Later On

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

Archive for May 20th, 2019

Hummus tonight

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I made my usual recipe, this time using canned chickpeas. I use Joyva Sesame Tahini (is there another kind?), which separates. The can I opened is several years old and the top half was sesame oil and the bottom half sesame cement. I poured the oil into my trust little 3.5-cup Kitchenaid Food Processor (just the right size for this recipe), and then I used a table knife to fracture the sesame cement into chunks, which I put into the processor with the oil. A minute or two of processing produced usable tahini, which I transferred back to the can and made the hummus, using a can of chickpeas. Pretty tasty. I’ve also made this variant.

I like making my own. I expect I’ll be doing that more often.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2019 at 7:00 pm

Interesting impact of Community Health-Improvement Program (CHIP)

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A two-episode video series from Michael Greger M.D.:


Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2019 at 3:52 pm

Another example of airbrushing women out of scientific discovery: The Hidden Heroines of Chaos

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Rose Franklin was famously pushed out of the history of the discovery of DNA, which is generally credited to the men who short-changed her: Crick and Watson. Here’s another example, reported in Quanta by Joshua Sokol:

little over half a century ago, chaos started spilling out of a famous experiment. It came not from a petri dish, a beaker or an astronomical observatory, but from the vacuum tubes and diodes of a Royal McBee LGP-30. This “desk” computer — it was the size of a desk — weighed some 800 pounds and sounded like a passing propeller plane. It was so loud that it even got its own office on the fifth floor in Building 24, a drab structure near the center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Instructions for the computer came from down the hall, from the office of a meteorologist named Edward Norton Lorenz.

The story of chaos is usually told like this: Using the LGP-30, Lorenz made paradigm-wrecking discoveries. In 1961, having programmed a set of equations into the computer that would simulate future weather, he found that tiny differences in starting values could lead to drastically different outcomes. This sensitivity to initial conditions, later popularized as the butterfly effect, made predicting the far future a fool’s errand. But Lorenz also found that these unpredictable outcomes weren’t quite random, either. When visualized in a certain way, they seemed to prowl around a shape called a strange attractor.

About a decade later, chaos theory started to catch on in scientific circles. Scientists soon encountered other unpredictable natural systems that looked random even though they weren’t: the rings of Saturn, blooms of marine algae, Earth’s magnetic field, the number of salmon in a fishery. Then chaos went mainstream with the publication of James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science in 1987. Before long, Jeff Goldblum, playing the chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, was pausing, stammering and charming his way through lines about the unpredictability of nature in Jurassic Park.

All told, it’s a neat narrative. Lorenz, “the father of chaos,” started a scientific revolution on the LGP-30. It is quite literally a textbook case for how the numerical experiments that modern science has come to rely on — in fields ranging from climate science to ecology to astrophysics — can uncover hidden truths about nature.

But in fact, Lorenz was not the one running the machine. There’s another story, one that has gone untold for half a century. A year and a half ago, an MIT scientist happened across a name he had never heard before and started to investigate. The trail he ended up following took him into the MIT archives, through the stacks of the Library of Congress, and across three states and five decades to find information about the women who, today, would have been listed as co-authors on that seminal paper. And that material, shared with Quanta, provides a fuller, fairer account of the birth of chaos.

The Birth of Chaos

In the fall of 2017, the geophysicist Daniel Rothman, co-director of MIT’s Lorenz Center, was preparing for an upcoming symposium. The meeting would honor Lorenz, who died in 2008, so Rothman revisited Lorenz’s epochal paper, a masterwork on chaos titled “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow.” Published in 1963, it has since attracted thousands of citations, and Rothman, having taught this foundational material to class after class, knew it like an old friend. But this time he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. In the paper’s acknowledgments, Lorenz had written, “Special thanks are due to Miss Ellen Fetter for handling the many numerical computations.”

“Jesus … who is Ellen Fetter?” Rothman recalls thinking at the time. “It’s one of the most important papers in computational physics and, more broadly, in computational science,” he said. And yet he couldn’t find anything about this woman. “Of all the volumes that have been written about Lorenz, the great discovery — nothing.”

With further online searches, however, Rothman found a wedding announcement from 1963. Ellen Fetter had married John Gille, a physicist, and changed her name. A colleague of Rothman’s then remembered that a graduate student named Sarah Gille had studied at MIT in the 1990s in the very same department as Lorenz and Rothman. Rothman reached out to her, and it turned out that Sarah Gille, now a physical oceanographer at the University of California, San Diego, was Ellen and John’s daughter. Through this connection, Rothman was able to get Ellen Gille, née Fetter, on the phone. And that’s when he learned another name, the name of the woman who had preceded Fetter in the job of programming Lorenz’s first meetings with chaos: Margaret Hamilton.

When Margaret Hamilton arrived at MIT in the summer of 1959, with a freshly minted math degree from Earlham College, Lorenz had only recently bought and taught himself to use the LGP-30. Hamilton had no prior training in programming either. Then again, neither did anyone else at the time. “He loved that computer,” Hamilton said. “And he made me feel the same way about it.”

For Hamilton, these were formative years. She recalls being out at a party at three or four a.m., realizing that the LGP-30 wasn’t set to produce results by the next morning, and rushing over with a few friends to start it up. Another time, frustrated by all the things that had to be done to make another run after fixing an error, she devised a way to bypass the computer’s clunky debugging process. To Lorenz’s delight, Hamilton would take the paper tape that fed the machine, roll it out the length of the hallway, and edit the binary code with a sharp pencil. “I’d poke holes for ones, and I’d cover up with Scotch tape the others,” she said. “He just got a kick out of it.”

There were desks in the computer room, but because of the noise, Lorenz, his secretary, his programmer and his graduate students all shared the other office. The plan was to use the desk computer, then a total novelty, to test competing strategies of weather prediction in a way you couldn’t do with pencil and paper.

First, though, Lorenz’s team had to do the equivalent of catching the Earth’s atmosphere in a jar. Lorenz idealized the atmosphere in 12 equations that described the motion of gas in a rotating, stratified fluid. Then the team coded them in.

Sometimes the “weather” inside this simulation would simply repeat like clockwork. But Lorenz found a more interesting and more realistic set of solutions that generated weather that wasn’t periodic. The team set up the computer to slowly print out a graph of how one or two variables — say, the latitude of the strongest westerly winds — changed over time. They would gather around to watch this imaginary weather, even placing little bets on what the program would do next.

And then one day it did something really strange. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2019 at 2:25 pm

Soon You May Not Even Have to Click on a Website Contract to Be Bound by Its Terms

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This doesn’t seem right. Ian MacDougall reports in ProPublica:

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably clicked “I agree” on many online contracts without ever reading them. Soon you may be deemed to have agreed to a company’s terms without even knowing it. A vote is occurring Tuesday that would make it easier for online businesses to dispense with that click and allow websites that you merely browse — anything from Amazon and AT&T to Yahoo and Zillow — to bind you to contract terms without your agreement or awareness.

As public outcry mounts over companies like Facebook collecting and selling user information, the new proposal would prime courts and legislatures to give businesses even more power to extract data from unwitting consumers. If the proposal is approved, merely posting a link to a company’s terms of service on a homepage could be enough for the company to conclude that a user has agreed to its policies. That includes everything from provisions that allow the sale of customer data or grant the right to track visitors to policies that limit consumers’ legal rights by barring them from suing in court or in class actions. Some courts have already given their blessing to this practice. But the proposal up for a vote Tuesday is set to make those kinds of business-friendly rulings all the more common.

The proposal has outraged consumer advocates, state attorneys general and other constituencies. They see it as improperly tilting the scales in favor of business interests. They argue that the solution is creating clearer, simpler contracts rather than lengthy, confusing ones that are harder to find. The proposal’s authors counter that they have simply summarized trends in American law.

There’s been little discussion of the impending change in the general public. That’s because the vote isn’t before Congress, the Supreme Court or a regulatory agency. It’s before a private association virtually unknown outside legal circles: the more than 4,700 judges, legal scholars and practicing attorneys that constitute the American Law Institute. The new proposal was drafted by three law professors affiliated with the organization.

Almost a century old, ALI is about as elite an institution as the United States has to offer. It counts among its founders two chief justices of the U.S. Supreme Court — one of whom, William Howard Taft, was also the 27th president — and its membership is a who’s who of the American bar. Speakers at ALI’s annual conclavein Washington this week include Chief Justice John Roberts and former Justice Anthony Kennedy.

For decades, ALI has exerted profound influence over American law and life through the publication of what it calls the “Restatements of the Law.” The Restatements are, in essence, guidebooks to the common law. That body of law — created by judicial opinions rather than statutes — plays a central role in governing everything from property rights to contract disputes to who’s liable when accidents happen. But it’s a messy realm; courts in each state are free to create or put their own spin on common-law rules. The point of the Restatements is to clarify the common law and impose order on it.

The reputation of the Restatements is such that for decades courts have treated them as something close to an authoritative explanation of what the law is and where it’s heading. “The ALI is the unofficial College of Cardinals of the U.S. legal profession,” said Adam Levitin, a Georgetown University law professor and ALI member who has helped spearhead opposition to the new Restatement. “Even though its members are not representatives of the public, once the ALI approves these Restatements, lawyers, arbitrators, judges and justices use them as a handy reference guide to what the law is and should be.”

At the heart of consumer advocates’ objections to the Restatement is a section that substantially weakens in the consumer context a core concept of contract law — that a contract requires a “meeting of the minds,” with each party assenting to its terms. Instead, the Restatement requires businesses only to give customers notice of the contract terms and an opportunity to review them.

The Restatement provides examples of how little businesses need to do to bind consumers to their terms and conditions. In one hypothetical, a user simply browsing a website becomes bound by its terms of use because the homepage contains a notice that links to the language and reads, “By continuing past this page, you agree to abide by the Terms of Use for this site.” In another, a user becomes bound by the website’s terms merely by clicking a “Read More” button to access the full text of a webpage. (Companies can continue using “I Agree” buttons if they prefer.)

The authors of the Restatement — three professors from Harvard Law School, NYU School of Law and the University of Chicago Law School — contend that courts have reasoned there’s no need for businesses to do more, because nobody reads these contract terms anyway.

Consumer advocates and other critics acknowledge that nobody reads online contracts. But they argue the proposed cure is worse than the disease. They say it provides businesses an incentive to bury objectionable terms inside ever-longer and more impenetrable contracts — think Apple’s user agreements — instead of identifying better ways to alert consumers to significant or intrusive contract terms.

“Weakening the requirement of mutual assent is not only contrary to fundamental principles of contract law,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James wrote in a May 14 letter to ALI, “but will encourage a veritable race to the bottom, as market forces will drive businesses — which will know they can bind consumers to all but the most odious terms — to draft standard form contracts with egregiously self-serving terms.” The letter was signed by 23 other state attorneys general and top consumer protection officials. All but one are Democrats.

Worse still, critics claim, the proposed Restatement departs from the traditional role of Restatements — to synthesize the law as it is — and doesn’t accurately reflect the state of the law. Opponents assert that the Restatement’s authors have relied on faulty empirical methods and cherry-picking from case law to reach their preferred rules. “They’re being a little disingenuous,” Levitin said. “They claim they’re following what courts are doing, and this is out of their hands. Except that it all depends on some rather constrained readings of the cases.”

One lawyer who represents financial institutions offers a similar view. “It’s not a good portrayal of the common law of contracts as it applies to consumers,” said Alan Kaplinsky, an ALI member and partner at the law firm Ballard Spahr. (The firm has represented ProPublica in the past.) “This is more of a document expressing the aspirations of the three reporters — what they would like the law to be rather than what the law actually is.”

ALI and the Restatement’s authors dispute these claims. They have defended their methodology and say they have followed the traditional approach. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2019 at 2:09 pm

Rich white men rule America. How much longer will we tolerate that?

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Nathan J. Robinson, a PhD student in sociology and social policy at Harvard University and founder (in 2015) and editor-in-chief of the magazine Current Affairs, writes in the Guardian:

The core democratic principle is that people should have a meaningful say in political decisions that affect their lives. In Alabama, we’ve just seen what the opposite of democracy looks like: 25 white male Republicans in the state senate were able to ban almost all abortion in the state. The consequences of that decision fall exclusively on women, who will be forced to carry all pregnancies to term if the law comes into effect. And, as has happened in other countries with abortion bans, poor women will be hit hardest of all – the rich can usually afford to go elsewhere.

There is no reason to respect the legitimacy of this kind of political decision, in which those in power show no sign of having listened to the people they’re deciding on behalf of. Though plenty in the pro-life movement are female, the people who will be most affected are nowhere in the debate. Unfortunately, structural problems with the US government mean that we’re heading for an even more undemocratic future.

White men have never made up the majority of the US population, and yet from the country’s beginnings they have made up most of its political decision-makers. The constitution itself is an outrageously undemocratic document. People today are bound by a set of procedural rules that were made without the input of women, African Americans or native people. The framers quite deliberately constructed a system that would prevent what they called “tyranny of the majority” but what is more accurately called “popular democracy”.

That set of rules has been very effective at keeping the American populace from exercising power. James Madison was explicit about the function of the United States Senate – it was “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority”. Indeed, that’s precisely what it does. As Jamelle Bouie points out, the Senate has “an affluent membership composed mostly of white men, who are about 30% of the population but hold 71 of the seats” out of 100. Though popular opinion may overwhelmingly favor universal healthcare and more progressive taxation, these policies are said to be “politically impossible” because the millionaires who populate Congress do not favor them.

We hear a lot about how the electoral college, the US supreme court and gerrymandered districts are undermining democratic rule. But it’s worth reflecting on just how deep the disenfranchisement really is. The supreme court is the highest branch of government, in that it can overturn the decisions of the other two branches. It consists of just nine people, all of whom went to Harvard or Yale and two-thirds of whom are men. Ian Samuel has pointed out the remarkable fact that, thanks to the way the Senate is structured, the senators who voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the court received represent 38 million fewer people than the senators who voted against him.

The implications here are extreme. It simply doesn’t matter where the people of the US stand on union dues, campaign finance reform, or abortion. What matters is the opinion of nine elites, in many cases appointed by presidents who did not win the popular vote. A constitution written by slaveholders is being interpreted by a tiny room full of elites who have been given no meaningful popular approval. When you step back and look at the situation objectively, it’s utterly farcical to call the US government democratic.

The electoral college is, of course, its own problem. It’s difficult to know how elections would have gone in its absence – after all, people would campaign differently if success were measured differently. But there is something perverse and troubling about a system in which the person who gets the most votes loses the election.

Things are only going to get worse. The good news is that America is becoming an ever-more-diverse and in many ways more progressive country. By 2045 the US will lose its white majority, and despite Trump’s efforts to whip the country into a xenophobic frenzy, the American people are becoming steadily more sympathetic to immigrants. Most young people identify as socialists instead of capitalists, and on the whole people want a far more progressive set of national policies on economics, foreign policy and immigration than are currently being practiced.

But demographic changes do not automatically change the power structure, and it’s likely that we’ll see a conservative white minority taking extreme steps to cling to power in the coming decades. That’s why you see new voter ID laws and resistance to restoring voting rights to felons who have served their sentence. That’s why state legislatures draw districts in a way that ensures the party that gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily get the most seats.

The undemocratic nature of our institutions means that conservatives might well succeed in overriding popular sentiment for many years to come. If, God forbid, Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer left the supreme court during Trump’s term in office, the radical right would be all but assured to have complete veto power over US policy for the next several decades. It’s very hard to undo gerrymandered districts or loosen campaign finance laws if the whole point of these measures is to keep the left out of power.

It’s hard to say where all of this will lead. If the court pushes too far in overturning democratic measures it will lose legitimacy and schemes like “court-packing” will come to seem more like necessary correctives than revolutionary disruptions. In a country whose electoral system still somewhat functions, there is only so much a government can do to keep people from exercising their right to rule, without resorting to totalitarian measures.

But that’s precisely why we may see increasingly totalitarian measures, as the gap between the will of the people and the interests of the small minority in charge continues to widen. History’s bloody revolutions show  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2019 at 10:15 am

Finding pleasure in the discomfort of learning new skills

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I often recommend Mindset, by Carol Dweck. It’s an entertaining read and it describes well the phenomenon of learning resistance. For some people, learning something new is the opposite of a pleasure: new ideas may contradict old notions with which they’ve become comfortable—so comfortable, in fact, that they see them as part of who they are, their identity. A new idea can seem like a direct personal attack.

And that’s just new ideas: new skills are even worse since the initial stages of learning a skill make us feel awkward and embarrassed by our struggles. This seems true even when we are young. Parents will recall how frustrated, irritable, and angry a todldler becomes as s/he first starts learning how to walk. Crawling is no longer good enough, but walking is too new and too hard, and meltdowns into tears and tantrums are frequent during that transition from crawling to toddling.

Of course, the very young have little choice in the matter. They must learn to sit up, to crawl, to walk, to talk, to feed themselves, to go to potty, to dress themselves. Each step is for a while a frustrating struggle, but you’ve doubtless noticed that those same skills, now mastered, no longer arouse in you such strong emotions. You probably do all those as a matter of course now that you’ve learned them and even forgotten your early struggles and frustration.

Adults—who in general can choose what they do—spend most of their time practicing skills long since mastered, at work and at home. (One exception I’ve noticed in business is that lower-ranking adults often do not have a choice in learning a skill: a clerk is simply required to master the intricacies of the new copier system or the new accounting software or the new phone system. I once observed a company president, who wanted to transfer a call on the new phone system, somewhat piteously call out to his secretary to please come in and do it for him. She had had to learn the new system; he had easily avoided learning it, doubtless because as president he didn’t like feeling awkward and ignorant, feelings common for any novice.)

Because they spend almost all their time exercising skills already mastered, adults who begin to learn a new skill are often terrible students: they know clearly what they want to do, and they are acutely aware of what they feel are failures (rather than practice trials) as they try to learn to play the piano, or to speak a foreign language, or to cook a meal (for those adults just learning to cook), and so on. If they have become unaccustomed to the early stages of learning, the natural awkwardness and uncertainty that a novice experiences so embarrass them that it feels almost toxic. They have forgotten using play as a way to learn something — you play with it, building familiarity and knowledge and skill. They have forgotten how the early states of learning can be experienced as play.

Instead, the early stages of learning something new becomes a struggle to accomplish a specific goal rather than an exploration — it feels like a bad thing rather than a good sign. New ventures feel hazardous, and novelty in one’s routines is often initially unsettling if now downright distasteful. (Those who have read (and thus enjoyed) Patrick O’Brian’s series of British Navy novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin will be familiar with the benediction upon parting, Que no haya novedad—May no new thing arise.)

The solution, as is often the case, is to adjust one’s attitude. That is described well in Dweck’s book. Accept eagerly that initial awkwardness as a welcome harbinger of a new skill. Look at it as the color that gladdens a prospector, who seeks gold and sees the color as a promise that the mother lode can be found higher up with more effort.

Focus your attention initially on your progress (which in the early stages of learning something new is remarkably good) rather than on your results (which in the early stages of learning something new are best used only to measure progress). Play with the new idea or tool or skill, trying this and that, observing what happens, learning from the flops, enjoying the successes, with no real goal other than to learn. The initial goal is only to gain familiarity and experience. Criticism — especially self-criticism — is misplaced. There’s nothing to criticize because all those trials and false starts are exactly how one learns and should be viewed as play, not as a white-knuckled effort to achieve perfection. This play is not (yet) a serious attempt as accomplishment, but rather is learning, is practice, is seeing how it works, is exercise. You are building a net of experience to catch skills as they develop, enabling you to practice them more.

If you have continued to learn new things and thus are a practiced learner, those initial difficulties are not a problem because they are now familiar. You have, through practice and experience, learned how to learn. You know how to navigate the turbulent waters of the early stages.

In contrast, those who have successfully avoided learning new things for any length of time have lost the skill (and the familiarity) of learning. For them the awkwardness and uncertainty in the initial stages of learning are embarrassing and almost detestable. The feelings are alien to their adult lives, unfamiliar and uncomfortable. These adults, unpracticed in learning, fail to see the implicit promise of the difficulties: that initial difficulties show that there’ is much to be gained from the effort. They are acutely aware of the irritating grain of sand and don’t realize that the irritation can produce a pearl of great value: a skill whose mastery will be a source of great satisfaction and whose exercise will provide continuing enjoyment (cf. traditional shaving — once mastered, every morning begins with a pleasurable ritual).

I’ve just embarked upon learning how to follow a whole-food plant-based diet (in which I eat only roots, stalks, leaves, buds, flowers, fruit, and seeds, plus mushrooms), and I am finding the usual (and familiar) awkwardness of a new beginning. I continue to try to be careful in the carbs I eat (no foods that contain refined sugar and/or are made from flour, no fruit juice, no white potatoes, corn, or rice in any form) — that much is familiar — but I’m having to learn new patterns of meals and meal preparation. When I routinely followed an omnivorous diet, I could throw together a decent meal with little thought. I knew the drill, and I easily stayed within a zone of comfort, trying new recipes as I felt like it.

The basic patterns was to choose the animal protein (the meat (the particular cut of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, whatever), or the particular seafood (fish, prawns, mussels, whatever), or eggs, and/or cheese). Having chosen that, I then selected the format (stir-fry, stew, roast, sauté, whatever) and which plant foods to have as side dishes. That’s how I planned the meal. Without an animal protein to use as the starting point and focus, I was at a loss how to begin planning about the meal.

It felt like the old knock knock joke that begins, “I have a new knock-knock joke. You start.” and when the other automatically says, “Knock, knock” and you respond “Who’s there?”, there’s a baffled full stop—who is there? The other person reaches for what to say and comes up empty-handed and disconcerted. The vacuum in the meal pattern, once occupied by animal protein, felt like that. Having lost that starting point, I did not know where to start.

But within a few days I figured out how to create new meals. I now usually start by thinking of the grain and the beans I will use (since I now include a serving of grain and a serving of beans in each meal), and build from there, adding other vegetables to that core.

The transition did not take long. Within a week, I was reading How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease I started to find my footing. I felt the change in direction start to become familiar and to recognize new patterns. Dr. Greger’s “Daily Dozen” (PDF) was useful as a general guide and template, providing targets and structure.

For me learning is pleasurable. I love the initial confusion because I know that soon I will feel ideas start to come together and make sense as I gain experience—and to make a new sort of sense. I was almost bubbling with happiness as I dreamed up new combination to try and as I tasted new dishes I made up. I wrote about my new standard breakfast after a few days, but I then realized I can improve it even more by including a pinch of herbs and spices to boost its antioxidant power.

I’m excited. It’s not every day that one has the chance to go in a new direction, and the fact that it’s healthful makes it all the better. 🙂

I’m sure that from time to time and on special dinners with family I will eat some animal-derived food, but my daily diet will certainly be a whole-food plant-based diet (with fungi). I have already extended my meal-preparation repertoire with some little tricks I learned from the book that increase nutritional value. This post describes in some detail my diet and approach and the reasons for it and the lessons learned along the way.

Update November 2019: I just went through the same process of starting something new, learning some lessons from experience, and gaining skill when I started making my own tempeh. The post at the link includes a “lessons learned” from each batch so you can see the process and progress of learning that.

Update December 2019: I finally located part of the reason for my disorientation. It strikes me now as allied to the disorientation one gets when, long accustomed to watching movies or plays with a clearly defined leading role or roles accompanied by supporting roles, one watches an ensemble piece: the experience of unconsciously searching for the lead character is at first confusing — “Who are all these characters? Who’s the lead?” Compare “The Return of the Secaucus Seven ” or “The Anniversary Party” the “star” to “Hamlet” or “High Noon” — the latter two are involve a central character and various supporting roles; the former two have equal billing for various roles.

The same with a plant-based meal: it’s an ensemble piece, not one with a lead (the role meat plays in most meals). But, like any good ensemble movie or play, a plant-based meal can, in my experience, be more interesting than the traditional structure of having the whole thing centered on one character (or food). The interplay and relationships among the characters/ingredients enrich the whole with an equality of diversity.

Still, if you are accustomed to preparing meals on the lead-character model, the ensemble meal is at first somewhat bewildering: “Who’s the lead?” becomes “Where do I start?”

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2019 at 9:58 am

The Generic Drugs You’re Taking May Not Be As Safe Or Effective As You Think

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Since the four medications I take are all generic (and thus are inexpensive: a 3-month supply of all four drugs totals US$1.80). I dislike the idea that they are not well vetted. I notice that the GOP has consistently stripped of resources the agencies most important to protecting the public and funding the government: FDA, FAA, IRS, EPA, OSHA, CFPB, FTC, and so on. Republicans seem to be on a mission to destroy the US.

Dave Davies reports at NPR:

As the cost of prescription medication soars, consumers are increasingly taking generic drugs: low-cost alternatives to brand-name medicines. Often health insurance plans require patients to switch to generics as a way of controlling costs. But journalist Katherine Eban warns that some of these medications might not be as safe, or effective, as we think.

Eban has covered the pharmaceutical industry for more than 10 years. She notes that most of the generic medicines being sold in the U.S. are manufactured overseas, mostly in India and China. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that it holds foreign plants to the same standards as U.S. drugmakers, but Eban’s new book, Bottle of Lies, challenges that notion. She writes that the FDA often announces its overseas inspections weeks in advance, which allows plants where generic drugs are made the chance to fabricate data and results.

“These plants know that [the FDA inspectors are] coming,” Eban says. “I discovered [some overseas drug companies] would actually … alter documents, shred them, invent them, in some cases even steaming them overnight to make them look old.”

(In a statement to NPR, the FDA said that Americans “can be confident in the quality of the products the FDA approves” and notes it has “conducted a number of unannounced inspections” at foreign plants over the past several years.)

As a result, Eban says, generic drugs sometimes go to market in the U.S. without proper vetting. She describes the FDA as “overwhelmed and underresourced” in its efforts to ensure the safety of overseas drug production.

Eban advises consumers to research who manufactures their generics and look up any problems that regulators have found out about them. But some consumers may find they are not allowed by their health plan to switch to alternatives, because of cost.

Interview Highlights

On why many drug companies moved production overseas

There were a couple of reasons for this surge in globalization in the drug industry. One was environmental regulations. … How are you going to safely dispose of all the chemicals and solvents that you’re using? And … there was less environmental regulation overseas. But another one is: If you move your manufacturing plant to India, you’re going to save a huge amount on labor costs and supplies — ingredients — overnight.

And so what you saw was a huge migration, both of manufacturing to Indian-owned companies, Chinese-owned companies, but also Western- and U.S.-based companies, buying up manufacturing plants overseas and moving their manufacturing there.

On how the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act changed the generic-drug industry

What it created was a pathway at the FDA, a distinct application process for generics, because prior to Hatch-Waxman, basically the generic companies had to do the same set of tests [and] clinical studies that the brand did, and Hatch-Waxman said, you know what? We’re gonna give you an abbreviated application. You can do the clinical studies on many fewer patients, because we’ve already proven safety and efficacy of this molecule in the human body.

But what Hatch-Waxman did that really ignited the generic-drug revolution is it gave the companies an incentive: The incentive was called “first to file,” and it said if you are the first company to submit your application — and literally first by the minute or the second — and you get approved, you’re going to get six months of exclusivity on the market to be the lead and only generic, and you’re probably going to be able to sell your drugs at about 80 percent of the brand-name price. And that “first to file” really became the difference between making a fortune and making a living.

On how some plants that make generics prevent FDA inspectors from doing thorough inspections

In several instances I documented, the investigators were poisoned in the course of their inspections with tainted water from the tap, which you can’t drink in India. They felt sick during inspections. I mean, this was a way of running out the clock. They were followed. In one instance, an investigator had his hotel room bugged. In some cases that I had heard about, [the plants] were trying to scan passenger lists in airports to try to determine exactly who was coming when. So there were elaborate measures that the plants took to try to protect against bad inspections.

On how the quality of generic drugs can vary depending on where the drugs are being sold . . .

Continue reading.

You can hear the interview at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2019 at 8:45 am

Phoenix Artisan’s Dark Chocolate—for the antioxidants…

with 2 comments

As I dive into diet lore, dark chocolate looms large, and so today I went for a nutritious shave. My special Plisson European Grey, a gift The Wife purchased from the last Master Barber in Paris, made a wonderfully fragrant lath from Phoenix Artisan’s one-off for a Valentine’s Day a few years back. A little extra water was required during the loading, but I love the lather.

My iKon Shavecraft X3, one of my best slants, here riding on a UFO handle, did a superb job, doubtless helped by the two-day stubble: the result was not merely smooth,but awesomely smooth. A good splash of Dark Chocolate aftershave finished the job. It was advised that this aftershave be shaken well before applying, but I do that with all my aftershave splashes. It’s a good habit to develop.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2019 at 8:11 am

Posted in Shaving

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