Monthly Archives: December 2011

Amazing Tea Taxonomy 茶叶分类

All The Tea In China, India and Africa. Amazing Tea Taxonony James Kennedy Beijing
All The Tea In China, India and Africa. Click to Download.

Note: There now exists a newer version of this post titled Tea Types 2012.

I love tea. And while studying, drinking and writing about tea, I’ve categorized all the teas you’re ever likely to encounter onto one simple poster. There are thousands more rarer types and subtypes, which you can add yourselves via the comments section. This selection is a great start (and it’s all I’m willing to show you). If you learn only one thing from this diagram, it should be that there are thousands of types of tea. Tetley Pyramid Teabags are just the beginning (overpriced sweepings from the factory floor).

Sources: The Story of Tea, 识茶泡茶品茶 (Chinese book), tea blogs too numerous to list, personal experience (teas I drank) and Baidu.

Notes:

  • Darjeeling is coloured ‘teal’ because it is technically a Oolong tea, despite being classified widely as a Black tea.
  • Black tea is coloured ‘red’ because the Chinese classify tea by the liquor colour rather than the colour of the dried leaves.
  • Pu’er is sometimes considered a separate category because of its popularity. In which case, the other (non-Pu’er) Dark teas are usually ignored. I’ve chosen to include both Pu’er and non-Pu’er Dark teas in this poster.
  • There are many more sub-types of each tea. Take Iron Buddha, for example, which has its own characteristics within the class of “Iron Buddha”. Age, oxidation level and unique fragrance are but some of these many characteristics.
  • Sundried Green teas such as those made for local consumption in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, are coloured ‘white’ because they are technically white teas, despite the production process having been re-evolved as a shortcut to Green tea production. Sundried Green teas are distinguished further from the other Green teas because, like the vast majority of White teas, they usually use large-leaf Assamica subspecies of tree (Chinese: 古茶树; English: “India Bush”).
  • Modern Flower teas are usually classified as Green, White or Black, depending on the leaf colour. These modern Flower teas are (almost) an existing tea blended with flower or flower essence. However, the traditional method of Flower tea manufacture (via a Zaobei leaf), was totally different from that of any of the other six tea categories. I have therefore included Flower teas as a seventh type of tea (to which some tea-lovers may protest). Be quiet. Drink tea.
Related articles

Little Planets Gallery 小地球

Little Planet 小地球 Cambridge River Cam

Little Planet Chongwenmen City Wall

Above: Take Subway Line 2 or Line 5 to Chongwenmen Station (Chinese: 崇文门 English: Gate of Dignified Culture) and walk east (not south: that’s gaudy malls) towards the old City Wall. There’s a tranquil teahouse by the Wall, which, as demonstrated by the comment-plastered notice-board, is clearly loved by its patrons. At night, the wall is lit with pale coloured lights, which make for a pleasant walk/run around the park that runs parallel to it.

Follow the City Wall to Chang’an Jie (长安街 Avenue of Eternal Peace), leading to Tian’an’men Square.

Little Planet 小地球 Peking University

I created this Little Planet on an iPhone with the free Photosynth app from the App Store. The process is incredibly quick and fun to do. The only limitation with the iPhone’s camera here is the apparent dark sky around the sun. More clouds would reduce the contrast and solve this problem.

This is the lawn toward the famous West Gate of Beida (the one tourists pose by). It’s the best place to study in summer, and is usually populated with frisbees, foreigners, a rabbit, lost property and people who read textbooks standing up. Enjoy 😉

Little Planet 小地球 Peking University 100th Anniversary Hall

Panorama: Behind Tian'an'men Gate

Little Planet Xisi Temple 小地球

Above: Take Subway Line 4 to Xisi Station (Chinese: 西四 English: “West 4th”). Walk 100m west of Exit A to find this Buddhist temple. Recitals begin at around 3:50pm each day (during which I took this photo). Buddhists are allowed into the main building to chant; while visitors are allowed to stand outside and watch from a few meters away.

Being in a temple is a very soothing experience, especially during a recital. Afterwards, walk 50 meters south to find a Christian Church, then 300m further south to find excellent black sesame bao’zi 黑芝麻包子 from A’chunjia Bao’zi Shop (阿春家包子店).

Little Planet 小地球 Cambridge University Library

Little Planet 小地球 Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge Univeristy

Little Planet 小地球 Between the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, Beijing

Little Planet 小地球 Downing Site, Cambridge University

Method

Recipe for Little Planet pictures

Ingredients
1 camera
1 sunny day
1 pretty place
Software (PTGui Pro and Photoshop with the Flexify 2 plug-in)

Method
1) Choose a beautiful location. This is the hardest part. Good Little Planet pictures have a balance of colours, shapes and structures. 50:50 trees:buildings looks great. I found myself cycling around Cambridge looking in all directions, checking for potential “Little Planet” hotspots. By searching high and low for Little Planet opportunities everywhere I went, I realised the the world was much more beautiful than Al Gore told us in his movie(e.g. Downing Site looks like a butterfly).

2) Take lots of photos of the surroundings. Set the camera up perfectly (fastest shutter, highest ISO without noise, high-speed SD card, no flash, zoom right out). After lots of practice, this step can be done in less than 60 seconds. Photograph everything (360° both horizontally and vertically) and make sure the pictures overlap by at least 50%. Do the ground in great detail. Pause at the mid-levels to avoid (moving) people and wind. Rush the sky to capture moving clouds. Each photo should be about 1 megapixel with no flash. About 80–150 photos will be enough to cover absolutely everything you can see, including the ground and the sky (nadir & zenith). The bending process requires more photos of the ground than the sky (so photograph your feet, even if doing so makes you look like a lemon). Important: Don’t move and remember to photograph your feet (they’re your fixed, detailed ‘nadir’).

3) Blend them into a spherical/equirectangular panorama using PTGui Pro. The resulting picture is distorted, like a projection map of the world, and will be about 9 megapixels (HD versions are possible but they have to be stitched overnight; 9 MP is high-res enough for most purposes).

4) Export as a high-quality JPEG and open in Photoshop.

5) Open the Flexify 2 plug-in and set: Latitude=minus 90; Input=”equirectangular”; Output=”stereographic”. Then play with the zoom/ spin/ longitude settings until the surroundings are balanced on all sides. Keep your feet (your ‘nadir’) exactly in the centre, then use the photo-overlaps to edit them out completely with a cropping tool (as in the picture above).

6) Print Big.

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Little-Planets-小地球-by-James/132220726815260

Creative Commons License
Little Planets Method (text) by James Kennedy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Book: Nocturne: A Journey In Search of Moonlight

'Nocturne' on my gorgeously red bed

Unfamiliar. Intriguing. Exotic.
304 pages, ★★★★

Reading Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight feels like gazing at a full moon. Its deep, blue hardcover spills over the edges of bright, white paper, the lettering on which represents cleverly-arranged crater-shadows.

We follow the author far and wide in pursuit of moonlight. He takes us from London to Japan, to Arizona, and to Las Vegas; and spans the entire arts/sciences spectrum, too, into what I would call ‘culturally unfamiliar territory’.

On the one hand, this book inspired me to read more books. It reminded me that I know nothing about Milton, Goethe, Li Po, or Blake. On the other hand, his sections on history of science (Galileo’s telescope), the unlit street story and the author’s direct experiences (the London lunar eclipse, the Arizona moon-ray collector), were much easier to relate to and a pleasure to read.

Nocturne introduced me to new themes I want to explore: Hei’an Japan, Arabic tradition, history of Western science, and Western philosophy.

Most inspiring was the author’s funding application. In one fleeting mention, he tells us that he applied for funding (from an unnamed funding body) to go to Japan. He was granted the cash immediately, and used it to great effect. His trip to Japan became a substantial part of this book. If I could write like he does, then I could apply for funding, too…

Most people won’t find Nocturne as exotic as I did. For me, all culture is exotic, which is why I enjoyed this book. ★★★★

Book: The Art of War (Sun-Tzu)

Poetry about relationships.
(but write your own footnotes)

374 pages, ★★★★

The Art of War is poetry about relationships. It teaches us about romantic relationships, work relationships and family relationships. It is certainly not a book about war.

The original text speaks volumes and the commentaries are not needed, so I’ll keep this review very short. The Art of War serves as a guide, and it guides everyone uniquely. Any generation (in any situation) can easily interpret The Art of War into relevant, timely advice.

The Art of War is written in poetry rather than prose. The Chinese say that ancient texts were written like this for two reasons: first, writing materials were expensive; and second, that the essence of an idea stands the test of time much better if it is stripped of any transient cultural prejudice. Ancient texts are being constantly re-analyzed as can be seen from this book’s sometimes contradictory interpretations at different historical periods. The introduction reminds of the importance of cultural change in the passage,

“he who misunderstands change is like the man who loses his sword in the water, and makes a mark on his boat to denote its position… both are wasting their time!”

This book changes every time you read it. Or, more accurately, your situation and your outlook change. Repeated reading of this book over time doesn’t just teach change; it demonstrates it.

The American military could learn much from this book. “Better to take a state intact than destroy it”; “no nation has ever benefitted from a protracted war”, and “only a foolhardy general conscripts twice” undermine the current Iraq war.

What else did I learn from this book? I learned only to act when there’s something to be gained. Read it yourselves. Everyone will learn unique, personal lessons by reading The Art of War. ★★★★

Animamiables

Who folded these? Walking through the icy Summer Palace today, I found a collection of grass-animals stuck in the ground. The usual tourists and vendors seemed to be away hibernating; and we were clearly the only people for miles around. I therefore conclude that the animals themselves created these sculptures, and that the spot where they were located was of great cultural importance (like our putting flags at the North Pole). It was certainly cold enough.

Book: At Home (A Short History of Private Life)

Bill Bryson's latest tome on my luscious red bed

Paints a very vivid picture of the year 1851.
497 pages, ★★

At Home is another classic Bill Bryson page-turner. Reading this, I feel like I’m skimming the surface of something much, much deeper. I admire the overwhelming amount of reading that give Bill Bryson the depth of knowledge for which he’s famed. He writes with subtle, but reassuring references to his previous books, particularly A Short History of Everything (much of which is kindly restrained in the footnotes).

At Home is really a chronicle of Western life in 1851, only loosely connected by the theme of “home”. It’s a vast compilation of distantly-connected facts (the same names appear sporadically). He starts (of course) with the Great Exhibition, covers Darwin’s life story and the chain-reaction of invention that followed the introduction of fixed tithes (and, arguably, fuelled the Industrial Revolution).

At Home reminds us that quality is only linked with price within a particular commodity; whereas the quality of types of commodities is seldom reflected in its current price. For example, servants ate lobster almost daily; and many complained to their masters (even signed a lobster-limiting contract) to reduce the amount they were fed. Workers in the 21st century would be delighted to have lobster at work, daily. There are likely dozens of cheap “undervalued” products with us today (like 19th-century lobster) which our descendants will envy us for taking for granted… (I’m guessing lotus and yam will be two of said products).

As far as descriptions of 19th century Britain go, At Home contrasts starkly with Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. Whereas Bill Bryson uses flattery and wit to describe Victorian Britain as a time of marvel, of invention, and of social transformation, Karl Marx instead depicted many a capitalist scumbag throttling his own parliament to repeal laws and squeeze every ounce of profit out of his disposable child labourers. This conflict with Karl Marx was resolved in less than one page in the penultimate chapter, “Nursery”, where Bill Bryson writes,

“Marx, meanwhile, constantly denounced the bourgeoisie but lived as bourgeois a life as be could manage, sending his daughters to private schools…”

I could be pedantic and prolong the debate with contradictory quotes such as (“even some servants had servants”; and “Marx, too, extorted like a capitalist”) but I don’t feel like doing so. This book is too delightful a glimpse of Victorian history to get wound up in class struggle, morality and the hypocrisies of rich intellectuals. Bill Bryson reminds us that almost everyone in the Victorian age was slightly eccentric anyway; so we should appreciate their work, but not try too hard to understand their thoughts. Eccentricity is genius disguised.

I’m looking forward to Bryson’s next book on the future of human civilization… this is hinted at the end of At Home. This book will be of enormous benefit to anyone who’s read Das Kapital; for it will give them a wider picture of Victorian Britain. The Victorians affected all of our lives beyond comprehension. Anyone with an appreciation for anything will enjoy this book. ★★★★

Book: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything, contrasted by my very red bed

Natural Sciences Bible.
Rekindles a passion for science.

536 pages, ★★★★★

Reading this book felt like taking a guided tour of my undergraduate years in Cambridge. We saw all the highlights.

Rather than reminding me of terrible lectures I’d rather forget (Powerpoint recitals dull enough to repel even the most enthusiastic of students), this book’s lucid prose and clear character descriptions reminded me of people and situations, which I would very much like to remember. Reading this, I thought of subjects I loved (and people I loved) and found new areas of science I wanted to explore. If terrible teachers and Powerpoint slides killed your passion for science, then this book will certainly rekindle it.

A Short History of Nearly Everything is a Natural Sciences bible. It covers almost everything from the Big Bang to the dodo’s extinction. It devotes around one-third of each short chapter to explaining scientific theories. Bill Bryson does so with an unlikely combination of humour, metaphor and 100% accuracy. The other two-thirds of each chapter describe how such scientific understandings evolved through history. Bill Bryson’s descriptions of scientists leave a memorable impression (Planck was often unlucky; Linneaus was obsessed with sex; Watson is unpleasant).

Their stories are told in logical order from smallest to largest, rather than in order of their discoveries:

  • metaphysics & theoretical physics
  • physics
  • chemistry
  • astronomy
  • geology
  • climatology
  • cell biology
  • evolution
  • taxonomy
  • palaeontology
  • anthropology (a little)

A Short History of Nearly Everything is beautifully-written. Information flows out of this book like water. I’m so pleased to find an alternative to Cambridge University’s inept teaching technique (incidentally, this is also the Chinese teaching technique) of compressing hundreds of nuggets of seemingly incongruent information into Powerpoint slides for recital; in the hope that students will later memorise them for exams. Bill Bryson’s writing style makes learning feel pleasant, even enlightening in places. Bill Bryson demonstrates reassuringly that science can be taught to human beings in lucid prose, not just to undergraduate machines using bullet-points and diagrams.

This book opens doors. I want to read these themes next:

Climatology. There was little focus on CO2 in this book, but Bill Bryson did err on the side of political correctness in the few places he mentioned it. I’d love to step away from the hot-headed Warmists vs. Skeptics fight and learn more about the long-term history of Earth’s climate. This book inspired me to read more about Milankovitch cycles and atmospheric flux.

(There’s still a lot of misunderstanding surrounding CO2, which was put down wonderfully by Cool It. Despite that, otherwise respectable newspapers still churn out crap like this.)

Special and general relativity. String theory, time travel, length contractions and time dilations are intrinsically interesting. I’d love to learn this, and figure out how to explain it in simple terms to inquisitive students.

Anthropology. The obvious sequel to A Short History of Nearly Everything would be Collapse by Jared Diamond. However, I’m also hungry for modern anthropology (from the last 10,000 years). I want to read about phylomemetics: a niche subject which quantifies the evolution of languages and religion… a passion of mine which was rekindled only by reading this book.

This book bridges science and liberal arts beautifully. It makes you think, makes you laugh, and above all, helps you to discover new areas of interest. Use this book to reassure yourself that science isn’t just for nerds. Everyone should read this book. ★★★★★

Book: I Love Dollars (and other stories of China)

Subversive. Porn. Trash.
240 pages, ★

I’m sorry. I just can’t like this book. It’s a grim slice of China’s history, written in an equally vulgar and unrefined style.

It’s the literary equivalent of THIS SONG (I Want It I Need It by Death Grips). Both are unbearable (but do listen).

This book only makes sense to Chinese-speaking sinophiles. It has subtle jokes and pinyin throughout.

I Love Dollars is first-person story of sex, money, violence and corruption. Most readers, including the legendary Jonathan Spence, have given this book flattering reviews and 5 stars. But it’s just too graphic for me: too much sex, too much disrespect, too much “hell”, “piss”, “fuck” and “shit” to make me care about any of the characters. This book is the opposite of the wise, ancient, spiritual China that I love.

It’s set in the morally-bankrupt China under Jiang Zemin’s rule. Here’s a brief history lesson: Mao died in 1976, but Maoism died in 1978/9 when exiled intellectuals returned to the cities to spark a mini-renaissance. They dreamed of democracy, reform, revolution, religion and free love. In 1984, protests against rampant corruption had been sparked in Tibet and were spreading rapidly Eastwards towards Beijing. In 1989, coupled with anti-Communist sentiments from the Soviet Union, the returned intellectuals catalysed protests in downtown Beijing until they escalated to immense proportions: think 2,000 Wall Street Protests happening in one place and lasting for four months…

From 1992 onwards, after the protests (and resulting confusion) had cleared up, Chinese people agreed to ‘ignore’ politics and pursue money and “modern culture” instead. The political buzzword, “wang qian zou” (“Look to the Future”) was interpreted by many people as, “Look for the Money” (a homophone). China became money-obsessed, which fuelled its recent economic boom. It’s in this spiritual vacuum that I Love Dollars was published.

I’m left asking, “was post-1989 China really as vulgar as depicted in this book? Or were new, free-market publishers encouraging authors to push boundaries as far as possible (provided they didn’t talk about politics) which resulted in blatant literary porn such as I Love Dollars?”

Reading this is like walking through pollution: you move quickly and try not to breathe. Instead of reading the whole book, just read the Translator’s Afterword for a level-headed historical analysis. Then listen to THIS SONG (I Want It I Need It by Death Grips) and you’ll no longer want to read the book: the song describes book’s sentiment exactly. ★

Book: The Brain that Changes Itself

Yes, I read a photocopied version of this book. This is commonplace in China.

Modern update to Sigmund Freud’s
The Interpretation of Dreams

426 pages, ★★★★★

I’ve changed many times. At 17, I used to drive at 130 mph and get searched by police for “looking suspicious” (a vicious cycle). At 19, I became a Cambridge student, at 21 became a raving Communist, and just one year later became an ideological capitalist. Now, at 23, I’m studying Chinese and Buddhism at home with Silver Needle Pekoe tea, or as the Buddhists would say, “I’ve stolen my monkey brain”. I recommend it.

I can therefore connect easily with the thesis of this book: that the brain is plastic.

Reading neuroscience usually brings one of two outcomes: I either self-diagnose a plethora of conditions (this occurs when the descriptions are flattering, such as the OCD in Steve Jobs or the Aspergers’ Syndrome in The Essential Difference); or I am disgusted by the patients described and thus feel more normal than ever. This book is certainly the latter.

The book is enlightening throughout. Here are some highlights:

  • new brain theory (plasticity)
  • a theory of autism (BDNF, white noise)
  • support for Buddhist teachings
  • a theory of love (oxytocin, memory loss)
  • insights into depression (hypothalamus shrinkage)

The Brain that Changes Itself is mostly an enlightening (rather than disturbing) read. It makes advances on many books I’ve read. It uses scientific animal models and human case studies to ‘prove’ the new, emerging theory of brain science: that the brain is plastic.

The Brain that Changes Itself is more insightful on autism and Aspergers’ Syndrome than Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference. Improper release of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor); and excessive white noise during brain development could cause autism. This was even proven using rats! This book stops short of explicitly stating a cure for autism, but the reader can infer a cure from the information given in this book. The author doesn’t write the cure due to its “capability for misuse”. You’ll have to decode it for yourselves, which is infinitely more exciting.

The Brain that Changes Itself usually agrees with Buddhist teachings. On page 171, we see a direct parallel with The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching with, “Buddhists will observe the effects of anger, rather than the cause, and therefore separate themselves from it”. Both books tell us how learning only arises from “focussing”, “being present” and giving “undivided attention”. (The “deliberate practice” in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is essentially the same phenomenon.) Buddhism has been teaching us this for 2,600 years.

Happiness by Buddhist monk Mathieu Ricard tells us that “love wipes out previous memories, especially bad ones”. The Brain that Changes Itself uses science to tell us exactly how this happens. Oxytocin is released when we fall in love, which makes us feel warm and trusting of our new partner. Since falling in love requires simultaneously “falling out of love” with previous partners, oxytocin also wipes parts of our memory. This has been proven using studies in using rats.

Finally, The Brain that Changes Itself tells us that long-term depression was found to cause hypothalamus shrinkage, especially in the “critical period” of brain development. Short-term depression had almost no effect on hypothalamus size. The hypothalamus shrinks to decrease our sensitivity to the negative effects around us. The result is, unfortunately, a desensitisation of pleasure as well as pain. Schizophrenia, ADHD and bipolar disorder are all implicated.

This book lends itself very well to being taught in schools. Each chapter would take one or two lessons, and the students can simulate the human and animal experiments with each other in class. ★★★★★

Book: The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching

This book is as gold and shiny as a Lama Temple

Your map to the labyrinth of Buddhism
282 pages, ★★★★★

I never thought I’d read this book. Yet I never thought I’d be a vegan who likes to stay at home, bake bread and read books (especially on Buddhism). But here I am.

The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching is an elementary roadmap to enlightenment. You know you’ve arrived at your destination (happiness, compassion) when you no longer need the map (or this book). Like any map, this book is quite theoretical. It made me hungry for practical Buddhism more than it taught me how to practice. It’s thus a perfect starting point for non-Buddhists to learn about Buddhism.

Buddhism grips you with irresistible numbered lists. Each one opens doors to yet more numbered lists of wisdom. “The Four Noble Truths” leads to “The Eightfold Path”; each of which leads to yet more numbered lists (“The Four Establishments of Mindfulness” and “The Seven Factors of Awakening” to name just two). It’s highly-structured, but, like a labyrinth, could make you feel lost at the same time. Each list solves tiny problems in our lives—ideally, before they even occur.

The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching lends itself very well to being mind-mapped. All the Buddhist theory in this book could be mapped onto a very large, beautiful poster, with “suffering” at the centre, followed by “The Four Noble Truths” as the first-level branches. That’s a project for another day.

The layered structure of The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching also lends itself well to lesson plans. Each lesson would contain one numbered list. The title would intrigue students, and there are enough stories and personal examples in the book to be shared in the class.

The book becomes repetitive after the middle. You’ll start seeing the same metaphors and ideas rearranged in multiple fashions towards the end. In the last few pages, you’ll even read the same sentences over and over with minor modifications in the “discourses” section. The book does this to train your patience and focus. It prepares you for the repetitive, meditative approach used widely throughout the rest of Buddhism, which it leaves me very tempted to read. ★★★★★

This book is full of circular diagrams like this one. But the whole book's contents would also fit onto a huge mind-map… that's a project for another day.

Book: How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Idiot’s guide to repulsive, pompous bragging
208 pages, ★★

For the Chinese students who read only to show off later, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read should be their bible. A typical conversation with a typical Chinese student goes like this:

Me (teacher): What English books have you read?
Student: I like Jane Eyre.

Me (teacher): Have you read it?
Student: … umm… no [smiles].
Me (angry, Chinese): IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT THEN YOU CAN’T LIKE IT, OK?!

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read tells you that reading is pointless (except for the bragging rights), that books contain useless information (except for the stuff on the cover) and that cheating people is commonplace (everybody knows; nobody cares; and nobody talks about it).

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read is about an imaginary world where people are constantly trying to climb over each other in a social pyramid. The book tells us that during discussions, it’s “shameful” to admit that one’s never read any particular book, and that we should make up a flattering nonsense-review on the spot when we’re questioned. The level of snootiness and superficiality sounds even worse than that in Cambridge University. It’s quite unsettling.

The author thinks he’s invented a new kind of “meta-reading”. Meta-reading is not actually reading, it’s simply the memorisation of hundreds of book titles coupled with “the art of bullshitting”, the only purpose of which is to impress other people. Meta-reading sounds like a course at New Oriental School, where students learn “meta-English” by memorising thousands of long words and standardised phrases which substitute for real, human intelligence. It’s goldbricking. The only purpose of these “meta-” courses which is to “give you face”, i.e. to cheat your way through tests and interviews. However, for most of us, who couldn’t care less what other people think, these cheat tactics, and How to Talk, are completely pointless.

By the end, How to Talk was worse than pointless. Rather than read more books, we should apparently accelerate our pompous bragging about books we haven’t read ad infinitum, in an attempt to conquer the pressures of culture. I had such a visceral reaction to the art of “pompous bragging” that I’m left wondering whether Cambridge students brag so much merely to make others uncomfortable (Cambridge students think they’re infinitely better than everyone else). ★★

Book: Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming

Your exit from climate spin
244 pages, ★★★★

Rational people are disrespected in the climate debate. Those trying to do good by whitening clouds, eliminating soot emissions, or calculating the effects of stratospheric sulphur dioxide coolants are ostracised from the discussion.

Climate is the only major debate where rational people are sidelined as “careless”, “denialist” or as “crazy sun-bombers with space-mirrors”. This crap appears in newspapers too much. Most people in the climate debate are hyped, extremist fools. There’s just no reasoning with them…

…So use Cool It to assert your position on climate change. When you next encounter a climate-brainwashed individual, keep your cool and explain that there are more important issues than reducing CO2 emissions for now (one of them being reducing particulate emissions). When they boil up and call you a “denier”, tell them to read Cool It before continuing the discussion.

If Al Gore’s in the red corner, and Big Oil is in the blue corner, Bjørn Lomborg is the calm umpire that brings an end to the fight. Despite stepping into a political minefield, Bjørn Lomborg refrains from fighting the alarmist consensus; rather, he simply ends the debate.

Cool It draws an analogy between climate and traffic speeds. Lomborg writes that, “1.2 million people worldwide die in traffic accidents each year… We could avoid all of these deaths by imposing worldwide speed limits of 5mph.” Lomborg likens this absurdity to that of reducing CO2 emissions in order to reduce global temperatures. He also adds that if the speed limit debate were as polarised as the climate debate (with only two camps: those advocating 5mph and those advocating 205 mph), then almost zero progress would be made. That’s what we see in the climate arena.

Cool It is extremely well-researched, which is demonstrated by its 77 pages of notes and references. The book’s only shortcoming is that its argument is just so obvious… but not obvious enough for the millions of CO2-obsessed individuals out there. Next time you meet one, make them read this book★★★★

Book: Money & Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World

White, male pyramid folly cemented with cocaine and sex falls on the vegetables.
661 pages, ★★★

It’s 2006, and I was invited to an acrobat show immediately after landing on my first day in Beijing. Jet-lagged, culture-shocked and confused, I remember watching children as young as nine pile on top of each other into a human pyramid so high that the highest kid could touch the lighting rig. There were loud drumbeats, smoke and lasers flashing into the audience (yes, into the audience). But I was not amused.

I saw no benefit in the child-acrobat-pyramid for anyone involved. I also had no desire to watch the show, but did so out of obligation. I just wanted to sleep, shower and eat somewhere, and was left thinking, “what’s the point of all this?”

Money & Power describes Goldman Sachs as exactly that: white men scrambling up a proverbial pyramid for no particular reason. The book starts as a story of German Jews making money intelligently by selling “paper”, i.e. short-term loans. However, by the middle of the book (about 1970), the purpose of Goldman Sachs’ existence seems to have been forgotten, or relegated to “self-preservation”. The story increasingly resembles the acrobat show I saw in 2006.

What amazes me is that none of the characters in this book consider retirement even though they’re all rich enough to do so. Goldman Sachs sucks MBA students in like a demonic cult. It hijacks their souls, makes them feel worthless without the firm, and lets them have no life outside. They work regularly past midnight. Divorce rates are sky-high. Although underplayed in the book, staff are locked in psychologically with cocaine and company visits to strip clubs. Goldman Sachs seems even stronger than the military (even stronger than Scientology) in its ability to accumulate souls. Goldman Sachs even has a “Concierge”, which does laundry on-premises for its staff. Real life must look terrible from the inside.

As the Goldman Sachs pyramid grows, the firm becomes increasingly detached from reality. Goldman traders start making billion-dollar bets with fictitious money (50:1 leverage), and any losses, of course, must be paid for using real money (that’s when they take your house). I am still left asking, “what’s the point of all this?”

But by December 2006, my “white, male pyramid folly” description had become too kind. The firm’s existence had already surpassed “meaninglessness” and trespassed into “malevolence”. By betting hugely against its own customers in 2006, Goldman Sachs had become a cancer (or as some would say, “too big to fail”).

Portrayal of Hank Paulson is bizarrely flattering. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t chase women, stays healthy and sticks to his faith. The book then doesn’t dwell much on how he swindled government for billions of dollars in bailout money. His influence may have permeated this book before it went to print.

My favourite quote backs up how laughably white and male this firm pyramid scheme is. In a defence against accusations of only hiring white men, Goldman announced:

“13.9% of our staff are either black, female, Oriental, Native American [just one man] or have a Spanish-sounding surname” — Goldman Sachs

That’s because women don’t like strip clubs, and only white people like cocaine. The book goes on to state that:

“Only one trader was black. All the others were… janitors”.

The most interesting part were the personal testimonies of the firm’s very few female employees. Blatant, childish sexism. Men gang up to bully female staff.

Goldman Sachs is a large part of the culty, fratty, misogynistic, racist, cancerous pyramid that runs America. Does America have a planned economy? Yes. It’s planned at the whims of well-connected, self-interested, cocaine-snorting, strip-club-frequenting, misogynistic, psychopathic pranksters. And they hate you.

This book taught me never to climb pyramids. There’s nothing at the top, the structure is useless (a folly) and most people die on the way up. It’s very well-researched and very-well written, however. ★★★