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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Death Stranding simultaneously contains more good and more bad than probably any other video game I have ever played.
Death Stranding’s basic setting and story pieces are epic, ambitious, utterly original, and wonderfully imagined. Many cutscenes are the best Kojima has ever directed. The atmosphere is grim, immersive, all-encompassing, and beautifully crafted, just like the game’s environment and music. Many characters are crisp, fun, and well-captured by real actors. The core gameplay is a revolution in fundamental game mechanics. I blasted through a 50-hour initial playthrough, put in another 20 hours to get all the trophies, and then replayed the whole story again in an additional 20 hours, and I was never bored.
Death Stranding’s plot is convoluted, confusing, both over-and-under explained, and lets down its incredible premise. The pacing is bad, with way too much happening at the beginning and end of the game and not enough happening in the vast middle. Many of its characters are dull or nonsensical. Plenty of dialogue is cringeworthy. The core gameplay is too easy, and barely evolves throughout the course of quite a long game.
That mixture of greatness and disaster is what makes Death Stranding so amazing. It’s a work of pure auteurism. Hideo Kojima is an eccentric genius with a touch for imaginative worlds and epic stories and big ideas executed in completely original ways, but he’s also a bad writer with some terrible storytelling instincts. There has been much speculation on how these two parts of Kojima were enhanced or hindered during the development of each Metal Gear game, but Death Stranding seems to be the ultimate personification of both at the same time… the best and worst Kojima has to offer in one package.