Later On

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

Archive for March 8th, 2019

Duck soup (not the movie)

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I bought two duck carcasses with (untouched) necks. Good price and I had never bought them before—mainly because I had not seen them before—but I have bought and cooked chicken backs, with stock the obvious choice. So I cut up two carrots, cut two yellow onions into eighths, and covered all with water, 2 Tbsp salt, juice of two lemons, and about 3 Tbsp brown rice vinegar. (I figure the acid will help with the cartilage and also perhaps leach some calcium from the bones. Plus brightens the taste.)

Simmered for two hours, removed solids and let cool, picked meat from bones and saved for soup, and stock is now refrigerating while I look for recipe ideas. Stock tastes good. Probably should have used a star anise.

Update: For the soup, I added 1 leek, halved lengthwise and sliced; a cup of celery chopped small; 2-3 small yellow crookneck squash, diced; 1/2 bunch of parsley chopped; some Shanghai bok choy, chopped (you can readily substitute spinach or chard (Swiss or red) for the Shanghai bok choy); and a dash of fish sauce (I use Red Boat, but see this).

Simmer uncovered for half an hour to reduce the stock somewhat, then add the meat and 1/4 cup sherry or Shaoxing wine and reheat, then serve.

Another update: Just had a bowl. Superb, if I say so myself. Very rich, very tasty. When I took the stock out of the fridge, I assumed there would be a cap of solidified fat floating on top. Not so: the fat from the carcass was all in solution—thus the richness.

I will repeat this next time I see duck carcasses for sale (and you can be sure I’ll be looking for them).

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2019 at 5:04 pm

“The Shanghai Factor,” by Charles McCarry shows what I’m talking about

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Just the opening eight pages and I’m drawn into it totally.

He died only recently, and in reading the obituaries, I realized that I seem to have read only the Paul Christopher novels, and he wrote a lot more. So I’m diving in.

The Shanghai Factor, by the late Charles McCarry. That’s the Kindle link so you can download a sample and see. It moves fast.

I have a whole row of ’em now, all waiting to be read.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2019 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Books

Code hidden in Stone Age art may be the root of human writing

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Allison George writes in New Scientist:

When she first saw the necklace, Genevieve von Petzinger feared the trip halfway around the globe to the French village of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac had been in vain. The dozens of ancient deer teeth laid out before her, each one pierced like a bead, looked roughly the same. It was only when she flipped one over that the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. On the reverse were three etched symbols: a line, an X and another line.

Von Petzinger, a palaeoanthropologist from the University of Victoria in Canada, is spearheading an unusual study of cave art. Her interest lies not in the breathtaking paintings of bulls, horses and bison that usually spring to mind, but in the smaller, geometric symbols frequently found alongside them. Her work has convinced her that far from being random doodles, the simple shapes represent a fundamental shift in our ancestors’ mental skills.

The first formal writing system that we know of is the 5000-year-old cuneiform script of the ancient city of Uruk in what is now Iraq. But it and other systems like it – such as Egyptian hieroglyphs – are complex and didn’t emerge from a vacuum. There must have been an earlier time when people first started playing with simple abstract signs. For years, von Petzinger has wondered if the circles, triangles and squiggles that humans began leaving on cave walls 40,000 years ago represent that special time in our history – the creation of the first human code.

If so, the marks are not to be sniffed at. Our ability to represent a concept with an abstract sign is something no other animal, not even our closest cousins the chimpanzees, can do. It is arguably also the foundation for our advanced, global culture.

The first step to check her theory was to fastidiously document the signs, their location, age and style, and see if any patterns emerged. For this, von Petzinger would have to visit as many caves as she could: archaeology’s focus on paintings of animals meant the signs were often overlooked in existing records.

It wasn’t easy or glamorous work. Gaining access to caves in France, where a lot of Stone Age art is located, can be devilishly complicated. Many are privately owned and sometimes jealously guarded by archaeologists. For the full set of symbols, von Petzinger also had to visit many obscure caves, the ones without big, flashy paintings. At El Portillo in northern Spain, all she had to go on was a note an archaeologist made in 1979 of some “red signs”; no one had been back since. At first, von Petzinger couldn’t even find the entrance. Eventually, she noticed a tiny opening at knee level, trickling with water. “Thank God I’m not claustrophobic,” she says. After 2 hours sliding through mud inside the mountain, she found two dots painted in pinkish ochre.

Between 2013 and 2014, von Petzinger visited 52 caves in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The symbols she found ranged from dots, lines, triangles, squares and zigzags to more complex forms like ladder shapes, hand stencils, something called a tectiform that looks a bit like a post with a roof, and feather shapes called penniforms. In some places, the signs were part of bigger paintings. Elsewhere, they were on their own, like the row of bell shapes found in El Castillo in northern Spain (see picture below), or the panel of 15 penniforms in Santian, also in Spain.

Perhaps the most startling finding was how few signs there were – just 32 in all of Europe. For tens of thousands of years, our ancestors seem to have been curiously consistent with the symbols they used. This, if nothing else, suggests that the markings had some sort of significance. “Of course they mean something,” says French prehistorian Jean Clottes. “They didn’t do it for fun.” The multiple repetitions of the P-shaped claviform sign in France’s Niaux cave “can’t be a coincidence”, he argues.

Thanks to von Petzinger’s meticulous logging, it’s now possible to see trends – new signs appearing in one region, sticking around for a while before falling out of fashion. Hand stencils, for example, were fairly common in the earliest parts of the Upper Palaeolithic era, starting 40,000 years ago, then fall out of fashion 20,000 years later. “You see a cultural change take place,” says von Petzinger. The earliest known penniform is from about 28,000 years ago in the Grande Grotte d’Arcy-sur-Cure in northern France, and later appears a little to the west of there before spreading south. Eventually, it reaches northern Spain and even Portugal. Von Petzinger believes it was first disseminated as people migrated, but its later spread suggests it then followed trade routes.

The research also reveals that modern humans were using two-thirds of these signs when they first settled in Europe, which creates another intriguing possibility. “This does not look like the start-up phase of a brand-new invention,” von Petzinger writes in her recently published book, The First SignsUnlocking the mysteries of the world’s oldest symbols (Simon and Schuster). In other words, when modern humans first started moving into Europe from Africa, they must have brought a mental dictionary of symbols with them.

That fits well with the discovery of a 70,000-year-old block of ochre etched with cross-hatching in Blombos cave in South Africa. And when von Petzinger looked through archaeology papers for mentions or illustrations of symbols in cave art outside Europe, she found that many of her 32 signs were used around the world (see “Consistent doodles”). There is even tantalising evidence that an earlier human, Homo erectus, deliberately etched a zigzag on a shell on Java some 500,000 years ago. “The ability of humans to produce a system of signs is clearly not something that starts 40,000 years ago. This capacity goes back at least 100,000 years,” says Francesco d’Errico from the University of Bordeaux, France.

Nonetheless, something quite special seems to have happened in ice age Europe. In various caves, von Petzinger frequently found certain symbols used together. For instance, starting 40,000 years ago, hand stencils are often found alongside dots. Later, between 28,000 and 22,000 years ago, they are joined by thumb stencils and finger fluting – parallel lines created by dragging fingers through soft cave deposits.

Etched teeth

These kinds of combinations are particularly interesting if you’re looking for the deep origins of writing systems. Nowadays, we effortlessly combine letters to make words and words to make sentences, but this is a sophisticated skill. Von Petzinger wonders whether the people of the Upper Palaeolithic started experimenting with more complex ways of encoding information using deliberate, repeated sequences of symbols. Unfortunately, that’s hard to say from signs painted on cave walls, where arrangements could be deliberate or completely random. “Demonstrating that a sign was conceived as a combination of two or more different signs is difficult,” says d’Errico. . .

Continue reading.

I find it fascinating to actually see memes in a very early stage of their evolutionary development—and, as pointed out, these are evolved from earlier memes.

Update. I bet the very first mark was some simple shape (box or X or two parallel or zigzag lines) that conveyed a simple message: “I was here.” Cf. bear marks on a tree, dog pee on posts, and this from WWII:

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2019 at 2:36 pm

The ‘Otherwise Blameless Life’ of Paul Manafort

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Franklin Foer writes in the Atlantic:

“He has lived an otherwise blameless life,” said Judge T. S. Ellis as he sentenced Paul Manafort to just 47 months in prison on Thursday.

In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals.

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.

In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

In an otherwise blameless life, he stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan.

In an otherwise blameless life, he found himself nearly $20 million in debt to a Russian oligarch. Instead of honestly accounting for the money, he simply stopped responding to the oligarch’s messages.

In an otherwise blameless life, he tried to use his perch atop the Trump campaign to help salvage his sorry financial situation. He installed one of his protégés as the head of the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America. His friend allegedly funneled $125,000 from the super PAC to pay off one of Manafort’s nagging debts.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was found guilty of tax evasion on an industrial scale. Rather than paying his fair share to help fund national defense and public health, he kept his cash in Cyprus and wired it home to buy more than $1 million in bespoke clothing.

In an otherwise blameless life, he disguised his income as loans so that he could bamboozle banks into lending him money.

In an otherwise blameless life, he attempted to phone a potential witness in his trial so that they could align their stories.

In an otherwise blameless life, he systematically lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, after he promised them his full cooperation.

In an otherwise blameless life, he acted with impunity, as if the laws never applied to him. When presented with a chance to show remorse to the court, he  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2019 at 2:14 pm

How Should We Talk About the Israel Lobby’s Power?

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In New York Andrew Sullivan notes the difficulty of discussing an unusual relationship:

Let’s get this out of the way first: Using the phrases “all about the Benjamins” and “allegiance to a foreign country” when referring to the Israel lobby in D.C., as freshman Democratic representative Ilhan Omar recently did, is anti-Semitic. It should be possible to criticize Washington’s relationship with Israel without deploying crude and freighted language like this. But it got me wondering: Is it possible to write honestly about the Israel lobby’s power in D.C. without using any anti-Semitic “tropes” at all?

The basic facts are not really in dispute. A very powerful lobby deploys the money and passions of its members to ensure that a foreign country gets very, very special treatment from the U.S. Many of its supporters are Evangelical Protestants who want to accelerate the Second Coming. Others spring from an older and very American form of Christian Zionism. Many others are also American Jews with a commitment to Israel that has its roots both in the Torah and in a vow never to allow a second Holocaust.

I find basing foreign policy on apocalyptic predictions from dubious parts of the Bible dangerous, but, hey, Christianists are going to Christianist. And the zeal of many Jewish Americans for Israel is completely understandable. After the Holocaust, no Jew need apologize for a millisecond for having Israel’s back. When you see the rising, rancid tide of open anti-Semitism in Europe, the capture of the British opposition party by this poisonous hatred, and the sharp rise in hate crimes against Jews, even in New York City, defending Israel is a core interest of not only Jews but all of us in what’s left of the West.

The question, it seems to me, is one of proportion.

Take foreign aid. The U.S. provides the Jewish state with $3.8 billion a year in aid, and has committed to doing so for each of the next ten years. Compare that with what the U.S. gives other allies who are as wealthy as Israel: The U.K. got $150,000 in 2017; South Korea got $775,000. The average aid for high-income countries like Israel, according to USAID, is $79 million a year. Israel gets 48 times more.

Per capita, the disparity is close to absurd. Israel gets $436 in U.S. aid a year; dirt-poor Afghanistan $154; post-war Iraq $91; Egypt $14. By any measure, this is extreme exceptionalism. Yes, Israel faces military threats. But so does South Korea. And, unlike South Korea, Israel has nuclear weapons (illegally acquired) and its enemies don’t. The IDF and the Mossad stride the region with unparalleled military capacity and a vast technological edge. Israel is not David any more. It’s Goliath. And even if you believe the U.S. should somehow be aiding a country as wealthy as Israel, you’ve got to admit the scale of it is off the charts.

You might expect that in return for all that money and military protection, the Israeli government would be eager to please the U.S., help buttress American foreign policy diplomatically, or respond swiftly when the U.S. asks the Jewish state not to violate international law, launch wars that kill a lot of civilians, or construct a brutal and corrosive apartheid state on the West Bank. But after you’ve spent a while in Washington, you begin to realize that’s not exactly how this works. In return for giving Israel $3.8 billion a year … the U.S. is expected to consent to anything and everything Israel wants. When you look at this from a distance, it is really quite amazing.

It has, for example, been long-standing U.S. policy that the settlements in the West Bank are terribly counterproductive to any future peace. For decades, American presidents of both parties have asked the Israelis to stop, pause, or reverse this — and Israel has essentially told each of them to go fuck himself. Yes, they bob and weave a bit, but every year, the project of repopulating the West Bank with more and more fundamentalist Jews continues apace, in open violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and in a manner that effectively removes any chance for the conquered and perpetually humiliated Palestinians to build their own state. In fact, under Trump, the pace of population and settlement growth is surging.

Then we had the spectacle of how Israel undermined the last American president. The Jewish state and its powerful lobby went to war with Obama over his attempt to get Iran to curtail its nuclear program. You might imagine that Israel would be relieved that its major sponsor and ally was prepared to remove or at least restrain the greatest threat to Israel’s security. But no. Israel would prefer that the U.S. go to war with Iran, or militarily cripple its nuclear facilities. From the very get-go, Israel and AIPAC did everything they could to kill one of the core goals and achievements of Obama’s presidency. It was not enough to constrain Iran; the U.S. had to wage war on it.

The lowest moment was when the Evangelical-dominated GOP invited Benjamin Netanyahu to address the Congress to rant against the president’s policy in a final, bitter act of spite. The president wasn’t even notified of the invitation. I ask you: Can you imagine any other leader of any other ally who would treat the president of the United States this way? And it’s hard to forget that Oval Office press chat when Netanyahu simply lectured Obama and treated him with what can only be called contempt. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And, of course, Israel won in the end. Under Trump, Israel has achieved almost every goal it aimed for: the scrapping of the Iran deal, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a surge in settlements, and an intensification of the abuse of the Palestinians. Every form of U.S. aid to Palestinians in the West Bank has ended. We’re now the only country to have no diplomatic relations with the Palestinians, and just defunded the U.N. agencies that serve Palestinian refugees. Again you might ask: What did the U.S. get in return for all this from Israel? And again the answer is: Nothing.

Actually, worse than nothing. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2019 at 1:01 pm

Senators Urge IRS to Focus on Big-Time Tax Cheats, Citing ProPublica Stories

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Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger report in ProPublica:

In a letter on Friday , a group of prominent senators — including Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., 2020 presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as well as Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. — urged IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to increase the agency’s focus on large tax and financial crimes.

As ProPublica has documented with a series of articles, the IRS is a shadow of its former self, the result of a near-decadelong campaign by Republicans in Congress to starve the agency of funds. The agency’s enforcement staff has dropped by more than a third. That has been a boon to the rich and to tax cheats in particular, who have benefited from a collapse in audits, collections and criminal tax prosecutions.

As we reported, and as the senators noted in their letter, the story has been different for the poor, as the IRS has devoted a disproportionate number of its audits to taxpayers who receive the earned income tax credit, one of the government’s largest antipoverty programs.

The senators acknowledged that the budget cuts have badly weakened the agency, but they argued that ProPublica’s stories, together with government watchdog reports, show the IRS could use its limited resources more effectively.

The widening circle of investigations surrounding President Donald Trump has highlighted the weakness of tax enforcement, as we explained last October. Paul Manafort hid income overseas for years, and Michael Cohen dodged taxes through the simplest means imaginable (by lying to his accountant and the IRS) without consequence. It was only after the Robert Mueller’s team and other federal prosecutors began scrutinizing Trump’s circle that their crimes were discovered. The senators say that such examples of “exposure of criminal activity only resulting from investigations pursued for other matters” prove that the IRS can do more. “We urge you to strengthen enforcement efforts at the IRS, including focusing on tax code violations and financial crimes that may be linked to money laundering,” they wrote.

The IRS will not get a budget increase anytime soon. After a 34-day government shutdown, Congress and Trump struck a deal to fund the government for the next seven months. For the IRS, the deal included a cut from last year’s budget. In real terms, the enforcement portion of the agency’s budget is down by 23 percent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2019 at 12:45 pm

Not All Saturated Fats Are the Same for Cardiovascular Health

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Mary West has an interesting article on saturated fats in Olive Oil Times:

A study found the source of saturated fat can make a big difference in heart health. While fat from meat is linked to a higher cardiovascular risk, dairy fat is associated with a lower risk.

The effect of fat on the heart depends on the number of carbon atoms contained within the fatty acid chains. While saturated fatty acids in meats have 16 or more carbon atoms, saturated fatty acids in dairy products contain 14 or fewer carbon atoms.

People who consume plant-based protein and dairy products typically have a lower risk of a heart attack.

“Our analysis of the diets of large groups of individuals in two countries over time shows that the type of saturated fats we consume could affect our cardiovascular heath,” lead investigator Ivonne Sluijs, of the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, Netherlands, said.

The study examined data from approximately 75,000 people in the U.K., Denmark, the U.S. and the Netherlands. Of these, nearly 3,500 individuals had a heart attack between the study’s onset and the follow-up 13 years later.

In the U.S., saturated fat consumption comes largely from meat; but in Europe, saturated fat intake comes mostly from dairy products.

Although fat consumption from meat sources was linked to a higher heart risk, fat from dairy foods was either inversely related to heart risk or had a neutral effect. The findings lend credence to the theory that the type of saturated fat consumed determines the effect on the heart.

“We found that eating relatively little of the longer chained saturated fatty acids and consuming plant-based proteins instead was associated with a lowered risk,” Sluijs said. “Substitution of those saturated fats with other energy sources such as carbohydrates did not affect the risk to develop myocardial infarction.”

In the 1960s, saturated fat was tied to high levels of bad cholesterol, or LDL, which is a risk factor for heart disease. At this time, experts recommended restricting saturated fat from all sources. However, because of inconsistent results from studies, the association between saturated fat and heart disease has been debated for years.

Recent research suggests the lack of consistency in results stems from the possibility that varied types of saturated fat have different effects on cholesterol and coronary heart disease. Despite the findings in the current study that support the postulation, Sluijs and her research team advise caution before changing dietary guidelines.

In an accompanying editorial, Jun Li and Qi Sun, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, advocated consumption of a diet that involves a high intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as the replacement of refined grains with whole grains.

They also advised lowering salt intake and limiting consumption of sugar, red meat and processed meat. Eating the Mediterranean diet, which features fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is a good way to follow these advisories. The study was published in the International Journal of Cardiology. . .

Continue reading.

However, note this from Harvard Medical School (and note as well the publication date: February 2015, over 4 years ago):

Warnings against eating foods high in cholesterol, like eggs or shrimp, have been a mainstay of dietary recommendations for decades. That could change if the scientific advisory panel for the 2015 iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has its say.

A summary of the committee’s December 2014 meeting says “Cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” Translation: You don’t need to worry about cholesterol in your food.

Why not? There’s a growing consensus among nutrition scientists that cholesterol in food has little effect on the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream. And that’s the cholesterol that matters.

Nutrition experts like Dr. Walter C. Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, called the plan a reasonable move. Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told USA Today “It’s the right decision. We got the dietary guidelines wrong.”

Keep in mind that this isn’t a done deal. The panel, which is formally known as the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, makes recommendations for the next guidelines update, but these recommendations aren’t always followed.

The cholesterol connection

Cholesterol has a bad reputation, its name linked to heart attacks, strokes, and other types of cardiovascular disease. Yet cholesterol is as necessary for human health as water or air.

Cholesterol is a type of fat, or lipid. It is an essential building block for cell membranes and other crucial structures. It is needed to form the protective sheath that surrounds nerve fibers. The body uses cholesterol to make hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, the bile acids we need to digest and absorb fats, and vitamin D.

Cholesterol is so important that your liver and intestines make it day and night from fats, sugars, and proteins. In the average person, the body’s production of cholesterol far outstrips any contribution from cholesterol in food.

Why is blood cholesterol a concern? Too much of it, especially in the wrong kind of particle, can cause trouble inside blood vessels (see “From cholesterol to crisis” below). Harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles ferry cholesterol to artery walls. Protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles pull cholesterol out of circulation and deliver it to the liver for destruction.

Doing away with the beware-cholesterol-in-food warning would simplify the art of choosing healthy foods. And it would let people enjoy foods that contain higher amounts of cholesterol, such as eggs, shrimp, and lobster, without worrying about it. A better focus is on reducing saturated fat and trans fat in the diet, which play greater roles in damaging blood vessels than dietary cholesterol.

Science, including nutrition science, is a process of change. New findings emerge that nudge aside old thinking and prompt new recommendations. That’s easy for someone like me to say, since I closely follow nutrition science and research and understand how they work. But for folks who don’t, a change in the recommendations about cholesterol in food is likely to be seen as another dietary flip-flop and undermine confidence in what’s known about healthy eating.

 

 

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2019 at 10:35 am

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