Later On

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

Archive for June 28th, 2019

I did use the new Stargazer, though not for a steak

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I’ve been doing well with my whole-food plant-based eating—feeling good, liking the food, losing weight, and (I imagine) improving my health. A steak would be tasty, but then I’d have an abrupt gain and I don’t know that all the fat would be truly good for me.

This turned out quite well. I put the Stargazer 12″ into the oven, turned it to 325ºF and left the skillet there for about half an hour. Then I turned off the oven and removed the skillet (using a hot pad), slipped the insulated handle cover over the handle, and put it on a hot burner.

I had already prepped the vegetables, so I started right away. I added to the skillet:

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, diced

I stirred that with my wooden spatula and cooked it for probably 7-8 minutes, until the onion was translucent. I then added:

8-10 cloves garlic, chopped not too small—bigger than minced

I cooked that about a minute, stirring, then I added

3 yellow summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into short sections
1 large zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into short sections
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 tablespoon dried basil
4 bay leaves (local grower, but bay leaves never do much for me)
good amount of freshly ground black pepper

I sautéed the veggies, stirring relatively frequently for 8-10 minutes, until squash was tender and IMO cooked. (You can eat it raw if you want, so you don’t have to cook it to mush).

I just had a bowl of it: extremely tasty. And the skillet is wonderful—a large cooking surface that’s smooth as glass.

Looking at the photo, I thought that a little turmeric or saffron would not have been amiss.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2019 at 6:29 pm

Heart-warming story: How a janitor at Frito-Lay invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

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Via Jason Kottke, and worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2019 at 5:39 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

More signs of the breakdown of the US: The Oregon Anarchists from the GOP

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I was reminded first of this:

In the second century of the Christian Aera, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government. During a happy period of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. It is the design of this, and of the two succeeding chapters, to describe the prosperous condition of their empire; and after wards, from the death of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its decline and fall; a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth.

The principal conquests of the Romans were achieved under the republic; and the emperors, for the most part, were satisfied with preserving those dominions which had been acquired by the policy of the senate, the active emulations of the consuls, and the martial enthusiasm of the people. The seven first centuries were filled with a rapid succession of triumphs; but it was reserved for Augustus to relinquish the ambitious design of subduing the whole earth, and to introduce a spirit of moderation into the public councils. Inclined to peace by his temper and situation, it was easy for him to discover that Rome, in her present exalted situation, had much less to hope than to fear from the chance of arms; and that, in the prosecution of remote wars, the undertaking became every day more difficult, the event more doubtful, and the possession more precarious, and less beneficial. The experience of Augustus added weight to these salutary reflections, and effectually convinced him that, by the prudent vigor of his counsels, it would be easy to secure every concession which the safety or the dignity of Rome might require from the most formidable barbarians. Instead of exposing his person and his legions to the arrows of the Parthians, he obtained, by an honorable treaty, the restitution of the standards and prisoners which had been taken in the defeat of Crassus.

It’s hard not to be thinking already of looking back at the US and its one-time stature and influence in earlier times. And when great nations and empires fall, the damage is vast and endures. – The above quotation is the opening of Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

I was also reminded of this:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

That is The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats, and what we see in Oregon is mere anarchy and the center failing to hold and the worst full of passionate intensity. They are fighting against efforts to mitigate climate change. They want destruction on a scale we’ve not seen—and we know it’s coming. If the human race ceased today its pouring of CO2 into the atmosphere, if all burning of fossil fuels were stopped, if the Amazon were somehow restored, still the climate would continue to heat for 60 years. Zeppelins are blimps are difficult to fly because they respond slowly. Pull back to climb and nothing seems to happen. So you pull back more. Still nothing, so you really… wait! it’s starting to climb. It’s climbing! Too much. Push the nose down. No response. Push harder. Still nothing…. OMG, there it goes! Etc.

The same with the climate: very slow response. Combine that with a public that has a short and fragmented attention span, plus very little understanding of science, and you have the US response to climate change.

Carolyn Kormann writes in the New Yorker:

Early Tuesday morning, in Oregon, Shilpa Joshi, the coalition director of Renew Oregon, a clean-energy advocacy organization, rented a minivan from a lot on the outskirts of Portland, picked up a group of high-school students, and headed for the state capitol building, in Salem, where they’d be staging a protest. She was anxious and deeply concerned. “This might be a really sad day for us,” she said, en route. A major climate-change bill, which she had worked on for the last several years, was on the verge of passing the state legislature, which, since last year’s midterm elections, has been controlled by a supermajority of Democrats. Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, had campaigned on its policies, and planned to sign it. On climate policy, Brown had said, “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally.” Then, last week, eleven Republican state senators walked out of the statehouse, fled the capitol, and apparently hid out of state, in order to deny the rest of the Senate the necessary twenty-person quorum required to move the bill to a vote. Representatives of fringe right-wing militia groups said that they would protect the state senators “at any cost,” and that protesters supporting the bill at the capitol should be warned of their presence. “Our bill might die,” Joshi said. “What these senators are doing is anarchistic. It’s scary. There are no rules anymore.”

In Salem, Joshi and her high-school group, along with other young activists, staged a sit-in outside the office of the Senate president, the Democrat Peter Courtney. Joshi and other organizers had heard that Courtney was prepared to trade away the bill in order to bring the Republicans back to the statehouse. “For him to just undercut us that way was a real blow,” she said. “We fought for so long and created a really strong program with pretty broad support across the state.” The oldest farm workers’ union in the state, for instance, joined Renew Oregon’s steering committee, in part because of “the immense pressures that climate impacts put on their workers,” Joshi said. (The average life expectancy of an Oregon farmworker is forty-nine years.) After lengthy negotiations, public meetings, and citizens’ comments, the bill also gained backing from all nine of the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes, the state’s electric utilities, who were, at first, opposed, and corporations in the state including Nike and Uber. As of eleven days ago, widespread consensus existed that the bill would pass. “We had the votes last week,” the state senator Michael Dembrow, one of the bill’s co-authors, told me on Tuesday.

The main goal of the bill is to set up a cap-and-trade program that will dramatically and rapidly lower greenhouse-gas emissions across the entire economy, reaching an eighty-per-cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. The state government would establish a certain amount of permits, called allowances, which companies could buy for every ton of carbon dioxide (or its equivalent) that they emitted; over time, the total number of allowances would decrease, forcing companies to adopt technology that would steadily reduce over-all pollution levels. Companies would also be allowed to buy and sell allowances in regular auctions. Money raised from the program would be invested in further emissions-reduction and climate-mitigation measures across the state, focussing on low-income, rural, and tribal communities that are most vulnerable and least able to prepare for the increasingly severe weather that will hit as temperatures continue to rise. The bill also sets aside ten million dollars every two years to protect workers in transportation and manufacturing, who could face layoffs. (Provisions included unemployment benefits and transition programs, such as training for clean-energy jobs, which will be required, also under the law, to feature competitive wages and benefits.)

Criticism of the bill initially came from both sides of the political aisle. Some environmental-justice advocates on the left were concerned that the program would allow companies to fulfill up to eight per cent of their compliance obligations by purchasing carbon-offset credits from forestry projects, which must show that, through their management practices, they are sequestering greater amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere than whatever was there before. Offset programs, critics say, let power plants and industry increase pollution in certain communities while buying offsets elsewhere, and have a troubled compliance record.

The much more vocal criticism, on the right, came from manufacturing companies, truckers, small-business owners, and farm owners, who said that the program would raise fuel prices and energy bills. In response to their concerns, Dembrow and Representative Karin Power made compromises; the bill would subsidize ninety-five per cent of the allowances for companies that are particularly trade-exposed (paper mills, aluminum, concrete, and food processing), which are the most vulnerable to energy-cost increases. It’s true that a cap-and-trade bill would increase energy costs slightly. “That’s how they send signals in the market, and that’s how the market works,” Leah Stokes, an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of a forthcoming book on the battle over climate policy in American states, told me. That’s also, she said, “why cap-and-trade and carbon taxes have struggled to get passed around the world.” She pointed out that, in this country, decades of wage stagnation and growing inequality have led to a situation where people—like those in rural areas in Oregon—do not have enough money to pay their monthly bills. “That’s why you have to think about climate policy in more systemic ways, protect people, bring them along in transition.” The Oregon bill, she said, did that, by taking money from the cap and investing it in the transition.

Nevertheless, last Thursday, the Senate’s Republican leader, Herman Baertschiger, announced that his caucus would take action to prevent the cap-and-trade bill’s passage. Governor Brown said she would respond by calling for a special legislative session, and, if necessary, was willing to ask for state troopers to help return the missing lawmakers to Salem. Afterward, the Republican senator Brian Boquist said in a local television-news interview that he had spoken to the Oregon State Police’s superintendent and told him, “Send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”

The next day, June 20th, when the cap-and-trade bill was up for a vote, the Republican senators did not arrive for the 11 a.m. legislative session. Courtney asked the sergeant-at-arms to search for the missing members. They were nowhere to be found. He then asked Governor Brown to dispatch state troopers to find the senators and bring them back to the capitol to do their job. “It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent here in this building,” Brown said. “They need to return and do the jobs they were elected to do.” Boquist’s wife, Peggy, told CNN that the eleven senators were together, hiding in Idaho. Representative Tim Knopp, a Republican, said that he had been hiding in three different states over three days. Meanwhile, Carol Williams, a resident of Silverton, Oregon, created a GoFundMe page called “Encourage the Walking Senators.” (As of Thursday, eight hundred and twenty-one people had raised $43,307 in seven days.)

On Friday, members of right-wing militia groups including the Three Percenters of Oregon, who took part in the 2016 takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, posted a different form of encouragement on social media, saying that they were willing to provide the hiding senators “security” and “refuge.” They also appeared to be organizing a weekend protest at the capitol, scheduled for when lawmakers gathered on Saturday. A commenter on Facebook offered to bring “a few pickup loads of manure” to drop on the capitol’s steps. An unnamed source told Will Sommer, of the Daily Beast, that “dozens of armed militia members have ‘mobilized’ to protect the state senators, and said there was potential for violence if law enforcement officials try to bring the senators back to Oregon.” In response, Oregon state troopers recommended that the capitol be closed on Saturday “due to a possible militia threat,” according to a spokeswoman from the Senate president’s office. . .

Continue reading.

Things are happening now. Bad things.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2019 at 4:24 pm

Amazing graphic: The Temple of Time, by Emma Willard

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Click to enlarge. And she did many more: check out Jason Kottke’s post and the links in it.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2019 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Marvelous Mississippi River Meander Maps

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Wow. Read the post. One graphic, a lidar of the Mississippi River showing how it meanders—though, since “Meander” itself is a river, perhaps it shows how it mississippis.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2019 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

Subway Got Too Big. Franchisees Paid a Price.

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Corporations are persons but a person who’s a sociopath. Tiffany Hsu and Rachel Abrams report in the NY Times:

Manoj Tripathi couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had a vendetta against his Subway sandwich shop. A franchisee for nearly two decades, he had done everything he could to keep his restaurant, in a strip mall in Northern California, in perfect condition. But lately it seemed like someone was out to get him.

It was the middle of 2017, and inspectors sent by Subway’s regional manager were finding a new problem to cite each month: a handprint on the glass door, the wrong brand of bathroom soap, cucumber slices that were too thick, he said. They seemed to be little things, but with each write-up, Mr. Tripathi’s grip on his store weakened. If he racked up enough infractions, Subway could terminate his contract and take control of the business.

When an inspector named Rebecca Husler arrived one day that September, Mr. Tripathi thought his restaurant was pristine. Then he noticed that a single light fixture needed a new bulb. Mr. Tripathi rushed out to buy a replacement, but by the time he returned, Ms. Husler had marked it as a violation. A year later, just as he feared, he lost the Subway.

Mr. Tripathi wasn’t paranoid. Ms. Husler really was out to get him. She had specific instructions from her boss, the regional Subway supervisor, to find fault with the store, she said in an interview.

“I was kind of his hit man,” she said, sipping an iced tea at a Starbucks in the Bay Area. Ms. Husler worked for the regional supervisor for nearly a year, she said, and she has come to regret the role she played in pushing a group of store owners out of their investments. The light-bulb moment with Mr. Tripathi, especially, gave her pause. “We’re ruining these people,” she said.

Subway is the largest fast-food company in the world by store count, with more than 24,000 restaurants in the United States alone. It got that way thanks in large part to entrepreneurial immigrants. Unlike at chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, where many franchises are operated by investment firms, Subway owners are mostly individuals and families. The company’s co-founder, Fred DeLuca, made stores easy to open; most new franchisees are charged a $15,000 initial fee, compared to $45,000 at McDonald’s. In exchange, Subway operators must hand over more revenue than at many other chains — 8 percent of gross sales — while also agreeing to other fees and stipulations.

For half a century, the system worked to mutual advantage. Subway’s value hit $12.3 billion, and countless first-generation Americans bootstrapped their way to success, one foot-long at a time.

By the time Mr. DeLuca died in 2015, though, the company was struggling. Rivals like Jimmy John’s and Quiznos had grown, and Subway’s spokesman, Jared Fogle, pleaded guilty to child sex and pornography charges. Mr. DeLuca’s sister, Suzanne Greco, took over as chief executive, inheriting a company that many felt had grown too fast and haphazardly. In 2016, for the first time ever, more Subway stores closed than opened. But while many franchisees shut down because of underperformance, others operating profitable locations began to feel targeted, too.

For many owners, Subway’s internal workings are a mystery. The chain, which is private, offers far less financial information than other global fast-food peers. In the most recent version of a disclosure document given to prospective franchisees, which is more than 600 pages long, the company notes that it can revise its rules “at any time during the term of your Franchise Agreement under any condition and to any extent.”

The document would be difficult for anyone to process. But Alexander Dembski, who trained many new Subway owners over a 34-year career, estimated to Fortune in 1998 that 30 to 50 percent of the chain’s franchisees were immigrants, and that more than a third of applicants scored poorly on proficiency tests in math and English.

Before his death, Mr. DeLuca was accused of using bullying tactics that left many operators struggling to recoup their investments, leading to lawsuits, regulatory run-ins, government investigations and constant complaints from franchisees. One of the most persistent areas of protest has involved a class of Subway managers known as development agents.

Subway parcels its vast network of stores into more than 100 regional fiefs. Each is overseen by a development agent, who recruits new franchisees, approves buyers for existing stores and sends inspectors — known as field consultants — to conduct monthly reviews. But usually, development agents are also franchisees themselves. When that is the case, they are both in charge of and competing with other store operators, and their own locations are inspected by people they hire.

These feel like conflicts of interest to many Subway owners — giving development agents the means and motivation to shut down competing stores and take over profitable ones by manipulating inspections. Many franchisees who have lost their restaurants say that they have recouped little of their original investments. Intervention from Subway’s headquarters in Connecticut is rare.

Don Fertman, Subway’s chief development officer and a veteran of the company for 38 years, said that owning restaurants helps give development agents “a better understanding of all aspects of owning a small business.” He said the company reviews the agents’ work and expects them to uphold ethical standards, dealing with violations “on a case-by-case basis.”

Across the country, franchisees have lodged complaints and filed lawsuits. In West Virginia, Bhrugesh and Utpala Vyas ran three stores, two of them top performers in the territory, they said. In a 2017 filing in federal court in Connecticut, Ms. Vyas accused the local development agent, the man’s son and an inspector of conspiring to take over the stores by concocting “unreasonably harsh evaluations.”

A judge ruled against Ms. Vyas. Records from local health departments and Subway show that at least two of the stores are now co-owned by the inspector and the development agent. “I feel very bad, and my blood is boiling,” Mr. Vyas said in an interview. “This was our hard-earned money.”

Mr. Fertman said that complaints like those Mr. Vyas filed are “unfounded,” and that Subway “makes every effort” to help noncompliant franchisees improve. He added that the company is “in the business of selling sandwiches — not closing restaurants, not marking people out of compliance.”

“Our business development agents are well-respected members of our business community,” he said. “And when we hear these allegations, I would say that they are false.” He said he was not aware of any exceptions.

For years, the Subway system’s opacity and aggressive pace of development — Mr. DeLuca once dreamed of opening 50,000 stores by 2017 — went hand in hand. The company encouraged stores to open within blocks of existing locations, with development agents often giving the established franchisees a choice: Operate the new restaurant themselves, or compete with someone recruited by Subway. Franchisees, feeling pressured, sometimes took the first option.

“It was assumed that the stores would, eventually, become sustainable,” Mr. Tripathi said. An immigrant from India, he bought into Subway’s expansion in a major way. After two decades spent at companies like Jamba Juice and the Body Shop, opening Subway franchises was his chance to take charge. At one point, he owned 38 stores, and by 2015 he was among the largest franchisees in California’s East Bay region.

That was when Ms. Greco took over Subway, and the company’s store count began to shrink. In the East Bay, Mr. Tripathi was under the jurisdiction of a development agent named Chirayu Patel, known as Akki. He oversaw a huge, choice territory that included most of Northern California and western Nevada. Mr. Patel also owned dozens of Subway stores.

In 2016, he convened a franchisee meeting in a Sacramento warehouse. He told everyone that Subway wanted to improve its strongest restaurants and shut down the weaker ones, according to Nikku Aulakh, a franchisee who was present.

She left the gathering alarmed. She and many fellow franchisees had been pushed for years to invest huge sums in new stores that were now struggling. Subway’s franchise contract forbids the company from unilaterally closing stores just because sales are weak. But franchisees can lose control of their restaurants for failing to meet Subway’s operating standards — violations cited by inspectors employed by development agents like Mr. Patel.

Ms. Aulakh said Mr. Patel eventually pressured her into closing or selling her four stores in Sacramento, after they received a slew of bad evaluations. “I would have liked to stay in business for another 10 to 15 years,” she said. “I wanted to make more money, but I had no other choice.”

Vishal Sharma, a franchisee in Nevada who owned three stores, described another meeting that Mr. Patel convened in Reno the same year. In front of some 20 store operators, Mr. Patel said that he had “the money to buy the best lawyers,” Mr. Sharma recalled. “At the time, we weren’t scared. We thought that maybe that was just his style. Then we figure out that this guy’s template is not developing the territory, it’s taking away the territory.” (Mr. Patel said in an email that he had been informing the franchisees that Subway’s lawyers were available to answer legal questions.)

At one point, a franchisee sent Mr. Patel an anonymous complaint; he responded with an email to a large group of them, which was reviewed by The Times. He threatened a lawsuit that “would be so huge it would nearly take all of your life earnings in Subway in fighting this suit. Please don’t test me especially when you don’t have any basis.”

Subway terminated Mr. Sharma’s contracts in 2017. Last December, in state court, he accused Mr. Patel of using “rigged compliances” and Subway of employing an “usual structure where the local agent is a supervisor, as well as a competitor.” The case was ordered into arbitration in Connecticut, but Mr. Sharma is appealing the decision.

Ms. Husler, the inspector who called herself Mr. Patel’s “hit man,” said that Mr. Patel considered his own interests when determining what stores would be sent to arbitration, and likely closed. When it came time to conduct inspections, she said, Mr. Patel made it “very clear that his stores were to pass” and that “the people he wanted out of the system were to fail out of the system.”

The Times reviewed text messages about individual franchisees in which Mr. Patel assigned evaluations to certain inspectors “so we can get this guy out of the system.” But when it came to his own stores, there was a different standard, according to Effie Lennox, a former inspector who worked for Mr. Patel in Northern California from 2007 to 2010. She said that he asked her not to report violations at his locations and to email him about them instead.

“That was the problem: He was a franchisee and a development agent,” she said. “And especially with someone like him, having that conflict of interest is the worst-case scenario for the franchisee, because he’s in it for his own benefit, not for theirs.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2019 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Beyond the Mediterranean diet

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2019 at 8:22 am

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