Medley 232: Ketchup, Signaling, Modern Empires, Almanack, Meat, Signature Moves, Mediocrity...

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

As always, you can listen to the audio version of this Medley by searching "Nat Chat" in any podcast app.

A couple new things this week...

First up, my new publication, Almanack, launched last week! I'll be publishing there every other week or so, and you can get my first article on "The Mental Model Behind Every High-Performer I Know" now by signing up.

I also released two new videos this week. One on "Starting a $400,000 Side Business in 1 Month (for Free)," and one on "5 Life Lessons from a Book too Evil for Prisons"

Alright, on to the Medley!

The World of Sponsorship

🥩 This medley is brought to you by returning sponsor White Oak Pastures! They are one of the best ways to get access to high quality, sustainably raised meat, and their farm was the subject of the landmark study that showed proper land management can be carbon negative, meaning their meat actually helps the environment. Last time the sponsored the Medley they ran out of a lot of their meats, but they're back in stock now so check them out!

The World of Empires

📰 This was a fascinating read on how the US might try to "Avoid the Fate of Empires."

"Comparing a series of ancient and modern empires, he concluded that their average lifespan was 10 generations—about 250 years—and that, despite great geographic, technological, religious, and cultural differences, all empires follow a general pattern as they expand, develop, and finally decline and collapse."

📉 One thing that stood out is how important the shift from national service and sense of duty to the country towards selfishness becomes a precondition for decline:

"It’s not an exaggeration to say that the defining factor of the richest class of Americans, and their political allies, is the avoidance of all shared national burdens—from healthcare to taxes and the public services that rely on them—in favour of a hyper-individualistic notion of prosperity."

🎓 It also predicts some of the internal political strife we're now encountering, including it starting in Universities and spreading out into the populace at large:

"Glubb was intensely suspicious of intellectualism, which he viewed as a product of the “softness” of the “Age of Affluence”—all talk and no action, inventing justifications for why the nation should no longer fight, and conquer, and grow rich... a side-effect of the “Age of Intellect” is that increasing political chatter often raises internal political divisions above external threats in the public consciousness... In contemporary Britain, America, and Europe, internal divisions and enmity have begun to absorb almost all political and media attention, almost to the exclusion of the geopolitical challenges presented by Russia and China, to say nothing of the looming climate catastrophe."

📱 And it advocates for some kind of UBI as a good solution for the empty life that can come from losing your job to technology and a changing economy:

"The concept of meaningful work can’t be overstated. Glubb was right to be sceptical of welfare—there’s no preventing societal decay by giving people money to watch daytime tv, play video games, or argue on social media. We need to create space for people to learn and practice skills that empower them, and make their lives—and those of their communities—richer."

🍎 There are some great takeaways for education, too:

"An education system that teaches self-reliance through character-building would be an invaluable aid in forming citizens who could resist the frivolity that marks the decaying empire."

🤔 All in all really interesting look at what might lead to America's decline, and how we could deter it. Definitely my "top read" this week.

The World of Comedy

👍 I really enjoyed this thread on Bill Grundfest, who opened the comedy cellar in NYC and discovered Jon Stewart and Bill Maher.

The concept of "finding your signature move" is a really useful one. If you're in a competitive creative field, find the thing you can do better than everyone else that's broad enough to keep riffing on, but narrow enough to be a speciality. Like his advice to Ray Romano:

"Like Jon Stewart, Ray was super likable -- but in a different way. He was a blue-collar family man, a loyal husband, a good father. Bill met with Ray and told him: “Get rid of any material that doesn’t support the idea that you are a standup husband and dad.”"

💭 I'm not sure what mine is, but it's interesting to think about.

The World of Premium Mediocrity

🧠 I love this piece from Venkatesh Rao on "The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millenial." Premium Mediocre as a mental model is one I keep coming back to and referencing in my head.

"Premium mediocre is food that Instagrams better than it tastes."

💲 I made a reference to this in my podcast with Brandon Zhang, that places and things fall on a spectrum of low / high quality and low / high cost. Mexico City street food is high quality, low cost. I consider Austin to be in the "craftsman" region of high quality, middle cost. Nantucket is high cost, low quality, and definitely premium mediocre.

The Premium Mediocre model is useful because it's a question you can ask yourself: whether you're doing something, or buying something, predominantly for the signaling value vs. its intrinsic value. Are you at this restaurant to take pictures of the food so your friends can see how affluent and classy you are? Or are you there because the food is good. Did you travel to this location because the pics are gonna be great? Or because you're legitimately interested in the culture, food, history, etc.

📖 Also worth a read: Signaling as a Service.

The World of Tomatoes

🍉🥕 I learned something neat the other week, there isn't really a firm definition on fruits vs. vegetables, which partially explains all the confusion around tomatoes.

"The age-old question actually has an answer—it's both! Tomatoes are fruits that are considered vegetables by nutritionists. "

"Botanically, a fruit is a ripened flower ovary and contains seeds. Tomatoes, plums, zucchinis, and melons are all edible fruits, but things like maple “helicopters” and floating dandelion puffs are fruits too... For some reason, people got hung up on tomatoes, but the “fruit or vegetable” question could also work for any vegetable with seeds."

"Now, nutritionally, the term “fruit” is used to describe sweet and fleshy botanical fruits, and “vegetable” is used to indicate a wide variety of plant parts that are not so high in fructose. There is no hard-and-fast rule that clearly designates a botanical fruit as a vegetable, but, given that tomatoes are generally not used in desserts and are closely related to other fruit-vegetables (e.g., eggplants and peppers), it is not too counterintuitive for tomatoes to be classified as vegetables."

🍅 So the answer is "neither" and "both" it seems. Also kinda fun is the history of when ketchup was considered a vegetable by the USDA to give schools more flexibility with their meal planning:

"A similar controversy arose in 2011, when Congress passed a bill prohibiting the USDA from increasing the amount of tomato paste required to constitute a vegetable; the bill allowed pizza with two tablespoons (30 mL) of tomato paste to qualify as a vegetable."

I'm always amazed by anyone who still takes government diet & health recommendations seriously.

End Note

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Have a great week,

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