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In addition to the websites that I regularly link to in the ‘Top News Stories’ column, I also enjoy reading a small collection of independent news aggregators. Here are some of those sites, in no particular order (some links are now dead, unfortunately…):
- Maggie’s Farm
- Rice Farmer
- Energy Matters
- 321 Gold
- 321 Energy
- The Automatic Earth
- Dollar Collapse
- It’s Different This Time
- Gus Van Horn
- Econ Circus
- Investing in Chinese Stocks
- Bachheimer (auf deutsch)
The employed-to-population ratio:
All the various official inflation measures:
M1 and M2 money supply growth. The Fed no longer tracks M3.
What Taps Is Reading
Here are some books that I have recently read/listened to and enjoyed enough to mention. One thumbs up means I enjoyed it enough to recommend. Two thumbs up means it’s one of my all-time favorites. The most recent reviews are listed first:
One Thumb Up – The slightly chintzy title belies a noteworthy and rare biography of Mithradates, one of the principal enemies of Rome during the late Republic. A somewhat academic feeling book at first, it nonetheless recounts the remarkable story of the man who won a series of spectacular battles against Rome (and many crushing defeats). The book is interesting both for depicting the remarkable life of Mithradates (who tried to make himself immune to various poisons by consuming small doses of them) and as a another window into the disfunction of the late Roman Republic and the cultural divide between what would (much later) become the East and West Empires. As the author is quick to point out, the actual source material for the book is spotty, leaving much of the story up to inference and interpretation. While the author at times may take some apocryphal history a tad too literally, all in all, it was a good read for a fan of Roman history.
One Thumb Up – This book was written before Covid. That was a strict requirement for me as I had no interest in enduring forced after-the-fact parallels between the Black Death and the last few years. It recounts the progression of the Black Death though Europe from the perspective of various cities, giving the reader a sense of the dismally unsanitary world in which the disease spread, the calamitous losses, and how communities dealt with it. Some degree of repetition emerges from this pattern as most cities had similar experiences and dealt with the disease in similar ways. Of course, a few parallels to Covid (an immensely less deadly disease) do emerge and are all-the-more noteworthy precisely because they are not forced and after-the-fact. Those parallels include inflation, labor shortages, zealotry, conspiracy theories, and humanity’s apparently limited ability to act rationally when under duress.
One Thumb Up – This is an epic story of survival and tragedy from the early ‘Heroic’ era of polar exploration. It is compellingly and accurately recounted by the author Buddy Levy and I would consider it a staple of the genre.
When reading other accounts and comparing it to this book, one is nonetheless left with the feeling that the book does not sufficiently emphasize the controversial nature of Lieutenant Greely’s decision to leave Fort Conger. True, he was following preordained orders to leave the arctic camp if resupply missions had failed to reach them for two years. However, he and his men left with 40 days’ provisions to search for caches presumably deposited further south by the very resupply missions which they knew had failed at some unknown point en route. When they left in search of those supplies, they abandoned at least a year’s worth of food and good hunting grounds, enough to have sustained them until the third resupply/rescue attempt.
One Thumb Up – The first half of this book is superb and meticulously researched. It sets the stage for the emergence of Christianity in the Roman/Judean world and makes the case that the teachings of Jesus Christ and his disciples were a moral and philosophical revolution. It tracks the development of the church and the writings that eventually became biblical canon and reveals how the peculiarities of that process, combined with Christian morality, created the intellectual framework for much of what we take for granted in the West: secularism, humanism, philanthropy, communism, even atheism and western science. All of that is argued well and has changed how I see the world.
Somewhere around the middle of the book, things start to go wrong. Instead of framing medieval Catholicism’s devolution into inquisitions, witch hunts, genocide, etc… as a degradation of the Christian moral concepts he has worked so hard to lay out, they are presented as part of that tradition. So are the Church’s internal reform efforts and the Protestant reformation. That starts a pattern of pointing to both sides of every historical development (capitalism and communism, humanism and fascism, slavery and abolitionism, etc…) and showing how each exists within Christianity’s unique moral framework. Some cases are stronger than others and, after hundreds of pages, the line between unique Christian morality and old fashioned human nature blurs. Worse, with each new chapter, less scholarly effort goes into the assertions. The ‘Great Game’ colonization of Africa gets a paragraph and then a retouch later. He attributes monogamous marriage to Christianity by just declaring it, certainly news to Jews who’ve been practicing it since 1,000 BC.
Then it gets weird. The Beatles and ‘Live-Aid’ concerts get a whole chapter. He conveys World War II through the lens of the Lord of The Rings. Mercifully, Mr. Holland spares us his take on how the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe fits into it all.. Then you realize that the book was published in 2020 and so… there has to be Harvey Weinstein, Victor Orban, etc… What started as a fantastic scholarly work, a classic, ends up talking about Trump’s Access Hollywood tape.
One Thumb Up – The book is very clear about what it is not: a chronological history of the Peloponnesian War. Instead, it is a slightly non-linear exploration of what the war was like, who the main characters were, and how it progressed. Of course, that makes it pretty close to being a history of the war without being one, thus a bit awkward. Nonetheless, it is meticulously researched, easy for the layman to follow, and worth the read if only to disabuse the reader of any utopian fantasies about ancient Greece or Athenian democracy. It also provides the reader a very human view into a brutal ancient conflict, which, like all eras, has parallels, stretched and legitimate, with today.
One Thumb Up – First non-autobiographical English-language recounting of a formative episode in polar exploration: the first over-wintering in Antarctica. It also serves as a biography of the fascinating Frederick Cook, a man who later claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole and summit Denali (claims disputed) and was convicted of committing a major wildcatter fraud but also discovered several innovations in the treatment of scurvy. The title’s emphasis on ‘madness’ miscolors the dynamic and at times, through no fault of the author, the plot is a bit listless and anti-climactic. The underlying story is, to a degree, less ‘dramatic’ than better know episodes of polar exploration.
One Thumb Up – Too many people named Frederick, Ferdinand, or Christian for easy reading. Nonetheless, an excellent recounting of a conflict I knew very little about. While the book doesn’t emphasize this, it documents the epoch that births the enlightenment. This book make the list for lack of a better alternative. Let me know if you know of one!
Two Thumbs Up – In addition to being a pretty accurate and concise walk through of the various technologies that are, or will soon, enable increasing spacefaring, it contains a moral case for exploring space, and a modern defense of classical liberalism. Good riddance to the apcoloypse mongers.
One Thumb Up – A well crafted history of perhaps the most relevant period of Roman history to modern day America: the period that proceeded and precipitated the fall of the Republic. A natural reading book, assuming that you like Mr. Duncan’s somewhat informal style. When politics become a blood-sport, democracy is doomed.
One Thumb Up – A bit complicated for a single book, ‘text-bookish,’ a starting point for understanding the historical epoch.
Two Thumbs Up – This book manages to tie nearly 300 years of history into a cohesive, engaging, authoritative book that is simultaneously informative and a pleasure to read. The author weaves a coherent narrative around numerous actors without creating confusion. I was sad to finish the book. The only critique is that it did not cover the People’s Crusade.
Two Thumbs Up – A history of one of the most remarkable, and overlooked, voyages of exploration of the conquistador era.
While the nature of the material for this book leaves it with a somewhat
narrower scope than Buddy Levy’s other excellent book, Conquistador: Hernan Cortes…, it is nonetheless masterfully written and a fascinating story of Francisco Orellana’s unintended voyage down the length of the Amazon river. It is both a survival story and a window into the pre-colonization cultures of the Amazon based largely on the accounts of Orellana and his men.
There is a repetitive pattern that develops as Orellana snakes down the Amazon meeting tribe after tribe, but despite this inevitability, book is thoroughly enjoyable.
As more large scale archeological sites are discovered in the Amazon, this story becomes all the more fascinating.
Two Thumbs Up – One of the most dramatic episodes in all of human history. Masterful. Read this book.
One Thumbs Up – Eclectic, light, repetitive, disorganized, too long, enjoyable.
One Thumbs Up – Exactly what you’d expect. A guilty pleasure
George Orwell – You and the Atomic Bomb
Orwell wrote the essay ‘You and the Atomic Bomb’ in 1945 within two months of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Russia didn’t have the bomb yet. Mao hadn’t seized China yet.
E.M. Foster – The Machine Stops (PDF)
E.M. Foster wrote the short story ‘The Machine Stops’ in 1909, amazingly capturing the psychological landscape of our modern tech dystopia decades before the earliest computer had been invented, let alone video chatting on tablets.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr – Harrison Bergeron (PFD)
Harrison Bergeron, a short story about the tyranny of equality of outcomes, was assigned reading at my public high school. I rather doubt it still is.
Kurt Vonnegut’s life, in and of itself, is a remarkable story.
Here is a disorganized assortment of things that you may find interesting, or not…
Rowan Atkinson explains what free speech is and what it isn’t:
The freedom to say that which a given society deems non-controversial has been enjoyed by every society in history. Free speech only has meaning when it applies to speech that society finds controversial, rude, wrong, and/or offensive.
Thomas Sowell on Wealth, Poverty, and Politics:
An aside, Dr. Sowell is 85 in this interview.
Milton Friedman: Free to Choose – 1979
I would have loved to know Milton Friedman’s take on the last decade.
Mike Wallace Interviews Ayn Rand
Calvin Coolidge on taxes and government spending in 1924:
Calvin Coolidge was the last president to write his own speeches.
The Doomsday Gap:
If you’ve ever wondered about the logic behind doomsday weapons like Russia’s cobalt-60 nuclear tsunami torpedoes and nuclear powered nuclear missiles, Peter Sellers summed it up perfectly back in 1964:
To be continued…