The good listener: someone who has learnt how to find bits of themselves in the experiences of others.

– Alain de Botton


Featured artist: Julia Zinchenko

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 220!

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…and a happy 2023! One of the many things I enjoyed reading over the break was this excellent case for abolishing elections. The author Nicholas Coccoma argues that true democracy can only happen once elections have been replaced with a lottery system that hands political power to a random selection of citizens.

I previously wrote about the success (and shortfalls) of a recent citizen assembly experiment in France that left me intrigued and inspired. Citizen assemblies are actually not a new idea at all. The notion of politics by lottery is as old as democracy itself. The ancient Athenians deemed the citizen lottery model an integral part of the democratic system and saw major shortcomings in solely relying on elected representatives.

One key problem with representative democracies is that elected officials never represent the actual, diverse make-up of society. Take the US congress, for example. Coccoma writes:

“Despite being the most diverse in history, our current Congress remains very disproportionately white, male, and old. When it comes to wealth, the numbers are even more dispiriting: half the members of Congress are millionaires; 97 percent of Americans aren’t. And while over 37 million people in the U.S. live in poverty, you won’t find one of them in Congress, much less one of the millions of Americans without health insurance. …

“We can make all the tweaks we want, but as long as we employ voting to choose representatives, we will continue to wind up with a political economy controlled by wealthy elites. Modern liberal governments are not democracies; they are oligarchies in disguise.”

Democracy by lottery produces far more representative groups that come together for a limited period of time to develop a comprehensive understanding of an issue. Through the help of facilitators and experts, they can challenge each other’s assumptions and – as previous experiments show again and again – they often arrive at smarter, fairer, more practical solutions than a panel of specialists. As an added bonus, participants often develop a new understanding for people on the other side, bridging the partisan divide.

“Lotteries go straight to everyday people and bring them into power; they circumvent the designs of aristocrats, resist corruption, and don’t favor one group of citizens over another. Elections, by contrast, reward well-positioned insiders who have the connections and war chest to wage a campaign. They also attract ambitious social climbers.”

The more I read about democracy by lottery, the more it makes our current system seem inadequate, even regressive. So why isn’t the idea of a citizen assembly more popular? Coccoma points to three persistent myths that must be dispelled:

“First, the myth of heroic leadership: the assumption that the talent, training, and technique for politics resides in a select few. … Second, the myth of the idiot: the belief that the masses are too ignorant, vulgar, or unhinged to reason well, much less to govern the rest of us. … Third, the myth of the vote: the conceit that democracy is inextricably tied to elections.”

We’ve long been taught to view our right to vote as sacrosanct – a crucial pillar of democracy that took revolutions and many lives to bring into existence. And yet, it increasingly seems like a blunt and ineffective tool in an age of extreme polarisation.

When many of us feel a sense of despair about the crumbling of democratic values around the world, citizen assemblies offer a glimmer of hope: a more equitable, truly people-powered and therefore more genuine version of democracy. Coccoma put it more bluntly: “The question is not whether [...] democracy will die, but whether it will be instituted for the first time.”Kai


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Puzz →

A fresh take on the classic jigsaw puzzle

Aiming for less screen time this year? Unplug and unwind with the help of Puzz. We team up with artists to create modern puzzle designs you’ll be excited to build and display. Shop them all.


Apps & Sites

Readwise Reader →

Read-it-later power tool

Like many of my co-newsletterers, I have recently made the move away from Pocket to the Readwise Reader, a new power tool for consuming content online. It really lives up to its (modest) hype and has everything I want in a read-it-later app. I particularly love that I can add highlights and notes directly to the article page (not just the stripped-down, imported version). Friends of DD enjoy an extended 60-day free trial. Become a Friend to access specials like this.

Savee →

Collect visual inspiration

Savee is a Pinterest-style platform for collecting inspiring visual assets, grouping them into boards and following others who do the same.

Backspace →

Website carbon tracker

Unlike other website carbon calculators, with Backspace you place two lines of code in your website to generate a more realistic picture of your website’s carbon footprint – based on actual visits. You can then opt to remove the emissions through Climeworks, using renewable geothermal energy and waste heat to capture CO₂ directly from the air.

History Maps →

History explained in maps

History Maps uses a combination of interactive maps, videos, illustrations and Wikipedia content to explain and guide the user through an impressive collection of historical events.


Mini-Essay by Vishal Katariya


Vishal is a fresh PhD in physics who likes to read, cook, and generally pick up new hobbies. He’s currently figuring out how best to contribute to the global climate change mitigation effort.

Running on Miso Time

As I was working on my PhD these last few years, I’ve largely measured life in semesters and the gaps in between getting papers published. Scholarly life gave my days, weeks and months a certain rhythm, but it also made me feel stuck in someone else’s measurement of time. I got increasingly frustrated with the pace of my life being largely determined externally – until I started experimenting with the fermentation of foods and drinks.

Tepache takes a day, sauerkraut takes two weeks, sweet miso takes three months, and a salty miso can be aged for a whole year before it’s considered ready. Measuring life in increments of miso batches doesn’t just feel relaxing, it adds a new level of wholesomeness to the experience of time.

Embracing the lengthy incubation period of fermented foods means falling in love with the process: you put the right ingredients in the right conditions, and microbes and enzymes do their thing to transform those ingredients in scarcely believable ways. Encouraging and watching over these biochemical processes lets me ‘commune’ with elemental life forms we generally don’t pay much attention to. Seeing life in its simplest form grow and evolve in each glass jar regularly evokes a feeling of awe and wonder. And best of all: ferments can’t be hurried. They simply don’t care about our obsession with made-up time scales. They take as long as they need.

I’m marking the new calendar year with some soup and ginger cookies made with miso I started last month. A friend recently told me that they might be moving to my city mid 2023 and my first response was: “Let me start a batch of soy sauce now, so we can taste it together when you get here!”

Resources & recipes to get you started:

(Did you know? Friends of DD can respond to and engage with guest contributors like Vishal Katariya in one click.)


Books & Accessories


The Chaos Machine →

How social media rewired our minds

It feels increasingly as if the heydays of social media are behind us, but what’s the legacy they created? In his newest book, New York Times investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist Max Fisher offers “the definitive account of the meteoric rise and troubled legacy of the tech titans, as well as a rousing and hopeful call to arrest the havoc wreaked on our minds and our world before it’s too late.”


Running on Empty →

Overcoming emotional neglect

A recommendation by a dear friend of mine: a book about an issue that few of us spend time actively thinking about but that porbably impacts our lives more than we’d like to admit. Running on Empty is the first self-help book about Emotional Neglect: an invisible force from your childhood which you can’t see, but may be affecting you profoundly to this day. It is about what didn’t happen in your childhood, what wasn’t said, and what cannot be remembered.”


Overheard on Twitter

Founder of Michelin: [drunk as hell] we’re going to make tires and also rate restaurants.



Food for Thought

The Case for Abolishing Elections →


I learned so much about the shortfalls of our electoral systems – what we think of as a cornerstone of democracy – and am now more convinced than ever that citizen assemblies can be the saviour of the many embattled democracies around the world. “We can make all the tweaks we want, but as long as we employ voting to choose representatives, we will continue to wind up with a political economy controlled by wealthy elites. Modern liberal governments are not democracies; they are oligarchies in disguise, overwhelmingly following the policy preferences of the rich. (The middle class happens to agree with them on most issues.)”

Should we be eating three meals a day? →


I’ve had some annoying gut-related problems in the past and one of the things that, I believe, made a major difference is intermittent fasting and limiting my food intake to (mostly) two meals a day. More and more science is showing that our default of ‘three meals per day’ has no benefits and could actually be contributing to health issues. “You could see a dramatic change just from a small delay in your first meal and advancing your last meal. Making this regular without changing anything else could have a big impact.”

Dramageddon: The Virtual Civil War →


I don’t agree with everything Gurwinder writes here, but I think he provides a pretty accurate assessment of what he calls ‘dramageddon’ – the exhausting feeling of division, despair, and doom omnipresent on most social media platforms today. “The more credible threat posed by dramageddon is much simpler than civil war: it is, to put it frankly, turning our brains to shit. By presenting us with a pantomime of reality performed by trolls and narcissists, and by convincing us that this pantomime is based on a true story, social media is afflicting us with a chronic paranoia that dements logic, destroys goodwill, and obstructs dialogue.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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The perfectly named Casa Parásito (parasitic house) is a tiny, modular dwelling that can be added to underused rooftops.

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Risotto is a UK-based risograph print studio that also sells colourful, fun stationery and wall art.

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Enjoy the photos of the winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022. (Top: Badwater Milky way by Abhijit Patil, bottom: Winged Aurora by Alexander Stepanenko.)

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Pasto is a fun, charming display type family of two styles with four weights each. “‘Print’ is a textured irregular stamp style, and ‘Sharp’ is a straightforward soft-edged type with clean strokes.”


Notable Numbers


The US Postal Service announced last December that it plans to buy 106,000 new vehicles by 2028, of which 66,000 will run on electricity and produce zero greenhouse gas emissions.


Spain has ruled that tobacco companies will have to pay to clean up cigarette butts. While the cost is not clear, a previous study estimated the cost to be between €12–€21 per citizen per year, or a total of up to €1 billion.


Ikea has introduced solar-powered cargo bikes to its last-mile delivery service that can accommodate around 90% of Ikea’s product range and emits 98% less CO2 than modern diesel vans, according to the company.



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