Amazon’s Proof of Work

I write a lot of reviews on Amazon. Partly because Amazon reviews is one of the last bastions of unpopular opinion on the internet, but mostly because I get free stuff out of it. I am a huge sucker for free stuff.

If you’ve had an Amazon account for any amount of time, it’s inevitable that you’ve been solicited for reviews by a third party seller. Usually the seller offers to Paypal a purchase refund in exchange for a five-star review. Sometimes the target product is in the $100-$200 range, like a security camera. Sometimes the product is a $10 phone holder, in which case the seller might pay you to search for some keywords, click around, and buy the product without need for a review.

Third-party sellers use tools like JungleScout to find product niches with high demand and low competition. Once a niche is identified, the seller orders a batch of merchandise from China, slaps a custom label on the box, and has the manufacturer drop-ship the lot to an Amazon fulfillment center. Manufacturers don’t form exclusive relationships, so dozens of sellers might hone in on the same product, resulting in page after page of identical listings sold under different brand names.

Amazon ranks the products based on a combination of sales numbers, reviews, and clickthrough:sales ratio; sellers buy reviews and sales in hopes of securing a coveted spot on the first page. No one is really harmed in the process – customers end up with the same product from the same manufacturer either way. In some ways it’s like Proof-of-Work – dumb and wasteful, but fair.

Here’s where I get confused. These are clearly the same product. Why don’t sellers consolidate to increase their margins? One theory is that sellers prefer to stay small, to reduce the downside risk of Amazon canceling their account and seizing the inventory. Another is that Amazon prefers the plausible deniability of using multiple third-party sellers. When issues arise (like a hoverboard spontaneously combusting), Amazon can claim to be a neutral platform and deflect the blame.

And maybe this is ultimately good for consumerism. If I were to search Amazon for a USB cable and get a single result at the best price, I would stop to think about whether I really needed a USB cable at all. Instead, Amazon returns fifty pages of results and my focus is on choosing whether I want the white one or the blue one; three feet or six feet.

We’ve become accustomed to having eighty bajillion options shoved in front of our eyes anytime we want something, because variety is the epitome of free-market capitalism. As long as we get to choose between five million brands of breakfast cereal, no one will ever stop to ask why we need to start the day with oats rolled in high fructose corn syrup.

And that’s my conspiracy theory of the day.

In 1989, Boris Yeltsin visited a Houston supermarket and was blown away by the available options. “31 different flavors of ice cream, зAEбцA!” It was enough to make the Soviets abandon communism.

And That’s Why We’re Fat

I’m behind the curve these days, but here’s Slime Mold Time Mold with an awesome blog series on obesity. The whole thing is worth a read, but the key theory is that the leading cause of obesity is some environmental contaminant that travels through the water.

First of all, we know that populations living at higher elevations have lower obesity rates than populations residing in lowlands:

See this map, where most of Colorado is very very white and the bottom of the Mississippi basin very dark. But race can’t be the only determinant of obesity, because the rest of the Eastern Seaboard is relatively slim too – particularly Massachusetts and New York.

Those who live in Denver get their tap water from pristine snowmelt, which flows downhill and accumulates contaminants before reaching residents at lower altitudes. Those near the mouth of the Mississippi are exposed to all the obesity-inducing pollutants accumulated elsewhere in the country.

What are the problematic contaminants? We have the usual suspects: Livestock antibiotics that damage the gut biome; perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl substances that disrupt endocrine function. The prevalence of these pollutants roughly match the parabolic increase in obesity since the 70s. However, the author’s prime suspect is lithium, an industrial additive and battery component. Lithium is also prescribed as a mood stabilizer, with impaired thyroid function and weight gain as known side effects.

What if none of this was an accident? Beginning in 1951, major cities in the US and abroad began adding fluoride to the public water supply. Most of them still do this! The rationale is that fluoride helps prevent tooth decay, which seems like a really niche interest. If something as minor as tooth decay is enough to warrant additives in the public water, why not use the same strategy to address other public health concerns?

When Pfizer comes out with their COVID vaccine pill, are we going to grind that up and add it to public drinking water?

If I was the mayor of a violent city like Chicago, might I not consider adding a pacifier to the municipal water supply? An antidepressant like lithium carbonate, which has been successfully used to treat patients with aggressive conduct disorder? If we can justify fluoride for friggin tooth decay, surely we can justify lithium for public safety?

I don’t think any cities are actually doing this. But! Prison inmates are known to gain a substantial amount of weight during incarceration. This has been observed everywhere from county jails to Guantanamo Bay. Researchers blame poor health care and lack of fresh fruit, but come on – this is prison. Food is bland and delivered in restricted portions. It’s nearly impossible to gain weight on jail food, unless something else is going on. If I were a corrections officer surrounded by potentially dangerous criminals, I would not hesitate to dope the water with sedatives.

Of course, our rulers would never do that to us…right? Well, time to bust out the distiller.

Woke Capital Wags the Dog

The Century of the Self is a four-part documentary that follows the evolution of advertising and PR. We’re all familiar with Edward Bernays, the marketing genius who convinced women across the country to take up smoking. He paid suffragettes to light up during NYC’s annual Easter parade, then ran ads calling the cigarettes “freedom torches”. Smoking was empowerment.

Bernays went on to work for the CIA. Sex appeal and status signaling continued to be effective marketing devices until the strategy hit a wall in the late 1960s. Consumer financing had taken off, catalyzed by computers and information brokers and data analysts. Whereas loans used to granted on a personal basis, banks could now use credit scores to quantify a borrower’s creditworthiness. Luxury goods became lame status signifiers now that anyone could buy a car on credit.

Advertisers turned to Maslow and realized they needed to aim one step higher on the hierarchy of needs. People will spend money on comfort and sex appeal, but they’ll spend infinitely more on self-actualization. Every product should be a statement of personal values.

If you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
There’s a million things to be
You know that there are
–Jeep Grand Cherokee commercial

Instead of trying to make the viewer feel slightly inadequate, ads should make the viewer feel like a beautiful and unique snowflake. A beautiful and unique snowflake whose uniqueness can only be captured by driving a new car.

That’s why tech bros buy Patagonia vests to sit in climate controlled offices, wear Allbirds that look like cloned Keds, and pay $10 for artisanal toast from The Mill.

The self-expression strategy flowed into politics. A political campaign is no different from any other marketing campaign, only instead of selling new cars you’re selling old boomers. Reagan’s campaign advisors realized they could pander to the people by telling voters that it’s okay to be selfish. Earlier generations asked not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Now it’s all identity politics all the time.

Why are corporations so woke? Because their employees have been brainwashed by a lifetime of marketing, and workplaces must cater to personal identity just like everything else in life.

Maybe this is an oversimplified explanation. Millennials are selfish and self-absorbed all over the planet. Then again, maybe that’s a testament to the power of American advertising.

Watch the documentary, or read the transcript.

Be So Gross They Can’t Ignore You

Many years ago, I made fun of Silicon Valley urbanites for proposing that California secede the union after Trump’s election. I now realize that I was wrong. Apologies to Sam Altman et al.

The #CalExit campaign has since morphed from an independence movement to a bid to amputate the gangrenous state for the sake of everyone else. (Is it too late to give California back to Mexico?) Even if a complete dissolution is impossible, it’s inevitable that large portions of the country will fracture into autonomous zones. The only question is how we get there.

As Cliven Bundy, David Koresh, and the Confederacy demonstrated, you can’t seize autonomy by force. The US government has no qualms about slaughtering those who try. A more successful example is that of Union Point, where homeless junkies became such a public nuisance that the city of Oakland set aside two vacant lots for them to create a self-governing community.

For years, Oakland tried to discourage homeless encampments with fines, bulldozers, and threats of violence. Every time an encampment was cleared out, the residents would resettle the next block over. City council realized that the homeless were not going to disappear, they were in no shape to rejoin society, and they were too disgusting to stay where they were. The only solution was to mitigate their impact on everyone else.

Union Point Park, Oakland

Oakland residents were happy to get junkies out of public parks, and the homeless were happy to have a place where they could indulge in recreation without fear of harassment.

If you want to have your own autonomous zone, you need to get a bunch of like-minded people together and become so noxious they can’t ignore you.

…Which brings me to anti-vaxxers. Ewwww. If I had to choose between having an unvaxxed kid in my neighborhood, or a group of drug-addled derelicts shitting on the sidewalk, I believe I would rather have the derelicts. I would compare the unvaxxed to leprosy patients, but frankly that’s an insult to lepers.

We’ve tried asking nicely, but the only thing more unreasonable than a strung out meth addict is an anti-vaxxer. Therefore, we have no choice but to segregate the unvaxxed. For the sake of public health.

There should be separate-but-equal facilities to prevent the unvaxxed from spreading disease and pestilence. Starting with designated “unvaxxed” seating areas in restaurants and airports, then separate bathrooms for the unvaxxed, and segregated schools taught by unvaccinated teachers. With short buses to bus in the unvaxxed.

The biggest benefit of separate schools is that the fully vaccinated children will no longer be held back by the intellectual deficiencies of their unvaccinated peers. If the latter children are anything like their parents, it’s inconceivable that they’ll be able to keep up with post-Enlightenment topics like Critical Race Theory.

Eventually, we’ll have entire autonomous zones. Perhaps a city like Miami can declare itself a leper colony, but for the unvaxxed. The surrounding country will build a wall, a cordon sanitaire, to #StoptheSpread. Anti-vaxxers don’t need to all cram into Miami; we’ll have leper colonies all over the country where they cluster. Jefferson County, most of Wyoming, Texas-minus-Austin, and so on. Everyone else will stay far away, as the unvaxxed colonies are obviously really gross.

The best way to get a bitcoin citadel is to convince them to build it for us.

Should I Sell My Organs to Stack More Sats?

I recently learned that the going rate for a kidney is $262,000, and if you were to liquidate your entire body it would net a cool $45 million. Upload your consciousness to the metaverse before doing so, of course.

That means most of us are carrying non-productive assets that could be traded for, well, a different non-productive asset — But one that is going to the moon.

There’s a huge societal benefit as well. This market is clearly suffering from illiquidity:

There’s something off-putting about selling an internal organ. It feels repugnant in the same way that selling a family heirloom feels repugnant, in that a family heirloom isn’t really yours to sell. Like, you never actually own a family heirloom. You merely look after it for the next generation.

It’s the same idea with bodily parts, except the intergenerational wealth moves in reverse. The main reason anyone has children is to create a sort of organ bank, little repositories of flesh and blood with high likelihood of sharing a compatible blood type. You never actually own your liver. You merely look after it until Grandpa has late-stage cirrhosis.

Whether it be a Patek Philippe watch or spare lung or a bitcoin, the objective is the same. If it feels gross to sell a kidney for sats, that’s because you haven’t convinced yourself of Bitcoin’s superiority as a store of value.

This is not investment advice.

This is: