You are probably going to want to see the video of a monkey playing the video game, Pong, with his implanted brain, so I’m putting that link at the end. So you have to at least skim my other idiosyncratic thoughts this week. I’ve been thinking a lot about China and Food.
➳Monkey playing Pong with his brain
➳Decline of poverty debate (degrowth vs green growth)
➳Understanding China through its food
➳Plausible NetZero path for Europe
➳Any changes to theatre? Build back different?
➳One good idea in the controversial Sewell race report
Notable theatre maker, Chris Goode had this tweet recently which had me thinking.
Short thought on theatre inequity: There are thoughtful threads from theatre peeps thinking about how the industry might build back better or differently as the pandemic has highlighted challenges (inequity, digital, freelancers). But, my 30,000 foot view is that this is not going to be the case. “Financial Winners” in theatre and performing arts are concentrated in a small number - reflecting other industries, but potentially even more acute - and the vast number of entry level jobs are difficult to access if you are poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Skimming the industry structure and entrenched stakeholders, I do not see this changing, so post-COVID I think it’s likely the industry settles back as before, with at best moderate change. Maybe that’s a reflection of many other industries too although - maybe strangely for an industry focused on creativity - I sense there may be even less change in theatre compared to other sectors.
Decline of poverty debate (degrowth vs green growth). In a corner of Twitter there was a flare up of the simmering arguments between degrowth thinkers epitomised by Jason Hickel and poverty and inequality researchers, in this instance, Max Roser of World In Data. This is important for me as I rely on the WiD poverty data in Thinking Bigly. The Roser work based on academic papers reconstructing GDP is used by some market proponents and techno-optimists to argue that market forces/innovation have helped global poverty (v. simplified argument) and that innovation and growth will continue to be an important part of helping the global poor. Hickel argues (in my simplified interpretation) the data are flawed and as growth (and mechanisms/structures created by eg. colonialism) has not been as helpful then de-growth (especially in rich countries) is a better mechanism. A balanced leftist view you can find from Branko Milanovic, who I find broadly comes out in favour of the Roser work, and has very good work on inequality (Branko is also not a de-growth economist). Although Branko is also a techno-optimist, the innovation-market view is probably best seen in the work and essays of Bill Gates. These discourses are happening and I think if you want to be an active thinker or do-er here you should join the debate.
Understanding China through its food
-"Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper" a memoir travel book by Fuchsia Dunlop gives subtle and deep insights into Chinese thinking through food
-oppression of Uyghurs through food
-understanding the rare and exotic and why increase meat consumption is a trend is likely to continue
-understanding the sheer range and complexity of Chinese food
-why understanding a little about the culture or cuisine of a food is necessary to appreciate whether it is “good” or not
Fuchsia Dunlop's travel and food memoir of China, "Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper", is one of the two best books I’ve read in recent years in helping me think about China today and its history.
(The other book is by Julie Lovell: Maoism a global history. Lovell has also recently translated an abridged version of the Monkey King which is also really worth reading. The Monkey King is one of the four great classic novels of China the others being the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, and Dream of the Red Chamber. A great number - I would go so far to say that the majority of educated Chinese people - would have read or at least know the stories in all four books. This observation indicates a quality infused in Chinese culture.)
Dunlop immerses herself in Chinese food culture and commits to eating everything. While grappling with the tapestry of Chinese food and culture on its own terms she does not lose sight of her own British upbringing and lends insights to those of us who have never visited China to understand why some practices might be. Through the stories and experiences one can see how food and cuisine are culture and how they travel through the country and through the world.
This is meaningful to me as the British born son of a Chinese Malaysian father and a Chinese Singaporean mother and I see this in the story I’ve related of how the dish of chicken rice came from roots in China via immigrants to Singapore, Malaysia and SE Asia and where it is now handed down to me in London.
Take the topic of eating everything and the potentially unsustainable food trajectory that the world is on
“...The Chinese do seem to eat everything, one must admit. But in a sense they are just a distorting mirror magnifying the voracity of the entire human race. The Chinese word for "population" is "people mouths" and in China there are now over 1,300,000,000 mouths all munching away… it’s the same with timber, minerals and oil which feed Chinese economic development. China has become the world's largest consumer of grain, meat, coal and steel. It may look rapacious but the Chinese are really just catching up with the greed of the rest of the world on a dizzying scale.
There is an equally rich and ancient strain of Chinese thought. More than 2,000 years ago the sage Mozi wrote of ancient laws regarding food and drink.
Stop when hunger satiated, breathing becomes strong, limbs are strengthened and ears and eyes become sharp. There is no need of combining the five tastes well or harmonising the difference.
Confucius, living at around the same time did not eat much and took care that the amount of meat he ate did not exceed the amount of rice. His example has been used as a model for generations of Chinese children urged by the parents to eat up their rice or noodles and not be distracted by meat or fish…. And while businessmen and officials in early 21st century China stuff their faces with meat, fish and exotic delicacies, many people live at home on a simple diet of mainly grains and vegetables.
For the irony is that despite the conspicuous consumption of Banquet culture...the traditional diet of the Chinese masses could be a model for the entire human race.
...the way the older generation and the poor still eat... steamed rice or boiled noodles served with plenty of seasonal vegetables cooked simply, beancurd in many forms, very few sweet meats and small amounts of meat and fish that bring flavour to the table.
The traditional Chinese diet is nutritionally balanced and marvellously satisfying to the senses. After all my gastronomic adventures I don’t know if I can think of a better way to live...”
(Dunlop's cookbook Every Grain of Rice is a tribute to this frugal healthy and delicious home cooking idea). She addresses the culture which values the “banquet culture”, and how rarity or the exotic is valued. And in parallel what has happened to the environment, and to some traditional “old” things - like architecture and building and “wet markets” - disappearing under “progress”. I can see from this that these trends seem very likely to continue. In other parts of the book, Dunlop evokes in vignette the clash of cultures and riches within China that she sees. More in my blog here including a video.
Historian and economist Adam Tooze looks at the feasibility of EU NetZero by 2050 drawing upon EU Commision work and a substantial Mckinsey paper on this. And the conclusion from this, is that it is feasible although ambitious. He also mentions the work of Vaclav Smil (who most energy thinkers draw work from) and debates with Helen Thompson.
It’s a long detailed piece ( 5 - 10 mins) which coupons hundreds of pages of analysis which itself draws upon a lot of other work. Good reading for climate thinkers.
“Decarbonisation by 2050 is ambitious but feasible. According to McKinsey, almost three-quarters of the emissions reductions we need to attain by 2030—73 per cent to be precise—can be achieved with technologies which are either mature or in the stage of early adoption, such as electric vehicles. Only 5 per cent of the cuts necessary rely on technologies still on the drawing board. Even if we look as far out as 2050, 87 per cent of the necessary reductions can be achieved with technologies which are already in use or have, at least, been demonstrated on a small scale. That leaves 14 per cent to be covered by blue-sky innovation." His blog here.
In all the backlash against the recent UK race report led by Tony Sewell (aka Sewell report), it would be a shame if any of the sound recommendations were lost. If a murderer says “don’t murder” - how much less should we weigh the advice, if it has been thought out and reasoned. I’m unsure.
The one recommendation I’d like the UK to explore (with a potential view to decriminalisation of class B drugs) is "...individuals committing the offence of ‘possession of a Class B drug’ will automatically be considered for a drugs referral in lieu of traditional criminal justice routes…”
Even before intellectual philosophical moral arguments for moderate drugs (we should be allowed to do anything to our own bodies that doesn’t harm others) - these offences seem to be a causal driver of many challenges society has and negatively impacts inequity in many of its forms.
I am not hopeful. But maybe. Note the libertarian think tank, Cato Institute is very supportive as are certain leftist think tanks. When right and left can agree - can main stream politics move social and political will? Although perhaps overstated by proponents, the case from Portugal which decriminalised in 2001 seems to be positive.
A look at current US economists thinking re: Biden. Old views vs New Views and how that impacts everything from spending, climate, incentives, taxes, thinking on inflation. John Cochrane.
Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science. NYT article.
I found this from Kate Clanchy very moving on how to try and let her parents have a good death and how you can be classed as dying from a broken heart. Long read Guardian.
➳“I want Mummy to go to jail because she said the wrong thing yesterday.” Each time Spike talks about a stabbing or murder it is like a punch in the gut. On autism and learning.
Autism aware. “Let’s observe our thoughts. As a thought comes into your mind, say it out loud and I’ll write it down, here. Then we can think about those thoughts. Are they helpful or unhelpful? True or untrue? Ok. What are you thinking?”
“Knifing a man on a train.
I want an Antboy costume.
I want Mummy to go to jail because she said the wrong thing yesterday.”
Each time Spike talks about a stabbing or murder it is like a punch in the gut. I try not to react on the outside. I have trained myself not to. There is some complex psychology at play that I do not fully understand. I don’t want to add a cartoonishly shocked expression or my fear or anger to the mix. For the last six months or so Spike has been perseverating on an unpleasant collection of topics: prisons, arrests, murders and murderers, bullies and bullying. While I mostly manage to remain outwardly composed in the face of these verbal shocks, I feel it on the inside, my organs twisting in a soup of worry and fear. What is the cause of this perseveration? What are the consequences?
Anoushka, autism aware and the difficulties of regulation, language and learning.
OK. So here’s the monkey playing Pong with his brain. Elon Musk owns this company.
Neuralink is developing a fully-implanted, wireless, high-channel count brain-machine interface (BMI) with the goal of enabling people with paralysis to directly use their neural activity to operate computers and mobile devices with speed and ease.
You can see more here. Technology is going places where only science fiction was a few years ago.
In my irregular video chat series, amazing playwright and mentor, Jane Bodie and myself talk about art, life and writing. There’s a transcript and video.
Jane Bodie and Ben Yeoh talk about creative processes, how they have ended up as makers, the impact of the pandemic, what does or doesn’t make great art. For Ben the importance of travel (having travel agents as parents) and his early work as a photographer (when the photo world was analogue - see some here). For Jane, on teaching, family - having a mother as a brilliant artist, and understanding what makes for a brilliant writing day.
I chat with Rebecca Giggs on her new book looking at humanity through the lens of the whale. There is video and a transcript. Self-recommending.
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Archive and repeat words below. Stay well, Stay safe, Ben