The World's Only Cybermorphic™ Weblog

And oh, why not, a review of "Debt" that's four years old

[This came up because a certain professor invited me to read Graeber's article "Debt: The first 5000 years". I had done so in 2011; the article was published in 2009. I think my critique from 2011 holds up, so I'm publishing it here, lightly edited. I hope you will all look forward to my upcoming article, "Decorative Gardening: The First 5000 Years"]:

It's an interesting take, but I think the author suffers from Moore-Klein Syndrome: find coincidences, name them correlations, assume causation. And while an anthropologist's analysis of debt could be fascinating, I think this one is burdened by being written by an anthropologist.

More particularly, he seems to ignore that the Slavery Question is whether anyone can be regarded as someone else's personal property, and that slavery doesn't generate shocking property institutions, but rather that those institutions are shocking when used on a person.

Recent events in Greece, explained by an ignoramus

Let's lay out my credentials up front: I have few. I'm not an economist, or good at monetary theory, international finance, or Greece. I married into a Greek family, and I've spent numerous vacations there in the last 15 years. I don't really speak the language. Therefore, you can ignore me, if that saves time.

So what just happened?

Let's talk about some reference materials, in particular this interview of Piketty, (published in German, so we're trusting this translation and the second-hand analysis to some degree) regarding Greece.

Thinking hard about action movies: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

The Fritter Diaries: Mennonite Fritters

The Fritter Diaries, Day 1

We're in search of the perfect apple fritter. This is the first try.

With the permission of my Mennonite friend Johnny Sunshine, I have culturally appropriated honoured the recipe of his people, so let's examine the result.

This is an apple-heavy, pan-fried recipe. The dough rising is powered by baking powder.

Should you buy an electric car? Wired Cola investigates

Someone was wrong on the Internet the other day, and I was determined to fix that. The question at hand was "why don't cargo ships run on electricity?" And short answer is: because they can't.

But that led to some questions about the economics of electric cars, right here, right now. Because in the midst of trying to prove that EVs were still a non-economic choice, I ran the numbers, and it turns out I'm right! But only barely.

How energy-efficient are pipelines anyway?

Really efficient. They use less than 1/3 the energy of a freight train, per tonne per kilometre*, and in some places (like BC) the power mix is vastly greener for the pipeline than the train.

First, excellent story of the day, a Belgian brewery wants to put in a beer pipeline. This is awesome.

Second, my good friend Michael made a quip about this, saying "not all pipelines add greenhouse gases."

Well...the comment made me do some math.

1150 km is a funny distance to move something, but it happens to be the distance of the Trans Mountain (EDM - YVR) pipeline. Northern Gateway is actually more like 2000 km. For our purposes, longer transit distances make transport efficiency more important, but I did all the calculations based on 1150 km.

Showing your work is boring, so trust me:

Dinner with the UK Conservatives

It's not like me to take a shot at conservative parties, as I am properly fond of our muddling-through overlords. But a friend sent me a link to a list of attendees at a 2013 fundraiser for the UK Conservative Party, courtesy the Grauniad.

I started to read the who's-who bios of those dinner guests. First, I'm (naively?) shocked that foreigners are casually invited to participate in a party fundraiser. Second, I like how the David Burnside table includes "Putin's judo partner," and the Boris Johnson table includes Andrei Borodin, who has been granted UK asylum from politically-motivated prosecution in Russia.


Ryan buys a patch kit in Greece

I can speak enough Greek to be understood in a bike shop. What follows is a transcript of our Greek conversation.

ME: Do you have "patch kit"?*
CLERK: [Greek I don't understand, but she doesn't understand "patch kit."]
ME: I look. [Literally, βλέπο ("vlepo") which is the verb form "I look", but which I hope implies "I am looking", as it does in the phrase "μόνο βλέπο" ("mono vlepo"), which is "I am just looking," a phrase you can use to drive Greek shopkeepers crazy, since they mainly hear it from English tourists. Greek scholars, probably including my lovely bride, may now giggle.]
[looks around, finds a patch kit]
ME: How much is this?
Me: OK! [pays]
SECOND CLERK: [question I don't really understand, but is probably "do you want a bag?"]
Me: No. It is ok. [puts kit in jersey pocket to demonstrate that yes, it's ok]
Me: Thanks, good day!

As you can see, my Greek is amazing, running to a vocabulary of at least two dozen words.


Here's a list of memorable things we saw or did in Folegandros.

-The hike to the church above the Hora

-2-up dirt-road scootering on Oliver, the little 125 cc scoot that could. Very practical rental, handled hills without complaint, maybe the most wooden and non-powerful front brake I've ever felt. Rebecca was remarkably game as I rode the scooter on a fairly hairy dirt and rock road. The road was supposed to go to a beach, but we took a wrong turn, and yadda yadda, we ended up in a swamp and then on a very rocky not-a-beach. Swimming ensued regardless.

-curried goat tagliatelle at Pitsara (?) in the Hora, eaten in a pretty square in the centre of town. It was one of the best things I've had. Rebecca enjoyed her stuffed zucchini as well. I ordered a Kaiser, slightly bemused at the price, but less so when it ended up being a 500 mL bottle.

Athens to Syros: A 3-hour Tour

The ferry trip from Piraeus, the port of Athens, to Syros is scheduled as about a 3-hour trip. We sailed at 5:30, estimated arrival before 9. We were on the Blue Star Paros, a solid car-carrier ferry, and one we had been aboard before. It's typical of the bigger ferries on the Greek island routes: single stern ramp, conventional bow, capable of carrying semi-trailers on the car deck and a few hundred people on the passenger decks above.

We took up seats outside, on the aft deck, right by the rail.

After about an hour, the sea started kicking up, and the spray was sufficient that we decided to move to different seats on the aft deck, further inboard and protected.

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