Later On

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

Archive for April 22nd, 2018

The Etruscans

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I didn’t know this.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2018 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Video

Michael Cohen case shines light on Sean Hannity’s property empire

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Jon Swaine reports in the Guardian:

When Sean Hannity was named in court this week as a client of Donald Trump’s embattled legal fixer Michael Cohen, the Fox News host insisted their discussions had been limited to the subject of buying property.

“I’ve said many times on my radio show: I hate the stock market, I prefer real estate. Michael knows real estate,” Hannity said on television, a few hours after the dramatic hearing in Manhattan, where Cohen is under criminal investigation.

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2018 at 5:12 pm

“What a psychic taught me that my religion couldn’t”

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I don’t know that I buy this, but Linda Curtis tells a great story in Salon:

“Please come in,” the woman said, smiling as she held open the front door. I’m about to enter the Devil’s lair, I said to myself. Despite my apprehensions, I stepped through the threshold. The woman identified herself as the housekeeper and invited me to take a seat. After a nine-month wait I’d snagged a consultation with Sonia Choquette, the renowned Chicago psychic.

I’d moved to Chicago from my hometown of Portland two and a half years earlier, after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses and divorcing my husband of nine years. For this reason I was declared immoral and expelled from the Witness religion and shunned by everyone in the community, including all members of my immediate family.

“Sonia will be with you in a moment,” said the housekeeper, who then disappeared behind one of two doors on either side of a long dining table. The home’s classic Victorian exterior did not prepare me for the room I now stood in. It was modern and vibrant. The left wall had a marble fireplace and was washed in a deep, soothing purple. There were splashes of magenta and mauve in the soft pillows of the couch, and modern paintings, hinting at shapes found in nature. Light poured in through sheer curtains on all sides.

It was a plush, comfortable environment. I breathed a little easier. The lady of the house had good taste. She lived here with her husband and two young daughters. I did my best to settle down, ignoring my sweaty palms.

According to my religious upbringing, just being in that room was risky. To get a psychic reading was the equivalent of putting out the welcome mat for Satan and his demons to intrude into my life. They might haunt me in the darkness with eerie whispers, or toss my furniture about, Linda Blair-type convulsions soon to follow. Just being in a room with a Ouiji board was an open invitation to Satan and his demons: Here I am, come possess me. If Satan decided to use this as an excuse to overtake me, I was doomed.

And yet, my hunger for answers was bigger than my fears. It had been more than a year since my expulsion from the church, a decision I never second-guessed. But my family had made good on their promise to shun me and there had been zero communication between us. The radio silence evoked a sadness that rattled me to the core. I missed them.

I was thriving in my new life, however, reveling in a vibrant city that offered itself to my whims and curiosity. The corporate job I’d relocated for was a perfect fit for me, and I was making new friends. After years of being taught to fear the world, scanning the horizon for a literal Armageddon, I was often overwhelmed by my newfound freedom. I’d go for a walk in my neighborhood, past the lumbering mansions near Graceland Cemetery, and practically squirm out of my skin with the sheer joy of life, recounting my lucky circumstances — and the next moment my thoughts would ricochet to the price I was paying: the suffocating vacuum of this chilling family estrangement. How could I reconcile these extreme experiences?
Two years earlier I was active in a spiritual community filled with hundreds of people who had known me since childhood. Now my circle of true friends was growing, but none of them had known me more than a year or two. Disaster scenarios played out in my imagination, where I’d receive a fatal diagnosis or get tangled in a car wreck and awake to find myself attached to blinking hospital monitors. Then I’d remember Mom’s parting salvo that you can’t count on “worldly people.” They’ll always let you down — the only true friends you’ll ever have are in The Truth.

In Witness parlance, The Truth is always capitalized, but my certainty had long since waned. The biggest part of me rejected that idea as negative nonsense, but neither claim had been tested by time. Lacking the depth of a shared history with the people in my life, I often felt disconnected, afloat. I was desperate to answer the question “why” and hoped Sonia could shed some light on the meaning of it all. What did I have to lose? I’d already lost plenty.

The door to the right of the dining table opened and there stood Sonia, slim and tall, wearing a cashmere sweater and blue jeans. She had the classic features of a French beauty, waves of shiny dark hair cascading just past her shoulders, and expressive brown eyes. There was a warmth and elegance about her that eliminated any feelings of intimidation. She was so normal.

“This is where I do my readings,” she said, inviting me into her library, guiding me to sit across from her at a table near the window. The room was small, bright with sunlight, two walls lined with books floor to ceiling. All of my preconceived notions of charlatans clad in billowy “I Dream of Jeanie” outfits, hovering over crystal balls in dark rooms, were shattered to bits. The table we shared was graced with a beautiful woven textile, a bouquet of fresh flowers, and stones and crystals in a vast array of shapes and sizes, scattered about like continents on a globe. The only one I recognized was a block of turquoise resting next to the glass of water Sonia placed in front of me.

“It’s important that we both drink water,” she said, sipping from her own glass as she sat down. “To keep the energy fluid. Drink up.”

And so I drank. She was self-assured with a reserved playfulness. I couldn’t help but think of the scripture in Corinthians that says, “Satan keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into angels of righteousness.”

She had a blank piece of paper and a pencil in front of her. She handed me a deck of tarot cards, soft from use, and asked me to shuffle them.

“We may or may not use them,” she said, “but I find it helps people settle in and ground themselves.”

I wasn’t aware that I was un-grounded, and found it an odd description. I’d never dared to even touch a tarot deck and was drawn to the vivid pictures of knights and crescent moons. As I shuffled, Sonia tossed three coins, seemingly gleaning data from how they landed, and jotted notes on her paper. She did this several times.

She looked up and must have noticed a quizzical look on my face. “These are I-Ching coins,” she said. “An ancient Chinese oracle. Very good to consult when in a cycle of change or vulnerability.”

I’d passed the point of no return.

She asked the date of my birth, wrote it down and quickly paged through a large volume of astrological charts and made more notes. As she did this I remembered another scripture, a parable where Jesus said you would recognize righteous teachers “by their works.” The outcome would be the test of validity. If I left with some new direction, some answers, I could justify this venture into divination.

“You have the energy of a news reporter, or a writer,” she said. “Are you in an expressive field of work?” The question cut to the heart of one of my unfulfilled dreams.

“Not really,” I said. “I’ve kept a journal since I was twelve. Does that count? Writing is the way I sort things out for myself. But I make my living in the corporate world, in sales.”

“But you’re a storyteller at heart. Talking and writing are your preferred ways of expressing yourself. You’re an old-soul sage. You have an engaging way of speaking, an eye for details that seem inconsequential to others, but you make them add up to something interesting. If you pause to think about it you’ll see it’s the main reason your clients purchase services from you.”

One of the bankers I called on regularly, in hopes of selling to one day, always insisted that I start our meetings by telling him a story, before we got around to business.

“You are quite articulate and easy to listen to,” Sonia continued. “You do sell services, as opposed to material things, am I right?”

I was flabbergasted by her accuracy. I couldn’t see anything I’d said or done to reveal these things through my body language or clothing. I nodded my head.

“This job you’re in looks fairly recent, but you’ve been selling for years, yes?”

She looked at me with a kind curiosity. I relaxed. If I was going to get what I came for I needed to approach this as a collaboration. There was no need to play guessing games.

“I’ve been selling, so to speak, since I was nine and I started knocking on doors as a Jehovah’s Witness.”

And then, being a storyteller, I told her of my strict and narrow upbringing, countless hours in the door-to-door ministry, all those demonstrations of preaching techniques on stage at the Kingdom Hall, the far-off future hope of an ideal life in paradise on earth, then a fork in the road, doubts, divorce, moving, being disfellowshipped, the family estrangement. It all came pouring out, though I doubt it was very engaging. When I came out of my reverie, I noticed the tarot cards she’d given me were resting in both hands on my lap. Sonia’s eyes were filled with compassion.

“Linda, you are an old soul, surrounded by a young-soul family.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2018 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

Carbon-steel pans: Nonstick without toxic gases

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On reading this post, The Eldest emailed to remind me of something I had vaguely known but forgotten: The guidance for the nonstick T-Fal pans says to never heat the pan above medium, and never heat it empty.  Nonstick stove-top cookware emits toxic gases if heated empty, and should never be used on high heat. All stovetop nonstick cookware does this.  Even the “green” kinds.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (under pressure from companies that made non-stick cookware) rejected putting black box warning labels on non-stick stovetop cookware because the instructions that come with the products explain how to use them safely (although many don’t read or don’t remember the instructions, which explain that non-stick cookware must be used in a well-ventilated kitchen, that the cookware must not be heated above a medium heat while empty, that pet birds should not be in the vicinity (the gases kill them), etc.).

Unfortunately, when using a nontick skillet one tends to crank up the heat because the nonstick coating acts as an insulator, preventing the surface from getting hot enough to sear meat. In an effort to get a good sear, it’s natural to attempt to get the cooking surface hot, and with a nonstick pan that puts your health at risk.

My daughter’s reminder was enough to kick me into action. I knew that carbon-steel pans were nonstick if well-seasoned and used frequently, so I did a bit of searching and found that America’s Test Kitchen (the Cook’s Illustrated people) had reviewed carbon-steel pans (see below for a video discussing how to season and use carbon-steel skillets, and a demonstration of their nonstick qualities). In the review summary, they note:

  • SEARS LIKE CAST IRON: A carbon-steel skillet can brown food just as deeply and evenly as cast iron. It also has two advantages: It heats up more quickly, and its lighter weight makes it easier to handle.
  • PERFORMS LIKE STAINLESS TRI-PLY: Carbon steel heats virtually as evenly as stainless-steel tri-ply (aluminum sandwiched between stainless) but can brown more deeply; our winner costs one-third of the price of our favorite tri-ply skillet from All-Clad.
  • AS SLICK AS NONSTICK: Carbon steel is as slippery as brand-new nonstick, but it sears better, doesn’t have a synthetic coating, has no oven-safe temperature limits, and lasts forever [and doesn’t exude toxic gases – LG].

They rated as best the Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Frying Pans. The 8 5/8″ size is what I wanted for my morning eggs. [Update: I continue to use the 8 5/8″ pan often, but for morning eggs, I have found that I like the Smithey No. 8 cast-iron skillet much better for that job. Because cast iron holds a lot of heat, it takes longer to heat up, but that has the corresponding advantage that when you add cold eggs to the pan, the skillet doesn’t cool so much as the carbon-steel. The eggs cook faster, stick less, and are easier to flip. See this post for more info. /update]

Earlier I had purchased for my cast-iron pans this conditioner, which works quite well on carbon-steel pans as well, but I have now switched to Larbee (see below).

Their review summary for the Matfer Bourgeat pan:

This affordable pan had it all: thick, solid construction; a smooth interior with no handle rivets to bump the spatula or trap food; an ergonomically angled handle; and sides flared just right for easy access but high enough to contain splashes. Steaks formed a deeply crisp crust, tarte Tatin caramelized beautifully and released neatly, and fried eggs just slipped around in the pan.

My T-Fal pan went into the trash the day the new carbon-steel pan arrived. The instructions that came with the carbon-steel pan said to cook potato peels, salt, and oil in the pan, and do that twice before using the pan to cook food. That did not work so well as I wanted, but the Crisbee/Larbee seasoning method worked quite well (see below). One great thing about carbon-steel (and cast-iron) cookware: it is amazingly resilient so you can mistreat it (e.g., strip off the seasoning) and then bring it back to top-notch performance (re-season it). I speak from experience: twice I have cleaned out one of my carbon-steel pans, put it on a burner to dry, and then forgotten about it, finding on my return a very hot pan with the seasoning totally burned away. I just turned the burner off and let the pan cool on the burner, then wiped out the pan to remove the dust left from the burn-off and re-seasoned it. It works as well as ever.

Cleaning the pan

I often can just wipe the pan clean with a paper towel after cooking, but if I need to clean it, I use only hot water and a nylon-coil scrubber or a scrubber like the Ringer, made of stainless steel chain mail. Once the pan is clean from the rinsing and scrubbing, I dry it, heat it on the burner, and once it’s hot rub the inside with a little Larbee or oil.

Seasoning the pan

As I noted above, the seasoning method described in the video (and in the instructions that came with the pan) did not work so well, but I just found something that works perfectly: Larbee cast-iron seasoning, which (as the name implies) works on cast iron as well as carbon steel. It is made of leaf lard (the highest quality lard, which is around the pig’s kidneys) and beeswax. Lard is odorless, so the puck has only a faint and pleasant fragrance of beeswax. If you are Jewish or Muslim, you will prefer Crisbee cast-iron seasoning, made from vegetable and palm oil and beeswax. (Crisbee was their original version; Larbee is version 2.0.)

You also can use other fats such as grapeseed oil or this coconut oil product, but I would avoid flaxseed oil because the seasoning that results is brittle and easy to chip. Seasoning instructions for cast-iron skillets work for carbon-steel pans as well.

If you use Larbee or Crisbee, as I do, I recommend the puck over the stick, and I recommend unscented over scented. Their FAQ page is helpful, as are their detailed instructions. One particular point to note in their instructions:

Once you have it coated take a shop towel or paper towel and try to wipe off all of the Crisbee. This is an important step to prevent any Crisbee from puddling and turning into a sticky mess.

That means what it says: wipe the pan firmly and at length, trying to remove all the Crisbee or Larbee (or grapeseed oil or beef suet or whatever). No matter how thoroughly you wipe, enough will be left to season the pan well, but if you don’t wipe thoroughly, then you will indeed get a sticky mess.

Once the pan is seasoned it will be nonstick if you heat it well before adding the food. For example, if you add scrambled to a cold pan or one that’s merely warm, they will stick. But if you heat the pan well, then add the butter or extra-virgin olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom, and then add the eggs, there will be no sticking. (The cooking surface should be around 250-275ºF if you have an infrared thermometer: pretty hot.)

Field Company, which makes first-rate cast-iron skillets, uses grapeseed oil for seasoning as described at the link above, and that also works well. Apply the oil and then wipe off all you can with a cloth. What will be left is a very thin layer of oil, which integrates well into the developing layer of seasoning.

Do not use flaxseed oil. The seasoning that results from that is indeed very slick and smooth but it is also very brittle and weak, so it will chip and flake off in use. Finex uses flaxseed seasoning on their cast-iron skillets: nice to look at, not so good use.

Update on seasoning: The video below explains one reason I might have been having difficulty with seasoning: I do have an electric range, and as the video explains, an electric range heats only the bottom of the skillet (by conduction), whereas on a gas range, the skillet is heated not only on the bottom but also, as the flames curl around the sides, also on the side. Watch this and see what you think:

Carbon steel vs. Cast iron

I don’t see it as “versus.” To me, they are good buddies, and I have both. For some things (and in some moods) I’ll prefer one over the other, but I use them both a lot and I wouldn’t be without either. Here is my pick for cast-iron skillets.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2018 at 8:45 am

The Business Deals That Could Imperil Trump

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Peter Fritsch and Glenn R. Simpson write in the NY Times:

Put aside Russian collusion for a moment. Press pause on possible presidential obstruction of justice. Forget Stormy Daniels. The most significant recent development involving the president may be that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has subpoenaed Trump Organization business records as part of his inquiry into Russian interference in the presidential election.

Those documents — and records recently seized by the F.B.I. from the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen — might answer a question raised by the president’s critics: Have certain real estate investors used Trump-branded properties to launder the proceeds of criminal activity around the world?

We pored over Donald Trump’s business records for well over a year, at least those records you can get without a badge or a subpoena. We also hired a former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele, to look into Mr. Trump’s possible ties to Russia. In that 2015-2016 investigation, sponsored first by a Republican client and then by Democrats, we found strong indications that companies affiliated with Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, might have been entangled in foreign corruption.

string of bankruptcies in the 1990s and 2000s may have left Mr. Trump’s companies largely unable to tap traditional sources of financing. That could have forced him to look elsewhere for financing and partners at a time when money was pouring out of the former Soviet Union.

Indeed, from New York to Florida, Panama to Azerbaijan, we found that Trump projects have relied heavily on foreign cash — including from wealthy individuals from Russia and elsewhere with questionable, and even criminal, backgrounds. We saw money traveling through offshore shell companies, entities often used to obscure ownership. Many news organizations have since dug deeply into the Trump Organization’s projects and come away with similar findings.

This reporting has not uncovered conclusive evidence that the Trump Organization or its principals knowingly abetted criminal activity. And it’s not reasonable to expect the company to keep track of every condo buyer in a Trump-branded building. But Mr. Trump’s company routinely teamed up with individuals whose backgrounds should have raised red flags.

Consider the Bayrock Group, a developer that once had lavish offices in Trump Tower. The firm worked with Mr. Trump in the mid-2000s to build the Trump SoHo in Lower Manhattan, among other troubled projects. One of its principals was a Russian émigré, Felix Sater, linked to organized crime who served time for felony assault and who later pleaded guilty to racketeering involving a $40 million stock fraud scheme.

Belgian authorities accused a Kazakh financier recruited by Bayrock of carrying out a $55 million money-laundering scheme (that case was settled without an admission of guilt). Civil suits filed in Los Angeles and New York allege that a former mayor of the largest city in Kazakhstan and several of his family members laundered millions in stolen public funds, investing some of it in real estate, including units in Trump SoHo. (The family has denied wrongdoing and says it is the victim of political persecution.)

Then there is Sunny Isles Beach, where over 60 individuals with Russian passports or addresses bought nearly $100 million worth of units in Trump-branded condominium towers in a part of South Florida known as Little Moscow. Among them were Russian government officials who made million-dollar investments and a Ukrainian owner of two units who pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of stolen property in a money-laundering scheme involving a former Ukrainian prime minister. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2018 at 7:06 am

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