Samuel’s Travels is back on Substack

Dearest subscribers of Samuel’s Travels,

A long time it’s been indeed, the years have passed and I hope I find you all wiser for them.

I don’t know if anyone here even remembers me, though I hope these words may reignite whatever dying embers of affections lie deep within your bellies.

I have been writing again for the last year or so on substack, you can find me here

I’ll share some of the most recent post below, and if those embers sudden burst into fires, then please follow the link above and join me on the next journey.

Predicting if dinner will be good

Can you predict the future? According to SuperForecastingwhich I read over Christmas, those equipped with the right mindset and techniques can do a reasonably good job.

In fact I wolfed down the book because – even though the authors were quite explicit that this would not be the case – I remained convinced by its end I would be able to tell you anything that is going to happen in the next few years.

Unsurprisingly I have now reached the end and am immediately little more able to answer a question like Will the Tories still be in power in 2024? Or even more simple ones such as Will I be wearing matching socks tomorrow?

What I have learnt though are some techniques that can help us in thinking about such things.

I have also learnt that there is already an industry of fortune tellers, whose names carry far and wide and who command quite a price for their powers. They are called political pundits, and they appear in parliaments, White Houses and televisions the world over to provide predictions. We pay huge amounts of value to what they may say is about to happen to the economy, yet it turns out no-one is measuring how often they’re right. When Superforecasting analyses a handful of the best known, their record often appears to fall short.

In the 1968 global best seller The Population Bomb, Stanford Professor Paul R. Ehrlick wrote that nothing could prevent famines in which hundreds of millions of people would die throughout the 1970s, going on to say “by the year 2000 the United Kingdom will simply be a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people, of little or no concern to the other 5–7 billion people of a sick world.”

It’s tempting to dismiss this as having been entirely wrong, though it turns out the art of measuring predictions is ducedly complex. As Superforecasting spells out repeatedly, the future (and therefore how history shapes out) is uncertain. It could be that Ehrlick was largely correct and in the 1960s this outcome could have occurred, however the chance phenomena of the green agricultural revolution in the 1970s plus a huge decline in birth rates meant that we narrowly avoided it. In a parallel universe, we may all be dying of starvation.

A good forecaster therefore would have weighted all the factors that could lead to Ehrlick’s outcome and all those against, and give a percentage chance by which we can assess their prediction. Unfortunately though there is no redemption for Ehrlick here as he actually did do this exact thing; “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000, and give 10 to one that the life of the average Briton would be of a distinctly lower quality than it is today.”

How did he get so wrong? The book (and this post from one of the authors) would suggest that it’s because he’s a hedgehog. That’s not a Q-Anon style conspiracy to say he’s literally a hedgehog and that’s why he can’t make predictions, but instead it makes part of a metaphor for two types of thinkers. Those who define their world view using a single ideology (in Ehrlick’s case, anti-capitalism and anti-growth) are considered hedgehogs, where as those who incorporate differing views and calibrate them against what occurs in reality are instead foxes. Ehrlick was blinded by the ideals he was committed to, so couldn’t register the trends that were opposing it.

A hedgehog is more likely to pepper their speech with “moreover,” “furthermore” and declare things as “impossible” or “certain,” where as a fox will say “however,” “although” and “on the other hand.” A fox changes its views in light of the facts, while a hedgehog clings to its view in spite of them. Here is Ehrlick on 60 minutes this month at age 90, again predicting the apocalypse.

Why is he so popular then? Why did his book become a bestseller and his recent interview receive millions of viewers? Why is it that almost all of our popular pundits are hedgehogs, despite foxes being the ones who make better predictions?

for the rest of the post click here

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To Meat or not to Meat?

Whether the issue seems indulgent (with regard to, say, Syria), or all-important (with regard to, say, climate change), to meat or not to meat is a choice you make three times a day, and hence a system your lifestyle inevitably and directly affects.

Being clued up on the matter isn’t easy however, and the fact that not everybody is uniting behind one banner suggests the solutions not to be as black and white as some parties make out.

So for the curious person who wishes to be upped with clues, the following serves as an overview to what both sides have to say. I have split the debate into its key arguments, and, where possible, have attempted to stray away from giving my own opinion until the end. Continue reading

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Tea Revisited

Looking at this hot mug of lemon tea, I think this is where it’s at. Your head can be such a disarray of scrambled noise that often you forget to actually pay attention to anything that is present. Yet when the smells start turning on the olfactory sensors, when the eyes are bewildered by vapour that creases the air like it were silk, it’s then I remember that I am a sentient being, and that I am feeling. And that I am reflecting. Or more so am able to reflect. What do I know about this tea? I know water-mediated existence is watching water change states of existence. I know that every whisper of steam reflects a million molecules’ energised attempt to escape the cauldron. And transfixed further, the heat and the swirling does not today take me through my own memories, but back through the minds of man at different times. While I know the pensive mind has always revelled in such simple stupor, I can’t help but be perplexed by how differently we will have interpreted the phenomena. Steam; an escaping soul to the old animist, an act of god to the ancient Greek, an illusion constructed by the visual cortex in response to fragmented light reflections, to the 21st century man of learning. And these are not just different explanations, but represent completely different feelings, completely different perceptions, completely different consciousnesses, as varied from one another as successive generations are to each other. The result is a reality so malleable, as to be as ever-changing as the water, which turns from tea to body, and from breath to air.

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50 euros for a slap on the back

In my tutoring career’s twilight, reflection cannot help but breed in the newly cast shadows. Eduardo, who may well be one of my last students, provides a ripe opportunity for pupil mediated self-dissection. He sits at the table, chugging along through rote mathematics. Rote learning, you scoff, is this 1920? No, it’s 2016 (your stupid question deserves a stupid answer). Teaching maths has bestowed upon me a much deeper understanding of the properties of numbers, and this ability is born not only from continual exposure to conversation, but to exercise. So I make the boy exercise. The explanation already presented, my work thus done, I twiddle my thumbs for the best part of an hour, only breaking twiddle to correct the odd error. The end of our time approaches, and I’ve come to realise that this is the moment I make my money; I load Eduardo with compliments, unique to him, unique to what he’s achieved that day, and I mean every one of them. There are many things I fail to do in lessons, but a slap on the back at its end, remains my ever-constant and all important feature. While I still don’t find fault in this method, reflecting as I am now, I will concede that it can however, occasionally, seem (perhaps) a slightly overpaid gesture.


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Military Indecision


In the encirclement of Stalingrad, General Paulus’ 6th army suffered from two critical moments of indecision. Failing to appreciate the gravity of the Russian threat from the west flank, they moved too late. Then, as encirclement seemed inevitable, Paulus took no initiative to attempt a breakthrough before its position solidified. The result of this stagnation was a frozen doom, in their infamous ‘fortress without a roof.’

In my life in the 21st century, the closest feeling I get toward any kind of impending doom is the panic of air travel. That is not to say I fear flying, but more so, I fear not flying:

I have a horrible tendency to miss flights.

Now this defeat can be achieved through a variety of tactical miscalculations.

The most reoccurring blunder occurs in the booking operation, where I aim for the wrong date and fire with the mouse. Additional problems have arisen from logistical errors in the transport division; unexpected sabotage of railways, enemy cars blocking motorway progress… all resulting in decisive delays. The supply chain has also known to falter, where once I arrived for a Ryanair flight without the necessary papers.

However there have been victories too. Recognising the risk of a potential wrong date, a quick call to Easyjet head of commands, India division, allowed rapid recoordination without inflicting any monetary casualty. I have also been known to see danger as it emerges, and have frequently radioed in taxi support at critical moments.

While the tactics may change, as with the victors and losers, a battle it always remains. And a battle changes a man. It makes a general of a civilian; you learn to see the weaknesses,  know your surroundings, detect the scent of risks, and react unnervingly.

Reading Stalingrad made me all the more prepared for the battle I were to face this morning. Online checkin for a 2pm flight did not work at 10am, displaying ‘currently not available, try later or at the booking desk.’ Enemy deception if ever such a thing existed. Danger signals flashed, and thinking to Paulus, I reflected upon the risks of hesitation. A train for the airport left in 10 minutes, without knowing anything for sure, I packed a bag in 30 seconds and ran to the station, leaping through the enemy barrier with great bravery as I boarded the train without any papers, seconds before departure. War means sacrifice, and I hence had to lose a few euros for a taxi between the terminals.

But upon arrival at the Easyjet trench my worst fears were confirmed: overbooking! The hydrogen bomb of the commercial flight sector. My flight had cost me 250 sterling soldiers, and my mission was crucial; retreat was not an option. However the early and immediate action I had shown under pressure proved crucial, as being the first of the overbooked to have arrived, I was instantly provided a ticket. Pure exultation took me as I revelled in the thrill of victory.

Though as with any victory in war, the feelings in its aftermath slowly start to sour. Like those lucky enough to have been flown out in the final luftwaffe flights from Stalingrad, I am left with some kind of survivor complex. Why is it me who can go through? What of the others? As I write now, a man, a woman,  a child, suffers below at the trench, as the Easyjet lady does not yield. They realise the overbooking has encircled them, and that, unaware of the impending doom, they had attempted their breakthrough too late.

As many of you who read this account of battle are friend and family, I can understand that you will be grateful that I have made it.

Some of us shall see each other this evening, and rejoice.

However I hope you will also take a moment to think upon those whose place I took, and those who did not make it, and the families and friends in London that they will not be able to see again (this weekend).

To the fallen, I salute you…

General Lynn-Evans.

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