Later On

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

Archive for March 2018

Scientists Baffled by McConnell and Ryan’s Ability to Stand Upright Without Spines

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A friend sent me a recent Borowitz report:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling it a “medical mystery of the first order,” scientists are baffled by the ability of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to stand upright without the benefit of spines.

Doctors at the University of Minnesota Medical School, who have been studying the skeletal structures of both Republicans for months, believe that their ability to stand, walk, and even break into a brisk trot when confronted by reporters’ questions is “virtually inexplicable.”

“The fact that they can do these things without the aid of spines makes McConnell and Ryan anomalies in the animal kingdom,” said Dr. Davis Logsdon. “According to everything medical science teaches us, their bodies should be collapsing to the ground in two heaps.”

As the Minnesota scientists have struggled to solve the medical conundrum presented by the two invertebrate leaders, one theory that has gained traction is what Logsdon calls “the startled-deer hypothesis.”

“Just as a deer freezes in the headlights of a car and briefly appears statue-like, we believe that Ryan and McConnell’s bodies may retain their rigid structure out of terror alone,” he said. “In other words, fear is performing the function that a spine performs in other people.”

Calling it “just a theory,” Logsdon said that the anatomies of McConnell and Ryan require further study, and that there was growing public support for both men to be dissected.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Congress, Science

“Veteran,” a Korean movie with particular resonance now

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When Korean movies are good, they are very, very good, IMO. Veteran is one that, as I started watching tonight, I realized I had seen some years back—not that many years: it was released in 2015.

But watching it tonight, it had new impact. It’s about the ordinary people—and the police—going up against the super-rich. In Korea, that means the chaebols. In the US, it means the super-rich corporations (and hedge funds) and the super-rich who run them.

It’s a good movie. I am using my Roku 3 again, and they have seriously upgraded the software and service. Neither Amazon Prime (up here, at any rate) nor Netflix had the movie, but Roku has its own search and I found it available on Google Play. I added that channel to my Roku after a little difficulty: the device code was displayed in red on black, practically invisible to a colorblind person like me, but then (after calling Roku for help) I suddenly spotted it. (You’d think Google of all places would have good UX designers: red on black for critical information is a rookie mistake. They should use yellow on black, for example)

I had to rent it, but I’m liking it again, and liking how it digs into the problem of how the super-rich can drift a long way from ordinary morality: they can too easily avoid being held to account, so they grow in strange directions—cf. the Trump family. (There’s a reason Jesus warned strongly against wealth.)


Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Italian East grain pie

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A new one on me. And on a low-carb diet, I won’t have any, but it does sound intriguing.

This recipe sounds particularly good.

Wikipedia has an article on it under “Pastiera.”


Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 8:45 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

Anna Murphy: how my midlife yoga fix is transforming my body

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The subtitle: “After years of dismissing it as hippy-dippy nonsense, in her forties Times fashion director Anna Murphy has become a yoga devotee. And it might even be slowing the ageing process.”

It’s interesting that Anna Murphy describes herself as a complete asshole: refreshing candor, in a way. She writes, in the Times, about her judgmental and ignorant attitude and how she treasured it:

The story of yoga and me is the story of yoga and the west. Out and out scepticism for years. Now fully signed up to the programme. Why did I turn from someone who considered the whole shebang – its ostentatiously loud breathing, its ridiculous Om-ing, its sanctimonious smugness – to be hippy-dippy garbage, into someone who practises it most days, and who believes their body, more than that, their life to be better as a result?

For the same reason as all those other former sceptics. (There are now pushing 500,000 regular practitioners in the UK alone.) This stuff is good. Those preternaturally bendy little old Indian men – and it was always men – were on to something millennia ago. And now lots of us are, too.

I was born in Seventies West Country suburbia. People didn’t do yoga then. People didn’t even know what it was. It wasn’t like now, when you either knowingly compare notes on which vinyasa class you prefer, or knowingly cock a snook at yoga in its entirety. In Nailsea in 1978 it just wasn’t on the map. Heck, no one even went to the gym. When the first one opened at the leisure centre next to our school, in 1983, my class was taken on a tour of an entirely alien world. It’s easy to forget how recent the culture of fitness is.

I didn’t come across anyone who practised yoga until my first job in London in 1994. She was called Catherine, and there was obviously something suspect about her. Her erect posture seemed a deliberate challenge to my already slouchy one. Even now, 20 years on, I can remember how her eyes twinkled and her skin shone. And, gosh, she was serene. Always smiling. Which I somehow also took as a personal affront. And all this in an office ruled over by a tyrant, a boss who once sent me a poison-pen letter because she didn’t like my hair. Catherine somehow rose effortlessly above all the swirling bile.

On one occasion Catherine, with typical self-effacement, volunteered that she did yoga. Despite the obvious signs that she might be onto something, I immediately filed under “No, thank you very much”. There was something “other” about Catherine, something that wasn’t for me. Now, looking back, I can only laugh. That something was precisely what should have been “for me” then, as it is now: a way to tune out, to be calm; not to mention to stand straighter and – forgive me but it’s true – to glow. As it was, I had to wait another 12 years, until I was 34, before I even started to get going on any of the above.

I spent the next few years pounding away at the gym. Yoga sounded boring, and also creepy, a world of gurus, dodgy sexual practices and yonis, whatever the hell they were.

But people would keep banging on about it, and I had never met a zeitgeist I didn’t at least try to surf, so eventually I went to my first class. A male German teacher. In Canary Wharf. It was never going to go well. And it didn’t. The teacher was an egomaniac, telling off students one minute, hitting on them the next. (He had a thing – reciprocated – for a blonde in the front row.) I have no memory of the actual yoga. But it definitely wasn’t for me.

Cut to 2005. A week-long bikini bootcamp in Brazil. The twice-daily sessions of yoga were simply going to be one more thing to get through, along with the sea kayaking (hell) and the hiking up mountains (in theory, fine, but in practice deranged: it was boiling hot, and we weren’t allowed to stop to drink water, but had to sip from our requisite CamelBak rucksacks, the better to make like the maniac Californian guide who was leading us, and who peed while power-walking up a gradient).

The yoga teacher was called Kirtan, of course, and was also from LA, of course, and he spoke so S-L-O-W-L-Y that it drove me nuts. Until we actually started doing the yoga, that is, at which point I was too busy going bonkers about the lethargic non-pace to notice his diction any more. But what annoyed me even more was how bad I was at it. (If this account is making me sound short-fused, well, BY, Before Yoga, I was.) But something must have clicked. When I got back home I started doing yoga classes twice a week at a gym.

One was run by a woman channelling Olivia Newton-John in Physical. It was an aerobics class with twiddly bits, I now realise. She didn’t know what she was doing. But that didn’t matter, because neither did I. (Although, of course, it does matter. Yoga injuries are common, as detailed in William J Broad’s The Science of Yoga: the Risks and the Rewards, and a teacher who practises without expertise can enact serious harm.)

The second was led by an American. It was thanks to him that I really first started to get it. The joy of the so-called flow, of beginning to shift gracefully from one posture into another, and of feeling a new kind of strength developing, flexible and open. The joy, even – after a while – of the more static asanas or postures. How holding an asana for several breaths could also be a kind of movement – more minuscule but more profound – as your body gradually recalibrated itself. And how delicious it was when a precise physical arrangement that had initially eluded you slowly started to come within reach.

Yes, as you can probably tell, the head stuff still wasn’t really happening for me. Yoga is supposed to be about patience, about transcending ego. More than that, about transcending thought; having nothing in your head at all. The fact that I got impatient was indicative of my failure to subdue mental activity; the fact that I was pleased when I managed to do something I couldn’t do before, ditto, while also indicating that my ego – unlike my upper-body strength – remained very much present and correct.

It’s 12 years on now, and the number of to-do lists I have enumerated, the number of supermarket shops I have planned, the number of pieces I have sketched out – including this one – during hours spent supposedly blissfully empty-headed on the mat, doesn’t bear thinking about. But, of course, I do think about it. Often, again, on the mat. Because that’s what the mat does. It bears witness to what you do on it, and what you think on it, day after day. And, somehow, as a result – just occasionally if you are me – you actually stop thinking. And even if you don’t stop thinking, when you finish your practice you always feel more clear-headed than you did before you started.

Gradually, I began to shift away from the most physically demanding yoga that had originally appealed to me. It was what had first drawn me in because, of course, it was what was most similar to what I did at the gym. I had been pounding my mat doing the strenuous form known as ashtanga. My wrists hurt, and I felt all-over tired. Cue a perfectly timed encounter six years ago with a yoga teacher called Simon Low, one of the founder members of Triyoga, a key organisation in the initial dissemination of yoga in the UK.

I still remember one of the first things Low said to me: “What you do on the mat should be the opposite of what you do off the mat.” There I was, a driven, goal-focused personality, being driven and goal-focused on the mat. Ashtanga yoga was the last thing I needed.

I needed softness. Low introduced me to his own flow, a form of so-called yang or dynamic yoga, which draws on other disciplines such as chi gong. Strong but soft. Perfect. And – more importantly – he introduced me to yin yoga: even softer, in which poses are held for many minutes, not just for a few breaths, thereby allowing the body fully to recalibrate, to heal. Combine the two, the yin and the yang, and you have the full yogic package.

Low, now 60, is not only a brilliant yoga teacher, he also has his sense of humour and his intellect intact. For those of us who need to satisfy our rational mind before we can hope to move beyond it, Low’s peerless at pinning the yogic butterfly to the board.

“Classical yoga came about over 2,000 years ago as a way of man dealing with his psychology,” he says. “The Yoga Sutra, the most important text, is a kind of psychological guide. The human condition hasn’t changed. It’s still our thought patterns and attitudes that separate us from a peaceful state of contentment in life.”

The asanas are “not an end in themselves”, continues Low. “They are tools that help us develop self-discipline and healthier existence, and they stimulate neuroplasticity, too.” Developing certain qualities in your body – calmness, flexibility, an openness to change – prompts those same qualities to develop in your brain, believes Low. Certainly that has been my experience. Yoga has changed my head at least as much as my body.

Low’s own, ahem, journey with yoga – sorry, but that’s the way we yogis speak – was one I recognised, even though it had started much earlier, and gone far deeper. He, too, had initially practised it as a competitive sport. “I just wanted to do yoga stronger and faster, and it wasn’t long before I developed issues in my lower back, knees and neck. Then I explored and developed yin and yang yoga, and my body has really thanked me for it. I felt so much more energised and balanced. I haven’t had a yoga injury since.”

I cannot begin to describe the warm bath yin yoga represents for body and mind. Typically on a yoga retreat, by day three or four you feel physically tired, even sore. I know. I have done enough of them. On a Low retreat, even though you often do more yoga – as much as six hours a day, three of yang in the morning, three yin in the afternoon – you feel stronger, and yet softer, day by day. . .

Continue reading.

I can’t help but believe that she now is simply an asshole who practices yoga: those attitudes toward new information do not change readily.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

How Trump favored Texas over Puerto Rico

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Trump is President of some of the people some of the time. Danny Vinik reports in Politico:

As Hurricane Maria unleashed its fury on Puerto Rico in mid-September, knocking out the island’s electrical system and damaging hundreds of thousands of homes, disaster recovery experts expected that only one man could handle the enormity of the task ahead: Mike Byrne.

But Byrne, a widely acknowledged star of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, remained in Houston, which had been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey less than a month earlier.

Today, disaster recovery experts still express shock that FEMA kept Byrne in an already-stabilizing Texas and didn’t send him to Puerto Rico for three more weeks. But now, the decision strikes many as emblematic of a double standard within the Trump administration. A POLITICO review of public documents, newly obtained FEMA records and interviews with more than 50 people involved with disaster response indicates that the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico.

“We have the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. We go anywhere, anytime we want in the world,” bemoaned retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led the military’s relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. “And [in Puerto Rico] we didn’t use those assets the way they should have been used.”

No two hurricanes are alike, and Harvey and Maria were vastly different storms that struck areas with vastly different financial, geographic and political situations. But a comparison of government statistics relating to the two recovery efforts strongly supports the views of disaster-recovery experts that FEMA and the Trump administration exerted a faster, and initially greater, effort in Texas, even though the damage in Puerto Rico exceeded that in Houston.

Within six days of Hurricane Harvey, U.S. Northern Command had deployed 73 helicopters over Houston, which are critical for saving victims and delivering emergency supplies. It took at least three weeks after Maria before it had more than 70 helicopters flying above Puerto Rico.

Nine days after the respective hurricanes, FEMA had approved $141.8 million in individual assistance to Harvey victims, versus just $6.2 million for Maria victims.

During the first nine days after Harvey, FEMA provided 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water and over 20,000 tarps to Houston; but in the same period, it delivered just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water and roughly 5,000 tarps to Puerto Rico.

Nine days after Harvey, the federal government had 30,000 personnel in the Houston region, compared with 10,000 at the same point after Maria.

It took just 10 days for FEMA to approve permanent disaster work for Texas, compared with 43 days for Puerto Rico.

Seventy-eight days after each hurricane, FEMA had approved 39 percent of federal applications for relief from victims of Harvey, versus 28 percent for Maria.

Those imbalances track with another one: the attention of President Donald Trump. In public, Trump appeared much more concerned with the victims of Harvey than Maria. He visited Houston twice during the first eight days after the hurricane, but didn’t visit Puerto Rico for 13 days. In the first week after the disasters, Trump sent three times as many tweets about Harvey as Maria — 24 about the plight of Texas and eight about Puerto Rico, including a series of comments about Puerto Rico’s debt level and quality of infrastructure that local officials considered insulting and enraging while lives were still in jeopardy.

“Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!” he crowed about Texas on Aug. 27, two days after the storm made landfall.

On Sept. 30, 10 days after Maria, and while fielding criticism from Puerto Rican officials, Trump testily tweeted: “[They] want everything to be done for them and it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job.”

Behind the scenes, according to people with direct knowledge of his comments, Trump was focused less on the details of the relief effort than on public appearances, repeatedly using conference calls and meetings designed to update him on the relief effort to direct FEMA Administrator Brock Long to spend more time on television touting his agency’s progress.

In addition, Trump spent the first weekend after the Puerto Rico crisis tweeting repeatedly about NFL players kneeling for the national anthem. Those messages, experts said, send a subtle, yet important signal to the federal bureaucracy.

“On Texas and Florida [during Hurricane Irma], the president was very vocal and engaged in the run-up to the storm. His messaging was frankly pretty good,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, the former top disaster response official at USAID under former President Barack Obama. “If you look at his public messaging on a comparable timeline around Puerto Rico, there’s virtually nothing. … That sends a signal to the whole federal bureaucracy about how they should prioritize.”

FEMA and administration officials defend the response to the storm, saying it posed unprecedented logistical challenges as the agency faced perhaps the most demanding stretch in its 39-year history. Hurricane Maria was the third major hurricane to strike the United States in less than a month. Combine that with an overwhelmed local government and nonexistent communications and it created a fog-of-war atmosphere that made it difficult to determine what resources were needed when and how to get them to an island whose ports and airports were heavily damaged.

In a statement to POLITICO, Long defended FEMA’s efforts, arguing that, unlike in Texas, the agency was forced to take on a greater role in the post-disaster response. “We provided Puerto Rico the same, if not more support, as we have for all presidentially declared disasters across the nation,” he said, “but an optimal response cannot rely on FEMA’s efforts alone.”

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said Trump was “personally engaged” on the response and his “primary directive” to Long was to oversee a unified and effective federal response.

But in that situation, former FEMA officials say, extra political pressure and impetus can make a difference. Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory rather than a state, has just a single, nonvoting delegate in Congress, compared with the 36 representatives and two senators from Texas who loudly demanded proper resources for their state. Likewise, victims of Superstorm Sandy had six senators and dozens of U.S. representatives in the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to demand extra disaster relief, including powerful lawmakers like Chuck Schumer, then the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate.

“After Sandy, [Rep.] Peter King was all over FEMA continuously. So was Schumer,” said Michael Balboni, a former New York state legislator and an expert on disaster response. That constant pressure on senior federal officials, he added, is critical to getting the proper resources after a disaster.  [Because the federal government is unresponsive to citizens, apparently—not a good sign. – LG]

In that vacuum, presidential leadership plays a larger role. But as the administration moves to rebuild Texas and Puerto Rico, the contrast in the Trump administration’s responses to Harvey and Maria is taking on new dimensions. The federal government has already begun funding projects to help make permanent repairs to Texas infrastructure. But in Puerto Rico, that funding has yet to start, as local officials continue to negotiate the details of an experimental funding system that the island agreed to adopt after a long, contentious discussion with Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 2:26 pm

The accumulating impact of accumulating stuff

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James Wimberly writes in The Reality-Based Community:

Are we doomed to drown in stuff, or run out of the raw materials to make it? After the midwinter potlatch I was ready for some good fire and brimstone on this well-worn theme. George Monbiot is usually a reliable Savonarola, but I found his latest Christmas diatribe against growth and consumerism disappointing.

Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction. Among the snow saunasportable watermelon coolers and smart phones for dogs with which we are urged to fill our lives, my #extremecivilisation prize now goes to the PancakeBot: a 3-D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa or the Taj Mahal or your dog’s bottom every morning. In practice, it will clog up your kitchen for a week until you decide you don’t have room for it. For junk like this we’re trashing the living planet, and our own prospects of survival. Everything must go.

Personally, I’d have gone with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, now twice the size of France. [Update: you can of course follow her on Facebook.] The trouble with anecdotes, however stomach-churning, is that they don’t tell you anything about the trend. Are Monbiot’s ghastly examples typical, or the reflection of the fact that most middle-class people in rich countries already have all the material possessions they need and most of what they want? In that environment, finding affordable presents the recipients will actually like is getting harder and harder, before we finally stop the pointless exercise.

For the trend, we need models and numbers. I’ve already written about solid research by Thomas Wiedmann et al that Monbiot pointed me to, showing that:

1. The material intensity of world GDP has been going down.

2. It is still coupled to GDP, and there is no complete dematerialisation of growth.

So far so so-so. Wiedmann’s data stop in 2009, and he hasn’t updated yet. To fill the gap, Monbiot pointed to a new paper by Australian economist James Ward et al, purporting to show that decoupling of economic growth from material inputs is an illusion. IMHO this is question-begging hothouse orchid-growing; a wearisome takedown below the jump.

To get an idea of what’s been happening recently, I had a go myself with rustic methods. I constructed indices of world consumption for five significant materials (steel, aluminium, copper, cement, paper and board), normalised to 2005, before the financial crisis. Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels track their production. I couldn’t find world data for construction sand and gravel, so I threw in data for the USA: it’s interesting because these are very cheap and widely available, so consumption cannot be significantly affected anywhere by price or supply constraints. Here’s the result. A pretty chart; spreadsheet with working and data sources here. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 11:46 am

Cigarette smoking adults: Trend

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The above is from Kevin Drum’s post.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 10:33 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Health

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