March has been quite busy for me! A lot of travel, which, while excellent, leaves a man desiring a more rooted form of existence, one where I’m flying Frontier airlines less often. I know literally every millennial talks about this, but what if we just all buy land in the mountains nearby one another? Expect more ruminating on this in future newsletters.
In the meantime, I’ll be in London April 14th - 18th. I’d love to meetup with any BenGoldhaber(.com) UK-based subscribers.
Toki Pona: An experimental language with an extremely small vocabulary, pushing the boundaries on how minimal a language can be. With only 120 root words, more complex words and phrases are derived from extensive combinations of words. For instance, you might call a computer a thinking machine - ilo (machine) lawa (mind) - or maybe an information machine - ilo (machine) sona (have information on). Every interaction is like a game of semantle.
A Chemical Hunger: The obesity epidemic is a mystery. While there are many theories about why people around the world have been getting fatter, they all have their inadequacies. The authors go through the existing theories, point out the ways they fall short, and propose an environmental explanation: namely chemicals in the water supply are driving an increase in everyone's average weight. The essay contains lot of interesting anecdotes:
Multiple lines of evidence confirm that sugar consumption is falling worldwide.
The residents of Kitava, mentioned earlier, have a diet of starchy roots and tubers. Almost 70% of their calories come from carbohydrates, but they don’t suﬀer from obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.
Obesity is less common at high altitudes because of the watershed. Environmental contaminants build up as water flows downhill and are in much higher concentrations as you approach sea level.
The future of weight loss: In contrast to the above, there’s strong reason to be optimistic, as it seems that drug interventions to promote weight loss have finally gotten safe and effective. An article in Works in Progress describes the advances that have been made over the past several years, with multiple approved drugs now on the market.
In his hands, semaglutide causes an average of 18–20% loss of body weight when paired with diet and lifestyle advice. … [they] reduce the overall risk of dying by about 12% in people with type 2 diabetes.
Outliers: A nice overview of the benefits of taking an outlier heavy strategy in many different domains.
Being Too Old Is a Beautiful State of Mind: Sasha Chapin's ode to the transition from exploring to exploiting. The sheer existential freedom of life is overwhelming at times; it's nice to declare at some point that you're just too old for all that.
My chess teacher, Ben Finegold, would avoid complicated chess positions, saying of them, “I can’t look at this, I’m too old.” This, I now understand, was an act of self-compassion, as well as a statement about his preferred style of chess. In this world of seemingly infinite association, the full flowering of possibility makes constant implicit demands on you. Don’t you want to embrace everything that’s out there? No, actually. You don’t, you don’t want to. And that’s fine. You are fine where you are, in the golden land of Too Old.
The Screwtape Letters: Another classic from C.S. Lewis, taking the form of a series of letters between a senior and junior demon tempter. They serve as a prompt for ironic reflection on the form of temptation in ones own life.
The characteristic of Pains and Pleasures is that they are unmistakably real, and therefore, as far as they go, give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality.
Spinning Silver: Excellent fantasy book from the author of A Deadly Education set in an unnamed, Eastern European shtetl and kingdom. The initial protagonist is a young moneylender who encounters magical and human monsters.
But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.
Pitch Perfect: 2015 was so simple. Young Anna Kendrick, young Skylar Austin, singing fun songs from the 2010s and quipping. It's definitely worth rewatching. You can rent it on YouTube, or you can watch a bunch of clips of them singing (though the movie has a lot of great lines I forgot about so honestly consider springing for the $3.99 rental).
Superman: Red Son: An animated version of a comic book mini-series where Superman lands in the U.S.S.R. instead of America. I enjoyed the comic book when I read it, and it's an enjoyable adaptation.