon’s life in bullet points:

  • Born in 1953 in Norfolk, Virginia to a telephone lineman and a housewife
  • Attended military prep school and then Virginia Tech for a degree in Urban Planning, was elected president of the student body, worked in a junk yard
  • Served in the navy for seven years in the Pacific fleet
  • While in the navy, earned a Masters in National Security Studies from Georgetown
  • After leaving the navy, earned an MBA from Harvard
  • Got a job at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker in the mergers & acquisitions division, worked way up to a Vice President position
  • Left Goldman Sachs with some colleagues to launch Bannon & Co., a boutique investment bank specializing in media, nabbed a small slice of syndication rights to mega-hit tv show Seinfeld, still receives residual payments from the show to this day
Continue reading “Thoughts on Meaning and Writing”

Everything You Need to Know About Chinese People (According to the US Government in 1943)

A Pocket Guide To CHINA: Including Milton Caniff Cartoon Strip: Milton Caniff, Various members Special Services Division, US Army: Amazon.com: Books

Pocket Guide to China is a 64 page primer for American soldiers stationed in China during World War II written by unknown personnel of the Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces of the United States Army. The text offers insights into Chinese behavior, cultural values, food, cleanliness, social structure, military capabilities, and everything else an intrepid American spending years in the deep interior of a foreign land might need to know. The Guide is a charming time capsule of old-school liberalism, propaganda, and clunky-yet-earnest cultural tolerance, and while it’s too short for me to write a deep dive, I couldn’t help but do a quick write-up about it.

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A Deep Dive into K-pop

KPOP Collections: Kpop Groups Collage

Prior to last month, I knew next to nothing about K-pop (Korean popular music) besides having heard a few songs in passing and the rumors of the industry’s infamous elements, most notably a string of high profile suicides over the last few years. As an American with no connection to music or South Korean culture, I wondered if I was getting an accurate picture of the industry or if I was being misled by the most lurid and morbid elements eagerly conveyed by the media.

So I decided to do a deep dive down the internet rabbit hole of K-pop to understand what it is, how it works, and what I think about it. For anything that’s not my personal opinion or that goes beyond basic historical knowledge, I’ll cite my sources, which are a mixture of news articles, academic articles, YouTube videos, and some content aggregators like Wikipedia and Statista. I welcome any corrections or criticisms on inaccurate sources or things I didn’t understand.

I’ll warn you upfront – this essay is over 30,000 words long. It is the largest post I have made on dormin.org besides my novel. Since I sympathize with anyone who doesn’t want to make such a large time investment into a subject of passing curiosity, I will present my key findings here divided between the five parts of the essay. If you’re not sure if you want to read everything, you can jump to any individual part and understand it without reading the other sections.

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Notes on Spain

Bypassing numerous international restrictions, I traveled from America to Spain for a month-long trip in July.  Most of the month was spent in and around Madrid, but I took a brief trip north to Galicia, specifically Vigo and Santiago de Compostela. It’s a beautiful country, great culture, fun people. Here I will compile my notes on Spain and some assorted thoughts about the country and Europe as a whole. For reasons that will soon become relevant, I want to say upfront:

  • I really enjoyed my time in Spain
  • I spent much of my time with young, politically lefty, artsy types
  • I’m going to make a bunch of generalizations about Spaniards and Europeans off of my experience both with this trip and living abroad in Asia for many years. My confidence interval on most of these claims is fairly low.

With that said, here are my notes on things I found interesting during my time in Spain alongside pictures I took on the trip:

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How Much Would You Need to be Paid to Live on a Deserted Island for 1.5 Years and Do Nothing but Kill Seals?

I read and reviewed Oliver Platt’s Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age over a year ago, and I haven’t been able to get one small story from the book out of my head.

In 1793, the British government launched the Macartney Embassy, the nation’s first formal diplomatic mission to China. A few ships led by statesman George Macartney set sail from Portsmouth, England, traveled down to Rio de Janeiro, then around the southern tip of Africa, across the bottom of the Indian Ocean, up through Indonesia, along the Chinese coast, to finally arrive at Beijing. The whole journey took ten months, and the diplomats played cards, drunk tea, looked out for exotic wildlife, and watched crew whippings to forget about being bored out of their minds.

While in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the crew spotted a tiny volcanic island. To their surprise, there were two men on the land desperately waving a makeshift flag in the air to get the crew’s attention. Macartney assumed the men were shipwrecked sailors, and he quickly ordered the ships to stop to lend assistance.

Wanna Run and Hide Big Time? Travel to 6 of the World's Remotest ...

On the island, the crew found five men – three Frenchmen and two Americans (from Boston). Surprisingly, they were not shipwrecked, but were living on the island voluntarily under contract with a French merchant company. Their jobs were to harvest seal pelts to sell in Canton, China. They had been alone on the island for six months and had wracked up 8,000 seal pelts, and they still had another year to go on the contract before the merchant company picked them up.

Continue reading “How Much Would You Need to be Paid to Live on a Deserted Island for 1.5 Years and Do Nothing but Kill Seals?”

Polygamy, Human Sacrifices, and Steel – Why the Aztecs Were Awesome

Aztec Leaders: Rulers, Supreme Ruler and the Voice of the People ...
A Chadtec surveys his domain.

The Spanish conquest of the Aztecs was terrible. It was a prolonged period of pestilence, famine, torture, rape, plunder, destruction, conquest, cultural eradication, and general misery, with a short term death toll of something like 600,000 (including military and civilian casualties), and a long term death toll in the millions.

And yet part of me thinks it was totally awesome. That portion of my brain that grew up on Total War and Civilization games thinks the concept of a small number of hyper-technologically sophisticated foreigners led by a verified psychopath waging war on an empire of pyramid-dwelling, polygamist, slave-owning, human sacrificing pagans with the fate of a largely uncharted landmass at stake is incredibly cool. And no one can convince me otherwise.

There are surprisingly few books on the Aztecs, so I took a chance on Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs by Camilla Townsend, which as of writing this only has four reviews on Audible (though 30+ on Amazon). I hope the book gets its due because it’s a fast, narratively-focused, and thoroughly enjoyable walkthrough of hundreds of years of little-understood history, from before the settlement of Tenochtitlan through the Spanish conquest, and over the following hundreds of years of Spanish rule. Townsend’s novel approach to the material is to rely heavily on history texts written by the Aztecs in their native Nahuatl language in the 20-50 years after the Spanish conquests, on top of well-studied archaeological findings.

My main takeaway from the book is that the Aztecs were a highly unique civilization that I desperately want to learn more about. They offer great insights into how a society with radically different structures and norms might function. Whether it was due to their relative geographic isolation, unusual environmental factors, or achievement of a high level of technology for a pagan tribal society, the Aztecs seemed to follow very different civilizational paths than the ancient Greeks, Persians, Chinese, and Indians, despite being at a fairly comparable level of development by the 1500s.

Continue reading “Polygamy, Human Sacrifices, and Steel – Why the Aztecs Were Awesome”