2018 Predictions Reviewed

Image result for soothsayerOne year ago I made ten predictions for 2018. This is how they turned out.

1. The Democrats will win a senate majority in the 2018 midterms

The Democrats did well, but not as well as I expected. The Republican Party maintained a majority in the Senate but lost the House of Representatives. Wrong.

2. Bitcoin will suppress 20,000 USD

Oh how I was wrong about this one!! The Cryptocurrency market crashed hard in 2018. Instead of growing to 20,000 Bitcoin, which peaked at $10,000 in December 2017, plummeted to 3,200 in December, dragging most other cryptocurrencies down with it. The market has yet to recover. Wrong.

3. The USA will suffer its largest mass shooting in history.

The US suffered a horrifying 323 mass shootings in 2018. Parkland, which took 17 lives, overtook Columbine as the deadliest high school shooting in US history, but did not surpass the 2019 Las Vegas Shooting in deaths. Wrong.

4. New Caledonia will vote no to Independence

 In November the French Pacific colony of New Caledonia voted against independence 56-44. Right

5.Vladimir Putin will win the Russian Election

This one wasn’t much of a prediction. Authoritarian strongman Vladimir Putin won his second consecutive term (and fourth overall) with 77% of the vote. Whether or not the Russian system is truly democratic, no one could have filled his shoes. Right.

6. The Social Democrats will win the Brazillian Election

Not even close. Jair Bolsanaro, the so called Trump of the Tropics’ and his Social Liberal Party won with 50% of the popular vote. The Social Democrats came a distant 5th place. Given the global slide to right wing populism I should have seen this coming – looks like I didn’t do enough research! Wrong.

7. Artificial meat will be available in supermarkets

Cultured meat made leaps and bounds in 2018 but is yet to be commercially available. 20 companies are manufacturing their own cultured meat, which may appear in supermarkets over the next couple of years. Wrong.

8. Bashar al Assad will win the Syrian Civil War.

Not quite. ISIS is all but defeated but regime forces are still fighting rebel groups in Idlib province while Kurdish led militias control the northeast. Wrong.

9. The Islamic State will launch an insurrection in Southeast Asia

Thankfully this did not happen. Philippines forces clashed with Islamist militants in July and an ISIS affiliated faction killed 28 in a church bombing in Surabaya, Indonesia in May. There was, nothing, however,  to the scale of the 2017 Battle for Marawi. Wrong.

10. Bangladesh will declare war on Burma

Though Burma’s genocide against the Rohingya Muslims continues no foreign power has intervened. Wrong.

Only two of my ten predictions were correct. Looks like a career in soothsaying is not for me!

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2018 Goals Reviewed

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One year ago I listed five goals for this blog in 2018. Here is my evaluation.

  1. Posting once a week: I failed to post every Monday, but stuck to a fairly consistant routine. Sometimes I posted on Tuesday instead. Aside from my holiday in May and Nanowrimo in November I did post once a week. Check.
  1. Diversifying: In 2017 I wrote about history and current events. In 2018 I expanded into book reviews, anthropology and culture. Check.
  1. Style Guide: Unfortunately I never get round to this – maybe this year. Miss.
  1. Nanowrimo: Yes! I managed to write a 50,000 word novel draft in November for the National Novel Writing Month challenge.  If I am not too busy, I will do this again in 2019. Check.
  1. Diligence: One year on and this blog is still going strong. I have far more readers than I did at the beginning of 2018 and am still updating regularly. Check.

All in all I accomplished 4/5 of my blogging goals. Not bad. This year I will stick to the same routine as 2018, blogging once a week on topics which pique my interest. Hopefully by 2020 I am still going. Happy New Year everyone!

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Books I Read in 2018

Image result for booksAside from blogging more, I made the goal to watch less TV and read more books in 2018. The books are listed by the date I finished reading them.  Some I have done separate posts on, others I have not.

January

February

  • Maitland Edey – Lost World of the Aegean. The archaeology of the Ancient Minoans and Early Greeks. Dated but informative. 3/5

April

  • Robert Bly – Iron John. An allegorical interpretation of an old fairy tale suggesting what the ancient cultures can teach modern man. 3/5

May

  • Aldous Huxley – Island. The utopia to Brave New World’s dystopia. 4/5

June

  • Barbara Kingslover – The Poisonwood Bible.  A family saga of four girls and their missionary father in the Congo.  5/5
  • Thomas Sowell – Ethnic America. Details the history and experiences of 11 American immigrant groups. Good on facts and figures, less so on future projections. 4/5

July

  • Paul M Handley – The King Never Smiles.  A critical analysis of the modern Thai monarchy. Banned in Thailand. 5/5

August

  • Roland Tye – Weekender. Five very stories about very different people one weekend in Edinburgh, whose connection is revealed only at the very end. 5/5
  • JD Salinger – Catcher in the Rye. Famous novel from the ‘40s about a rebellious teenager. 5/5

September

  •  Ian Morris – The Greeks: History, Culture and Society. This old textbook is a good survey of ancient Greece, if a little dry. 3/5

October

  • Frederick Forsythe – the Dogs of War. A business magnate hires a team of mercenaries to stage a coup in a fictional African country. Good, but not as good as Day of the Jackal. 3/5

December

  • Jared Diamond – Guns Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies. Explains why civilization arose in some parts of the world and not others. An excellent read for history and anthropology buffs. 5/5
  • Frederick Forsythe – Day of the Jackal. About an assassin hired to kill the president of France and the men chasing him. 4/5

The Sentinelese

Image result for sentinelese survival internationalThe Sentinelese are the 30 – 200 people living on North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Sea, between India and Southeast Asia. Descended from the first wave of migrants out of Africa 55,000 years ago, the Sentinelese lived in complete isolation from the outside world until the 19th century.  They resist contact with lethal force.

Timeline

  • 53,000 BC – Stone Age hunter gatherers settle North Sentinel island across a land bridge from the mainland.
  • 1867 – An Indian ship anchors on North Sentinel Island. The natives attack the crew with bow and arrow.
  • 1880 – British colonists explore the island.
  • 1948 – North Sentinel Island enters Indian administration.
  • 1960s-90s – Indian anthropologists visit the Sentinelese
  • 2004 – Sentinelese survive the Asian tsunami
  • 2006 – Sentinelese archers kill two Indian fisherman marooned on the island.
  • 2018 – Sentinelese archers kill American missionary John Allen Chau.

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The Sentinelese are one of four peoples inhabiting the Anadaman Islands, alongside the the Jarawa , Onge and Greater Andamanese . The islanders lived in isolation until the British colonized the islands in the 1700s. The measles, pneumonia, influenza and alcohol they brought wiped out the Jangil people and reduced the remaining native population from 7,000 to a few hundred. North Sentinel, owing to its small size and local hostility, was never colonized.

Like the other Andamanese, the people of North Sentinel Island have very dark skin, lithe, muscular bodies and tight curly hair. The men average around 5.4, similar to the other ‘Negritos’ of Southeast Asia. They live a hunter gatherer lifestyle, live off plants, turtles and fish from around the island, speak an unknown language and practice an unknown religion.

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Technology consists of small canoes, wooden houses, stone axes, spears, bows and arrows. Whether or not the Sentinelese use fire, which was foreign to the other Andamanese, is unknown. When the freighter Primrose marooned in 1971, the Sentinelese crafted iron arrowheads and knives from the wreckage.

In 1880 British colonial administrator Maurice Vidal Portman led an expedition to North Sentinel.   He kidnapped an old couple and four children and brought them back to his headquarters at Port Blair. After the man and woman ‘sickened rapidly’ and died, Portman returned the four children to their island. Future expeditions failed to establish any further contact.

Image result for sentinelese peopleThe encounter likely stayed in the Sentinelese collective memory and shaped their violent attitude to outsiders.  They have tried to kill every intruder since,  starting with an escaped convict in 1896. The islanders  did not discriminate; when a Sentinelese man supposedly raised by the Onge, visited in the 1890s, he met the same reception. In the face of large search parties, the Sentinelese would flee into the forest. It is worth noting, however, their reception of first contact in 1867 was consistent with their attitude after the 1880 incident.

From the 1967 to 1991 the Indian government embarked on ‘friendship missions’ by leaving gifts of coconuts, bannanas, iron and toys and trying to contact the Sentinelese in the Jarawa and Onge languages, which the they did not understand. The islanders wearily accepted the gifts then made obscene gestures to leave and attacked the visitors with arrows. Only in the 1996 visit did they avoid hostility (see video).

The Indian government has since banned outside visitors from the island to protect the Sentinelese from outside diseases that could destroy them.  Being the most isolated people in the world, it is clear they simply wish to be left alone.

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How Violent are Hunter Gatherers?

Image result for sentinelese tribeThe Left idealises our hunter gatherer past as a lost Garden of Eden. Karl Marx described a ‘primitive communism’ without rich or poor; socialists, anarchists and feminists laud the absence of class, government or gender inequality respectively.

Hierarchy, money, patriarchy and organised warfare are the products of the Agricultural Revolution that destroyed the old ways 13,000 years ago and left in its place, a never ending squabble for power, land and material wealth that is the source of the world’s woes. In contrast hunter gatherers live in peaceful utopia.

The murder of American missionary John Allan Chau by the uncontacted Sentinelese raises a question – how peaceful are hunter gatherers really?

Hunter gatherers live in ‘band’ societies – the oldest form of human organisation. Unlike modern societies, bands:

  • do not have specialized occupations – everyone is a hunter gatherer
  • are illiterate
  • share resources
  • are egalitarian – there is no rich and poor and women are (usually) equal to men
  • are nomadic or semi-nomadic
  • live in groups of 5-80 people
  • subsist off game and wild plants

Human beings lived in band societies for 90% of our history – making them our natural state of being. Only a few pockets in the world’s isolated regions maintain the old lifestyle today.

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San hunter gatherers, Namibia

Unlike modern, industrial societies where we interact with strangers every day, our ancestors would meet no more than 100 people in their lifetimes, but know them all very well. The average hunter gatherer society supports one person per square mile. Less people  meant there was more to go around. Why fight when everyone is equal?

In the absence of the laws, organised religion and power structures that govern ‘civilised’ society, only kinship, mutual trust and fear of retaliation stops hunter gatherers from killing one another. When crimes do occur, the band mediates. Depending on the circumstances, murder could warrant acceptance, exile or revenge.

If however, a hunter gatherer should encounter an outsider – one who looks different, does not share their language and knows no one in common, fear takes over and the instinct is kill or be killed. In-group out-group mentality is strong and no one cares about the murder of an outsider.

There are exceptions: the Jomon of Japan and the Moriori of New Zealand were notoriously pacifistic. Some cultures, on the other hand, practiced cannibalism or headhunting. As with states, however, it is the more violent groups which tend to survive.Related image

According to anthropologists, 25% of modern hunter gatherers die from homicide. Among the Jivaro of Peru the number is 60%.  The average homicide rate of 0.5% per year far exceeds that of modern states. Hunter gatherer ‘warfare’ consists of raids against rival bands in competition for food or women.  The oldest example is a 10,000 year old mass grave of 27 skeletons in Lake Turkana, Kenya. Shards of obsidian were still lodged in some victims’ skulls.

Hunter gatherers kill at a higher rate. They only kill less because there are less of them. We, on the other hand, are conditioned by centuries of living under law and social norms essential for us to live harmoniously in less space. If the hunter gatherer reflects out natural state then we are more chimps than bonobos.

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Sources: Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs and Steel, The Economist, Nature, Our World in Data 

How Nanowrimo Went

nanowrimo stats.pngNanowrimo 2018 was a success! Over November I wrote a 50,000 word first draft of a YA novel, while working full time and maintaining a modest social life. The project consumed my spare time, and my blogging, but it was worthwhile. I wrote more in the past 30 days than I did in the past year.

My advice:

  1. Write every day. 1,700 words a day is not difficult but the more you skip the more you will have to catch up. Once you get into a steady rhythm, writing will seem effortless. Try and get as much as you can done on the weekend, if possible.
  2. Don’t look back. You have all the time in the world to revise your words after November. For now focus on getting words on the page – that’s what a first draft is all about. Remember no one has to read your original Nanowrimo submission. Save agonising over sentence flow or the the perfect verb for December.
  3. Plan in October. When I attempted Nanowrimo in 2016 I had a vague idea of my story at best. After only the first few chapters I hit a wall, with no clue how to keep the plot rolling. This time I familiarised myself with the three Act structure prior to Nanowrimo, and wrote a page long plot outline and profiles on all my major characters. It was all subject to change, sure, but the rough notion of where my story was going kept me to the end.
  4. Set aside time. I cannot stress this enough. On good days I was writing 1000 words an hour, but this was rare. Know yourself and your habits. If you are prone to procrastination then allow three hours a day to reach your target word counts. Stop when you feel you have written enough.

I don’t plan to read my ‘novel’ until January. This will allow me to view it with an objective eye and better revise and recraft my 50,000 words into something I can show others. In the meantime I will focus my creative energy on art and this blog. To my regular readers, thank you for your patience.

All in all I am proud of what I accomplished. It’s not a masterpeice, or even a published book, sure, but it’s a start!  If you have ever wanted to pen a novel, but struggle with procrastination or writer’s block, I recommend giving Nanowrimo a try. Stick to it and it may surprise you what you can achieve.

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Nanowrimo 2018

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Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The aim is to write a 50,000 word draft in 30 days.  The project provides an incentive for aspiring authors to overcome writer’s block and set up a consistent writing routine.  Achieving the 50,000 word mark requires an average of 1,666 words a day – no small feat.

To ‘win’ Nanowrimo you must write 50,000 words – it doesn’t matter whether or not your narrative is finished. The project relies on an honour system where you don’t need to submit your manuscript or even have anyone read it. To compete you make an account and update your word progress on the Nanowrimo website. While there is no reward, you do earn the satisfaction of achieving a personal goal and getting more writing done in one month than many do in years. Nanowrimo is the perfect opportunity for writing the book you’ve always wanted to write but never found the time.

The key to winning is to not look back. Nanowrimo is not about creating a polished and succinct story ready for publishing but getting words down on a page. No first draft is good, after all, and to make a compelling story requires coming back at a later date, editing and redrafting. All this is impossible, however, if you have nothing to work with.

Nanowrimo began in 1999 with a group of 21 writers in the San Francisco Bay Area. November was chosen for its poor weather. The following year it moved online and grew in popularity every year since. In 2017 over 400,000 people from across the world participated. Many schools and libraries offer public write-ins where Nanowrimo participants can work together and discuss ideas while a wide range of forums and pep talks are available online.

Since 2006 over 200 Nanowrimo projects have become fully published novels. Countless more have been self published. Big names include:

  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgunestern
  • The Beautiful Life by Alan Averill

As promised in January, this month I will attempt to write a 50,000 word novel.  This project will consume most of my creative energy so there will be few blog posts until December.  When the 30 days are over I will share what I have learnt from the process. Wish me luck!

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