Later On

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

Tofu leeks

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Another ad-hoc meal. This time I used my MSMK 12″ nonstick skillet.

I’ve mentioned that freezing tofu and then thawing it in the fridge makes it like a water-filled sponge. The slightest pressure causes water to gush out of it, and by controlled firm squeezing it with your hands over the sink, you can pretty much empty it of water, leaving the sponge ready to soak up a marinade.

The texture is different — more like a fine sponge than the normal smoothness of tofu — but it is still tofu, and — especially when combined with some grain.

I had frozen half a block of tofu. I squeezed out the water and diced the squeezed-out tofu. Then I made a marinade, looking at this page for ideas. This is what I made:

Ponzu sauce
maple syrup
liquid smoke
onion powder
garlic powder
ground black pepper
Montreal steak seasoning
smoked paprika,
Frank’s RedHot Xtra Hot
sweet vermouth
extra-virgin olive oil

I whisked that together in a bowl, dumped in the cubes of tofu, and stirred with a silicone spatula. The tofu immediately absorbed almost all the liquid, but I left it for a while.

I brought two medium-small leeks from the store and halved those vertically and rinsed them well to remove all traces of dirt, then sliced them thinly including the green leaves. (I can’t believe I used to discard the leaves. What was I thinking?)

I drizzled some olive oil in the skillet, added the chopped leeks, and let it start cooking. I added:

1/2 cup cooked intact whole-grain Kamut®
1/2 teaspoon Windson salt substitute
about 5 dried tomatoes, sliced thinly

And stirred well to mix. I let that cook for five or six minutes, then I added:

marinated tofu cubes with leftover marinade

One nice thing about plant-based cooking: you can use leftover marinade in the dish you’re cooking, or as a sauce. (With meat — such as chicken — that would be a bad idea.)

After the tofu was heated through and had cooked a while, I had a bowl. Very tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2023 at 4:28 pm

This report sees journalistic “bias” less as partisanship and more as relying on too-comfortable habits

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A fascinating report by Joshua Benton from NiemanLab:

When people say the news is biased, what do they mean? Versions of the critique can range from the cartoonishly simple to the paralyzingly complex.

On one end of the spectrum lie straightforward claims of journalistic corruption. (“George Soros pays reporters to write fake news!” “No reporter can tell the truth without getting fired by their corporate masters!”) On the other, there’s room for nuance. (Who was in the room when that story was pitched? What were the underlying assumptions that shaped it, and what drove those assumptions? What perspectives weren’t considered important enough to seek out, or understand, or publish?)

It’s easy for journalists to get so annoyed at the cartoonish claims of bias that they ignore all the other ones. Nobody likes to be told they aren’t doing their job well. So the critiques that bother to dive deeper — to complicate the mechanics of bias — are worth paying special attention to.

That’s why I’d like to highlight a new report from the U.K. today that seems to do just that. It has the thoroughly bureaucratic title of the Review of the Impartiality of BBC Coverage of Taxation, Public Spending, Government Borrowing and Debt and it is, um, a review of the impartiality of BBC coverage of taxation, public spending, government borrowing and debt. Important, nation-shifting topics all — but ones notoriously difficult for news audiences to understand (much less enjoy).

The review did not find any systemic political biases in the BBC’s economics reporting — in the sense that it consistently favored one party’s views or others. But what it did find is more interesting. (All emphases mine.)

We found widespread appreciation for BBC coverage of tax, public spending, government borrowing and debt, and plenty to applaud. But against a test of broad impartiality, we also had concerns — about gaps and assumptions that put impartiality at risk.

These weaknesses can lead to output that appears to favour particular political positions, but curiously these lean left and right. That makes a charge of systematic political bias in this area hard to sustain. So while the risks to impartiality may look political, we think they need a better explanation, which is that they’re really journalistic. This is no less serious and raises questions for the BBC and its journalists about what kind of journalism they want to do and how to do it. Inevitably, we focus on what could change. Much could apply at least equally to other UK media.

We think the emphasis on broad impartiality in the BBC’s response to the Serota Review timely and necessary. We found that significant interests and perspectives on tax, public spending, government borrowing and debt could be better served by BBC output and were not protected by a simpler model of political impartiality. We would not call this bias. But we don’t see how BBC coverage can be described as always fair to different interests if it’s unbalanced in this broad sense. This is an exacting and exciting ideal that drives much that follows.

The 50-page review was written by Michael Blastland and Sir Andrew Dilnot — a journalist and economist (respectively) who have collaborated on a BBC series and a book on the subject of statistics in the news. They examined coverage across platforms from October 2021 to March 2022, reviewing 11,000 pieces of BBC content (focusing on about 1,000 of them), and interviewing over 100 people inside and outside the corporation. (It’s also a much clearer, more enjoyable read than most 50-page reports I’ve come across over the years.)

They say the BBC is doing a good job on the subject overall. (Most people they interviewed “thought the output good (we agree). There was huge appreciation for its quality, seriousness, and especially the strengths of specialists.”) So what were the sources of the imbalance and journalistic weaknesses they found? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2023 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Media, Daily life, Business

A 20-string Doolin Harp Guitar

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I had never heard of a harp guitar, and now I see them a lot. Here’s one with a set of treble strings as well as the usual bass strings.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2023 at 1:27 pm

Green Tobacco and Blue Tea

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A shaving brush with a white "keyhole" handle (a bottom is a truncated cone that holds a sphere, which holds the knot — in profile, the traditional keyhole pattern), with a tube of shaving soap whose label shows tobacco flowers, next to a clear glass bottle of aftershave. In front is a slant razor on a stainless steel handle with a barber-pole spiral design.

Today is sunny and clear, and I’m celebrating with the photo uplifted a bit. My RazoRock Keyhole brush made quite a nice lather from Tcheon Fung Sing’s Tabacco Verde shaving soap. I think “The first Hard Shaving Soap” must mean the first in Italy — TFS was founded immediately after the war, so perhaps the Italian market still had only the soft shaving soaps — croaps, as some call them, a portmanteau word packing in “cream” and “soap” — and Tcheon Fung Sing made the first actually hard soap. I think hard shaving soaps were already common in, say, the UK.

At any rate, it’s a very nice little soap, and I loaded the brush well to get a thick lather. The razor is the iKon Shavecraft X3, an excellent little slant, mounted on a RazoRock Barber Pole stainless-steel handle. It did a sterling job and my face is wonderfully smooth — the Monday shave always starts the week on a very pleasant note.

A splash of another Prospector Co. aftershave, K.C. Atwood today, augmented with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept’s Aion Hydrating Gel, and the shave is done.

The tea this morning is special, a gift The Wife brought back from Paris. This tea is, as the label says, “Thé Bleu Parfume” — Fragrant Blue Tea — and specifically Bangkok in Love. The color is actually pink, presumable from the rose petals, and the aroma is a delight.

Mariage Frères Blue tea™ sounds as though the tea is blue — and there are teas that are blue (in color), typically from including butterfly pea flowers in the tea. But for Mariage Frères, “Blue tea™” is a term of art (thus the ™).

Blue tea™ represents a half-way stage between green and black tea. The leaves undergo a brief oxidation. Blue tea™ is also called Oolong which means “black dragon”, and occasionally Bohea (or Bohe or even Bou) which is a deformation of Wu Yi, the name of the famous mountain in China’s Fujian Province where the most highly esteemed blue tea is made.

So when Mariage Frères says “Blue tea™”, they are, in effect, saying “oolong” (no ™). My beloved Murchie’s Hairy Crab Oolong would presumably be Blue Hairy Crab for Mariage Frères.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2023 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

“Use the Difficulty”

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Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2023 at 1:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Sunday coffee is great

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One advantage of having coffee only twice a week is that you really enjoy the taste and are conscious of it. Another advantage is that I believe the infrequency will forestall physical addiction.

I have mastered the Clever Coffee dripper method:

  1. Fold over the crimped part of the paper filter, put it into the dripper, and rinse with hot water (to remove filter taste). I use unbleached filters.
  2. Put a rounded quarter-cup of coffee grounds (for 16 oz water) into the filter. (see update below)
  3. Heat water to around 200ºF, start the timer and pour in just enough to thoroughly wet the grounds. Wait while they absorb water and expand.
  4. At 30 seconds, pour in the rest of the water and put the cover on the dripper.
  5. At 2 minutes, stir the coffee gently so the crust of floating grounds sinks into the coffee.
  6. At 3 minutes 30 seconds, put the filter on my Joveo Temperfect mug and go start eating my breakfast pudding.
  7. At about halfway through the pudding, go dump the filter and grounds into the trash and return with coffee to enjoy.

I recall some years ago some guy — and I presume a young guy — asked, “Why do people like coffee? It’s so acid and bitter and awful tasting!” I responded that his question was similar to people asking, “Why do people like milk? It has such a foul smell and tastes awful and has lumps in it!” The problem wasn’t coffee per se, it was the cup of (bad) coffee he was drinking.

My coffee this morning is wonderful, and on Wednesday I’m going to get a fresh pound of coffee at Fantastico. Maybe someday I’ll get another good burr grinder so I buy whole beans and grind them just before I brew the coffee (though god knows where I’d put another appliance).

— Wait! A manual burr grinder! Of course! I already have one, in fact, but it’s dedicated to use as a pepper grinder. I could get another for coffee beans.

Update: Manual grinder ordered — Hario Skerton Pro. Each Sunday and Wednesday I will weigh out 27.9g of beans and grind them for my coffee.

Update 2: Better coffee calculator.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2023 at 11:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Good idea that seems not so good until experienced

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I wash dishes by hand, and I used Dawn 3X detergent for quite a while, and then when it became available 4X detergent because so little was needed. I would buy it at Costco, and then — it was gone! In its place was Dawn 5X — well and good, but it was in a spray bottle. The idea was to spray it on a dish and then wash the dish. Hmm. No, thanks.

So on my next Costco trip, I tried again — and again they only had the 5X with spray bottle: “Dawn Powerwash.” I gave up and got it.

To my surprise, it’s wonderful. Using a spray keeps one from wastefully using too much (5X, after all — even a small glug from a pour bottle would be overkill). And it works like a charm: I put dirty dish in the sink, spray two or three sprays onto them, fill with hot water and let soak a while, and then they wipe clean with no effort.

I was so sure that it was a bad idea, and now I think it’s a great idea. A prior judgments seem often to be wrong.

Written by Leisureguy

28 January 2023 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Daily life

Two slants, contrasted

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Small Omega shaving brush (the Mixed Midget, boar and badger), a tiny tub of Nancy Boy Signature shaving cream, a rough-textured brown bottle of Stetson Sierra aftershave, and an plastic, light-orange slant razor with an extreme slant.

My tiny tub of Nancy Boy Signature Shaving Cream is almost empty. I think I am going to replace it, even though I have a fair number of shaving soaps. The fragrance and performance of this shaving cream are really extraordinary, and if I had a full tub I would use it more frequently. 

Given the tiny tub, I used a tiny brush, Omega’s Mixed Midget (badger and boar), soaking it while I showered for the sake of the boar. Loading the brush was easy — though the tub holds little shaving cream now, the cream has no place to hide.

Well lathered (and enjoying again the fragrance and refreshing feel of the Nancy Boy formula), I set to work with my El Fantasma “Naranja” Double Slant razor. What a contrast with yesterday’s painfully careful shave! This slant is so comfortable and non-threatening, once you apply it to your face (its appearance is somewhat intimidating), that you shave without care and with considerable pleasure. And this slant is amazingly efficient, both in stubble removal and in the absence of any cutting resistance at all.

As I note in the slant post I mentioned earlier, one benefit of the slant design is that it sharply reduces cutting resistance, but that benefit depends on the amount of cutting resistance normally encountered. A teenager who’s just starting to shave will not detect any improvement in using a slant because peach fuzz presents little cutting resistance to begin with, and thus a conventional razor can easily do the job.

But a man whose beard is thick, wiry, and tough will be amazed by how much easier a slant razors does the job, and I believe the more slanted the blade, the easier the cut. Moreover, the slant also removes stubble somewhat better. The slant, with its easy cutting action, will cut through very fine stubble (at the corners of the mouth for example) that a conventional razor pushes over without cutting. After the shave, with face (and stubble) dry again, uncut stubble, though fine, feels rough. 

Today’s razor is wonderful and at the price a bargain worth snapping up. (The Double Slant comes in various colors. The two I have now shave the same.)

A splash of Stetson Sierra with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept’s Aion Hydrating Gel finished the job, and the weekend begins on a pleasurable note.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s 1894 Select Orange Pekoe: “1894 Select Orange Pekoe is one of Murchie’s original blends, named after the year of our founding. A union of bright Ceylon and rich Assam teas, this strong, traditional blend is designed to celebrate and elevate the everyday ‘cuppa’ tea.”

Written by Leisureguy

28 January 2023 at 11:04 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

“A Virus Killed My Mom. It Took 30 Years. Nobody Knew What Was Wrong.”

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CONTENT WARNING: This article is a brief memoir, and it’s grim. I found it worth reading, so I wanted to call your attention to it, but it’s tough.

Jessica Wildfire writes at OK Doomer:

It started sometime around my fourteenth birthday.

My mom began acting stranger than usual. She said things that didn’t make sense. She didn’t seem to understand what year it was. She talked about things that happened decades ago as if they’d happened yesterday. She remembered other things that had never happened at all. She said she’d lived in Paris.

My dad got frustrated and went to bed early.

He asked me to keep an eye on her and my brother, who was seven or eight at the time. “See if you can get her to talk sense.”

I tried.

Somehow I took it as a personal mission to lead my mom out of her fog. I listened. I tried to see if she was playing some kind of game with us. Maybe she was acting confused on purpose. Maybe she was angry about something and wanted me to figure it out. I stayed up with her until two or three. Then I crashed.

The next morning, she was still up.

She hadn’t slept.

She’d spent all night smoking cigarettes and drinking black coffee, sitting in pretty much the same place, barely responsive.

That went on for a couple of days, into the weekend. My dad made sarcastic remarks. Then he started giving her commands. He told her to stop acting weird. He told her to go outside and get some fresh air.

He made threats.

Finally, I convinced him to take her to the hospital. He treated it like a punishment, and an inconvenience. He acted like he was calling her bluff, that faced with a night in the ER, she’d admit it was all an act.

I remember walking my mom into the emergency room on a Friday night. She moved like she was underwater. It just seemed to make my dad even angrier. He walked so far ahead of us that I lost sight of him.

He acted embarrassed.

We spent all night there, waiting for  . . .

Continue reading. The mystery is explained, but the damage has been done.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2023 at 8:12 pm

To protect the children, let’s make churches adults-only venues

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Guy Lancaster writes in the Arkansas Times:

When Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Of Course) spoke up in committee on January 19 in defense of his bill, SB43, which would designate drag shows as “adult” venues, he quoted at length from an ostensible communique he received from a drag queen, begging him to protect Arkansas’s children and assuring him that “a lot of nudity, a lot of sex, a lot of things” goes down at drag shows.

Granted, Stubblefield could give no actual examples of any child being assaulted at a drag show, but let us give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is genuinely interested in protecting Arkansas’s children. On January 25, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressed total support for SB43, saying, “I think we have to do everything — I’ve been very clear and talked about this pretty extensively — to protect children. And I think that’s what this bill does, and so would be supportive of it in its current form. We’ll continue to take steps and do things that I believe protect the children of Arkansas.”

n that case, Sen. Stubblefield and Gov. Sanders will want to take the next logical step and put forward a bill designating the state’s many, many churches to be adults-only venues. We need to protect the children, after all, and we know that the church is a hub of child sexual abuse by clergy in Arkansas and the nation.

The Diocese of Little Rock maintains a website disclosing a list of all those Roman Catholic priests who have been credibly accused of abusing children. The list was made public in 2018, 16 years after the Boston Globe broke the story of a massive coverup of known pedophile priests in the United States. Then, in 2019, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News started reporting on sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches; a 2022 third-party report highlighted how the Southern Baptist Convention, like the Roman Catholic Church, had been hushing up cases of such abuse for years and years. The SBC eventually released its own list of accused sex offenders, which included many in Arkansas.

Churches make opportune places for pedophiles to set up shop. First, most Christian ideologies position priests and pastors in the role of God’s emissary upon this earth. It’s hard to argue with “God’s will,” or to speak up from the very bottom of this well-established hierarchy. And in a church culture that prizes “sexual purity” above all else, children who have been molested are even more reluctant to come forward. It’s no wonder churches have been at the center of child sexual abuse scandals.

And children in church are also exposed to materials that would easily qualify as obscene or harmful to minors. For example, take this passage, Ezekiel 23:19-21 (New Revised Standard Version): . . .

Continue reading.

The comments are pretty good, too. One includes the almost-certain rebuttal from Sen. Stubblefield (and Gov. Sanders): “Well, that’s different.”

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2023 at 5:32 pm

Tempeh Spinach, a What-I-Have-On-Hand™ recipe

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A cutting board on which are a large carrot, a beet half a small red cabbage, a large red onion, 2 boxes frozen spinach, 2 large jalapeños, 3 small red Thai chiles, half a head of red garlic, a turmeric root, a piece of ginger root, a block of tempeh, a tin of smoked paprika, a jar of dried marjoram, a pepper grinder, Windsor salt substitute, a jar of chipotle-garlic paste (homemade), and a big slab of tempeh (also homemade).
Tempeh Spinach (before)

I have eaten through the dishes previously prepared, and so I looked around for what is possible with what I had on hand. I came up with this, for which I used my 4-qt sauté pan:

Tempeh Spinach

• extra-virgin olive oil
• 10-12 oz diced tempeh (chickpea and rye)
• 1 big red onion, chopped
• 1 enormous carrot, diced
• 1 red beet, diced
• 2 jalapeños, chopped small
• 3 Thai red chiles, chopped small
• 1 tablespoon chipotle-garlic paste
• 5 dried tomatoes, chopped
• 3 cloves red garlic, chopped small
• 1 small piece ginger root, minced
• 2 turmeric roots, minced (only 1 in photo; didn’t seem enough)
• 3 small Meyer lemons, diced
• 2 tablespoons dried marjoram
• 1/2 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika
• about 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon Windsor salt substitute

Sauté the above for a while. Then add:

• 2 pkgs frozen spinach
• about 3 tablespoons tomato paste
• good splash of tamari
• about 3 tablespoons Bragg’s apple-cider vinegar
• about 1/4 cup no-salt-added vegetable broth

Cover and simmer 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

A pot of greens, with pieces of lemon, carrot, and other vegetables visible.
Tempeh Spinach (after)

This recipe covers seven of the Daily Dozen:

Beans, Grain: Tempeh (chickpeas+intact whole rye)
Greens, Cruciferous Vegetable (cabbage) – Spinach, red cabbage 
Other Vegetables – Onion, carrot, beet, chiles, tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic  
Fruit – Meyer lemons 
Herbs & Spices – Marjoram, paprika, ginger, turmeric pepper 

And breakfast took care of

Berries (frozen mixed, dried barberry, amla)
(rolled oats)
Nuts & Seeds (walnuts; chia seed)
Herbs & Spices (cloves, marjoram, spearmint, cinnamon, cocoa)
Fruit (3 pieces: mandarin, Bosc pear, apple)
Beverages (1 pint of tea)

But no real Exercise today, I admit.

I’m having a bowl of Tempeh Spinach now, generously sprinkled with roasted pumpkin seeds (more Nuts & Seeds). Very tasty, and not so hot as the chiles might suggest — but definitely some spicy warmth, good on a cold night.

Next day: I put some fermented beets in a bowl, topped it with Tempeh Spinach, and sprinkled roasted pumpkin seeds on top (a good source of zinc).

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2023 at 4:58 pm

RazoRock Superslant razors back in stock (for now — limited quantities)

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Just to be clear: I get no kickback from Italian Barber, and this is not an affiliate link. But as a service to my readers, I wanted to let you know that the Superslant — one of the best slants I’ve used, both extremely comfortable and extremely efficient — is back in stock for now. I got the L1++, and my review is here.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2023 at 2:55 pm

Retrospection for a Ragtime King: Scott Joplin and the American devaluation of Black art

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I found the above in a post that collected seven performances of Scott Joplin’s compositions. I wanted to go beyond the familiar pieces — The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag. I was looking for a Joplin introduction to Adrienne Davich’s fine essay in Van Magazine, which begins:

In 1991, when I was eight years old, I found a simplified version of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and relished playing it for most of the year that I was in third grade. My parents had recently divorced. I’d moved from Las Vegas to Reno with my mother, a kindergarten teacher. Before and after school, I played “The Entertainer” on an out-of-tune piano in my mother’s classroom. I played it obsessively, perhaps because it occupied my hands and sounded jolly. I didn’t feel sad when I played it, though I missed my dad fiercely; instead, I felt indefatigable and industrious. The lyrics on my sheet music described a clownish performer doing “snappy patter and jokes” that please “the folks.” I know I imagined a Black man on stage, but I didn’t know about minstrel shows or much else about America’s racist past and present. 

My babysitter, who was 13 and also white, loved “The Entertainer” so much that she asked me to teach her how to play it. She’d never taken piano lessons, but she patiently learned the right-hand notes and I accompanied her with the left-hand part. We created a duet and took turns singing the words. I don’t know about her, but I never once thought deeply about what the lyrics evoked: a “mask that grins and lies.” The entertainer I envisioned was a lot like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who looks happy tap-dancing alongside Shirley Temple in her childhood movie series. I presumed that the imagery associated with minstrelsy was normal and innocuous, just as I thought topless showgirls performing in my city’s casinos was. I’m not ashamed of this, but it’s baffling to think that in the 1990s I lived in a place where I was able to spend a year playing “The Entertainer” and learn absolutely nothing about the history of African American music, specifically ragtime, and the life of Scott Joplin.

I still knew nothing about Joplin, the man, when I was 14 and my piano teacher asked me to learn “Maple Leaf Rag.” Or I knew almost nothing. I’d at least learned that Joplin was Black because his photo appeared on my spiral-bound volume of his music. His race didn’t register with me as particularly important, but on the other hand, from somewhere I’d absorbed the idea that ragtime music was simpler and less important than the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. When my teacher, who was a professor of music at the university, handed me the “Maple Leaf,” I presumed it was because he’d disqualified me from playing other, “more serious” pieces. I felt bad about being asked to devote my time to a piece that’s often programmed into player pianos. 

That is, until something unexpected happened: I began playing it reasonably well and people loved it. When guests came to my mother’s house, my stepfather urged me to play it. He never asked for Mozart or Scarlatti. Joplin’s rag was more delightful and impressive. It is, after all, a vivacious, happy piece that looks harder to play than it actually is.

Can you play a piece of music well without knowing its background? Is everything you need to know really on the page? 

During the years I studied piano, we presumed yes. At weekly lessons, I learned theory, practiced sight-reading, and played pieces from every musical period. Although I was expected to know the dates and features of different musical styles, my teachers rarely if ever contextualized the music they asked me to play. It’s curious to me now that we didn’t talk about historical backdrops and personal tragedies. I know for certain that my teachers had rigorously studied classical music history. Did they think that I didn’t care? Or had they found that students fared better focusing solely on the music as written and their technique in playing it? 

I’ve asked these questions because the pieces I played during my formative years are embedded in my soul. They’re part of my identity. I didn’t choose to bring them into my life (a teacher usually did), but ultimately, I did choose them, because I stuck with them. The two pieces that have haunted me the most are ones I started playing at 13 and 14 years old. I felt proud to play the first of these, Debussy’s “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”; I believed it represented me, with its melancholic air and evocation of loneliness and longing. But the other piece, Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” didn’t flow from somewhere inside me. I would have to inhabit it in a different way.

Joplin was born around 1868, possibly in the vicinity of  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2023 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Art, History, Jazz, Music

A slant revisited: Phoenix Artisan’s Alpha Ecliptic

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A box showing a Buck Rogers era spaceman whose helmet antenna is issuing lightning streaks of radiation, with the label "Slant Action Alpha Ecliptic Galactic Shave Tech. Next i a shaving brush: black base, red handle, black bristles. Then a tub of Tombstone shaving soap next to a rectangular glass bottle of Tombstone aftershave. In front is a blue humpback slant in aluminum.

A new soap and razor today. The soap is Phoenix Artisan’s CK-6 Tombstone: “Gunpowder, Leather, Tobacco, Geranium, Bergamot, Lady Banksia White Rose [sourced from Tombstone, AZ].” The blend of fragrances — the rough-tough stough (gunpowder, leather, and tobacco) and the florals (geranium, bergamot, and white rose) — is an intriguing (and pleasant) scent, and the CK-6 lather of course is excellent. And I do love the RazoRock Amici brush.

For some reason, I kept putting off ordering this slant, but I finally succumbed, and now I realize I have had the same slant in the past and found that it didn’t work all that well for me. I started the shave this morning hoping that my greater experience would result in the razor’s working better, but based on today’s shave, I might have to once again pass the razor along.

See this post (first shave with my earlier purchase) and this post (comparison of Alpha Ecliptic and Eros slants) and this post (trying the plastic version of the Alpha Ecliptic). 

Based on all that, I would have to say that this slant is just not my cup of tea. I still like the French Eros a lot, and the design is so similar that I think the Eros is either a knockoff of the Walbusch or a rebranded licensed copy. (Walbush, BTW, made the first adjustable slant, something I would dearly love to have, but they are exceedingly rare (and expensive).)

While I was browsing through my old posts, I came across this deep dive into slants and why they work for some and not others. I updated it somewhat (it’s from 2016), and I think it’s still a good reference.

Three passes produced a smooth result with a couple of nicks. I’ll try again with a different brand of blade, but I am not hopeful. I don’t understand why I can’t find the right angle, but we all know that what works for A may not work for B. With this razor, I’m B.

A splash of Tombstone Aftershave & Cologne augmented with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept’s Aion Hydrating Gel, and I’m ready for the day.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Black Currant Tea: “Dried blueberries and blue cornflower are added to the sweet-smelling tea blend to add to the allure.”

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2023 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Is Cheese Really Bad for You?

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Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 7:33 pm

Antidepressants help bacteria resist antibiotics

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Pink E. Coli on pebbly gray surface.
In the presence of antidepressants, the Gram-negative bacterium E. coli can fend off antibiotics.
— Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library

Liam Drew writes in Nature:

The emergence of disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics is often attributed to the overuse of antibiotics in people and livestock. But researchers have homed in on another potential driver of resistance: antidepressants. By studying bacteria grown in the laboratory, a team has now tracked how antidepressants can trigger drug resistance1.

“Even after a few days exposure, bacteria develop drug resistance, not only against one but multiple antibiotics,” says senior author Jianhua Guo, who works at the Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. This is both interesting and scary, he says.

Globally, antibiotic resistance is a significant public-health threat. An estimated 1.2 million people died as a direct result of it in 20192, and that number is predicted to climb.

Early clues

Guo became interested in the possible contributions of non-antibiotic drugs to antibiotic resistance in 2014, after work by his lab found more antibiotic-resistance genes circulating in domestic wastewater samples than in samples of wastewater from hospitals, where antibiotic use is higher.

Guo’s group and other teams also observed that antidepressants — which are among the most widely prescribed medicines in the world — killed or stunted the growth of certain bacteria. They provoke “an SOS response”, Guo explains, triggering cellular defence mechanisms that, in turn, make the bacteria better able to survive subsequent antibiotic treatment.

In a 2018 paper, the group reported that Escherichia coli became resistant to multiple antibiotics after being exposed to fluoxetine3, which is commonly sold as Prozac. The latest study examined 5 other antidepressants and 13 antibiotics from 6 classes of such drugs and investigated how resistance in E. coli developed.

In bacteria grown in well-oxygenated laboratory conditions, the antidepressants caused the cells to generate reactive oxygen species: toxic molecules that activated the microbe’s defence mechanisms. Most prominently, this activated the bacteria’s efflux pump systems, a general expulsion system that many bacteria use to eliminate various molecules, including antibiotics. This probably explains how the bacteria could withstand the antibiotics without having specific resistance genes.

But exposure of E. coli to antidepressants also led to an increase in . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 7:12 pm

The Cause of Depression Is Probably Not What You Think

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Joanna Thompson writes in Quanta:

People often think they know what causes chronic depression. Surveys indicate that more than 80% of the public blames a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. That idea is widespread in pop psychology and cited in research papers and medical textbooksListening to Prozac, a book that describes the life-changing value of treating depression with medications that aim to correct this imbalance, spent months on the New York Times bestseller list.

The unbalanced brain chemical in question is serotonin, an important neurotransmitter with fabled “feel-good” effects. Serotonin helps regulate systems in the brain that control everything from body temperature and sleep to sex drive and hunger. For decades, it has also been touted as the pharmaceutical MVP for fighting depression. Widely prescribed medications like Prozac (fluoxetine) are designed to treat chronic depression by raising serotonin levels.

Yet the causes of depression go far beyond serotonin deficiency. Clinical studies have repeatedly concluded that the role of serotonin in depression has been overstated. Indeed, the entire premise of the chemical-imbalance theory may be wrong, despite the relief that Prozac seems to bring to many patients.

literature review that appeared in Molecular Psychiatry in July was the latest and perhaps loudest death knell for the serotonin hypothesis, at least in its simplest form. An international team of scientists led by Joanna Moncrieff of University College London screened 361 papers from six areas of research and carefully evaluated 17 of them. They found no convincing evidence that lower levels of serotonin caused or were even associated with depression. People with depression didn’t reliably seem to have less serotonin activity than people without the disorder. Experiments in which researchers artificially lowered the serotonin levels of volunteers didn’t consistently cause depression. Genetic studies also seemed to rule out any connection between genes affecting serotonin levels and depression, even when the researchers tried to consider stress as a possible cofactor.

“If you were still of the opinion that it was simply a chemical imbalance of serotonin, then yeah, it’s pretty damning,” said Taylor Braund, a clinical neuroscientist and postdoctoral research fellow at the Black Dog Institute in Australia who was not involved in the new study. (“The black dog” was Winston Churchill’s term for his own dark moods, which some historians speculate were depression.)

The realization that serotonin deficits by themselves probably don’t cause depression has left scientists wondering what does. The evidence suggests that there may not be a simple answer. In fact, it’s leading neuropsychiatric researchers to rethink what depression might be.

Treating the Wrong Disease

The focus on serotonin in depression began with a tuberculosis drug. In the 1950s, doctors started prescribing iproniazid, a compound developed to target lung-dwelling Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. The drug wasn’t particularly good for treating tuberculosis infections — but it did bless some patients with an unexpected and pleasant side effect. “Their lung function and everything wasn’t getting much better, but their mood tended to improve,” said Gerard Sanacora, a clinical psychiatrist and the director of the depression research program at Yale University.

Perplexed by this outcome, researchers began studying how iproniazid and related drugs worked in the brains of rats and rabbits. They discovered that  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 7:03 pm

Barr Pressed Durham to Find Flaws in the Russia Investigation. It Didn’t Go Well.

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Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner report in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

WASHINGTON — It became a regular litany of grievances from President Donald J. Trump and his supporters: The investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia was a witch hunt, they maintained, that had been opened without any solid basis, went on too long and found no proof of collusion.

Egged on by Mr. Trump, Attorney General William P. Barr set out in 2019 to dig into their shared theory that the Russia investigation likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies. To lead the inquiry, Mr. Barr turned to a hard-nosed prosecutor named John H. Durham, and later granted him special counsel status to carry on after Mr. Trump left office.

But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.

Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.

Interviews by The Times with more than a dozen current and former officials have revealed an array of previously unreported episodes that show how the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.

  • Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

  • Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

  • There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)

Now, as Mr. Durham works on a final report, the interviews by The Times provide new details of how he and Mr. Barr sought to recast the scrutiny of the 2016 Trump campaign’s myriad if murky links to Russia as unjustified and itself a crime.

Mr. Barr, Mr. Durham and Ms. Dannehy declined to comment. The current and former officials who discussed the investigation all spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the legal, political and intelligence sensitivities surrounding the topic.

A year into the Durham inquiry, Mr. Barr declared that the attempt “to get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016 “cannot be, and it will not be, a tit-for-tat exercise. We are not going to lower the standards just to achieve a result.”

But Robert Luskin, a criminal defense lawyer and former Justice Department prosecutor who represented two witnesses Mr. Durham interviewed, said that he had a hard time squaring Mr. Durham’s prior reputation as an independent-minded straight shooter with his end-of-career conduct as Mr. Barr’s special counsel.

“This stuff has my head spinning,” Mr. Luskin said. “When did these guys drink the Kool-Aid, and who served it to them?”

A month after Mr. Barr was confirmed as attorney general in February 2019, the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ended the Russia investigation and turned in his report without charging any Trump associates with engaging in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow over its covert operation to help Mr. Trump win the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump would repeatedly portray the Mueller report as having found “no collusion with Russia.” The reality was more complex. In fact, the report detailed “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,” and it established both how Moscow had worked to help Mr. Trump win and how his campaign had expected to benefit from the foreign interference.

That spring, Mr. Barr assigned Mr. Durham to scour the origins of the Russia investigation for wrongdoing, telling Fox News that he wanted to know if “officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in deciding to pursue the investigation. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate, and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.

While attorneys general overseeing politically sensitive inquiries tend to keep their distance from the investigators, Mr. Durham visited Mr. Barr in his office for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work. They also sometimes dined and sipped Scotch together, people familiar with their work said.

In some ways, they were an odd match. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 5:03 pm

The backstory of the Half Moon Bay mass shooting in California

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Half Moon Bay is up the coast from where I live — back in the day and perhaps still, it had a terrific little cafe right next to the ocean that served superb seafood — so the shooting there caught my eye.

The LA Times has a report by Alexandra E. Petri and Salvador Hernandez that sheds some light on the situation. They write:

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — The man charged with killing seven co-workers in a pair of mass shootings at farms in Half Moon Bay admitted to his role in the deadly shootings in a jailhouse interview Thursday.

Chunli Zhao, 66, spoke to NBC Bay Area’s Janelle Wang, telling the reporter he had experienced “years of bullying” and working long hours at the farm before he took a semiautomatic handgun and opened fire on his co-workers Monday.

“He admitted that he did do it,” Wang said in the report.

San Mateo County Dist. Atty. Stephen M. Wagstaffe told The Times in an interview that although he could not go into details in the case, Zhao’s comments to the TV station were “consistent with what he told law enforcement.”

In the 15-minute interview, Zhao also said he had been suffering from “some sort of mental illness” and was “not in his right mind” at the time of the shooting.

Zhao said he planned to turn himself in to law enforcement when he drove to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and was writing a note in his car before he was taken into custody.

Wang said Zhao also told her that he regretted the deadly incident.

Zhao’s comments also come as state officials say they have opened investigations into labor and workplace practices at the two sites of Monday’s fatal shootings and cast a spotlight on the lives of California’s farmworkers who often live and work in dangerous conditions.

The investigation comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday visited the beachside community, where he spoke with the victims’ families and co-workers about the deadly shooting and their workplace environments.

Without naming specifics, Newsom said some farmworkers were “living in shipping containers” and working for $9 an hour, well below the state minimum wage of $15.50.

“No healthcare, no support, no services, but [they’re] taking care of our health, providing a service to us each and every day,” he said at the news conference.

A spokesperson for Newsom called the workers’ conditions “simply deplorable” in a statement.

“Our country relies on their back-breaking work, yet Congress cannot even provide them the stability of raising their families and working in this country without fear of deportation, which contributes to their vulnerability in the workplace,” Daniel Villaseñor, deputy press secretary for Newsom’s office, said in the statement. “California is investigating the farms involved in the Half Moon Bay shooting to ensure workers are treated fairly and with the compassion they deserve.”

<>News of the investigation was

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Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 4:56 pm

The Abortion Pill’s Secret Money Men

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Hannah Levintova writes in Mother Jones:

In 1993, a group of activists rented a warehouse in suburban Westchester County, New York. It was smaller than they’d hoped and had limited ventilation, but the two other locations they’d tried to rent belonged to universities and required jumping through too many bureaucratic hoops—the exact sort of paper trail this group was trying to avoid.

Led by renowned pro-choice activist Lawrence Lader, their goal was to replicate RU-486, the revolutionary abortion pill developed in the 1980s by French manufacturer Roussel-­Uclaf—which was unwilling to navigate American abortion politics to bring the pill stateside. Lader’s group, code-named ARM Research Council, set up shop just months after Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed outside his Florida clinic, the first US physician to be murdered by an anti-abortion activist. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no US manufacturer wanted to wade into the increasingly fraught abortion debate to bring the medication to American women, either. So with the help of lawyers and activists, Lader had smuggled RU-486 into the United States, and his group was going to try to reproduce it.

In their warehouse, they got to work building an underground drug laboratory, complete with a huge, customized ventilation hood, fire prevention devices, and specially designed sinks. The whole project “had the trappings of a CIA operation,” Lader would later write. They figured out a system for replenishing their near-constant need for dry ice from a supplier 15 miles away, and crafted a strategy to avoid detection by anti-abortion groups, the garbage collector, and their landlord. If anyone asked what they were up to, the group—which included a doctor who lived 1,000 miles away and asked to go by Dr. X; a Columbia University chemist working for free; and two assistants—agreed on a cover story: They were working on a new treatment for cancer.

Meanwhile, Roussel-Uclaf and its parent company were in a drawn-out negotiation with a Manhattan-based reproductive health nonprofit, called the Population Council, over the official patent for RU-486. The same month that the French company finally agreed to give the Council the patent, Lader’s secret lab announced that it had successfully developed its own copy of the drug, whose scientific name is mifepristone. The two groups knew of each other’s work, and Lader had even reached out to the Population Council about collaborating, but the Council had demurred.

Lader’s group knew American women could not wait the many years it would take for the Council to arrange an official manufacturing operation with full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. So, it got its own permission from the FDA to conduct limited testing, which would allow it to start distributing small batches of the drug to a network of 10 clinics. There, patients could get both mifepristone and misoprostol, a common ulcer drug, which, when taken in tandem, can cause a medication abortion. For the few who were able to try it, it was an emotional and physical relief: It meant they could have an abortion privately and without a vacuum aspiration machine, whose suction “feels like you’re getting the life sucked out of you,” as one early mifepristone recipient described it to the Boston Globe.

All the while, the Council was working to find a manufacturer willing to make the drug, win full FDA authorization, and sell it across America.

When the FDA finally approved mifepristone seven years later, the Council’s distribution venture, which came to be called Danco Labs, was ready to go. Within two months,  . . .

Continue reading. Capitalism will always seek and often find a way to grow profits.

Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 4:42 pm

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