Breakfast Notes #15 (Cults, Tsars and Vaccines)

Breakfast Notes #15 (Cults, Tsars and Vaccines)
Photo by Jaunt and Joy / Unsplash

Good morning! I cannot believe that tomorrow, we will all be stepping into 2022. Before I know it, I would be rocking a dad bod, a balding head and be an actual dad. Who knows?

Here are this week’s breakfast notes.

Peter Thiel On Cults

For those who are unfamiliar, Peter Thiel is an American billionaire entrepreneur and Silicon Valley’s famed contrarian venture capitalist. He was part of the Paypal Mafia- a group of former Paypal employees and founders that developed other tech firms like Tesla, LinkedIn, Palantir, Slide, Yelp, Youtube and Yammer.

Despite his iconic book Zero to One, I think his reputation as a persuasive writer remains underrated.

Consider his comparison between a start-up and a cult,

The best startups might be considered slightly less extreme kinds of cults. The biggest difference is that cults tend to be fanatically wrong about something important. People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed

In three sentences, he presents us a vivid image of what a successful startup looks like, what cults get wrong and what the BEST startups get right.

The Etymology of the Tsar

Photo by Sanzhar Alimkhanov / Unsplash

I have been learning about Russian history and politics in recent weeks. To understand a country that occupies an eighth of the world’s landmass and spans from Europe to Asia, one must appreciate the heft of its history.

A good place to start would be the 1300s. In the 1380 Battle of Kulikovo, the Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitry Ivanovich, defeated the Golden Horde, thereby marking the decline of Mongol power and the rise of Moscovy.

In 1453, Constantinople, the heart of Christendom and centre of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Empire and Moscow, with its growing power, began seeing itself as the Third Rome.

By 1547, Ivan the Terrible, after constructing the Russian Empire, crowned himself the first Tsar which was derived from the Latin title ‘caesar’. Just as Caesar ruled over Rome, the tsar would rule over Russia, the Third Rome.

While a traditional tsar no longer rules Russia, we can still see the imprints of ‘Russia as a Third Rome’ in Russian policies.

For example, the feeling of unity between countries like Ukraine and Russia are historically tied through Christian Eastern Orthodox faith and Slavic culture. This is why in July 2021, when Putin wrote an essay titled On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“, he wrote the following,

I am confident that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.
Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories.

To Putin, Ukraine does not merely share a border, but it shares the same spiritual roots. In Southeast Asia, it would be awkward for politicians to suggest that Malaysia and Indonesia share the same spiritual ties despite both countries being overwhelmingly Muslim and Malay. This is because Malaysia and Indonesia do not share the same type of historical relations as Ukraine and Russia.

In this, I learned that to understand today’s politics, New York Times might be the second-best place to start, right after the Britannica Encyclopedia.

Visualization Of The Day

Visual Capitalist

A Communist country produces most of our Christmas decorations. That is big dose of irony right there.

How Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Work?


Throughout the pandemic, I have tracked the conversation surrounding vaccine efficacy devolve into a shouting match.

You were either a conspiracy theorist or a big pharma sell out. However, hardly anyone discusses how the mRNA vaccines are supposed to work.

I decided to do some digging and found out how the vaccines work.

mRNA vaccines have two important components: mRNA sequences (a code snippet of COVID-19) and the lipid nanoparticles that carry them. Think of the lipid nanoparticles as supercarriers that allow the mRNA to be easily absorbed while reducing their degradation rate.

Once the mRNA makes its way into the cell, a ribosome organelle reads the mRNA sequence and translates it into a protein. This process repeats until there are enough proteins that immune cells notice and begin producing antibodies that bind tightly to the foreign proteins.

These antibodies serve as an alert to signal other immune cells to come and destroy the COVID-19 pathogen. Enough antibodies can also overwhelm an infected cell without the need for backup.

It’s important to know that once a person’s immune system knows how to make antibodies for a specific protein, it’ll retain that knowledge in the form of memory cells. If that person encounters the COVID-19 virus, they won’t need to go through the process of generating the right antibodies—their immune system can go straight to destroying the invader.

This process explains why vaccinated individuals are often asymptomatic because their body does not need to struggle as hard as the unvaccinated in ‘destroying the invader.’

I have learned that a good litmus test of anyone who seeks to make policy recommendations on the efficacy of vaccines or make claims about the ills of the COVID-19 vaccine should try to explain at least the vaccine and how it’s supposed to work.

You will be surprised how many people would exit the chat and how many interesting things you will learn along the way.

May the Sun Shine Upon Your Face,


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