This is very well put, regarding Trump and indictments

From this substack

So. A thought experiment: If, in 2008, as Barack Obama was closing in on victory in the presidential race, he’d suddenly been mass-indicted by a long series of exclusively Republican prosecutors, would Democrats have abandoned him? “Oh, that’s it for me, if Obama has been indicted, I have to support someone else!” Or would the indictment of a popular Democratic politician by a bunch of Republicans have resulted in an immediate explosion of furious, redoubled support? This is the easiest question anyone has ever asked, by the way.

And throw in the fact that many other prominent politicians have done very, very similar things with no criminal persecution (Pence and Biden with documents, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore with election recounts and fraud allegations) and the feeling of unfairness is obvious, if not accurate. To steelman things, sure, Trump went slightly farther, and did things as abrasively as possible, but his supporters would say that is to be expected, and just Trump being Trump. Sensemaking is ever a constant struggle.

Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. A somewhat padded but useful book about what to record and how to record any bit of information you come across in your life. It started out as a course but was distilled down into several guiding principles and put into book form. I found it worth reading if you plan to actually put the lessons of the book into action. It could have been shorter without missing anything of value but such is the nature of the beast.

How I Discovered It

From the Thomas Frank Youtube/Nebula Channels

Who Should Read It?

People who intend to be more organized

How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • A better notion setup
  • More focused note taking
  • Better overall information organization.
  • A focus on the reusable “intermediate packets” – which is a valuable concept

Summary + Notes

We spend countless hours reading, listening to, and watching other people’s opinions about what we should do, how we should think, and how we should live, but make comparatively little effort applying that knowledge and making it our own. So much of the time we are “information hoarders,” stockpiling endless amounts of well-intentioned content that only ends up increasing our anxiety.

To be able to make use of information we value, we need a way to package it up and send it through time to our future self.

The Building a Second Brain system will teach you how to: Find anything you’ve learned, touched, or thought about in the past within seconds. Organize your knowledge and use it to move your projects and goals forward more consistently. Save your best thinking so you don’t have to do it again. Connect ideas and notice patterns across different areas of your life so you know how to live better. Adopt a reliable system that helps you share your work more confidently and with more ease. Turn work “off” and relax, knowing you have a trusted system keeping track of all the details. Spend less time looking for things, and more time doing the best, most creative work you are capable of. When

I became the project manager of my own condition, taking detailed notes on everything my doctors told me, trying out every suggestion they made, and generating questions to review during my next appointment. With

Research from Microsoft shows that the average US employee spends 76 hours per year looking for misplaced notes, items, or files.

This digital commonplace book is what I call a Second Brain. Think of it as the combination of a study notebook, a personal journal, and a sketchbook for new ideas. It is a multipurpose tool that can adapt to your changing needs over time.

You’re allowed to reference your notes at any time, provided you took them in the first place.

For modern, professional notetaking, a note is a “knowledge building block”—a discrete unit of information interpreted through your unique perspective and stored outside your head.

Their stories convey a pervasive feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction—the experience of facing an endless onslaught of demands on their time, their innate curiosity and imagination withering away under the suffocating weight of obligation.

There are four essential capabilities that we can rely on a Second Brain to perform for us: Making our ideas concrete. Revealing new associations between ideas. Incubating our ideas over time. Sharpening our unique perspectives.

Before we do anything with our ideas, we have to “off-load” them from our minds and put them into concrete form. Only when we declutter our brain of complex ideas can we think clearly and start to work with those ideas effectively.

In its most practical form, creativity is about connecting ideas together, especially ideas that don’t seem to be connected.

Having a Second Brain where lots of ideas can be permanently saved for the long term turns the passage of time into your friend, instead of your enemy.

American journalist, author, and filmmaker Sebastian Junger once wrote on the subject of “writer’s block”: “It’s not that I’m blocked. It’s that I don’t have enough research to write with power and knowledge about that topic. It always means, not that I can’t find the right words, [but rather] that I don’t have the ammunition.”

The second way that people use their Second Brain is to connect ideas together. Their Second Brain evolves from being primarily a memory tool to becoming a thinking tool. A piece of advice from a mentor comes in handy as they encounter a similar situation on a different team.

To guide you in the process of creating your own Second Brain, I’ve developed a simple, intuitive four-part method called “CODE”—Capture; Organize; Distill; Express. These are the steps not only to build your Second Brain in the first place, but also to work with it going forward.

The solution is to keep only what resonates in a trusted place that you control, and to leave the rest aside.

The best way to organize your notes is to organize for action, according to the active projects you are working on right now. Consider new information in terms of its utility, asking, “How is this going to help me move forward one of my current projects?”

Every time you take a note, ask yourself, “How can I make this as useful as possible for my future self?” That question will lead you to annotate the words and phrases that explain why you saved a note, what you were thinking, and what exactly caught your attention. Your notes will be useless if you can’t decipher them in the future, or if they’re so long that you don’t even try. Think of yourself not just as a taker of notes, but as a giver of notes—you are giving your future self the gift of knowledge that is easy to find and understand.

Information is always in flux, and it is always a work in progress. Since nothing is ever truly final, there is no need to wait to get started.

Information is food for the brain. It’s no accident that we call new ideas “food for thought.”

A knowledge asset is anything that can be used in the future to solve a problem, save time, illuminate a concept, or learn from past experience.

Knowledge assets can come from either the external world or your inner thoughts. External knowledge could include: Highlights: Insightful passages from books or articles you read. Quotes: Memorable passages from podcasts or audiobooks you listen to. Bookmarks and favorites: Links to interesting content you find on the web or favorited social media posts. Voice memos: Clips recorded on your mobile device as “notes to self.” Meeting notes: Notes you take about what was discussed during meetings or phone calls. Images: Photos or other images that you find inspiring or interesting. Takeaways: Lessons from courses, conferences, or presentations you’ve attended.

If you try to save every piece of material you come across, you run the risk of inundating your future self with tons of irrelevant information. At that point, your Second Brain will be no better than scrolling through social media.

The renowned information theorist Claude Shannon, whose discoveries paved the way for modern technology, had a simple definition for “information”: that which surprises you.7 If you’re not surprised, then you already knew it at some level, so why take note of it? Surprise is an excellent barometer for information that doesn’t fit neatly into our existing understanding, which means it has the potential to change how we think.

If what you’re capturing doesn’t change your mind, then what’s the point?

but if you take away one thing from this chapter, it should be to keep what resonates.

First, you are much more likely to remember information you’ve written down in your own words. Known as the “Generation Effect,”10 researchers have found that when people actively generate a series of words, such as by speaking or writing, more parts of their brain are activated when compared to simply reading the same words. Writing things down is a way of “rehearsing” those ideas, like practicing a dance routine or shooting hoops, which makes them far more likely to stick.

I eventually named this organizing system PARA,I which stands for the four main categories of information in our lives: Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives. These four categories are universal, encompassing any kind of information, from any source, in any format, for any purpose.

PARA can handle it all, regardless of your profession or field, for one reason: it organizes information based on how actionable it is, not what kind of information it is. The project becomes the main unit of organization for your digital files.

There’s another way. I will show you how to take the notes you’ve captured and save them according to a practical use case. By taking that small extra step of putting a note into a folder (or tagging itIII) for a specific project, such as a psychology paper you’re writing or a presentation you’re preparing, you’ll encounter that idea right at the moment it’s most relevant. Not a moment before, and not a moment after.

With the PARA system, every piece of information you want to save can be placed into one of just four categories: Projects: Short-term efforts in your work or life that you’re working on now. Areas: Long-term responsibilities you want to manage over time. Resources: Topics or interests that may be useful in the future. Archives: Inactive items from the other three categories.

Projects have a couple of features that make them an ideal way to organize modern work. First, they have a beginning and an end; they take place during a specific period of time and then they finish. Second, they have a specific, clear outcome that needs to happen in order for them to be checked off as complete, such as “finalize,” “green-light,” “launch,” or “publish.”

Each of these is an example of an area of responsibility, and together they make up the second main category of PARA. All these areas, both personal and professional, require certain information to be handled effectively, but they’re not the same as projects.

The third category of information that we want to keep is resources. This is basically a catchall for anything that doesn’t belong to a project or an area and could include any topic you’re interested in gathering information about.

Any note or file that isn’t relevant or actionable for a current project or area can be placed into resources for future reference.

Finally, we have our archives. This includes any item from the previous three categories that is no longer active.

The archives are an important part of PARA because they allow you to place a folder in “cold storage” so that it doesn’t clutter your workspace, while safekeeping it forever just in case you need it.

Projects are most actionable because you’re working on them right now and with a concrete deadline in mind. Areas have a longer time horizon and are less immediately actionable. Resources may become actionable depending on the situation. Archives remain inactive unless they are needed.

This order gives us a convenient checklist for deciding where to put a note, starting at the top of the list and moving down: In which project will this be most useful? If none: In which area will this be most useful? If none: Which resource does this belong to? If none: Place in archives. In other words, you are always trying to place a note or file not only where it will be useful, but where it will be useful the soonest. By placing a note in a project folder, you ensure you’ll see it next time you work on that project. By placing it in an area folder, you’ll come across it next time you’re thinking about that area of your work or life. By placing it in a resource folder, you’ll notice it only if and when you decide to dive into that topic and do some reading or research. By placing it in archives, you never need to see it again unless you want

started. The goal of organizing our knowledge is to move our goals forward, not get a PhD in notetaking. Knowledge is best applied through execution, which means whatever doesn’t help you make progress on your projects is probably detracting from them.

There is a parallel between PARA and how kitchens are organized. Everything in a kitchen is designed and organized to support an outcome—preparing a meal as efficiently as possible. The archives are like the freezer—items are in cold storage until they are needed, which could be far into the future. Resources are like the pantry—available for use in any meal you make, but neatly tucked away out of sight in the meantime. Areas are like the fridge—items that you plan on using relatively soon, and that you want to check on more frequently. Projects are like the pots and pans cooking on the stove—the items you are actively preparing right now. Each kind of food is organized according to how accessible it needs to be for you to make the meals you want to eat. Imagine

PARA isn’t a filing system; it’s a production system. It’s no use trying to find the “perfect place” where a note or file belongs. There isn’t one. The whole system is constantly shifting and changing in sync with your constantly changing life.

Any piece of information (whether a text document, an image, a note, or an entire folder) can and should flow between categories.

They had repeatedly postponed their creative ambitions to some far-off, mythical time when somehow everything would be perfectly in order. Once we set that aside and just focused on what they actually wanted to do right now, they suddenly gained a tremendous sense of clarity and motivation.

You could also create folders for your areas and resources, but I recommend starting only with projects to avoid creating lots of empty containers. You can always add others later when you have something to put inside them. Although you can and should use PARA across all the platforms where you store information—the three most common ones besides a notetaking app are the documents folder on your computer, cloud storage drives like Dropbox, and online collaboration suites like Google Docs—I recommend starting with just your notes app for now.

Each time you finish a project, move its folder wholesale to the archives, and each time you start a new project, look through your archives to see if any past project might have assets you can reuse.

don’t worry about reorganizing or “cleaning up” any existing notes. You can’t afford to spend a lot of time on old content that you’re not sure you’re ever going to need. Start with a clean slate by putting your existing notes in the archives for safekeeping. If you ever need them, they’ll show up in searches and remain just as you left them.

They require a bit more refinement to turn them into truly valuable knowledge assets, like a chemist distilling only the purest compound. This is why we separate capturing and organizing from the subsequent steps: you need to be able to store something quickly and save any future refinement for later.

Your job as a notetaker is to preserve the notes you’re taking on the things you discover in such a way that they can survive the journey into the future.

Discoverability is an idea from information science that refers to “the degree to which a piece of content or information can be found in a search of a file, database, or other information system.”

Progressive Summarization is not a method for remembering as much as possible—it is a method for forgetting as much as possible. As you distill your ideas, they naturally improve, because when you drop the merely good parts, the great parts can shine more brightly.

A helpful rule of thumb is that each layer of highlighting should include no more than 10–20 percent of the previous layer.

When the opportunity arrives to do our best work, it’s not the time to start reading books and doing research. You need that research to already be done.

Our time and attention are scarce, and it’s time we treated the things we invest in—reports, deliverables, plans, pieces of writing, graphics, slides—as knowledge assets that can be reused instead of reproducing them from scratch. Reusing Intermediate Packets of work frees up our attention for higher-order, more creative thinking.

Fourth, and best of all, eventually you’ll have so many IPs at your disposal that you can execute entire projects just by assembling previously created IPs. This

While you can sit down to purposefully create an IP, it is far more powerful to simply notice the IPs that you have already produced and then to take an extra moment to save them in your Second Brain.

Ask yourself: How could you acquire or assemble each of these components, instead of having to make them yourself?

Note:This is a key insight . design for future discoverability and use

Our creativity thrives on examples. When we have a template to fill in, our ideas are channeled into useful forms instead of splattered around haphazardly. There are best practices and plentiful models for almost anything you might want to make.

Those four retrieval methods are: Search Browsing Tags Serendipity

Search should be the first retrieval method you turn to. It is most useful when you already know more or less what you’re looking for, when you don’t have notes saved in a preexisting folder, or when you’re looking for text,

If you’ve followed the PARA system outlined in Chapter 5 to organize your notes, you already have a series of dedicated folders for each of your active projects, areas of responsibility, resources, and archives.

You will begin to see yourself as the curator of the collective thinking of your network, rather than the sole originator of ideas.

This is a turning point in the life of any creative professional—when you begin to think of “your work” as something separate from yourself.

Translated to English, it means “We only know what we make.”

One of my favorite rules of thumb is to “Only start projects that are already 80 percent done.” That might seem like a paradox, but committing to finish projects only when I’ve already done most of the work to capture, organize, and distill the relevant material means I never run the risk of starting something I can’t finish.

My father planned for creativity. He strategized his creativity. When it was time to make progress on a painting, he gave it his full focus, but that wasn’t the only time he exercised his imagination. Much of the rest of the time he was collecting, sifting through, reflecting on, and recombining raw material from his daily life so that when it came time to create, he had more than enough raw material to work with.

What I learned from my father is that by the time you sit down to make progress on something, all the work to gather and organize the source material needs to already be done. We can’t expect ourselves to instantly come up with brilliant ideas on demand. I learned that innovation and problem-solving depend on a routine that systematically brings interesting ideas to the surface of our awareness.

One of the most important patterns that underlies the creative process is called “divergence and convergence.”

The first two steps of CODE, Capture and Organize, make up divergence. They are about gathering seeds of imagination carried on the wind and storing them in a secure place. This is where you research, explore, and add ideas. The final two steps, Distill and Express, are about convergence. They help us shut the door to new ideas and begin constructing something new out of the knowledge building blocks we’ve assembled.

Your Second Brain is a powerful ally in overcoming the universal challenge of creative work—sitting down to make progress and having no idea where to start.

When you distinguish between the two modes of divergence and convergence, you can decide each time you begin to work which mode you want to be in, which gives you the answers to the questions above. In divergence mode, you want to open up your horizons and explore every possible option. Open the windows and doors, click every link, jump from one source to another, and let your curiosity be your guide for what to do next. If you decide to enter convergence mode, do the opposite: close the door, put on noise-canceling headphones, ignore every new input, and ferociously chase the sweet reward of completion. Trust that you have enough ideas and enough sources, and it’s time to turn inward and sprint toward your goal.

I used to lose weeks stalling before each new chapter, because it was just a big empty sea of nothingness. Now each chapter starts life as a kind of archipelago of inspiring quotes, which makes it seem far less daunting. All I have to do is build bridges between the islands.

An Archipelago of Ideas separates the two activities your brain has the most difficulty performing at the same time: choosing ideas (known as selection) and arranging them into a logical flow (known as sequencing).

The goal of an archipelago is that instead of sitting down to a blank page or screen and stressing out about where to begin, you start with a series of small stepping-stones to guide your efforts. First you select the points and ideas you want to include in your outline, and then in a separate step, you rearrange and sequence them into an order that flows logically. This makes both of those steps far more efficient, less taxing, and less vulnerable to interruption. Instead of starting with scarcity, start with abundance—the abundance of interesting insights you’ve collected in your Second Brain.

How do you create a Hemingway Bridge? Instead of burning through every last ounce of energy at the end of a work session, reserve the last few minutes to write down some of the following kinds of things in your digital notes: Write down ideas for next steps: At the end of a work session, write down what you think the next steps could be for the next one. Write down the current status: This could include your current biggest challenge, most important open question, or future roadblocks you expect. Write down any details you have in mind that are likely to be forgotten once you step away: Such as details about the characters in your story, the pitfalls of the event you’re planning, or the subtle considerations of the product you’re designing. Write out your intention for the next work session: Set an intention for what you plan on tackling next, the problem you intend to solve, or a certain milestone you want to reach.

Note:Make this a notion thing

Knowing that nothing I write or create truly gets lost—only saved for later use—gives me the confidence to aggressively cut my creative works down to size without fearing that I’ve wasted effort or that I’ll lose the results of my thinking forever.

Set a timer for a fixed period of time, such as fifteen or twenty minutes, and in one sitting see if you can complete a first pass on your project using only the notes you’ve gathered in front of you. No searching online, no browsing social media, and no opening multiple browser tabs that you swear you’re going to get to eventually. Only work with what you already have.

The three habits most important to your Second Brain include: Project Checklists: Ensure you start and finish your projects in a consistent way, making use of past work. Weekly and Monthly Reviews: Periodically review your work and life and decide if you want to change anything. Noticing Habits: Notice small opportunities to edit, highlight, or move notes to make them more discoverable for your future self.

The practice of conducting a “Weekly Review” was pioneered by executive coach and author David Allen in his influential book Getting Things Done.III He described a Weekly Review as a regular check-in, performed once a week, in which you intentionally reset and review your work and life.

The truth is, any system that must be perfect to be reliable is deeply flawed. A perfect system you don’t use because it’s too complicated and error prone isn’t a perfect system—it’s a fragile system that will fall apart as soon as you turn your attention elsewhere.

orchestrating and managing the process of turning information into results.

We can try to describe how we do these things, but our explanations always fall far short. That’s because we are relying on tacit knowledge, which is impossible to describe in exact detail. We possess that knowledge, but it resides in our subconscious and muscle memory where language cannot reach.

you can always fall back on the four steps of CODE: Keep what resonates (Capture) Save for actionability (Organize) Find the essence (Distill) Show your work (Express)

Thank you to Venkatesh Rao for serving as my introduction to the online world of ideas.

Quote of the Day from CS Lewis

I’ve probably posted this before, but

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Would anyone come to a Progress Studies Atlanta group?

A while back I had the thought that Progress Studies would would take the place of Effective Altruism after the PR and financial hit of the FTX implosion – that seems not to be happening.  I also had the thought that I should create a “Progress Studies Atlanta” group, but I’m not sure where to begin on that. The obvious answer is “Something, something Georgia Tech” but I have no connections there.

Ideally it would be a monthly gathering of technical experts or technical experts talking and letting information rain like manna from heaven to experts in other fields, a la a classic salon or the Lunar Society.

If you have any thoughts please leave them in the comments or contact me directly.

Alms for Oblivion by Peter Kemp

From my Notion book template

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Alms for Oblivion is the final book in Peter Kemp’s war memoirs. It covers his time in the far east (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia) slightly before and after the surrender of Japan. He spends much of his time trying to prop up the French and Dutch colonial empires, often using Japanese troops who had not yet been released from their army service.


It was the best written of his books, it had to most geographical information of any of them. I did spend a lot of time pondering how much of his impressions of the local population were true vs a heavily biased British viewpoint. I was the most surprised by the lack of self reflection of how he went from law student to Lt Colonel in charge of a (sort of) country in a very short period of time. The post war colonial world was also very, very fractured, more so than I would have thought

How I Discovered It

I read the previous two books in the war trilogy

Who Should Read It?

Anyone who read the previous books

How the Book Changed Me

No changes – perhaps a further enforcement of the view that societies are very complicated things and the thought that disparate groups would unite in the face of a common threat is actually an attribute of very advanced societies.

Summary + Notes

For me it proved a first-class travel agency, sending me at His Majesty’s expense to countries that I could never otherwise have hoped to visit.

Juliet was a trim and self-possessed young woman with soft brown hair, faultless curves and inviting dark blue eyes. Most of her advice on the Far East proved inaccurate; she did, however, give me a few tips of more lasting value, and she was a sparkling, even bewitching companion and partner in pleasure.

A heavy rucksack, I told the training staff, was a white man’s burden that I was not prepared to tote; a small haversack such as had served me well in Albania and Poland was the most I would allow to aggravate my prickly heat; anything bulkier must be carried by mule, pony, bullock-cart or local labour—or abandoned. I never had cause to change this view.

I could only recall the bitter words of Colin Ellis’s epigram: ‘Science finds out ingenious ways to kill Strong men, and keep alive the weak and ill, That these asickly progeny may breed: Too poor to tax, too numerous to feed.’

In the excitement and fatigue of the last few days I had forgotten that this was indeed my thirtieth birthday, 19th August 1945.

The soil is poor and so, therefore, are the people, who supplement their income by breeding water buffalo, oxen and pigs for export to other parts of the country. But poverty has not brought discontent; most of the land is owned by the peasants who till it, and those twin vultures, the absentee landlord and the money-lender, cannot prey here as in India and in Lower Siam.

The Chinese, on the other hand, though not loved were tolerated; they owned all the hotels and eating houses and, together with the Indians, all the shops.

I received also a great deal of information that turned out to be false. The problem of sifting true from inaccurate reports was one that I was never able to solve the whole time I was on the frontier; I was at the mercy of my agents, who turned out as often as not to be double agents.

Another of his duties was to supervise the disarming of some eleven thousand Japanese and the shooting of their horses, which were in terrible condition, having been shamefully neglected by their masters. He was astonished, therefore, to see the Japanese soldiers in tears as they shot their horses, and then to watch them remove their caps and bow for two minutes before filling in the graves, which they covered with flowers.

Although the capital of the Laotian province of Cammon, Thakhek had a very large Annamese population, which in fact outnumbered the Laos; in the countryside, on the other hand, there were comparatively few Annamites, for they tended to congregate where there was some form of industry to give them employment. There was no love lost between the two races. The majority of Laos stood by the French, whereas the Annamites detested them and, having collaborated actively with the Japanese, were now organizing themselves into a Communist movement, with the declared intention of expelling the French from the whole of Indo-China; this movement was the Viet-minh. Now the Annamites, having obtained large supplies of arms from the Japanese, would, after the departure of the latter, control Thakhek. Tavernier’s troops were too weak and poorly armed to drive them out; indeed, they would be lucky to hold their own.

When the Japanese occupied French Indo-China in 1940 they did so with the acquiescence of the Vichy authorities who at that time ruled the colony; the French Colonial Army had orders not to resist. Until March 1945 the Japanese were content to use the country as a base, leaving the administration in the hands of the French, whose soldiers retained their arms.

The headman, who spoke pidgin French, procured us the men we needed; but it took time to assemble them, for hurry is a word unknown in the Laotian vocabulary.

During our talk the Annamese insisted on producing for our close inspection the very messy bodies of their dead—as Smiley commented, they must have been unattractive enough when alive.

A few days of rest, decent food and, above all, freedom from fear, worked amazing changes in their appearance, especially among the women. After observing the effects of a little make-up and a lot of ingenuity on one or two of the girls, I began to regret that present circumstances did not allow me to cash in on my position as their liberator and protector.

Although since the last century, when they had annexed Cambodia, the French had been the immediate object of Siamese fear and suspicion, always there had been the remoter but much more formidable menace of China.

The American attitude was summarized by the late Mr. Chester Wilmot, who wrote, ‘Roosevelt was determined that Indo-China should not go back to France.’ Mr. Graham Greene, who visited the country early in 1954, wrote of American intervention: In 1945, after the fall of Japan, they had done their best to eliminate French influence in Tongkin. M. Sainteny, the first post-war Commissioner in Hanoi, has told the sad, ignoble story in his recent book, Histoire d’une Paix Manqée—aeroplanes forbidden to take off with their French passengers from China, couriers who never arrived, help withheld at moments of crisis.

We were shortly to witness even worse. Like ourselves the French had been accustomed to thinking of the Americans not only as allies but as friends; it never occurred to any of us simple officers that the most powerful country in the free world would deliberately embark upon a policy of weakening her allies to the sole advantage of her most dangerous enemy. We have learnt a lot since, but in those days it all seemed very strange.

At the end of the month the Chinese arrived in strength. Almost their first action was to invite all the French officers to a dinner-party. At the Chinese headquarters in the Residency, where the tricolour was flying in their honour, Fabre and his companions were courteously shown into a room and immediately surrounded by Chinese soldiers with levelled tommy-guns. They were relieved of their arms, equipment, money and watches and ordered to quit the town instantly, on pain of arrest. After some argument Fabre himself was allowed to stay, together with his wireless set and operator; but he had to send the rest of his force ten miles away, for he had been ordered to avoid incidents with the Chinese.

Banks assured them that he was determined to put an end to what he called French aggression; also that Chinese troops would shortly arrive to disarm the French and take over the administration of the country pending the establishment of a ‘national and democratic government’ in Indo-China, free from the rule of France.

I reflected that if it were true, as we had heard, that the Viet-minh had Japanese deserters in their ranks, it was lucky for us that none of them was behind those guns.

Cox was a clever and experienced officer who had served with Force 136 in Burma; his gift for extracting the maximum amount of quiet fun out of life made him a delightful companion. Maynard was a young man of twenty-two whose ingenuity and enthusiasm more than compensated for any lack of maturity. Powling, a tall, quiet, very young soldier, most efficient at his job, unfortunately died the following January from virulent smallpox.

The girls were not prostitutes; they would take no money from us, but gave themselves over with uninhibited abandon to the pleasures of the night. Their attitude was not untypical, in my experience, of the Siamese outlook on sex which seemed to be compounded of equal parts of sensuality and humour.

Nothing so concentrates a man’s mind, observed Dr. Johnson, as the knowledge that he is going to be hanged.

My intention had been to apply at once for the demobilization to which I was now entitled. But while waiting in Bangkok I was offered and immediately accepted the command of a mission to the islands of Bali and Lombok in the Netherlands East Indies. There the Japanese garrisons had not yet surrendered, and the situation in both islands was obscure; SEAC therefore decided to send in a small advance party of British troops before committing the Dutch forces of occupation.

Tolerance and mercy are qualities seldom found in twentieth century revolutionaries.

whenever I have to give orders to clear out a nest of snipers that’s been harassing my men I seem to feel the hot, angry breath of Socialism on the back of my neck. So

I had never met Japanese in battle, the most I had had to do was keep out of their way. Now in my unearned hour of triumph I felt ashamed to watch this veteran sailor, who had spent his life in a service with a great fighting tradition, weeping openly over his humiliation at the hands of a jumped-up young lieutenant-colonel who had never even fought against

Lying between eight and nine degrees south of the Equator Bali naturally enjoys a warm climate and an even temperature throughout the year; there is in fact less than ten degrees variation between the warmest and coolest months. Sea winds preserve the island from the burning heat of other equatorial lands, but from November until April the north-west monsoons bring heavy rainfall and the discomforts of a high humidity; the pleasantest months are from June to September, when a cool, dry wind blows from Australia.

In their fear and hatred of the sea the Balinese are exceptional among island peoples. At Sanoer I saw men wading in the lagoon a few yards off shore with casting nets, or putting to sea in canoes with triangular sails and curiously carved and painted prows, to hunt the sea turtles that are a favourite delicacy at banquets; but most Balinese avoid even the coast and the beaches. In the words of Covarrubias ‘they are one of the rare island peoples in the world who turn their eyes not outward to the waters, but upward to the mountain tops.’

Every adult male Balinese, he says, was obliged to contribute a tax to his rajah in the form of work; if a man died without leaving a son old enough to take over this work, his widow and female children became the rajah’s property. Old women were employed in the palace, the middle-aged put to heavy manual labour; but the young girls—often before the age of puberty—were forced to become prostitutes and pay as much as nine-tenths of their earnings to the rajah. In Badung, the old principality of Den Pasar, Dr. Jacobs met several of these prostitutes under the age of puberty. Each rajah owned between two and three hundred of these unfortunate girls—a considerable source of income.

It is true that Hindu gods and practices are constantly in evidence, but their aspect and significance differ in Bali to such an extent from orthodox Hinduism that we find the primitive beliefs of a people who never lost contact with the soil rising supreme over the religious philosophy and practices of their masters. . . . Religion is to the Balinese both race and nationality.

Certain acts or conditions of individual members can make the whole community sebel, or unclean, and therefore vulnerable to evil forces. Such acts extend beyond the unpardonable crimes of suicide, bestiality, incest and the desecration of a temple, to quite innocent or unavoidable breaches of taboo; a menstruating woman, for instance, is sebel and must be secluded, and parents who have twins will render their village sebel. To such a people, in the words of Mr. Raymond Mortimer, ‘sin is not a disregard for conscience but a breaking, no matter how unintentional, of a taboo; and the resulting pollution can be removed only by ritual cleansings and sacrifice.’

There are four main castes, of which more than ninety per cent of Balinese belong to the lowest, the Sudras. The three noble castes are the Brahmanas, the priests; the Satrias, the princes, and the Wesias, the warrior caste. All three claim divine origin—from Brahma, the Creator—which is probably why the common people hold them in such respect. The Brahmanas are theoretically the highest, although the Satrias are inclined to contest their superiority; their influence is religious rather than political, but they serve as judges in the courts; their own laws forbid them to engage in commerce. Brahmana men carry the title Ida Bagus, and the women are styled Ida Ayu, both meaning ‘Eminent and Beautiful’. The two principal titles of the Satrias are Anak Agung, ‘Child of the Great’, and Tjokorde, Prince. Most of the nobility, however, belong to the Wesias and carry the title, Gusti; they have considerable political influence.12

There do not seem to be any ‘untouchables’, as in India, but certain professions are ‘unclean’ and will pollute a village if practised within its boundaries; among them are, strangely enough, pottery, indigo-dying and the manufacture of arak—a powerful, fiery spirit distilled from the juice of the sugar palm.

Only the laws of marriage are inflexible between the castes. A man may marry a woman of an equal or lower caste, but never may a woman marry a man of lower caste; even sexual intercourse between the two is forbidden, and in former times was punishable by the death of the guilty pair.

The most terrible of all punishments for a Balinese is expulsion from the village, when the offender is publicly declared ‘dead’ to the community; when the Dutch abolished the death penalty this became the capital punishment. ‘A man expelled from his village cannot be admitted into another community, so he becomes a total outcast—a punishment greater than physical death to the Balinese mind. It often happens that a man who has been publicly shamed kills himself.’

‘Childlike’ is the label attached in this hideous age to a people unresponsive to the language of the demagogue, the high-pressure salesman and the advertising hound; it is a label that bears no resemblance to the character of the Balinese, although they prefer their traditional way of life to that of the modern world, which, they would certainly agree with Pierre Louÿs, ‘succombe sous un envahissement de laideur.’ They have neither the ignorance nor the innocence of childhood, although they give an impression of its simplicity. They are, as I have said, the most skilful agriculturists in Asia, they are painters, craftsmen, poets, musicians and dancers; and their art has aroused the envy of a civilization to whose arrogance, ugliness and brutality they are largely indifferent.

The enthusiasm of the Balinese for this sport is as intense as that of the British for football or the Spanish for bulls; in ancient times, indeed, men would sometimes gamble away their whole fortunes in cockfights, even staking their wives and children. It was for this reason that the Dutch government intervened.

Moreover, unlike the Common Law of England, Balinese law does not hold a husband responsible for his wife’s debts.

Leaving the Buffs by the car Shaw and I approached the Pemudas; we put on the most nonchalant air we could muster, but for my part I know that my stomach felt full of butterflies and, as the Spaniards so prettily express it, my testicles were in my throat.

‘No, and I don’t suppose they care either. It must be all the same to these highlanders whether the Dutch, the Nips, the British or their own people are in power. Nobody seems to have bothered about them; they look as if they live pretty near the starvation level, and I’m sure they wouldn’t recognize a social conscience if they saw one.’

by the early symptoms of the tuberculosis which eighteen months later almost ended my life. Apart from the usual persistent cough, to which I paid no attention, I became noticeably neurotic, short tempered and snappy, with spells of overpowering lassitude that seemed to deprive me of all my energy and will. At the time I put everything down to war-weariness and alcohol.

Why they made no attempt to kill us all is something I can only attribute to Hubrecht’s personal popularity with the Balinese, and to the well-known Oriental affection for lunatics and children.

It occurred to me now that I was just two months short of my thirty-first birthday and for ten years I had been almost continuously at war; I wondered how I should make out in peace.

Atomic weapons thought experiment

A thought experiment

Suppose that on the eve of Germany invading Poland Hitler has a debilitating stroke or a heart attack and power is seized by a loose collection of his underlings.  They do not attack Poland (high risk, Hitler was the gambler among them) and consequently they do not go to war with France and the UK.

Germany and the USSR continue rearming, so does France, the UK and to a lesser degree, the US.

Japan continues it’s war in China but does not initiate conflict with any of the US and European powers (low upside, high downside risk if there is no war with Germany)

German keeps control of it’s various territories, Austria, Sudeteland(sp), Checkoslavakia, etc .

The world slips into a cold war type arrangement, similar to the US and Soviet Union in 1955, but more dispersed

Proxy wars abound, in a much more complicated way, but no great power conflicts.

The question – does anyone on any side develop nuclear weapons in this scenario?  The Manhattan project was insanely expensive and was competing only with other military projects, and had an immediate use.  If there was no immediate use, no sense of national urgency and was competing with both civilian and military uses for the funding –  would anyone on any side have bothered to develop atomic weapons at that cost, both financial and talent?

This came up on the Lunar Society podcast with Richard Rhodes – he thought that the technology had too much promise to go undeveloped, which I thought too, but after more thinking about it I am no longer sure.  It was an obvious choice in a military/war environment, less obvious in a high tension peace environment.  The Star Wars program of the 1980s (a very imperfect comparison) would suggest that atomic weapons would not be developed.

Update – I ran this by a group of very smart people, all of whom disagreed with me. I am still somewhat convinced of my position though.