Francis’s news feed

This combines together some blogs which I like to read. It’s updated once a week.

May 19, 2018

Gina Haspel, Torture Supervisor, Confirmed Head of the CIA by Ian Welsh

America is what America is. And what America is is a nation whose leaders commit mass murder and assassination with impunity, and which rewards those who do either, or both.

This bit from the Intercept on one of Haspel’s victims speaks loudly.

“I have evaluated Mr. Abdal Rahim al-Nashiri, as well as close to 20 other men who were tortured as part of the CIA’s RDI [Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation] program. I am one of the only health professionals he has ever talked to about his torture, its effects, and his ongoing suffering,” Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of public health at Boston University, wrote to Warner’s legislative director on Monday. “He is irreversibly damaged by torture that was unusually cruel and designed to break him. In my over 20 years of experience treating torture victims from around the world, including Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.”

Warner, of course, supported Haspel, because Warner is scum. Competent scum, according to people I trust who know him, but scum.

America and those it elects have been very clear to the rest of the world. They support the Iraq War and Torture and always have. In 2004 when George W. Bush was re-elected everyone knew about the torture, and by then the fact that Bush had lied about WMD was becoming clear as well.

The New York Times, which helped lie the US into Iraq, kindly did not release a story showing Bush’s administration was spying on Americans till after the election. They explicitly said they were worried he might lose if they ran it. Despite all their caviling over the years, when it mattered the NYT was for illegal war and torture. That’s who the NYTimes is when the chips are down, and it’s only when the chips are down that it matters.

The bottom line is that Americans and their leaders are really, truly, ok with illegal wars and torture whenever the decision has to actually be made, and today America’s leaders showed that they do not even feel any actual remorse, or even that torturing was a mistake that matters.

This is just who America is.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Israeli Killings Are The Result of De-Humanization Of Palestinians by Ian Welsh

So, Palestinians protested moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, and Israel shot and killed somewhere between 52 and 60 of them, and injured hundreds more.

The rule of international law (yes, I know, a dead letter) is that force must be proportional to threat.

This is disproportionate.

The simple fact is that too many Israelis now think of Palestinians as  sub-human: animals to be killed if they are inconvenient.

Israel is an apartheid state: a large chunk of the population is denied its rights, including its right to vote. And both the West Bank and Gaza are, yes, open air prisons.

The two state solution is dead. I’m not sure it was ever viable. It no longer is. Israel will either have to cleanse Palestinians from its territory (something the de-humanization is clearly working them up to) or Israel as a religious-ethnic state will inevitably end.

It is well noted that those who are abused tend to become abusers. The applicability to Israel is obvious and sad.

Still, while tragic, today’s events pale compared to what Saudi Arabia, with America’s assistance, is doing in Yemen.

Plenty of tragedies to go around on Earth.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Al-Sadr To Receive Largest Number of Votes In Iraq Election? by Ian Welsh

So says a poll.

Sadr’s an interesting figure. His party (he’s not standing for election himself) ran on an anti-corruption, anti-American and anti-Iranian platform. His father opposed Saddam (and died for it) and the Sadrists opposed the US invasion (and rose twice against the occupation).  Sadr became even more powerful after the invasion simply because the Sadrists provided security and services and were non-corrupt themselves.

To put it simply, even though he gained much from his father, he and the movement he is the head of appear to me to “deserve” their popularity. They have served their people and they have had integrity.

In this they are similar to Hezbollah, who, whatever one thinks of them, have served their people and done what they said they would: free their country from Israel, and keep it free.

As a general rule I admire those with integrity, whether I agree with them on everything or not. I am no Muslim, nor likely ever would be (only the Sufis appeal to me at all), but I can always get behind feeding the poor, genuine anti-corruption and the bravery and integrity to oppose tyranny.

I am sure there are nuances of the Iraq situation I’m missing, I don’t keep up, I don’t speak or read Arabic, Persian (to understand Iran), Kurdish and so on. And just getting the largest vote bloc doesn’t guarantee leading the government.

But overall this seems like a good thing to me.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

A Day In The Life of my Supposedly Frugal Stomach by Mr. Money Mustache

Kicking Ass with Money is much like healthy eating and joyful living. It’s a series of daily habits that get you ahead, rather than a one-time heroic effort that fixes all your problems so you can go back to whatever you were doing before.

Because of this parallel, the subject of food is one of the nicest examples of Mustachian living, and one of the most powerful and efficient things to master.

Your eating choices will drastically affect your budget (especially if you are raising a family), but they also affect your health, energy levels, productivity, and happiness. The path to a great life goes directly across your dinner plate, so it is important to take this shit seriously and not mess around with your nutrition.

I’ve written about food several times before, sometimes with a focus on recipes or costs or general principles. But people often don’t believe me – they think I am either lying about my family’s grocery spending, eating a diet that is poor in nutritional value, or at least spending an inordinate amount of time on meal planning and preparation.

The truth is none of these things, although the actual story may still surprise you. So I thought that instead of issuing vague commandments like the preacher I am, I could share my functional and (somewhat) affordable eating style, even though it’s unusual and surely not for everyone.

So I’ll lay out a single day’s nutrition strategy, and why I think it is a good one. And then you can choose whether to ridicule it on Reddit, or adopt any tricks from it that you like for your own family. Are you ready? Then let’s take a trip into the MMM kitchen!

Alongside the Table Saw, the Cutting Board is also a favorite tool.

The first bit of crazy is that when I’m home, I eat almost the same thing every day. My son eats exactly the same thing every day* for now, and Mrs. MM runs her own show, perhaps with a bit more variety than either of us. This is a unique situation in our family that is different from most, and it adds extra complexity but fortunately not extra cost. You play with the cards you are dealt.

Most Important is your Eating Philosophy

For most people, food is just an automatic routine. They eat whatever seems tasty whenever they are hungry. People with stronger passions (sometimes known as Foodies), spend a large part of their day and mental energy seeking out perfect ingredients and flavors and meals. And for many, eating is an addiction – food calls to them (especially desserts and snacks), and they fight this addiction with varying degrees of success. People with a busy urban social life like New Yorkers get most of their food from restaurants, which throws both the nutrition content and the monthly cost into a randomizing hat.

The problem with all of these philosophies is that each is a huge gamble, with your life as the stakes. Because depending on your body chemistry and the foods you choose, you can end up anywhere on the health scale – I have met sweating car bound 25 year-old office workers who could barely stroll from the parking lot to the building, and also know a ripped 65 year-old carpenter who can still frame a three-story house by himself. The difference in the diets of these two men is as stark as the contrast in their physiques.

So my eating philosophy has always been that of the Engineer/Robot. Design each meal and each day’s food intake, according to my body’s current needs. Since my activity level changes drastically (yesterday’s mountain hike requires several times more calories than today’s work on this blog article), the food intake has to change accordingly. And since I don’t always get things exactly right, the mirror tells me when it’s time to make adjustments.

And finally, I’m a big fan of high standards and not fooling yourself. Stay lean and keep your body in condition to work hard. Learn to use the mirror, the measuring tape, and the scale as allies rather than generators of guilt and fear. If you’re not there yet, keep yourself moving in the right direction rather than being complacent. For example, if my abs get paved over with fat, I’ll adjust the variables below to go into fat loss mode until the problem is corrected. On the other hand, if I’m getting too skinny and trying to put on strength and weight, I’ll add the extra meals back in.

The Weird MMM Meal Plan


I have come to think of Breakfast as the time of Breaking the Fast.. but by now we all know that fasting is good for you, right?  So the design of your breakfast presents an interesting life-boosting opportunity: When you wake up, you’re already in a nice low-blood-sugar state, which means your body is beginning to think about burning fats as a source of energy (ketosis). This means that you can just prolong the fast by skipping breakfast and just enjoying some coffee or water, or take a softer approach and at least have a breakfast that is very low in sugar. So I do this:

  • Espresso Coffee with Whole milk and Coconut oil
  • A handful of mixed nuts
  • A few squares of dark chocolate (85%)

Subjectively, I find this breakfast is satisfying and delicious, but also keeps my body in low-sugar mode so I can begin a day of physical labor without hunger – and potentially work as long as I want, even skipping lunch and running on stored bodyfat if desired. (Note, I make the espresso with this cheap but good espresso machine and heat/fluff the milk and coconut oil together to get the result in that picture).

The end result is this nutrition profile:

At this point, you may be asking, “Wait, does Mustache really weigh and analyze his food?” – and the answer is “sorta.” While I endeavor to lead a relaxed, hippy lifestyle, the Engineer/Robot side is always in the background running the numbers. If you have at least a rough idea of the nutrition content of what you are eating, you will have a far easier time getting the results you want.

Mid Morning Snack

After breakfast, I usually bike downtown to a mixture of construction and weight training in the back “prisonyard” of the MMM-HQ Coworking space. After a few hours of this, I am ready for a bit more nutrition:

  • A giant salad
  • Plenty of water, or even the indulgence of a second cup of coffee

These big salads are a big part of my daily food expenditure and effort, but probably an even bigger part of my health. So they are definitely worth it. I make it easier by making salad in bulk every few days, and starting with a base of a pre-made $2.28 Kale Salad Kit from Sam’s/Costco. This provides a bunch of greens and saves much chopping. But I discard the crappy sugary dressing that comes with the kit and use my own olive oil-based dressing, also made in bulk from high quality ingredients also bought in bulk, (like 3 Liter Jugs of olive oil!)

I may throw in a protein bar (30g protein, $1.00) to this snack, depending on the intensity of the work.


After the midmorning snack, I am back out for quality time with the saws and ladders for a few more hours, which feels great on a relatively light load of food because the body is burning clean and lean. The low carbohydrate nature of everything I have eaten so far keeps the hunger level so low that I could even work right through and skip lunch if needed, or if I were trying to lose fat. But since I’m currently at roughly right fat level and not wanting to be any lighter than I am, I break at around 2PM for something like this:

I have been on a bit of a Tilapia binge in recent months, because they are almost too convenient and tasty and easy to prepare. So much so, that I jokingly refer to them as “marriage savers” – there is no need to fret over whose turn it is to prepare dinner, if something with such a good nutrition profile is always in the freezer and just 15 toaster oven minutes away from your tongue.

While the nutrition profile is good, they are still a bit of an expensive source of protein. $2.00 sounds like chump change, but the same protein can be had for under fifty cents from other sources like bean and rice combinations, eggs, or even whey protein supplements.

A cost difference of just $1.50 per person per meal, multiplied over a four-person family’s 372 meals per month makes a difference of $558 per month, or about $96,000 per decade after compounding.

Yes, that is a hundred grand, and this is just the difference between a semi-frugal $2.00 meal component and a fifty cent equivalent from, say, your crock pot.

Imagine, then, the effect that impulse grocery purchases like those little $7.49 packs of sushi would make, if you casually toss them in the cart on a regular basis? A decade of a family’s innocent-seeming Whole Foods indulgence could pay for a house outright, while leaving them no better nourished than wiser meal planning with bulk ingredients.

Put a crock pot and a Costco membership to good use, and just watch what happens to your bank account.

Now, I took that sushi picture on my own kitchen table, so we too are guilty of this indulgence. But we are long past financial independence, and even then it is a rare purchase. The overall lesson is just, again, to take this shit seriously – make sure you appreciate every food purchase above beans-and-rice level as a conscious luxury rather than just a habit. And if you are in debt, no sushi for you!


Another typical dinner – main dish is based on potatoes/veggies plus fancy sausages baked into a cheese-laden casserole.

Around 3:30pm in the afternoon, I’ll walk or bike home from “work”, so I can be there when my son returns home from school – one of the biggest rewards of early retirement. One of us parents will cook him a homemade pizza at this point (I pre-make the personal size shells and keep them in stacks in the freezer), so he can recharge with about 480 calories from a delicious meal that costs only about 50 cents to make.

Then us Adults will usually collaborate to make something like pulled-pork tacos:


On the side, we might add chopped fresh vegetables, more salad, or something more substantial as the appetites require. Like the filets, it’s not the cheapest possible way to get a meal, but at least it is reasonable. Also, we are omnivores, which is a more expensive and polluting way to get protein – but if you’re not badass enough to eat vegetarian you can at least make a substantial dent in your eco footprint by making beef your last choice of meats.

Adding it All Up

Although it took me quite a few hours to collect all this data on what I eat and add it up in a spreadsheet, the results have been quite interesting because I had never done it before. With just the stuff described above, I arrived at this point:


And the numbers were a bit surprising to me, in the following ways:

  • I am spending a lot more on food than I thought. If all three of us ate the way I do, our annual grocery bill would be $8600, not counting additional indulgences or food for parties. Since our real bill is closer to $6000, you can see that I am doing more than my share of the spending. Then again, I do weigh more than both Little MM and his mother combined , so perhaps this is fair.
  • My base calorie level is about right for my age and height for a moderately active person, but on active days I need closer to 4000 calories (if you look up a 185 pound male “athlete” for the baseline)
  • My base protein level is also about right for moderate activity, but on highly physical or weight training days I like to boost that to one gram per pound of bodyweight.
  • So while everything in this article is detailed and accurate so far, I tend to eat a variable amount of additional food to meet hunger needs, scaling it all up and down depending on what the mirror says. I use one or more of the following boosts.


  • Handfuls of Nuts (1 ounce worth, 160 calories)
  • Protein Smoothie (banana, peanut butter, plain yogurt, tiny bit of milk, ice, water, and vanilla protein mix – about 1000 calories and 40 grams protein)
  • 2-3 simple eggs cooked in olive oil with a bit of cheese: 500 calories, 20 grams of protein, 50 cents or so.
  • Avocado toast: 3 eggs, some shredded cheese, avocado, all on a piece of whole wheat toast with butter. A truly decadent weight gainer of a snack, although quite cheap. Leave out toast if you are not trying to maintain or gain weight. 1000 calories, plenty of nutrients about a buck.



*and while I won’t explain this in detail here, parents of children with his personality type will understand without question. It is something people do tend to grow out of as they get older and gain confidence with new experiences.


Eleven perijoves by The Planetary Society

Seán Doran has made a cool visual index to the images that JunoCam took during Juno's first 12 closest approaches to Jupiter.

#Mercury2018: From MESSENGER to BepiColombo and beyond by The Planetary Society

A Mercury meeting held May 1-3 summarized the current and future science of the innermost planet. Emily Lakdawalla was there and shares her notes.

Funpost! We both began to giggle like school children by The Planetary Society

NASA astronaut Scott Tingle describes his first rocket launch.

Is NASA painting itself into a corner with its ISS transition plans? by The Planetary Society

By 2025, NASA wants to create a new humans-in-LEO market, and then become the non-primary customer for that new market.

Fire at ISRO's Space Application Centre by The Planetary Society

Two weeks ago, Indian media reported a fire at the Space Application Centre (SAC) of ISRO in the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Although it was a big fire, it was in an isolated building and no spacecraft was damaged.

Juno meets Cassini: A new merged global map of Jupiter by The Planetary Society

The Juno spacecraft that is currently orbiting Jupiter has obtained the first good images of Jupiter's polar regions. I am presenting here a combined global map of Jupiter, made from a Cassini map I made for the equatorial and temperate regions and polar maps made from the Juno JunoCam and JIRAM polar images.

Book Excerpt: The Design and Engineering of Curiosity: How the radioisotope power system works by The Planetary Society

Readers, colleagues, friends: it's finally happened. My first book is finally out in the world. Here's an excerpt that explains the design and operation of Curiosity's MMRTG, (it also applies to the future Mars 2020 rover power supply).

An 'Exploration Exhibition' to launch the new Planetary Science Caucus by The Planetary Society

We helped launch the new Planetary Science Congressional Caucus in Washington, D.C., with an exploration exhibition to highlight the range of academic, scientific, and industry partners engaging in planetary exploration. Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye and its Board of Directors were there to welcome members of Congress and hundreds of staff and policy experts.

May 18, 2018

GDPR compliance notice by Charlie Stross

Some of you might be aware of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that comes into force throughout the EU on May 25th. (For a broader lay person's introduction, see this essay by Jacques Mattheij.)

Here's what you need to know about this website and GDPR:

  • This may look like a personal blog, and as such you might think it's exempt from GDPR (Article 2 states that the regulation doesn't apply to processing of personal data "by a natural person in the course of a purely personal or household activity"). However, this blog is an adjunct to my business (writing novels) and is used for marketing purposes from time to time (carrying marketing information about my books, and links to third parties selling them). Prudence dictates that I should comply with the requirements of the GDPR—not to mention ethics: GDPR is about protecting individuals' privacy, and I'm all in favour of that.

  • I do business on such a small scale that, essentially, I'm responsible for everything on this website. (I sometimes pay other folks consultancy fees to do design or technical maintenance tasks I'm not competent to do myself.) Thus, all the corporate roles and responsibilities outlined in GDPR (such as the Data Protection Officer) devolve to me.

  • This website retains blog entries and blog comments. By posting an entry on this blog, or by commenting on an entry, you are implicitly agreeing to let me republish your material around the world. (This is mentioned in the moderation policy which you were advised to read before commenting, and I make it clear to the invited guest bloggers in their intro email.)

  • This website runs on top of a software stack using the Apache web server. Yes, Apache saves logfiles. These are only digested for statistical analysis of overall traffic. It also uses cookies to maintain your login session if you create a username and password so that you can comment (or post blog entries). Stuff it knows about you includes the IP address your browser request came from, the page requested, the referrer page (if any), and your browser identification string (if any). If this worries you, you're welcome to use a VPN and obfuscate or anonymize any or all of these things: you won't be blocked (although it may make posting comments problematic if you block cookies and/or javascript).

  • This website does not attempt to track you, does not knowingly feed your personally identifiable information to any other business or advertising affiliate or network—I don't even use Google Analytics—and I don't intend to start collecting or processing personal identifiable information.

  • This website may leak information about your session to third parties if you allow it to load content in the sidebar from (hint: the merchandise links), and if you view it with image loading enabled (I sometimes post image links that direct to websites I don't control).

  • Many years ago I ran a mailing list; this is now discontinued/deleted. More recently I set up a Google Group (antipope-storm-shelter or some such), so long ago I've lost track of it. That is covered by Google's GDPR compliance policy. If I ever decide to relaunch my author mailing list, I will do so by outsourcing operations to a third party organization that is GDPR compliant, and I will only ever operate a mailing list on a strict opt-in basis: I will never harvest your email address from your blog login for my own, or a third party's, mailing list.

  • If you want to exercise your right to be forgotten, or have personal information removed from this site, Contact me via this link if you don't already have my email address, or DM me on Twitter (@cstross). I do not use Facebook: requests made via Facebook will probably be missed. Note that I am not a corporation with a dedicated IT support staff and I spend 4-10 weeks of each year traveling, frequently without a laptop. If you don't get a reply within a week, email me again—I probably didn't get your request or I was swamped by other stuff.

  • Once I receive a GDPR request I will comply with it promptly, but bear in mind I'm a human being with a day job, and this blog is a peripheral pursuit. If your requests become an irritant (e.g. if you request multiple fiddly comment deletions or edits across multiple threads) I may just erase all your content and ban you from the blog in future. (GDPR gives you a right to be forgotten; it does not impose an obligation to be remembered.)

Any questions? Ask below. Use this link for GDPR requests

May 15, 2018

"I like to remember things like that." by Feeling Listless

Film Gen of Deek has a really good interview with Thanos/Cable/Dubya/Goonies actor Josh Brolin. It covers failure and how to fight to stay grounded when your life is a wonderland. He's immensely self aware:

"Going back to that beginner's mind again, if there’s more people when you leave your hotel sitting there wanting your autograph, it’s really good to me to know that there are fans out there for sure, and then there are people out there who make money off autographs. I like to remember things like that. That they may not care about you or your performance, they care about how much money they can get for your signature. That’s always a nice reality check."
Brolin is the perfect example of a journeyman character actor who suddenly finds himself in two of the biggest films of the Summer back to back.

May 14, 2018

Interesting reads, 14 May 2018 by Paul Furley

Interesting things I read on the Internet this week

May 12, 2018

Cthulhu Counterfactual by Charlie Stross

Nope, Charlie's not done, it's just me again.

Yes, I wish Cthulhu Counterfactual was the title of the book I was publishing, but alas. Charlie's tied up in a D=3.76931323 fractal dimensional knot that he needs to solve in order to bring his trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, and I decided to fill in the silence with some silliness.

So...Anyone interested in playing a game of Cthulhu Counterfactual?

It's simple, playing what-if with a question that subverts the Mythos in some way.

Here are some scenarios:

A. You've met a time traveler who's taken over the brain of a friend. This being, while being really smart, is definitely fascist, if not a full-blown Nazi.[1] Do you cooperate with this being, avoid it, turn it in to the authorities, keep it off social media...? Moreover, its understanding of time makes it seem like history is pre-determined and free will is an illusion. Why even be fascist in this context? Wouldn't it be simpler to be a hardworking anarchist whose main goal is to know what to do next? Governments are only necessary if the future is unknown, right? But if everyone knows what will happen and what needs doing, what's the purpose of government? Do you try to change its mind about being a member of, well, Ultima Thule (or is that Thule Ultima?)? What do you do?

2. It's the 1920s, and anarchists are Public Enemy #1. They shot McKinley, started WWI, and so forth. Heck, J Edgar Hoover just started the FBI to hunt them down.

In some desolate wilderness near your home, you run into a being that offers to let you, or perhaps your species, whichever, join an intergalactic civilization. This being the 1920s, you're not even sure what "intergalactic" means, but that's not the squicky part (no, you don't know what squicky means, either. Sorry). Anyway, there are two problems. First, this, erm, civilization, as this entity describes it to you, sounds a lot like total anarchy, right down to intelligent "ships" with names like Pulsating Orifice of Tentacles Humorously Deployed. Worse, the being trying to recruit you looks a bit like an overgrown, moldy crab, and it gives you a long, convoluted explanation about something called "uploading" that sounds like it wants to stuff your brain in a jar and run off with it.

What do you do? Do you go off and become an intergalactic anarchist? Why not? Would you get other people involved? Would you do it because you think it will help avoid getting your brain canned? Would you keep it quiet from the G-Men, or would you tell them right off?

III. Would you being willing to mutate into a fishlike marine being if it meant you could live forever? What about taking such a being as a spouse if it meant that your kids would live forever, albeit you couldn't visit them at home when you got old?

xxxx. What should a god-fearing, star-hopping species worship as a creator, to be scientifically accurate? Black holes at the center of galaxies? Water? Entropy and dissipative structures? The quantum observer? Knowledge that has to be coded for mental transmission because books are too heavy to carry when you're flapping between the stars? Explain your answer (extra points for responding in verse or filksong).

5e. It's the 1920s, and you're not a member of the dominant, colonialist race or gender. You get offered a position in a secretive group that says that soon, you'll get to experience new ways of killing and dying. Sounds gross, but your would-be recruited explains that death won't be permanent, for you or anyone else. You get to die multiple times and come back each time, and you'll have what they call a "restore" point of memories that you'll come back to, so it's much more convenient than the reincarnation of Eastern Religions. Are you in, or not? Do you keep it a secret, or try to get your friends to join? What details do you need to know before you'll want to join this particular cult?

Feel free to tackle any or all of these, or make up your own.

Note [1](from The Shadow Out Of Time): "The Great Race seemed to form a single loosely knit nation or league, with major institutions in common, though there were four definite divisions. The political and economic system of each unit was a sort of fascistic socialism, with major resources rationally distributed, and power delegated to a small governing board elected by the votes of all able to pass certain educational and psychological tests. Family organisation was not overstressed, though ties among persons of common descent were recognised, and the young were generally reared by their parents."

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Updated using Planet on 19 May 2018, 04:48 AM