Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Contrasting coffee and tea

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In the Washington Post Anahad O’Connor, Aaron Steckelberg, and Garland Potts have an interesting article (no paywall) whose focus is the contrast between coffee and tea. (Comparing two things is pointing out the ways in which they are similar; contrasting them is pointing out how they differ. Thus the traditional school directive “Compare and contrast…”)

One comment in the article surprised me:

So far, studies haven’t found a link between tea consumption and cancer prevention. One meta-analysis of 113 studies found “little evidence to support the hypothesis that tea drinking is associated with cancer risk.”

What?! I have long been under the impression that green tea reduces the risk of cancer substantially, and white tea does so even more. So I quickly DuckDuckWent and found this study at the top of the list: “Cancer prevention by green tea: evidence from epidemiologic studies.” The abstract:

In contrast to the consistent results of an inhibitory effect of green tea extracts and tea polyphenols on the development and growth of carcinogen-induced tumors in experimental animal models, results from human studies are mixed. Both observational and intervention studies have provided evidence in support of a protective role of green tea intake in the development of oral-digestive tract cancer or an inhibitory role of oral supplementation of green tea extract on a precancerous lesion of oral cavity. Evidence in support of green tea intake against the development of liver cancer risk is limited and inconsistent. An inverse association between green tea intake and lung cancer risk has been observed among never smokers but not among smokers. Although observational studies do not support a beneficial role of tea intake against the development of prostate cancer, several phase 2 clinical trials have shown an inhibitory effect of green tea extract against the progression of prostate premalignant lesions to malignant tumors. Prospective epidemiologic studies so far have not provided evidence for a protective effect of green tea consumption on breast cancer development. Current data neither confirm nor refute a definitive cancer-preventive role of green tea intake. Large randomized intervention trials on the efficacy of green tea polyphenols or extracts are required before a recommendation for green tea consumption for cancer prevention should be made.

Michael Greger MD frequently (and vehemently) inveighs against applying to people the results of nutritional studies based on tests in mice or fruit flies or other non-human subjects, and even more against applying the results of in vitro studies whose findings are based on what happened in a petri dish.

At any rate, I learned something new, though I think I’ll stick with tea as my morning beverage and have coffee only occasionally. But that might change.

What I hate about coffee is that if I am drinking it regularly, then if I stop I have painful physical withdrawal — lethargy and debilitating headaches. So even if I do drink it, it will be a once-a-week beverage at most.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2022 at 9:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

“Your Money or Your Life”‘s Vicki Robin interviewed

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Many years ago, I read Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, and over time it altered the trajectory of my financial life. (The current version is an update of the original.) The book is among those I find myself repeatedly recommending, and for good reason. (It’s listed in the Personal Development section.)

Today Helaine Olen of the Washington Post has a report (no paywall) on her visit with Robin:

When I told Vicki Robin I wanted to visit her at her home on Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound just north of Seattle, she told me it might be difficult: She could offer me only a foldout sofa. She was renting out her guest rooms below market rate, she said, to people who needed housing.

I laughed. The woman who once famously lived with her companion on about $1,000 per month didn’t want me or The Post — owned by Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people in the world — to pay for a hotel?

Before the hustle economy and the “Great Resignation,” there was Robin and her partner, Joe Dominguez. Their book “Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence,” published 30 years ago this fall, asked us to take control of our financial and work lives by eschewing mindless spending and instead concentrating on what matters, such as family, friends and hobbies.

The book is a thought-provoking mix of common-sense financial advice, philosophical exploration and scathing critique — of both consumer culture, and the way we allow work to dominate our lives. It is an argument that, in many ways, foreshadowed our times.

Yet today, “Your Money or Your Life” — which still sells thousands of copies a year — is rarely mentioned in the context of our current labor moment. Instead, its legacy is mostly celebrated by the tech-bro-heavy, more apolitical FIRE movement — that’s Financial Independence, Retire Early. Adherents have embraced the frugal philosophy and desire for freedom, but not the book’s greater ambitions.

Robin appreciates her younger acolytes, but is concerned that a vital piece of her message has been lost in translation. The FIRE iteration, she says, is often “absent any social or political critique.” But “Your Money or Your Life” was never supposed to be just a self-help guide to saving your own financial life. For Robin, the vision 30 years ago — and the one she still believes in today — was always about how to rescue us all.

Robin, now 77, and Dominguez came out of 1960s alternative counterculture, embracing its critique of American consumerism as a personally and environmentally destructive force. Dominguez, a Wall Street analyst, calculated he would need to save $100,000 and invest it in government bonds to live modestly on the passive income it generated for the rest of his life. When he came up with that sum, he resigned.

The heart of “Your Money or Your Life” is . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

The budget planning and tracking system I now use owes a lot to Your Money or Your Life.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2022 at 9:19 am

Achilles ‘n Ascension

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Yesterday’s soap included Scotch whisky, and today’s includes Kentucky bourbon whiskey (with appropriate spellings). Van Yulay soaps are a favorite, and I’m getting to the end of my tub of Achilles shaving soap, whose ingredients are:

Stearic Acid, Coconut Fatty Acid, Palm Stearic, Castor, Potassium Hydroxide, Glycerin, Tobacco Tea, Aloe Vera, Coconut-Emu-Tallow-Meadow Foam-Borage-Argan- Oils, Kentucky Bourbon, Sodium Lactate, Herbal Ground Tea, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Allantoin, Silica, Bentonite & Kaolin Clay, Glycerin Soap, Tobacco Absolute, Mica and Fragrance.

I think I might but a new tub of this one, which I like a lot: “Tobacco with the perfect amount of Kentucky bourbon, Earthy wild notes with rosewood, cedar, smoke, and sweet birch.” At the link above, the description discusses the efficacy of various ingredients. (One thing that Meißner Tremonia (yesterday’s soap’s maker) and Van Yulay have in common: the formulation varies from soap to soap.)

My pre-Vulfix Simpson Persia Jar 2 Super easily created a super lather, and Phoenix Artisan’s Ascension glided smoothly through the stubble, removing every track in three very comfortable passes.

A good splash of Achilles aftershave (with no need for Hydrating Gel — very nice formula for this as well), and the day begins.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Editors’ Blend: “Ceylon adds depth and a brisk sparkling finish, Yunnan provides smoothness and sweetness and Keemun ties it together.”

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2022 at 8:55 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Seeing and somethingness

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Nicholas Humphrey, emeritus professor of psychology at the London School of Economics and author of many books on the evolution of human intelligence and consciousness, the latest being Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness, writes in Aeon:

The cover of New Scientist magazine 50 years ago showed a picture of a rhesus monkey, with the headline ‘A Blind Monkey That Sees Everything’. The monkey, named Helen, was part of a study into the neuropsychology of vision, led by Lawrence (Larry) Weiskrantz in the psychology laboratory at the University of Cambridge. In 1965, he had surgically removed the primary visual cortex at the back of Helen’s brain. Following the operation, Helen appeared to be quite blind. When, as a PhD student, I met her a year later, it seemed nothing had changed.

But something puzzled me. In mammals, there are two main pathways from the eye to the brain: an evolutionarily ancient one – the descendant of the visual system used by fish, frogs and reptiles – that goes to the optic tectum in the mid-brain, and a newer one that goes up to the cortex. In Helen, the older visual system was still intact. If a frog can see using the optic tectum, why not Helen?

While Weiskrantz was away at a conference, I took the chance to investigate further. I sat with Helen and played with her, offering her treats for any attempt to engage with me by sight. To my delight, she began to respond. Within a few hours, I had her reaching out to take pieces of apple from my hand; within a week, she was reaching out to touch a small flashing light… Seven years later (as shown in the video below), she was running round a complex arena, deftly avoiding obstacles, picking up peanuts from the floor.

To anyone who’d observed Helen in 1972 – and didn’t know the history – it would have seemed that her eyesight was now quite normal. Yet, could she really ‘see everything’, as the New Scientist’s cover implied? I didn’t think so. I found it hard to put my finger on what was missing. But my hunch was that Helen herself still doubted she could see. She seemed strangely unsure of herself. If she was upset or frightened, her confidence would desert her, and she would stumble about as if in the dark again. The title I gave to my article inside the covers of the magazine was ‘Seeing and Nothingness’.

We were on the brink of a remarkable discovery. Following on from the findings with Helen, Weiskrantz took a new approach with a human patient, known by the initials DB, who, after surgery to remove a growth affecting the visual cortex on the left side of his brain, was blind across the right-half field of vision. In the blind area, DB himself maintained that he had no visual awareness. Nonetheless, Weiskrantz asked him to guess the location and shape of an object that lay in this area. To everyone’s surprise, he consistently guessed correctly. To DB himself, his success in guessing seemed quite unreasonable. So far as he was concerned, he wasn’t the source of his perceptual judgments, his sight had nothing to do with him. Weiskrantz named this capacity ‘blindsight’: visual perception in the absence of any felt visual sensations.

Blindsight is now a well-established clinical phenomenon. [And this perhaps explains why Ved Mehta, though blind, was able to run around easily at the school for the blind he attended in Arkansas, as he describes in his (fascinating) autobiography Face to Face. I always wondered about that. – LG]  When first discovered, it seemed theoretically shocking. No one had expected there could possibly be any such dissociation between perception and sensation. Yet, as I ruminated on the implications of it for understanding consciousness, I found myself doing a double-take. Perhaps the real puzzle is not so much the absence of sensation in blindsight as its presence in normal sight? If blindsight is seeing and nothingness, normal sight is seeing and somethingness. And surely it’s this something that stands in need of explanation.

Why do visual sensations, as experienced in normal vision, have the mysterious feel they do? Why is there any such thing as what philosophers call ‘phenomenal experience’ or qualia – our subjective, personal sense of interacting with stimuli arriving via our sense organs? Not only in the case of vision, but across all sense modalities: the redness of red; the saltiness of salt; the paininess of pain – what does this extra dimension of experience amount to? What’s it for? And, crucially, which animals besides ourselves experience it, which are sentient?

Sensation, let’s be clear, has a different function from perception. Both are forms of mental representation: ideas generated by the brain. But they represent – they are about – very different kinds of things. Perception – which is still partly intact in blindsight – is about ‘what’s happening out there in the external world’: the apple is red; the rock is hard; the bird is singing. By contrast, sensation is more personal, it’s about ‘what’s happening to me and how I as a subject evaluate it’: the pain is in my toe and horrible; the sweet taste is on my tongue and sickly; the red light is before my eyes and stirs me up.

It’s as if, in having sensations, we’re both registering the objective fact of stimulation and expressing our personal bodily opinion about it. But where do those extra qualitative dimensions come from? What can make the subjective present created by sensations seem so rich and deep, as if we’re living in thick time? What can the artist Wassily Kandinsky mean when he writes: ‘Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings’? Why indeed do people use the strange expression ‘it’s like something to’ experience sensations? Is it because conscious sensations are like something they cannot really be? . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2022 at 12:16 pm

Gift links not so good as I thought

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I just learned that gift links expire after two weeks. I thought they were permanent. Now I find my posts are sprinkled with links that work only for subscribers. Rats.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2022 at 11:30 am

Posted in Media, Daily life, Business

To prevent gun injury, build better research

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Republicans are opposed to research in general — “What good is science if it tells us things we don’t want to hear?” they ask (cf. climate change, economics of US history, etc.) — and that is why research into gun violence was not funded by Congress: Republicans blocked it. Chethan Sathya writes in Nature:

From 2001 to 2020, US cancer death rates fell by 27%. The nation’s traffic fatality rates per 100,000 people fell by about 21%, even counting a small rise in 2020. By contrast, US gun death rates went up: by 24% for suicide and by 48% for homicide1 (see ‘Deaths up’). In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for US children2. Yet firearm injury is among the least researched and worst funded of the leading causes of death in the United States3,4 (see ‘Dollars by death rate’).

We are clinicians, researchers and advocates who are convinced that more research on the topic can help to reduce deaths and injuries. It has helped in other fields. For instance, seatbelts in cars were initially considered an industry issue, but a public-health framing brought more data and encouraged effective safety measures. Better data and improved research have similarly informed comprehensive public-health strategies that have reduced issues from tobacco use and child drownings to lead poisoning and vaccine-preventable diseases. Providing evidence can inform strategies that both tackle the root causes of a problem and use timely, accurate data to iterate solutions. It will take more than data to reduce harm, but firm evidence and improved understanding can spur effective efforts.

According to a 2017 review, the volume of research publications related to firearm injury was only 4.5% of that predicted based on health burden4. A 2019 paper5 estimated that a 30-fold increase would be needed in funding for paediatric firearm-injury prevention alone to achieve funding levels on a par with other causes that have similar mortality rates. Despite recent improvements, the number of researchers in firearm-injury prevention remains low. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2022 at 11:26 am

Strong ‘n Scottish ‘n the wonderful iKon slant

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My Omega Pro 48 is always a pleasure, and today it worked up a superb lather from Meißner Tremonia’s Strong ‘n Scottish shaving soap “with scotch whisky and sheep wool fat.” 

iKon’s wonderful stainless slant (not the cast-aluminum X3) now comes with a B1 coating. (Mine is from pre-coated times.) It did a superb job, as it always does. With this slant — as with most, in fact — the key is to ride the edge of the cap, which puts the handle rather far from the face. 

Three passes removed every trace of my two-day stubble, and then a splash the world’s oldest aftershave, Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, combined with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, finished the job. 

The week begins on a fine note.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Baker Street Blend: “Lapsang Souchong, smooth Keemun, rich Ceylon, Gunpowder, and floral Jasmine.”

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2022 at 8:03 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Money is emotional — but personal finance advice rarely accounts for that

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I just updated my post on budget planning and tracking with a link to L

Financial literacy — the ability to understand how money works in your life — is considered the secret to taking control of your finances. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, but information alone doesn’t lead to transformation.

In putting financial literacy above all else, many in the personal finance industry have decided that repeating the same facts about how much money folks should have in their emergency savings account will, somehow, change people’s money habits. This approach doesn’t account for our human side: the parts of us that crave connection, new experiences, and fitting in as members of our communities. Most of our decisions around money are emotional; no amount of nitty-gritty knowledge about interest rates will change that.

As a financial therapist, I’ve seen spending behaviors driven by emotions and not logic time and time again. One young couple that came to see me was so caught up in having the “perfect” wedding that they put a large cash gift meant for a house down payment toward their wedding venue. Another client whose parents had saved for them to attend a state college debt-free confessed that they took out private student loans to finance a semester abroad; they’re now paying a hefty monthly bill. Another family put a pricey Disney trip on a zero percent interest credit card, telling themselves (and me) they’d pay it off before the interest rate skyrocketed, only to procrastinate on paying it down and owing nearly 22 percent in interest on their trip over several years.

These people weren’t doing anything “bad.” They were doing what most of us do: making money-related decisions based on feelings. In my work, I help people understand how their emotions are driving money decisions, assess if their money is going where they want it to go, practice financial self-compassion, and know when to ask for help. Here is what I tell them.

All decisions are emotional

It’s imperative to understand that emotions drive most decision-making. For example, we know we shouldn’t read on our phones in bed because it’s bad for our sleep quality, but we do it anyway. We know we should move our bodies regularly for our physical and mental health but still let exercise become another chore that we put off. The same is true when it comes to money: We know we should spend less than we earn and save for the future, but many people find it really hard to do that.

An individual’s relationship to money and the emotions it brings up starts when we’re young. When we’re children, our brains are sponges, soaking up information. We take in what our peers have (for example, their toys or clothes), what our caregivers say (like arguments about bills), and what’s being marketed on TV, and make meaning of them. According to Cambridge researchers, people have developed some fundamental concepts related to financial behaviors by the time they are 7 years old.

A person who grew up in a household hearing things like You can’t take it to the grave, so you might as well spend it when you’re alive from parents who splurged on clothes and toys when tax refund season came around might be inclined to spend money quickly as an adult. Alternatively, if a child absorbed messages that talking about money was “rude” or that people who made a lot of money were “greedy,” they might grow up to feel guilty about going into a lucrative field, or struggle to talk to their partner about money.

To better understand your relationship with money, think about how money makes you feel. What emotions come up when you make a credit card payment, get a tax refund, or have to negotiate a deal at work? Do you feel calm and confident? Or do you feel anxious and avoidant? Maybe you feel a pleasant rush of adrenaline — or maybe it depends on the scenario.

Spending a week jotting down the emotions you associate with different financial situations as they happen is a good first step in sorting out where you’re starting from. Document how . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2022 at 5:19 pm

Butternut-Kale Soup (aka Lotsa Lutein Soup)

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After I posted about the brain’s strong preference for lutein as an antioxidant (picky brain!), I of course started thinking about tailoring some of my eating to the brain’s preferences. (I am aware, of course, that it is my brain making these choices.) I picked up a bunch of Lacinato kale and a butternut squash (found in this post) and figured I’d make a soup. I also got some corn tortillas made locally. (See this table for corn tortillas — a double win: both lutein and zeaxanthin.) I figured I would eat the tortillas with the soup.

A quick search found at this recipe by Ramses Bravo, executive chef at TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California and the author of the cookbook, Bravo! The ingredients:

4 cups diced butternut squash
2 cups tightly packed chopped kale [and I might use collards sometimes – LG]
2 cups diced yellow onion
8 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons chopped ginger

Changes I’ll make:

• Red onion instead of yellow (because red — darker than yellow — has more nutrients)
• Add 4 cloves garlic and 1 good-sized turmeric root (and black pepper for the turmeric)
• I don’t have veggie broth, so I’ll use water with some MSG (it’s okay) and salt substitute (which brings in some potassium and some iodine — and omits sodium). And I probably won’t use half a gallon, as he does. More like a quart n— I want it thick, maybe even a purée.
• Maybe a couple of Serrano peppers.
(Red cayenne season seems to be over, alas.)
• Maybe some beans or lentils
• The name — new name is Lotsa Lutein Soup.

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2022 at 2:03 pm

H2O Sculptures

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Check out all the images. (It’s a store, so you can buy physical copies.)

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2022 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Art

Boredom is telling you something (if you pay attention)

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Richard Sima has a useful report (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post:

In one famous experiment, people were asked to sit quietly for 15 minutes in a room with nothing but their own thoughts. They also had the option to hit a button and give themselves an electric shock.

Getting physically shocked is unpleasant, but many people preferred it to the emotional discomfort of boredom. Out of 42 participants, nearly half opted to press the button at least once, even though they had experienced the shock earlier in the study and reported they would pay money to avoid experiencing it again. (One male outlier opted to shock himself 190 times.)

Boredom is a universally dreaded feeling. Being bored means wanting to be engaged when you can’t. It’s our brain telling us to take action, much like pain is an important signal for danger or harm.

Boredom is also how our brains alert us that things aren’t going well. Scientists who study the emotion note that every episode of boredom creates an opportunity for making a positive change instead of reactively looking for the fastest, easiest escape. We just need to pay attention.

“Boredom is sort of an emotional dashboard light that goes off saying, like, ‘Hey, you’re not on track,’ ” said Erin Westgate, a social psychologist at the University of Florida who studies boredom and co-authored the shock experiment. “It is this signal that whatever it is we’re doing either isn’t meaningful to us, or we’re not able to successfully engage with this.”

Boredom is a warning sign, she says, and it’s “really necessary.”

Can boredom make you mean?

In a 2021 study, Westgate and her colleagues found boredom led participants toward more sadistic behaviors. In one experiment, bored participants watching a mundane 20-minute video were even more likely to do something presumably none of them had considered doing before: shred maggots named Toto, Tifi and Kiki in a coffee grinder. (The researchers named the maggots to humanize them.)

Among 67 participants who watched the boring video, 12 of them (18 percent) dropped a maggot into the coffee grinder. By comparison, in another group watching an interesting documentary, just one out of 62 study subjects tried to shred a maggot.

(It’s worth noting that the maggot-mangling machine was fake. No maggots were actually harmed during the experiments.)

Other experiments have shown a link between boredom and different kinds of bad behavior, from online trolling to bullying in the classroom to verbal and physical abuse by members of the military toward one another.

The good news is that boredom doesn’t always make us meaner — it just calls us to take action, good or bad. When better alternatives are available, boredom can also make us do good deeds.

In another set of experiments involving nearly 2,000 people, Westgate and her team asked study subjects to watch either a five-minute video of a rock or a more interesting video. Everyone in the study had the option to . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2022 at 1:09 pm

“Falling Down”

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Recently I was reading one of the many lists of great movies to watch, and I happened across Falling Down (1993), which I had seen back in the day. I can’t find the article now, but it said some interesting things. The movie stars Michael Douglas (and his father said it was his best role). Douglas was wanting to take a break after just finishing Basic Instinct, but when he read the script, he wanted the role. He even asked for his salary to be cut to make more money available for the movie. Other notable cast: Robert Duvall, Tuesday Weld, Barbara Hershey, Frederic Forrest, and Rachel Ticotin.

It’s on Netflix, so I started watching it again, and it really is excellent Reccommended.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2022 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Why is the Book of Revelations like that?

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Adam Gopnik reviewed Ellen Pagels’s book Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation in the New Yorker a decade ago. I just encountered that review and found it very interesting. I read long ago Pagels’s book on the Gnostic gospels, and that, too, was interesting, so I am predisposed to like what she has to say. Gopnik writes (no paywall):

The Bible, as every Sunday-school student learns, has a Hollywood ending. Not a happy ending, certainly, but one where all the dramatic plot points left open earlier, to the whispered uncertainty of the audience (“I don’t get it—when did he say he was coming back?”), are resolved in a rush, and a final, climactic confrontation between the stern-lipped action hero and the really bad guys takes place. That ending—the Book of Revelation—has every element that Michael Bay could want: dragons, seven-headed sea beasts, double-horned land beasts, huge C.G.I.-style battles involving hundreds of thousands of angels and demons, and even, in Jezebel the temptress, a part for Megan Fox. (“And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.”) Although Revelation got into the canonical Bible only by the skin of its teeth—it did poorly in previews, and was buried by the Apostolic suits until one key exec favored its release—it has always been a pop hit. Everybody reads Revelation; everybody gets excited about it; and generations of readers have insisted that it might even be telling the truth about what’s coming for Christmas.

In a new book on those end pages, “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation” (Viking), Elaine Pagels sets out gently to bring their portents back to earth. She accepts that Revelation was probably written, toward the end of the first century C.E., by a refugee mystic named John on the little island of Patmos, just off the coast of modern Turkey. (Though this John was not, she insists, the disciple John of Zebedee, whom Jesus loved, or the author of the Gospel that bears the same name.) She neatly synopsizes the spectacular action. John, finding himself before the Throne of God, sees a lamb, an image of Christ, who receives a scroll sealed by seven seals. The seals are broken in order, each revealing a mystical vision: a hundred and forty-four thousand “firstfruits” eventually are saved as servants of God—the famous “rapture.” Seven trumpets then sound, signalling various catastrophes—stars fall, the sun darkens, mountains explode, those beasts appear. At the sound of the sixth trumpet, two hundred million horsemen annihilate a third of mankind. This all leads to the millennium—not the end of all things but the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth—which, in turn, finally leads to Satan’s end in a lake of fire and the true climax. The Heaven and Earth we know are destroyed, and replaced by better ones. (There are many subsidiary incidents along the way, involving strange bowls and that Whore of Babylon, but they can be saved, so to speak, for the director’s cut on the DVD.)

Pagels then shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It’s essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the “Left Behind” books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look. “When John says that ‘the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth,’ he revises Daniel’s vision to picture Rome as the worst empire of all,” Pagels writes. “When he says that the beast’s seven heads are ‘seven kings,’ John probably means the Roman emperors who ruled from the time of Augustus until his own time.” As for the creepy 666, the “number of the beast,” the original text adds, helpfully, “Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person.” This almost certainly refers—by way of Gematria, the Jewish numerological system—to the contemporary Emperor Nero. Even John’s vision of a great mountain exploding is a topical reference to the recent eruption of Vesuvius, in C.E. 79. Revelation is a highly colored picture of the present, not a prophecy of the future.

What’s more original to Pagels’s book is the view that Revelation is essentially an anti-Christian polemic. That is, it was written by an expatriate follower of Jesus who wanted the movement to remain within an entirely Jewish context, as opposed to the “Christianity” just then being invented by St. Paul, who welcomed uncircumcised and trayf-eating Gentiles into the sect. At a time when no one quite called himself “Christian,” in the modern sense, John is prophesying what would happen if people did. That’s the forward-looking worry in the book. “In retrospect, we can see that John stood on the cusp of an enormous change—one that eventually would transform the entire movement from a Jewish messianic sect into ‘Christianity,’ a new religion flooded with Gentiles,” Pagels writes. “But since this had not yet happened—not, at least, among the groups John addressed in Asia Minor—he took his stand as a Jewish prophet charged to keep God’s people holy, unpolluted by Roman culture. So, John says, Jesus twice warns his followers in Asia Minor to beware of ‘blasphemers’ among them, ‘who say they are Jews, and are not.’ They are, he says, a ‘synagogue of Satan.’ ” Balaam and Jezebel, named as satanic prophets in Revelation, are, in this view, caricatures of “Pauline” Christians, who blithely violated Jewish food and sexual laws while still claiming to be followers of the good rabbi Yeshua. Jezebel, in particular—the name that John assigns her is that of an infamous Canaanite queen, but she’s seen preaching in the nearby town of Thyatira—suggests the women evangelists who were central to Paul’s version of the movement and anathema to a pious Jew like John. She is the original shiksa goddess. (“When John accuses ‘Balaam’ and ‘Jezebel’ of inducing people to ‘eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication,’ he might have in mind anything from tolerating people who engage in incest to Jews who become sexually involved with Gentiles or, worse, who marry them,” Pagels notes.) The scarlet whores and mad beasts in Revelation are the Gentile followers of Paul—and so, in a neat irony, the spiritual ancestors of today’s Protestant evangelicals.

Pagels shows persuasively that the Jew/non-Jew argument over the future of the Jesus movement, the real subject of Revelation, was much fiercer than later Christianity wanted to admit. The first-century Jesus movement was torn apart between  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2022 at 5:44 pm

The surprising psychological effect of tracking your expenses

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Elizabeth Gilbert has a brief but interesting article at Big Think:

Have you ever felt stressed out over finances? You’re not alone. Nearly two-thirds of Americans report that money is a major source of stress. Studies show that insurmountable debt may be even more stressful than divorce or the death of a close friend.

Financial stress is liable to spill over into other areas of life, too, including family relationships and physical health. Dr. Megan Ford, a licensed therapist and director of the interdisciplinary ASPIRE Clinic, describes how financial issues can infiltrate every aspect of our lives:

“Some clients come in because they’re feeling depressed, anxious, or are struggling with their marriage, and we discover the root cause is money,” Ford says. “Or, vice versa, we discover that financial stress is leading to struggles with mental health and social relationships.”

But there is good news for anyone worried about money. You don’t have to wait until your income increases or your debts are gone to enjoy relief — the mere act of planning ahead can reap immediate benefits.

Why money can be so stressful

To understand why budgeting and tracking your spending can boost your mental well-being, it’s helpful to understand why money causes stress in the first place.

We all need money to survive, but money is tied to our well-being in less obvious ways, too. First off, financial instability is mentally exhausting. When you’re not sure whether you’ll have enough money to pay down your debts or enjoy an evening out with friends, you simply must think more about how and when to spend your money and time.

Also, money is tied up in our identities. Financial stability influences one’s sense that they can provide for their family or be financially independent. On the darker side, it can often be conflated with one’s sense of overall value as a human, meaning that financial insecurity can lead to a sense of shame, helplessness, loss of control, and decreased motivation.

Budgeting can promote confidence and relaxation

At first, many people dislike the idea of budgeting. But according to Ford, it often becomes a crucial part of relieving financial stress for those who try it.

“Budgeting has a negative connotation,” Ford says. “Many see it as limiting or restrictive. But in practice it helps propel people towards their goals.”

Indeed, studies show that the simple act of creating a budget and tracking spending can reduce mental exhaustion and restore a sense of control.

Purposeful budgeting helps people create . . .

Continue reading.

I have to admit that I have become much less money-stressed since I started using the method I describe in this post. I would go so far as to say that I am now financially comfortable, in the sense that I have something that Bezos and Musk will never have: I have enough.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2022 at 1:07 pm

An Apple Pay discovery: Cost to the merchant

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I recently started using Apple Pay instead of my credit card. It was more convenient, and Apple explained that it was funded by the bank paying a small sliver of the transaction fee to Apple — no effect on me.

But banks are not in the habit of giving away money, and I learned recently from a merchant that the bank collects from the merchant the money it then transfers to Apple — and, according to him, the “sliver” is substantial. He told me that the Apple Pay fee he must pay the bank is 1% of the transaction.

That seems like a lot to me, and since I learned that, I have reverted to using my credit card. It’s still easy to pay, and I don’t want to rip off the merchant for Apple.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2022 at 12:59 pm

“The Crowd,” by Gustav Le Bon

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On the first of each month, Standard Ebooks releases a new set of free ebooks. This month’s selections include The Crowd, by Gustav Le Bon, and the books description reminded me of we see in the US nowadays:

The world of the 18th and 19th centuries had been wracked by change and revolution. Gustave Le Bon, a doctor by trade but wandering philosopher by avocation, was a first-hand witness to one such revolution: the establishment of the Paris Commune in 1871, in which a crowd of mutinous National Guardsmen seized the city and established a socialist government for two brief months in what Engels called one of the first examples of a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

After that revolution, Le Bon left to travel the world, developing his theories on the psychology of crowds. The Crowd is his distillation of that philosophy, and one of the earliest treatises exploring the behavior and motivations of crowds of people.

In it, Le Bon posits that with the rise of democracy and industrialization, it’s the unreasoning crowds who will control the affairs of the people, not kings or the elite; and these crowds are largely irrational in action, conservative in thought, violent both in act and in speech, and easily hypnotized by individuals with prestige but not intelligence.

Le Bon is ultimately cynical in how he views this development in human affairs. Individuals in crowds feel anonymous and powerful, leading to destruction and violence; and the susceptibility of crowds to pure charisma means that they’re easily dominated by thuggish men of action, not wise men of foresight. People in a crowd are “a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.”

His conclusion is that the increasing relevance and power of crowds in modern society will lead to negative outcomes in the long term. In his view, democracy can only lead to more and more violent crowds, who demand charismatic figureheads to give them meaning.

As one of the earliest examples of the study of crowd psychology, The Crowd was a direct influence on many titanic figures in 20th century history, including Theodore Roosevelt, Freud, Mussolini, Lenin, and Hitler.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2022 at 11:54 am

Indian Flavor and T2

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A very pleasant shave. My Simpson Emperor 3 Best easily — well, with one small driblet of water — evoked a very fine lather from Meißner Tremonia’s Indian Flavour shaving soap, and the Rockwell T2 was in fine form today. Lots of comfortable blade feel, and a very smooth result. A splash of Pashana with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel and I was done.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Hairy Crab Oolong: “Named for its leaves, which are serrated like a hairy crustacean, this semi-fermented Oolong tea has a lovely ripe peach overtone and a fragrance comparable to that of Jasmine.” And I must say this is an extremely nice tea, sweet in taste.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2022 at 10:14 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Elon Musk’s Texts Shatter the Myth of the Tech Genius

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Power not only corrupts, it seems to cause cognitive disconnect if not decline. Charlie Warzel reports in the Atlantic (no paywall):

Yesterday, the world got a look inside Elon Musk’s phone. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO is currently in litigation with Twitter and trying to back out of his deal to buy the platform and take it private. As part of the discovery process related to this lawsuit, Delaware’s Court of Chancery released hundreds of text messages and emails sent to and from Musk. The 151-page redacted document is a remarkable, voyeuristic record of a few months in the life of the world’s richest (and most overexposed) man and a rare unvarnished glimpse into the overlapping worlds of Silicon Valley, media, and politics. The texts are juicy, but not because they are lurid, particularly offensive, or offer up some scandalous Muskian master plan—quite the opposite. What is so illuminating about the Musk messages is just how unimpressive, unimaginative, and sycophantic the powerful men in Musk’s contacts appear to be. Whoever said there are no bad ideas in brainstorming never had access to Elon Musk’s phone.

In no time, the texts were the central subject of discussion among tech workers and watchers. “The dominant reaction from all the threads I’m in is Everyone looks fucking dumb,” one former social-media executive, whom I’ve granted anonymity because they have relationships with many of the people in Musk’s texts, told me. “It’s been a general Is this really how business is done? There’s no real strategic thought or analysis. It’s just emotional and done without any real care for consequence.”

Appearing in the document is, I suppose, a perverse kind of status symbol (some people I spoke with in tech and media circles copped to searching through it for their own names). And what is immediately apparent upon reading the messages is that many of the same people the media couldn’t stop talking about this year were also the ones inserting themselves into Musk’s texts. There’s Joe Rogan; William MacAskill, the effective altruist, getting in touch on behalf of the crypto billionaire and Democratic donor Sam Bankman-Fried; Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel Springer (and the subject of a recent, unflattering profile); Marc Andreessen, the venture capitalist, NIMBY [this link is worth reading; no paywall here – LG, and prolific blocker on Twitter; Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, who was recently revealed to have joined a November 2020 call about contesting Donald Trump’s election loss; and, of course, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and former CEO. Musk, arguably the most covered and exhausting of them all, has an inbox that doubles as a power ranking of semi- to fully polarizing people who have been in the news the past year.

Few of the men in Musk’s phone consider themselves his equal. Many of the messages come off as fawning, although they’re possibly more opportunistic than earnest. Whatever the case, the intentions are unmistakable: Musk is perceived to have power, and these pillars of the tech industry want to be close to it. “I love your ‘Twitter algorithms should be open source’ tweet,” Joe Lonsdale, a co-founder of Palantir, said, before suggesting that he was going to mention the idea to members of Congress at an upcoming GOP policy retreat. Antonio Gracias, the CEO of Valor Partners, cheered on the same tweet, telling the billionaire, “I am 100% with you Elon. To the mattresses no matter what.”

Few in Musk’s phone appeared as excitable as . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2022 at 5:21 pm

Transforming a wild tree into a bonsai

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Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2022 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

A Custody Evaluator Who Disbelieves 90% of Abuse Allegations Recommended a Teen Stay Under Her Abusive Father’s Control

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Some things make one despair. The subtitle to this ProPublica article by Hannah Dreyfus:

In Colorado family courts, parents can request an expert evaluation of their case, which sometimes includes allegations of abuse. Mark Kilmer is routinely appointed to evaluate families despite his own history of domestic violence.

Mark Kilmer is Val Kilmer’s brother.

The report itself begins:

Elina Asensio had a restraining order in place against her father when she met with a court-appointed psychologist assigned to determine whether he should be part of her life.

She expected Mark Kilmer, the Colorado “parental responsibility evaluator” appointed to her parents’ custody case, would want to hear about the incident that had led to her father being charged with felony child abuse and pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault. The 14-year-old was surprised, then, as she talked to Kilmer on the front porch of her mother’s suburban Denver home in October of 2020, that he didn’t seem interested in learning about it.

A year earlier, according to police reports, her father had grabbed Elina from behind by her lucky charm necklace and hoodie and dragged her up a flight of stairs. “Dad, I cannot breathe. … You’re hurting me, stop it,” Elina had screamed, according to the police report. She was left with burst blood vessels on her eyelids and a deep cut from ear to ear where the necklace had dug into her neck, according to the police report. A child welfare investigator described the resulting scar as a “ligature mark,” the imprint left after strangulation.

It was Elina who first brought up the incident, mentioning it after Kilmer asked why, “if you love your Dad,” she was not attending therapy with him, according to notes that accompanied Kilmer’s report to the court.

“I still feel my dad’s hands around my neck sometimes,” she recalled telling Kilmer, who is the brother of actor Val Kilmer.

He responded with a blank stare, she said.

Elina told him about other violent incidents involving her father, including one directed at a sibling, according to Kilmer’s notes.

Colorado family courts began appointing parental responsibility evaluators, or PREs, to custody cases 14 years ago as a privately funded alternative to court-furnished evaluators. The litigants shoulder the cost, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, and in some instances the PRE is paid by only one of the parents in a dispute. The intent was to allow a broader range of psychologists, including those the court could not afford, the opportunity to lend their expertise to custody decisions. They have operated with little oversight.

Elina didn’t know at the time they met that Kilmer says he does not believe about 90% of the abuse allegations he encounters in his work, or that he himself had been charged with domestic violence. Kilmer was arrested and charged with assault in 2006 after his then-wife said he pushed her to the bathroom floor, according to police reports. Following the incident, the woman obtained a restraining order against him and he was required by the court to give up his guns pending resolution of the criminal charges, according to court documents.

The following year, he pleaded guilty to harassment and, in a separate divorce proceeding, temporarily lost decision-making power over his children because of concerns about his parenting. The court placed him on probation for 24 months while he completed domestic violence counseling. After he completed probation, the court dismissed the assault charge.

“Unfortunately, I had a conflicted divorce myself,” Kilmer said in an interview. “She made up these false allegations and had me arrested. It was pretty humiliating and shocking.” His guilty plea was the result of poor legal representation, he said, and he regrets not going to trial.

Kilmer, who received a doctorate in psychology from the California Graduate Institute, had also been previously disciplined by the State Board of Psychologist Examiners in 2009 for revealing confidential information about one client to another client in an effort to set them up on a date. He was required to have his practice monitored for a year but was allowed to continue working as a custody evaluator. (Kilmer said he obtained consent from both parties before introducing them, according to board records. The board noted clients “cannot consent to a boundary violation and/or breach of confidentiality.”) Today, Kilmer’s psychological license is in good standing.

Colorado’s State Court Administrator’s Office, which is responsible for vetting PREs, said a criminal misdemeanor conviction older than 15 years does not disqualify a custody evaluator from family court appointments. ProPublica found that four evaluators on the state’s roster of 45 PREs, including Kilmer, have been charged with harassment or domestic violence. In one case, the charges were dismissed. In the two others, it is unclear how the charges were resolved.

The court administrator’s office also said  . . .

Continue reading. There’s a LOT more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2022 at 10:52 am

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