Georeactor Blog

RSS Feed

2024 Travel Reads Part 2

Tags: books

More reading while traveling - I was working through another book, but it got soaked through during a hike. Picked up both books in Singapore.

And Then What?: Dispatches From the Heart of 21st-Century Diplomacy, From Kosovo to Kiev (Catherine Ashton, 2023)

First book that I'm reading by a Baroness, though the details of that are more complex than I thought (Ashton grew up working-class and was recommended to the Queen for an uninheritable 'life peerage' when Tony Blair was PM). After rising into leadership in the House of Lords, Ashton's involvement in EU restructuring (Lisbon Agreement) led to PM Gordon Brown appointing her to represent the UK, and then into Lisbon's newly-created VP role to serve as the EU's equivalent to a Secretary of State / Foreign Minister from 2009-2014.

The book gave me some insight into the differences between EU Parliament, Commission, and Council, and the interplay between representing the EU in-general vs. using the UK's deep connections in foreign outposts. Also some idea of how EU might be involved in disaster response or mediating during political upheaval in Egypt. Ashton manages to get meetings with all sides in many countries - (She managed to visit Egypt's deposed president Morsi in detention, and discuss the Iran Deal with Russians through the Crimea invasion). Some of this might be uncertainty about the abilities of this new EU role. But she deserves a lot of credit for making those connections work.

Baroness Ashton is very in-tune with media messaging and appearances. This runs the gamut from complaining about not getting a call from Gordon Brown before her appointment, to avoiding time on a beach or at a pool where she might be photographed looking relaxed on the job (even in the Seychelles!).

One section which fulfilled my Star Trek image of diplomacy was the section on getting Serbia and Kosovo to sit for negotiations, dinners, and public appearances. Another (Iran) was honest about unglamorous moments, being left out while others met in Oman, and the difficulties keeping up-to-date with file versions.

Unfortunately the question And Then What? leaves the reader with the Iran Deal closed by Trump, the invasion of Ukraine intensifying, and UK leaving the EU.

Rental Person Who Does Nothing (Shoji Morimoto, 2019; 2023 translation)

This book received a US release in January.

Morimoto, a scientist and father, gained fame on Japanese Twitter for being hireable to show up to places and do nothing. Appointments include meals when someone doesn't want to eat alone, celebrity events where they don't know other fans, "focusmate" type pairing, and supporting another performance artist. He only asks for travel expenses to be paid. Why did he do it, and why did he get hired? Was it an art project, "funemployment", a social experiment? We get some explanations and a few shared insights (the book is in first-person, but Morimoto claims that there is a pseudonymous interviewer and editor).

The publisher's summary suggests that Morimoto left the workforce after his boss told him that he was as useless as someone doing nothing. This suggests a protest of Japanese careerism? When we hear about Morimoto's older siblings (one died by suicide), you can see more personally that he already felt alienated from careerism before joining the workforce. Even now he does not want to hear about exams, and walks out early from a motivational speech event. But generally he is cooperative and wants to hear about new things (as long as there is no expectation of advice or emotional feedback). During the appointment he might get in a conversation about geometry or read the customer's manga. Maybe something could be asked about the autistic spectrum? There are rules and limits to what he will accept, but the main idea is accepting enjoyable or personally significant events (court hearings, post-divorce lunches) and rejecting repetitive events or projects which amount to work.
I thought it was interesting that Morimoto's family life is hidden but still part of his public image and schedule, such that "customers" know he is not trying to date or do anything so dangerous.

When I picked up the book, I wondered if it was "real"? There are investigations out there about the service to hire family members (as seen on Conan: and whether a single person coordinates it for media attention ( Morimoto doesn't mention families in his book, but acknowledges competing services which are more commercial (Ossan, which sounds like TaskRabbit with options to talk about personal issues) and festive (Pro-ogorareya - not a lot of info on him but appeared to be a pro party guest, living it up and crashing on couches). From the 1MDB documentary and a New Yorker article about famous bands doing top-dollar bar mitzvahs, someone like Flo Rida could be considered to be a professional party guest? Leaving Morimoto to do nothing.

When I was a nomad, I had to consider the rules and characterization of myself being a nomad. For example, do I want to stay in Airbnbs specifically over VRBO/Craigslist, how long to plan ahead, what about storage space, why not stay longer. Like Morimoto, I found that people share complicated, devastating, and confusing things with a stranger, because it's too sensitive to talk about within their network. The book helped me think about writing something about the nomad years. A book can answer common questions, give little vignettes of memorable strangers, etc.

Updates to Previous Reads

In Makassar, I visited the fort which is the only remaining structure from Alfred Wallace's visit to the Malay Archipelago. In Singapore there is a Wallace Nature Center which has a few educational panels about his trip. This was the end of my trip walking across Singapore parks in extreme temperatures, so I refilled my water and didn't go on their "Wallace Trail". Currently I am in Sarawak, and there is reportedly a monument or something in Santubong about Wallace writing his evolution letters there.

Google/DeepMind's release of weights for Gemma models ( ) was bogged down on HN and Twitter with complaints about alignment on the separate Gemini service.

Claim that every single nucleotide mutation in the human genome exists

Malaysia head of state rotation graphic, broken down quite well

Cantonese language preservation enters the conversation around Expats TV series

The Wright Brothers kept their first flights under wraps for years, so there's a conspiracy theory that they never flew until their public performances: